Escaping free as a sneeze for a long
stretched second
the small, square town,
Malcolm in the public park
pulls a pipe from his pocket.
Shadows sweet as violets
scarve his face.
He’d go home —
if his mother didn’t love the bottle —
if his father hadn’t shot to Surfers . . .

In the Refuge, cutting cards, learning
not to spell the words he never could
but new spells, dangerous,
dizzy for destruction —
In the Refuge, he forgets
the streets of fibro foxholes,
the nights
when he lay on the grass and bruises
floated, fanged and cruel, turning
into perfect parents in the sky.

In the park, trampled violets in his face,
smoke as sweet as hope
all over him . . .
through colanders, the dark
strains stars           calendars
of cracker nights fizz childhood
back into his skin.
He opens his hands, paying for grass —
for something common, but miraculous
to blur the black in his brain, to bring
more light than he’s seen
in his sixteen years.

Through spread fingers of silky oak leaves
the moon drifts and sidles. Cop cars
snake over bitumen. Malcolm boxes blackness
cornering put-downs and critical slaps —
the loss of what little he hoped for.
The smoke-ring caresses
wrap the bruises deeper —
as he counts down his life
in the blossoming dark
in the public park
any moment now
to handcuff Malcolm’s hopes,
future convictions will come.

(from Practising Breathing 1991)


JK Malcolm