Almanac Poetry: ‘People’ – Tommy Mallet

 

People

 

There’s a show Greg wants to watch,
but the flat, above the laundry,
doesn’t have a telly.
Doesn’t have anything.

 

I’m living on an old EJ Holden bench seat, in the lounge.
Joe pisses on the spiral stairwell,
out back,
turning it into a water feature.

 

“Look at that,” he says, fascinated.
“The right lighting, it should
be in shopping malls.”

 

The three of us 21, full of cum.

 

“Righto,” says Greg,
grabbing the only chair,
before climbing through
the front window.

 

Both of them have me baffled,
the way they make everything seem
so easy.

 

Greg sits on top of the shop awnings,
as always,
if full view of trams, taxi drivers,
the late night lost,
watching his show through
the neighbour’s window.

 

Joe passes a beer to him.

 

*****

 

Daniel’s a milliner,
gets hundreds of fans to his shows,
but, the Arts,
still needs a job, too.

 

We sort white-collar mail,
two of a fifteen-strong crew,
every one of us working under fake names.

 

Dodging alimony, the taxman,
also claiming welfare –
pick you reason.

 

“Come to the next parade,” he says.
“All my models are dressed like knives,
forks, CDs.
One’s a shower head…”

 

“Would not miss it!” I tell him.

 

The boss asks what name
I want to work under?

 

I have nothing to hide,
but;
“Richard Film – F.E.L.M,” I say,
just to go with things.

 

The boss shrugs and shuffles on,
past the crim, the writer,
the barred lawyer,
the thugs,
the one Daniel’s sure is a
mass murderer,
to talk to the Asian Star Trek obsessive.

 

“Dick snot?” the milliner rolls his eyes.
I just shrug.
The boss will never clue on,
but Dan knew
the second I spoke it.

 

*****

 

I’m given a trolley,
a company jacket,
sent into daylight to pick up the mail.
Legal documents, mostly,

 

from
office buildings.

 

Some have fancy cakes, apples,
soft drinks, laid out for clients,
in their foyers.

 

I eat like a pig.

 

Lunch is on everyone.

 

*****

 

“If you do it properly,”
the boss tells me,
“the run should take 2 hours.”

 

I watch his mouth as he talks,
can’t take my mind off the way
he drinks the communal milk
straight
from the carton.

 

That little bit of spittle, which
works against flows.

 

Later, exiting the last building
after only forty minutes,
I worry for a second,
about missed pick-ups,
but notice the small, dark pub
directly opposite.

 

And do what the sucker before me did,
and probably the one
before him.

 

*****

 

Crossing the pub’s doorway
good and slow,
I hope with every fibre of my being
the barman will recognise the jacket,
the trolley,
call me by the previous bloke’s name.

 

That I can sit down, resume
talking universal bullshit,
as if shitkickers and bar staff are
all the same,

 

only differing in shape and tone.

 

*****

 

Daniel and I go to a nightclub with no name,
or security,
no dress code.
No-one to kick out a bum or gay man.

 

I meet Wendy-Joy,
who wears thick-rimmed glasses,
that fit perfect with that leather jacket,
and wild, black hair.

 

As A leads to B,
I ask to come home with her.
“I would,” she says. “Really.
But,
Lauren and I are from Sydney,
we’re heading back tomorrow.”

 

“Is that the only reason?” I ask.

 

It takes so little,
a cab ride,
to pack my clothes,
into an army bag.

 

*****

 

Watching Wendy-Joy smoke
unfiltered cigarettes
while she drives,

 

remains
one of the simple joys of my life.

 

When she exhales, it swirls,
mixing with her old bomb’s motion,
the sunlight,
from that other, outdoors world.

 

All that sin,

 

disgusting, yet beautiful,
on someone so sublime.

 

*****

 

“We’re going to give up,” Wendy-Joy reads
half my mind.
“As soon as we hit the boarder,”
Lauren adds, happily.

 

But by the time we cross the Murray,
there’s still half a pack left.

 

“Hate waste,” she shrugs,
lighting up again.

 

*****

 

Oh, Wendy-Joy, run from me,
the snake,
the no good snake,
the lost,
21 and full of cum.

 

You’re older, smarter,
an ex-lesbian, an ex junkie.

 

You have stories to tell.

 

Romance to share,
as you head home.

 

Love.

 

I can feel it.
Daniel could,
the barman,
the passing stranger,
the moment we met you.

 

I’m heading from home,
for boredom,
to collect stories.

 

Because I want something to hurt me,
so I might feel.

.

*****

 

Redfern passes.

 

I’ve hurt her enough,
will just hurt her more.

 

One morning it simply becomes time
to leave.

 

Sticking out your thumb on the highway,
is easy,
when you have 50 cents to spare.

 

*****

 

The 50 cent piece
stares up at me,
from my palm;

 

an apple, maybe two; a can of fruit,
or small fries.

 

Ten lollies.

 

A phone call,
for someone young and dumb,
somehow I know that,

 

with no-one to connect to.

 

*****

 

Darbo and Cami are heading
from FNQ to his
brother’s wedding
in Outback SA.

 

His beat-up land rover
is a thing from heaven –
an archetype, true –
as are his beard,
topless chest,
her short denim shorts and long, perfect hair.

 

“Look at you, mate,” he grumbles, happily,
as Cami smiles.
“The sun’s cooked ya.
Have a kip on the bed,
but don’t crease my wedding outfit…!
he growls.

 

Dangling over me, on a coat hanger,
are a clean flannel shirt
and jeans,
freshly ironed.

 

*****

 

Darbo and Cami leave me at a crossroad,
before heading west,

 

into the desert.

 

A car stops, eventually.
I get in.

 

“Sorry,” the man says,
in a boring voice.
Everything about him looks
overtly ordinary.

 

“Why?” I ask.

 

“I saw you ten minutes ago,
but had to stop and put my
clothes on,
then double back.
People get the wrong idea about nudists

 

all the time.”

 

“For real?” I ask.

 

“Sure,” he smiles a boring smile.
“Then I’m sorry, too,” I say,
as we drive off at safe, boring speed.

 

“Why?” he asks.
“For making you put your clothes on,”
I reply.

 

*****

 

It feels odd, sitting naked,
next to a man driving
naked.

 

Who knows what passing truckies

 

think?

 

If the cops pull us over,
it will be a hell of a story.

 

*****

 

The nudist turns off somewhere,
for some reason,
heads down a small, boring road.

 

A truckie picks me up.

 

Raphael seems happy.
He only does short hauls
these days,
but tells me, full of bubble,
about the long trails –
22 hours to make a 23 hour distance,
and back again.

 

Mixing your coke
into your bottle of coke,
so the cops won’t find it.

 

“You piss yourself,
but you just, sorta… grin!”
he smiles.

 

“Do you miss it?” I ask.

 

For the first time in an hour,
that smile wains,
wobbles,
flips up again, down.

 

“Yeah, nah, not really,
sometimes.
A bit.
You know how it is,
got a wife and kid now.”

 

*****

 

A pair of whining Poms drop me off in Melbourne,
2am on a Wednesday.

 

They shouted me dinner.
In return,
I listened to the words “Sod it”
hour upon hour.

 

“Sod it! Right, Marry? A shark aquarium?
HA!
Sod it!
Over-priced, wasn’t it Marry?
Well, sod it! Sod them!”

 

So on.

 

After that, sleeping in the golf course
under the 5th green hedges,
is more than fine.

 

*****

 

I dream, unsurprisingly,
of clichés and highways,
as if writing a good, bad
country song.

 

*****

 

It’s a strange deal.

 

Rick’s a gay barman I used to work with,
stylish,
cluey, devastatingly attractive.

 

Julia’s his fag hag,
his handbag,
fruit fly –
that almost pretty woman who,
with a good cake of make-up,
looks fine,
just prefers loudly gay men,
the extroverted lack of subtly

 

they often share.
I can stay at their place
as long as I keep fucking
her.

 

“Just make my darling happy,” Rick grins a ripper,
crooked grin,
mouth giving the smallest, orgasmic “…ut.”.

 

But it’s not even attraction,
and a bluff can only last
so long.

 

*****

 

Rick collects antiques.
He shows me an exquisite carving
of a panther
shaping around a clock.

 

“I traded that myrtle beech desk
set for it,” he says.
“Who got the better deal?” I ask.

 

“Oh, him,
but look at it…”

 

he croons at the carving.

 

*****

 

I watch the gay man marvelling his
panther carving,
jealous

 

of known things,
languages,

 

obsessions.

 

*****

 

Rick and Julia are having a house party.
In preparation, they get their full
camp on,
ratchetting up their “darlings” to
levels my bluff can’t go.

 

“Going for a walk,” I tell them,
on dusk,
while they cluck and gossip,
lay out dips,
put on make-up.

 

Then I stroll out the door,
jeans, a t-shirt, no fucking clue,
no plan.

 

A decision’s been made.

 

*****

 

It’s getting dark, cold,
I’m walking nowhere through Prahran,
painfully missing the refineries of boyhood,
the railways, their rust,
the stench of low tide,

 

the rumbling container ships, as
big as suburbs,
that put it in my heart
to never be still.

 

“And then…?” I ask myself,
and, on queue, God, no less,
points down from clouds.

 

“Because…” his voice booms.

 

There’s been a lover’s tiff,
in some two-story, 1950s deco
flats.

 

Both balcony doors are open,
the light’s off,
everything thrown out,
in a fit of rage.

 

I stop, looking at it all, on the footpath,
pick and choose –
these dollops of Heaven.

 

A nice jacket,
tie, shaver, smart shirt.

 

A doona.

 

Somewhere in the train wreck
is a photo of them,
trapped behind shattered glass.
I look briefly, so I can thank him
if we meet one day.

 

Just thank him and laugh, and slap his back
and laugh more.

 

“You dead set ripper!” I’ll say. “That was amazing!”

 

Without telling him what was,
or asking
a single detail.

 

*****

 

Movement wakes me,
sleeping in the golf course.

 

A fox makes its way onto
the 9th green.

 

I stay still as it approaches, curious.
Offer an open hand.

 

It sniffs, but I have nothing
more to give.

 

Up close it’s stunning,
with eyes that insist they carry
a soul.

 

*****

 

The fox gently opens its mouth
to chew on one of my fingers.
“No,” I say, pulling my hand back,
then hold it out again.

 

The fox looks at me, curious,
perplexed,
surely, that’s what’s on offer.
Tries, gently, again.
“No,” I insist,

 

the two of us lost in
a city’s heart.

 

*****

 

It’s Saturday.
The old Lakeside Oval grandstand
houses me now.
Once a thing of greatness,
that saw legends, Skilton, Round,
Heriot –
full-house crowds,
a world change from steam,
to
at times it seems stone.

 

*****

 

I put on my new clothes –
Jacket, shirt, tie –
use my new razor, shave raw,
and go to the busiest nightclub I can find,
bluff my way past
the cover charge.

 

The staff are under the pump.
I wait until they’re swamped, then tell
someone very Italian,
with that square, stubbled jaw,
I’ll start this moment,
if, for the first week,
they pay me on the night.

 

I haven’t eaten in days.

 

*****

 

There are eleven bars in the nightclub.
Several dance-floors,
nooks, crannies, VIP rooms,
mysterious, dodgy doors.

 

The main bar is a horseshoe, can be seen
from all four levels,
all angles.
There are bar watches everywhere.
Big, burly wogs, in cheap suits,
low level mafia goons
and their skinny girlfriends.

 

Everything combined makes it
almost impossible to
till diddle.

 

But I manage somehow.

 

*****

 

The crowd’s four deep at the bar,
dressed in flashing lights, shadows
and noise.

 

Someone gives a $50 note.
I fold it once, using my pinkie
and thumb,
as it enters my hand.
Use a less busy till,
one the customer can’t see –
three steps to the left,
by which time
the note’s been folded two more times.

 

Fingers touch the open till, but nothing goes in,
the note’s now folded once more,
tucked between ring and
middle fingers.
Change is given, banter,
a goofy smile.

 

I hate this place.
Give me bands,
give me a factory-bound mate, his old bomb,
to cruise back roads, cabbie cafes,
the refineries.

 

I hate the people
in here.
Their obviousness,
their volume.

 

But they come to the bar,
and I smile.

 

*****

 

Each spirit costs $5 –
simple goddamn math!
I roam “less busy” tills,
not ringing up drinks,
touching the counter for each one,
whispering; “That’s six… That’s seven…”
until I reach $50,

 

then take more.

 

All of it, easy.
Getting the note from hand to pocket
is the problem.

 

*****

 

Tying a shoelace works,
sometimes.
Pop – money in shoe.
Bunting against oblivious busboys.
“Psst, check her out…”
Their back covers me,
pomp –
pants pocket.

 

Sometimes, though,
there are no rocks to jump to.
I can see the money,
still tucked in between fingers,
through each drink I pour.

 

Which is,
strangely, exciting, like looking at a wound and
seeing bone.

 

*****

 

A $100 note rests
between my right hand’s fingers,
without a home.

 

There’s too much heat,
a bar watcher at each end,
people watching from floors above,
not enough staff to
bump into.

 

“Piss break,” I announce,
with that goofy grin.

 

Keep them looking at your smile.

 

*****

 

One of the real owners
approaches through the crowd,
hitman either side.

 

He’s happy to see me,
my goofy grin.
“Ahh, Thomaslav,” he smiles.

 

It’s an honour,
I like him a lot.

 

He has a real business,
as well as this connected one,
used to be a cage fighter,
in a way that affords
a laconic confidence.

 

But this place is the game,
I’m playing,
better than most.

 

Up to $2,000, each night.

 

Impossible odds,
but I’ve been lucky so far.

 

He holds his hand out
to shake,

 

the hundred still tucked in my palm.

 

*****

 

I make to shake the hand of
one of the real owners,
then pull it back, acting out a few cage fighting grips,
all goofy,
as if mock taking him unaware.

 

He laughs at the likeable kid,

 

and I dodge

 

machine guns.

 

*****

 

Money tucked in shoe,
the manager greets me,
as I make my way back to the bar.

 

Simon has a pinched face, that sits awkwardly,
in front of his long, flowing, blond hair.

 

He’s gay and an extrovert,
in colourful, loose suits,
or smart shirt and vest,
and doesn’t quite fit
with these men,
and their stubble and poorly contained violence,
and Italian hierarchies.

 

“You can’t keep this up forever,
you know,” he scolds.

 

But Simon knows that I know
how he’s ripping the place off,
and by how much.

 

Jesus fucking Christ,
I’m small time!
A barman.

 

They’ll kill him,
if
I go down.

 

*****

 

Jasmine’s sweat cools in the after sex.
She’s a busgirl,
has a way that doesn’t fit here,
that doesn’t fit anywhere,
despite her beauty.

 

She seems aimless, lost,
behind that stunning smile.

 

“No way…” she gaps.
“I mean, I half knew…”

 

So I give her the blueprint,
while she
draws nothings
on my chest, in that time to sigh.

 

*****

 

“They need something big
to launder huge amounts of money.
The club’s not about profit,
they don’t care.
It’s about cash flow,”
I tell her.

 

“But why nightclubs? Ego?” she asks,
dreamily,
the clever egg.

 

“So,” I continue. “They buy a big venue,
get two or three hansom faces,
young, from popular mid-sized nightclubs,
to be ‘the owners’, even give them a
4% share, as a wage.
The vice cops…”

 

“Fuck that! Don’t tell me any more!”
Jasmine smiles.

 

And we lounge around,
sweetly aimless, on her mattress,
at odd hours.

 

*****

 

Shannon is one of the ‘owners’.
A hansom man.

 

He knows how to smile, get his photos taken,
with other hansom faces;
the popular, the nobodies, Oscar winners.
He brings in all the cool cats,
the young.

 

Does a lot of cocaine with
whoever,
in the office.

 

“Hey, be busy!” he barks,
as I polish glasses,
in good time.

 

“Why?” I reply.
It will be flat knacker soon enough,
I’ll go fast and hard,
with a 21 dumb smile.

 

It’s his job, simply,
to be seen.

 

I have least to do with him
of them all.

 

*****

 

If you work,
you find a groove that fits.
If you work hard,
a groove makes itself for you.

 

Without a word being said,
I develop a role:

 

Know the place has two faces.
Don’t confuse the two.
Don’t discuss it.
Having no ambition seems vital.

 

If a customer notices something, sees
something,
keep the two worlds apart.
Keep.
Them.
Apart.

 

While working the main bar.

 

In this, the other manager comes up.
Donnie –
some powerful wog’s son or nephew.
An idiot throw-back,
trying too hard,
strutting, barking, making to impress
and impose,
over us, even though we’re no-one.

 

Today, though, as I set up, he
grovels.

 

“Tommy, Tommy! No.2 is coming over from Italy!
Number! 2!
ONLY you serve him! ONLY!”

 

There’s the oddest wobble in his voice.
“And whateveryoudo DON’T. Charge. Him. Anything…!”

 

I can’t help smiling at him.
At him.

 

We hate each other.

 

*****

 

As the night picks up,
seven giants appear,
seamlessly working their way to the bar.
A wad of
well-groomed, expensive Italian suits.

 

Each jacket worth,
at a guess, about five grand.
The right side of each chest,
when they move,
slightly bulging.

 

They part to reveal a small Italian man;
white hair,
genuine, engaging smile.

 

“Hello!” he beams. “I’m Tonio! Are you Thomaslav?
I’m told you’ll be looking after me
tonight.”

 

*****

 

Tonio’s confidence is overwhelming,
open, if not welcoming –
that of a man who doesn’t have to prove anything
to anyone.

 

“This is a nice place!” he smiles.

 

“Thanks. You can have it for
$200,” I reply,

 

with that goofy grin,
always.

 

*****

 

I want to ask No.2 real things,
anything.

 

But know my role.

 

We talk about less than nothing,
amicably,
for the longest while.

 

*****

 

Tonio enquires about a bargirl.
“That one?” I say.

 

“Yes, her.”

 

Georgina’s another one of those
on the public side.

 

We watch her working the bar –
pretty,
too vain to look customers in the eye,
even though that’s her job,
sneering, projecting.

 

I‘m over you,
I’m over this,
I’m better than this.

 

Yet here she is,
some rich cunt’s daughter.

 

*****

 

A drunken rugby player,
no neck, all muscle,

 

tight shirt,

 

on a drunken end of year team trip,
falls backwards,
into one of Tonio’s bodyguards, lounging
against the bar.

 

There’s a second that lasts forever.

 

A photo in my mind,
of glorious armies in waiting,
of clans,
cultures.

 

People.

 

In it I see the rugby team, 24 or five of them, solid men,
belittling a dance floor,
with testosterone filled leers, foghorn laughter,
glorious in their invincibility.

 

The seven bodyguards, in love with their job,
calm.

 

“Fucking wog!” the rugby player says,
taking a swing.

 

And
like
that
the dance floor empties,
people screaming, crying,
rugby players battered, bashed,
hunched,

 

protecting their faces.

 

*****

 

Security, to a man on the wrong side,
run to the call
of high-ranking guests,

 

and violence.

 

*****

 

The bodyguards seem precise, in a brutal way,
but the bouncers
are out to impress,
make names for themselves.

 

They go way too hard,
treating it like its an audition,

 

personal.

 

*****

 

A few of the rugby players
get dragged
into the lane, via the emergency door.

 

The place quickly smooths over.

 

“God, boys shit me!” Georgina complains,
as the rest of us settle down
ruffled bystanders,
with free drinks and smiles.

 

I touch a young man’s shoulder;
“Are you okay?”
“That was full on,” he replies.

 

None of them know what happened,
they never do.
It amazes me.

 

The bad card trick I’m on
the other side of.

 

*****

 

Georgina walks by, sneering;
“I’m going on my break…”

 

She passes some bouncers and
bodyguards,
discretely re-entering
for they emergency door.

 

Nobody noticing the remains of
a retina

 

on one of their shoes.

 

*****

 

It fascinates me,
that retina,
on the bodyguard’s shoe tip.

 

What stories had it seen?
Tenderness?
Tries, conversions?

 

How many tears will result,
in the days and weeks ahead,
years,
from the other eye?

 

Did it belong to a thug, or good man,
drawn by proxy of clan
into violence?

 

I’ve fallen into many fights.
I don’t think of myself
as a bad man.

 

*****

 

Two busboys didn’t show up,
one left with the violence.
There’s broken glass, blood
everywhere.
Jasmine’s under the pump.

 

I see her working, slightly hunched shoulders,
eyes focused, overwhelmed,
and turn to my workmates;
“Take it in turns,
we’re all busboys for the next
few hours.”

 

There’s status in being bar staff
at popular nightclubs,
that fuels fishbowl vanity.

 

A good barman, a really good one,
provides a craft,
makes happy hard lives,
but there are few here I can see,
outside the cocktail bar.

 

They have no idea how
small they are.

 

You do the ice, I’m over it,”
Georgia says,
but the others comply.

 

*****

 

Everything creases out,
the dance floor heals,
new customers pour up against
the bar.

 

Only then I notice Tonio, and a few of his bodyguards
haven’t moved the whole time.

 

No.2, from Italy, watches me
without a smile.

 

That look is next level,
actual notice,
is deciding things.

 

Stupidly, I return his stare.

 

*****

 

Tonio looks crestfallen when I tell him
my shift’s over.
The sucky manager asks me to stay on,
double the wage,
but;
1. Jasmine looks defeated, I want
to get her out of here.
2. I’ve slotted some coin,
all night, in the middle of this shit show,
just because,
each pocket’s loaded and I’ve now

 

lost my nerve.

 

“That bar girl you asked about?
She wants to serve you the rest of the night,”
I say to Tonio.

 

He straightens, just that bit,
and smiles.

 

*****

 

Jasmine’s flat has nothing on the walls,
a mattress on the floor.
Her grins falls from heaven,
blinding me to a quiet toughness

 

I’m too young
to recognise.

 

A hidden hurt.

 

In hindsight, she wants something,
without knowing what.
Just something.

 

More than this.

 

Not drunk, not high, just tired,
she lies in my chest,
looking at a leaf she brought home.

 

It fascinates her,
the green, its veins,
the complexity within its simplicity.

 

Lost in thought,
she stares at it for what seems
hours.

 

*****

 

Kane’s running second in the
till fiddling.
All us don’t-belong-heres,
bottom feeding off this mighty,
grinding machinery.

 

He’s late 30s, to look at him,
a stocky red-head,
that bit rough – a character.

 

He uses his girlfriend
as a runner.

 

She gives him a tenner, he returns
change for $100.

 

It’s way less risky
doing it this way,
if they’re good at it,

 

but you have to split
your takings.

 

*****

 

Kane and his girlfriend split the takings,
50/50,
hang around after he knocks off,
drinking, laughing,
falling into each other,
in love, lovingly
re-investing via top shelf.

 

I don’t want to be him,
or even really know him,
or have what he has,
but
still get madly jealous, somehow.

 

*****

 

“The Eastern Soccer League is good, tough,”
Fin says.
He’s a broad, no bullshit Aussie,
head of security.

 

He’s telling me; “I get the team to come to my
martial arts classes…”,
when there’s an eruption behind us.

 

Two Middle Eastern men are fighting
bouncers, losing,
as Fin joins in.

 

They’re bundled out, then

 

forced, kicking and clawing,
into the cab
of a startled driver.

 

He’s Indian, to look at him,
and doesn’t object,

 

I suspect well knows
both sides of the venue.

 

*****

 

Jean, a Swiss bouncer, slams
the cab door shut
on the fingers of one of the Middle Eastern men,
just for crooked laughs.

 

An hour later, when, by co-incidence,
I’m out front again,
a station wagon stops
in middle of the road.

 

One of the Middle Eastern men rises from
behind the driver’s door,
with a shotgun under a tracksuit top,
pointing it at us.

 

The other’s waving a hand gun.

 

“You fucking arseholes! Are you ready!?”
the one with the shotgun shouts,
as everybody scatters.

 

Jean pokes his head out
from shelter;
“Come on!” he shouts, then ducks back again.
Then out;

 

“Hurry up!  Come on!”
and back.

 

Fin, squatting behind a car with me,
starts to laugh.

 

“You’re going to fucking die!” the Middle Eastern man
rages.

 

“Come on, then! Come! On!”

 

Fin and Jean can’t stop laughing.

 

They’re having

 

a ball.

 

*****

 

Luna comes into the bar.
I haven’t seen her for two years.

 

She stares at me,
with that spellbinding, wonky smile,
from behind all those hair beads and
bracelets,
and richly coloured layers
of hippy clothes.

 

“Are you in love?” she greets me,
cutting to the bone.

 

“Hi,” I say.

 

“Are you in love,” she replies,
with a sassy grin.

 

Not; Are you with someone?

 

That question’s small.

 

*****

 

Luna was the one, and always will be,
it seems.
First love, full love.
In love with the idea of being in love.

 

A kid at the time, but not a kid, free and wild,
with the most tender, junkie mum,
who adored
and taught and believed
in love and hopelessness.

 

Raised her daughters on
love and hopelessness.

 

Luna fucked everything; that man
the age of her father, with that bushranger’s beard,
who withered her;

 

that boy, who became a clone of her,
over whom she blossomed;
that musician,
that blind man, who could “only see
my inner beauty.”

 

yet I’ve been bottled,

 

only let in close,
when she needs to

 

feel.

 

*****

 

“You don’t fit in here,” I tell Luna

 

obvious things.

 

“Pfft,” she scoffs.

 

Nothing threatens Luna

 

except herself.
The venue’s irrelevant.

 

They all are.

 

*****

 

Luna’s father is
Australia’s most wanted man;

 

a poet, a bastard junkie,
bank robber,
twice escapee.

 

Now lost in the cocaine trade,
and arms dealing,
in Germany and the Middle East,

 

word says.

 

Her being at this venue is no big deal
for her,
or coincidence.

 

I’ve been hunted.

 

*****

 

“Where have you been?” I ask.

 

“Tonight?” Luna replies.
“In general.”
“Are you in love?” she repeats,
ignoring my painfully

 

linier

 

question.

 

In one sentence,
I’m scrambling to keep up with
her again.

 

*****

 

Sliding Jasmine off my chest
without waking her
takes time.

 

I sit naked on her kitchen bench,
where we ate cereal for dinner
at 5am,
thinking of her, and Luna,
without remotely knowing why
I made the choice I did.

 

The barman and the busgirl,
the lowest rungs,
huddled beneath

 

much bigger personalities.

 

*****

 

The office door’s painted mat-finish black,
like the wall,
tucked under a stairwell,
behind the bar.

 

Shadows in shadows, a frame painted
onto the wall.

 

But the door has a squeak to it,
a rusty old knee of a thing,
impossible to hide,

 

in the silence of
pre-and-post

 

open.

 

*****

 

Wednesday arvos
have become my favourite.

 

The bosses want me setting up the bar,

 

no-one else,

 

before doors are opened,
when you walk at the pace
you choose,
when everything’s lazy,

 

and deals are done
behind that dark, flat, mat-finish door.

 

*****

 

The manager unlocks the office,
goes in.
Creeek…

 

Then one of the fake owners,
then several vice cops…

 

Creeek, creeek…

 

One of the real owners arrives,
a bodyguard either side,
the two of them almost comic book.

 

Vincenzo; nice height, swarve build;
Louis; a hulking gorilla.

 

Creeek, the owner and Louis go in,
leaving smoothy with me,
at the bar.

 

Vincenzo’s always on the job,
never once stops looking
up, down, sideways,
as we talk.

 

I tell him I’m thinking of taking up
boxing.

 

Snap.

 

He’s looking at me.

 

Snap.

 

He’s angry.

 

“What for?” he barks. “You want to spend
a third of your life
in a fucking gym?”

 

“I dunno,” I tell him, “Fitness, confidence
in a fight.”

 

“Confidence in… What ya…?” he whips his head about,
pops veins.
A third of your life! In a fucking gym!? FOR FUCKING WHAT…?”

 

He pulls his jacket back, revealing his gun.

 

“If it’s worth fighting, you
use one of these, or walk away!
You hear me?
One of these, or walk away!”
he glairs.

 

What are you, stupid? A third of your life…”

 

The words come out of me,
already half way towards him,
before I realise I’ve

 

said them;

 

“Vincenzo, I want to fight you.”

 

His head becomes steel-hard,
slightly vibrating with the

 

power
of his rage.

 

He stares, too angry for words,
for what feels like minutes,
even though it can’t be.

 

It’s not quite worth shooting some over,
I hope, yet I was curious;

 

Use a gun or walk away.

 

*****

 

The one thing I’ve learnt is;

 

never

 

apologise to men like Vincenzo.
I’ve said it, it’s too late.

 

I stare back across the bar, expressionless,
at his fury,
waiting.

 

We’ve still not said a word since I
asked him to fight.

 

Finally,

 

creeek,

 

the owner comes out,
with his gorilla.
The body language of his bodyguard
is obvious,
even at a distance.

 

“Vincenzo!” he snaps.

 

Vincenzo keeps staring,
he’s just too damn angry.

 

“Vin! Cen! Zo!” the owner barks.

 

Finally, the bodyguard’s glare slides off me,
to his boss,
then back again.

 

“…Nah, not this time mate,” he growls.
“But if you really want, I’ll get
Louis over there
to break both your fucking legs!
He spends A THIRD OF HIS LIFE IN THE FUCKING GYM!”

 

Inside, I’m applauding,
standing goddamn
ovations!

 

To this day, until I die,
it’s the most cowboy thing
I’ll ever hear!

 

*****

 

Each week I take more,
thousands a night.

 

The money, really, has
nothing to do with it.
I haven’t spent any,
am still living on another couch,
going nowhere.

 

It stays creased, crumpled,
hidden someplace.

 

A bloke I once knew from the bush calls.
Muz.

 

He needs someone about 21, full of cum,
for hard, backbreaking work,
up in the cold ranges.

 

A place to be lost
and not found,

 

 

*****

 

“You’re leaving?” Jasmine pouts.
I don’t know what to say.

 

“Why?” she asks.

 

I still don’t know what to say.

 

*****

 

“You’re leaving? Why?”
Simon protests,
but I can see relief all over his face.

 

We’re not friends,
just know each other’s secrets.

 

How many times has he

 

had

to cover my arse?

 

I do like him, though,
the extrovert,
in his loud suits.

 

“Because, it’s better to stop telling jokes
before they’re no longer funny,”
I tell him.

 

“From here it’s all in or die.”

 

He deciphers what I’m throwing down –
in part.
It’s advice, as much as statement,
but extroverts seldom listen.

 

He doesn’t hear that hue.

 

*****

 

Simon keeps working for them,
keeps doing the till shuffle.

 

That’s his trick.

 

He opens an extra register

 

for the early surge.
When it, as always, subsides,
he shuts the till again, z-totals.

 

And, when everything picks up
after 1am, opens it once more.

 

But only records the one takings.

 

He’s making a fortune,
to spend on those suits,
because he can,
to woo who he wants to woo,
for whatever reason.

 

These things we do,
slipping and sliding through
and/or around
power.

 

*****

 

A few months after I’m gone,
Simon makes a 16 year old
he’s banging
head busboy,
I’m told.

 

The other busboys and girls crack it
to the higher ups.
They’ve put in years.

 

The kid walks around in
expensive, gaudy suits, just like Simon,
clothes beyond a busboy’s wage.

 

But when the owners overrule,
demoting him,
in mind-numbing stupidity,
he tells them

 

everything,

 

as if that will get him
his leader’s role back.

 

I’m told.

 

*****

 

The owners set up Simon.
Catch him taking $6,000 in a night,
I’m told.

 

I try to find sympathy, but he explained to a
sixteen year old he was
having sex with
the works.

 

Every aspect of that sentence
bothers me.

 

Simon was always going to fall,
the extrovert.

 

Get out
before the jokes stop


being funny.

Or die.

 

*****

 

A tall, strong lady
in a tall, powerful building
comes to see me in the foyer.

 

I’ve set up a fake name,
a fake bank account,
fake tax file number.
A whole fake fucking identity,
and want advice.

 

I haven’t even risen to greet her yet,
when
she looks down on me warmly,
suggesting,
no charge,
I simply put my money
in a normal bank account,
with small, but reliable interest.

 

She’s used to dealing with millions.

 

I thank her, finish my

 

fancy cake,
and am gone.

 

*****

 

The ridge is cold,
seems lost in perpetual fog
and blurred, prehistoric sunsets.
Its few scattered people
weathered, bearded,
wear beanies, gumboots.

 

Muz is hard,
enough of a bastard for me to know
I don’t want to be him,
but over the next twenty years
I’ll learn more from the leathery cunt
than I did my father.

 

I work in the bush for him,
alone.

 

He bangs up an old dairy shed
for me to live in –
small, uninsulated,
with no shower.

 

Peppered with bush rats,
and the snakes
that come in after them.

 

Enough cracks that even when
the windows are closed,
the curtains billow.

 

Snow.

 

I have to learn how to drive,
to be tough,
to know weather,
in this new adventure.

 

To be alone.

 

*****

 

Sometimes,
I think of contacting Jasmine,
even though I never, for a second,

 

deserved the woman.

 

I never deserve any of them.

 

But I have no idea how
to find her.

 

*****

 

I’m still not sure why
I rejected Luna’s

 

overtures.
Maybe, because I knew it

 

could never last.

 

Then,
it would be over.

 

 

 

More poetry from Tommy Mallet can be read Here

 

 

We’ll do our best to publish two books in the lead-up to Christmas 2021. The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020  and the 2021 edition to celebrate the Dees’ magnificent premiership season(title is up for discussion at the moment!). These books will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers and Demons season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from these two Covid winters. Enquiries HERE

 

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