We saw Ern Malley on the St Kilda Beach tram,
old and grey, chuntering away from a CBD
part Zagreb, part St Louis.
At Scheherazade the waitresses
spoke in broken Yiddish,
and emerged between screens of ebony
to serve us espresso on the lam.
We rejected the sedated snobocracy
of Fintona, Strathcona, Shelford,
only to be swept up by the squattocracy
of a brassy inner-city brasserie,
where lingerie exhibitionists unhooked
grotty bras in assorted grades,
and rolled eczema-reddened shoulderblades
to demonstrate something called counterlunch.
The buzz of Collingwood supporters was in the air —
creak and croak and carn and yeah —
the raw prawn savoir faire,
identified for us by righteous yells
of aerial ping-pong barrackers’ whistles and bells
wafting over from the Pavilion of Agriculture,
built when this open prison above the Yarra
was ironic capital of the Unbelievable Century.
Bronzed booties dangled off rear-vision mirrors
of rustbucket hell after rustbucket hell
in the Palace of Sciences,
and out of the corner of one eye,
arriving from the dusty outback,
a slow-motion stampede of kangaroos
came at us in IMAX close-up
as we bent to the entrails of our emails.
A flock of cellphones cheep-cheeped
like a liberated aviary of budgies;
we were crossing and recrossing a gridlock
of prams on bargain-hunter walkabout
down crammed aisles of appliances
towards the slow-creep leakage of Daimaru
Food Court, its servings of snags and amber fluid
seeming to hold within their slick surfaces
the leer of the Luna Park clown, as if laminated on.
Then in a September trance, skippy and huggy,
Spring began to arrive in a shower of sushi,
each damp rice grain pressed cold and close,
like blank commuters bound for Bendigo.
And from the sky a thin rain seeped,
while Melbourne moped in a tinkle of guitars,
and we set our stoned compass for the airport,
moving to Tullamarine, King Midas in reverse,
tiptoeing through tulips gone bad.
Our backpacks skanked our booty —
Belgian Gothic clothes-pegs,
Greek Revival mudguards,
Florentine Renaissance verandah posts,
Spanish Mission parts of cars,
Moorish baby napkins.
We would never forget Melbourne:
its souvenir shops, and its delicatessens
stiff with deliquescent cheeses,
smelling like feet carefully left unwashed;
its shop windows of televisions
where we watched, as if on stained glass,
the beatitudes of Neighbours,
those shimmering halos of hairdos
set against a lapis lazuli light,
blank, iconic and blue.
From Fast Talker (Auckland UP, 2006)