And then there's Steve, black sheep of the everyday,
who would not change his life for any other.
He loves his room at the Albert Clarke Hostel,
would not swap for any poncey house or bungalow
in which some wanker family lives.
He had that once, and kids now scattered who
never visit. That's fine by him. His profile's
not on Facebook, only on police files state to state
for nothing much, he says, just a bit of dealing pot,
a fight or two, or telling the fuzz to get fucked
whenever they try to take him down.
Stopped for drunken driving in an unregistered car
and ordered out, he smiles, 'Say please!' 'Get out
the car,' the cop repeats. He refuses, repeats
his own demand, and finds himself in cuffs
and bruised in the back of a van. All he wants
from life, he says, is stitched in scars on face
and body – from cops or mates whose women
he steals, the freaks he sells his deals to or the pricks
who threw him off the train for being off his face.
But for all his stays in Long Bay gaol, those
psychotic episodes on pot or ice or horse,
he loves his mum as only a prodigal can,
and she loves him for his tinder arms and frail legs,
the wheezing breath in his pigeon chest.
She just wishes he'd remain a slurred voice
on the other end of the phone. She loves
his loyalty, his feverish affection, but is always
terrified he'll visit – with his beard reaching to his chest,
the tats on arms and scars on face and body,
whenever he arrives, he cuts a fearsome figure
in the quiet country town she lives in.
For forty years the cops have beaten him
to pulp for one crime or another;
but now they seldom raid the hostel
where he holds court, perhaps expecting
- hoping – someday soon will be his last.
But Steven skin-and-bones has no regrets
and fewer wants: he has some pot to deal
and every now and then a woman to take to bed
by his blazing drug-fueled eyes. The others in the hostel
tread warily around him for a fuse so short,
a carelessness of consequence that none there now
would care to cross him. At last he has the only thing
he's ever craved or fought for in this life.
I heard Ron Pretty read from his new book 'what the afternoon knows'
(Pitt Street Poetry) at Passionate Tongues recently here in Melbourne -
plus some rip snorter new work for the next book (go Ron!). But he
didn't read this poem. I very much like the way you have to return to
the title to understand what the hero of the poem craves. And, of course,
I live near Frankston, so I see these guys around all the time. You can see
the lost boys, and the angry young men, inhabiting the gaunt, ill-groomed,
crazy-eyed, oath-spluttering, end-of-the-line losers. I give them all a wide
berth and don't make eye contact. They are still angry, after all these years.
There is a world of stories in their anger.