The Brian Cranstons of Eat the Crusts Town, The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect Collaboration, The Indoor Snow Field Conspiracy, The Service Station Philosopher, A Lament to Mother Ambrosia, and More
Where were you last daylight?
The island trees loosely zigzagged
In the fashion of small tree reptiles.
Some have frills of linoleum
And others have pseudo wings
Instructed by patented remote control.
These are distant ancestors
Of the small jumping dinosaurs
Into the many species of birds,
Along with crocodiles
The sole species of dinosaur
That remain with us, though ofcourse
With new song and with produce identity.
So, my titular, plural, multi-temporal
Father locked himself
In his suburban lab for days on end.
Years before he was comedic
And spurt-pedantic in how he cared for me
Unknowingly through a middle other,
Taking the denial route,
Kicking me out, grounding me too often,
Admittedly being sometimes authentically heartfelt
But bettering himself in absurdity despite
The innovative absence of a laugh track.
Something must have happened to him
In the longish interval before he
He must have traversed
Some strange foreign land.
He flared anew in the role
Of a character so different
From the one who
Had clumsily presided over our
Comedic middle lives.
He pulled the swollen slime
Forces which compete beneath us
Like underworld Olympians
Up around us by the armpits
Onto a clear, sick pedestal,
Embroiling a new treasured family
In urgent entirely adult poison and death.
Of course the lessons
Remained secondary to the plot
Which milked many twists from the whole.
But we know that is a wide
Angle of what is ultimately a face
Faded by focus, highway strips
Behind blushes that are emphasis
Of suspense injected real-world crime.
Last night my dog drowned in TV snacks
So I’ll have to buy another yet again.
It’s strange how the language of the now
Remains so outdated and inflexible.
Man is but a flimsy diving board.
Now, my sister
Was a glow worm when she entered
The same mandatory educational system as I.
My mother had inadvertently formed her
From her habit of cradling all the phosphorescent
Glow worms in her garden
On practically an hourly basis
So that when my father’s seed entered
Her it absorbed the
Essence of suburban garden glow worm.
School afternoons after Roll-Ups and Milo
By the tablespoon I would see her curled up
Like a single toe faintly emanating
On her queen-size bed, often
Inside a future grade maths textbook,
Her two tiny black bead eyes
Anchoring whole worlds
Of cheese-grated shadows.
Under influence of Beyoncé and Kylie Minogue
Her human body grew out
Of her in her last years of High School,
Mostly actually I think because
Of the amount of effort she put
Into studying for those strictly human exams.
She became an accountant
In Sydney and she still calls
Me every couple of weeks
(Calls mind and from a house phone)
But we very rarely talk about
The delicate intricacies
Of suburban gardens.
She owns her own accounting business
Now too and is slowly crawling
Towards the bracket of the one percent.
Gaps where are imprinted
The treads of judgements
That based on little information
Amount to no information
Not just because it’s vacuous
But because the picture it makes
Is somehow filled in
As though by a swarming energy
That never lends
Itself to a clear picture
Of itself in honest isolation
But talks and talks
It’s true you need to do more than
Several degrees worth of reading to
Get even a handhold
But nothing is as valuable
As the real thing.
The undesirable, begging extreme
Of this is that one must then read
Your street plus the next street
Plus the next right up
Over ocean currents
And concrete break-walls
Like The Pentagon
With its black money and
Secret UFO metals
And I live in suburban Australia
For goodness sake with its own
Kilometres long oil piping
Tangled like a vengeful ex’s
Fossilized pubic hairs on a shower sponge
That’s both ours and the world’s.
So it’s a question of being
A master of detail.
What to notch up and what
Not to notch up or gloss over and becoming
A master of espionage as well.
‘Who am I that I should come
Forward to speak
With laurelled infrastructure
And lap markers dangling
From my refined salt and sugar helixed beard?’
Held parallel as though
By Steadicam apparatus
I am only brought forward
By as-yet unknown algorithms of feeling,
Untranslated atheist scripture
Interacting from postcode lair.
The Hindus have their billions
In temple-vaulted gold,
I hold my savings in silver against ruin,
Gram-by-gram in chocolate-wafer-thin bars
Beneath my bed protected by a cache
Of ninja stars and a secret police grade taser.
I give the same spiel
I always give with the same levels
Of sincerity but never the same code
No matter what recording device I be under
Or in what databank quartered.
I sift replica from replica,
Lizard tail from human joint,
Sauropod from snail.
Soaked and steamed do I continue…
It is with a pleasurable heart
That I can inform you
That hundreds of eggs
Of Dryococelus Australis
Or ‘The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect,’
Driven to the brink of extinction
By Black Rats in the early
Twentieth Century and
Rediscovered on Balls Pyramid,
An erosional remnant of shield volcano just off
The southeast of the island,
Have been vacuum air mailed
To zoos in Bristol,
Toronto and San Diego.
Over time the stick insects moult,
Turning a mottled green
Then brown and finally a stealth jet black.
Stick insects are among
Sir David Attenborough’s
He collected them as a child
Much as I collected discs of him.
When they emerge
From the egg the insects
Are a vibrant green and
Three times the size of their egg.
The new system
Of disinfection involves washing
The eggs in a mild
Bleach solution before rinsing
Them in sterilized water
And then air drying them.
A batch of healthy hatchlings
Are proof it was all a grand success.
I will let you in
On part of our little secret just enough
So that it’s only interruptive
In a very small way.
We are filming a production
Of the stick creatures involved above
Your own lives
And have disguised ourselves
In the form of castles, palaces
And forts in documentaries
So that when you see us
It will be like you are poking
Into us and not the other way around.
If you round
Up all the dissatisfied talk
What does it amount to?
The public talk but
The private talk too
Both real-time and digital.
How does it relate
To the different verbosity
Of our nagging and nurturing feelings
And to the thought-parts
That stay stuck in our suckers?
It all will have to be part
Of the final utopic structure.
Let us say that the nagging feelings
Come from our other mothers
And their other mother’s mother’s
Right up to that original outside form
Extremophile to which they have given
The name of Lucas.
Or was it Luca?
All this should deserve more than just
By the reader that a certain
Ratio of illumination has been met.
Light goes very fast nowhere
All the time and is responsible
For much designated
And undesignated phenomena.
How do the spotlights live?
What generations gather there?
What is the difference, say,
Between the spotlight systems
Of a local community theatre
With the ones at the international theatre
At the centre of town?
The difference between
The spotlights used by police
And the different kinds
Available for use
In the general suburban home?
It is becoming more commonplace
In the houses around where I live
For families to hide away
In a corner of their spotlight kennel.
Not just documents but transcripts
Of injustice too and
Videos of worried conversations
That knock down salt and pepper shakers
Or leave a bit of sauce
On a weekend shirt.
It doesn’t so much matter
That a demonic spotlight
Crippled Clare Smith’s poodle.
What matters more
Is what video games, TV series,
News reports, Tweets and speeches
Were knocking around in there
When it committed the ghastly deed
And then finding its main roosts
In the turbulent light confluence.
Part of the problem
It seems is that the easy potential
Of our lives is given such priority
On its bedrock of perceived risks.
Certain horrors are
Beyond the pale
Of the day-to-day grind
Until they are manifested over
And over again as if overminute
To stimulate us
Just enough to continue the day
Knowing we play our own
Significant and heroic part
To which pregnant, cosy escape is rudimental
And from which incremental
Fortunes can often be made.
The partitioned knowledge
Of certain links and channels
Is enough for some of us
To make small changes and contributions
Within the epic setting
In our bone-plated exoskeletal mode.
I am told that they can now
Structure our behaviours
With our fingerprints
And that they come in three main forms,
The whorl, the arch and the loop.
A very small minority
Have done what amounts
To ripping off bone, skin and muscle,
Unwhorling as it were and then
Reordering everything underneath
To enter dim, trickling narratives
When we know only the big buildings
Can make real catalytic change.
Our courts will uphold
Even overt legal smashing
If its verifiably for natural security,
If it’s to shield the natural interest,
If it’s justifiably just to unjust
Than to suffer wide injustice, always anyway
A slippery skystone thing.
And that would bring me
To our next headlined subject,
The conspiracy of the indoor snow fields,
Of the companies and their
Artificial snow affiliates,
Except that we
Are running short on
What is my sense of preordained time.
Suffice to say that despite
Their business being predicated
Upon precise facts of science
They continue to push
Their wonderlands against
A tenable future, skating
On a very forest floor
Of shady deals and
Are like the few times
We stepped into the street
Around small Roman numerals
Into the morning
And saw that we could see
Legibly into the distance
By an orange-yellow pollutantsunmoon
Which must have been as close
As it ever gets to the earth.
We weren’t sure if it was
The brightest we had ever seen it
Or if we had ever seen
Our moon shadows with such clarity
And consistency of orange flow.
Why hadn’t society caught
Onto this yet? They could call it a moon day
And everything could be open.
Routine activities could be arranged
In abeyance timely, unprocessed source light.
When Trumbo Cranston organised
His underground cathedrals
With black coffee and black telephones
Prized purebred horses
Charaded, large visible entities
In the drenched shallows
A man with a fine house,
A fine artificial lake,
A fine collection of awards,
A fine plethora
Of relatable and touching lake anemones.
The film is a rare plopping place
Of a technically
But ahistorical manner.
A rare use of even thick strokes
For the neglected windows
Of the slowly refurbishing
In a legitimate street address
One of him is
Working in his bathtub
Inundated by positive
And negative charges
In ad finitum as we speak.
It’s the golden age of the small screen
And the multi-dimensioning of the silver.
Green, blue and purple hair adorn
Our neighbourhoods and streets.
I dreamt of, or imagined,
Some of the girls I’ve tried to sleep
With circling Cranston Trumbo’s bull ring
Then swiped into the inside
Of a patchy silhouette matador’s ribbon cloth.
My housemate uses
Our laundry as an office.
He has placed a
Blue mat outside the door
Where it can get away
With not being cleaned
But needing to be cleaned none-the-less.
Our fattening cat
Often curls up there oblivious to this fact.
He often leaves his
Dirty dishes on the closed
Laundry machine lid
Or in my multiple cross-hair
Snapped laundry basket
And his woollen, Scottish chequered
Blanket lies on the floor
Bristling with statically held
Cat-hairs under his multiple terabyte drive.
Once when I went in
To talk with him as I often do
After I have finished breakfast
Or a coffee outside on the porch
Watching people, the sky and pets go by
He told me about how he
Used to be a squatter with his friend
When they were heroin addicts.
They chose a derelict
And boarded up old
Train station gate house
Which they returned
To the power grid and
Had the water turned back on
By simply calling
The appropriate institutions.
They cleaned the place up
And installed doors
And carried in furniture and
An industrial plastic
Container for a bath.
One of the key things
They had to do to live there
He told me was to keep up appearances.
They replanted the front and back gardens
With ferns and flowers stolen
From funeral and retirement homes
And tended them on a regular basis.
Until the police rushed in
And evicted them.
At the end of the Gwynneville shops
Is the Caltex where I
Sometimes go to buy
Emergency late night milk
And my TV snacks.
The titular philosopher works there and
We have become friends
After I mentioned that I
Was working on a literature thesis
And he, having already
Completed one in both
Philosophy and law,
Gave me both encouragement and advice.
Last night we talked about
Marcus Aurelius’ theory
That knowing you are going to die
Comes to define the momentum of your life
While he smoked away from the bowsers
To offset the symptoms of his hay fever.
I countered that maybe
The fact of dying is irrelevant
Because we are so immersed in living
And all of its eternal promises
And that a comparison could be made
Between the first and the third world,
How the really rich do not
Even think of the poor
Though history tells
That some kind of event might
Strip their wealth away from them
And though the lives of the poor
Are like a hungry halo around them.
Tom countered that
There is a key difference
In that death is guaranteed
But the loss of wealth
Is extremely unlikely and
Often practically impossible
In our contemporary corporate world.
The rich have been shored
Against the poor but
Even for them death remains.
We went to get
Coffee at Zanders
In its new sister
Café which looks
Like a sixties style milk bar.
At first I cut my croissants
Through the middle there
And buttered them on the inside
But in a matter of weeks
I discovered that because the croissants
Were particularly brittle
It was much better to butter them
Across the top so that they didn’t break up
And progignere their crumbs everywhere.
Such is the truth of the Fates.
Tom cannot live
Off the APP scholarship
Because his sick mother
Is dependant on him
And is getting a titanium hip put in
And he cannot afford
To work just a handful of hours a week.
He has changed the way
Certain weapons are purchased
By the Defence Force and his voice
Sometimes rises like a hot air balloon
Seen through the operating code
Of a supercomputer.
We walked down
To a small forest
Catchment area bordered
By backyards and a graffitied sound barrier
With tall pine trees
And followed a concrete canal
Until it went under a street.
Tom saw a small patch of grass
By a retaining wall
With scraggly vines
Where the run-off water
We agree that it is
A nice little space.
We might write
To the government
To recommend a picnic table
With bench chairs be installed there
For the purposes of leisure or study.
We talked about
Following the canal
Up to where it meets
Run-off channels from the mountains
But we didn’t have
The right shoes.
Tom has started
Work as a space lawyer
For a start-up space company
And will print them out.
Let us sail tonight
Down the lower middleclass river
Where cutting leaves
Are both our burden
And our migraine splendour.
You will be there
And your future children
Will be there and the machine gnome
Who cannot die
Will be there in his eternal midnight room
Only living when
He blows his radiant bellows.
The good ol’ sure-fire way
Had of slap-stick operating.
She could comb a shark
Into a tuna casserole and still
Have time to call
The ocean into a sword hunt.
The oceans that have expanded
And plasticised beyond
Even the most reticent scientist’s forecasts.
Oh, obese, chronically heart diseased
Mother Ambrosia when the paediatricians
Took the silverfish to the wartime festival
It was not you that suffered
It was everyone including you.
Your toenails have grown
As far as Sagittarius
But the astronomers accept your tea
And dry bread fingers no longer.
Even the aliens are
Sliding right on down and through
To the continued undetected benefit
Of our off-shore automotive industries.
What was it you said
In our last face-to-face?
Yes – ‘beauty is but a multifarious
Affectation, a fixated quantum juggling
Of the elastic historical demeanour.’
And I told you of how
Even face technology
Can be recreated in a lab these days.
The Brian Cranstons
Of Eat the Crusts Town.
A man who is great
In not being great
But trying to be sometimes,
A great way
Of showing failed greatness
And then a fine
Picture of greatness
Cracked but undeterred.
Joel Ephraims is from Wollongong in NSW. In 2011 he won the Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize for new and emerging poets, in 2013 he published a chapbook of poetry, Through the Forest, as part of Australian Poetry and Express Media’s New Voices Series. In 2016 he won the Overland Fair Australia prize. His poems have appeared in Voiceworks, Overland, Tide, Cordite, Seizure, Kindling and Mascara. He has also had a suite of poems published for The Red Room Company’s The Disappearing.