The Wrong Address index
Irimo Street, Lae, Papua New Guinea 1985
Mi helpim yu.
The large soft fingers fold gently around my keys -
Strange greeting from strange hands, so dark
Against my pale, the quality of new sensation;
Unbalanced I admit the uninvited
And watch technology defeat all good intentions,
For the lock will not acknowledge
Its new master.
Nem bilong mi Pita.
Apinun, nem bilong mi Thor.
Sadly I take back the keys.
A legion of green ants claims right of way
On the choko vine entangled with the gate.
It's a condominium, as they say
In the cities of the West; in equatorial Lae
It's a high covenant fortress, decayed
Up from its damp green bottom
To the corroded window bars. A sleepy scene
Of silent raging warfare between gekos
And an ark of insects. It's paradise
To the voices in the foliage, over the barbed wire,
Across the chasm of colliding worlds.
The privileged dwell in this block
Of four retreats, defended from poverty's claw
By three metre cyclone fences; imprisoned,
Tethered by the culture of their bellies
To the ethereal domain of supermarket shelves;
The expatriates trade their guilt psychoses
For the shifting masks of "expert",
The fool a thousand miles from home;
Caricature of fey qualities,
Wishfully misfit, missionary, mercenary.
As my feet quietly slap about parquetry floors
Prizing the solitude of their echoes,
Eight beings sweat and sing hymns
And sometimes fight
In a box of a one-room shack,
Not twenty metres over the wire.
On early mornings
Smoke wisps hover from their fires
And the shouts of the children
Are full of hope.
Hope wanes for the warriors bereft
With each day as the sun goes down
Over the squatter camp,
Where chance is taken from God
And luck is rarely given
To these lost proud men from the mountains,
With funny languages
And no weapons
To seize the dazzling prizes of new knowledge.
Only the women find something to sell.
They forgive my prodigal isolation;
They admire my freezer`s capacity for making cash :
Crimson ice-blocks are the currency of civilization,
Sold by heavy, patient Jane
Of the spikey hair and missionary smock,
To `munkis', all elbows and dusty kneecaps,
Who miraculously in the depths of a ragged pocket
Find twenty-five toea
To dye their tongues sticky-cold-red.
James knocks every night, after dinner -
Slight, polite, insistent, searching for a key
To the realm of parquetry floors;
He comes with a single torn exercise book
At first to study (he says), to learn
From the silence of empty rooms;
But away from the rich aroma of kin
He is spooked by a stranger within.
They hold him in awe, pool ice-block money
To succour their hope for the clan.
With his book James carries new magic;
But out of their sight
He bares his shame and terror :
The image of a boy in an unironed shirt.
James brings the garment regularly
Like a vestment to the temple of light.
For forty minutes each the torpid evening,
He irons with infinite ritual
And respectful conversation
At the creases in his mastery
Of a foreigner's domain.
Behind my dancing mask,
Trickster, expert, self-deceived,
Finally I know the limits of permission;
Of all the treasures,
What minute gifts are taken from my hands.
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© copyright Thorold May 1995 All Rights Reserved
published by The Plain & Fancy Language Company ACN 1116240S Sydney, Australia
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