Wednesday, 20 July 2016

What d'ya Think?

"So what d'ya think of the West?"

He hadn't yet learned the right reply to that.
He was only thirteen.
Every day the unrelenting heat was a hammer blow.
The sandy land stretched to low hills.
The only water was the mirage
shimmering in the distant haze.

How could he say that 4000 kilometres away
on the east coast
the sea poured through a narrow entrance
to form a lake of islands and inlets,
rocky promontories, little cave-filled foreshores,
choppy water filled with striking tailor,
and his young life had been filled with
tree houses, forts and cubbies,
splashing and plunging in the cool water,
his eye feasting all day on the changing blue
that he had taken entirely for granted.

So he hesitated, looked down, said

"It's good."

"Right then. Welcome to this school.
We hope that you will enjoy your time in the West."

Too little, too late.
He'd seen the narrowing of eyes,
lips drawn just a little more tight,
the offence too quickly taken.
Months later, on a cold wintry morning,
he would pay for that hesitation,
the implication that where he came from
may have been better.

Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

On the fifth stroke the cane broke clean in half.
His hands grew purple welts.
He tucked them under his arm pits
To warm them and soften the pain.

He was unbowed.
Girls fluttered around him.
The welts were external badges of honour.
Internally he now knew about insecure parochialism
and the abuse of power

so three years later,
when on a windy, rain-swept day,
after another long move with his gypsy family,
he arrived in Melbourne
knowing what to say to the inevitable question-

"So, what d'ya think of Melbourne?"

Me, far left, not long before our move to Western Australia.

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