Ian C. Smith

The Spirit of Progress

The Spirit of Progress was the Melbourne –Sydney train until c.1960

As paddocks of silvery grass shiver past

I wear a long overcoat of sadness

watching this wan morning light break

over the ashes of campfires of desperadoes.

My tale of riding back to an arse-whipping

will be embellished for my school mates,

bolstering my status as a rebel.

Across the border I sensed the cop’s shadow

as I stooped to a drinking fountain

after confessing in a weak moment

to a chatty driver who had stopped

for a kid who felt like a fleeing warrior.

Nearly broke, I ration stolen cigarettes,

wish I arrowed the other way, to Sydney.

I dreamt last night in an unlocked cell.

Escorting me onto the famous train

the cop whispered to the buffet car lady.

No handcuffs, but a free meal on railway china,

the condemned ordering whatever he fancies.

Under garish mascara, lipstick, dyed hair,

her face overflows with sympathy.

Telling her, I nearly choke into tears,

pretend I swallowed food the wrong way

when she tells me if I were hers, oh

how she would love me, love me,

her voice swooning with pity, for me,

for herself, for the boy she never had,

as we speed towards what was then the future.

When as a boy

I sat, a survivor, back to forlorn graffiti

I had studied, my body’s inferno cooled

after a winter’s night dressed thinly,

the only thing in the cell apart from me

was an overlooked mat of worn raffia

I had wrapped around the hurry of pain

trying to sleep, so cold, dozing, drifting awake

turning carefully, bone-cold, wrists together

between my thighs, seeking small warmth.

I daydreamed of my girl’s pink velvety bedroom

blearily aware her world was never mine,

daydream now, about a time I keep close,

a story of hurt, half-lit, I enter sometimes,

dreamed of freight trains moaning in the night

to distant places I might reach some day

for I was, remember, still a boy,

my aching heart now in a cage of old ribs

as unlikely as walking free that bleak morning.

Walking our cold road after your overnight stay

a waft of morning wood smoke tang

suggested our distant zesty arrival here,

the attendant blind faith in happenstance,

true of my cell time, a scraped scarred day

when I sat, guardian angel exhausted,

as the crash of opened doors drew ever closer,

faith, the flame in our cells that feeds dreams,

youthful hope unfurling the murmur of days.

Ian C. Smith © 2014

The things we did for money

The boss acts as if gripped by Tourette’s,

his foul constant hectoring so ludicrous

we almost succeed in ignoring it.

Our pay for these irregular days’ labour

takes a week to earn in most casual jobs.

When his packed containers leave the docks

he summons us abruptly by phone.

You need only the time, your own transport,

a healthy body, plus the hide of an immigrant

to unload ceramic tiles at galley-slave pace.

The driver watches, smoking, waiting

while our Cerberus snarls at his toiling scum,

three of us sweating at the double, rattling

solid boxes along a scenic railway of rollers

into the gloom of his cavernous storehouse.

Students, our favourite books as yet unread,

think musk sticks rather than marijuana,

our horizons are still endless with distance,

wise-guys unaware of the clock’s stealth.

Perhaps the boss has haemorrhoids

or resents our loud laughing bonhomie

stretching, languid, chests glistening in the sun

on neat grass outside his headquarters

waiting between deliveries for our hectic future

as we are only employed to unload.

Sitting here all these years on I think,

trees swimming in the last winds of afternoon,

that apoplectic man surely long dead,

how his abuse was deflected because shared,

surprised by this cry from the past, his presence.

Ian C. Smith © 2014