HE WALKED DOWN the seething streets of Fortitude Valley. It was 2.30 in the morning of a Saturday night and his face was lit by the glow of a cigarette. It curled and broke against the faces of people walking by, who were stumbling drunkenly out of pulsing clubs and seedy bars with lust in their eyes, drowning and drooling in neon light.
He rounded a corner past an adult store and walked toward the train station. Familiar eyes stared from beneath blankets and beanies. An old Uncle slept in his wheelchair, his tracksuit pants folded flat over a missing leg. He felt a pang fall through his heart.
He watched a group of girls cross the road just up ahead in order to avoid the people sleeping in the shadows, laughing and staggering in cold dresses and high heels. He walked on. Through the Chinatown stretch with red-faced dragons leering down at him from the architecture as he inhaled his smoke to watch the end go red. He walked ahead. Around the bend and into the fire breath of Brunswick Street.
Its smell was strange and he listened as he walked. Picking up fractured shards of conversation from lingering groups and passing teens that formed a weird mosaic in his mind. A stained-glass image in a cathedral of lost youth and crooked times. He saw kids bury their dishevelled faces into greasy Big Mac monstrosities, kids with blackened eyes chattering and tweaking to themselves as they stood in long lines, eager to fuck their way into the strobe light. He saw beautiful girls searching for a kiss in the crusty jungle of Ric’s Bar, where loveless men lurked armed with vodka Red Bulls and friends’ apartments to return to.
HE WALKED AROUND another bend. Still smoking his cigarette. Leaving an orange trail as he went. The stars shone clear above him. Even through the city’s glare. The night was open and endless, like a frozen breath, and he wondered what waters and streets wound their way up there. Up the ancient stairs. He wondered if he broke out the right call, or sung the right song, if the rivers of the night would slide down like black snakes and purify this dark age of false light. Take the whole world inside and heal it of its enigmatic parasite. He wondered all the time.
He stopped a second to roll from his pouch and saw that he was outside a cosy jazz bar. The window was amber from the dim light within. The couches were leather, the waiters well dressed and the walls stacked with spirits from the ages. Rums, whiskies, gins.
It was mainly young people inside. Denim jackets, brown hair in ponytails, red lips, round glasses, intellectuals, individuals, inspired people, mostly musicians no doubt. An attractive young woman was speaking passionately into a microphone and everyone was absorbed. Her lips were quick and her eyes were clear. It could only be a fucking poetry night. He smiled, shaking his head, and lit a cigarette beneath the street lamp outside.
He watched for twenty minutes or so, more interested in their faces and physical animation than their words. He smiled to himself. Words curled like smoke in his mind. He had plenty of poems and stories he could spit to tear the place to bits. But he stayed outside. He wanted to go inside, stand up at the mic and look them all in the eyes in an awkward quiet and say:
There are no Aboriginals in On The Road
So where should I place my thumb?
Would Kerouac care with his lucid eyes
about what stars were broken in our Ancient skies?
Are our stories of secret time worthy of your archives?
Will our Elders be leather bound
wrapped and stacked
beside the Odyssey and Iliad?
Hemingway and Upanishads
Nietzsche and Huxley
Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky
and the thousand arms of Herman Hesse?
Do we not have a library full of meaning?
Worth walking through and reading?
Our Language is ageless
whereas your words are still teething
What you are all seeking
we’ve always been speaking
but there’s no use in pleading
to ears hard of hearing
You’ve all got your big dreams
of screaming crowds
a tower stacked of burning books
a lake of ink
and diamond brook
you scream for revolution!
in a paradise
If you want a revolution
climb inside OUR song
for we are the ones
who have been here all along
we are the ones
through which the rainbow serpent slithers
while the city shimmers and shivers
and if you want to shed the cement skin
of this psycho-spheric system
you’ll have to do it with us
But there are no Aboriginals
in your acid revelations
and Jimi Hendrix songs
there are no Aboriginals
in Jim Morrison’s dreams
or the thoughts of Sigmund Freud
Perhaps beside the music festival
of everlasting archetypes
we just seem
Which is why we have to fight
our way into your books
Cause it’s the only way our culture
gets a second look
So let us dance while we skin
your Romantics on the fire
Say a prayer for your angels
while we enter into revelry
round your literary pyre
He wanted to. But honestly, he couldn’t be fucked. It was a long conversation he was weary of. And he knew already that the beauty of his dreams had no place in action-figure idolatry. But still, it was a shame. That these young students and writers were the gatekeepers to literature. And like it or not, they were no different to Canberra. Keeping the Indigenous voice living in tents on the front lawn of their poetic parliament.
HE STARED FOR a while in a moment of eerie silence. Hearing the cars hum around him and noticing the watery reflections in the jazz bar window. He could hear a bird sounding in an unseen tree. It seemed to cut through the air and whistle through his mind. To hush a train of thought that was now miles gone down the line…
There was a chunk of cement dislodged from the gutter. His instincts spoke quicker than his mind could shatter the thought and before a second had passed it had broken through the glass and landed with a thud upon a leather couch. People screamed and a hundred eyes looked through the window at the young man standing outside with a cigarette in his hand and a mark upon his face. He held their gaze with severity and said nothing. The silence was tense, a razor of attention. Some people seeing him averted their eyes, the bartenders were still stunned.
He spoke like a wind through leaves.
‘Let us in.’
He let it sink in for a second. Then hit the fucking legs. He sprinted back up Brunswick Street, back round all the bends, he sprinted back down Chinatown past all the looming dragons’ heads. He tossed his cigarette and sprinted over cars. He passed alleyways of graffiti, spray-can songlines and fading faces. He sprinted to the station, passing the old legless man. He tapped his Go Card like an innocent and hopped quickly onto the first train that pulled into the station.
He leant his head against the window and caught his breath, picking absently at a scraped-in tag-line with his fingernail. Watching as the moment peeled away like liquid behind him.
The aisles were almost empty but for the odd stranger, and there were no inspectors.
He closed his eyes. He closed his eyes and laughed to himself. He felt his Ancestors prickle in his bones and laugh with him. They laughed as the train passed Musgrave Park. They laughed as the city peeled behind them like a monolith of orange light. He laughed because he had no idea where the train would lead him from here. He laughed because at least, now, he was on board. He laughed because he had a kookaburra tattoo on his chest. He laughed because wherever he got off, he could light a cigarette…and walk.