Bain Reserve, Merlynston

Edward Caruso
Indians absorbed in cricket
     Audible from Boundary Road
          cries at a catch

In the 1970s the park’s rear fence
large white capitals
present the eleven years we’d live there
     and decades later
         When did it fade?

Footsteps sink through the run-up’s topsoil
and when a boundary is hit
they rise through the stones
of adjacent railway tracks

Stone fragments     picked up
and hurled at my father’s shoe factory
the office window cracked

Dullards, the eldest son
about to pick up more slivers
but my father raced across the street
and shoved him in the chest
with an accented curse
as he bolted

A younger Dullard would walk past our garden
ripping my father’s roses from the stems
hurling them to the footpath
All that was from Wogland had to be desecrated
wogs sent back

I felt his fists one morning,
a figure streaking towards me
catching me from behind
His sister, on her way to school, tried to intervene
She was shoved away and told to piss off
Years later he told me he thought I was a dumb wog
He was failing school, surprised
I was doing better

The older brother cornered me
with two of his mates at Bain Reserve
They’d followed me from the shops
the elder punching a loaf of bread
from my hand

My sister would insist that when confronted
to get mad and uncontrollable
kick at the kneecaps and balls
of my assailants

My father knocked on the Dullard’s door
I explained why we were there
the Dullard father telling his elder son
never to go near me again
Four years later I heard he’d
got married at nineteen

Forty-five years later a swirling wind
through elms opposite what was Phils Mens Hairstylist
its timeless façade replaced during the pandemic
A now-empty paddock and railway line
beyond searches for houses knocked down in the 1980s
the First & Last Hotel, left standing
an island in site of the police station
built where our house and factory stood
closest to the cemetery

It was as if we were the only foreigners
Wish the Asians, Middle Easterners and East Africans
at the shopping village had been here back then

The Drooper hated Wogland
accused its inhabitants of being gutless
during the war, traitors for changing sides
to be with the winners
He’d never heard of the partisan resistance or fall of fascism
At twelve, he claimed to be able to beat up every wog
to the age of fourteen in Italy
He was unstoppable
At school when one of the major toughs aimed
a flying karate kick at his stomach
he didn’t feel a thing
Once he came to school with a cold
and coughed over me to give the wog back to the wog
For the last day of Grade 4
he’d recruited four of my friends
so I could feel his fists
They lingered opposite the First & Last Hotel
He was going to let me go, he later confessed
but his anger came through when I tried to defend myself
striking before he could get me
He befriended me in the last two years of primary school
Though he was capable, he rarely played football or cricket
which made it easy to hang out with him at recess
At the end of Grade 6 he stole an encyclopedia from class
giving it to me because where I was going next
I’d have to study
He’d be going to a tech school
reckoned to be a bludge
I saw him three more times
On mornings as I headed to the tram
twice I nodded, saying hi
He traipsed past
with a hardening look
The third time I ambled by
his slurred words
drowned out by traffic
In front of the boys’ toilet at St Marks
he’d given me my first sex ed lesson:
Instead of dicks
girls piss through cracks

Rubble from demolished houses
consigned to landfill
Home to some was a pot-holed street
with regular funeral processions
It would take years to repave the road
To us home was lined with patches of soil
that grew radicchio, beans and parsley
even in summer heat when family friends
felt the cold
The cemetery next door took some of them
their remains behind fading plaques of yellow-brick walls
(The Margini thereabouts, with their only child
drowned in a boating accident
after he’d started a family)
Our lemon, apple, pear and nectarine trees
found no place there
years later my parents would

A swirling wind, two lines of elms
and then silence

The gale’s effects photographed in Tarkovsky’s Mirror
rows of grasses bent along a field
An unwelcomed figure abandoning the scene
with his briefcase

At Merlynston station
the same view down the railway line
towards Fawkner station
as forty-five years earlier
except the gravel path, now a gravel carpark
the old house and factory with its blue billboard vanished

Envisaging what a home could be
the sounds of my steps
carried forward on turning back
pantoum-like, as if chalked
on a hopscotch grid in reverse
What’s gone
no custodians (Billibellary’s Mob wiped out)
to merge their knowledge
with the shape of this land
with whom we could share
food that will never be offered

Notes gathered during imagined suburban walks
in lockdowns and eventual returns
School acquaintances I’d scant reason
to recall     undeserving
of any nostalgia     I feel
their younger forms in streets
and schoolyards whose bitumen
remains     They were mostly dead to me
If they live     they’re as hollow
as then


Edward Caruso has been published in A Voz Limpia, Australian Multilingual Writing Project, ‘La Bottega della Poesia’ (La Repubblica, Italy), Burrow, Communion, Meniscus, n-Scribe, Right Now, StylusLit, TEXT, Unusual Work and Well-Known Corners: Poetry on the Move. His second collection of poems, Blue Milonga, was published by Hybrid Publishers in January 2019. In August 2019 he featured on 3CR’s Spoken Word program.



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