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JOHN KINSELLA - MILLENNIUM 2000 FEATURE  

  

The Cortland Review

2000 FEATURE

Yusef Komunyakaa
  An interview with Yusef Komunyakaa by David Lehman and a reading of some of his finest poems, all in RealAudio.

Chantelle Bentley
  Listening for the Whispers Above the Screams: The necessity of poetry in the age of technology.

Daniela Gioseffi
  From the Serious to the Silly: A review of three new anthologies of women's writing from the Stone Age to the Present Age.

Renee Bandazian
  Visions of Wheaties Boxes Danced in My Head: A report from the Poetry Olympics.

John Kinsella
  Next Door to the Racing Pigeon Clubhouse: The next chapter in John Kinsella's continuing autobiographical series.
 

John Kinsella

John KinsellaJohn Kinsella is the author of numerous volumes of poetry, most recently, Hunt and Poems 1980-1994. His work has appeared in Poetry and The Paris Review, among many others. Currently, he teaches at Cambridge University in England. He is the editor of Salt
Next Door to the Racing Pigeon Clubhouse

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They'd bring the pigeons in before the races, mostly Friday nights, and stack them in the brick and concrete building that looked like a sewerage pumping station. Cage on top of cage. The walls were without windows, with only thin wooden slats near the roof for ventilation. When the roller door was up, it looked like an intensive chicken farm or a vivisector's storage room. After they'd stored the birds for the following day's sport, they'd settle on deck chairs out front—the roller door open and the pigeon-song moving in and out of harmonics—and drink beer, occasionally having a barbecue. It was the first thing you saw, heard, and smelt when you moved in to the house next door to the park with the clubhouse of The Racing Pigeon Club. Them and the birds. You'd hear the rococo cooing of the pigeons. Roucoule roucoule. They could have been French birds.

You moved into the 1930's house with its decaying plaster and sagging floorboards with the birth a couple of months away. The smell of pigeons was all-pervasive. After the birth it seemed to leave the air. The guy from next door stood outside and stared in through the curtains. He could see you, you were both sure of this. He watched deeply and footprints began to appear in the sand by the back fence. Car after car visited his place late at night. Later, he'd tell you that he'd once told a judge to take a running jump and had got eight years. That he'd chased the guy who ripped him off with an axe. He'd been part of the State's "best planned robbery" up to that time, and maybe still. Through the roof, jamming the lift, they cleaned out a building society. The money wasn't recovered. He'd kept the clippings. Went to the best school in Singapore, he added.

He'd shared a cell with a guy who macheted another bloke to death in a bar, cutting his ear off and, so they say, dropping it in his drink. Everybody in the scene knew him. He died of AIDS. Or would die of AIDS. Your neighbour was compulsive about getting tested, again and again, regardless of the results. Survival, he said. I understand. I knew you would, he said. I got out of the cell by swallowing the trigger of an atomiser bottle once, he said. An old but effective trick. Darkness escaping/light denied entry. The things I have seen, he adds, like a Nexus battle model replicant from Blade Runner. The baby was near. Come next door and meet my girlfriend—she wears fur panties. The Exorcist over and over. Blue jeans cuffs neatly turned up. Clean. Immaculate. Cut off in a parking lot he pulls a club, leaps out, and smashes the headlights of the offender. I've got one over my lawyer—have seen him going into the knock shop time and time again, he says. Good to have one over people. My girlfriend likes your dreadlocks. I like reggae and all that stuff. Rastas are vegans like you. Are you a rasta? No, I'm just a vegan.

Linda Blair's head swivelling. Good quality, eh. Always quality, that's the way to go, you're going back to uni. A cat explodes as it's hit by a car as you return from next door. The car keeps going and you're covered in the cat's goo. I can see wooden finches, you say, and your partner spoon-feeds you under the table. Wooden finches and roaches scouring avocadoes in the kitchen. Wooden finches sang, sang their wooden song. Veronica Brady talks you down from the walls and into Xavier Herbert's confrontation with the horror of white Australia's OUTBACK. In the rainwater tank the secrets stagnate. You talk about conversion and argue, together, against racism. She shines in all of this. She is named and is real while fiction consumes all other alleged realities. Hers is speech and not text. The baby comes and the Senegal doves supplant pigeons. They are free and in the box trees.

Beyond the lace-webbed window
a box-tree moves its shadow
stiffly with the breeze.
Flights of Senegal doves indulge
in a kommos of small talk and flight.
I read your innocence, joy
come of the pure tear, the hand
that cannot feed, that cannot summon
even the most vigilant observer,
and regret the seed already
planted within the heart,
the pinpointing of every corruption.
But, for now, the warmth
of your breath smothers all fear,
even the chill in the air
soothing; I offer this kiss
as the life
of my own thin blood.

Down the road a biker's clubhouse bristles. The child has colic and you cradle and walk it for hours. You have a car. The car gets stolen. The police find it and you collect it. A few days later the car has been opened again and there's five dollars in the ash tray to cover the petrol. You hear years later that it was used for escape. Even then, you don't ask questions. In the rare manuscripts collection at the university library you read Tewsley's translation of Zimmermann's Account of the Third Voyage of Captain Cook: I have long been endeavouring to decide whether I should be doing a wrong in making public the observations made by me during our voyage. Then it occurred to me that it was the duty of the crew to give up their papers: that Great Britain, having been at great expense in fitting out and keeping up this exploring expedition, alone had the right to publish observations of her navigators; that we had been paid for our services, and that we were therefore bound to yield up to England any notes which we might have kept during our voyage.

The broccoli was growing well and the root vegetables were taking shape beneath the compost and sand. A journey to Fremantle led to a debt and those bringing you home came in to collect—deriding the books, the drafts beneath copies of Gray's expeditions. The noise rose to a crescendo. The house was empty other than you and the three visitors. Your partner was out with child and a friend scouring the city. The wooden finches are in his head again, she'd be saying. Would have said. And then they started beating you until the blood ran down the walls and you ran for it, diving through the window with your neighbour already there as they emerged from the front door. Passive, you watched as he swung a baseball bat and they climbed through the windows of their car making a keystone cop getaway. That fat bloke will piss blood for a week, he said as you staggered around, other neighbours steering clear in case you bled on them. That bastard shouldn't have run over that cat, you said.

As the cops arrived the neighbour, with help from a mate, threw you over the fence and said keep quiet, we'll talk them through it. Zimmermann continues: To all these scruples I have a few remarks to make, and I wish to set forth the reasons which have nevertheless moved me to write down my personal observations. And the next day they'd let the pigeons fly to their preset destinations, validate their existences.

The crack of dawn. That's what you said to yourself later. At the crack of dawn. He came and banged on your window. You crawled out of bed, the baby at the breast of your partner, both sleepy. What's up? You've got to hide me. He rushes past and into the bedroom and she covers the child and her breasts. He is stricken with panic but still takes something from her. They can't get me for this—if they put me inside over something like this it will be hard for me. What? What are you on about. He's at the window, on your pillow. Your partner is recoiling. I noticed a twenty-cent coin under your couch the night I came in after those guys had done you over. I bet it's still there. What? You're looking through a crack in the curtain as well. There are cops at his place. She'll sort them out. She won't say anything. What have you done? you ask. Nothing mate, honestly. Nothing. Just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just need time to corroborate my witnesses. You've got to believe me. Shortly after this, you move. It's the tenth time in two years. You've lasted nine months in one house with the bikies up the road, The Racing Pigeon Club next door, and the city...well, a stone's throw away.

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2002 The Cortland Review