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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Special Australian Edition August 2023
Dead possum, poems by Judith Beveridge.
For days the possum’s stink pulled the blowflies in—
they must have quit their garbage tips, their food dumps,
their compost, their public bins, their dog droppings
and other festering filth to spawn here and devil-sing.
I eased the carcass out from the slats in the gate—
then carried it away with a spade but the fly-pack
followed, a frenzied paparazzi, that just kept assembling—
though of course they were simply engendering
new larval life, a writhing maggot mass to cleanse
the carcass, turning over the next life cycle
in the possum’s flesh—but more and more kept
swarming in, thick and obdurate, with a greenish
oil slick glint, and intoning feverishly like high voltage
when it bleeds from power cables, satanic twanging
at frenetic tempo, demonic tremolos musing on
damnation in the heat, the cursed whines of old
blues harmonicas doing time at the cross-roads—
anthems for an apocalypse in which I couldn’t help
but foresee thousands and thousands of maggots
creaming, risotto-like, inside my own half-eaten head.
Bibo and Jakov lived with six cats in their green fibro house.
The two brothers worked on the docks—they always said
‘stevedoring’—refused to be called wharfies or dockers.
I could hear chains clanking, a sea wind blowing through
an open hatch, tools cutting through metal as they spoke
about their waterside lives, the cats winding through
their legs like smoky veils, sometimes sunning on the porch,
paws lazily palping at mice in their dreams. At knock-off
the brothers came straight home to tend the garden
and feed the cats. They’d often give my mother potted herbs,
plates of pastries stuffed with cashews and dates, boiled
apples filled with walnuts. They’d give me glasses of spiced
milk and let me play with their cats while they took showers
to wash away the insults, mostly from labourers with fists
the size of blacksmiths’ hammers, tattoos flowing down
their arms like an outer network of veins, profanities about
disputes, scabs, and immigrants steaming off their tongues
as they clustered around the pubs like drain flies after work.
One late afternoon we heard Bibo and Jakov out on the porch,
their voices explosive with anger and grief. Five cats: Nada, Jamina,
Enas, Feriz and Malika, named after family members killed
in Sarajevo, were hanging by their tails from the clothesline,
drowned. It was someone’s cruelty—perhaps a neighbour,
or one of the dockers who didn’t like the garlic, bean soup,
or stuffed peppers on their breath, or the language they used
to express a longing for spruce and birch forests, the scent
of orange bellflowers, the taste of bramble gin, the calls
of the marsh tit, the river warbler, and nuthatches that build
mud nests and climb down trees head-first . . . I can still see those
cats swinging on the line, dripping like old black grease cloths.
At barrack point
© Judith Beveridge
Judith Beveridge has published seven books of poetry. She was poetry editor of Meanjin for 10 years and also taught poetry writing for 16 years at post-graduate level at the University of Sydney. Her books have won major prizes including the 2019 Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry. She has also won the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal and the Christopher Brennan Award for excellence in literature. Her new volume Tintinnabulum will be published by Giramondo Publishing in 2024. She lives in Sydney.