Ian C Smith's work has appeared in The Best Australian Poetry, Descant,
Heat, Magma, The Malahat Review and Meanjin. His latest book is Memory
Like Hunger
, and his next book, Lost Language of the Heart, both by
Ginninderra (Adelaide). He lives with his wife and their four sons in
Victoria, Australia.

New Tricks
(for Jeanette)

I made an appointment for my dog
An hour's counselling in a downtown office
Balanced ambience, scrawled pictures by kids
Gaiety beside a grove of framed diplomas.
The Church subsidises the cost,
Accepting responsibility
For problems God created in the first place.

Dog exposed itself straight away
Sniffing the nondescript counsellor's crotch.
Tell me about its background, she asked.
I explained about the pedigree
The ripped garbage, moonbarking, night wandering
It rolls in shit, I whispered, shamefaced
She nodded as Dog licked its privates
Isn't this the time for honesty?
I thought, trying to read her writing
'Insomnia' and 'anxiety' upside down.
It scoffs its food, no matter what I give it
'Binge eating' I read as Dog farted silently
Its head on its paws, looking dolefully
At a platoon of subtitled books
Relaxation tapes, a jar of incense.
You've got to have more quality time
he advised, opening the window
Try these massage techniques
Belly rubbing, ear tickling, that sort of thing
And praise, remember, focus
On the good things about your relationship
Walk together around a rocky coast
Buy it a new winter coat
Get in touch with your inner self
Try to rekindle what you once had.
If that doesn't work there's always hypnotism.

On the way back to the car
We zigzagged all over the footpath
Pissed against a parking meter
And pranced across the street without looking
Causing drivers to honk their horns
Cursing us, their faces contorted with rage.
They should get some professional help.


Whenever he wakes in that still room
his strange dreams swiftly obliterated
a sick shock at the state of his life
floods his consciousness.

Instead of thinking of his defeat
at the hands of domestic priggery
he concentrates on an image of a woman
when they were young & beautiful.

He doesn't think of his kin's distrust
of anything unfashionably honest
opinion, art, owning up to guilt
discovery, ideas, language, books.

He believes ignorance - fear - loiters
in the hearts of many he has known
so he isolates his thoughts, creating
an island of the mind free from ugliness.

He stares beyond the bedroom window
across grassland at distant trees
in that sweet time again, smelling skin
holding hands, clasping love tightly.

He has drifted in his sad drunken boat
rueful for years due to wrong choices
existing on those scraps, comfort & safety
alleviated by memory's opiate.

In morning light they swoon, voluptuous
the two of them, young & beautiful again
the only romance of his remaining days
in a life stunted by regulation.


Our overseas experience,
aliens with expired visas,
live-in workers for an American,
sharing a confined radius
like hands circling a clock,
his old dog Pluto before a blaze
twitching through dreams of better days.

Her attitude had shifted
but I failed to notice.
A blur almost too quick to see.

Scrabble with the boss & he screeches
What is it? A mouse? Jesus!
& jerks away from the table,
an effete character in a sitcom.
With both hands I raise his dictionary,
longer, thicker, heavier, of course,
(this creature, still now, exposed)
let drop all those triple-score words.
Mouse draws a blank, crushed flat
like a Hollywood cartoon cat.

Her look of disgust spells it out.
We can't go on like this.
I'm chucking my lot in, she says.

I know, I know

Inside me, bloody flux where I want
something lovelier, not this decay.
I'd empty myself, scoop out the dregs
the accumulation of life's foul stains
so I might begin afresh.
In this throwaway age my gross contents
need tossing out with the junk mail
rhymed greeting cards, the sour rags.

Hope is what I need, hope gleaming
like moonlight filtered through cloud.
I'd want young organs, their purity
exemplified by my born-again heart
in better tune than an Andre Rieu concert
transporting me to earlier feelings
when anticipation left me breathless
when future plans fevered my blood.

Now, what to do with my poxy outer shell?
Magazine articles or spam pop-ups
can tutor me in the wake of Ponce de Leon.
I spot people under wigs or hair dye
flogging products, even funeral plans
eye pouches slanted towards cheekbones
whitened teeth beacons, old skin in suits
but my thumbprint would remain.

Memory, my photograph of life's terrain
is unlikely to be erased except by
Alzheimer's moss on weathered stone.
Mine operates like a polygraph.
I daydream of packing a light bag
heading for the coast one bright morning.
No-one knows where I've gone or why
me, at the wheel, white lines flashing by.

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