57 Murray Street

Murray Street

The Afternoon of AO Neville

When all the other clerks have gone
he’s flicking through his set of cards.
Every fleck of black is in them

How much the dream of paleness haunts him:
half-caste, quadroon, octoroon,
the colour fading, birth by birth,

until the housemaid’s linen bib
gives back the lustre of her face,
white as flour, all darkness gone.

He know he will not live to see it –
It hangs there like a sought horizon.
Those screams at separation are

a washing blue that brings the whiteness.
He hears them vaguely from the office.
They never quite distract him though.

And blacks, of course, when kept apart,
Implode into their very blackness.
They cannot fit the modern world.

Though often now he’s half-disheartened,
Thinking of his fellow whites –
Fettlers, stockmen, rouseabouts,

Swagmen, fossickers or drovers –
Sowing semen fecklessly
Between black thighs with swearing maybe,

A little violence, as required,
A grunting, quick – two-minutes only,
Breathing whisky, like as not,

And station owners, too among them,
Not just the riffraff of the road.
A wedding’s whiteness will not happen

even if it were desired.
It’s not there in the cards he fingers
The photos wouldn’t turn out right.

He fights a different sort of warfare,
white seed wiping out black.
Some evenings though he’s less pleased.

His mouth gives out a little sigh.
He’s like some half –breed chambermaid
He might have trained himself,

Slouching in the morning after
to give her boss’s sheets a boiling
And hang them whitely in the sky.

Page, Geoff. (2006) ’The Afternoon of AO Neville’, in Agnostic skies. 2006, Five Islands.