Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

Nobody shook no buzz into his bones didn’t let his infant urine

Burn his legs no more than any other infant

No backhanders no twisted ears no screaming into his tilted face

His lobe head just hung there like Mr Punch

Eyes like extra buttons that come with a cheap shirt you don’t want to wear

He brewed in his mother’s stew of sugar and bourbon

And the laughing summer wine than ran down into him

Like the fluids from an operation, or the gutting of a goose

Nobody flipped him down the stairs like the hated dunce

Nobody drugged him to shut him up and make him sleep

He was a living poultice against the emptiness

As he grew a face and was washed fat in warm grog

Like a dead beetle agog in that bladder of mute delight

He came out as dumb as the dick that went in

And he talks like a toy with the batteries running down

He stands like something with its strings too slack

His head is boiled and swollen forever now, he’s the distillation

Of futile hedonism, he’s a sacrament realized

He’s a living oath, an underwater kite, the fart that poisoned everyone

In the beer garden, he’s the favourite song on the jukebox

He’s the wet coaster drying in the morning light

He’s the rattle of the glasses with the slam of declaration

He’s unrepentance in baggy pants, that which doesn’t know its opposite

That doesn’t know a lot of things

He’s what grew like a jellyfish on the knobbly branches

Of the Vigilance Tree

After you’d slashed its roots and poured petrol into its earth.


Will Swan


My Old New University

My old university is not the stuff of hallowed halls

And treacly honour boards; it’s a newer-style establishment

A collection of spacious open campuses with bush plants, etc.

I find myself at one of the main campuses

University is in recess, hardly a soul around.

I walk through it and I swing on the hinges of recollection.

There are band comp posters on the noticeboards, as always

The lobbies still smell of steam-cleaning and possibility

Earnest student radio installation still in place

The whole setting is as fresh as a new shoe box

And it coursed with my memories, just like in a film

The sunshine, the belonging, the new long fancy words

The revolutionary concepts that the kid, me, had to solve

Like puzzles, but now would be warm and welcome exercise, Jesus …

Watching films in lecture halls, appreciative enough of the focus

But distracted by my own energy, and everyone else’s

The belonging, the course names, the cheap sandwiches

We’d build ourselves at the cafeteria: salami, ham, eggs, onions, cheeses

Then they’d weigh them and they’d always be cheap

The hangovers: 4 litre casks at $6: fruity lexia

The band competitions, the band nights

Beer in plastic cups and my accordion filling the PA

The succession of bassists, the university paper

Put together by my friends, reading our own articles.

All those straight ones who came in straight

Convinced themselves they were rebel for the sake of some semesters

Came out and very quickly got even straighter than before.


I can’t believe they’d recall it all the same way.

The character-lecturers, the sardonic ones, with trademarks

And minds of their own.  Good on them.

Walking around my old university amongst the balloons of memory

Feeling winded by the brevity of life

Like a fist in the solar plexus

But my head still in the riff of that village of noise

And feigned purpose, and prattle and enthusiasm

I cross an oval that no students traipse today

Among the pigeons and magpies

A budgerigar forages and rises to a power line

Near an Anglican church where old ladies buzz with feigned purpose

Around their inbuilt charity flea market, the board games & dowdy coats

Each biddy a jolly white hive of contained life

The budgerigar was an escapee once

But now he has all the haughtiness of a pardoned bushranger

Who, further to his pardon, has even declined

An offer to sit on council, and even to run for Mayor

He rises like boiling paint

Peers until his sight runs out

Across the rooftops and the telegraph poles.


Will Swan