In​ ​Response​ ​to​ ​Sally​ ​Morgans​ ​’Wanamurraganya’: An​ ​Ode​ ​to​ ​Jack​ ​McPhee

This piece is a response to Sally Morgan’s first book. I am not Indigenous but, I also grew up between two cultures (Anglo-Australian/Greek) and I identified strongly with Jack’s description of isolation and alcoholism. This poem is me imagining Jack as an old man and attempting to convey both the depths of sadness and pride that his story conveys.

I​ ​been​ ​getting​ ​that​ ​itch​ ​again.
A​ ​funny​ ​kinda​ ​feeling,
like​ ​watching​ ​a​ ​beaten​ ​dog​ ​crawl​ ​on​ ​his​ ​belly.
And​ ​I​ ​guess​ ​if​ ​I’m​ ​telling​ ​truth
it​ ​never​ really​​ ​goes​ ​away.
It​ ​comes​ ​and​ ​goes​ ​in​ ​waves
and​ ​they​ ​grow​ ​and​ ​shrink
on​ ​the​ ​whim​ ​of​ ​a​ ​million​ ​little​ ​things
in​ ​the​ ​climate​ ​of​ ​the​ ​day.
But​ ​like​ ​the​ ​ocean,
whether​ ​it’s​ ​calm​ ​or​ ​not,
there​ ​are​ ​always​ ​waves.
I​ ​can​ ​feel​ ​them​ ​coming​ ​from​ ​a​ ​distance
and​ ​my​ ​belly​ ​squirms​ ​like​ ​that​ ​beaten​ ​dog.
The​ ​master​ ​approaches,
heat​ ​shimmers,
and​ ​between​ ​the​ ​peaks​ ​and​ ​the​ ​troughs
my​ ​hand​ ​twitches.

I​ ​been​ ​getting​ ​that​ ​itch​ ​again.
So​ ​like​ ​an​ ​old​ ​friend
I​ ​sit​ ​alone​ ​on​ ​the​ ​porch
and​ ​watch​ ​the​ ​sun​ ​sinking
to​ ​remind​ ​myself
that​ ​it’s​ ​no​ ​longer​ ​there.
And,​ ​on​ ​the​ ​flip​ ​side​ ​of​ ​the​ ​same​ ​coin
why​ ​you’re​ ​no​ ​longer​ ​here.
I​ ​stay​ ​sitting​ ​in​ ​the​ ​dark,​ ​staring
and​ ​goosebumps​ ​rise​ ​on​ ​my​ ​skin
as​ ​the​ ​sun​ ​falls​ ​behind​ ​the​ ​house
I​ ​am​ ​shivering.
I​ ​stand,​ ​aimlessly.
Catch​ ​myself​ ​staring​ ​at​ ​my​ ​hands​ ​angrily.
The​ ​desert​ ​is​ ​receding
stars​ ​glimmer
and​ ​between​ ​the​ ​headland​ ​and​ ​those​ ​that​ ​come​ ​after
the​ ​ocean​ ​stretches.

I​ ​been​ ​getting​ ​that​ ​itch​ ​again.
So​ ​I​ ​light​ ​my​ ​pipe,​ ​and​ ​as​ ​it’s​ ​smouldering
I​ ​suck​ ​in​ ​the​ ​tobacco
Long,​ ​slow​ ​and​ ​strong
acid​ ​dry​ ​on​ ​my​ ​tongue
and​ ​I​ ​try​ ​not​ ​to​ ​taste​ ​cheap​ ​plonk.
I​ ​try​ ​not​ ​to​ ​want​ ​the​ ​company​ ​of​ ​empty​ ​bottle​ ​friends.
I​ ​think​ ​about​ ​the​ ​children,
the​ ​ones​ ​that​ ​are​ ​dead​ ​and​ ​the​ ​ones​ ​still​ ​living.
And​ ​the​ ​sadness​ ​and​ ​love​ ​and​ ​strangeness
soothe​ ​me
subdue​ ​me.
My​ ​hand​ ​has​ ​stopped​ ​moving.
I​ ​breathe​ ​out​ ​smoke​ ​and​ ​it​ ​wreathes​ ​me​ ​in​ ​memory.
Old​ ​stories​ ​returning.
Big​ ​dances.
Between​ ​two​ ​worlds
Wanamurragunyaurru​ ​still​ ​living.

Josh Newham is a third-year History and Creative Writing Major at La Trobe University. He also studies Spanish, enjoys painting, martial arts and rock-climbing. He occasionally performs poetry and music under the moniker of Worthwhile Jones.