She first heard about the sound when she was drunk, and boy did it stick. She was sprawled across the opening of a tent, wine-wasted and spinning, and trying to follow a conversation about the shit in the universe that scares you. A friend nursed a beer and hunched over and told in tones so flat they were reverent about this big fucking noise, you know, big and deep and long and loud. So loud that navy boats heard it everywhere, big underwater measuring stations went haywire and men in labcoats and thick glasses started sweating. It was from the deepest part of the ocean, the oldest, cruelest, strangest part, and it was still happening. It might even be happening now. Falling silent for months and then bellowing out again. ‘What is it?’ she asked, with her eyes going crosseyed with drink and with horror. He said they didn’t know. Said it could be an ice sheet cracking or could be an underwater earthquake or it could be, could be something down there, big and ancient and alive. There was a cold flat silence that followed that and they all looked up at the stars and shivered and held their drinks like they were trying to warm them up. Then someone laughed, and it caught on the wind until they were all belly-aching belching out laughs into the high dark gum trees. The next day she sat by the river with her head acting out and watched the water. Watched it topple from rock to rock, from there to the far-off sea, and after that, into the icy deeps, the trenches, the dead places, the fear places where fish like Bosch paintings roamed away from the light. She dropped a stone into the creek and her brain amplified the plop until it was deafening, vast, swallowing her up in the sound and turning her thoughts to unset jelly.
I cower in the pews as the priest lifts his arms. I can smell his body odour from here. Thick, sharp, fetid. I wonder if he sleeps in his soutane, sloughs it through the sins in his dreaming, an armour against the lusts of the untamed dark underside of the mind. He bellows air and I watch as it pours out of his throat. He has dark smears on his molars, tar-coloured, and I wonder whether his teeth are stained with the heavy words that he preaches, with the dark stories that he drags from the page into his sermons, drenched with horror and evil. The ceiling fan circles overhead, racing itself around like a sugar-drunk fly. The congregation rises around me and I lurch to my feet, follow the dirge leadenly, half a note behind. I think about Latin. I think about Caesar writing ‘veni, vidi, vici’ and pronouncing it with soft w sounds, sucking the power from the words, turning them fey. The priest whips his arms to the heavens and a flood of stench oozes over the murmuring devoted. The woman next to me, seventy-six and tottering on four inch heels, sways as it reaches her, shakes herself, paints on a new face of stubborn piety. The grey-suited man in front of me retches, just for a second, and turns ashen like his suit. I let my eyes go liquid, and they slide up a stained glass image of the risen Christ, golden and bleeding, his heart fiery red and leaping from his chest. As I stare, a bird comes searing through the sky and slams – SHLUNK – into the glowing glass heart and slides down with nauseating slowness, leaving a bloody smear down the stomach of the Lord. The priest’s jaw tightens. A muscle pulses in his cheek. The organ roars to life and dust settles from the ceiling as Frescobaldi’s old dead notes come flooding back upright like a steam-powered zombie.
Chastity clicks her bedroom door shut, pulls down her pleated skirt and knickers in one movement, kicks them aside. She takes a second to appreciate the new strangeness of being fully dressed from the waist up and naked from the waist down. She pulls the mirror from her dressing room table, presses it into the carpet and squats over the top, one T-bar sandal on either side. She ducks her head, scrutinizes for a second, then reaches down with both hands and pulls out the sides of her labia. She holds them deftly, clinically, like a lepidopterist of the flesh. She presses them back together, watches the skin cling to skin, then slowly peel away. She uses two fingers of her left hand to spread the wrinkled pink lips and with her right hand presses her index finger inside to the first knuckle and frowns at the ribbed wet mystery inside.
Chastity has just found out what her name means, and she’s pissed off.
Shatter-day night and the race cars are hustling
and the pharaohs are fixing to fight
Vegas, you’re a tawdry love on a hot night
(and they’re all hot nights, aren’t they, darling?)
Mumbling gansters with twelve-dollar trilbies
are combing their pockets for shirtfronted change
and cocking their eyebrows to the flamingo legs
that are strutting in high, wasted arcs down the streets
Out in the distance, thunder is brewing
readying to rain down redemption to run down the bitumen
into the sewers with yesterday’s meat
and the scurrying rats with their atrophied feet
it’s a big bawdy babe of a city in summer
stewed in dreams lost at dinner and love gone by morning
of wedding dress tatter and old neon hiss
of tits-out seduction and wine tannin kiss
it’s the holiest of holies in the motel room toilets
and the sick deathless drone of the big cooling fans
it’s the spew on the carpet and the hair in the door
and the ‘what-happened’ stories to keep from your wives
I put my dick in a box and took it to the op shop.
I’m waiting for some nice couple to take it home.
I hope they don’t have a dog.
Or a baby. Or kids at all, really.
Like, ideally, I’m after a nice middle-aged, middle-class couple.
Sexuality irrelevant. Just as long as they keep up with the dusting.
I just want to know that it’s gone to a better place.
With people who won’t treat it the way I did.
Potential lines for a three second cameo in a Hollywood film:
Hunker down, heroes, it’s gonna be a real long war.
There are two types of soldier. Those who do, and those who die.
Goddamnit, Jackson. God-fucking-damnit.
You crazy, mister! Ain’t never been a man rode them rapids and lived!
No, not just sharks. Piranha sharks. And they haven’t been fed in years.
Why, this old thing? Juss some old hunk-a-metal come falling out the sky ten years back.
Don’t go baby. Not with this baby in me, baby.
Chalk and cheese? Hell no! At least you can eat chalk and cheese!
I got a bad feeling about this bad feeling about this.
If they won’t listen to reason, maybe they’ll listen to raisins.
Strap me in, boss. I got forty years of bad luck and nothing left to lose.
tuneless sorrowful shattered light pours
runs through my fingertips like the first rain of spring
the corners of the world are cracking
and the morning is rubbing out sleep from its eyes
sweeping it into gutters and the mouths of children
who yawn wide around it and chew on its cud
with milky white teeth and toothpaste smeared grins
the day dawns sweetly as the car exhausts howl
and the mothers clutch babies as they swoon
You’re like a good cheese, he says, and winces even before she screws up her face in disdain. No, I mean, he says, heat rushing to his face, no, I mean, like, you’re getting better. With age. No, I mean, not, age – you’re not old, you’re more – You look beautiful. I meant like a good wine. They both get better, though. Cheese. And wine. I mean, is what I’m saying. Not that you weren’t. Better. Stop looking at me like that (and she is. Looking at him like that). I – can’t a man tell a woman that he’s noticed that yes, though she is increasing in years, after twenty-eight years of marriage, can’t a man – and you often comment on my nose hair! And my balding – can’t a man, is what I’m saying, notice that his wife is, yes, is ageing, and that yes, she is putting on a little bit around the middle, can’t be helped, it’s just the slowing of the youthful metabolism, can’t be helped, can’t a man, you know, who has indeed noticed that the powder settles a little deeper into the cheeks of his beloved, can’t a man, is what I am trying to ask you, say that his wife, though a little more dragged through the world, a little more shaken and rumpled by the passing of time, can’t a man, I would like to know, tell his wife that she becomes, in some way, ever more beautiful, perhaps, to him? (She left some time ago).
I feel like I’m chewing a mountain
spitting out splinters the size of saplings
grinding my teeth on red-rocky boulders
there’s possums chattering in my throat
pissing down into my thundering gullet
galahs have gathered in the caves of my sinuses
whistling and squawking whenever I breathe out
there’s moss sliding over my eyelids now
the world is bottle green and simmering
and I am granite-heavy and grave-dirt sorrowful
ready to belch back up the whole world