Down a dusty alleyway, in a city
hacked from the Taklamakan,
four boys crowd around a circle
of string, cats’ eyes and pearls
nestled between forefinger and thumb.
Laughter, the click clack of hooves,
the evening call to prayer spreading
from mosques, the sun folding
across rooftops. The promise of lamb,
plump on metal skewers,
and hami melon bursting like a cloud
calls them home. They learn
from tourist town’s narratives-
Han Chinese bargaining over jewelled
knives and Uigher shirts
to take back to families in Shanghai,
Chengdu, Hainan Dao; scull-capped
shopkeepers watching on wryly,
balancing equations of culture,
The four boys know the value
of the swindle, of quick hands
and quick fists, where to source
and sell the best knock-off Rolexes,
how to hide in shadows and disappear
like dust. Soon, they’ll graduate
to motorcycle taxi, import-export
or more risky pursuits.
The mountains are high
and Beijing is very far away.
The park is full of dogs and footballs,
framed by terrace houses and a profusion
of Autumn blue. Out of sight
a currawong calls. I name him, you say
I like that you know the names of birds.
I tell you of a time in Canberra, a thousand
currawongs in a pine grove, wave after wave
of noise. We make love even when we’re not
making love. The swing of a new city.
You came into my life, fast and perfect
as if risen from a page. White cranes lope
low over the water, yachts bob excitedly.
Cockatoos lose it on the wire.