Then, tertiary education was free
the government underwrote fees and paid allowances
the weekly payments not generous, but adequate
a supplement to expected summer savings.
Late 1970’s the economy slowing, but not yet stalled
restructuring and free market economics still to arrive.
Students needed for peak times in now extinct factories
processing the fibres and carcasses of the nation’s farms.
A friend finds me a job in a killing plant
lambs to the slaughter,
for British Christmas tables.
Abundant overtime, good pay,
the work not hard, but dirty – bloody.
Unblocking sludge pumps, crawling beneath machinery
constantly addressed as, “fucking students”
often with humour – sometimes spite
always dribbled, splashed and sprayed with viscera.
I shared transport and fuel costs – cheap,
but not quite door to door
a 10 minute walk through suburban streets
past houses …. with dogs
carnivores homing to my unintended scent
up to a dozen at once.
A decade later I work winter in Antarctica
women rare on the frozen continent then,
occasionally I would see a lone female
walking down a corridor
trailed by a line of eager men. I knew how she felt.
Disproportionately thin with respect to length
it seated 600
climate controlled – literally
hypoxic heat in summer
coat unremoved cold in winter.
Economics, comfort accedes to percentage
full only on Sundays
weddings of distinction
funerals of tragedy, or high birth.
The road to salvation narrow and winding
air conditioning distracts suffering.
In the 1960’s Sundays are mandatory
worship as insurance
no one messed with a God
able to part and close the Red Sea.
Catholicism in the time of Kennedy
then not known to be no saint
church, convent, catechism and for chosen ones,
selection as an altar boy.
Altar boys, supporting actors
jostling squeaky voiced ambition
clambering from reluctant beds to early morning mass
foregoing TV serials for mid-evening benediction
climbing the marble pole to top billing – High Mass on Easter Sunday.
Monday to Saturday 6:30 a.m. sharp
Wednesday and Friday, 7 pm –
30 people : 95% female.
Punctuality as determinant of sex
men arrive and depart with speed –
the pony express – exactly on time
women 10 minutes early …. remain 10 minutes after.
The men wear suits and prosperity
the women fatigue and worry lines
they linger climbing into best before cars
the priest scurries to breakfast or TV nodding approval.
Win Win –
faith provides alibi for time out.
It must be God’s sense of humour
the transmission of love or desire is full of static
ungainly pulses of coded deniability
crackling through uncertain receivers
the communication of hostility swift and clear
greeting eyes convey chill
even as hands clasp in neutrality
and tongues offer frost breaking platitudes.
Instant dislike –
just add water, and ice
partisan always ….. there are no rules, only circumstance.
Born in the town and inducted into his father’s profession
he was the local boy made good.
Some whispered birthright bequeathed his position
but he had proved worthy of the title.
For a few years, long enough
for loan to become mortgage
he had been the hot young star … and now, a new prospectus.
Exactly the same age
almost the same point on the curve
we might have been friends
but pettiness conjured a privileged rival.
When the heaviness of employment fell
he offered not one softening word.
Perhaps emotion was imprisoned by background
unable to escape the warders of self-expression.
A month later our lives cross at a traffic crossroads
I raised a hand in greeting. No acknowledgement,
only a cold look – disdain
less than contempt, more than ridicule.
Spiteful and humiliating, but not unwelcome
relief that what suspicion whispered
through a lonely earpiece, was not gossip, but
affirmation of intuition’s warranty.