• John Hawke


He is running through the school

playground in the dark: the shadows

of his father and little sister

seem impossibly long, his own small head

bobbing between. The figures of three

stretched phantoms dance along the fence-line,

his sister leading them away from the lights

of the art-fair into the blackest corner

where the grass is thickest. The precipitous

shadows creep closer and he wants to turn back,

but keeps running with his father’s

heavy footfalls behind. That night when he is

hot in bed he will dream about giants

and curled-up green caterpillars

nesting between his sheets. They chase a ribbon

of ghostly children to the little kids’ playground,

where tenebrous figures are climbing

through the half-light. He whizzes down

the high slide and clambers up a steel frame

to stand in the night air. ‘You can’t even swing

on the monkey bars,’ one kid says,

moving confidently hand-over-hand backwards,

hanging without ever seeming to fall.

He looks across to see if his father has noticed—

but he’s holding his sister up to the sky:

she is seeing the stars for the first time, her black eyes

gleaming intently with their far-away light.

The dewy cold has started to descend now,

so they find their way back: past the frying

sausages that make him long for a second dinner,

the chattering parents smelling of wine,

and the noise of the children’s band honking

‘Message to Rudy’ on squeaky saxophones.

The hall of the art show seems dazzling now,

the colourful pictures filling every space.

There, down the bottom, is a photograph

of his own surprised face staring back at him,

framed in the entrance to Luna Park:

surrounding it, in bright texta, he has written

his age—the number six repeated over like a spell.