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MICHAEL SHARKEY

Caravanserai:

(Poem from) Here Are The Houses


Behind the six-foot paling fence
in Kellett Lane is Kellett House.
The time is 1965,
and rooms cost seven bucks a week.

Fellow lodgers come from Europe.
All the rooms stand off a landing.
On the first floor, where I sleep,
the common gas ring’s near my door.

Evening smells of cevapcici,
cabbage rolls and boiled potatoes.
Gas is metered by the shilling
and old medals from the Salvos.

Boarders here work in the city;
some have laboured on the Snowy.
Some back Yugal, some Croatia.
No one here supports Hakoah.

I stack shelves at Eric Kither’s
Four Square store in Kellett Street;
desperates hover, thieving smallgoods
when the cashier’s back is turned:

packages that slide in pockets:
bacon, instant soup and kippers;
flat tins: sardines, Sputnik halva
and Fray Bentos, tucked in jumpers.

In the lane, men wait for women,
working in the flats near by:
as a man goes out, one enters.
Any night, the trade is brisk.

In the pubs and on the pavements
knives and bottles, fists and boots
comprise the grammar of disputes.
Meanwhile in the bent casino

up toward Bayswater Street,
dodgy coppers come and go,
speaking underworld argot
to Sydney’s corporate elite.

Work done, takings reconciled,
I visit friends in nearby shops.
Home, and coffee in a sbricci,
strong and sweet, the Turkish style.

Dining’s pasta, bread and olives,
sausage ends from Kings Cross deli
and a glass of purple Bull’s Blood
and a book: Les Fleurs du Mal.