family portrait (Dave Drayton)

Verity La Heightened Talk

at first we were individual laugh
at a cherub flashing gang signals
so young that an assistant had to fold
& knot those chubby thighs cross-legged
but once the count can or is stopped
                                              the tubes are tied      the sheets of Vagifem
                                                                                            and Cenestin emptied
                                                                                            into pillboxes
it’s time to assemble the ranks in uniform
matching shirts that proclaim: I’M A BIG BROTHER
and in a few years, cream cargo pants
and navy blue Hawaiian shirts
                                                                                             islands are a lot of things,
                                                                                             and a lot of things are islands.
I hardly brushed my teeth then,
but hardly flinched to bare them,
grin     now my teeth are children
we keep a cramped family home
the youngest and wisest killed
by me just a few months ago
now their heads count 33
some wear caps of silver, tan
but all are jaundiced by my diet
               you shouldn’t smoke indoors
               you shouldn’t smoke near children
wash your hands if you want to hold my baby
home smells like the two bedroom flat
of Brady’s mum in which we washed
her fags, one by one,
down the dunny for
fun andor for safety
it and everything backfires
with a black eye or worse
my parents rarely see their grandchildren
                                                                                                         my teeth
                                                                                                         who chip off limbs and
                                                                                                         make true reunions rare impossibilities

I’m a terrible parent, let my guard
                                                                            -ian down
turn off the car, no AC, and all the windows
and lips tight, not even a crack

this is how I smile now in
portraits alongside my own generation
hiding my children
all in the eyes
raising the corners of their house
and my mouth
unsettling the furniture
wrinkling the rug
but not opening the blinds
ashamed of their ugliness
embarrassed to invite you in
beyond this doormat chin


Dave Drayton was an amateur banjo player, Kanganoulipian, founding member of the Atterton Academy, and the author of P(oe)Ms (Rabbit), Haiturograms (Stale Objects dePress) and Poetic Pentagons (Spacecraft Press).