Oz Hardwick

One Million Years BC

The spaces behind the furniture are the last places to explore,
so I put on my childhood, rope myself to the dining table leg,
and lower myself into the geology of forgotten things. There
are cowboys and robots, a bear with glass eyes, cars with
doors that open and close. There are eggshells and snakes,
dogs scowling behind chained gates, cigarette stubs littering
cinema aisles and the top decks of buses. The air smells of
coal smoke and sour mash, a bleached commode, bubble gum,
and green vegetables boiled out of existence. Deeper down,
there is no light, and I navigate by touch through pencil stubs,
scabbed knees, the raked marble chips on recent graves,
sawdust on the butcher’s shop floor. My knees need patching
and my shoes are too tight, and I feel the rope loosening its
grip. I remember a song about dinosaurs, taste sour meat on
my breath, feel an animal sigh across my soft, pale belly. It’s
too late to reach for watch or compass; too late to pack sweet
tea and sandwiches. There is no land that time forgot; it simply
doesn’t care.

No News

I have turned the television off, silenced the radio, sealed the
letterbox against daily papers. The only tweets are garden
birds. The sun is the same as yesterday, unbroken by aircraft
trails, and the breeze carries the same hint of spring. I am
rereading pulp fantasy for the first time since my teens, and
listening to 70s albums on which I know every word and
intonation. From the next street to the far side of the world,
there is breathless pain and chaos, death and angry dispute. I
cut a simple cheese sandwich into precise quarters, steep a
green teabag for a precise duration I don’t even need to count.
I turn up the music and sing off-key. Today – just today – there
is no news.

Commercial Break

Footsteps in the hall, and the Moon taps on the stiff casement.
The weather’s warming, but we’re letting nobody in, whatever
their gifts or promises. In every room the furniture has become
so familiar that we don’t recognise it anymore, and we leave
the televisions and radios on to keep themselves company and
offer comfort in the dark hours. The street is jammed with
empty taxis vying for non-existent fares, and flour and
tomatoes are lowered by helicopter like a James Bond fantasy
of 60s chocolates by an out-of-work actor disguised in black
PPE. Our cultural references have cross-contaminated, and we
are sit-com and soap, news and nostalgia, adverts for
discontinued products with catchphrases and promotional
badges that we pin directly onto our skin. The Moon is heavy
with refugees from a future that didn’t happen, and the Earth is
remembering how to breathe. There are footsteps in the hall,
and there is more beauty than our eyes can hold, but we’re
letting nobody out, whatever their gifts or promises.

Oz Hardwick is a determinedly European poet based in York (UK). He has published eight collections and edited several more. His chapbook Learning to have Lost (Canberra: IPSI/Recent Work, 2018) won the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for a poetry collection. www.ozhardwick.co.uk

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