June 2021

Arts & Letters

Melbourne I

By Nam Le

New poetry

The alkyd paint in Rothko’s Black on Maroon series

contains egg, dammar resin. Under UV light

you should see the resins boil. They spring into fire

saying     be strong where you’re strong —


Face-smushed on Meyers Place he saw the series again,

instantaneously — across all frequencies —

having floated forty steps without touching ground.

Now he makes out the structure of the stampede:


Somewhere, a burst mains. (Because of how
            it sounds.)

Glazed heat on wet concrete. The city is one

great throat: its protest is joy     it chants its song

through true choke, blue choke     breath with
            haemal fret.


What the crowd wants, only the crowd can give,

the crowd fears. He feels pressure waves.
            Fluid dynamics.

‘I was just walking down Australia when the blue line

cinched,’ he imagines saying. Cops on horseback,


black-helmeted, ballistic-body-armoured. ‘I ran

because everyone else was running. Pushed because

everyone else was pushing.’ Crushed into acrylic

glass, iron godowns, pushed down by big skips


onto bluestone kerb. Thinking: that power pole’s slanted.

Those wheelie bins … backyard cricket.
            Tasting concrete dust,

metal dust. The Urdu poem: O Lord, how beautiful

must have been some of the faces trampled in the dust.


Untravelling now     roads beneath this road — basalt,

coaching road, gravel, cinder, dirt — remembering Rothko

slashed his wrists. And beneath: the clay body,
            the winning.

He was playing tiggy in childhood streets when the cops


digressed him — shunted him up close into hot-mix

asphalt     so photorealistic — full of scratch, warp, hiss —

but also mica dots that outglinted even the glare —

metallized, micro-prismed — of their hi-vis vests.


And the wood-backed lacquer paintings his parents,

whom he loved, used to love     inlaid with egg shell.

The sudden gleam of fuchsia on that pigeon’s neck.

The hyoid bone floating in its bath of muscle.


They knew, the police: the body was a problem

they could always solve. A matter of flexural

strength, resonance frequency. He thought: feldspar too.

Quartz. All of it and all at once. Resist nothing.


But this was his only face and fear began in him.

Someone put their palm against his cheek, shook

their head, which could have meant anything, not seeing

he was now himself a highline     uninsulated


surging with raw current     thrilling to behold where

he’d been all along. ‘He’s saying something,’ someone

said but they were wrong, he was past that, ungrounded,

shaping to the shine     sleeper-held     home:


Nick and back fence’s out. It’s one hand one bounce.

Car’s out, garage wall’s out, over the fence is out

and you have to get the ball. Roof. All the windows.

Every part — and that means you! — of the bin’s stumps
            — and out.

Nam Le

Nam Le is a writer based in Melbourne.

Cover of The Monthly, June 2021
View Edition

From the front page

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