A Tale of Two Cities

by Daniel J Townsend

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1.
He sat there at the edge of the pier, Waiting for the storm to appear His sister at the edge of the land, Calling for a change of plan He could feel the black in the air, Pushing trees and pulling his hair As she turns to go anywhere but here Sleepless when the night is alive, Weary when the day is afire Suspended just like Tantalus; Between the need and desire She is not a memory now, She is made of delicate dreams And he is enamoured with how the clouds are moving here They lost everything in the wind, He watched as the rain poured in He became a part of the sound, Eleven breezes blowing around She became an altar of stone, Her mind was a pillar of smoke Clouds moved in a waltz over land that had never known a shadow
2.
Nobody knows me in this place, Feels so strange Even the air here has a name, So says the shade I fear I’ve made a big mistake How green your glow from so far away The rain here falls like a country song (Everything is wrong) I miss your sky, the cold that grows in bones, The fire in the blue I chose to leave, I should have stayed How green your glow from so far away Yes, I know what I’ve become: I’m OK So here’s another tune for you to hum, The one that got away We’ll meet again some summer day How green your glow from so far away So far away
3.
She’s older than this town She saw the walls fall down The walls are all standing now When she moves, she moves so slow Weather is in her bones She’s older than she knows Circle people sitting down When she smiles, she smiles like this: Two fingers to her lips Like she’s blowing me a kiss It’s a question, a kind request: The ceremony of the cigarette I show my empty hands, she smiles again Circle people sitting down She’s older than this town She saw the walls fall down The walls are all standing now She’s older than this town When she smiles, she smiles like this: Two fingers to her lips Like she’s blowing me a kiss She is
4.
Oh, you see trees where I don’t see anything And you see the space where something new could be Hands clutching seeds, Black dirt on your jeans You will dig for victory Perwinkle blue Under chairlift skies, the Trapdoor Spider hides Foreign flora glows quiet as a fire How I love the spaces only you can find See the lowly local snail Wind an ancient trail Up the trunk and round the bend of an old friend Perwinkle blue Oh, you see trees where I don’t see anything
5.
My lineage landed unloved on the sand Where the ocean of peace meets the prisoners’ land Fifteen and female, a heart full of fear, Locked in the dark with her womb Her pa had his roots down In the same Scottish farming town all his ancestors had done Where sometimes the weather Is more than the gathering rain and the heat of the sun He’d tried to dig down through the icy ground But sometimes the snow takes it all The edge of the Empire, the end of an age Those cities were hungry and tall The lords and the ladies, Their lazy laws blaming the poor for their hunger and thirst Each day a reminder: Tomorrow is blind. Each night is the end of a world Her father was desperate, They’d all heard the whispering promise of work in the towns So they left the fields empty At night she dreamt she was dressed in a flowing white gown Green was the meadow Blue were her eyes Dream of tomorrow Golden with the light Choking on smoke, clouds in her throat Sky in the eyes of a girl Frail as a flower, cold shadows of towers Grey as the end of the world Brothers and broth without bread And young moths to the glow of the smelter alight Sisters assisting their ashen-faced siblings Alone with no shelter at night Children in chimneys, chasing the sun With their Icarus broom handle wings Breathing black air, with no shoes to wear And their legs all broom handle thin Fifteen and female and hungry as fear She could hear the men thinking as she walked too near In her rags like a dress – they’d imagine the rest – And her sweet legs so broom handle thin My ancestor ran by the hands of the factory Nervous, in search of a coat or a cloak Just to cover herself, with no clothes on the shelf She entered the house that she broke A tiny young thing, underage, underdressed Clenching her fists to her chest She was seen in the street and placed under arrest Clutching that pretty white dress Green was the meadow Blue were her eyes Dream of tomorrow Golden with the light She stood in the courthouse, a lamb to the slaughter A man with four daughters before her in robes Took one look through her, spoke, then they threw her To the opposite side of the globe One hundred and fifty souls wondering the old Ocean would swallow them whole Girls and young women, some with babies within them Pretty maids all in a row My lineage lay there, unloved on the floor Chained to a stranger, a prisoner of war And wondered just what it all could be for Locked in the dark with her womb At night she dreamed of meadows of green And a gentleman in suit and vest Holding her hand, foreign land, She was standing proud in a pretty white dress Proud in a pretty white dress
6.
She wears a dress of scarlet, She keeps a nest of hornets in her hair She stomps and screams down alleyways, But she can’t find her echo anywhere He jangles like a jailer with his pockets full, But he speaks just like a saint And all the sinful saviours say their evening prayers Without complaint He’ll wake to find he’s flying Naked as a bird above the crowd And all the keys he used to need Will seem as simple superstition now She’ll shed her dress of scarlet, Shave her head and climb into the air She’ll become one with everyone and everything everywhere
7.
The desk was full of deadlines The office full of noise All the streets were streams with pebble people still as stone My eyes were open wide, hoping I could make the change And in my heart I knew we had to go So we drove desert roads we didn’t know, Radio turned down low Sometimes it’s just time to go Palm trees and pandanus leaves Kick off shoes at Mindil Beach Tourists swarm in circles seeking salty souvenirs But you and I aren’t moving Got no place we need to be As the sunset turns to starry, starry night I know why we moved up here How we drove desert roads we didn’t know, Radio turned down low Sometimes it’s just time to go Now it’s raining in the dry And I don’t recognised these skies But there’s a caller on the line From Alice Springs to tell me why He says he knows I’m sure he knows Radio turned down low Sometimes it’s just time to go
8.
I came out of hiding and onto the boat The flags all around gave me dark second thoughts And that man in the uniform just made me sure We were all sailing to hell But the captain he spoke like my grandfather did He promised a new life to us and our kids So we emptied our pockets, our wallets, and bid A heart-heavy, homeless farewell A heart-heavy, homeless farewell He told us we’d dock or he’d run us aground Before he would turn that old vessel around The whole world was against us, but he wouldn’t back down And we launched as the mates rang the bell Oh, that setting sun sank, but it shone like a beacon We stared at the stars and the waters beneath them We prayed that those breezes would blow us to freedom, To a place where we’d peacefully dwell A place where we’d peacefully dwell After fortnights of ocean and decades of sky, We spoke not the language and we didn’t know why All our miles of meaning could not change a mind Or the mob, with those voices that yell: “Our men wait for soup and for food stamps in queues! “We’ve already taken five thousand like you! “Our stores are all empty! Our jobs are all gone! “Please know that we care, we just can’t care for our own! “Now go back to where you came from!” The young men they mutinied, captured the bridge, An old men he threw himself over the edge And that man in the uniform hung in the door, His neck in a knot, two feet off the floor The children and women, they wept at the sight Of the windows in houses and those hushed coastal lights The captain changed course but would not change his mind And they pushed us back in to the swell Pushed us back into the swell

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released December 30, 2018

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Daniel J Townsend TAS, Australia

"A head full of stories, a soul old enough to have lived them, and a heart young enough to believe in their power to move us."

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