Collateral Damage

Collateral damage, generals say …
that summer when her parents split
and somehow she got lost between them

unwanted by the new recruits
bringing in their own;
Cinderella, just sixteen,

and sharing with a brother
the ATM and plastic magic
while dad is overseas;

her stripping it as quiet revenge,
the blow-in of the youthful drunks,
the advent of the pushers

as schoolwork now becomes a habit
running up her arm
and everything is loans and lies.

The boyfriend proves a user too.
She dabbles at the edge of sleaze
but lasts a few nights only;

does some running for the dealers
closer to the source,
inscrutables from Cabramatta

who’d never use a fit themselves
but chase the dragon only.
Every day she’s got to have it;

drains each parent, makes them pay
but cannot crack their
perfect circles;

her stories grow
each week more wild
but not unlike the truth —

AIDS syringes at the neck,
hostage in a car.
And always, somewhere, deeper down

the ache of her nostalgia:
those summers back before the split
when everything was high blue sky

and still no touch of difference on her
when siblings strolled up from the beach
hosed the sand from off their feet

and all sat down to lunch,
her father with a Tooheys open
her mother at the bench.

Six months, twelve,
maybe eighteen
she’s disappearing by degrees

into her own mythology,
the jobs that strangely fade away,
the dole that always goes to dealers,

her battles with the clerks.
But now, today, her father’s rung
to ask her to the beach for Christmas

and here tonight in this last house
to offer her some passing shelter
she’s saying like a happy child

Make sure you wake me up, OK?
My dad’ll be here right on nine.

Trying out a smile.

from Collateral Damage (Gininderra Press, 1999), Geoff Page 1999, used by permission of the author. The recording is taken from Coffee with Miles (River Road Press, 2009) Geoff Page/River Road Press, 2009

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