from The Kindly Ones (2)


And now a girl called Atalanta is walking round the stage
in the head and hide of a boar, still-warm, still-bleeding,
her war-trophy. Her boyfriend and his uncles
are watching her. She’s almost buried under
the wild pig, but it’s a victory parade.

When the uncles steal the boar, the boyfriend kills them –
and later in the play his mother, enraged,
since the uncles are her brothers –
approaches our fi re at the side of the stage.
Hubba hubba smoke and brooms.

Will she defend her brothers, or her son?
She’s carrying the wooden brand she’d snatched
from the fire the day her son was born. She saved
his life, then. Now she squats and brandishes
her bit of trunk at our fire.

At that time there were fifty of us, the kindly ones,
yes be careful who you invoke. For us
a euphemism is best. EU means ‘well’ – think of the
eucalypt – the gumnut covers the seed – ‘well-covered’.
Eumenides, that’s our other name.

Happy when left alone but formal in our work,
defenders of justice, ideally practised in dissonance,
we’re trained to provide revenge.
During the drama we have come in slowly,
stepping across the uncles’ and the boar’s blood.

Silently now we surround the action in a circle.
At a break in the stricken monologue of the mother
we begin to keen and ululate, then Alecto
gets on a half-note over mine, we make it piercing,
Megaera turns into a bird.

Above us in the tiers, two people faint.
The mother in the story then faces us –
‘Turn, ye Furies, goddesses of punishment – ‘
and we reel back, our song stopped. ‘Turn
to behold the sacrifice I bring.’

We start to wail again, and waves of sound rise
through the tiers. More people faint, three
have convulsions. The medics are called.
The following week Aeschylus is brought
before the local magistrate.

A lecture is read to him about public safety
and he’s told he can’t have fi fty
of these so-called kindly ones.
Your Honour, he says, What number
do you think is possible?

How will the mother punish her son?
In fact the mother has him killed – yes –
that’s how it ended. The childlike, the charming
sociopath is not gaoled with colour TV and drugs
or counselling.

See the mother, whose brothers have been killed,
comes up to us and hesitates four times, then puts the brand
on the fire. This is the wood she plucked out when she saved
her son’s life. Silence. The fatal wood gives a groan,
and he is breathed out to the wandering winds.

Well, I’m tired of vengeance now.
Often I’m away from home – this time when I left,
it was with my sisters, after the tragedy festival.
What we needed was a holiday, Alecto said,
somewhere completely different.

On the way south,
we saw signs for an agricultural show.
The dusty carnival atmosphere blurred our eyes
and during an unidentified lapse in time we shifted
to a new language, a different territory.


We went into the halls of time,
cobwebbed tunnels where dank plants loomed,
past the river-caves’ tacky monsters
whose ancestors’ claws we’ve pulled from our backs,
then above-ground we saw a sign for the Bush Races.

It was ten dollars to go in.
Megaera said we were researchers, wanting to
interview people about living in the bush.
For The Good Weekend? they said. We had no idea
what she was talking about, but nodded.

From that moment we learned to bluff,
half-say, go dumb, simulate. Our language was described
as backpacker English. People always fill in your blanks
and the twenty-first century is no exception.
We could smell horses and beer.

Have you any idea where we are? Megaera said
to the woman at the gate. Burning Mountain, she said,
then Guyra at the top of the Range.
Cold? we said.
Minus thirteen it can be, she said. Try the Motel Isis.

Up a sloping paddock was a scarecrow competition –
a double row of them, maybe sixty, a road’s width apart.
You could walk along judging them.
One whose gut was a pumpkin – one in a tu-tu –
then a stall selling whips by a master-plaiter from Bendigo.

Next a face-painting stall and the smell of camels
near the beer tent. The occasional crack
of a whip that was being auctioned gave Alecto a laugh.
There were a few tricks she could’ve shown them,
but she wasn’t about to. Reminds me though, she said.

We were in effect incognito and would be for months.
Guides took us on tours of The Dog on the Tuckerbox,
the Jenolan Caves, Seaworld, Movieworld,
the Big Pineapple
and the Great Barrier Reef.

Down near Goulburn we went inside
a stressed-concrete ram, the Big Merino.
We climbed up a ladder and looked out his perspex eyes
at the row of commission houses leading into town –
the real world, so-called.

from The Kindly Ones (River Road Press, 2008), Susan Hampton 2008, used by permission of the author and River Road Press

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