from The Kindly Ones (3)


When we got to Sydney, we kept in touch by phone.
These phones cost nought dollars and we bought small plans.
Alecto found a job at an adult studio, working
in dark red rooms where fur-covered handcuffs
are u-bolted to concrete walls.

She and her mates walk around in stilettos
and corsets or no, what are they called?
cami-knickers – or a French maid’s black dress
and apron and g-strings
the rich cream and apricot lingerie of the trade

or nurses uniforms or school tunics and strap shoes
or matron hats and fox furs and small whips,
and verbally abuse and humiliate
men in high positions –
it’s relaxing for them

Instead of bringing the board meeting or the House
to its knees by your wilful rhetoric your poised sneers
your excellent tailoring your expensive haircut
it’s relaxing it seems, to stop controlling everything
and be scourged till you’re useless, thoughtless.

Humiliated, you don’t have to be anything.
The humiliated have no responsibilities
but to their further humiliation. It is this ease of giving
up power when you’re paying for it. Sex workers wear
fl imsy clothes but they are covered in discretion.

While Alecto’s at the studio I’m at Circular Quay
at a call centre, saying
Hi this is Virgin, May I help you?
the helpdesk for Virgin phones. Responding to clients
with technical help, or arranging credit –

The training takes three weeks,
then they throw us to the wolves.
Mostly clients are polite, but some feel free
to pour their vitriol on me –
Gee, I could show them how to curse –

Behind me the buzz of the room and to one side
the boys in black, pale-skinned, lip-studded, blue hair,
hunched over their laptops.
The network uses a software related to Oracle.
It’s newly installed, the bugs are multiplying

There’s an error down in the PHP code, one says.
I nod. Without ever knowing what the PHP code is,
I will refer to it many times, on the phone to clients.
Or I say, It’s a case of link-rot. Don’t worry about that.
Right now we can extend you fifty dollars of calls.

At Backpacker Central we cook a meal and
meet Beck who’s selling wine by the case:
the hit rate’s about three per cent. Hunter Valley wine.
Most people hang up on her, some abuse her,
one played loud music

some wish to discuss the difference between semillon
and merlot and consider buying a case, then don’t.
Yes we’ve moved from our cave to a four-bunk room
in the hostel. Alecto sleeps at work sometimes:
it’s tiring, whipping.

Beck wanted to dread my hair so I let her.
You select some hair and then twist it round and round
then put vaseline on it and work the vaseline into
these twists you are continually doing. It’s quite a job.
And Helena Rubenstein never washed her hair.

Alecto just had a number one cut, but at work
she wears wigs. Megaera’s a dish-pig in a caf?
called Bay Swiss, where they sell coffee and furniture.
She always tries to get Sunday shifts but you have to wait
to move up in waiter-hierarchy.

She wears small black clothes preferably very
black, not faded, and a short black apron with long white strings,
which have to be ironed. The caf? owners also devised
a ‘look’ for their menu. So far no mention’s been made
of what they ‘devised’ for the food.

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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