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Provincial City
by Bruce Dawe

Climbing the range
your ears pop like champagne
and your heart distends
with something other than relief.
You can smell the peace up here.
The proportion, the narrowness.
Traitor, traitor, whines the piano-wire voice
as you swing past the Welcome sign

To find nothing is changed.
Overhead the clouds boil past,
low, friendly, meaning no harm.
The thunder moving into position

Shortly after five o'clock is stolid
as a furniture removalist.
The lightning jerks its thumb:
Over here, Fred.

When it rains
the gutters run red
but it's innocent. Dogs and magpies
the red soil stains.

In season the currawongs in the camphor-laurels
cry like tin-shears.
(The jacarandas hang their sheets
of blue water in mid-air.)

Down James Street the semis hurtle
nightly, brutalising through the quiet
civilised dark like the Eumenides,
or conscience, or history.

Here the elderly come to convalesce
after life's anxious illness; the young
leave daily for the Cities of the Plain
where there is work (or the hope of it).

On the hillside at Drayton
the cemetery glitters like a dream;
asterisks of light
on the wind-screens of mourners' cars

Glint remotely as stars
in a heaven-deep well.
We will never get there.
This is a city which is all present:

It moves, but oh so slowly
you would have to sleep years,
waking suddenly once in a decade
to surprise it in the act of change.

Saturday night, in the main street kerb,
the angle-parked cars are full of watchers,
their feet on invisible accelerators,
going nowhere, fast.

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