In the next life we were married

by Ken Brownlow
The Waters
First Place, April 2020
Judged by Terese Coe

Caitland is back from Charcoal station
she went mustering on the black soil plains
a year or more ago then did a season
packing apples near her mother’s farm
and mentioned something in a Christmas card
about feral goats out on the western downs.

Always in a country of the never mind
she rolls in like high tide across my balcony
with a six pack and a pizza box
and can’t imagine how it was possible
for me to go on blowing zeds
through all her thumping on my walls
and windows and the neighbour’s barking dog
when she knocked a trash can over.

Wants to know why the spare key
wasn’t in its usual hidey spot
and continues in a drunken lilt
how she thought for sure by now
some ritzy girl with painted nails
would be living here with me.

I shake a sleepy head then nod
and take the warm beer offered
but decline a slice of suspect looking pizza
draped across her fillet knife.
She strikes a look of wounded pride
and says ‘it’s vegetarian; I remembered
what an oddball kind of bloke you are’.

The affection and ironies in this cinematic poem persist and grow via the variety of emotional strategies employed by Caitland and the speaker to evoke or even wrench a response. Both immediacy and uniqueness are present, and an image or the supple diction can uncover mercurial aspects of character that are disarming and wry, as in the first two striking lines of the second stanza. The title, like Janus, looks forward and back: it could refer to a backstory or to the future. The characters are intriguing, original, and authentic: one wants to know more! --Terese Coe