Reptile in Roof Space

The iron roof has expanded so much, corrugations
slide into each other. The wavering is not mirage—
no mirage could sustain this long, last through
such unreadable heat. In our endgame, we can
at least hope for stalemate. To take such seriousness
and game play, those orgies on the cusp of dissolution?
The rage for apocalyptic literature—entertained
and stimulated to thought at once? Or spread out,
panting, over the bed, listening to the reptile
swish through the roof space, track down its prey,
deal with temperatures beyond the scope of hotor
cold-blooded, beyond the structures of body
and psyche. This is what you choose to do—
to listen to the immensity of hunt in the cobweb
of light and dark, the sui generis of hunger, of fear.
So, spread out on the bed, eyes open but seeing
nothing, hearing your heartbeat loud in your ears
between the reptile’s movements you wonder: blackheaded
monitor—there is precedent—or maybe
a carpet python, long-term resident predator
of outer sheds, barns. Maybe it’s found its way
down the hill, out of the redness, into the zone
of mice and insects, of spiders and skinks.
Breathe, listen. The roar of your valves
and chambers, the rush of scales over broken
batts of insulation, down onto exposed Gyprock,
over metal transoms. Making a living. Distantly,
a cricket match drones on the television and an advert
comes on claiming the Australian mining industry pays
seven times more royalties than Brazil. “Brazil!” they exclaim.
“Our major competitor.” Amazon, lungs of the world? Investment.
Development. And jobs! Jobs making infinite voids,
mouths that can’t close after they’ve opened. Breathe, listen.
Jobs. Your half brother who worked years for the industry,
flying out beyond the limits of his endurance,
never knowing each place as the center it is, they are,
and taking home the emptiness he made. Alone now,
with his addictions cut off, in the roof space of isolation.
Breathe, listen. Write him a letter. It will be opened
by the censors. They will read of despair and pacifism.
That we are all brothers and sisters in this together,
as he paces the boredom, counts down, listens
to his heart in his ear, in his throat, the void.
The iron roof has expanded so much, corrugations
slide into each other. The wavering is not mirage—
no mirage could sustain this long, last through
such unreadable heat. That’s if you’re watching
this from the outside, looking down the hill,
through old York gums and new plantings,
the cluster of olive trees taking hold
as statement of survival, of stalemate.
The reptile moves fast now, across ecotones,
matching the terrain. Shaded and seething,
hungry to fill up in the overheating metabolism
of destiny. Your heart misses a beat. Proverbial.
Of course. A Symbolist on the bed, thinking
art is worth dying for? To step out before
the endgame reaches its conclusion, the jaws
close around the mysterious prey? No. No.
Breathe, listen. Ghost on the bed, palpitating
toward the scarified, the harrowed outdoors
where little can move in the heat, but silvereyes
concentrate in geraniums out of the sun,
their beaks wide open, drawing the cool
of design into their throats, splitting
           down into the syrinx, unsinging
or singing backwards. Glorious—breathe, listen.
           Their heartbeats. Their heartbeats.
And the roof space silent now, silent beyond
the flexing of metal, your loss, your fear.


Copyright © 2018 John Kinesella. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.