The last few nights, we’ve had those beautiful late-March evenings you get in Melbourne. So many in fact that the last one has draped over onto the first day of April. Those nights where it’s like summer has forgotten that it was supposed to be over, and come wandering back into the party half an hour after it left to catch a cab. It’s dishevelled, and there are sticks in its hair and a piece of plastic wrap stuck to the bottom of one shoe, and you don’t ask where it’s been, but it wanders round the kitchen to fix itself another drink from the dregs of bottles scattered on the bench, something with warm soda instead of tonic, and a partly-chewed lime wedge dropped in, and summer drinks it leaning against the kitchen washboard, chatting with a vague slur for another seven minutes, before regathering its senses enough to attempt again its exit.
Every year, without fail, everyone acts surprised, and goes on about the unpredictability of Melbourne weather. Every year, without fail, the same pattern recurs. This is in accordance with our practice of pretending that we are some sort of hardcore weather warriors, battling an anomalous climate, as though conditions don’t change sharply in Chicago or the Russian steppes. “Melbourne weather,” we cluck, a phrase with so much intuited meaning as to require no further utterance, never aware that Sydney has twice the rainfall in any given year.
No matter. These nights are a gift to us by a city whose virtue could be more appreciated. The air is gentle and the trees still have their leaves. There’s a softness to the evening, as though atmospheric fabric conditioner had been added to the wash. When I first fell in love, a long decade and more ago now, it was one of those late March nights. I was a recent refugee from adolescence. When it started I thought that everything had changed; when it ended I thought that life could never move on. It had, and it did. Some years later I met another girl on another late March night, in the midst of a minor Melbourne disaster whose memory might soon be jarred free. We passed a few weeks in that company, until the world turned another turn, and I wrote this poem.
If you’ve enjoyed these last few nights in Melbourne, it’s for you.
That night tasted like grapefruit; we were
hallway silhouettes. Some hours earlier, drops
had started pocking Victoria’s state-wide parch
softening the cracked lips of reservoirs.
It was summer’s last convulsion. The heavy energy of heat
curled round us and over, even as the rains came in.
There’d been a crash in the Burnley Tunnel: explosions,
calamity. With power to the whole northern grid failing
we sat in darkness – streetlights doused, houses
thinking themselves over at the edge of vision –
watching four blind lanes of Royal Parade
snakehiss with traffic, water sheeting the roadway,
tyres unable to decide if they were planes or scythes.
Our shoebox veranda made a diorama,
a comfort to those out in the world.
With the familiarity born of shared disaster
passers-by stopped to tell us of chaos in the city:
traffic lights out, cars dismantling each other,
man undone by invention one more time.
How long has it been out up here? they’d ask.
At twelve I said I’d walk home when the rain stopped.
Cars thinned out but never ceased
though at least no more cyclist lights
scrived their laser scrimshaw in our skulls.
Veranda edges circumscribed the sky, the iron lacework
boxed it up like Chinese takeaway.
Beyond the swoop of the Parade was space
and space and space. That dirty couch was a canoe,
the road a roiling mud monsoonal river, mile-wide.
We rode the current, waiting for a break in rain
that never came; let it ride the way things ride
on nights that taste like grapefruit.
Morning was a nudge in the ribs: the clouds’ campaign
from black to ash to oyster-shell.
Water still hissed through our streets
arced from branches…turned orange?
Yes. In the ultimate redundancy
the streetlights came back on.
Kissing you was like rain the night before:
while anyone could see that it was coming
it was hard to predict when the first drop would fall.
But it always falls. With a whole night to lean on
the first kiss came as easily.
And with that rain now in its twelfth hour
and your eyes so close to mine
it was hard to dodge metaphors of droughts breaking.
Inside, the terrace dusk of your room was dark grey felt.
My hands found your hands.
The rain stopped. The earth breathed,
and as we broke the crisp of brand new sheets
it seemed that everything else
had become new.