Mafia Cats

“We’re the Mafia cats
Bugsy, Franco and Toni
We’re crazy for pizza
With hot pepperoni

We run all the rackets
From gambling to vice
On St Valentine’s Day
We massacre mice

We always wear shades
To show that we’re meanies
Big hats and sharp suits
And drive Lamborghinis

We’re the Mafia cats
Bugsy, Franco and Toni
Love Sicilian wine
And cheese macaroni

But we have a secret
(And if you dare tell
You’ll end up with the kitten
At the bottom of the well

Or covered in concrete
And thrown into the deep
For this is one secret
You really must keep.)

We’re the Cosa Nostra
Run the scams and the fiddles
But at home we are
Mopsy, Ginger and Tiddles.”

Mafia Cats by Roger McGough, from Selected Poems

When school kids go past the windows

They go fast. They lean forward as they walk. They watch each other’s faces closely.

Hands in pockets. The pockets, rectangular slabs of phone. The phones move in and out of pockets, shining oblongs of light.

Someone shouts, ‘Just think how much food you could eat, bro!’

They look in my windows. Bouncing a football, a basketball, a firm punch that argues with the footsteps.

‘Mate, he’ll go down.’ This was shouted lovingly when a motorbike hissed past, the rider standing, plunging through the intersection, the afternoon bakery audience angrily captivated.

They young people are loud. They must converse in shouts. Sometimes a bicycle or a scooter slides through the group, obliging and skilful, the rider chatting as she swerves.

I have spinning balloons that hang underneath the edge of the verandah. Once a boy raised his hand to bang them, but then didn’t.

Huge heavy school bags. Backpacks for the mountain. They bounce from side to side, the weight keeping pace with the walk.  

When it’s freezing they wear shorts and t shirts and carry huge bags of twisties. They look through my windows.

They all talk at once. They look in the windows. They walk shoulder to shoulder. Once some boys tapped and tapped on the glass, ‘Hey, guys,’ but the girls inside were not distracted. They had books to get.

Once a kid passing the window answered someone else, ‘I’m not getting a book you dumb arse.’

They are all colourful and glorious in the cold wind.

Penelope and the Suitors by John William Waterhouse, 1912

How to be stung

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Words have shapes. The word naked has a spike in the middle. This causes my three year old grandsons to freeze and lighthouse my face. They have heard the word and have become uncertain. I say naked. Naked? I plant the k firmly in the ground because it is important, and they rock about, filling their mouths with two year old laughter, powerful with innocence.
Cereal. Difficult because the r wants more attention that it needs. Ce-re-ral. Difficult because it is uttered so early in the morning, hungry, and hoping for exciting ce-re-ral, the stuff I buy because my mother never allowed me to have it.
I can’t write Australia without an error amongst the vowels.
I can’t type possibly because the y won’t appear.
I can’t say minimalist without losing a shoe and having to go back.
Bum. This is a satisfying word, like a stone thrown into a deep pond. Ripples. Causes hilarity for three year olds.

Mine. Powerful and causes consternation. Different powers according to where it is uttered. And who hears it.
The word freezing is nice to say. The grandsons linger amongst the long sounds and stretch the word, reining in sympathy and attention. Squirted is hilarious but tricky, the t softening into a d, and parents lurking in the car park, saying ‘Are you being rude?’
Bursted. Many things are bursted. A powerful and rich word that describes the world of the three year old more than what it is actually applied to. ‘What happened to the snail? It bursted.’
Sour is puzzling because it is a bit abstract. But is easily learned because of the accompanying flair of lips away from teeth. Three year olds are quick to utilize these performances. Anything can be sour, including vegetables, the sun or a library book.
Biscuit is buttery, baked, soft with kindness, and breaks up in the teeth amongst the actual sentence. Biscuit can stop a runner making for the back of the orchard with a toy truck they have taken from someone else.
Broken has authority. My three year old grandsons use it to blame, condemn, weep, console, manipulate and explain.
Spicy is abstract and unusual, but useful if you have accidentally tasted a chilli. It is immensely satisfying to linger twice amongst the tender skin of the ssss sounds, remembering the burn.

Yellow is simply too difficult. There is too much information thrown by the experience of yellow to waste time forcing the tongue. So, lello fills in, like a relief worker paid a lot but not really part of the plan. Lollies is always managed with skill, precision and desperation.
Buttons is exciting and authoritative and causes things to happen, such as the reprimand, ‘Did you press that?’
Max tried out Mr Archimedes, remembering the story, the bath, the wombat, the spilt hot water, the mop. He managed Mr Medes. It will do. He climbs over the words and continues with the story, ‘The water went all on the floor.’
I said monumental to someone in a thin fussy tone. Noah said, ‘Yeah,’ in hot agreement, the three year old taking part in family affairs, already reading politics with alarming accuracy.
Chippies is flinty and nice, salty and comforting, and rectangular, ‘We went to the shop and got some chippies with mummy.’ Devastation that at the time of the memory, there are no chippies anywhere.
Sting. This is rich and alarming. The s is loud and sharp, a warning. It is freighted with memories of stings. Toys are put down. Little boys gather to talk. ‘Did Noah get stinged? Where did the bee go? Once I got stinged on my thumb.’ The speaker holds up his foot as he says ‘thumb’. They stare at each other, concerned.

They keep on playing, talking, arguing, shouting –  squeezing and pushing at bits of language, every word a biscuit, a rich drench, a sting.

Wrong shop mate!

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I don’t expect the motorbike people to come into the shop. They usually park across the road and walk to the bakery and then back to the group. But today, one man came up and shouted through the door, ‘Hey mate, have you got Winter’s Tale yet?’

I didn’t.

‘It’s by Mark somebody. Mate, it’s good, it’s good. Remember we talked about it. You ort to read it.’ He came in and stood leaning back, hands on hips, boots on the earth and read all the titles in Science Fiction and Fantasy. His book was not there, yet he remained cheerful. ‘Mate, if only I had the time to read all these. Not to worry.’

His enthusiasm made an impression on me.

Then he opened the door to leave, and a friend suddenly bloomed on the footpath outside and shouted, ‘Wrong shop mate, what the hell are you doing?’

He answered, ‘No way, it’s a good little place, a good little place. Have you got my gloves?’

Undefeated, always

Inge Look (3)

I like the way they enter the shop, strongly, not opening the door but crashing it out of their way. They are scarves and swirls. They are orange and nutmeg. They are loud, beautiful, and their jewellery is long.

When they came in, one said, ‘My God, a BOOKstore’, and they entered magnificently.

‘What’s that?’

“It’s Dune. It’s making a comeback.’

‘Oh really.’

‘For God’s Sake.’

‘I love Dune.’

‘So did I, but isn’t it dated…’

‘No.’

‘You can’t beat Georgette Heyer, is what I always say.’

Her friends look at her kindly.

‘There’s a new book by…who was it…?’

‘Look at this.’

They argue about Family Circle. They are loud. They are not in agreement about the basics. One of them has a grown child who is causing anxiety. One grips the arm of another. They lean close to read the titles on the Young Reader table; one says, ‘Don’t they read some good things these days, look at this with the dragons on it.’

But they have to go. They move as an army, knowing precisely when and how to move, and why.  How to defeat the enemy. They are ladies of a magnificent age. I do not want them to go. I want to know things. But they have to go; there is work to do.

When they leave, one says, ‘Do you want to try for a loaf of bread next door?’

They go. They leave, taking Georgette Heyer and Family Circle Jams and Preserves. Undefeated, always.

 

Illustration by Inga Look

The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

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This morning, a ute stopped right outside the door. Tradesman climbed out, all noise and energy, boots huge, dressed for the cold in t-shirts and iPhones.  They looked through my windows and saw me looking out – at them. They both nod and look politely away. To the bakery, relief.

A family came in, dad and two young children. The little boy pleading, dropping with hunger, daddy…..can we get something to eat….his sister wearing a summer dress, but also a good winter beanie, relaxed, holding a copy of Charlotte’s Web, fortified.

A young man bought three books for a young niece. He relaxes, relieved, a very difficult gift achieved. He says, ‘Thanks, thanks, God, thanks.’

Outside it rains and rains and rains. Traffic swishes. Car lights. People hurrying.

A family are caught in the doorway,  and they stand shoulder to shoulder waiting for the rain to ease. The toddler, held in his father’s arms, strokes his mother’s shoulder with one hand and his father’s ear with the other; a tight knot of absolute warmth.

There is an argument about lunch in the back room, ‘We can always have lunch early.’

More talk. ‘Have it your way…’

A young man comes in, thinking me the bakery. He swings through the door strongly. He wraps his arms around himself and backs out. He looks down the street toward friends, ‘Guys, what the fuck..?’

It rains.

A man comes in to tell me there is a water leak in the car park. I said, ‘Yes, but SAWater, they know about it… you know.’ He understands immediately, ‘SAWater…!’

My friend, Callie, admired his hat. He turned and said, ‘Yes it’s a great hat, pity about the head in it, har har har.’ We laugh. We like him. We all agree on SAWater.

Sarah came in. Alan came in. Leah came in. The rain came down. Neville chooses his usual selection of unusual, diabolically brilliant books. People climb off the bus across the road. The water leaks across the footpath. I talk with someone about Mark Twain.

John comes in. Rita and Don come in. We agree the weather is slightly foul.

The water leaks. The rain comes down. The world turns.

 

That baby seat

Cornelius Jetses (2)

There is shouting directly outside my shop door. Two couples conversing powerfully from one side of the road to the other, over the traffic. They are discussing a baby seat. It is important. The women quickly take over. The far couple have the baby seat, but the near couple need it, urgently.

‘How can we…?’

Some children pass, then a truck, then a couple with a dog, then another truck and a series of annoying cars.

‘What are you going to do…?’ Called strongly from this side.

The couple over the road dither on the kerb. They are talking to each other.

The couple on this side stand against my door.

‘Ok, then.’

‘Doesn’t matter. Leave it Di, there’s too much traffic.’

‘They could go and get the thing. It’s our grandchild too.’

They stand side by side looking across the road. The couple across the road wave strongly and cross over, a diagonal path that avoids my shop and leads straight to the bakery. Inside, with me, a child is choosing a bookmark. She does this by staring at them all without blinking, twice choosing, twice changing, finally selecting a gold one with a cat and beads of raspberry glass. Her dad pays without looking at it, and she holds it in front of her and gives little hops all the way to the door. Over her hopping head, I see that the couple who needed the car seat are gone.

Inside, a lady says, ‘Brian, not in there, your books are not in there. Those are the kiddie books. Your fiction is in this room.’ But Brian remains in the wrong section.

Soon he is called again, ‘Brian!’ He obeys. In the other room, I hear her say, ‘Don’t stand too close to people, love. Here’s the Westerns.’ Then she says loudly, ‘Don’t be a pain in the neck.’ He comes out with Clive Cussler (but no Westerns). He opens the door and waits. He and I both watch three boys pass by. One is saying, ‘Yeah, they flogged Hahndorf!’ They are all eating from paper bags, looking happy.

Artwork by Cornelius Jetses

 

Small things like shapes

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I wrote this in January 2017, on Australia Day. It was summer. Now it is winter, which always makes me think about summer.

“A child said to me that he likes my glass lantern because he likes small things like shapes. He said that when he looked into the glass he could see cars going past, and that the cars looked better in the lantern than they did going along the road as real cars. His mother told him there were Beast Quest books on the shelf, and he said, ‘Maybe’.

She said there were also some Star Wars, and he said, ‘Maybe’.

A lady was pleased to see a copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. She said it is on her to read list which has a thousand books on it already. She said the list is wearying. She did not see the lantern.

It is Australia Day. The family with the small boy who likes shapes are across the road; they have been to the bakery. The father is trying to interest the child in some food but he is standing with his nose pressed against the fir tree, he must be looking at more shapes. The father looks weary. The child drops the paper bag on the ground and looks down at the spilt food. He makes binoculars with his fists and looks down at the broken food. His knees are bent with concentration. The parents are having an argument.

Just outside the door of my shop a man has opened his esky on the pavement, and there is no ice. His wife asks him why he can’t even pack an esky properly. He raises both hands in the air and stands there motionless, but she has gotten back into the car. Then she locks all the doors.

I wonder if anyone else will come in for a book today. Then I remembered the small boy who likes shapes; he had chosen a book called Pharaoh’s Boat which had pyramids on the front. So I did sell a book today!”