Poem #20 from Small Town Kid

Back to Small Town Kid – Introduction

Note: I’ve been moved to re-post this cracker night poem after reading of the experience of the Northern Territory (in Australia) in the last couple of days, as they had their own cracker night celebrations. My memory doesn’t record such carnage, but I guess the story tells why these celebrations were banned, in the end.

This poem is taken from my Small Town Kid memoir, and I hope folk that have seen it before don’t mind a re-visit to what was a happy time in youth.

late october

the heat of the days
is rising

in scattered paddocks
fallen branches
old and dry
are being gathered and heaped

car tyres
collected through the year
are strategically placed
at the bottom

in the centre


paper boys are collecting
from the newspaper shop in town
where mr carter is the chief supplier
for the town

of red devils
in different shapes and sizes

in tom thumb strings
and wrapped packets
of ha’penny
and giant tupenny bangers

rockets and spinning wheels
shoe boxes fill
ahead of time
with occasional pistol cracks
here and there
to test the merchandise

excited discussions are being held
in the schoolyard
about plans and preparations

about the best ways
to extract one half
of a doubled wick
to extend it

how to twirl together two
or even three or four
similarly treated explosive devices
to create formidable weaponry

discussions about the ways
to seal a big banger
in a can
for underwater experimentation
and the creation of submerged booms
and rising spouts
of dirty yellow water


early november

the possible threat
of total fire ban
as potential catastrophe

mountains of raised wood
in the paddocks
crowned with effigy
and scarecrow
rise all around the town
with still more fuel to be added
while the days last

arsenals have been formed
gathered and stored


the fathers of those
without enough pocket-money
to lay in a stash
are badgered without mercy
almost to the point
of revealing a secret hoard
too early
in the face of such sweating anxiety

but the jumping jacks stay hidden
or are simply denied
until the time is right
and the day has come
at last

in the fading light
the bonfire
on the far side of the gorge
is touched off
to blaze red at the town
and signal that the time
is now

and suddenly
it’s fire everywhere
and the people glow

dads are drinking beer
under pressure
to get a bottle-launcher
for the rockets to fly into the air
and explode
the little ones stumbling backwards
in awe

while the tom thumbs rattle
and the rat-a-tat sound
establishes the tone
for cracker night


and I am off
with my swag-bag on my shoulder
to visit half a dozen places
where the thick black stench of rubber
burning slow
is my guide

throwing ha’penny bangers
as close as I dare
to make a kid
concentrating hard on a short wick
jump high
almost out of his skin

and chasing after duds
that didn’t explode
as they should

searching for a second chance
to relight a remnant fuse
fanning it back to sputtering life

also a chance
to go deaf
as it explodes
right beside my ear

I can’t hear a thing
except the bells
but I’m still blasting away
on the far side of town
until the fires die a little
and the crowd
is starting to go home

a couple of tupenny bangers
and a short detour
to blow the deputy headmasters mailbox
is an annual event
and he’s long practiced
at straightening its swollen metal sides
next morning

I’ve still got a couple left
better not let them off
right now
there’s a message
in the silence of the night
that fireworks
are over

we’ll be scouring paddocks
for the duds and the squibs
to break in half
till the black powder shows
and then light them
to make an angry fizzer
for a moment
until it’s gone

the tires still burn
and glow
to show us where the action was
and the ringing in my ears
like cracker night
is passing
from my mind

© Frank Prem 2009

Small Town Kid Poem 21: pumpkin rock terrorists


a view of the incident with the apple

terry says

you are a blessing for your family
god has smiled on them
through you

we have met
on the corner of finch street and church
beneath eternal elms caught
between the budding of hops
and the languid fluttering
of emergent green leaves

I recognised him
at first sight
from a distance

the distinctive pear shape
and ponderous waddling gait
on awkward legs

an older version
of the soft young man I knew
when I was a child
who never managed
to quite grow up

we spoke a few words
uncertain of whether conversation
or salutation
was best called for

with a hand reaching up
to my shoulder
he said

god has touched you

when I demurred
he answered

if adam and eve
hadn’t partaken of the apple
none of us
would have troubles

how is your grandmother
I heard she was poorly
please tell her
terry says

© Frank Prem, 2008

circular square town

Poem #57 from Small Town Kid (final)

Back to Small Town Kid – Introduction

I’m watching a circle form

from the start
at the point where I had to leave

within the arc
that constantly drew me to return
never once letting go

to the place where I stood
away out
on the perimeter
of being an independent man

how many radial steps
did it take
to pace from youth
into middle years

to this moment
a return to the beginning

the old town is different now
so am I
but the circle
is set to be squared
at last

© Frank Prem 2009

broken english

Poem #56 from Small Town Kid

Back to Small Town Kid – Introduction

I can hear it on the streets
like when I walk into a milk-bar
to get a paper in the morning

the guy will say something
to his lady or the kids

doesn’t matter where he’s from
I can mostly understand it

I hear it when a woman rings the phone
and I tell her she’s got a wrong number
she says


she meant to dial somebody else
but the sound of her voice is so familiar
it makes me want to go back
to see the people that say

kako si?
you go okay

I wonder how my mutti is
what tata has been getting up to
and oma and teta
uncle damjan

it’s time to go home

© Frank Prem 2009

Small Town Kid Poem 57: circular square town


small town kids

Poem #54 from Small Town Kid

Back to Small Town Kid – Introduction

it seems long ago
we were just kids
watching time pass away

in a place where open space
formed the barriers and walls
of nowhere to go

growing without mirrors
our young eyes never noticed
the fleeting glimpses
of mental barricades

and day upon day
we were formed
as small town kids

was there ever a chance

© Frank Prem 2009

Small Town Kid Poem 55: broken english

palmer’s not

Poem #53 from Small Town Kid

Back to Small Town Kid – Introduction

for mick, who didn’t make it

palmer’s not swinging on her arm tonight
he got delayed somewhere
she’ll have to make do with the rest of us
take a drink and kill the hours

palmer’s not eating what his mama cooked
he’s not sleeping in his bed
we set a place but I might help myself
to an extra serve of egg and a sausage

palmer’s not turning up on time at work
he must have over-slept
the boss is talking about stopping his pay
and I think we’re going to be on overtime

palmer’s not collecting for the tipping pool
he didn’t lay the bets last week
somebody else ought to take the job
because the horses are still running

palmer’s not marrying next saturday
and he didn’t pay for my tuxedo
the bride’s putting back the wedding gown
I’ll see you at the church

© Frank Prem 2009

Small Town Kid Poem 54: small town kids


Poem #52 from Small Town Kid

Back to Small Town Kid – Introduction

driving the night
traveling home
from a gathering at some party
in myrtleford

oncoming lights sway
and weave
hypnotising in dance

slow down
pull over
stop the car
watch and wait them
to pass


five minutes from home

three minutes delay

ten minutes post-contact

they are gone


mothers shed tears
while fathers just stare
and friends can’t believe
these were the ones
that we loved

christine and jill
where are you
where are you
why won’t you answer
when we call

© Frank Prem 2009

Small Town Kid Poem 53: palmer’s not

role to play

Poem #51 from Small Town Kid

Back to Small Town Kid – Introduction

sometimes in the night
the child is sleeping
I watch over
my tiny wonder

hold my breath
lest a sound escape
what role
might I play

in the making
and in the shaping
of the future
dreaming there

and sometimes
it’s in the late of night
I toss and turn
and I ponder

what good role
for that sleeping child
what’s my role
to play

no answers
in the nighttime
maybe tomorrow

maybe sometime

maybe answers
one other day

© Frank Prem 2009

Small Town Kid Poem 52: vale

from the sticks

Poem #50 from Small Town Kid

Back to Small Town Kid – Introduction

there’s chicken shit
on the boots of the boy
who came to the smoke
from north-east victoria

speaking too slow
and walking with a roll
grown on steep murmungee hills
above white foggy mornings
his eyes are as wide
as collins and elizabeth
streets that stretch
so much longer than a day
with the dog and the traps

he’s some kind of a wonder
probably it’s the weathered hat
or maybe the patchwork sheepskin coat
but he’s surely now
a captive
and a wonder

© Frank Prem 2009

Small Town Kid Poem 51: role to play

libby’s puzzle

Poem #45 from Small Town Kid Back to Small Town Kid – Introduction

little libby was
the runt in a line
of older sisters
and bigger brothers

everything in the world
was already known
before she came along
and someone else
owned all the simple answers

was the only mystery left
in a tiny universe
a puzzle
growing up and searching
for her own pieces

some of the boys
tried to help her out
by touch
but they only
added clouds
to the picture

by the time
we visited the fairway
near the green
she was already tired
drifted beyond caring
my clumsy presence
more hope than help

for her it was already
just an old habit
but I at least
felt some pieces move
in a pursuit
of higher learning

© Frank Prem 2009

Small Town Kid Poem 46: not the mandalay