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Lactic Acid; laissez-faire by Ian C Smith

Lactic Acid


Two women jog in the dark pre-dawn

glowing with fitness and self-discipline

along the straight streets, but not together.


Neighbours, they welter through all weather

one with her dogs on a lead

lycra-clad, looking like the latest fad.


Planning ahead the days of her week

the other jogs with her young son

on regular routes, seen by no-one.


The women know each other yet

the one with dogs has nothing to say

when their trails transect.


The other pants good morning

her words drifting unanswered

through shadows silent and sweaty.


She lists manners and social awareness

in her neat ideal of good health

thinks the dog woman’s behaviour petty.


Why does one woman refuse to speak?

Why does the polite woman persist?

Do their versions of their days’ prologues differ?

If they raced who would win?

And who would feel the greater joy?

Does one cry out when she makes love?

Does one remain mute, use a stopwatch?

Do they both dream of being thin? 


He cuts and tugs sleeping asbestos

wearing a wee white mask, of course

hiding his dark face under lowered lids

not that he wants to open his mouth.

A big ex-gangster who employs him

perhaps recalling his own beginnings

grins, silently checking the work.

He is refurbishing an old restaurant.

The ex-gangster’s excellent teeth

often sparkle from the society pages

- his life could fill an opportunistic book -

but our guy of the slashing sharp knife

the tightly knotted bags of swirling fibres

that get taken for a ride come nightfall

uses newspapers for warmth, has poor English.

He arrives and leaves by the rear lane

enduring his nights in a Salvos bin

lying still, deep inside, in the dark.

He lets rip for $12.50 an hour, cash

minus the cost of the facemasks

good savings for a man with his past.

He is advised, with a cold grin

to continue keeping his mouth shut.

He accepts these workplace conditions.

Imagine him high on hope, doing the maths

buoyant with every breath he takes

aiming to be prosperous one day, healthy

like his boss, the grinning ex-gangster.   


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