Poems from Runaways

(‘Runaways’ is a verse novel in two voices – Cassie and Jack. They are older sister and younger brother. This verse novel is suitable for middle grade readers.

CASSIE

 

the holidays are long

and hot

full of mozzies

sticky sunscreen

and blue water

at the beach

 

I take Jack with me

as often as I can

until my friends complain

then it’s just Jack and me

 

we swim off the pier

fish from the rocks

eat Slurpees

until our tongues

turn blue

 

I can’t leave him at home

with Mum

it always ends in tears.

 

*

I know Mum

wouldn’t hit Jack

at least

I don’t think so

but sometimes I see

her jaw clenched so hard

her neck looks like

a gnarled tree

 

and I reckon her words

hit harder

than fists anyway

stupid

brainless

bane of my life

 

Jack asked me what

bane meant

I told him

it’s a kind of flower

but Jack’s not stupid

he looked it up

and then he went

and sat inside his wardrobe

for two days

 

and that just

made Mum mad again

 

*

I’m almost hanging out

for school to start

that’s not very cool

 

then the front door opens

and there’s Dad

like someone returning

from the grave

 

big fat grin

on his tanned face

big suitcase

in the hallway

big bunch of lies

spilling from his mouth.

 

*

three years since

we’d seen Dad

and suddenly he was back

flashing fifty dollar notes

buying Mum perfume

calling us his little buddies

 

I’m not so little anymore

I know a fake

when I see one

even if Jack doesn’t

 

that’s what happens

when you’re younger

 

you believe anything.

 

JACK

We drive and drive and drive

through the long dark nights

and into long hot days

 

Dad squints behind

his dark stingray glasses

curses truck drivers

never wants to stop

even when I have to pee

 

‘hurry up,’ he says

while I stand shivering

behind a bush

trying not to look into

the thick darkness

that reaches out

like a black hole.

 

*

I ask Dad where we’re going

‘you said the beach’

 

no answer

 

I ask again

where we’re going

‘what about school?’

 

no answer

 

I ask again

‘where are we going?’

 

I get a whack that

makes my ears ring.

 

*

on the second night

Dad finally has to sleep

his eyes look like red pits

 

he leans his seat back

his face looks like

it’s falling in

his mouth opens

he snores so loud

I have to get out of the car

 

I walk on the highway

a black ribbon

still warm beneath my feet

 

up ahead is a sign

that’s where we’re going

Perth.

 

*

semis roar past

headlights like lighthouse beacons

sweeping over me

 

one toots loudly

a blaring howl

I stumble, then wave

 

I could stick my thumb out

hitchhike

all the way home

but

 

what if Mum is

still mad at me?

I get back in the car

stick my fingers

in my ears.