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2003 - Saloni M swims East


Michael Elliman

Michael Elliman (aka Michael Linden) was born in the industrial north of England in 1951. Came to Australia as a Fairbridge Society child migrant in 1959. Grew up in Elsternwick but the muse led him inexorably to Kris Hemensley’s La Mama readings and the Melbourne poetry renaissance of the late sixties.

He has written verse since his early teens but has rarely published, preferring to privilege the spoken over the printed word.

Studied at Melbourne Uni. for many years – far longer than his sanity could tolerate – picking up degrees in English Language & Literature, and Linguistics. So, inevitably, he now makes a living as a wholesale vegan baker punctuated with occasional forays into inner-city spoken word venues to keep in touch with his soul.

The prose pieces printed here arose out of a seven month sojourn in a mountain village in the Troodos range of southern Cyprus in 1985.

You can email Michael.



The huge furry caterpillar was halfway to the shelter of the vine leaves when he spotted it.

With all the brutish instinct of a born hunter he sprang to his feet, rushed to the whitewashed wall, and repeatedly stabbed at the creature with the hot tip of his cigarette. Then, with obvious pride, he turned to face the other guests in the courtyard.

But the stranger yelled at him. Her words tore into his drunken consciousness creating a sudden stillness.

He, a killer? He, a murderer? Who was this woman? He'd never seen her before in the village. Where did she come from? She didn't belong here. She must be mad to shame him like this in front of everyone.

He glanced at the remains of the caterpillar which were oozing in a thick green glob down the stark white wall.

Ignoring the stranger's cries he strode back to his table and sat down again. Smirking, he took a deep gulp of brandy then let out a loud nervous laugh.

She wasn't going to spoil his night, damn her! But he'd find out who she was; and then, maybe...

The stranger and her family must have left early; for later, when he looked again, he saw their table was empty.

He stayed on at the party until dawn. The young men would leave that day to become conscripts. His brother was one of them.

The village was bidding them farewell.


They buried him on a hot afternoon in the cemetery above the village.

The army had sent its representatives: a couple of strutting officers, and a motley handful of privates to fire the salute.

They lined up as discretely as they could, well back on the slope behind the other mourners.

There was a string of histrionic commands; then they pressed the triggers of their automatic rifles.
The anti-climactic ‘phutphutphut’ was easily drowned out by his mother's screams as she called the army ‘murderers’ again and again and again.

Later, of course, they would say that her grief had overtaken her reason but we knew that every word she said was true.

With the last volley I glanced up into the harsh blue sky.
Three white doves were winging their way silently overhead.

I could not have imagined them.
They were as distinct as the mother's shouted accusations,
the keening of the other women, and the incessant buzzing of the hornets
as they blundered among the gravestones.

Why should I have doubted such a sign?
That whole summer was full of images aching to be given meaning.


Two weeks after the funeral we were walking downhill when a car appeared
making a slow ascent up the steep gradient to the cemetery.

We stood to one side and let it pass.
One of the passengers scowled at us as he went by.
It seemed as if he was our enemy.

My companion told me he was the dead man's brother,
but his face seemed strangely familiar.
Later I recalled that he was the man who killed the caterpillar.

His brother had been crushed against a wall
by a fellow conscript revving a truck
left carelessly in reverse.

The dust raised by the car settled on our skin and clothing.
We brushed ourselves down and continued toward the outskirts of the village.

In the vineyards along the road the grapes had reached their full size
and were beginning to ripen.


In progress there is decay...
In the blind rush to be modern all that which is old is left to suffer unto death.

Who considers the real cost when they contemplate the future profit?
How far upriver need we go to escape the probing finger
which seeks out all that can be utilized for quick and easy money
but does not consider the more enduring harm?

As the roots are disturbed, the trees felled, the earth torn asunder,
what will our children inherit of that which was once taken for granted:
the inevitability of season following season, the rhythm of the work being done,
the pattern of life passed down from father to son, from mother to daughter?

Now we have left the land and turned to the town with all its phantom pleasures:
comfort bought at a bitter price.

We have sold our bodies to a toil from which we do not share the harvest.
Our only solace the clink of coins, the flicking of the dirty banknotes
between our fingers, as we buy the next luxury to replace the simple joy

...our forefathers once took in the swoop of the swallow,
the budding of the vines, the rolling motion of the donkey carrying us to the fields,
the smell of newly-baked bread shaped with our own hands,
the quiet of the village at sunset, the voices of the children
ringing through the clear air across the valley...

He dodges the cars at the crossroads.
His nostrils recoil and burn from the diesel and petrol fumes.
His eyes restlessly scanning the shop windows and the faces of young women
seeking that which he has forgotten and no longer cares to find.

The ships in the harbour have unloaded their goods.
There will be more now to be bought.

Later he will go to sell his soul and bravely smoke a cigarette
whilst considering his future and the price of bricks.

© Michael Elliman 2003.

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