By Damen O’Brien
I climbed down into Wonderland following the paths of my memory.
Old playing cards ruffled like leaves, but his burrow was empty. It was
a shivering day, a pale sun peeking briefly into his cold warren. He was
long gone. Soft crumble of soil, colorless straw. He had vanished,
popping the buttons of his waistcoat on the far paddock’s fence.
All those years ago and we’d lost touch. One rushed note in 20 years,
apologies for not visiting, complaints of lateness, and then nothing.
No phone number, no address. He has joined the ranks of the Missing,
shutting the last yellow doors of Wonderland, boarding the windows,
battening down the root cellars, scrambling across the checkerboards
of desperation. He’s a gray exposure photograph on a billboard
of the lost. He’s a file note numbered amongst the renditioned, the
compromised and betrayed, standing in a hopeless queue somewhere,
waiting for his portion of grass. We give the past away in exchange
for the future. We foreclose the titles on our fairy tales for a handful
of beans, until they’ve all gone, hitching out in the huddled back of
rusty trucks, bussed in to the Big Smoke for a carrot or two, a cardboard
sign seeking work, selling our heirlooms for a passport, lying unmarked
and misremembered in a thorny field. It’s been such a long time. I was
a little girl with mud on the hem of my petticoat, but I always knew
the world would one day come to Wonderland. He has gone on the last
flight from the embassy’s roof, hiding his face from the government’s
algorithms, sleeping in subways. I barely remember what he looked like.
A twitchy nose, a neat tail, a pocket watch. If I were asked to identify him,
I would say, he was a White Rabbit. He was always having to leave.
Damen O’Brien is a multi-award-winning Australian poet. His poems have won the Moth Poetry Prize, the Peter Porter Poetry Prize, and the Newcastle Poetry Prize. His first book of poetry, Animals With Human Voices, was published in 2021 through Recent Work Press. O’Brien’s poems have been published in various journals including Cordite, Overland, Southerly, Island, and Griffith Review.