Unknown Tunes

Jim Hearn

Nine years ago, Lismore’s Winsome Hotel went broke. The Lismore Soup Kitchen, which had been offering low cost lunches out of a boarding house on the town’s southern flood plains, bought the building. Buying the Winsome meant the soup kitchen had a commercial property to operate from. They could now offer permanent accommodation to 18 men from the Northern Rivers region of NSW who previously had been homeless. The soup kitchen feeds over 70 each day.
In 2013 I became the writer in residence at The Winsome. While I’ve dossed in plenty of shitholes during my time as a junkie chef on the streets of Sydney, the Winsome’s lunch-bell rush hour has a rhythm all its own. It’s an awkward, noisy dance: day-trippers push their way in, and long-term residents smoke cigarettes on the upstairs balcony. There’s a padlocked steel door between the privileged residents above and the hungry Soupies below. In a place where hospitality is being reimagined, such differences create a complex economy of pleasure and status between hosts and their guests. I’ve tried to capture some of those tensions in the poems below. Prego. 


Unknown Tune Keith plays piano: unknown tune Winsome Hotel, Lismore Murray stalks the dining room intent One-dollar lunch at the Soup Kitchen Every Body Eats Vicky pulls espresso for the cashed-up No booze, plenty of cigarettes They talk conflicts old and new Winter blows through the door Wednesday Choir practice Participants gather Gene sits upright at a laptop doing good deeds for the Government B Flat B Minor B Major Denise joins Keith at the piano Sings Unknown Tune

News of the World ‘You know, Ace?’ Anonymous asks, like I look like I might know YO LO sweater jogs down the stairs: ABC radio plays the weather No, I say, like I know what she needs The weather gives way to election news: Asylum seekers, Torres Strait Bob arrives back from the tip: ‘Fucking scavengers too quick. Piles of this; piles of that: Standing guard!’ His science fiction story has grown through the week Inside the work shed he outlines the plot: ‘There’s a wall that moves through space like a wave that whips its tail absorbing everything in its path. On Planet Utopia there’s no word for lazy No corruption; no blood.’ The radio in the garden broadcasts static ‘Laziness isn’t even a word; a concept. It's been bred out, like corruption and blood.’ Jane drinks metho Yells at the sun A movie plays inside her mind Observer, actor, critic The radio breaks through the static with news of the world ‘Don’t know what I’m doing tonight.’ ‘Don’t drink anymore but I’ll have a smoke.’ Voting intentions measured, analysed, critiqued Over at the BBQ: Hot oil! ‘There’s a fucking ginger cat!’ Gayle yells into a phone at a voice inside her head Static Voices Static Voices Rage ‘Bend over that thing needs weeding!’ Rage ‘Silly cunt.’ Rage ‘Seeya, Rhonda! Love you!’ The Soupies form a line upstairs Spoons clink, plates clap, chairs scrape Rage Savoury mince, salad, mash Apple crumble, custard, creams

Upstairs Downstairs Rodriguez on repeat among the boys down the back Day-trippers Soupies Checking out the queue Spring sits around for an hour a day Bob looks down from the verandah upstairs Checking out who’s lost it, blown up, missing Fucking cold last night, he says, sipping his tea A locked steel door blocks the passage upstairs Eighteen months now, Bob says, breathing in the steam Paul’s been here three years Gold chain and a key around resident necks Downstairs Sugar Man again Murray sings along Smells from the kitchen get the Soupies lining up Billy’s back on the drink Fucking Soupies, Bob says, from his Silver Majik Ship Cold Last night Sunlight on his chain

Sean ate peanut butter
no coffee
he was spoilt as a kid
his stepmother said
he had to eat
on his plate
Sean got sick and
because he was spoilt
he had
to eat his sick
he vomited
again and
had to eat
that too
you are his
stepmother said
clothes and food and
Sean wet his bed
at ten
she put a nappy
around his head
I could
he got sent to school
in a nappy
so spoilt
everybody said
on me back
and bum and
food and
I went to sleep and
she whacked me
broke me
fucking nose
I had no coffee
and I never
is enough

Jim Hearn has a PhD in Cultural Studies from the University of Technology, Sydney. He teaches Creative Writing and Cultural Studies at Southern Cross University, Lismore, and is the author of High Season: a memoir of heroin and hospitality (Allen & Unwin, 2012).

(22/06/15 #55)

Illustration by Matt Mawson