Sleeping with Paul Kelly in the desert

Camp dogs chase my 4 x4 by day, rutting donkeys hee-haw through the night, the photocopier’s playing up, internet is down, the NBN can’t send a man this week and my boss in Alice Springs wants a ten-pager on the pros and cons of working in a desert settlement by closing time today. Fuck him! I’m listening to Paul Kelly singing, thinking I’m a difficult woman allright, a difficult woman, with a broken down … Actually, I have head lice. And it’s my birthday. Christ!

The arrival of the mail plane is the only thing that undercuts my funk. Mum sends packet curries, Noni sends love in a card with chocolate, friends supplement slim pickings at the store with jellybeans and jaffas, but Margy sends a cardboard cylinder. Inside, a scroll. It’s very long. It’s a black and white poster of my hero. The card says Paul’s featured at the National Portrait Gallery at the mo. It’s life size. He’s all wrapped up in the shape of a man, cut off at the knees but that pleases me. He can’t run …

Placed face down, kept there on the tiled floor with books and cushions, he’s flattened with tenderness. When he’s straightened out I lay him on my double bed, lie down beside him, take a selfie. When the internet’s working I’ll send it south, to Margy, with a caption, ‘Sleeping with Paul Kelly in the desert’.

Lights out. Paul’s beside me head to thigh. You’ll never guess my last thought as sleep seeps sweetly into dreaming … his lips pressed to mine playing them like a harmonica …

Randwick bells are ringing, he’s the answer to my prayer, we meet in the middle of the air/He holds me swaying to Marvin Gaye, I’m his rolling queen all night long, he’s the cake and candle on my birthday, I’ve fallen for his song/Heaven’s broken loose! I’m in no coma, I’ve lost my shit, my chimney’s smokin’, angels shoot north, south, east and west/The dog is having his day, he’s a sick dog licking at his spew, I call his name/He wakes me speaking dreams at dawn, ‘You’re 39, you’re beautiful and all mine’ …

Well, that’s a lie! I wake with all my clothes on, empty bottle on the chair, no one else is here, except the poster boy himself. On the bedside clock, it’s 3am. It was nothing but a dream. How I wish Paul would bring me black coffee from the kitchen and we could start up again. One mitigating factor: I’ll never wake up alone in my bed again, while I’ve got this paper imitation of the real thing next to me.

I’d give you all of Sydney Harbour to have that dream again.


(Note: Celebrating Paul Kelly, iconic Australian singer/songwriter.  Lyrics (italicised lines) are from his Greatest Hits – Songs from the South album or his memoir, How to Make Gravy.)

K A Nelson


K A Nelson is a prize-winning poet who has been published in Australian PoetryBest Australian Poems 2015Mascara Literary Review, Westerly online : Crossings (2017) and The Canberra Times. She is currently writing a memoir with poetry at the University of Canberra as part of a Masters by Research program.

© 2018