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Authors: Omar Musa

Here Come the Dogs

 

ADDITIONAL PRAISE FOR
HERE COME THE DOGS

Longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award

“America please meet Omar Musa, a writer with the attuned ear of a great poet, the narrative gifts of a seasoned novelist, and no slight exposure to the beautiful struggle. This book is like one of those hip-hop songs that forevermore becomes an anthem—this time for the disenfranchised aspirants of Australia. Read him now or suffer for it.”

—Mitchell S. Jackson, author of
The Residue Years

“Omar Musa's writing is tough and tender, harsh and poetic, raw and beautiful; it speaks to how we live and dream now. This novel broke my heart a little, but it also made me ecstatic at the possibilities of what the best writing can do. His voice is genuine, new, and exciting; his voice roars.”

—Christos Tsiolkas, author of
The Slap

“The streets are alive with the sound of Omar Musa! Blood and fire, destruction and generation, nightmares and dreams, all converge in this breathtaking rendering of the forever-journey of masculine coming-of-age. Musa is a sterling stylist, and the combination of poetry and prose, literary narrative and hip-hop verse in
Here Come the Dogs
does that impossible thing: creates a work unlike any other.”

—Porochista Khakpour, author
of The Last Illusion
and
Sons and Other Flammable Objects

“A beautiful and angry book. Musa is a poet, and every page of this book speaks to his ferocious talent.”

—Fatima Bhutto, author of
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon

“Omar Musa is a brother to the world. His words inspire courage and a genuine desire to experience justice in the modern world.”

—Marc E. Bassy

“Race, alienation, sex, hip-hop (the dissertations on it are engrossing), graffiti and testosterone-fuelled violence signpost a breakneck plot that unfolds amid the malevolence of bushfire threat.”

—Paul Daley,
Guardian Australia,
Best Books of 2014

COLE BENNETTS

Omar Musa
is a Malaysian-Australian rapper and poet from Queanbeyan, Australia. He has opened for Gil Scott Heron, Dead Prez, and Pharoahe Monch and performed at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City. He attended University of California, Santa Cruz. He has released three hip-hop albums, two poetry books, and received a standing ovation at TEDx Sydney at the Sydney Opera House. He lives in Australia.

© 2014 by Omar Musa

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, in any form, without written permission from the publisher.

Page 339 constitutes an extension of this copyright page.

Requests for permission to reproduce selections from this book should be mailed to:

Permissions Department, The New Press, 120 Wall Street, 31st floor, New York, NY 10005.

First published in Australia by the Penguin Group (Australia), 2014

Published in the United States by The New Press, New York, 2016

Distributed by Perseus Distribution

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

Musa, Omar.

Here come the dogs / Omar Musa.

pages    cm

ISBN 978-1-62097-117-8 (pbk. : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-1-62097-119-2 (e-book)

I. Title.

PR9619.4.M874H48       2015

823'.92—dc23                                            2015008416

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Book design by Laura Thomas

This book was set in Adobe Garamond Pro

Printed in the United States of America

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For my mother, Helen

The true subject of poetry is the loss of the beloved

– Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Face the fire

– Jimblah

PROLOGUE

This has always been a land of fire.

Once a year, the Ancients would go into the mountains in search of bogong moths. They carried burning branches and thrust them into rents in the rock, stunning the congregated moths, then catching them in fibrous nets or kangaroo skin. The moths were roasted on fine embers and the Ancients feasted, vomiting for the first few days but then growing accustomed to the rich, fatty food. The Ancients would return from the mountains with glossy skin, glistening like shadow.

Afterwards, fires would burn on the mountains for days.

PART ONE

1

Where are these cunts?

Too hot, bro,

too fucken long without rain.

Two by two they troop in,

the madness of summer in the brain.

In the dying light,

the crowd looks like hundreds of bobbling balloons,

waiting to be unfastened.

Sweating tinnies and foreheads –

sadcunts and sorrowdrowners the lot of them.

I stand up,

six-foot-two and shining,

yawn,

twist side to side on my hinges

and survey the crowd.

It's not like the boys to be late,

especially on a day like today.

Summer,

the deepest season,

throbbing with danger and promise,

every scallywag, seedthief and skatepark

wrapped up in a white hot skin.

And here come the dogs . . .

Strange, smiling creatures,

lean-flanked and

ready to race.

An old bloke turns around and grins

with opalised eyes.

‘Nothing like the ole dishlickers, eh?'

I smile and flick a fly from my knuckle.

‘Fuck noath.'

The dogs' barks detonate across the track.

The trainers are gruff people,

but now they coo to the hounds,

straightening their racing silks,

crouching to check and bend their ankles.

(one says a prayer and kisses

his dog on its narrow head)

A dry wind scythes across

the stands and I reach up

to keep my hat on.

‘Bushfire weather, ay?'

The old timer is right.

The Town is a powderkeg,

a perfect altar for a bushfire –

the sole god of a combustible summer.

B-Boy Fresh

But I'm crisp tee fresh –

black on black, snapback,

toothbrush on sneaker,

throwback fresh.

But fark me dead,

the joints and muscles ache nowadays.

Sign of the times, ay?

I look at the old timer

and immediately touch the

muscles under my shirt

just to make sure.

I grin –

Solomon Amosa, you vain, vain bastard.

The big news

Jimmy ain't hard to spot in a crowd.

With all the grace of jangling keys,

my half-brother lurches

through the mass of drinkers and gamblers,

sharp Adam's apple visible even from here.

His eyes cut left to right,

paranoid and grim.

Walking behind him is Aleks,

smiling and nodding at people that he passes.

What a crew –

a Samoan, a Maco and my half-brother, a
something.

The only ethnics at the dog races.

When Jimmy sits down I smack him

across the back of the head,

harder than I mean to.

‘Oi, what took you so fucken long?' I say, taking my cap off and pass-

ing my hand over my dreds.

‘I had shit to do, bra.'

Aleks looks away and checks his bet,

already bored of the bickering.

‘Like what?'

‘I don't fucken have to tell you everything, do I? Jesus.'

Jimmy looks like he's gonna say something else

but instead he conjures two ciggies from behind his ear,

lights one and passes the other to me.

We smoke for a minute

and listen to the announcements.

‘Conditions are ideal tonight, ladies and gentlemen.

We have a perfect track for racing.

Good luck and good punting –

may the racing gods be in your favour.'

Jimmy ashes his durry

and then looks sidelong at me,

lips expanding into a frog-like grin.

‘Oi, guess what?'

I'm watching some lads on a stag's night stumble along.

They're dressed in a bright-yellow uniform, wearing wigs.

Jimmy and Aleks look at each other and grin.

They're already wasted,

sour bourbon vapours practically hissing off them.

‘What?'

Jimmy clears his throat, then announces, ‘Sin One's gonna do a come-

back show. With the DJ Exit on the decks.'

My eyes cut back. ‘Sin One? You serious?'

‘He's moved back, brother,' nods Aleks.

I blow out smoke. ‘Ohh, man. When?'

‘After Chrissie.'

Sin One is almost universally recognised

in the underground

as the greatest rapper Australia has produced –

a prophet, nah, a god.

And he comes from our Town.

Can you imagine how fucken proud we are?

Drinks

When I bring back the tinnies,

Aleks and Jimmy are embroiled in an age-old argument –

who the best Australian MC is.

I take a black marker from my pocket

and begin to draw on a five-dollar note as I listen.

Jimmy, who loves lists,

reminds us yet again of the five main criteria

you judge an MC by.

1) Flow: how do they ride, bounce off, play with, sound on a beat?

2) Lyrics: how do they play with words, use metaphors, create memorable images, tell stories?

3) Voice: were they naturally gifted with a voice that just
cuts through
and gives you shivers, that booms or rasps or honeys?

4) Consistency: have they produced quality work over an extended period of time?

5) Live show: can they rock the fuck out of a crowd of people, big or small?

Added to this are more nebulous criteria based on online rumours,

freestyle abilities, face-to-face encounters and gut feelings.

Jimmy and Aleks prefer grimier, old school Melbourne stuff,

samples and dusty loops.

I'm more into synths and instruments,

newer, smoother Sydney shit.

‘All right, then. Top five best MCs,' says Jimmy, who reels off his list immediately. ‘Brad Strut, Trem, Geko, Lazy Grey, Bias B.'

Aleks, too, is ready. ‘Trem, Strut, Pegz, Delta, Vents.'

‘Hm. Fucken hard one.' I think for a second. ‘All right, um . . . Solo, Mantra, Suffa, Tuka, Hau, Joelistics . . . That new Briggs shit is heavy, too. And that dude One Sixth from Melbourne.'

‘I said top five, bro,' snaps Jimmy.

‘Oi, relax.'

‘Storytelling, mate,
lyrics,
that's what it's about,' announces Jimmy.

‘Yeah, yeah, you always say that. Then Solo from Horrorshow or Mantra's number one,' I say. ‘Deep shit. Mad flows, too.'

Aleks and Jimmy shake their heads in unison. ‘Nah, that shit's gay as, always singing and shit. That's not true school. Plus, Solo looks like a tennis instructor,' says Jimmy.

‘You're one to talk, you preppy cunt! You're stuck in the nineties, bro. Music moves on,' I say.

‘Now, Trem. That's an MC. Tells it how it is – graff, crime, darkness. Voice is like a fucken . . . like a diamond cutter,' says Aleks. ‘Strut too – apocalyptic.'

‘You can't dance to it, but,' I counter. ‘That shit's too serious for me. When it started, hip hop was about getting a party goin'. Sydney shit does that better.'

Jimmy is getting heated. ‘Sydney shit is weird. Their accents sound American. They say “days” like “deez” and “mic” like “mark”. Hate that.'

We laugh.

‘What about a chick?' I venture. ‘None of us even put one in there.'

‘
Tsk
. Ya PC cunt. Been hanging with that femmo girlfriend of yours too much. When chicks rap, I just don't
feel
it.'

‘What 'bout Lauryn Hill? Jean Grae?'

‘Aussies, I mean'

‘Layla. Class A.'

The boys shrug. As Aleks leans forward, a blue bead swings on a leather strap around his neck. ‘The Hoods sold more than anyone else,' he says.

‘Fuck sales. It's not about sales; it's about impact and the quality. If you use that argument, you could say Bliss n Eso are more important than Def Wish Cast.'

‘Or Vanilla Ice is better than Kool G Rap.'

Jimmy turns his glittering eyes on me. ‘Those private school boys must've taught you about hip hop, ay. That's why you're not into the hard shit.'

Cunt.

The private school thing is always Jimmy's trump card,

no matter what the argument,

and it always works.

Aleks frowns.

‘Fuck . . . I went for basketball, you know that.' I say, lamely. Then I return to the name that kicked off the debate – ‘Sin One.
Orphan Slang. Fire and Redemption.'

The others nod.

‘Yeah, goes without saying. Should be top of every list. Pity it's been so long since he released an album,' says Aleks regretfully.

I look at the five-buck note –

Queen Elizabeth now has a crown of thorns

and a timebomb on her shoulder.

‘You seen our dog yet?' asks Aleks.

Mercury Fire

Tonight is Mercury Fire's last race.

He's our favourite,

the reason we still come to the greyhounds.

It began as a joke –

‘Oi, wanna see bogans in their natural habitat?'

But then we saw him race.

Blind in one eye with a kinked back leg,

he's smaller than the other dogs,

but somehow he beats all comers.

Every time, he starts slow

but ends with power,

hunger.

We've heard that in training

he's thrown real rabbits and possums to chase

so that he keeps the blood lust up.

An ageing warrior,

close to the end.

We all sit silently,

drinking.

Aleks

We never get to see Aleks.

He's got a missus, a young daughter

and a house he built himself.

Still, even after all this time,

he has that pirouette of smoke

in his eyes.

At age five he moved here from Macedonia

and despite limited English

quickly established himself

as king of the kids

with his fast, big fists.

At age thirteen he knocked out an English teacher

who tried to make him

spell his name with an ‘x',

not a ‘ks'.

It was around this time he found

another use for his hands.

One day, when a graff crew from Sydney

painted a wildstyle piece under the bridge

over the river,

Aleks discovered a love

to replace the sweet science

(though if lessons needed to be taught,

cunts needed to learn).

From then on it was burners/

boltcutters/

blackbooks

and

guerilla expeditions to Bunnings

to rack paint cans/

And don't forget

that rush that makes your dick hard.

The Old Timer

‘When I was in England,

I visited Old TRAFFORD,

the home of MANCHESTER UNITED.'

‘We can hear you, mate –

we're right here.'

The old timer's been talking frog shit for nearly

fifteen minutes now.

Sad bastard –

desiccated look of a dedicated drinker.

Threads from a cheap Western –

ten-gallon hat, bolo tie,

spurs on boots.

‘Johnny No-Cash,' says Aleks in my ear.

I stifle a smile.

‘The coach told me I had the BEST LEFT BOOT

he had ever seen.'

Bullshit artists

come a dime a dozen in this town –

it takes one to know one, ay?

A message from Georgie

Good afternoon, beautiful boy.

In boring lecture having naughty thoughts about u.

Can't wait 2 c u 2nite. Luv, Porge x

Love?

I pocket the phone.

When's this race gonna start?

A little something to rev things up

I wipe the top of the cistern

and bring up my hand –

there's white powder on my palm.

I love doing that.

It's almost like I've busted someone in the act.

Aleks takes out a marker

and writes his tag on the cubicle wall

with a flourish.

JAKEL

Meanwhile, Jimmy racks up

three lines

with a seasoned hand

and his keycard.

My brother Jimmy, who could never

even handle his beer back in the day.

Aleks does a line and blinks.

‘Dearo fucken me! This is good shit, bro. Aryan white.'

I roll up the drawn-on five-buck note

and hoover a line.

The cocaine hits immediately –

a cold zoom in the guts,

a perfectly timed tackle.

I backflip

into a glacial crevasse.

The track

The track smoulders.

Thick lights shine down

holding within them insects

and motes of dust.

The dogs' feet articulate

on the soil of the holding pen.

In part dieted on honey, vegetable oil and eggs,

their coats glow.

Tinny announcements over the loudspeakers.

The trainers are hand slipping the dogs now,

one hand on the collar

the other arm hooked at the base of

their undercarriages

shuffling them forward into the traps.

Like everyone else,

we riffle and check our betslips.

In the stands,

we can hear the dogs' high-pitched

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