Authors: Omar Musa
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 anthemâthis time for the disenfranchised aspirants of Australia. Read him now or suffer for it.”
âMitchell 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.”
âChristos Tsiolkas, author of
“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.”
âPorochista Khakpour, author
of The Last Illusion
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.”
âFatima 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.”
âMarc 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.”
Best Books of 2014
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 CafÃ© 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.
Â© 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
Here come the dogs / Omar Musa.
pagesÂ Â Â Â cm
ISBN 978-1-62097-117-8 (pbk. : alk. paper) â ISBN 978-1-62097-119-2 (e-book)
PR9619.4.M874H48Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 2015
823'.92âdc23Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 2015008416
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This book was set in Adobe Garamond Pro
Printed in the United States of America
2Â Â Â 4Â Â Â 6Â Â Â 8Â Â Â 10Â Â Â 9Â Â Â 7Â Â Â 5Â Â Â 3Â Â Â 1
For my mother, Helen
The true subject of poetry is the loss of the beloved
â Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Face the fire
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.
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 â
sadcunts and sorrowdrowners the lot of them.
I stand up,
six-foot-two and shining,
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.
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,
ready to race.
An old bloke turns around and grins
with opalised eyes.
âNothing like the ole dishlickers, eh?'
I smile and flick a fly from my knuckle.
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.
âBushfire weather, ay?'
The old timer is right.
The Town is a powderkeg,
a perfect altar for a bushfire â
the sole god of a combustible summer.
But I'm crisp tee fresh â
black on black, snapback,
toothbrush on sneaker,
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 â
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 â
a Samoan, a Maco and my half-brother, a
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.
âOi, what took you so fucken long?' I say, taking my cap off and pass-
ing my hand over my dreds.
âI had shit to do, bra.'
Aleks looks away and checks his bet,
already bored of the bickering.
âI 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.
âConditions are ideal tonight, ladies and gentlemen.
We have a perfect track for racing.
Good luck and good punting â
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.
âOi, 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.
Jimmy clears his throat, then announces, âSin One's gonna do a come-
back show. With the DJ Exit on the decks.'
My eyes cut back. âSin One? You serious?'
âHe's moved back, brother,' nods Aleks.
I blow out smoke. âOhh, man. When?'
Sin One is almost universally recognised
in the underground
as the greatest rapper Australia has produced â
a prophet, nah, a god.
And he comes from our Town.
Can you imagine how fucken proud we are?
When I bring back the tinnies,
Aleks and Jimmy are embroiled in an age-old argument â
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
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.
âAll right, then. Top five best MCs,' says Jimmy, who reels off his list immediately. âBrad Strut, Trem, Geko, Lazy Grey, Bias B.'
Aleks, too, is ready. âTrem, Strut, Pegz, Delta, Vents.'
âHm. Fucken hard one.' I think for a second. âAll right, um . . . Solo, Mantra, Suffa, Tuka, Hau, Joelistics . . . That new Briggs shit is heavy, too. And that dude One Sixth from Melbourne.'
âI said top five, bro,' snaps Jimmy.
that's what it's about,' announces Jimmy.
âYeah, yeah, you always say that. Then Solo from Horrorshow or Mantra's number one,' I say. âDeep shit. Mad flows, too.'
Aleks and Jimmy shake their heads in unison. âNah, that shit's gay as, always singing and shit. That's not true school. Plus, Solo looks like a tennis instructor,' says Jimmy.
âYou're one to talk, you preppy cunt! You're stuck in the nineties, bro. Music moves on,' I say.
âNow, Trem. That's an MC. Tells it how it is â graff, crime, darkness. Voice is like a fucken . . . like a diamond cutter,' says Aleks. âStrut too â apocalyptic.'
âYou can't dance to it, but,' I counter. âThat 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. âSydney shit is weird. Their accents sound American. They say “days” like “deez” and “mic” like “mark”. Hate that.'
âWhat about a chick?' I venture. âNone of us even put one in there.'
. Ya PC cunt. Been hanging with that femmo girlfriend of yours too much. When chicks rap, I just don't
âWhat 'bout Lauryn Hill? Jean Grae?'
âAussies, I mean'
âLayla. Class A.'
The boys shrug. As Aleks leans forward, a blue bead swings on a leather strap around his neck. âThe Hoods sold more than anyone else,' he says.
âFuck 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.'
âOr Vanilla Ice is better than Kool G Rap.'
Jimmy turns his glittering eyes on me. âThose private school boys must've taught you about hip hop, ay. That's why you're not into the hard shit.'
The private school thing is always Jimmy's trump card,
no matter what the argument,
and it always works.
âFuck . . . I went for basketball, you know that.' I say, lamely. Then I return to the name that kicked off the debate â âSin One.
Orphan Slang. Fire and Redemption.'
The others nod.
âYeah, 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 â
Queen Elizabeth now has a crown of thorns
and a timebomb on her shoulder.
âYou seen our dog yet?' asks Aleks.
Tonight is Mercury Fire's last race.
He's our favourite,
the reason we still come to the greyhounds.
It began as a joke â
âOi, 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,
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,
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 âx',
not a âks'.
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/
guerilla expeditions to Bunnings
to rack paint cans/
And don't forget
that rush that makes your dick hard.
The Old Timer
âWhen I was in England,
I visited Old TRAFFORD,
the home of MANCHESTER UNITED.'
âWe can hear you, mate â
we're right here.'
The old timer's been talking frog shit for nearly
fifteen minutes now.
Sad bastard â
desiccated look of a dedicated drinker.
Threads from a cheap Western â
ten-gallon hat, bolo tie,
spurs on boots.
âJohnny No-Cash,' says Aleks in my ear.
I stifle a smile.
âThe coach told me I had the BEST LEFT BOOT
he had ever seen.'
come a dime a dozen in this town â
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
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 â
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.
Meanwhile, Jimmy racks up
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.
âDearo 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 â
a cold zoom in the guts,
a perfectly timed tackle.
into a glacial crevasse.
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
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