poetry

poetry reading

 

We went to see a poetry reading

In a pub up from the ocean by a few blocks.

We had woken early for a swim,

spent the day walking the streets

And now it was late, and we were tired.

We took a seat toward the back of the room

And ordered some drinks and some fried food.

Soon the room was full of people sitting at small round tables

Talking and laughing, drinking expensive wine.

A woman with short spiky hair went to the front of the room,

Coughed

Then announced the beginning of the poetry.

A thin man wearing a hat and a bow tie

Ran on stage, the crowd cheered him.

He taught literature at the local university; he said hello to his students in the crowd

then he began to read poetry about sex.

He went on about the women he knew

And the sex he had.

He told us about leaving one woman because she wouldn’t make the bed

And another who he left after the second child.

It was good poetry, but the guy was just doing it for attention.

He had no soul.

A few young kids stood up,

Their poetry was deep and they had no doubt

They’d change the world

But it was all tired stuff you can hear in any town on any night.

This old guy stood up at last

And he shuffled to the microphone.

Never once looking up at the crowd,

Stepping from foot to foot,

mumbling his lines as he read.

He spoke about memories and love,

He spoke about hatred and loss.

His voice cracked and when he finished he walked off again

As if he hated everyone in the room.

The audience clapped politely, but not for long.

The old man’s face was like a wet bag, and it was swollen like it had been stung

And his poetry was no better than anyone else’s,

But it felt real.

As we walked back to our hotel room that night,

I saw him crawling in under the veranda of an ice-cream shop

He turned to pull some timber over the hole he crawled through.

His face shone in the street light for a moment.

He lived under the street and wrote poetry.

No wonder everyone hated him, he was showing them all up.

 

 

 

My room above the railway

 

Moving from room to room

Falling in love with a poster on the wall.

The window is dirty on the outside

But it won’t open

And I can’t clean it.

I see a pigeon sitting on the sill

I watch it clean its wings.

They have tiny mites that bite them all day long

And I wonder how they can stand it.

The cockroaches come out at night.

I found two of them in my cutlery drawn

They were sitting on my forks.

The newspaper that lines the drawers

Is dated from the 80s

The cockroaches don’t make me as angry as I thought they would.

The yellow lights of the railway lines makes me sleepy

The white lights of the city excite me and keep me awake.

Listen to Beethoven and the sound of the traffic.

A baby cries next door

 I didn’t even know my neighbor had a girlfriend

Someone else must have moved in.

I haven’t cleaned this place in weeks

I have no money after paying the rent

They are inspecting this room tomorrow.

One arm

Standing at the railway station,

A man with a long beard and only one arm came up to me.

“Don’t I know you?” he said.

“I don’t think so,” I answered.

I sat down on a bench, and the man sat next to me.

We didn’t speak, but he seemed to think there was some connection between us.

“The feeling I like best in the world,” he said, leaning toward me as he spoke,

“Is to get really dirty. I mean covered in dirt until your hair goes wiry,

And your skin goes white and brown from dirt, and then to wait for a really cold night,

And have a hot shower. I just love to see the dirt run off the skin,

I love the feeling of getting clean.

Do you know what I mean?”

I didn’t answer him. But I knew what he meant. I like that feeling too.

The man smelled bad, like a urine soaked mattress.

“Do you know where there are any showers around here?” he asked.

“The service station has some, in the truck stop. About five blocks toward the bridge.”

The man nodded and smiled. “Do I need to write that down?” he asked.

“No, it’s just over there.” I pointed toward the bridge.

“Hey, do those showers cost anything?”

“I think they’re free.”

“Hey, I just want to thank you for being a good friend.”

I didn’t say anything, but I laughed.

“No, seriously. You’ve been so good. I’ve been through a lot in my life.

My wife left me for her boss; my daughter is on drugs,

I ain’t eaten well for a long time

And I’ve got this pain in my legs that won’t go away.

It really means a lot to me that you are kind.

Could you lend me five bucks?”

I looked at the guy. He had red sores on his face,

His eyes were narrow and close to each other

His beard was white as cheap paint

But around his scabby mouth

The hair was brown like mud.

I had seen him before.

When I was in high school, I had seen him picking up bottles around town

The bottles could be returned for the deposit.

He had two arms then.

I took five dollars out of my pocket and held it out,

Then took it away.

“How’d you lose your arm?” I asked him.

He looked at my hand with the money in it; he looked hungry.

“I used to fix motors for the city, the big motors that keep the water pressure up in the city.

One day I’m fixing one and I got my arm right up in the tube

And some jerk turns the power on

And it rips my arm right off.

I got blood spraying up the wall, and I’m screaming; they rush me to the hospital.

The doctors ask where my arm is

And no one knows

So they just sew up the socket, and that’s that.

They never found my arm.
It’s still in the water pipes.

It’s in the tubes that supply this city’s drinking water.

My arms rotting in those tubes

And everyone is drinking that water,

So, a part of me is in everyone,

You’re all drinking me.

I looked at the thin man and the empty space at his right shoulder,

His red and white checker shirt sleeve pinned to his chest,

“Everyone is drinking me,” he repeated.

Shots of life

 

The judge said ‘I will not punish him; his life is sad enough.’

The man, with no pay, no family, no friends, was allowed to go.

His lawyer smiled to himself, pleased with the defense.

This same lawyer who lost it all to drink.

 

I saw the man whose brain was operated on

Shuffling down the main street

In slippers and white robe,

A vacant look in his eyes and drool on his chin.

 

Roosevelt and Kipling told their boys to go to war for great adventure.

One boy had his head exploded by a machine gun

And the other was bayonetted through the ribs.

Both fathers never recovered.

 

Let the photographer save the moment

Pay the late fees as they come.

Grasp the money to your chest

As your heart explodes and see how far the money will take you.

 

Be the best friend to your love,

Hold your child to you tightly

and be kind to those you encounter.

It is painful to spend Christmas alone.

What gives life, also takes it.

What gives life also kills it.

The waves of the ocean breaking on black rocks,

The swift bird settling on a pink flower,

The moon, heavy as good luck,

Sitting on an old, grey-bearded cloud.

 

These beautiful things give life to poetry,

But if you forget to catch them,

These things also kill the words.

Like an animal in the night,

The words flee into the forest and are lost.

 

That woman, my wife, full of life

Moving softly on the sand,

The water filling the prints she leaves,

Her smile and happy eyes

Give birth to the words.

 

Grasp the work when it is there,

Wait for it quietly and encourage it with good thoughts.

Nothing is guaranteed.

The man whose job it is to cut the wood in winter,

Must cart water in summer.

Today, now a memory.

A yellow fog lay across the suburb today.

Row after row of tired houses

With a yellow fog, heavy on the roads.

A few lights turned on, but still, the fog made everything look old and dirty.

Walking home tonight, I took the back lanes.

People in their houses, eating dinner,

the gutters by the road flowing with rain water.

The suburbs looked alive.

I passed the cancer hospital, still and empty

This time of night, the dying hours, everything is closed like broken eyes.

I think of the fog

And the midday rain.

I dream of sleeping, and waking in a new place,

Like a man who sleeps on a train

Or like a child in the car,

Falling asleep and waking in the morning,

As the family drives into the coastal town

beginning the two week holiday at the beach.

The oil painting of a woman, nude.

 

The oil painting of a woman,

lying naked across a red bed

with a fat, happy baby searching for her breast,

and a blue sky in view from the window,

hung in the dining room for two generations.

It was painted by a woman with a great talent.

When I was a boy, my grandmother told me

that the artist loved my grandfather

and had given the painting to him.

The woman in the painting was the artist herself

and the baby was the baby she never had.

Now, as a man

with no living grandparents,

I often wonder why my grandmother

had allowed such a painting to hang in the home.

Was it because it is a beautiful image, the flesh so soft and sensual,

The colours so clear and bright?

 

I only remember dark flashes of my grandfather,

I remember him as a happy, kind man.

My grandmother, a widow at the time she stood me before the painting,

Smiled at some hidden memory and asked me if I liked the picture.

I nodded and said I liked the baby.

She was satisfied, and we stood a while,

On that dark winter afternoon,

We looked at that painting, lit only by weak sunlight

Until my father turned on the room’s light.

The brightness broke the spell and we both looked away,

The electric light was too bright and harsh for that moment.

It hangs there still, like a spirit that haunts that room,

that woman forever looking out, searching for love,

while that baby, forever tiny, caught between a smile and a yawn,

begs to be born.

The bucket of rain

The bucket of water that catches the rain

is important to the birds and the frogs.

A dog drinks from the water, coughs, and drinks again.

It hasn’t rained all month,

but tonight it poured

and the bucket filled.

I watched out the window as a frog struggled

to climb out of the frothing waves,

it sat silently on the edge of the bucket

and rubbed its eyes.

I take the babies for a walk in the rain

and their mother chastises me when we return.

 

The empty rooms

Devils, or angels, singing in empty rooms.

Walk along the hallway and feel the wind,

warm and hard,

blowing through an open window.

It is summer time, and late, the sun has set.

Judges sing

lawyers sing, but think of money and flesh,

the accused stays silent, assured of his success.

Break the seal and read the letter; it will reveal

if you are having a boy or girl.

Does he have long legs?

Is she looking strong?

Look at her arms move!

A line of pregnant women look up as you enter.

One girl, no older than sixteen, begs her mother to let her come home.

Speak on the telephone to a stranger

and then one day meet.

What a disappointment and what sadness when you meet.

spider

I sat in an ancient room, tiny and dust filled,

Cobwebs filled all corners and old paint tins and other rubbish-clogged the space.

The door was ancient timber, dried from thousands of days of hot sun.

I sat in the dusty silence and reflected on my life and the lives of those around me.

People I know and have met,

People who are millionaires, people with brain tumors,

People trying to tell their parents they are gay;

People trying to tell their kids why the marriage has failed.

I sat and thought about these things and myself,

My own insecurities

When I saw, bobbing as if caught in a breeze

A long legged spider walking up the door next to me.

The door, so old and dry,

Allowed sunlight to spill in between gaps in the timber.

The spider, bobbing still,

Walked silently and delicately as if she were made of crystal,

Up and up and up.

When she stepped into the light, she glowed,

When she entered the shade, she disappeared.

She did this for five minutes,

Bobbing and climbing.

She was so small, so thin and delicate

I wondered what she would eat? A fly being many times larger than she.

Too delicate, too thin, for this world.

A spider, eight legs, of beauty.