Art

An old man remembers his days

 

What happens to our time once it’s past?

Weeks melt into years

Success and tragedy,

Lunch and dinner,

Trips overseas,

Love affairs

All eaten up by time

Until Sunday night comes and silently crying

You wonder where it all went

And you are lucky to take another breath

At 85.

He was lucky to succeed, only out of university by five years

And already managing his own branch.

Flying in and out of Europe,

Nights in New York.

She always had shiny hair

And all the money she wanted.

Her baby was born healthy,

he held her hand as they left the hospital.

But he drank

And she was selfish.

He died one night in the rain

When his car crashed into a tree.

She was shocked for a while,

But life goes on.

She married again,

And had another child.

This one was not so well.

Her black hair turned grey

And life sped away.

Never to know the secrets of the universe,

Never to stand above all,

But watch the sunset and the pink evening sky

And take pleasure in the small things.

 

Broken and beaten at last

The old man sits in his home

Thinking about the things that had past.

Red sky at night,

The blueness of the Pacific Ocean,

The softness of his first love.

The memories flashed into him like electric shocks,

His son, drunk, crashed his car into a tree

And he was lost fifty years ago.

His daughter in law

Only interested in clothes and cars

And meeting strange men in bars.

Their daughter had grown up

To be a surprisingly good woman.

Responsible and happy.

It was a pleasure that she was nothing like her parents.

The man smiled and closed his eyes,

The heater was warm and helped him dream of times gone.

The time he bought a boat and sailed around the Islands,

The time he cut a fingertip off while building his house.

Regretting nothing, but knowing he never beat the world.

The world had the better of him.

No one came to see him for his birthday,

But listening to the rain on the road outside,

He heard a train pulling on the slight incline,

And wondered what the news would bring on world affairs

Tomorrow.

Cold on the moon

There were the times long ago

When she would wake me in the night

And take me walking down the lanes and across fields.

Gently she would lead me through the dewy grass and mossy stones.

Once she pointed to the sky

And said: “It would be so cold to live up there.”

I looked into the sky where the diamond moon

Shone through wispy clouds.

Years past and there were Christmases, birthdays,

And holidays on the beach.

These moments of happiness seemed to slow the sadness that passing days always bring.

Later, I would visit her, and she would start up from her bed

Wild hair, searching eyes

She would cry out for a pet

That had been dead for years,

She would call out its name.

I would try to explain that the pet had died

But it would not calm her.

Other times she was scared and asked for help, or complained of the pain.

Now every time I walk along frost encrusted paths on winter nights

And think how much she would have loved to walk with me,

 I look at the moon; I think how cold it must be.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

Blue eyes

He was a complainer,

He never paid a bill on time,

He would ask people if they believed in God,

But he had the most beautiful eyes.

They were blue like the arctic wind

And when he looked at you, he would look through you.

He always picked up women hitchhikers.

He found dozens of young girls

On the northern coasts

And he would drive them where ever they wanted to go,

And he always asked them for sex.

Most of them would reject him angrily

But a few older, harder ones would let him.

He would tell me the stories and smile

And wink one of those eyes

For which he was famous.

One day he was found dead

In the front seat of his old van.

I went to his funeral, not many people came.

But I sat there and remembered his laugh

And thought about how I’d miss this guy

And I thought about his bright blue eyes.

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.

 

A memory replayed after class

 

Sitting on a timber chair, under a tree,

the clouds came rushing across the city

and dropped a flood of rain upon the university quadrangle.

Ivy hung off the stone buildings, peeling away from the ancient walls

And yellow lights came through the leadlight windows

In a warm glow, like comforting winter fires.

I arose and walked under cover.

Earlier, I had spoken to some English students.

“Why do you write?” one girl asked me.

I looked at the faces before me,

They were bored, and I had lost them.

The teachers sat down the back of the class; their eyes fixed on me like predators,

While the students sat with wide eyes, all blank looks and casual clothes,

With years ahead of them,

Years to achieve their dreams,

But more likely not.

Finished, I walked out of the class

And sat in the chair under the tree.

I thought about the time the fox had eaten all her chickens,

On that old farm

And she had cried

As rain clouds gathered over the lake.