Books

The freezing night

Standing outside the hot potato store
That sits beside the Irish pub and the supermarket
I saw a man making his way along the street.
He had one arm and one leg,
Both on the right-hand side.
He sat in an old-fashioned wheelchair
And by stamping his only leg
He pulled himself forward, slowly.
He had an old thin face
And a grey beard,
So he looked like a veteran of the Napoleonic war.
His right arm twisted sadly around the armrest
And his left sleeve was pinned to his chest
Like a torn flag.
I watched him pass.
I thought he would ask me for money,
But he continued slowly, in silence.
The night was freezing,
The man looked desperate,
As if he had nowhere to spend the night.
Outside the pub, he stopped, turned slightly and looked long into the dark street,
A traffic light glowing red
Danced shadows on the old man’s face.
I walked away so I could get home,
It was late, and the air was turning from mist to ice.
I thanked God for my health, but what good does it do
For the man with one arm and leg, alone in the frozen night.

To a brother, now gone.

Adopted by wolves,

The baby was.

Taken on a heavy moon night

When the wet grass turns to ice, and the wind investigates what the day left behind.

The gray mother-wolf carried the tiny boy

Through the hollow and into the forest.

Brushing his tiny face against soft leaves

And supple branches, until turning twice she curled up with the babe

And fell asleep.

The baby lay for a while in the heavenly fur,

Snuggled with the warm animal, smelled

The dog smell,

Framed by the damp forest scent

and looked out past the fur and leaves,

glimpsing the silver apples of the moon.

This baby, raised on bitter wolf milk

Grew stronger and dog-wise

Until one day, in a clearing, when the boy was older,

The pack saw humans on a brown leaf path.

They froze, and turned, fleeing into the thick trees

Of that autumn palace.

Moments on East Park Street

Mary opens the window and leans out

The cold weather has set in; the rain will fall soon.

Her boy is in the garden

Moving the 3rd battalion against artillery.

The artillery is dug in and cuts the brave men down.

The cavalry charge, to some success

But for the 3rd it is too late.

The boy laughs and clutches a tall soldier with a red coat,

His wife will never see him again,

The worms will destroy and conquer all.

 

Mary pulls back and shudders,

The boy’s father works on the fishing ships and comes home drunk

A heavy man with coarse ways.

But the boy always has shoes and clothes

And more toys than he needs.

The little girl in the bassinet cries softly once,

Turns and falls asleep.

Mary closes the window and watches as the first raindrops fall on the window.

 

The boy feels the rain too,

And smiles.

The cavalry becomes bogged down in the muddy ground

And riflemen come out and cut them down.

The rain comes harder and the boy can’t find the reinforcements,

They’re lost in the clover.

 

Love overall

I love you because regardless of how hard the world is

You continue to love

And continue to breathe the air as a child does,

With wonder, hope, and joy.

I love you because seeing a rainbow makes you excited

And you tell me it’s the most beautiful rainbow you’ve ever seen,

No matter how many times we see a rainbow.

 

I love you because you have never seen a shooting star

And you make me promise to show you one, one day.

I love you because you are allergic to dogs

Yet love my dog.

No matter how cold, you walk me to the bus stop.

And I love you because when things hurt me,

they hurt you too.

 

 

The young poet

In a small house on Rumber Lane,

a boy lived with his mother and sister.

This boy spent his time in books

And dreamed of composing lines of glory.

 

The young poet, standing in the hall with the last shadows of day,

Watched the beetles make their way across the stone floor.

Looking up as the trees turned gold in the last rays,

He saw the neighbour coming home from work.

 

The neighbour, a big man, carried his bag on his shoulder

And smiled arrogantly at the women passing by.

The young poet watched how the man moved,

 With the wide heavy motions he made.

 

The neighbour’s daughter would meet the boys by the river

On Sunday afternoons

And raise her dress for them.

She wore no underwear.

 

The young poet was never invited, but

By hiding in the trees

He had seen her reveal herself,

Her body golden, shining like embers.

 

He had only a few friends, one boy,

With a sour breath, smelled of piss.

This boy would wet himself in class.

Deep down the young poet despised him.

 

The night grown dark,

The young poet turns to his book and reads.

Writing down words of interest,

And reciting lines that appealed to him.

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.

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.