Books

The pier

 

At night the lights on the pier come on,

and this cheap part of the city becomes a carnival.

The darkness sits on the water,

waves dance with white caps.

The pier looks to be a mile long

all made of timber-

it stretches out forever.

The sea sings its careless scratchy song.

White lights hang above the balustrade

giving the appearance of the path to heaven

or some great party where everyone is late.

 

A cold wind blows from the islands,

something swims underneath,

an old man stands to one side with a fishing rod.

I stand near him and look down to the black water.

The line disappears as if it is tied to some point on the ocean floor.

He doesn’t look at me. He hides in his huge woollen jacket,

his hat is pulled down around his ears.

I have seen babies wear hats like this

so their ears are kept warm.

But his skin is brown and wrinkled like sand.

He looks as old as this pier.

 

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Lord Byron on Vorm Street

Sitting on Vorm Street

minding my own business in the sun

a guy came up to me.

I knew him. His name was Byron and he asked people to call him ‘Lord Byron’

but no one did.

“Did you know it’s going to rain for the next six days?” he asked.

“Yes I heard”

“I want to sell my car. I’m moving to Brisbane.”

“How much?”

“$2100. No offers.”

“No, too much.” I said.

He waved his hand at me and walked into the café I was out front of.

The door opened and cool air rushed into the street like a river.

I heard the voices of women inside, a baby cried.

A cockroach ran on the wall beside me. It trod on the bricks carefully

like a man does when he is barefooted on sand.

I looked at Byron’s car. It was eggshell blue and forty years old.

He would be selling it because it would never make it the thousand kilometres to Queensland.

The man also smoked in it.

I bought a pair of second-hand shoes off a man who smoked once,

the shoes forever smelled like smoke.

Every morning when I put them on

I would smell smoke.

I wore holes in those shoes, but they always smelled.

That car would never be any good, just like its owner.

Byron came out of the café and stood next to me.

“I’ll take $1500,” he said.

“No. What do I need a car for? I only live around the corner and the centre of town is only

over there.”

I pointed into the distance where the bridge could be seen stretching across the river.

“Driving only makes things complicated” I continued.

Byron walked away. He looked angry.

I had seen him swear at a man outside a nightclub once

The man knocked Byron down.

Byron’s confidence was never as great again.

New life.

Sitting by the cradle, next to my son,

I listen to the wind howl outside.

Winter is ending and leaving on frosty wheels.

I close my eyes and think of things I do not have.

These thoughts are like a worm

That burrows into my head.

My father’s painting hangs on the wall

And the yellow light picks up the brush strokes.

I concentrate on the oil painting and clear my thoughts.

My baby sighs and makes a sound like birdsong,

And my thoughts fall upon the future.

Life is sadness and joy,

 

As it is darkness and light.

 

This yellow room,

The painting on the wall,

The wind against the window and

My son dreaming in his bed,

What joy.

But time moves on, seasons change and soon the morning will

Walk across this very roof.

Enjoy and be satisfied with what you have,

Success lies in happiness.

School book room

They took down the war memorial today.

It stood in the park near the river

And the workmen removed it stone by stone.

A few people stood on the bridge and watched it come down,

I watched too. I watched an old man come out of the library

And cross the road.
He spoke to a workman in a red
hard hat

Until the workman shook his head and walked away.

I wondered what the old man said.

He wouldn’t leave,

He stood in front of the memorial and watched.

Even as I went into the library and found a seat near the front window,

He just stood in the park watching.

It reminded me of the book room at my old high school.

I used to love going in there.

It had piles of books.

All Quiet on the Western Front, the Great Gatsby,

The Red Badge of Courage, Poetry of Robert Frost,

Poetry of Wordsworth. To Kill a Mockingbird.

The books filled the shelves.
The smell of paper, the look of different covers.

There was no racism, ignorance, fear or loneliness in that room,

Those feelings were for the playground.

I took a book once because the cover had come off and

I thought they would throw it away.

I wanted it, it was The Red Badge of Courage.

A year after I left that school, someone lit a fire in that room

And burned half the school down.

That someone could set fire to that room

Shocked me.

That room where God lived.

A few years later

The school closed down.

I could take you there and show you where it stood

If you would meet me in my home town.

 

Internet dating

Summer came into the city

Like a train into a humid station.

Stepping down from carriage 7B,

Tom’s boot went into a puddle

And the water splashed gently outwards.

A relief to climb out of that underground station onto the early morning streets.

A homeless man who had slept the night outside the main entrance

Had wet himself. Piss ran across the pavement

And people rolled their luggage through it.

Tom stood a moment and watched the man sleep so gently

On a street where buses were running past him with a deep roar.

The street stretched down a steep hill into a canyon of buildings.

The city was so silver in the morning light.

A clock marked out that it was six and the people who were around him

Faded about like electricity.

 

Tom went to dinner with Megan.

They had met on the internet.

Tom spoke to her about his life in his hometown

And she spoke about her job and movies she liked.

She took him home and was his friend for the night.

In the morning, as she dressed for work

Slipping her thin body into a business suit.

He offered to take her for a coffee

And then he followed her to the office.

As she swiped her access card,

she turned and looked at him one last time.

Her eyes said she was a friend no more.

Tom turned and looked at the city

Again at six o’clock in the morning, he gripped his bag tighter.

The city didn’t look as clean as it did yesterday.

 

 

Old man

Folded back, broken down,

he is very thin, and he has missed patches of hair on his chin while shaving.

The young in their strength pity the old

and shun him with condescension.

But he sees well enough,

his eyes still sharp and his mind able to keep up, if not surpass.

 

Broken glass dropped by his hand, lying on the hard wood floor,

the house that was built generations before is now too expensive to be bought by anyone

and debts are accrued, banks holding the cards

and arrogantly so.

He worked hard

and now his health is fading.

 

What you are when you are young,

is what you will be when you are old, he said to me in whispers.

No smart man ever became a fool

except for where the brain is diseased;

likewise, no fool ever became wise.

I knew a man once who died because he could not love.

 

He could not love himself

or others

and he drank and fought

and soon his heart turned black.

My daughter married a man

who had money, but no heart. She did well.

 

Standing by a hole in the ground

watching the rain water fill that black gap in the earth,

feet slipping in the mud.

They lowered the coffin in,

but who ever dies?

No one? Everyone? It’s hard to tell.

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.