creative writing

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.

 

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The acrobat

The floor boards in the room

are about 12 inches wide.

The house was built in 1790, a man had been hanged in the backyard

And there is a cell built in under the house.

This is Andrea’s room.

She rents it for $120 per week.

 Andrea worked in the circus

But she lost her job.

It is an odd story, but she told it to me last night

As we were lying in bed and the moon shone across the sheets

Bathing us in a clean white light.

The window was open and somewhere the wind blew

A door open and closed over and over again.

Her job was to climb a rope,

Holding an antique vase and then,

Using her incredible strength,

Spin around doing tricks.

One night,

She drops the vase

And when it hits the ground

It doesn’t break, it bounces.

The scheme was the vase looked antique,

But it was made of rubber.

The crowd laughed

And she lost her job that night after the show.

I listened to her story,

But I knew it was not completely true.

I had been told she’d been stealing money,

But I didn’t say anything to her.

Now she works in the casino with me.

I clean dishes in the kitchen and she makes and sells coffee in the café,

Sometimes we would talk and play blackjack

And that’s how I met her.

She had to go to work early and I don’t start until late

So I get to lay in bed, listening to the sounds of this city

And the door opening and closing in the wind.

 He room is so much neater than mine, and cheaper.

I live in an old apartment on the highway.

The only thing I don’t have are ghosts,

And sometimes at night, in this old house,

Andrea tells me she hears things, like ghosts

Moaning outside the door.

That’s why she likes company.

The four week visit

Last night I dreamed

She turned from the window

And smiled.

The sun touched lips, the sun drenched hair,

And she spoke to me, softly,

I could not hear the words

But I could see her lips moving.

The morning came and I went to the window I dreamed of,

I looked out at the garden and the ocean beyond.

White waves on a blue ocean.

When she was here with me,

I would walk all day

And make up stories to tell her at night.

One day she told me she didn’t like the story I had told,

The woman in the story was too beautiful

And that made her sad.

She was gone the next day.

She had tied a red scarf to the apple tree by the gate,

It whipped in the wind

Like the bloody standard of a defeated army.

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.

Friday night, 1997

Locked gate with heavy rusted lock,

Metal fence with chain link,

One section broken, wire opens back like a flap of skin,

Allows us to duck in.

Cement columns holding up the highway,

The overpass, dirt floor and vandalised walls.

Someone has a fire burning in a metal barrel.

The kids stand around nervously warming their hands in the strange half light.

Cigarettes and laughter, stories of sex and drugs

I watch mesmorised as two older kids kiss,

The girl has dark hair and black eyes.

A firecracker is lit and explodes in the night,

The sound of traffic above is a roar

And the night runs on like sharp needles and broken bottles.

A homeless man was murdered here

Simon claims.

John, the school’s football hero,

Sneers and takes his three friends away.

But we sit by the fire on the cold cement ledge

And talk about Mickey and how he and Wade were arrested one night

And someone throws another bottle and we watch it explode into shards.

Tom and Ben would have to sleep in the abandoned shop on main street

Because they’d been kicked out of home.

They sit apart and look thin and proud.

Jenny’s mother has a new boyfriend and she can’t stand him

Sandy is pregnant and Mat wants her to abort it,

Robert is gay

And his boyfriend will be here soon.

Friday night, winter, thoughts of girls and grown up jobs,

No money to spend and stolen beer.

washing day

Fabric softener destroys the machine,

The machine that spits out wet clothes, half clean.

 

The clothes that dry so quickly in summer,

Under that cancer giving sun

 

Hang soggy on the stretched line and grasp at the grass

That has turned a peculiar sickening brown.

 

Walking out on that winter day

To get away from the smell of clothes

 

I see a man come out of a café

With a face wrinkled so badly, that his eyes are invisible.

 

He looks at me as if he knows me,

I look at him, but look away.

 

It’s so cold, I step into a supermarket

And pick up a basket and walk the isles.

 

The old man with the brown folded face is there too,

He walks toward me, then steps aside at the last moment.

 

The bright shopping centre lights

The old hard bread; the pink deli meat makes me tired.

 

I walk home as the dark evening falls

And I know the clothes on the line will still be wet.

God in a bottle

 

Robert did not know much about God

But at 16 his father was shot in front of him.

Standing out the front of his house,

He watched the murderer,

A tall man,

Wipe his father’s blood from his face,

The sun shining from his black curly hair.

 

 

Robert sat in the carpark at 23

In the driver’s seat of his car

And thought about his father’s last breath.

His girlfriend climbed in beside him, and she smiled,

The white of her teeth and the warm sun from her eyes

Made him feel whole again.

 

He still did not know much about God at 31

But looking at the red neon

He thought he could see an angel

Moving about on the shopping centre’s cold steel roof,

And he dreamed of what his baby might be.

 

At 45, God was only a small thought in his mind,

As he sat in a bar and thought about Mary

Who danced there after 7 pm.

He looked at his watch and it was only 4 pm

And felt annoyed at how slow the days went.

 

At 60 Robert sat in the Church and prayed.

The Church was cold, but warmer than the street.

Last night, at 3 am, as he slept on the steps of a men’s clothing store,

Someone broke a bottle near his head.

As he opened two sore, sticky eyes

He watched the lights of the city twinkle in the crystal shards.

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.