history

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.

 

Advertisements

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.

Bookham Bridge

Standing in a group near Bookham

Touring the history of the town

The tour guide spoke of the men that were hanged from the bridge.

We walked slowly up the timber planks and listened to the creaking of the old structure.

They were stood along here for taking cattle

And stealing supplies from a farmer’s hut.

A rope was tied to their necks

And then they were kicked over the edge.

I looked at the bridge closely; the timber was dry and full of holes,

The steel thick with red crust,

But the view was beautiful.

A small river wound its way through the rocks and trees below,

then disappeared Into a blue haze.

 The country opened up like a jeweled book.

I wondered if the beauty around them

Played on the men’s minds.

The terror that took place in a landscape of marvel,

A universe that captivates and kills.

 

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.

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.

The lunatic sings the truth

 

 

She came along with a dirty dress hanging around her like a curtain

Torn from a derelict house.

Her hair was dirty and her face was beaten

By time and God knows who.

She noticed me and screamed

That I must work hard to be good,

Love Jesus and look after my loved ones.

She stopped and looked me square in the eye and repeated:

“Be good to your family.”

Then she walked on.

She stank and the air was fouled by her presence.

My publisher sat next to me and watched her go.

“She gave me a manuscript once, years ago.” he said.

“It was well written, the grammar was perfect,

But it was so boring. The characters, the events were so boring.”

“I would have bought her lunch,” I said. “if I knew she was a writer.”

We laughed, but deep down I knew

She had spoken the truth and given good advice.

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.

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.

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.