memory

The German teacher

She laughed and tilted her head back

She was laughing at something I had said

About traffic lights.

Something about the bus driver always wanting them to be green

But they were mostly red and often yellow.

She had green eyes.

She sat under the tree and watched us play

Then she would call us to her, and we would sit around her

Shaking out her dress so the dry grass cuttings would fall

she told us about her desire to go to sea in a sailing boat

and her dream to train guide dogs.

Then, opening a book, she would read to us.

The sun dancing through the leaves and the smell of sweat dry air

Still play in my memory.

Her blonde hair, German accent, made her so unique.

In the evenings, dad would make me collect firewood.

I would load the wheelbarrow and push it past the school to her house

And there I would stack her firewood hutch.

She would stand at the back door and watch me.

I would carry a few logs into the house and fill her wood box next to the fire.

The shelves in her living room were filled with books

And I would sit on her lounge chair, waiting to receive a cup of hot chocolate and a biscuit.

She would sit next to me and tell me about her holiday in Africa or her hometown.

Then, when it became dark and the fire had warmed the room,

I would reluctantly rise and walk home in the cold.

Always I would spend too long at her house.

Those winter nights felt like a great romance to me.

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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.

 

A memory

I remember walking through the streets of Temora

Going home one night after a party.

And Darren stopping and pointing out the stars,

Telling me about the constellations and planets

That are visible each night.

These planets, out of reach, make each night unique.

 

He told me:

There was an Indigenous people,

Who believed

That each star was a hole

Torn in the night

By a spear thrown

And each shooting star

Was an spear falling.

 

His love of knowledge,

His kindness, his dreams.

His fiery ambitions toward politics,

And his ability to debate,

Made up a good life.

All stories come to an end,

And he is now out of reach.

But the happiness he brought to those who liked or loved him

Make his life unique.

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.

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.

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.