memory

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.

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.

Death of Chad Jones

When Chad Jones died

From an asthma attack while climbing Red Hill,

His father, Doctor Jones,

went into Chad’s room and gathered up all the belongings.

He picked up the trophies, books

He carried out the table and chair, computer, bed and the sheets

And threw all these things into the backyard.

Dr. Jones returned for Chad’s clothes and in great piles,

Laid the clothes out.

Chad’s mother pleaded with her husband not to do what he was doing,

But he continued, working hard

Until all the boy’s things were lying in the afternoon

Like a pyramid pointing to the sky.

Dr Jones then struck a match and lit some paper

And the things began to burn.

Black smoke filled the neighbourhood

The fire brigade arrived to see the mountain of melted plastic and wood

Raging in the backyard.

Doctor Jones’ daughter,

Who some years before, had watched the bonfire from her bedroom

Grew to 17

And left her town and father.

She worked in a bar on Foveaux Street

And filled her personal hours with dreams and men,

Until the fire caught up with her.

She died on a Tuesday night

By leaping off the wet Harbour Bridge.

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.

 

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.

Fishing from the boardwalk

Simon Ferris stood on the boardwalk and leaned over the edge, looking at a large timber pallet that floated in the salt water below. The timber was covered in shells and black worms. He stood a long time and wondered what the things on the pallet were. After a while, he pulled back and staggered down the boardwalk. The timber was uneven and hurt his legs which were twisted and weak. He had refused to take a wheelchair today; he wanted to walk.

Halfway down, back toward the street that led up into the city, he stopped and watched a pretty girl who sat on a bench in the shade near Shraff’s Amusement hall. She wore a tight red top, and her blonde hair was tied back with a blue ribbon. Next to her was a baby carriage. She leaned over occasionally to look inside. Each time she leaned over, she smiled. Her red lips pulled back showing her smooth white teeth.

Suddenly a great tiredness overtook Simon and his legs gave way under him. He toppled sideways, off the boardwalk, into the water below. An old man watching nearby, tapped a young man who stood next to him.

“A man just jumped off the boardwalk,” the old man said.

“Are you sure?” the young man answered. He looked over his shoulder. The young man held a fishing line and was reluctant to let it go.

The great beauty

She was one of those girls you always look at when she comes in the room,

you try to see her out of the corner of your eye,

you watch where she sits

and when she looks up you look away quickly, so you’re not just staring at her.

She has that long flowing hair that drives people crazy

and she is really well shaped.

Not thin like some stick, but pretty.

Her nose is a knockout; it sits there like it was made for nothing

but looking pretty.

When she smiles, it’s like when you see a new sports car or when you see a thousand dollars in cash,

you just look at it because you know it is so good.

But she comes in the room surrounded by friends

and smiling that thousands of dollars in a sports car smile

And she sits down over near the old timber bookshelves that have been there

since 100 AD or something

and she just owns the place.

We all belong here, and we can all take out the books and write on our laptops,

but she owns it, like we are lucky she lets us stay.

Anyway, no one from my table, over near the vending machines, can talk to her,

we all just look up every now and again

and feel that happy, calm feeling.

Knowing that someone so beautiful

can exist in the same town, the same university, as we do.