novels

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.

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.

What gives life, also takes it.

What gives life also kills it.

The waves of the ocean breaking on black rocks,

The swift bird settling on a pink flower,

The moon, heavy as good luck,

Sitting on an old, grey-bearded cloud.

 

These beautiful things give life to poetry,

But if you forget to catch them,

These things also kill the words.

Like an animal in the night,

The words flee into the forest and are lost.

 

That woman, my wife, full of life

Moving softly on the sand,

The water filling the prints she leaves,

Her smile and happy eyes

Give birth to the words.

 

Grasp the work when it is there,

Wait for it quietly and encourage it with good thoughts.

Nothing is guaranteed.

The man whose job it is to cut the wood in winter,

Must cart water in summer.

The old man who sits outside the K-Mart

Sun dancing on a silver can,

a man, sitting alone on a park bench on a cold evening,

remembers when he was twenty years old and was chased by the girls.

A cat, not having eaten in three days,

finds a piece of fried chicken behind a tall building.

It eats quickly, as

the sun sets and the light drains away.

The departing sun leaves the sounds of the day to become muted

and allows the sounds of night to grow.

No more children’s voices,

now car horns and conversations fill the streets.

A lamp is lit in a window

and the oak tree that has grown on this street for sixty years

shading this old park bench, is lit up.

The old man slowly raises himself from his seat,

his dreaming ended.

He wanders home to the lonely room he rents

in a building full of people

whose dreams look just like his.

The Waves of dreams

Breaking further and further out to sea,

I watch the log drift out toward the horizon.

I suspect the wood has broken off from the forests

That grow around this bay.

I pick up a piece of driftwood I find on the sand

And feel how smooth the salt water has worn it.

It is soft like a lover’s skin.

 

How beautiful she looked

On that summer night

On the beach,

Nearly naked

Dressed in white moonlight

Like a bride about to wed.

How the moon smiled that night.

You said there is no human face on the moon,

It is instead a hare, a celestial hare outrunning the dogs of the sun,

Eternal flight, pregnant with hope and always looking back.

 

The beach house was not ours

And I said I did not want to stay there

So we found our own place

Run down and hardly clean,

But on the water’s edge.

We could sit outside and rest our feet in the water.

Did I dream

Or was the light from the ocean so dazzling and clear

That I lost my senses?

Hold me tight and whisper to me

So that I think of the seaside, that night with you, again.

Rental

“He stayed here two years,

before the end.

Did I tell you about Sam?” Mrs. Kubowicz asked me.

“No,” I said, “I don’t know him.”

Mrs. Kubowicz leaned against the wall and looked at me with happy eyes.

“This was his room. He was a very kind, quiet man.

He was six foot seven tall. I called him my gentle giant.

We were very close. We would watch television at night,

do you like to watch detective shows?” She asked me.

“Not much,” I answered. I did not like the look on her face; she looked disappointed.

 

She held her hand out to the room. I stepped inside and looked about.

“Why did he move out?” I asked.

A cowboy hat hung on the wall next to a picture of cattle on a farm.

The place not only had furniture, but belongings.

Models of trucks sat on a shelf above the window.

“He died. Suddenly. He crashed his truck on the highway to Canberra.

Killed him instantly.”

“Are these his things?”
“Yes, I can’t bring myself to throw them out, no one came to collect them.”

It was a small room, but it had its own bathroom and a space to cook. I liked the independence.

“I’ll take it.”

 

I settled on the bed and looked up at the ceiling.

It was quiet. Somewhere in the house, Mrs. Kubowicz moved about.

The vacuum came on.

I rolled on my side and opened the bedside drawer.

There sat an open box of condoms, some bills, and a notebook.

I opened the notebook and read a few pages.

The man’s life was recorded daily.

The last entry was dated five weeks ago.

It was a list of expenses. Rent had been crossed out and ‘zero’ written in.

I wondered how he managed free rent.

The Lady’s garden.

Through the day garden walked the knight.

He looked at the beds, heavy with flowers

then glancing up as one might at a bird,

his eyes land on her window.

 

What softer bed behind those curtains,

what pleasures a visitor to her room might see;

might experience.

The mail-heavy arm against the silk curtains, hard flesh on gossamer skin.

 

He has seen war

and knows what war brings,

the faithful and faithless both scream when pinned down with steel.

Men, both brown and white, crying in terror at the onrushing machine.

 

He stops a while beside a lily and considers the soft opening of the blue flower

he sees a bee, heavy with baggage climbing down the flower’s throat.

From habit, his hand grips his sword handle.

He imagines a time when this garden might be his as well as hers.

A disease

She broke a stick on the ground

and held it up to me.

‘See there, where it broke? A weakness, there’s a knot.’

She’s always pointing out people’s weaknesses.

Nobody has strength like her,

no one has intelligence as fine as she does.

But instead of being humble and kind in her greatness,

she wants to break people down all the time.

 

Last month she was told she has cancer.

She shrugged her shoulders and said

‘It happens to people all the time, why shouldn’t it happen to me?’

I said nothing.

She asked me over to her house yesterday

and when I came in, I could see she had been crying.

‘Why me?’ she asked.

I held her hand. It was cold as if she were already dead.