reading

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.

 

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.

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.

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 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.

 

My place.

See the growth of gum tree huge,

watch the running of the river.

There I saw a blue wren dance

there I saw a bearded dragon quiver.

 

Along the path the wattle grows

The heat is hard, and the wind blows broad,

blue flowers mixed with black seed go far

and the smoke of fire rises like a god.

 

The blue dream runs on forever

and the city lights up the sky

this is the land we work and fight for,

this is where I hope to die.