2 prose poems
In Imagination’s Lighthouse
Wind a heavyweight hullabaloo, surrounded by sea-surge, nothing dislodged on my reconnaissance, I stare back at a chill of harboured currawongs beady-eying me here in this receptor of my life’s heat. I eat plainly, snooze through three-hourly blocks wrestling gothic dreams, jot notes of memories, some of venery, deceit, the sordor of trodden tinsel, consult an old Oxford dictionary, read. Welcome guests, a rhapsody of writers, Boland, Erdrich, Robin Robertson, conjure me to lower their thoughts to my heart recalling scenes from my kaleidoscopic past; seeing flying fish in calm conditions before later plunging through cavernous crescendos of swells coursing the Indian Ocean; collapsing in an Aden market, coming round to fanning by Arabs in an outrage of heat, gentle contrast with tempests girdling our globe here in this citadel at Forty Degrees South.
After the blow, then wreath of cloud whiteout, three small dead sharks in my kelp-covered cove, casualties of net fishing. I couldn’t see the fish factory for its floodlights, heard its thrumming, an invasion force before the clamorous wind chased it off. Electronic communication limited to a forsaken spot away from comforts, also limited, sand, not sea-wyf, at scratch of day in my bed, I ritualize chores; bonfires of rubbish, smoke waft evocative, brew tea thinking of Alexander Selkirk, neither of us patient sufferers of fools. Seldom speaking, I sometimes shout, sing, trim wild whiskers, resemble a derelict castaway by Robert Louis Stevenson, that tubercular tale-teller who sought the faraway. The imagination in solitude salve wounds that can never heal, invisibly stitching emblazoned banners torn in battles past.
(With thanks to SM Chianti)
The old-timer said, the Salvation Army band played here on Friday evenings opposite the Palace Hotel, known in earlier days as The Bloodhouse for its brawling patrons after the six o’clock swill when they lined up full glasses before last drinks were served at six p.m. by law. Those Salvos, a small group in uniform, the lasses wearing bonnets with chinstraps, brass, tambourines, sweet voices brave in belief, sang hymns of redemption in the face of drunken obscenity while I sought pleasure with the publican’s daughter in an upstairs room overlooking this same Burke Road tramline. Our lustful antics, and believing we are happy, are things that haven’t changed. Other familiar uniforms suggesting stories were seen in public then: nuns, nurses wearing capes, scouts, policemen on foot, soldiers in slouch hats, sailors, including merchant seamen, the blue-grey of air force personnel. Now, everybody’s dress, though gaudy, seems anonymous, the mysterious niqab, which resembles nuns’ garb, one of few exceptions although xenophobes’ reactions to these back then would have been more widespread, even uglier than today’s.
At night we sometimes climbed a narrow stair like a priest hole to the roof where we heard the paperboy cry, Late Extra, looked down on all the glittering lights, green trams whirring and rattling to Camberwell Junction, Silver Top taxis whisking people into their futures, that great pulse of what was to happen. We saw a satellite. People talked about these then. Up on the Roof became our song. Keenly argued sport filled the following afternoon, football, horse racing – yet more uniforms – after some of us worked overtime Saturday mornings. All sport on the same afternoon, except boxing at the House of Stoush on Friday nights which was also card night for older people. Can you imagine that? Everything is so much more diversified now but here is where the magical whispering of my heart returns to, these echoes of memory spread out like those dealt cards, a ruin of nostalgia. Have you written this down? It’ll soon be history.