Birthday Song (Apologies to Sylvia Plath)

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Today would have been the 95th birthday of my maternal grandfather who passed away nearly nine years ago: a man who influenced me and my writing more than one poem can express. Still, I couldn’t let the day pass without acknowledging it in some way, especially while I’m in the midst of writing about my family and childhood. So, for what it’s worth, here is something little to say that I love him still.

Love sets me writing like a Grandfather clock:
Love of him as much as anything else.
While his van is parked in our drive, I sit
With a cup of Twinings tea as he tells
Of Abel Magwitch, and Crusoe, and which
Works of Dickens’ he has never read.
I stuff words and stories wherever they fit,
Dreaming of graveyards and convicts. In bed
I compose my own Kidnapped, see pages
Like plates of delicacies, shelf-tables spread
As feast before me. I taste the ages
And grab pen to write: first of Samurais,
Then peace – whatever the mind engages –
In words like airboats breaking through the skies.

Memory in Rain

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Two children looking at construction work being undertaken on St Thomas’ Church of England in Essendon around 1932.(https://au.pinterest.com/pin/524669425310543785)

Essendon is drenched today. On Albion
And Buckley where my Granddad learnt to walk,
To talk, lies last night’s deluge in puddles,
In screen of watery sheen, while vermillion
Morning climbs the eastern sky. When we talk
Of heritage, does it sit in huddles
Like these? old buildings nestled in new ones
And the streets changing names, permanent as chalk,
Captured somewhere in memories like muddles?
Sometimes, when brain’s geography failed,
He fancied himself back on these streets,
And spoke of St Thomas’s where he’d been hailed
As Stupid Stuart. What memory repeats
Is mystery; beneath rainy road is soil
That, pre-Alzheimer’s, Granddad learnt to toil.

Mind and Soil

As part of my new writing project, My Family and Other Landscapes, I’m setting myself the challenge of writing one sonnet each day for the next few months. I won’t post all of them here, but I’ll make semi-regular updates and select the best to put together a book from them. Here is today’s effort.

He tells stories all the time: some are true,
Some are not (the most fun is had from these);
And on some garden afternoons he weaves
Stories of made-up distant lands, and you,
Adventurer you are, embark into
His terraced Sydney woodland. Though he leaves
You off on your sojourning (and may heave
A sigh to see you occupied, it’s true),
He’s there in every game, and will stay
When games are done and memory is all:
Turning compost by the garden wall,
Tilling soil for poetry to grow.
The life of mind is given birth right here,
Where joy springs out of safety, ever clear,
The love that held, will hold and won’t let go.

Debt

Acknowledgment sounds with our morning yawn:

We have been in need; we have been held safe.

And the quiet of the dawn routine declares

That we are weak, are strangers to this day.

Awaken slowly. Infants in the world,

What will you do now? Fresh from the night’s grace,

Will you shake your horn’s fist at the first sight

Of anguish lurking at the silent light?

Forgiven much, enrage. The open space

Of day defies you. If all now unfurled,

How would it be to wait, to be, to say

Yet not my will? Grace’s true cost lies there

And we are not prepared. Our kinship chafes

As we seek love, reluctant, through the dawn.

Home

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It snowed the week I was born; my brother
and sister, fresh from Sydney, harvested
July joy with tingling fingers, gathered
what they could in eager clumps and pressed it
like ice cream into a punnet, to freeze
and store for future days. Being born late
I missed the fun, but days of ten degrees
trained me for cold; I could never equate
the Queensland warmth when we moved up north with
home, or the way things should be. The first sigh
of frozen breath, I puffed my Arctic wish,
ignoring trees that caught me in my lie.
Home is what our aspirations miss,
where daydreams stop and cognisance is bliss.

Other Places #1: Beginnings of a new project

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Jeffrey Smart, "Crossing, 1997"

Ding the lights of the level crossing red;
The common man is held at standstill now.
He measures plight in traffic lights and how
Great the cost to take the Bridge instead.
The day is long but time spent here is dead,
Growing only lines on furrowed brow.
I will not kneel to son of man nor bow
To what your flashing indicators said…
This is, I’m sure, not how today should go;
Yet everyone’s caught up in it the same:
To dream of other places where we may
Ride out our days without delay or foe,
To cast off self and hurl each other names
And long for streams where stress is washed away.

Tom and Bertie

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T.S. Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot  http://flavorwire.com

Once the marriage was destroyed* did the one
take comfort in the other’s halitosis?
And did the other, foul in breath, seek scum
to prove that folly persists in churches
and in the minds of worshippers? If words
are crude and language imprecise, then actions
like his speak loudest: a moral compass
cast aside with mathematical pride.
In this they agreed, though not on the sanctions:
that mankind was tending towards its own turd.
What then? Desecrate a marriage bed?
Render a language unreadable? Abide
in the peace of logic or of Logos?
Or turn to grace’s silent arms instead?

* Bertrand Russell was one of the most famous atheists of the 20th century and T.S. Eliot one of the century’s most famous converts. Russell contributed to the breakdown of Eliot’s marriage by having an affair with his wife.

20 Contemplations #20: Enlighten

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Wassily Kandinsky, “All Saints”

Arise, shine, for your light has come…
(Isaiah 60:1a)

Then the Glory opens up, and the exposition begins…after the sheaves of night, the spirals of anxiety, here the triumph of love and the tears of joy – all the passion of our arms around the Invisible!…
(Olivier Messiaen)

Do you see a star unlike the others?
Have you watched through the ages, longing to see
this revelation, this epiphany?
To some without eyes, the night smothers;
and now, true, it lurks behind covers
of dark. But others, it beckons vividly:
those who press on through the dark, finally
to see the Morning resting yet nonethe-
less glorious, soon to shine all its Day
on mankind, those once far and those once near…
The silence is over; the patience yawns
for the fruits of dawn in sparkling array.
Be still before Him, newborn sons of dawn,
transfigured together, history made clear.

 

20 Contemplations #19: Sleep, Wake

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Anselm Kiefer, “Falling Stars”

I slept, but my heart was awake.
A sound! My beloved is knocking…
(Song of Solomon 5:2a)

The world sleeps, but still some wise men gaze out
unto the beckoning sky, and some
still wake to hear the door pounding, night humm-
ing in active grace of years. No doubt,
the gentleness of the stars will not shout,
yet the song of the angels ever thrums,
always beauty, until mortals must come
to the end of ourselves, our hearts, our mouths…
Lie awake, lie empty. You long because
that which you long for cannot be grasped:
not now, not while this perishable stuff
can only defer your hopes, caught in chaff.
Lie awake, lie longing. Dwell in the pause
between the now and not yet. Never lapse.

20 Contemplations #18: Anointing

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Albrecht Dürer, “Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem”

In your majesty ride out victoriously
for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness…
God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.
(Psalm 45:4a, 7b)

Do not be deceived. He comes in meekness
now to expose the proud. He sleeps among
the donkeys and cattle now; soon the throng
of pilgrims will see Him ride, not in weakness,
but in true majesty. Do you seek this
or to be told that you are never wrong?
He will ride again; it will not be long,
and you will not dismiss His forgiveness.
Who you reject tonight will call to account
when He rides in all the glory of day.
His light beckons us in the eastern sky,
yet many despise its slow, meek way.
Look to the wise. Bow before the child;
there is room for your mess and your doubt.