If it would still be meaningful to say, There are an infinite number of universes – if their profound otherness did not embarrass even the language of Being itself…if something we could discern and recognise as intelligent life were to occur in certain of these other realities, might we not learn that our notions of intelligence were, so to speak, parochial?
(Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind)
You might think it would humble us to know
at the end of all our knowing that, for all
this knowing, we are immeasurably small.
You might think the sheer expanse, the sheer scope
of all that we name Universe might blow
our very sense of union. That we call
"known" what keeps evading scientific thrall
(after all our knowing) only goes to show
that, while we think we can admire stars,
they do not give a damn. We are in truth
the dots beneath their microscope.
What are we
that we are mindful of ourselves? By far
better than knowing is to be known,
beneath an ancient love we cannot see.
Within this mist we could be anywhere:
A grassy knoll sits where the freeway
Meets the the Bridge; the air is frozen today
And the smell of Vegemite hangs in the air.
Chimneys puff in protest or in vapour prayer;
The sky in its veil has nothing to say,
But my father’s taught me in his silent way
To see the spots where grace snaps through the snare –
And there are many. If my mind is still,
I can count in fingerprints of Light
These scattered signs that put the fear to flight.
Schedules muffle anguish. Let them stand until
The day declares: “Not you, not even you,
Can conquer us – we belong to the true.”
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.
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.
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.
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.