For more poetry from Australia
The Japanese Christians
The Japanese Christians sang like angels from the camp hall.
I could not understand their words,
but the familiar melodies flung me back to my own childhood,
belting out Lutheran Hymns,
the California sun streaming through stained-glass windows.
The Japanese Christians sang with a gusto and conviction
matched only by their intrepid guitarist.
Once, from the hall,
I heard a sobbing confession from a young girl,
witnessing to the congregation,
spluttering out her Oriental angst
in staccato bursts of pain and weeping.
The oil and water mix
of Near and Far Eastern religions
must have ripped some psychic tear in her young heart.
Early in the mornings, we heard the Japanese Christians
vomiting in the bushes about the camp;
though whether purging impurities of
thought . . . drink . . . or cuisine
I couldn't tell.
I was hoping to hear Onward Christian Soldiers
but I guess it wasn't in their repertoire.
Fifty and Firing
He's just returned from the bush,
where he found himself inside a metal grain silo,
welding the roof to the walls,
teetering on slender beam,
maskless, choking on talcum-fine wheat dust,
for 12.95 an hour,
(two hundred dollars round-trip petrol from Brisbane)
when he reaches for a handhold,
receives an electric shock for his efforts,
eyes the dusty depths below him,
and finally decides: "Screw this! I'm outa here!"
The boss, mindful of the onerous conditions,
offers him a raise to 18.50 an hour.
But this fifty year-old lad about Asia and all-around rascal responds:
"I wouldn't fuckin do it for fifty bucks an hour!"
(Mind you, he's been there a week already.)
We laugh and a tit-for-tat tale-telling spree ensues
of industrial, mining, and farming jobs
we've ravaged our bodies and souls for in our foolish youths.
I love the restless wolf in his eyes, his cheeky grin, the black leather jacket.
Restless and driven, he's a walking dynamo of dissipated energy,
dreaming of Tijuana Margaritas and dark-skinned girls.
This is something I know about.
I try not to shatter his illusions.
When I was a child
my father wielded a leather belt
occasionally applying it vigorously to my bare bottom
— standard punishment for familial felonies.
My mother sometimes acted as witness,
co-prosecuter, and judge.
But she shied away from flogging duties.
Flogging was definitely a father's job.
Still, on occasion,
when the particularly heinous nature of the crime dictated,
she would grab a small wooden paddle
and pretend to dispense justice.
And I would pretend to cry.
This elaborate charade was played out
many times over several years,
restrained paddling — crocodile tears.
A sanitized S & M session
between two consenting softies.
My wife's old lover comes to stay
and I don the benign smile.
He's a worthy soul,
she was young and wild,
and I . . .
always a proponent
of 'try before you buy'
have certainly thrown myself at worse.
To reach this sanguine state so soon
is a pleasant surprise to me.
To see myself in crystal ball
with young wife in tow,
and no axes to grind
would have solicited
salacious sneers and flabbergasted
the horny incompetent I was at twenty.
And when the old flame
is a jolly dynamo,
as wise as a poet,
as dangerous as a sodden tissue;
Buddha meets Santa Claus;
And when soft arms embrace me
and the fire still burns below;
the benign smile rests easy on the face
a loyal friend sleeps near the hearth
all is quiet in the castle.
The Final Flight
(for Brett Allen)
— after all who were closer to you
have penned their odes and shed their tears —
finally can put pen to paper
in your honour,
I find myself so bereft of insights.
So unable to articulate.
I will say:
I see my sister seeing me
accidentally kiss death on numerous occasions
and grow — traumatized and hair-trigger —
into the quintessential mother hen,
only to see . . .
only to see . . .
her only son
perish in youth.
As if my own tragedies were
but a dress rehearsal
for the greater tragedy to come.
So for whom do I shed these tears?
The Chief? With his goofy grin
and iron faith
in a world blessed with whimsy?
My sister — the female Job?
My father — the doting Papa?
My nieces? My mother?
and all those beyond?
Brett, you fooled us all.
Long before disappointment could crease your brow
motivated, happy, keen, cheeky,
and left us here
grasping at shadows
and wondering how
we could never have imagined
it would be you.
She sits on the desert floor
huddling with her rage,
smoking cigarettes, gazing
over Arizona mesas.
He sits in the car
by the side of the road
Anger squats between them
cool and indifferent.
She feels it's an omen for the end.
He know it will pass with the moon.
Love survives another season.