In need of goodness and mercy
I am being lulled by visions of still waters
when my father's memorial service gets edgy.
Smoke pours from a meter box outside.
Firemen scurry importantly like comic extras,
unable to locate the smoke's source.
Spaced apart in orderly rows we swivel,
casting sideways glances through tall windows.
Organist and minister struggle with focus,
walking in shadowed valleys en route to death.
My frowning brother once worked as a fireman.
Like me, he has toiled in many fields.
Between wife and sister I can't see directly
but the angled windows reflect like mirrors
so I maintain decorum without missing the action.
Earlier, my nephew watched us parking,
long legs stretched out his car door,
smoking, listening to football on the radio.
I felt uncomfortable, fearing evil when
relatives spoke to my pregnant second wife,
exchanging crafty looks like the pious
as if burdened with shameful news about us.
In the presence of what seemed enemies
my mother told the minister I was a recluse.
Listening to his practiced inflexions
trying to make a stranger's life interesting
from the tidy fiction she has fed him,
estranged by a smokescreen, firemen crying out,
I feel this absurdity must surely stop.
I should have lingered on my last bay days,
admired the shell-scattered expanse,
the guardian mountain's changing colours.
I knew each walk could be the last
tracking footprints to the far rocks,
working out who distant figures might be.
When the loaded crayfish plane took off,
rising slowly through driven clouds,
why didn't I monitor it until my eyes ached?
I should have waded up the small river mouth
in the lee of dunes, beyond tide-crash,
mind-printing those returning black swans.
Did I dream I carried a pointed stick,
wrote a joking rhyme about leaving,
watched waves wash my silliness out to sea?
Each day I jumped from the flat rock
into the slipways in shivering ritual,
should have kept plunging in until exhausted.
I should have remembered our first summer,
the decrepit shack where we understood myth,
gazing past fishing boats towards Old Man's Head.
Why didn't I climb the bluff once more,
haul on those ropes, breath banging in my chest,
looking, looking over a dark sea at lamplight time?
Here comes Ian Smith, look at him,
whiffy disapproval under a whiskery nose
worrying the rest of his faux-suffering face.
But I knew him as a tattooed ne'er-do-well.
Has he forgotten or is this yet another
example of selective memory-warp?
This poet-dreamer has distanced himself
from the community of one that was him
when he never fretted about the bomb,
wouldn't be bothered about global warming
if polar ice was then as terminal as manners,
didn't care about global anything,
people slaughtering people, rampant greed,
other constants like lies, which he told
if it stoked his needs, which was often
to do with seduction or other solipsisms
on past roads that petered into cul-de-sacs.
Listen to the priestly-wise old fart's cant.
He's whitewashed his blood-red fizz to live.
I know he has. I knew him long ago.
Ian C. Smith lives in the Gippsland Lakes region of Victoria. His work has appeared in Axon: Creative Explorations, The Best Australian Poetry, Five Poetry Journal, Island, Red Room Company, Southerly, and Westerly. His latest book is Here Where I Work, Ginninderra Press, Adelaide, 2012.