A teenager living alone, I fantasised
about heroic deeds, improbable futures,
among them, floating with no beginning or end,
no idea of the cost of seriousness,
one in which I was a novelist with a dog,
although I had never typed a word.
I wonder which movie implanted this idea?
Chapters form a tidy pile in my log cabin.
In the gathering silence I drink, or
build a firewood stack swinging a shining axe.
A faithful woman visits me weekly
supplying food, whisky, news, loving sex.
All this on a pine-scented mountain.
I trim my stark white beard, shampoo,
sweep, spray, squeegee and swipe,
update a list of internet cul-de-sacs
stymieing crucial poetry submissions.
The hour you drive up our steep hill
I open our front gates like a greeting.
You park close to this inspirational house,
unload food for me, books, whisky for you,
as the cats provide your weekly ankle rub.
We work better this way, playing cards,
you watching out for me, near or afar
as I float between aces and ideas,
what is truth, and might have been,
the wood stove's heat thawing frayed hearts.
A pair of wrens peck our glass, watching.
My thoughts curve inwards as we lose our days.
I am so glad you were able
to replace the shining axe I carelessly broke.
Rue has a bitter scent
Picture a Metro station's harsh stage lights.
She turns and walks away without a fight
or looking back at me, statue-still.
I feel my heart rush, our taut happiness
vanishing down the gusty tunnel's throat.
I don't throw away a cigarette that afternoon,
nor wear a trench coat with a snap-brim hat,
this isn't an entertainment by Graham Greene,
just me acting egotistically,
my outburst not quite a public scene.
Throughout the ramifying silence since,
the calmness of books jostled by rowdy flashbacks
known only to me in my melancholic urge
to chase the shadows of tangled moments,
I yearn to re-enact that foolish strife.
In the pre-dawn hours we need a helpline to talk us
back up the long slide of years to the silly songs,
to those rumbling stations of the past where
we put things right, correct our bitter wrongs,
see faces we never saw again and don't deserve to see.
When I fail to produce a return ticket to the past
my people look askant or slyly at each other.
I know my archness, puns, jokester's life views,
cause their wariness of being duped.
I forget to think of kindness, their wellbeing.
Can't remember sounds like a guilty plea.
The black overcoat of amnesia does nothing
to ward off isolation's chill, however deserved.
I lurch up from lunatic dreams looking slantwise
to find objects in damned absurd places.
If I weren't diligently writing things down
yesterday would turn to ash, no nearer
than the sad, enchanted days of a boy,
his precious tattered books, the whispering girls
sneaked past his stone-faced landlady,
the long shadows down her hallway.
Even before the drama of hospital diagnosis
reading what I had written seemed more real
than the details of what took place.
A Sussex churchyard, at Thomas Gray's grave,
his elegy about ordinary lives famous,
my ripple of remembrance is without context.
Writing it fixed that pilgrimage in my mind.
My ravaged memory is now ordinary.
Enough of the past surfaces to remind me
that though my days must wind to an end
I have felt the rain on my face we each crave.
Above a green valley I hear the wind's song
rushing past on my glider joy flight,
a memory like a scene in a film.
I shrug reverie, hunt down fugitive glasses,
write about my mind's windmills.
Ian C. Smith, who lives in Victoria’s Gippsland Lakes region, has had his work appear in Australian Poetry Journal, Poetry Salzburg Review, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Rabbit Journal, Regime, The Weekend Australian, and Westerly. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy (Ginninderra Port Adelaide, 2014).
Female companion image by Shutterstock.