Chime

prose poetry

School Crossing

Roadside wreaths taped to poles

or set down in sad, ordinary places

mark moments that tick still

in memory.

 

People space can no longer contain

remain in flowers cellophaned,

weighted with rocks and thoughts

that settle like fog in airless pockets.

 

Passing, I imagine the terrible unpeeling of skin,

pith pulled away from the bones.

Someone’s child doesn’t come home

each day

 

and the mottled pattern in the tiles

shows a face that the light

breaks over and no angle

can take away.

 

God of wishes

Her life was a story. In the story, she went to the wishing well, one day, to make a wish. She wished to be married to a handsome prince and to live in a castle overlooking the ocean in a land that was always in spring. And she wished for everlasting happiness and children to pass it onto. She even had a coin to toss in the well when others who made wishes had to be content with pebbles or rusty nails from old horse shoes. She made her wish with her eyes closed and her heart all pink and open. She waited and waited for her wish to come true and even when the sun was sinking fraction by fraction, its inky colours spreading and fading, she held onto her hope that she might yet be blessed.

‘God of wishes,’ she said, ‘please grant me my heart’s desire.’

The god of wishes, who, as all people know, lives deep down inside wishing wells where the water is cooled by the earth, heard her heartfelt plea and answered, ‘Yes, yes my child, go find your heart’s desire, it’s waiting for you.’ The god of wishes never fails to answer a wish in this way, but there is a problem. The god’s voice is small and light and quick and sounds like the breeze through long grass and it comes to people’s hearts, not their ears. She didn’t know this. She waited, as so many do, for a voice that was clear and unambiguous, that told her where to go, what steps to climb, what doors to open, to find what her heart was craving. All she could hear was the sound of the wind playing in the leaves and the forlorn drip-drip of water deep down in the well. She stood there and waited through a long cold night in the implacable darkness with her fear dancing around her playfully, darting in and out of form, and her hope dissipating sadly like air escaping a beautiful big balloon. When dawn came, she turned her back on the wishing well and its morning backdrop of watercolours and went home and locked her heart and its wishes in a box she kept under her bed. She had to squeeze and knead her poor heart so it would fit in its new metal container and it hurt and she was crying. The wind was blowing her curtains so that she might have been at sea on a yacht, the sails billowing, the ocean spray wetting her cheeks. She lay down on her bed and listened to the voices outside her window of other children’s happiness and she closed her eyes and wept because it sounded so much like her own sadness. She didn’t see the little bird that was sent to her by the god of wishes to untie the knot of her misconception. She didn’t even hear its chirping or the fluttering of its wings. She had closed her eyes and her ears and locked her heart away. And anyway, she was in so much pain that there could be no such thing as magic. The wind was just the wind and a bird was just a bird with no special light shining out of it and there was no way she could have heard its voice half-singing, half-imploring, it’s-the-wish-it’s-the-wish-it’s-the-wish-that-counts.

That little bird is still there today and its voice is unrelenting.

It’s-not-the-answer-it’s-not-the-answer-it’s-not-the-answer…it’s-the-wish-it’s-the-wish-it’s-the-wish-that-counts.

The elephant’s bum

My father used to say this when we were younger. I have no idea where it comes from but I like it a lot. It’s even possible he made it up himself. It says so much about the need we have to experience things for ourselves. Give me cure not prevention (every time!)

“Son, son, stay away from the elephant’s bum, for when he poos, he poos a ton. Too late, dig him out.”

my other man

I drank too much wine;

my father’s standard phrases –

mark my words,

look at it this way –

the whole room washed with him.

 

My partner piled books

for my mother,

read the titles one by one –

this one’s about a woman who leaves her husband –

but my father never heard a word.

 

I would gladly kill him,

even though I can imagine the little boy he was

and remember the little boy I was.

My father how tall you are and if you were a mountain I would climb you.

I swirled my wine,

imagined it issued from the stem,

wondered what sent it up.

 

My partner thinks I’m sleeping with a man.

Her tongue snaked across her bottom lip;

she threw it back at Dad – the counsel he clapped her with –

said, no you look at this

and I waited with my other man inside me.

 

How do you leave the table where your parents sit?

We tucked them off to bed

and followed,

but I saw his pointed finger still,

the chop bone on his plate chewed to nothing,

heard him and said it’s not a fight and

wished I’d said it, my mother turning pages,

my partner fetching cheese and fruit.

 

In bed, she said, it’s strange, something’s not right

and left to be with baby.

I lay there with my other man

not dislodged.

 

Still the cars slapped the wet road outside.

Silt

as if you were paper-thin

and side-on could disappear

or be lifted by the wind

up up until you were neither a speck nor a slither

away from us.

 

no you are solid as river rocks

the water rushes over

and like the rocks you do not know yourself

keeping secret your fears of airiness

the dream you had that you were transparent

the whispers around that had you lifted from the silty mud of us

had you racing away.

 

when the water has receded

your shiny seal grey exposed

we’ll dress you in daisies chained

plaited reeds

rub cherries on your dimpled cheeks

 

you will wake to see us

know that you were never air or tissue

not brittle glass

 

but always silted in

solid, rooted in our earth

Hammer and nail

In Byron Bay, traces of you remain— your two schools, the laneway cafés, hempwear, prayer flags, clairvoyants. The sun like a bruise on the horizon this late afternoon with the kids in the pub by the beach, it could be you’ve come back to live here and I check each face, the strong sinew of young arms I imagine yours. Why wouldn’t you be young here with the ocean and long haired girls and boys and the Sea Shepherds and life lived in campaign against waste and for diversity? I want to imagine you somewhere in your bare feet, your skin drinking the heat, building something hammer and nail with your principles. It’s such a pretty thing, youth and why not let it flower hibiscus-like in the sub-tropics of ethical sustainable living? My own youth was grimy and aimless built as it was on parties aflame in the night or the blue-light disco at the scout hall and secreted bottles of cinzano, a drunken pash and grope with a girl. What a world, spinning madly through space and full of so much experience; mine here with my beautiful kids and you, my eldest, still missing – a fucking great hole in my heart I’ve no way of closing; yours, somewhere — here, I hope, wearing tie-dye, drinking chai with like-minds or standing on the rocks out at Tallows watching the whales gambol, maybe thinking it’s time to meet your little brother, play with your sisters again, see your dad who hopes you grow wild like the grasses and clean like the rain.

Startled birds

People are made of porcelain, poor pretty things they break like rain on the hot road, their voices released skywards, startled birds and then nothing sings. Who knows what awaits the last concentric ring as it crosses water to the shore, that dim misty thing, coldly pebbled, so bleakly peopled. There will always be flowers and blooming days to leap like leotarded kids from the emptiness but what view is there from the foggy pier in the dim twilight where boats come in one by one? The passengers forlorn and craning disembark to gather dumbly on the shore to see where hope is flaring pink across the distant blue and dying.

If we knew how it ended

If we knew how it ended, where, when, we’d not send days up in balloons to drift against the blue. The roads, unsigned, trail away and end somewhere at foggy farm fences, dull cul de sacs, fallen trees, become impassable through rain or might even seem to run straight through wheat ablaze with sun; either one is an end and then what? You’re only young and cannot say and me, I’m so much older and cannot say. This day sits like light on water hoping, the great blue looks on mouth open with the wonder of what we might do. I fathered you, listened to the strange sounds you made alive but two days, built a fire for you and warmed you with the flames. You might reach me through the darkness if you knew and I would call your name more shrilly in the dead night if I could count the grains within the hour glass and know which would be the last to pass. My hands open and close hoping for things to hold: a picture of you, a thought you wrapped in words and left absent-mindedly somewhere, some small thing that retains your warmth still. My own father’s grown less substantial and his voice falters down the line and we could never unwind the tangles, nor mend the torn fibres in the rope between us; at least, we can face each other, camouflage the distance with a joke or a beer or a meal. But your distance and mine knows nothing but itself, blind in the darkness, unaware what cliff edge sits smugly waiting for a misstep.

The skinny souls of children

Where did he go, my little boy, my leaping frog, my jumping jack-in-the-box? When I look back, he’s up to my knee and not yet lost in the maddening throngs, making tracks on the skin of the shuddering earth with billions more. The heavens swirl in agitation that the skinny souls of children wearing coats too big for them are so swallowed. These cracks in the design keep opening and babes with wide eyes and pretty little o-mouths are surprised, go down without a sound. The last time I saw my little man, his ears were red from the cold and he was trailing behind me on his trike, a rope attached to the handlebars so I could pull him up the hills and the universe was as small as a house, a street, a nearby park with swings and slide. Today, he’s grown light and see-through and the wind has scattered him to seed in mad patterns discernible only from a great height to which I cannot climb. Nights I look for traces, signs that he’s having a good life, any life at all. As I have tried to say, he is lost to me, the little boy, the young man too and it is my great sadness, a feeling that sits like a dune on a beach. It’s slow effacement, grain by gain, at the wind’s hand sets me thinking. Children are stolen by time, great disappointment, misfortune, but stolen for spite? Such a sad dune has no place among the rolling haphazard sands of life’s pain, its accidents, built, as it is, deliberately by someone’s hands.

The stuff of life

The tide came to take you like it took Simon, dead upon the sand, silvered by the moonlight, made marble and whole beneath the troubled clouds. The watery angels dressing his hair lifted him gently and bore him out to sea. Were you as free when you travelled past the blank faces of children, the cold, clutching hands of the living? Nights when I left my body and walked the streets wet with light then crossed the line, between the real and the really imagined, I thought I had found the stuff of life; a mind, an interface and time eternally mine. But certainty has slipped its mooring and drifted out to sea, little rudderless dinghy. The horizon seems hand-painted, the sun daubed there haphazardly to shine upon the cresting waves. Days piggyback on days and I bathe in the warm water of the shallows with the darting whitebait as if unafraid but on my back I fear a hole in the design, a tear in the blue up there. I fish for meaning: wind lifting sand and leaving corrugations, fishermen put-putting in old wooden boats against the tide, my breath in and out until I am just electricity, the heady stuff of someone’s memory, another nagging question for the living.

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