the Fitzroy Flasher

art and ideas: photos and words: mainly and sometimes.

I have-nae seen that reflection

Not yet – it is bucket listed

Somewhere above the Greek Islands

But below retirement –

“Reflection”

Imagery for the weak?

Sunset and your face in my

Mirrored glasses ?

Too obvious, is-nae?

Well what about

A Norfolk pine in puddles

Formed on the potted asphalt

Road where fog descends

On dampened toes

And my breath is hot

In the air that’s cold

And I have it in my head

That there is a mirror

In a miner’s cottage

Like these I pass

And in it will be me,

Laid bare

And brimming with

Understanding.

John Cullen, Powerhouse, Geelong

I underestimated this ordinary day in December 2014. His brother had been gone a week or two. His soul mate really, soul twin, the ‘other’ that grounded his 80 year life.

He fell asleep after the Eulogy, a speech he gave without prompt or pause. The grand speech of his life. He had clawed himself awake in the days between Bill’s last breath and that final tribute by some cosmic strength. And then he slept. At the top end of Sydney Road, in the passenger seat of the Lexus, en route from Fawkner to Fitzroy. And again on my couch. And then in my spare room. And in the weeks that followed, at my brothers’ places too.

We were at a baffled loss. We just knew that for 23 hours of each day, he slept. At the kitchen table, with a mouthful of food, he slept. In the GP’s waiting room, he slept. He was just asleep, as if making good of his words to Bill, that ‘I won’t be long after’.

I was in Melbourne one day, at home with my sleeping father. It was the day that I was supposed to take him back to his place, but it just didn’t feel right. So I packed the car and bundled him into it, for a longer drive to St Leonards, where my wife was waiting for us at our beach house. It was an old familiar town for Dad, as Bill and Jim and Esther had a place there in the day. I thought it would do him good, the air, the familiar trees.

He slept in the car, of course, over the Westgate, past the view of the housing commission flats he once called home. Past Werribee, where his ‘forever’ house sat vacant, and his answering machine was full.

As we neared Geelong I woke him. I had an idea and told him I wanted to show him something. He yawned but obligued, and I pulled up at the Geelong Powerhouse. I took his arm and guided him inside. And once inside, he awoke. He gazed around, with dodgy vision, and took it in. He wandered in awe, mouth open, repeating ‘fantastic’ and ‘fucking brilliant’. It was maybe ten minutes, and he wanted to go. His eyes were closed again as I started the engine.

It was, this day in December 2014, the last time Dad truly engaged with the world. I didn’t know it then, but he was dying of a broken heart. They say he had a stroke a few weeks later (the fifth of his life, but the one that took his language skills away). We don’t quite know when it happened but gradually he started calling cereal ‘British’. He started having seizures then too, but we found that out when he was in St Vincent’s. He had constant seizure activity apparently, and possibly for a long time.

Within a year he was in a good nursing home near me. Within two years he stopped asking to go home and was happy. He ate the food the nursing home gave him, and he even had a routine. Yet still he slept, most of the time, as if willing his subconscious to get him to the other side.

I asked him once how he missed Bill. I had to ask because he could not initiate, that conversational skill had gone. It was by then a few months before his fatal fall. He looked surprised by the question, and with paucity he told me ‘I sort of feel him here. We talk all the time’.

The last time I saw him he was hunched and frail, surrounded by hunched and frail people, eating soft food slowly as we watched with pained expressions. We were desperate to assist but refrained, as the clock ticked on and our time ran out. We had a plane to catch. We were leaving for the States, for a wedding.

After one long, particularly slow mouthful, he laughed at himself a little and said ‘you may as well go’. We all laughed then. My wife, my Dad and I. He stopped eating to walk us to the lift. He waved as the doors closed. It reminded me of Granny and Grandpa in Willy at the flats, seeing us to the lift, waving us goodbye. It was a fitting last moment between us, two and a half years after that day at the Powerhouse.

This is how moments become treasures.

I am so small

And drowning

In massive waves

That will crush me

If they break while

I stand naked

In backlit honesty

Stained from a day

That toiled, swords drawn

With my tender heart

And spoiled my hair

When I sweated cold

With stomach knotted

And gritted my teeth

And shut my eyes

Breathing to the meditative kindness

Of some podcast or other

About self love and courage

Yet all the while hands shaking

And all the while aching

With all the doubt

That shouted

In my ear

And naked here

In naked fear

I breathe the residue

Of this horrid day

Yet torrid I am

With the braves

I smell like musk,

Or Lust? Maybe

Just the scent

Of anxiety sweat

That is all mine –

… I float just fine.

She tells me she thinks horizontally:

An ‘aha’ moment for this vertical thinker.

She says it is another reason we should not be together,

So I point out evolutionary theory or genetics,

Or some paper I read once about pheromones

And how our kids would cover the axis

(Centre line aligned).

Opposites attract for a reason, I ponder.

And as we pass a potted tree

She announces it as a Grevillea

And I counter with Banksia ?

But neither of us know for sure

So we agree it’s a flowering native.

The dusty air

Is warm

My throat is dry

And you and I

We’re in overalls

On the bank

Of an ancient river

Waiting for rain

That we can smell

Waiting …

For so long we

Start talking tall

Of sea creatures

Anemones

Sounds like

Enemies

We collapse

Laughing

To unforgiving earth

As rain falls

Heavily

Rapidly

And life erupts

I grab your arm

And pull you to

Unsteady feet

We gasp for air

And kiss

Through water

streaming

Down our faces

Giddily we watch

Torrential chaos

And I swear

Emerging

I see

Green limbs

Contort

And form Infinity

A sign

Are you seeing this?

Our eyes meet

This is how

Time stands still

And we are soaked

And belly laughing

As we are drawn

Like magnets

To touch

Brush hands

And we race the sunset

Like little kids

Running full pelt

Against time

and darkness falling.

Tears tease my face –

Pressed into my hand –

Propped by an elbow

On a window frame.

Cars pass steadily

as Dandenong Rd comes

and goes like an old mate

Familiar but much changed.

Arriving early –

I take in the stillness

And silence –

The smell of the heat wave

the creaking pews

Under slow steps

The church – erect

Stifling

In it’s repression

Fills with the muffled sound

Of subdued people.

And suit jackets stay on

Despite the heat, which

Causes a steady sweat to

Drip the length of my back

As I watch the front rowers

And see that they don’t feel

Like it is quite real

And it is,

But it isn’t too –

And I cry passively

As we stand and sigh

Simultaneously.

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