Around the World in Eighteen Ways
Arabs fan fainted me, dehydrated in Aden.
In Tahiti I fall ill, bronchitis amid humid splendour.
At a summer camp in Dutchess County I get the sack.
Cops warn me for hitch-hiking after sundown in Maine.
In the wintry Cotswolds I wheeze in a bedewed attic.
A lost aunt is found in Liverpool post-Toxteth.
I cycle The Orkneys crabwise in North Atlantic gusts.
Ireland’s west coast lays me low with gastric misery.
Norway’s Customs suspect me of being drug cunning.
East German guards check for smuggled children.
Strasbourg hustlers flog me a carved vase that leaks.
Blackfly bitten bloodsucked, I itch The Cabot Trail.
On Newfoundland my backpack tips me backward in a bog.
Quick wits save me from a crazy in Thunder Bay.
Sailing The Inside Passage I awaken soaked on deck.
On the MI I leave lifeline money in a telephone box.
Bronchial again, in Barcelona, Las Ramblas torpor.
A drunken South African punches me on a plane.
My years approaching roads’ end, I savour souvenirs.
Again? Where do we queue for the Time Machine?
We try to catch up, inch ahead of the bills
working for low pay, me by day, her, evenings.
Kids abed, I smoke, watch TV, the clock, do crosswords.
There is no romance in the blur of such marriages.
We had paid a deposit, moved to a house in the sticks,
pinprick of light to former teenage sweethearts
who had sheltered in shadowy rooms behind a butcher’s.
Black midnight. Brakes squeal in our rutted driveway.
Under the porch light, alarmed by her frantic horn,
I gape, she scrambles from the car, voice trembling.
Another car stops outside, village quiet shattered.
This was when I knew no loss, phones had cords,
when a bully she cut off hammered on her tail.
Road rage, women as victims, news now. Echoes.
I was a hothead, still can be guilty of this.
My fury drives the moron off, my smarts, too few,
note the licence plate for police who track him,
tell us he must touch or threaten to be charged
but is in big trouble now with his wife, as I was
years after sticking together when we fell apart,
the only excitement in life the dangerous kind.
This Other Life
The what if alternative to chronic gothic memories
whistling around my mind so late now,
a life in which my parents value art’s integrity,
understand love’s kindnesses, children’s fragility,
where education is sanctified in lieu of lucre,
that is the current fantasy owning my insomnia.
Mapped undergraduate days begin in my teens
reading poetry, crashing in and out of love,
studying dreamily on campus, eschewing student jobs.
Qualified, I start real work in my mid-twenties,
enjoy lunch I can afford at a redolent hip deli,
leave my desk at day’s end, hands clean, satisfied.
Marriage to a woman who treasures books delights
despite autumnal affairs, because we take time
to touch each other, ‘sorry’s power stitched to last,
witnessed lessons of quality sustaining long-term.
Her people friends whose approval I value,
love our crumbling inner-city street, its old elms.
Wounded but little, at least until older,
I do not convey hurt, either to body or soul.
Suffering wrongs never eclipses me in moments alone,
betrayal’s burns resulting from minor exchanges only.
Friendship vanquishes seclusion, beauty is all.
Wrong moves? Few and trivial in this wishful life.
Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in, Antipodes, Australian Book Review, Australian Poetry Journal, Critical Survey, Prole, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two-Thirds North. His seventh book iswonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.
Germaine Greer at Heathrow
Imagine a painting in the style of Jeffrey Smart,
a bare airport terminal, a well-known woman.
Compositionally, the woman stands near the edge
as do Smart’s figures/friends in some pictures.
Space, stillness, surrounds her in a banal setting,
a desolate reminder of de Chirico, Hopper,
stark emptiness, their echoic sense of regret.
Barely the breakfast hour, the jetlagged scarpered,
I watch bags, my partner changing money,
lean against a pillar, focus on a lone woman
who looks sad across all that emptied space
as though disappointed a dear face hadn’t shown.
She smokes, or she doesn’t, looks straight at me.
I once read The Female Eunuch among books forgotten,
the only bloke taking a course on feminism,
admired Greer’s chutzpah, knew she lived in England
where I came to dwell on the edge of belonging.
I mourn unplanned lives, mine, others’, back stories,
each of us carrying private clouds of sadness.
What happened next, that distant dawn?
Photoshop the picture. Now see two figures.
A man with luggage, that woman.
So much space, possibility. Time stilled.
He tells her, imagine, about a book he liked.
I avoid questions, paths to thickets of speculation.
Edgy at a book launch I talk to a couple I know,
showing off a bit about my grown sons.
The sons’ mother and her mate wrote the book.
Ever the jolly jester I repeat myself telling tales
including one about our third son’s success
buying aviator sunnies for a song online
then selling them for a clever profit at school.
Driving home I think of our frailty here on Earth,
wonder why I play-act boasting of shallow deeds.
Later, the boys’ mother calls in with dilatory news,
an accident involving our drunken sons.
Our ex-sunglasses salesboy totalled his car,
wrapping a tree, his brother in hospital.
Police woke their mother hours before her launch.
She recently endured surgery, her mate is dying.
I know she shields us, me from their excesses,
them from her sense of my disapproval,
but exclusion unmoors me, my vista uncertain.
A relic of survival, I reprise the larrikin joker,
recall days drunk, the carnival ride of youth,
for her sake, to patch cracks become chasms.
The Shock of the News
Visiting a married pal who spoke like a movie gangster,
the old neighbourhood, a skull on a chain round my neck,
toddlers in pyjamas, his teenage sister also visiting,
the semiotics of domestic warmth that stave off emptiness.
Something strange about the sister, manic, flirting,
with me awkward in front of her brother, my girlfriend.
We moved, lost touch in the battering buzz of life.
Married to my girlfriend I made my own toddlers.
Like that friendship our union didn’t last forever.
Wails of distress. Wild creatures. Outrageous drama.
I had found someone. Looking back, shame lingered.
We survived but some are crushed, hounded by sadness.
That visit slipping towards the abyss of forgetting,
I read of a killing, a hullabaloo at a party.
Shock. Also a prescient feeling, but mostly shock.
Outraged, a man I once knew aimed a .22 rifle at his sister.
She had been flirting wildly – no surprise there.
He threatened. She taunted him to go ahead.
Pleading posturing gone awry he got off lightly.
Was it unintentional in the end? Who knows?
His finger only had to crook a little more.
Thinking back on this, how unreal it all seems.
Yet, the shock then, reading of one insane moment.
His claw on the trigger, trembling. Echoes.
Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in Antipodes, Australian Book Review, Australian Poetry Journal, Critical Survey, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two-Thirds North. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He lives in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, Australia.