A little less than eight years ago, she who was to become the Emerging Artist and I sold our house and bought the smaller one where we now live. I recorded the process in verse.
4 November 2010:
On selling the family home
Our home for more than twenty years
Our haven, our Three Seventeen,
Where children’s laughter, rage and tears,
And adults’ too, and in between
Have filled the air, where stains and scratches,
Dents and holes, loose threads and patches
Are records of our history
With love’s abiding mystery
Was sold on Tuesday, seven thirty.
Our shell, our outer skin, alive,
We’ll trade for one point five two five.
It’s brick and wood, some bits quite dirty.
We’ll shuffle off to somewhere new:
New owners, may it welcome you.
6 November 2010:
Looking to buy
Flexible, unique and charming,
spacious, stylish, redesigned,
with northern sun, and traffic calming,
details of the classic kind,
potential for downsizers’ retreat
in much sought after treelined street,
we seek it here, we seek it there,
our new home could be anywhere,
in Earlwood, Petersham, St Peters,
Marrickville or Hurlstone Park,
(Burwood’s too far off the mark).
At each new door the agents greet us.
We turn up, armed with cheques, not knives,
Buying, not fighting, for our lives.
26 November 2010:
We’ve bought a house, we sign today,
pay ten percent of far too much
(but we’re in love, so that’s OK).
It’s done up with a loving touch,
it’s near a park and faces north,
near shops, trains, buses and so forth.
We’re downing size, yes, less is more,
from Three One Seven to Thirty-Four.
Bring us garlands, bring us flowers.
Blow the whistle: end of innings.
Sing a song of new beginnings.
Four signatures, the house is ours.
Soon we fly the empty nest.
We’ve found our home for all the rest.
And now we’ve just done it again, this time moving into an apartment about a block away from where we now live. It’s astonishing how those three stanzas describe the process and the feelings that go with it. we exchanged contracts on our present house on 25 September, and bought the apartment at auction on 6 October.
This time it’s serious downsizing. Many books have already found new homes, and many more are yet to do so.
I had hoped to write about the Moving Hearts Project in London as it happened, but it turns out I need recollection time to do that sort of thing, and that sort of time has been in short supply. Other kinds of blogging, including brief notes about my reading and perhaps a little translation, don’t have quite the same needs.
Today we visited the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) attached to the Church of São Francisco in Evora, Portugal. The chapel was built in the 17th century, with walls and pillars covered with thousands of human bones, including skulls. It’s beautiful in an inner-city tattoo kind of way, but very creepy, especially when you realise that the bones were dug up from cemeteries connected to the church. The makers, however unthinkingly disrespectful to the graves they robbed, had pious intentions. The chapel is meant as an over-the-top memento mori.
A poem by Padre António da Ascenção Teles, a local parish priest in the mid 19th century, is displayed in the chapel to help us tourists understand the pious intent. (I’ve also included it, in Portuguese, at the end of this post.) It’s a sonnet, so how could I resist having a bash at a version (helped of course, since I don’t speak or read Portuguese, by the literal, non-rhyming English version also on display in the chapel, which you can see here). My title is the message carved in the stone over the entrance to the chapel.
Nos ossos qui aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos /
We bones who are here are waiting for yours
Where are you rushing to, sightseer?
Stop now. Ignore the guidebook's patter.
Nothing that's in there can matter
more than what you see right here.
Billions have gone, no longer breathing,
and you'll end pretty much the same.
Ignore this? That would be a shame.
For every life, death is a key thing.
Shopping, selfies, news with noddies,
tweets of Trump and deeds of Dutton:
who remembers we're all bodies?
Just look. These walls, though they're bizarre,
can reset your attention button.
Stop. Remember what you are.
The original, by Fr. António da Ascenção Teles:
Aonde vais, caminhante, acelerado?
Pára...não prossigas mais avante;
Negócio, não tens mais importante,
Do que este, à tua vista apresentado.
Recorda quantos desta vida têm passado,
Reflecte em que terás fim semelhante,
Que para meditar causa é bastante
Terem todos mais nisto parado.
Pondera, que influido d'essa sorte,
Entre negociações do mundo tantas,
Tão pouco consideras na morte;
Porém, se os olhos aqui levantas,
Pára ... porque em negócio deste porte,
Quanto mais tu parares, mais adiantas.
Here’s a modest contribution to Australia’s ‘debate’ on same-sex marriage.
My mother and the non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey on same-sex marriage
My long-dead mother would have voted yes.
She’d be five score and four this year and still
devoutly Catholic, her faith no less.
The Church’s many scandals couldn’t kill
her heart’s still centre. I believe she’d bless
a Jack who’d wed a Jack, a Jill a Jill.
You say she’s voiceless now to say I’m wrong?
I’ll put my case. Read on. It’s not too long.
Point 1. Back then, I doubt Mum would have thought
that marriage was a right. More like a duty,
a sacrament, life sentence – though the sort
she had embraced. Outside it, rooty-tooty
[not her term] was forbidden. She was taught
that when you wed you’re locked, her nuptial beauty
(she wore her mother’s veil) proclaimed a life
henceforth not hers: five children’s mum, Dad’s wife.
When my first son was born some forty years
ago, we’d skipped the patriarchal rite.
She wouldn’t talk. No worse if I’d hurled spears
into her heart, it seemed rebellious spite.
But she might lose a son, her worst of fears.
‘Your baby’s in my prayers,’ she said one night,
and later (did a priest give her the nod?)
she said, ‘You’re married in the eyes of God.’
Heart led. Head followed as its mate,
not as its slave. Her reasoning was sound.
The sacrament needs neither priest nor state:
what’s sacred is the vows. And so the ground
had shifted. It was 1978.
And not just her. She asked her friends and found
her story echoed back. That coin was spent.
Non-marriage had become a non-event.
Point 2. A woman heard mass every day
in Innisfail for decades, but she never
took Communion: public price to pay
for marrying a man divorced. Whenever
Mum spoke of her, compassion steely-grey
and horror at the cruelty would hover
in her voice. The Church gave so much pain.
Thanks be to God the State was more humane.
Point 3. She rarely spoke of sex. She burned
her Female Eunuch (‘Why write about that?’).
She was in her fifties when she learned
that same-sex sex existed – in a chat
with youngest daughter. Memories now churned
to yield new meanings: like the nun who spat
such puzzling venom when two schoolgirls kissed
each other’s lips (they’d aimed for cheeks and missed).
Or Rod, the tenor star of Merry Widow, White Horse Inn in local Choral Soc:
she’d called him pompous, now knew he was ho-
mo-sexual – a wonder, not a shock.
To see his lover (male) he had to go
two hundred miles each way. She didn’t mock.
Lover? Not her word. Mate? Boyfriend? Friend?
The language failed her. Could it ever mend?
Of sixteen grandkids, two came out as queer.
The Church said they offended God above.
’Don’t shout it from the rooftops,’ said her fear,
but they were hers and when push comes to shove
head follows heart. Her heart’s deep idea:
Thou never shalt disown the ones you love.
She’d pray for them, part hoping they’d be cured,
most wishing for them happiness assured.
Point 4. The love and marriage song, the rhyme
with horse and carriage broken. Church and State:
you can have one without the other. Crime
if Church law hurts these children, but she’ll wait:
a pope will change it. State law: now’s the time –
the State asks her opinion – now that gate
can open. Put an end to this distress.
She’d opt for love, her love, and she’d tick Yes.
She’d sympathise with Abbott, I suppose,
and his split lip. She’d certainly abhor
Ben Law’s most famous tweet, and hold her nose,
but she’d tick Yes, Yes, Yes. Of that I’m sure.
Go little verse, more heavenly than prose,
float up to meet the eyes of Esme Shaw.
I hope, on reading it, not only she
but all the saints and angels would agree.
The first stanza is a true travel story. The second just went where it wanted to go.
A fortnight away (part four)
We found it still warm from its owner’s bum
in Monkey Forest Road, a wallet–phone
with cards ID and cash. Good luck! His name
was not John Smith. We tracked him down
on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram,
mailed his office, messaged, left no stone
unturned. He tweeted back. The lost was found.
We met – old friends, it felt – he bought a round.
What do tourists really want? Why would you
leave your land, your home, your friends, your kin?
For taksi, transport, massage, drink or food? You
must want more. The waft against your skin
of other gods? Ganesha’s charm has wooed you?
Some ads say ‘paradise’; some hint at sin.
Could you be here for Violet DNA,
the cure for everything? Or eat, love, pray?
It’s raining, so I get to add to my holiday verses. Part of the second stanza paraphrases a quote recalled from Michelle De Kretser’s The Hamilton Case:
The coloniser returns as a tourist, you see. And he is mad for difference. That is the luxury commodity we now supply, as we once kept him in cinnamon and sapphires.
The first stanza is the only example I witnessed of a tourist behaving really badly. Here goes:
A fortnight away (part three)
‘I’m not paying,’ he said, ‘for my beef
rendang. It came lukewarm. I took it out
and asked the cook to heat it up. Good grief!
“Cook it yourself,” he said. I didn’t shout,
but I was firm: “No, you. I’m not the chef!”
I think he might have pissed in it, the lout.
I didn’t eat it. He was rude to me.
So I won’t pay.’ Three-fifty AUD.
As colonisers first we came for spice
and now we’re back as tourists keen to see
your difference commodified. So nice
the offerings, incense, ‘selamat pagi‘,
the off-leash dogs, the terraced fields of rice
(your photogenic toil), your artistry
in wood and stone and ink and cloth and food.
We bring our cash. Forgive us when we’re rude.
Still in Bali, nowhere near meeting the goal of a stanza a day, but here’s a second instalment.
A fortnight away (part two)
On Saturday to Gunung Sari Legong:
a temple dance, dances of courtship, war,
a gender-fluid Kebyar Terompong,
the gamelan that carries us like straw
on water; last, spectacular Barong
and whirling Rangda red in tooth and claw.
Speaking fingers, doll-like lips and eyes,
all human, but in otherworldly guise.
In Ubud, signs say ‘Uber dilarang’,
‘Monkey Crossing Take Care of Your Stuff’
‘Italian Resto – Pizza, Nasi Goreng’
‘Coffee! Beer! Too much is not enough!’
‘Tourists’ top choice farma’. Yin to yang:
sweet trampled offerings. But the culture’s tough.
Small boys with kite on Monkey Forest Road.
Ganesha’s tusk is snapped. He’s still a god.
We’re in Bali for a couple of weeks. Rather than write home about it in prose, I’m taking the opportunity to practice rhyming. Here’s a first instalment.
A fortnight away We booked our trip online (oh please, no blame –
I know the globe is warming, but our gnarly
joints have given gip since winter came
so we bought pain relief: two weeks in Bali).
We hit a snag. When I’d typed in my name
it wasn’t what my passport said. Bizarrely,
it cost two hundred dollars to set right.
But phew! We got it changed, and made the flight.
A pair who honeymooned there thirty years
ago, said, ‘Stay away from tourists. That’s
what spoils it now.’ A woman close to tears
saves wildlife: monkeys, an iguana, cats
and dogs. The water’s free, they charge for beers
and food (it’s Virgin). Nearby inflight chats
are few – devices rule. In Denpasar
an hour in imigrasi, two by car
to Puri Suksma, Ubud. Every Wayan,
every Made, Nyoman, Ketut is
on the road, and this greenhorn Austrayan
has knuckles turning white as endless scooters
brush past on every side. I’m only sayin’
it looks and sounds like chaos, but a toot is
just to say, ‘I’m here.’ No rage, no lanes
keep order, just calm interactive brains.
Young man, who tore down Lord Street on your bike
and called my love a deaf old ugly dyke
because her body occupied a space
you wanted to traverse at lycra pace
(though you’d admit it was a narrow path
designed for walkers), you whose noisy wrath
resounded once you’d left her in your wake
until the lights at King Street made you brake,
you know, I’ve nothing much to say to you
except perhaps, Yah sucks bum piss, dog poo
and pubic hair. Our guava tree meanwhile
drops fruit as if it’s going out of style.
The tree won’t read this rhyme, nor I suppose
will you. Your droppings are a lot more on the nose.*
* Though I love the smell of guavas, other people say that to them it’s like a cross between vomit and excrement.
Previously in Y: Yorick, a 23 year old New Yorker escape artist, and Ampersand, a trainee-companion monkey, are the only two male mammals on earth to have survived a mysterious plague. They have teamed up with the woman known only as 355, who is a member of the Culper Ring, a mysterious organisation, and Dr Alison Mann, who has ben experimenting with clone technology and so has a good chance of ensuring a future for humankind. Dr Mann’s New York lab is blown up by Israeli operatives, and the three of them travel across the US to her West Coast lab where her back-up data is safe, encountering an assortment of female post-apocalyptic enemies and allies: the Israelis, a Russian operative, survivalists, escaped convicts making a new life, an astronaut, paranoid cowgirls. Yorick’s sister, Hero, has meanwhile joined a group of neo-Amazons who are fanatically and violently determined to erase all vestiges of the patriarchy. And Yorick has a personal mission, to meet up with his girlfriend Beth, who was in Australian when the plague hit and has since been out of contact.
The adventure continues in Book 3 with plenty of violence, and a modicum of sex. It turns out that the Australian navy had women active in submarines where the US did not. As a result a fully armed and dangerous Collins Class sub intercepts the ship taking our little band across the Pacific. Australia also comes to the fore as we get some of Beth’s story. There’s some deeply worrisome representations of Warlpiri culture (though you have to give Brian Vaughan credit for actually naming a people rather than giving us generic mystical ‘Aborigines’ like the ones in Werner Herzog’s Green Ant Dreaming).
Goran Sudžuka joins Pia Guerra in the pencilling, and to my untrained eye the seams are invisible.
In Book 4, Yorick, Dr Mann and agent 335 reach Australia, which isn’t a happy place, though there’s plenty of amusing US attempts at Australian slang, and some cheerful sex and one bit of comic full frontal male nudity (poor Yorick is drawn looking all heroic on the covers, but doesn’t fare so well in the actual stories).
We also get the back stories of a number of characters, and lectures on the status of women that in any other context might be tediously didactic, but here have a certain charm. For example, there’s a key plot point when two capuchin monkeys escape from their cages in an airport. This is how we see it:
And the reader responds by secretly cheering for the ‘gendercide’ that is to come. Similar moments, such as a short debate about whether the mistreatment of women in the Catholic Church was perpetrated solely by men, or whether women might have been pretty bad as well, turn out to be important to the plot.
Then in Book 5 it all comes together – or apart, depending on your point of view. Yorick finds Beth and their reunion turns out pretty much as the discerning reader might have expected. There’s another romance that also turns out pretty much as expected, though in a way that surprised and, yes, shocked me. In fact, the working out of all the plot strands is almost at the level of Shakespearean comedy. Of the many hypotheses that have been floated about the cause of the catastrophe, the one that is finally given may not be realistic but it fits the world of the story better than any other: at least grounds have been laid for it.
It all ends happily for the human race, though almost literally up in the air for Yorick himself.
One more note: It seems that if it is to succeed commercially, a comic series is required to have a certain amount of sex and violence. Y does that. It also manages to be witty, literate and occasionally instructive. Yorick and his sister Hero were named after Shakespearean characters by their nerdy parents. When it seems one woman is going to have to spend time in hospital, Yorick draws up a reading list for her – Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is at the top of the list. It’s similarly refreshing that one of the characters becomes President in the final pages but not, it turns out, of the USA: in this US comic, other countries exist.
And let me burst into verse, for the second last time this November. Extra points for readers who spot the Bill Haley reference.
November Verse 13: On Reading Y: The Last Man Alas poor Yorick, last man standing! Two male mammals left alive on earth, just him and Ampersand, an ape, his kind-of pet. These five thick comic books by Vaughan and Guerra, amuse and tease, prompt pity, terror. A single man left on the ground, three billion women all around. But here’s no superhero fiction, no Bacchanal or things more blue, no Warhol shooter’s dream come true, no earnest SF clone prediction, just good fun: the men are dead, that’s sad, but what a watershed!
When you’re casting about for a subject suitable for rhyme and a deadline has just whizzed past, there’s always the TV news.
November Verse 12:
Pauline took some journos diving
with senators and camera crews.
She said the Reef will soon be thriving:
so much for the lying views
of scientists and their self-serving
leftwing UN undeserving
dupes; if you dive deep enough
you’ll see that coral’s much more tough
than warmists claim. And here’s the kicker:
the ABC led with this story
and called it news, dragged out a hoary
beige-clad chap to contradict her.
A joke? But headlining this prank
makes other ‘sceptics’ seem less rank.
With a screenplay by the director based on Oscar Wilde's play, this works well as a movie, even with all the stage business of doors opening and closing and deliberately left ajar. All the principal actors are wonderful: CAte Blanchett, Minnie Driver, Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore, Jeremy Northam.
I read a couple of the essays in this when they first appeared in the Weekend Australian, and was delighted to receive the book as a Christmas gift. I hope it will make me less ignorant about contemporary Australian poetry.