Around the world in 18 ways

 

Selected poems

 

 

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?

 

 

Decryption

I crossed the border of my overcrowded birth country

alive with anticipation after decades of absence.

Rooftops, dark vaults, slid past the train window.

this rainswept return caused my breath to riot,

memories tremors in phantom limbs

during years I felt were a waste, a regret.

Travelling back to my grim childhood district

forsaken for emigration to an arid land,

the misery of the past's crooked ways,

signalled the irony of fait accompli rather than fairytale.

Belongings sold, cost of passage all I could pay,

this midlife crisis nagging in my half-breed's belly,

I guarded my kitbag, frugal, alert, excited,

in a low-ceilinged pub, nursing ale, accent noticed.

 

Each life is a mystery, death the only certainty

in the refuge of small towns' cautious clusters.

He reads in safety by a window, thoughts flickering

to a time he struck out on a personal odyssey

before his spirit of adventure withered, jaded.

He bookmarks the page, looks out as if across a chasm,

not at his neighbour mowing, but blackened hovels

seen through rain, survivors of war, of loss.

A tremor of memory calls up sweat forgotten,

intimacy left behind in a dark, sorrowful landscape.

He trawls for clues to his lone wolf life now,

those ectopic days, their profound effect pivotal,

this man with ink stains on his fingers who reads,

looks back, puzzled, scratching imaginary itches.]

 

 

  • In the swamp now (2)

    In an industrial zone a decade after he left school

    an unskilled workman, 24, takes on Year 10 English,

    evening shadows stark beyond the windows,

    classmates mostly teenage apprentices needing a smoke

    sprawled at desks for work requirements.

     

    There by choice, he feels old, knowing, yet

    wisdom remains a blitzkrieg of years away.

    Volatility, a word overheard coupled with his name,

    pools around since a flammable childhood

    with him trapped in the woe of labyrinthine days.

     

    A tattooed elder statesman in this rogues gallery,

    he would bang heads for quiet but chills vexation

    when the teacher presents a poem by Harley Matthews,

    ex-WW1 Digger, idealist, vigneron, recluse,

    lamenting progress destroying what was once perfect.

     

    Phrasing of the silence after a frog's midnight poem

    awakens a dormant truth, a disturbance.

    Encouraged to write 250 words, the class groans,

    except for him, a salmon surging upstream.

    On the threshold, he creams the paper, both exams.

     

    Overtime rates pay bills. He quits classes.

    Crises lurk, scars to inflict and to bear,

    but unforgotten lessons hover, a dragonfly

    surveying a swamp to which he shall be drawn,

    fleeing steel's discordant clang, those acrid fumes.

     

    On his wetlands walk, a protected wildlife refuge,

    he rests, sore, reads in bruised light of a battle,

    turning pages on old unhappy scorched things

    in orchestral silence, swans, pelicans, attendant,

    etched memory, distant highway's echoes, eroding

 

 

Ian C. SmithIan C. Smith lives in the Gippsland Lakes region of Victoria. His work has appeared in Australian Book Review, Australian Poetry Journal, foam:e, Rabbit Journal, the Weekend Australian and Westerly. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy.

Topic tags: Poetry, Ian C. Smith

 

 

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