Breath fanned cigarettes, lit candles
shadow-dancing around walls
the glow beneath their ash flaring
like his illness now, then receding.
Memories discrete, hers unknown
his as vivid as blood on parchment
the only documents of their time
treachery tumult happiness hope.
Maddening fits of loneliness
trawl his brain through landmark dates
reliving tardy decisions, mistakes
the satirist in him self-abusive.
At this abyss of abbreviated old age
he wishes he could light those candles
head bowed to breathless lungs
with her again in that smoky room.
Peering through binoculars
at a yacht rounding a wreck site
he sees a man step to the stern
then a woman emerges from below.
A silent theatre in the round.
He tries to imagine their conversation.
She could be a self-taught navigator
her horizon limitless because
she doesn’t want to linger alone
regret mistakes, grow old, and worse.
Let’s face it, all journeys must end.
She has brewed coffee in their cosy galley
and when they drop anchor tonight
she might rest her head on his shoulder.
He will smell her hair, light a cigarette
lay his hand on her warm hip.
Lowering the binoculars he sees
a black cloud scudding their way
shadowing the water which trembles.
(Don’t) read all about it
In this small and backward nation
I rose from alarm-shattered dreams
rode ambitious past milk still in glass
rebel’s cigarette sparking in the wind
insides of knees scraping in rhythm
against bulk classified pages
thick slabs of Saturday’s Ages.
Although naïve about print’s potential
I studied the form guide, as did a boy
who would stick close to home writing books
crafting sentences about his childhood.
I delivered his dad’s rolled up reading
digestible news in the tabloid Sun
the popular choice on my run.
A man exposed himself, his breathing ragged
so I reported this hot news to my mum.
In court our local C. of E. minister
who bored us with R. I. at school
swore on the Bible the man was asthmatic
a problem I had not linked to sex crimes
when I hurriedly left his Weekly Times.
OK, the past’s barking dogs shape us
so why this sense of missing out
when I return to that shrunken scene
barely able to mount a bicycle, sure
dim lights of milk bars a memory
like protecting the frail and not skiting
a fair go and mature handwriting.
What about the slow poison of unlived lives?
Sports heroes should only impress children
ditto advertising's narratives of joy
light through feathers dancing in air
bread and circuses for the hoi polloi.
Too much pulp mediocrity awaits
in the dawn of our days at our front gates.
What he has worn
Nappies, presumed, the beginning — end?
His big sister's stolen knickers.
A hated raincoat left at school
the mean belting for forgetting it.
Uniforms, a hard kid sadness
shoe polish on blonde sideburns
a crimson James Dean jacket.
Newspaper to combat the cold
a mouthguard, his girl's mascara
the hair shirts of love's regret.
Nonchalant expressions (he hoped)
deflecting embarrassment's arrows
— yet long pale socks for golf
with matched high shorts and scores.
Boxing gloves, crash helmet, skis
an eye patch, rings, a red nightshirt
a tablecloth, jocks over tights
party-bound through braking traffic.
Cap and gown and calumny
the consequences of his actions
desertion, wounding words, and worse.
Spiderwebs, gardening alone, early
sunscreen, suede safety boots
two front teeth on a plate
glasses, goggles, wedding suits
condoms, headphones, many a bruise
plaster casts, welding and other masks
and since he was sixteen, fading tattoos.
Ian C Smith lives near the Gippsland Lakes region in south-eastern Australia with his wife and their four young sons. He has published two books of verse, These Fugitive Days, and This Is Serious. He donated the ms of This Is Serious to The Bridge Foundation.