Brother of a suicide and war dead

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Dreaming America

Read, curved across carpet like a cat,
then, later, in lunch breaks, short-term flights.
Absorb American struggle,
Steinbeck Dos Passos Faulkner,
& on atmospheric evenings
see film adaptations of those books.

Transport yearning abroad,
daydreams drift into night dreams
& you sling your hook with longshoremen,
share views with an unshaven priest
who demands a beer & workers' rights
on a poverty-shrouded waterfront.

Seize your chance under Vegas neon,
run numbers, survive on actors' charm,
stroll Atlantic City's boardwalk,
Lucky between lips, ready rebel.
Be alone & broke
but high on hope & adventure.

Now wake to an absence of jet-lag
& movies that repeat themselves
like a fog of factory hours,
American glamour dumbstruck.

This world spins towards old age
faster than belief, faster than silence,
faster than turned pages of a book,
a narrative about life or death.

Familial fugue

My late uncle, a baritone, never married
referred obliquely to missed cues.
I thought I heard his young singer's voice
when he offered me glimpses of the past.
He seemed strung too tightly, carping
about bad government, false glory of Empire
but then, he was rain-wrapt British
brother of a suicide and war dead.
His father apparently loved a singalong
playing his instruments with enthusiasm.
At the piano our mustachioed patriarch
resembled an ex-career army sergeant
summoned to subdue the locals, a man
who loved to hear a bugle pierce the dawn.

The baritone's mother quoted Shakespeare
preferred her husband to their children
placing her faith in him, gin, and ghosts
a fervid aura about her at séances.
Who knows what she made of Hamlet?
When she turned up breast cancer's card
she hugged her suffering to herself.
Downstairs, her husband conducted
the faint exquisite strings of Havanaise
accompanying her visions of the afterlife.

Ironic greetings from my youngest aunt
the last of them, come at Christmas
that crack-patching time for families.
She was attracted to blues musicians
but is alone now, trapped in old age's web.
She stars in family lore for pointing
a carving knife at her father's heart
told him if he tried to thrash her
the way he thrashed those poor ivories
he'd wish he'd not survived The Somme.
She could have included The Blitz
a loving wife, four sons, dead comrades.

500 Rummy

They played with two packs, jokers wild
barefooted, sunburnt in the lamplight
this clan by the beach of a turbulent sea.
Nobody could shuffle and deal
so the father, off the grog, shell-less
went round in circles, cards flying
snarling at them to pay attention.
One might reach for the discard pile
take a chance on a bait-stained handful
then watch the winner go out with a shout.
Caught with your pants down, they'd chortle.
A king of spades, beard curling, looked sad
for a family man on holiday.
You could tell that if he used that sword
to punish some poor hapless subject
it would be for the common good.
A queen of hearts looked like Ann Boleyn
on the way to her own execution
clutching a posy of forget-me-nots
wondering what happened to romance.
Two jokers sat on crescent moons
leering down through binoculars
prankster gods bemused by the in catchphrases
their deft mental arithmetic, the way
the suits always ended up together.

Ian C. SmithIan C. Smith lives in the Gippsland Lakes region of Victoria. His work has appeared recently in The Best Australian Poetry, Cordite, Island, Sleepers Almanac, Southerly and Westerly. His most recent book is Lost Language of the Heart published by Ginninderra. 

Topic tags: new australian poems, Ian C. Smith



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'Familial fugue' is a corker. Does emotional displacement so succinctly & subtly. So familiar a family scenario, though of course with it's own stink of particularity, and so compassionately observed. Thank you so much, Ian.
Frances | 12 July 2011


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