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Learning how to die


Sunday afternoon perambulation Khanyana 
I stepped out up above the stream on the green grass
that grows on top of the steep river bank between
shepherded goats and a tethered cow, the afternoon
sun following the rain, the water running dark from
up in the Himalayas as sweat ran into my eyes. The old
man let me into his low laid dry stone walled mill. In the
roaring dark driven by the diverted river, the stone mill
ground out the flour, the inside stone walls and steps and
wall like dusted scones and ghostly from the white powder.
He indicated the waiting grain, the bags of produce now
soft and dumpy, awaiting delivery on spindly unlikely
thin legs, it was pride in his task and handiwork. Up river
from the School for Refugees the small mill worked each
afternoon, rattling clear above the whooshing river in the
deep gorge, ancient tasks to meet the deep hunger of the
body and the soul. I stepped out for a coffee where Dilip,
[Lt Col. Retd] would make me a brew with his electric grinder
in the new coffee house. The sweat dribbled down the valley
of my back as I made my ascent from the old to the new,
picking my way through the stones of the road and from
one era to the next. The dry stone wall up near the bridge
displayed the ancient skills as the stones were brought up
from the river bed and each placed delicately put in its place
and time by the patient crouched stonemasons, whilst their
families sat and watched, the women picking their own goat
path up from the river bearing their contribution to the
growing wall. The chosen men pick and split and lay flat the stones
all interlocked like the families. I sat and had a hesitant
conversation with Dilip out on the terrace, the army man
with the carefully pressed decorum as I dipped biscotti
brought in from Delhi and became part of the changes.
As a bat makes parabolas in the dusk, arcs

and loops the mind cannot harness, but

simply wonder at, so too the meanderings of

this man's mind. Sometimes his brush will

touch the surface, and maybe again, and then

some patterns will be caught in tones and

shapes for marvelling. Sometimes a confused

bird will hit the window and leave a brief wing

pattern on the glass, a rare image from nature,

one that cannot be replicated easily. So too his

canvasses, rare that they are, become images of

nature with an ironic twist of form or

colouration from the master — for he is no

journeyman, this spreader and dobber of paint,

whose surety of line and form belies the sometimes

timorous heart and the self deprecation, that

leaves his brushes unattended for too long

between tube squeezing and energetic forays.

At my lessons
Learning how to die creeps up on you,
image by image, until you come to
understand the signs. I can count probably
no more winters than I have fingers, and
no longer clench my fist to avoid counting.
This is all about probability I tell myself,
but know the odds are shortening each night
when I finally relent and put head to pillow
in the early hours. I have hovered above
my death bed to see who would call by. The
old people in the mortuary silence of the
doctor's waiting room, rehearse the look,
the patois, become familiar with the creeping
symptoms, the medicines of resistance, the
gentle small steps on the way. I have imagined
lying there and slowly going through the
cat scan tunnel that is the umbilical between
now and then. Polanski had Macbeth
momentarily seeing the jeering faces, Lean
had Thomas More suddenly seeing blackness.
Survivors of building falls tell of seeing their
life flash before them. I have already begun to
divest myself of the trappings, letting books
unreturned remain so, letting friends drift away
if they choose, trying to see every day as a prize
and each sunrise as a new experience to be explored
and touched and smelt in the art of discovery. No
I am not born again, not lost in doing good for
others, just a student maybe distracted, lost in his own,
lost on his own, waiting for the chalk to screech across
the blackboard for a moment of understanding.

Tony LondonTony London is a retired teacher and school principal who now divides his time between his writing and an olive grove on the south coast of Western Australia. He is involved in the local volunteer fire brigade and acts as an educational consultant with some interests in India.


Topic tags: new australian poems by Tony London, Sunday afternoon perambulation Khanyana, AP and At my lessons



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Existing comments

Tony, I love your use of language - the visual pictures you words paint so deftly. And as with all good 'art,' found I could slip easily into the miniature worlds of your making, challenged and delighted to be there.

helga Jones | 20 April 2010  

Tony London..so much truth put with so much
beauty...i haven't shed a tear for ages, but this was just too beautiful, I am encouraged to read more of what you have written. Thank you.
Thank you also Helga, for your comment which also, said it like I felt it.

LESLEY ARCHER | 20 April 2010  

Come on Tony you can do better then feel sorry for yourself!

You are to live each day not get all morose on us.

Peter | 20 April 2010  

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