Pro bono prodigal



Selected poems




It's not the trees, the tall lemon-scented eucalyptus under which his mower released aromas of spring year-round, or the stout, spreading old peach boughs from where, before it died of old age, one lad fell like Icarus through leaves dappling the sun, this boy's youngest brother one day old in hospital where they visited that morning before returning in the afternoon for plaster of Paris, their mother wondering why they were back so soon; or the jacaranda's hard aromatic wood, blue blooms like a painting caressing the big window next to their solid dining-table where he and that day-old baby a dozen years on received a shock from a lightning strike felt through its polished walnut. It's not the glory grape vine , large leaves brushing his open window two metres from his pillowed head where he read and wrote while the hours ate his life. It's not the towering golden cypresses under which they buried, aptly, cats, dogs, and even a horse. It's not the outside buildings, grey palings warped, the big ramshackle barn of cracked weatherboards where those boys set up their own TV/games room, or the former outside laundry where tools and dated items that might come in handy but never did, shaded by avocado trees grown from composted pits, ideal for breathless hide-and-seeks, those phantom figures flitting in, on, behind, and up those beloved trees and outbuildings. It's something else he misses that stabs his old heart. It's the door frame of dressed timber where he measured their height, etching biroed figures ever rising into tough, unforgiving gloss paint he misses the most of all the things you can't take with you when it comes time for sojourns to end.




Self-pity disguised as love tiptoeing in with the plash, the smell of rain, or a crosshatched ink sketch of a gaunt pier, or the sky's famous late fade from blue, regret resonating deep in the maw, hens scratching, a flagged kitchen floor. Sounds prompt it; think foghorns, the knelling of distant bells, listen to One Fine Day, or Satie's lonely piano. Love's old dance induces it, too; those movies over the years with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy ageing like once good ideas, and certain books, always. Enter an attic's dead air, or stare into firelight's glimmer alone of a winter's evening.

School yearbooks, citations of success, stained letters, attract its churn, the scent of lavender, birthday paper lanterns strung between pale birch boughs. Solitude fertilises it; a friend's caravan, the bliss of footprints tracking a beach; expired passports, even quiz questions can draw you towards its abyss. As for the dead's origins, tread with care venturing there. Journeying to rooms left behind invites it of course, so linger on streets busy with strangers, ambushed by tears' pricking, the past's fierce heat reduced. Within silences' enclosures daydreams frolic and frisk, time's trips seductive, robbing you of here, right now, memory the culprit, that faculty so dear.



Pro bono prodigal

Wandering out of sorts around the lake, my thoughts backward now there is more past than future, I see a boy and girl on a school day wearing uniforms I recognise from when my son arranged his to resemble the garb of an urchin. There are no schoolmates, no other people at this top end of the lake where wattle flaunts its golden age reflected in glossy stillness, just us, no sound but birdsong. They sit close, sun glinting off the water, pelicans preening, then glance fiercely in my direction, so I veer away, leave them to their stolen hours of young love.

My thoughts trace my son's school years, that time gone now, his romance with the mayor's daughter starting at fourteen, her fifteen, lasting on and off for years, how he always seemed older, mistaken sometimes as his big brother's senior. I heard he set a dubious record for being 'caught' out of uniform, his reports echoing the frustration of teachers with popular wastrels.

Climbing the hill to the football ground, its roar quietened, where teammates valued him in the hubbub but some coaches, fathers, not mothers, disapproved, I feel vague guilt to do with the winding stair of my own life, wretched school shenanigans, also, limp support of his irksome school, its slavish imitation of Oxbridge, High Anglican rites, shrewd business. He scraped into tertiary study, setting off for a rural university outpost, the shared house, living his lovable larrikin role, typecast.

Fathers' Day passed with no call from him, living in a distant city now with a young woman we all love, who adores him, his silence a worry worm rubbing my edges as I drive home recalling his joyous news of earning a second interview with a boutique inner city law firm though still working online to improve his meagre qualifications. Knowing he missed out on the job, I conjecture disappointment might have sired his silence.

Key still in the door, I hear my landline. It is him. I am struck by the wonder of hearing the voice of someone loved, its power to whisk away woebegone thoughts like a beach hat before the wind. We discuss his failed application positively, he indulging me as we roam across sports results, savouring the moment when he pierces me with news. He has won a position assisting a lawyer as his clerk in court, working in a hard-scrabble migrant area downtown. I shall attend his graduation soon, a day long coming, yet too quickly come for me, this beating heart.



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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Existing comments

Beautiful, poignant. Thank you.
Pauline | 16 July 2019

WOW! When I read the first 40 or so words of Pro bono prodigal I read them again, and again, telling myself: That's SO poetic!" And then I find that, yes, it's a poem.
Paul Smith | 16 July 2019

This is the first descriptive and contemplative prose that I have read which indeed transcends prose and has become fantastic poetry.
john frawley | 16 July 2019

More than a wisp of holiness in that trinity. Thanks, Ian.
Joan Seymour | 16 July 2019


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