The last year


Travel talk
at the Country Women's Association

For my mother

You asked for so little, I agreed:
a talk for your oldest friends — craftswomen;
makers of gingerbread, jam rolls, winged cupcakes;
sponsors of good works at home and abroad.
The topic: Austria. Though my visit there
had been years before, I felt jetlagged,
in a dead-meat tiredness. Fronting up
with notes desperately cribbed from Go Europe
I knew I'd found the right place: a poster of alps,
travel books heaped high; and, dangling from a hook
behind where I would stand, some lederhosen.
I so wanted not to disappoint,
tried to translate myself, bumbled through
like Joseph Cotton in The Third Man.

At question time, someone asked if
the streets had been full of water. I took a detour,
punted us all down gold canals shimmering
with cupolas, pink-marble facades.
The spread was, but of course, revelatory.
There were Danish pastries — scenes from Aarhus
sped past my eyes — and scones, still warm,
crowned with glorious jam and glorious cream.
(I'd often travelled through Devonshire.)
That whipped cream, and the meringue above
lemon heaven, shone like snow on alps
as, to avoid small talk, I ate furiously,
believing I could hear — like some phantom
echo within my mind — the sound of music.


I've kept — for well-intentioned years that stretched
to decades — the glasses that tracked our eyes' journeys.
I handle, first, the hard cases — a lacquered
red, and black, a coppery rose; squeeze
spring-mouthed sheaths of vinyl, grey or navy,
and this one, yours, a tapestried pouch.

Inside them, plastic frames — floridly
winged; squarely wide-eyed — too uncool
to rate as retro. The lenses rimmed with gold,
with titanium, slide out easily —
small, intellectual.
          Will each pair find a match
when sent to Zambia, say, or Laos? —
someone ready to embrace a strange and bold
clarity, her gaze framed in a surprise.

We looked at each other across rooms
in these relics — behind masking glazes,
how many untold stories? And there were times
when it seemed I was known utterly —
that held gaze sustaining as
a hand pressed against the spine.
                         We traversed
the last, shared years with pragmatic grace,
growing more, and less, short-sighted together.

Near the end, you left off wearing glasses,
believed you saw better without them.
Who was I to contest that? We watched
TV programs, differently.
But the window birds stayed the same for you,
quick in the vine rooted beneath the house.

The last year

In answer to his words, the cliff opened its mouth — it yawned — it gaped.
Where there had been solid rock there was suddenly ...
               — Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

They'd stopped by then, your half-filled crosswords
with their fey surmises — inspired leaps
from the backs of routine clues: 'a diving bird' —
awk, or garnet; 'biting insect' — flee ...
keys not quite fitting, yet somehow turning
the lock ... I glimpsed alcoves of dusty treasure:
kris — 'Malayan dagger'; obi —
'a Japanese sash'; écus — 'old French coins'.

You summoned bird names from the air —
rhea, erne; had the secrets of ponds and streams
at your fingertips: eft, orfe, and elver;
were versatile: 'Twelve to Nero' — X-I-I;
solved in a trice the double clues:

'open', 'small seeds'; six letters.
                 You would have got that.


Diane FaheyDiane Fahey's The Wing Collection and The Stone Garden were shortlisted for major poetry awards in Australia in 2012 and 2014. She has won the Newcastle Poetry Prize, the Wesley Michel Wright Award, and the ACT Judith Wright Poetry Prize. A House by the River is forthcoming from Puncher & Wattmann in March 2016.

Topic tags: Diane Fahey, poetry



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Existing comments

Immensely touching: the loving evocation of all those small details that carry such weight and meaning.

Gillian | 19 January 2016  

What rich poems, Diane: full of zest, ernes and elvers. I look forward to your book. Jolly new year, Chris

Chris Wallace-Crabbe | 22 January 2016  

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