The original orphan


Old man's face















Coogee Beach

Languorous corporation of hazed consciousness,
basking collective sprawled
in undulant, pendulous embodiment,
contoured in sand, or ambling to water's edge ...
the limp pennant of bright towel marking each place.
A sacrament of sorts, when blessed by these elements,
baptised in brine, posing turns innocent
and all is forgiven —
though capering kids agitate the truce
by throwing stuff, and tongues of foam hiss
envious of this prone and pacific state:
left with nothing, not even the clothes on our backs —
all survivors from the ordeal of going in,
stiff-kneed against the undertow,
pummelled by a good natured surf —
then dumped, and dragged into higher consciousness
oblivious to city streets and long dry roads;
then to wade out in a daze
to hug the promised land,
noses running salt water, sharing this hour
as no friends or strangers could —
every body on Coogee Beach.



The century dies
with too many deaths ...
I survived, I think —
though a refugee
from a succession of grey Utopias,
even if now hesitantly naturalised
in this present place.
Still, you learn something
from the crash-course of history;
mostly irony — after being
ill-prepared, late, and too often wrong.
But now, what makes me hesitate
beyond clear borders of love and hate,
is a gentle Jew.



Poor old fellow,
angular, pinched awkward man,
taut and pink-faced,
like a preserved quince;
shrewd and sensitive despite his endless chatter:
even now, the original orphan
left at every doorstep;
Everyone hesitates to take him in,
wincing at his eagerness,
and protecting conversation
from his fantastic interruptions,
his perverse skill in missing every point.
His need is to construct the world
in every instant from the start:
recently he discovered the name of his mother,
long dead, and found some brothers,
and the strange world of blood relations ...
Now a gush of communication
after the long legal amnesia,
he reports a big barbecue
to celebrate the discovery
of belonging after all:
the heat is off us now —
unless, of course, you take him
as a parable ...


Other owners

Often around the bend of the river
mostly in early morning and at evening,
wandering amongst the flowering gums along the banks,
surprising improbably bright parrots,
I have a sense that this, all this
is still known, owned by invisible others —
catching me midway between some feeble praise,
and expatriate envy of those who knew by belonging ...
as they dwelt in reverence's vast,
tender accumulation
of a whole world beyond me;
As I stare untutored at flower, and tree,
and at places where animals are supposed to be,
I know they saw;
and breathed what I glimpse,
and danced what I clumsily survey.
— I am where they were made to disappear;
still animating the place, I think,
still in cosmic dreaming ...
and I mourning absence
or sensing presence,
beyond the reach of politics,
in this teeming, shifting seeming.



They were twins, this strange pair,
very hard to tell apart:
they lived not far away
in a great old shambling house
at the very end of our longest street.
They had a funny trick of startling neighbours
with a sudden cry of recognition;
or, one of them, waiting in the dark,
would surprise some passer-by
by jumping out to ask, 'Which am I?'
Despite their bad reputation
with the older folks,
with all this nonsense and endless jokes,
there is no harm in them really.
Only this evening we talked:
having just returned after some time away,
I asked them about old friends.
Their eyes brightly met:
'They're safe and doing well:
so and so bought a farm and had a drought,
another became famous and was then found out;
this one was strong despite the heart that failed,
but the other prospered after being gaoled ...
Then, there was Jack who loved Jill,
but Jill loved Will
which proved quite a problem until ... well,
Look, there is so much to tell
and it is early yet —
(they seemed so delighted that we'd met)
come inside and talk some more:
No, its not too late!'
So, the darker one opened the garden gate,
and the other, so much fairer, laughing led me
along the path to a great ancient door.


Strange universe

The evil is too much
of course,
beyond all measure.
But of late —
was it the winter sun this Melbourne afternoon?
Or that old fellow helping
that long-haired, limping girl?
Or the lilied tranquillity
and the bell-birds
of the Yarra billabong
exploding in the laughter of two kookaburras? —
I have begun to take
great pleasure
in this strange universe.

Tony KellyTony Kelly's main writing over the years has been in the field of theology. He continues as a professorial fellow at Australian Catholic University, and has been a member of the International Theological Commission for the last ten years. He has also written hymns with Christopher Willcock, SJ. Read Tony's paper Poetry, and the Language of Faith in Australia.

Old man image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Tony Kelly, poetry



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Existing comments

"this strange universe". In my family I have twins who will be starting their schooling next year at St Anthony's.
Pam | 29 July 2014

Methinks that these beautiful poems really have to be heard aloud, rather than just be read. As I re-read them for a third time, I heard another voice within me... the rich, deep, sonorous baritone of the professor himself, enunciating each syllable with the gravitas and complexity it deserved. He has the ability to charm, enliven and enlighten, to make you laugh, and make you aware of a deeper perspective in everyday realities. Yes - if you have a chance, grab him, sit him down, and have him read his poems aloud to you. They will transform you.
Yuri | 29 July 2014


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