“You’re learning now that you do not inhabit a solid, reliable, social structure — that the older you get people around you are worried, moody, goofy human beings who themselves were little kids only a few days ago. So home can fall apart and schools can fall apart, usually for childish reasons, and what have you got? A space wanderer named Nan.
And that’s O.K. I’m a space wanderer named Kurt, and Jane’s a space wanderer named Jane, and so on. When things go well for days on end, it is an hilarious accident.
You’re dismayed at having lost a year, maybe, because the school fell apart. Well — I feel as though I’ve lost the years since Slaughterhouse-Five was published, but that’s malarky. Those years weren’t lost. They simply weren’t the way I’d planned them. Neither was the year in which Jim had to stay motionless in bed while he got over TB. Neither was the year in which Mark went crazy, then put himself together again. Those years were adventures. Planned years are not.”
– Kurt Vonnegut, in a letter to his daughter Nanette
My beloved nemesis… Joy Street will be my masterpiece. A novel, an Australian gothic novel even, set in the 1960’s and 70’s and based loosely on my crazy family history. Dark themes that will need warnings on the cover, literary aesthetic, and a feminist retelling of a story about four sisters who grew up in a loving home, only to face monstrosity once they stepped out onto the footpath of their state owned street. I was fifteen when I declared I would wait until I was forty before I wrote Joy Street and I was forty-one when I enrolled in a writing degree. Joy Street deserves my best. Watch this space.
Part one – Love Child
O’Brother I was ten
When I had a live doll in you
To bath and walk and pat
The navy and steel perambulator
With white walled tyres
And the white crocheted blanket
You were supposed to be the love child
Of an old marriage.
A babe taking meds before he was born
A Mother with a thin grasp
A Father who would go to the end of
She was spared your death
But not him, or me.
A surprise gift of genetics
That I missed
Came your way at twenty odd
So we grieved for you
As we did for her,
And while you searched conspiracies
Through imaginary means
And got more troublesome
And less reasonable
O’Brother we said.
Part two – Questions
You could sing and paint
(Houses) and dance but
You could talk with wit.
And still did
Sometimes a bit.
So many different friends
Sought you out
And the same old ones.
He loved you so!
O’ (poor) Father!
He listened to you but thrice
From behind his closed door
While you demanded privacy
From behind yours.
Wailing, wall thumping
Why me! O’ why me.
A man still at home.
A twisted fog parted
Just for an hour or so
By chance or by some
A job won and lost in a
Single morning, and again
And again. Was that it?
Aided by a toxic salad
Prescribed by empathic scientists
Can we call it clarity?
So rare a state it has no name
Imbued with tortuous threads
Like a vine in a season not recognised.
A stranger in the mirror
Gone to seed perhaps? but failing
To begin again.
Could that be the goal?
O’ Brother. Why you?
Part three – The Elegy
For weeks now
My body revs
Like a car fishtailing
On a dark empty
Fear the impact
For the shattered shell
Repel the task
And suffer from the effort
It gives up.
A scalpel on the scab.
I still feel sick, sicker even
For the swallowed sobs
As I write
Are like too many great bowls
Of vanilla ice cream
You once loved.
A glutton gorged on grief
Who will read it?
Part four – Coming of Age
O’Father, share a drink
With your brother
Who married in a kilt.
The amber liquid
Of old country—
It’s your friend today
I bought you a special bottle
Drink and drown
Just this day.
Tonight is truly your
Turn to wail
And you do.
Like an alpine wolf
In the suburbs, at an ambulance,
Death is your composer
Your talent preordained.
The old Celtics are here
Echoing through your kin
Keeping you company
While you sing.
I sit in frozen grimace.
Sober but trying not to vomit.
Your brother’s wife
My stalwart today –
We remain in the kitchen.
Your door is wide open
And while I cower inwards
And let it be,
My sons are holding you up
Part five – The Eulogy
I stepped out according to
The day at hand,
The sun only three fifths
Risen, streaming up and out
From just below the horizon
In a parting of the trees
In thick symmetrical opaque bands
Like a festival poster
Highlighting the underbellies
Of the white tufts, a smattering of
Clouds from a toy story sky
Pulled apart and grown up;
So beautiful so unreal I knew at once
It was from you.
Just three and a half hours
After writing for you.
It came with your message
You got it done, good job, thank you.
I didn’t hear you exactly
You were too far away
Or everywhere, part of the sky
It punched my chest
July 17th, 2015
Empty Nest you say? I think you’re mistaken. That phrase belongs to that moment in time when you saw your fluffy little chicks off to school. This is so much more.
You once marveled at how cute they looked in a uniform and with a heart ready to burst you waved goodbye. The oversized backpack marched off full of importance. You may have turned around with an invisible elbow punch to your thigh or if you needed to earn a living – went to work guilt free. Knowing all the while that you would pick them up at 3.00pm and continue to micro manage them, shaping their little souls and being amused at their emerging personalities and proud of their achievements.
Now they are driving around independently, they have friends you don’t know, and when you see them off at the airport you know its only going to fuel the desire to travel. You may lose them for years. They are no longer yours to manage. You find yourself breathing so shallow that if something else distracted you—you worry you may forget to breathe altogether. There is a disconnection and it threatens to undo that sense of purpose you only discovered was possible when you had your chicks in the first place.
When they were born and during those first few years you occasionally contemplated about your past life and tried to remember what motivated you. Then life got so busy you forget to reflect and plan. You may perceive that you are multi dimensional but your first characteristic, the thing that defines you the most – is that you are a parent.
You might be in your forties. You feel like a teenager again without the invincibility. There is peril everywhere for them and for you. Your path is uncertain. Here’s hoping, you are only halfway there – so what the hell happens now?
July 6th, 2015
I hope that you can grieve for your husband in the same way that you would if a stranger had murdered him and had been brought to swift and appropriate justice and showed deep remorse for his actions.
I hope that you can grieve for your son, for his drug use, his addiction, his mental health past, present and in the future, and the calamity he has brought upon himself – as if he had murdered a stranger who had no ties.
I hope that you can separate these two, long-term for both are burdens enough to bear and to reconcile these grievances’ is beyond comprehension for any mere mortal.
Finally I hope, that on reflecting upon the relationship between your husband and your son, as we all would upon a husbands natural death, that you keep close to your heart the idea that they both coveted a reconnection of spirit and loving bond, for how can a father and son not?
Know that please, it was only the scourge on our society that irreparably damaged this possibility and we the Australian public, football followers and others, grieve with you. Let us make ICE the dirtiest word that ever existed and maybe our youth will steer clear.
(I’ve made assumptions here and I apologise for any offence this may cause. I wrote this as an emotional reaction to an event as it was portrayed on our screens, which I acknowledge should never be accepted as the full truth.)
Your quiet absence
Tiptoed to the cold tiles.
But I was inside of myself
The agitated light
Bounces out unheard,
And the origin of time,
Sound rendered obsolete as
Evil collects the absence
Another missing compass
For memory to cling.
With hopeless mute fervour
We flay against the sharp edges.
Silence misinforms fragmented reason
And I fall beside you.
Through your opaque shroud
The lashes flicker like a faulty bulb.
Sleep as if on a soft cloud
And I shall wake into a storm.
It was the best sandwich he’s ever had
His grin bright, against the colours of summer,
I smile and put down my fork.
A silver sedan rounds the bend taking flight
As silent as a hot air balloon floating on the wind.
Like a slot car off the track
It twists and flips in a flashy glint,
Down the grassy knoll – the reel fails.
My treasure, his back to the road
The whites of his eyes widening
Watches in the bakery’s clean glass
A scene less real than television.
Across the street, the people moving by
With hats and bags, are punched
And split like ten pins,
A tall man is flipped extra high
Like a juggler’s extra flick
Making time for another baton.
But he’s dropped, and falls badly.
He ricochets back up – as if the path
Was made of hot coals. He’s looking all about.
He flew higher than he was tall.
A broken clock waits for him to sit crumpled.
My sunshine, watching in the glass.
Our gaze turns to a single sound
That once begins, doesn’t stop
Like a naked girl after napalm, he appears
Pausing on the road, empty hands outstretched,
Screaming, screaming, Mum! Mum!
Like strands of party poppers, the colour of blood
From his golden crown to his knees.
The beachside hub becomes a postcard
From ocean to shiny shops, from pier to pub.
It’s high summer yet all is still and quiet.
Only the tall man looking for his top hat
Only the boy screaming.
He’s outside of himself and the sun glares
Only his family will do – where are they?
The ten pins, collected
By a faulty machine and not returned.
The summer café chatter charges silent
Doctors disguised in this seasons Havanas
And sunburn, press play and converge.
I don’t have to decide to move, so I hug my son.
We make our way back to our holiday
And in a week, take the inland route home.
The boy’s family take a helicopter.