The Wrong Address - a prose poem anthology

Fragments from an Australasian Life

by Thorold May

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

The Wrong Address


Fragments from an Australasian Life

 

 

<> FOREWORD

1. TARAWONGA Springwood NSW, 1956

2. THE PAINTED PATH Bridge Road, Belmore, NSW 1960

3. TRAVELING NORTH Australia, 1962

4. SEVENTEEN IN 1962  Nundah, Brisbane – 1st Job

5. PSYCHIC DRAMAS Canberra, 1965

6. THE WAVERING MOON Burton Street, Sydney 1966

7. THE ÉMIGRÉ Oriental Bay, Wellington, New Zealand 1967

8. WORKING CHRISTMAS Harris Street, Ultimo, NSW 1967

9. HEART OF THE REVOLUTION Wellington, New Zealand 1968

10. WIDE WORLDS East Putney, England 1971

11. THE BOARDING HOUSE Reading Street, Wellington, New Zealand 1973

12. SILVER SCREEN Epsom, New Zealand 1975

13. BARBECUE BLUES Waterloo Street, Howick, New Zealand 1976

14. DEMENTIA William Street, Armadale, Victoria 1977

15. THE LAST COCKATOO Illawarra Avenue, Newcastle NSW 1979

16. HALLS OF ACADEMIA Newcastle, Australia 1980

17. INFIDELITY Pitt Street, Newcastle 1981

18. FIREPOWER Tarania Street, Lismore, NSW 1983

19. RESPECTABILITY Tyrell Street, Newcastle, 1984

20. FRIENDS Irimo Street, Lae, PNG 1985

<> AFTERWORD

 

 


 

 

The Wrong Address - a prose poem anthology

Fragments from an Australasian Life

by Thorold May

 

 

Foreword 

 

 

Dates and times and places are daisy chain links for the accountants at Armageddon, and detective story tellers. For the rest of us, life is a more approximate affair, full of sudden holes in memory and meaning. The act of recalling faint echoes into ink is a shameless deception on the self. Yet I crave this spurious integration of a created past. Is that so unusual? The tale is written in a kind of rough prose-poetry. It has a voice. Rake it around the tongue, but like any spice from faraway places, taste only a pinch at a time. 

About and about whom truth stands: this is an autobiography, a file of personal memorabilia. All persons, objects and events are real. It is a reality however which lives in the writer's own exotic brain. Aggrieved spirits and beings with any sense will say that it's all lies. These lines are irresponsible to every purpose, excepting only the pleasure found in language. 

 

Thorold May 
Melbourne 1995 
thormay@yahoo.com

 


 

 

Tarawonga
Springwood NSW, 1956

 

 

 

Sassafras cut easier than gum

But burnt worse. My steel wedges rang

At short sharp violence from the barking sledge hammer.

A world-weary ten year-old, I sweated and grew biceps,

Violating the tough old fibres of fallen timber :

Learned the dry, astringent smell of freshly lifted bark

And sniffed the soft layers of life on death

At the core of rotten logs.

 

In sparse mountain bushland west of Sydney

Our home had grown on hope, and little money.

The first stone was cut on-site,

Crow-barred from leached sandy soil and cracked, split

Shaped by a blasphemous hunchback, reputed mason

Paid in whiskey, fed on possums newly shot at night

As they scampered, natural thieves, about the campfire.

 

Each great block of yellow sandstone emerged

From a hundred million years of rest

Into the clear dry furnace of bush air,

Stood with an ordered multitude at the founding

Of the first house of William May.

I am born of an elemental man.

My father would be patriarch

Of his clan, created from his seed

Housed in his dwelling, fed at his hand

Defended with his anger and commanded at his will.

 

My father's grasp was hard, his face hawk-tough,

Burnt and beaten craggy by the Mask-maker, yet

His blue eyes on a clear day could capture us

In a merry troupe; the kids expected

When dad rolled home from the pub, to get an update

On his pantheon of heroines and villains

Disguised for our simple, credulous gaze

As truck drivers and bar girls -

The caste of an Australian Ramayana.

We shared the tale, told without fear

Of daylight denouement, mythmade hour by hour

Until, riding within this brocaded panoply ourselves,

My family came to pity

The drab trudge of ordinary lives.

 

Luckily for the foundation of empire

My mother believed in her man and proved

Perilous with a block hammer against the cunning grain

When stone and fate resisted sweat and tears.

Country girl, city brat, a patch of bush scrub

Where each scented drop of luxury was wrung

From thin pay packets : I remember being dirt poor

And cherishing rare treats - a chocolate

A threepenny piece picked off the footpath, a strawberry

Or a peach (only one) maybe once a year.

Not that we were hungry - there was meat

With fresh green beans and buttered potatoes

And after-dinner memories,

A new web of stories for the old day.

 

Our world wobbled, its weekend axis

Jumped the coastal plains of short dry grass

To mountain scrub; gruff Mary

Delivered us with bumpy grace.

She was a family member, this vehicle

Adopted, honoured, abused,

An ancient and amazing bitser, sacrilege

Of a nineteen twenty-seven Willies Knight coupé

Cut down with a hacksaw, coachwork rebuilt

In masonite and hardwood painted grey.

 

 

The lady's mighty, slow-revving, twelve-cylinder power plant

Had been transplanted by a boozy mechanic.

Now a geriatric with bionic innards, her tired bones hid

A racy 1948 V8 Mercury engine, improbably grafted

To a five ton truck gearbox. Father wrenched her

To death-defying speeds,

But could find no brakes to care for.

He crashed her into crawler gear in desperate moments

And clung like doped spider

To the heavy steering wheel of dovetailed spruce.

 

Mary built Tarawonga.

We quarried far down the valley sides

Heaving rock onto the Y-fork of a tree trunk :

Cabled it to the old car's awesome crawler gear

And let her loose across the tufting grass

Solo at a steady five miles an hour,

So that forgotten one shimmering Saturday noon

We caught her over the next rise

Patiently climbing a farmer's fence.

 

Slowly an imprint set itself upon the earth,

Heavy sandstone foundations, a vast fireplace of cut rock

That you could sling a hammock in. My axe arm

Would curse its maw for years to come. Topsides

My father's craft began to lash commodious gables

Of redgum and oregon, with lingering attention

From an inner eye, and rich invocations to the deity

If one of us, clinging to scaffolds

Barely fit for blind cats, dropped a piece of four by two

Into the clattering abyss.

 

A final migration in Mary parted us

From the sand hills and the ocean,

From a fibro shack in a horse paddock

Inherited by the ghost of our pussycat -

As the old bitser, piled high with furniture

Whined and rumbled onto the highway, pussy

Leapt howling out of a cupboard drawer,

Argued with gravity for an instant too long

And hit the bitumen in a technicolour farewell.

 

Now it seems (so long ago), that somewhere on that trip

I crossed a line from first childhood

And knew too much; while my parents passed beyond

Those early springs of tireless possibility

Where Age could not find them :

We came to Tarawonga, "meeting place of pigeons",

To shape a panorama of heroic dreams

Within the raw bounds of our own hands.

 


 

The Painted Path
Bridge Road, 1960

 

 

 

These houses knew their place,

Federation red-brick with a porch

And painted path, a handkerchief of lawn

Out front to face the ordered world with.

Three generations had defined Bridge Road

For the credit agencies, the postmen and the politicians;

Each fifty-foot block marked off a television

On hire purchase, three letters a week,

Two votes for promises of a lucky country

To give the kids a start in life.

 

Dad had sworn never to live in a street

Where backyard paling fences walled a grey horizon,

And a good shouting match would bring the cops

Before the local wildlife lit into the scrub.

Within three months of our hijacking a mortgage on suburbia

(compromise along the road to fame)

An ancient lady on the downwind side

Had died in search of quieter havens

While spiders, unmolested for whole epochs

Of arachnid history, held urgent consultations

On mass migration.

 

May's renovation machine didn't muck around.

We assaulted Federation decency's florid brick complexion,

Pock-marked her with a sparrow-pick

And plastered her white like a whore

From a Japanese print. The gaping mouth

Of a toothless porch glittered at the street,

New glazing made a sunroom from the dusty porch,

Dappled with shadow, bamboo blinds to keep us demur

From garbos and the clattering trains.

 

Coming of consciousness is coming of age;

While the house transformed with unexpected possibilities,

So did I; through that decade of the fifties

The landscape of mind slowly found its definition

In light and shade; the half-grown century

Was about to discover rock-n'-roll,

A milkshake stop along the highway, unvalued

Before we earned our seeing eyes

And knew (though dared not say) that there are journeys

But no destinations.

 

Somewhere there's an old snapshot in a drawer,

The artless memory of a box camera, it shows

A gawky kid with big ears and nervous lips, still growing,

Scarecrow in a school blazer (royal blue)

And long trousers that later stopped too far above the ankles,

Already without style, lacking faith

In the big promises of being on the road

To Somewhere. But caught forever

With this phoney stereotype, there I am

Pasted by an accident of time and place

Onto the backdrop of a federation house

And a painted path.

 

Double-income families hadn't quite arrived,

(No wife of mine will work, He said),

Yet H.G. Palmer's suburban stores offered easy ways

To sign away tomorrow and tomorrow.

Came a day when I was sent (quaking)

To the street-corner phone with a message

That mum couldn't pay this week

Sorry mumble good-bye.

And His liquor bill was getting steep,

So there had to be another way to make a quid.

 

Why not try for mystery we thought, foreign bodies

In a room to rent : mother fussed

And they sent a lady out from the university to check

For gentility and bugs; an assurance

That that getting to know you Australian style

Would be etched with refinement in the margins of Asia.

The girls from Kuala Lumpur and Surabaya

Were to think with nostalgia of Sydney bathrooms

And the culinary daring of sago pudding.

 

Yvonne was all angles with funny teeth,

Wendy had puffy eyes, loved maths, hated exercise;

Sharifa Ini seemed to shed hair

Around the house like a moulting cat,

And giggled for no special reason;

All pretty normal, misshapen human beings,

Their minds tuned to harmonies in a tropic night;

Alas poor resonance for the jam-tin twang

Of a kid rung in on rafferty's street rules.

 

What could I do, smitten at fifteen

By exotic creatures, "university students"

(U-who's ? No tag for that one in Holden country);

Imprinted like a plastic duckling for all time,

My hot imagination nursed an image of the perfect body,

Chinese girl in a cheong-sam, honey-dew skin,

The toss of her long black hair, pert fringe on an almond face,

The caress of her cool slim fingers

Like a ripple of summer grass.

 

The wretched truth didn't matter, dreams will be dreams.

My vision of the Australian woman thereafter

Hung on the handle of her shopping trolley :

Blotched pink mutton, parcelled and bulging

Out of a cotton shift, her cheerful insouciance

As de-sexed as a jumbo carton of potato chips;

Unjust, absurd from an unlovely owner,

But the tides of passion don't play fair;

My heart was condemned to exile.

 

That Christmas holidays it was time, they said

To learn the work that real men do,

So putting the periodic table and modern history

Safely on a shelf, I got a job stacking oranges

For Joe. His Sicilian fruit shop lingers

With its aromas of cantaloupes and onions,

Stale sweat, fresh flowers, meatballs and tomato sauce

Waft in the chemical cracks of my brain.

 

Fat kind smelly Joe had style, a lifestyle

Entirely complete, from the pasta and eggs

Floating in olive oil at six a.m.

To gunning up the stout red Bedford, a slow trip into town,

The cavernous, clamorous market

With its signs not to spit in four languages;

Old friends dawdled at each stall..

 

How much are grannies and Tassie spuds today ?

You took your time over the texture of greens,

The crunch of carrots only dug yesterday,

The velvet skin of every peach.

The boy (I, the boy) ran

With towering barrow loads back to the Bedford

And around noon we'd make it home

To Mrs Joe, and the boy would be banished

Sent to wash the spuds

In an old bathtub up the yard.

 

 

There is a trick of seeing, of blinking down

An elf, a cloud, an empire before it gets away,

And on the crest of new perception

Suddenly past logic is a dream :

My days are populated with ghosts,

I am their only medium of exchange.

Perhaps in Joe's Sicilian fruit shop, the first turning

Slipped out of sight of the painted path,

And houses became colour patches of memory,

Moments of rest for a waif

Fated to wander through the oblivious worlds

Of H.G. Palmer's Hire Purchase Company, cantaloupes

And Chinese ice maidens from a tropic night.

 

 

 


 

Traveling North
Australia 1962