The Wrong Address index

The Émigré
Oriental Bay, Wellington NZ 1967 



Heather, dashed yellow, sky bright

Falling blue, hill slips faced with moss,

Thin wooden houses like glued matchboxes

Stacked in crooked tiers to applaud

Their men in from the sea, and now

Her giant engines have dropped low

To a growl; the liner slips to haven.


A warming from the land, caress

Of flower gardens carried on the wind

Stir an old memory,

And breached by long cold Tasman swells

We stagger reborn before breakfast, laughing,

Touching shoulders to be sure, stamping on the deck

With new arrogance

As the clamour of the waking city

Comes out to greet us.


Upturned faces by the wharf, a young girl

Trips from Renoir in swirling white skirts

And her black eyes catch mine

Before the sun passes. She is gone,

They are all gone, washed

From the painted decks; lolly papers

Dance tiny polkas on the quayside

As I shoulder the old suitcase,

Still brave at twenty-one,

Step away at last

To say "hello world" with that ingenuous hope

Of the very first émigré.


Sweet and sour this town, strange and known

Like a trick of the mind, the gargoyles wink,

Suddenly displaced from another time

Once understood; vowels pop in the air

Reshaped, novelty fruits grown in moulds,

But really the same old flavour.

A niche is here somewhere, must be,

Waiting for a tramp.


But this noon it's luncheon á la park bench,

And I have to say g'day Queen Victoria,

You've made it too,

Annointed with verdigris and pigeon lime;

Now trolley buses snap blue electric sparks

About your tiara : that's recognition.

Wonder if your ladyship liked fish 'n chips too ?


He is slumming in a downtown bar,

Bug-eyed sunglasses poised to sweep the demi-gloom,

Intent on the hunt,

Avaricious for shopgirls in fishnet stockings,

But the vamps are away, trying for sophistication

With coffee and gâteau at Chez Nous.

Bombed out, man got a bob ? Where you from anyway ?

The jukebox gulps my coin. Clunk.

These boots are made for walkin' in, it wails.

Anywhere mate, heaven or hell

But Sydney by the latest accident.

Bloody Aussie huh. An original leper.

So that's why the place is deserted.

Buy you a beer.


Even goodtime guys have to pay the rent..

It'll do, a hole for now :

His spare room is musty with damp air;

One pallid window blinks

In the shadow of a dripping cliff.

The old house itself must squat,

Humiliated and despised

Amongst a brash younger generation of apartment blocks

On the harbour promenade by Oriental Bay.


Vicarious splendour is our ambience.

Like jealous lovers we learn to spy

The coming and going of gorgeous yachts;

Their sleek, low-hipped hulls are pure coquetry.

Willowy marconi rigs flutter and tease; sailcloth

Smooths with a cat's paw, unbuttoned

As a woman's blouse, billows and sighs.


I have fallen amongst bus drivers and musicians,

Radical chic revolutionaries : subversive on Sunday,

Workers by Tuesday, playboys come Thursday.

The resident band in a lucid moment

(not flaked out on the carpet)

Debates a poet's aptitudes and bows low

To offer training on the musical triangle

With long-term promotion to a tassled castinet.


Ambitious for the big-time though, craving

Real money on Fridays

I plump for a job with musclebound ladies

In the thrum and hustle of Victoria Steam Laundry,

Established 1912 at a thermal spa,

The plaque says.. but our history is a day old :

New country, new future, new face if you dare,

New friends to test your mettle.

It takes a laundryman, connoisseur of dirty shirts,

To make an anarchist.


Let's set the scene, we want your vote.

Figures by the stage steps now, a murmur,

The crowd stirs.

Close up, a crush of shoddy tin chairs, frayed carpet,

Cream plaster columns smudged with small fingers

(the owners already wanting to go home).

All grandeur is far above

In illusion, where cherubs and bunched grapes gather

About the ceiling cornices.


The Prime Minister hovers

Absurdly revealed, pink packaged flesh

Stacked on platform shoes for height.

Behold !

"Lediz end djentilmen" the voice booms

In electrical decibels, "ez yu no...";

Ah, now there's the rub.

If only we knew. One thing is certain ..


Subconsciously I assemble the morpheme

And with astounding lung power give it birth :


The cherubs flutter in their cornices.

A hush, the voice stops, caught in delictio.

"Ev..ev niva bin so insulted", it pouts

And crackles off in a huff.

The hive swarms, buzzes, a policeman looks severe.

C'mon Huey, next act.

Bring on the dancing girls.


There it is, our checkerboard of nights and days

Almost complete, as the pieces, peasants, politicians

Move in closed squares, black on black,

White on white.

For a moment my ghost is here again,

A balmy summer evening

Near the stone wall at Oriental Bay,

Eyes dancing with city lights, and lovers,

And the turning tide.

Can you see me, just out of reach,

Wistful, about to pass you by ?


Fragments from an Australasian Life
Thorold MAY
copyright Thorold May 1995 All Rights Reserved 
published by The Plain & Fancy Language Company ACN 1116240S Sydney, Australia
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