The Wrong Address index

Heart of the Revolution
Central Terrace, Wellington, NZ 1968 

 

This is a winter city of steps and earthquakes;

We perch with gulls against the southerlies,

Claim perilous ledges of habitation

On the surging rim of hills;

Men dwell here in damp timber,

Their houses rock like battered lifeboats

Cresting the unquiet earth.

 

If you ask where I live, it is somewhere,

Yes certainly behind a door somewhere

Straight onto the stone path;

A facade green with mildew

And the rain like rivets without and within;

Weak daylight, worn carpets, dishes to wash,

Pungent fumes from a kerosene heater, someone

Trying to stay awake at a writing desk.

 

The year is 1968 and we are the brave,

Contemptuous of closet sexuality and immoral wars;

Knowing our fathers to be flawed men,

Our mothers servants to their whim,

Honour is on our banner :

We will march under the tank tracks;

While they carpet-bomb Vietnam to save democracy

We will put their lies on public display

And sing the Internationale with luscious irony,

For the Russians are liars too.

They, those Others, don't like our haircuts,

Find blue jeans subversive,

But we are about to inherit the earth.

 

Actually, making the rent is tougher

Than aping the proletariate;

For seventy-five cents an hour

I pick the chewing gum off fetid pub floors

And polish dirty windows : waiting for the Revolution

Has its drawbacks in godzone .

We are already outlanders, remote from favour;

Servants of the Evil Empire are harrying our flanks

While in the tasteful suites of downtown business houses

Callow youths with blameless eyes

Are respectfully at ease

On the ornate stairways of ambition.

 

Dave Crumm, my flatmate, is at home with rats;

Cementing wires into their brains

He tortures half of them for the Psychology Department

And waits to see if the unwarped survivors

Are grateful for their peace of mind.

Odd how victims always shape God

In the image of self; Dave has this droopy way

Of waving his forepaws, and squeaking

As he extolls the duplicities of experimental science..

Mice, forgive us our after-dinner mammal jokes.

 

But there is no drowning

The memory of Chau Ngan, who came amongst us

Then went to hell in 1968.

A gaze too droll for stepping across,

Wrists unusually flexible in worn white cuffs,

He played a wan tune on a bamboo flute

While the sun went down like thunder.

 

In a front room Chau Ngan learned English

And wept for his wife in Takeoville,

Learned the tongues of death, learned to float

For a moment above a gorging dark tide

As Lyndon Johnson swore an oath in a rose garden

That his Valkeries rode to no murder

Through the Khmer heartlands,

And hidden from the ancient eye of Tonl Sap

Pol Pot's crazed vengeance gathered shape.

 

Beneath the pain of Chau Ngan's flute

Our banners held no karma. Lost,

Unrecovered, my heart is like a butterfly

Amid the ashes of a forest fire.

It has no trust,

And decides to be born out of love,

Skeptical of Time herself.

 

So my purpose scents loss at charm's edge

When Margaret Svenson comes close by

In this year of passionate contradictions,

Arrives to make history, armed with Rem's Zen poems

Which persuade us of cleverness and eternal truth

According to our mind's ambition :

Square moon, square sun, blue eyes waiting.

And the bloom passes; rememberance has left

Faintly, two distant figures,

Rain streaming down our cheeks

As we perch with gulls, cresting the unquiet earth.

 

 


THE WRONG ADDRESS 
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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