The Wrong Address index
The Painted Path
Bridge Road, 1960
photo link : Thor at Bridge Road, 1958
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 Japanes 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.
© copyright Thorold May 1995 All Rights Reserved
published by The Plain & Fancy Language Company ACN 1116240S Sydney, Australia
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