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Ian C Smith

Decryption

I crossed the border of my overcrowded birth country

alive with anticipation after decades of absence.

Rooftops, dark vaults, slid past the train window.

this rainswept return caused my breath to riot,

memories tremors in phantom limbs

during years I felt were a waste, a regret.

Travelling back to my grim childhood district

forsaken for emigration to an arid land,

the misery of the past’s crooked ways,

signalled the irony of fait accompli rather than fairytale.

Belongings sold, cost of passage all I could pay,

this midlife crisis nagging in my half-breed’s belly,

I guarded my kitbag, frugal, alert, excited,

in a low-ceilinged pub, nursing ale, accent noticed.

 

Each life is a mystery, death the only certainty

in the refuge of small towns’ cautious clusters.

He reads in safety by a window, thoughts flickering

to a time he struck out on a personal odyssey

before his spirit of adventure withered, jaded.

He bookmarks the page, looks out as if across a chasm,

not at his neighbour mowing, but blackened hovels

seen through rain, survivors of war, of loss.

A tremor of memory calls up sweat forgotten,

intimacy left behind in a dark, sorrowful landscape.

He trawls for clues to his lone wolf life now,

those ectopic days, their profound effect pivotal,

this man with ink stains on his fingers who reads,

looks back, puzzled, scratching imaginary itches.

 

Funeral Cues

An anthology of speakers descanting,

easing our ache anecdotally with her full life,

I am safe from choking up until the end

when a close friend of our larrikin leave-taker

gets mugged, her throat, then mine, grabbed mid-sentence.

Many might rehearse their mortal futures,

death skulking, stalking us corralled here.

 

The slideshow.  The way we were.  Rites of fervid lives

from sagas to sonnets, selves slowly running down,

holes burned clear through as if meteor-shot.

She and a sunflower smile in Alaska,

its face ever seeking the sun before darkness falls.

Then she holidays where I stayed only weeks ago,

her hand flexed on the same ladder I climbed

where the sea wind shall not blow away her hat again.

Pictures summing a life lived seem to last no longer

than the Bede’s sparrow’s brief flight through that hall.

 

A perspective of graves, huddles of sere leaves, trees bereft,

I fail to recognise someone, fluster, but with grace

she understands, prompts my smile, says, wistfully ironic,

Everybody is so grey.  We are all grey.

I scan faces for advance recognition, spot two,

a jolt, one’s pretty face now past youth, careworn,

the other, widowed, not old yet her hair turned white.

 

I sit out days at scarred benches, ossifying,

wasting time, pages dwindling towards denouement.

A wild thing kicks inside me to start again,

smell a golden pagoda, enter an igloo, stroll Trieste.

Charge into life.  Do it.  Do it now.

Precious, precious

What would you sacrifice

to discover your top shelf writers again,

narratives of lives, meaning through pain?

 

What would you sacrifice

to explore a foreign land, follow youth’s track,

tomorrow crammed into one rucksack?

 

What would you sacrifice

for the lucky shock of first love’s thrilling crush,

hair quite silly, adoration’s rush?

 

What would you sacrifice

for arrival in that half-imagined place

knowing you have found the perfect base?

 

Oh, what would you sacrifice

for the embrace of cherished darlings now gone,

hear their dear voices, hold on, hold on? 

Purblind

Showering, I can’t see past my gut grown stealthily

over a blur of years as I hurry onward.

Shrugging into an old T-shirt I marvel

how long I have been unthinkingly wearing it,

clothes low on my wish list, ditto their messages.

Sixteen years, I work out admiring its endurance

tracking over places the relic has been on show,

activities this stout cloth has supported,

colours faded to pastel, a well-travelled,

stretched, scoured, weather-beaten veteran,

a gift from visiting French-Canadian friends.

After tossing it hundreds of times in the wash

I peer in the mirror at the forgotten cartoon.

A chubby little guy runs uphill on the hard part,

a winding road behind him, scenes of life on Earth.

His heart bursts from his chest, sweat flying.

‘I have guts’, the caption’s translation reads. 

Ian C Smith's work has appeared in, Antipodes Australian Poetry Journal, Critical Survey, Live Encounters, Prole, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two-Thirds North.  His seventh book is 'wonder, sadness, madness joy', Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.