After cheese on toast a boy turned fourteen
feeling like the war is over leaves a cold room
to walk strange streets, walks costing nothing.
He had walked off his parents’ morbid chicken farm,
elbow naked in one sleeve, to his married sister’s,
their dismal parents sneering he had no money.
A week on, with her blessing, he went into lodgings.
Foresightful, he had scrimped savings in a tin near
the parental home he will conjure decades later
here on a deck, tides’ old music facing mountains,
clutched once more by the undertow of memory,
as a house of human fog, a cirrhosis of the spirit.
He charts his labyrinth of bricked-up streets,
forms notions of a bar-room life, a girl who waits,
top buttons undone, or a bookshelved home,
land sloping seaward looking out on a lighthouse,
wants a nickname, wants to play pool, line up shots,
cigarette smoke from his cue hand fretting over baize,
wants to drawl Fuck you as if he doesn’t give a shit.
A gorgeous girl holds him from behind, presses
her cheek against his shoulder blades when he wins.
He secures bitter work, boys paid a pittance,
hardens, improves, job by a quid a week more job,
shares his bed, the sorrow of being on this earth.
Time flies. By seventeen he is twenty-one,
dreamy hope of proud parents faded to an owl’s hoot,
secret favourite word, beloved. Beloved.
The smell of fresh paint still reminds me, wryly.
Renovated London digs, a stylish Irish landlady.
Bedazzled by grot, I expected roaches, not paint.
You guarded documents, capital, in a zipped bag,
sensible talisman releasing me from duty’s leash.
I riffed, living my book, film, and song dreams,
about leaving for the coast, no coins for the meter,
next door’s late night TV hobnobbing with the lonely,
shared hairy bathroom, toilet, down the hall,
soft tread of pale lodgers flung far from colonies,
or fled the provinces, or the I.R.A. And us.
The vast undermanned post office, your look of alarm
losing sight of me, mask slipped, tweaking
a pang of responsibility, of shame,
I beat away knowledge our house was sold for my sake
seeing your relief clutching that bag as I emerged
from a warm herd of queuing post-war survivors.
Moving on across old borders, some redundant now,
etched no succouring memories for you,
just scorn for my Procol Harum reveries,
in your own prime days now, holder of the passport
to solid success, youthful folly, us, annulled.
Ian C. Smith’s work has appeared in Australian Poetry Journal, Cream City Review, New Contrast, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Stony Thursday Book, Two-Thirds North, and Westerly. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He lives in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, Australia.