Edward Reilly, b. 1944 Adelaide, South Australia. Teacher of Literature
& English at Geelong High School, and active as an curriculum consultant
These poems are part of a project encompassing two volumes: "The Camden
Poems" a collection of 52 quatorzains, and "Deluge", a fantasy based
on the 1995 floods in Geelong, consisting so far in 21 Cantos. These
books and associated exegesis are to be submitted as my PhD thesis.
Contact Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Canto 21: The Corridor
"Everything escapes me and evaporates"
Fernando Pessoa The Book of Disquiet
Each corridor makes its own pattern of quiet footsteps,
Their use, written in unpublished almanacs of history's
Wants and desires, slips by us. Paintings stink of linseed.
Figures in a landscape of painted trees and rocks
Question their images - am I not beautiful - a child calls,
Help me - cries the falling son: the painter's work is done,
But I as a reader trace my finger along the rough frame
Seeing the gapped joint and planning its repair. I see
A man behind a desk putting words together in silence,
His pen dipping and swaying between inkpot and paper.
A door leading into the corridor is open, no one is there,
But he cannot explain the tumult, sobbing and shouting
His pen has decided to put down on the sheet of paper.
The pen writes of itself, assuming its responsibility -
A subject the pen is likely to validate as the pen moves
In soft lineations across an ever so blank paper:
The writer holds his left hand on the place he thinks
His heartbeats, the hand should be somewhat lower -
The only possible explanation is that he is suffering
An angina attack, or the thought of one coming.
The idea of such an attack - or a love affair - grips him
So that he starts scribbling a history of all the noises,
Yellings and silences that fill the corridor outside his room,
Resigning himself to what a painter could admit
Must be a visualisation of the ineffable, a construct
Having as much validity as the real thing as when they raced
Down the brown Barwon in full spate - he sees the fiction
Engendered as a fiction from which to consider his past:
Is he writing a history of the corridor, or is he a subject
Of what the pen is racing to complete before the next wave?
It's like wearing a new shirt when going out on a first date,
The boy thinks more about getting a soupstain on the shirt
Than of the girl's bodice and shapely line: distracted
He seems offputting and she is reluctant to go out again:
Or even like a painter being so consumed in the placement of the stroke
Just so, that his ghosts have evaporated before the oil dries.
The corridor is even more crowded, they open the studio door
Demanding to be noticed. When he walks into the kitchen
He is surprised to see his father working on an old radio,
The suicidal cousin reading a forbidden book, stray cats.
There is a time for words. For them to be done with and let
Shapes manifest themselves in the great gulfs of empty corridors,
Make the measure of ourselves even more immense, a divide
Like a cañon splitting a continent in two unequal parts,
Or to look at it from the valley floor, a river running
Between head and the ensoulèd corse, its living core:
The very first step we take is at a word to oneself,
Our limbs thinking of themselves an image a few inches forward
And we lunge to catch ourselves lest we escape this world
Its all too comforting babble, the thought which is its own speech.
Word of words and the newness of words make real each emanation
As he walks between studio and kitchen, the corridor sings to him,
Every painting on the walls have come alive - lovers entwined,
A cattle drive, dancers in a bower, grandfather sighing for home,
The painter at his small canvas unaware of the magnesium sun:
He had stopped writing and turned off his lamp beforehand.
Now the corridor stretches out at his feet, he must struggle,
There are too many in his path: it is hard for him to map out
Just how far it should be between his chair and the kitchen,
To name each step, to placate those ghosts crowding his path.
In the kitchen, he examines the pages of the paper, ink smudging
At the lines' extremities. Corrections are made in pencil.
How will it look when typed out? When on the printed page?
He thinks of the typographies that would explode letters,
Making them dance to the beat of idea and purpose,
Articulate themselves in five thousand human tongues
One word at a time as the ink dries out, water evaporates,
Each molecule a lost tongue sliding off the page,
Poems of histories of his will to overcome aloneness,
To begin again from nothingness at each rosy dawn.
There is no shame in a didactic poem, or in writing one,
But sooner or later, probably as soon as the ink dries,
There is only a scrap of paper with spiders' tracks
Running from one side to the other, a painting or sketch
In blue-black: It will take an eye to see and tongue to sing
The dance of signs down the corridor, one step at a time,
Moving between two known points, there and here,
The next half of the coming step already framed on his tongue:
Tune and beatinghand against the corridor and walls,
His body counting out the letters which make his name.
If he were to return to thinking about the exact moment
Its immediacy was made real, he would gaze through the kitchen window
And see his mother outside. She has fallen, the day's wash spilt.
She has clutched her chest with her right hand,
A cat licks her left hand which fingers the dew-wet grass.
There are no neighbours to call and her children are at school.
Nothing he could do even if he had looked out. In time he would see
His mother get herself up and walk over to a bench, sit a while,
She would doze for the rest of the day. He would fall to weeping,
And if he were to step outside, knowing that time has written
What had been scratched onto the fence-post, saw it again,
That playing out of what had been again and again for all days,
He would see an old man in shabby trousers and stained shirt
Looking for a tweed coat, cigarettes and lighter in its pockets.
He might see the cracks in the wall which he's papered over
In that most elaborate of disguises, his pages of spider-tracks
Which he has spin out of sheer fantasies and desires:
He would mark the distances between ghosts and wall,
Make the very thought of both something to examine.
He lets in a mewling cat, feeds it milk and dry pellets.
He comes back down the corridor with a coffee cup in hand,
A history book in the other. He adjusts the tilt of a painting,
Closes the spare-room door and turns off a dripping tap.
The gas heater hums too loudly. An alarm clock sings,
And he hears his own footsteps following. There is no wind outside.
He sits behind a desk inking blue-black words on paper,
Mouthing them as he writes, dipping and swaying over them.
The door to the corridor stays wide open, and his guests enter
Crowding over his shoulder to see what he as written tonight.
27 May 1999
Canto XV: Aubade
I had a mirror, rimmed around by a pink plastic ellipse
And would sprawl on my mother's favourite couch
Admiring the light as it caught in my russet tresses.
I have dancer's legs, and wore satin slippers
So as to step and prance so lightly around the house
No one could hear my passage through the hallways
But that my party dress would rustle and sigh,
Our white cat following me, her little bell tinkling.
I had 1911 atlas of my grandfather, in which to make journeys
From Tomis deep into the forests of the
One day, a man with a camera came to our house.
He took photographs of us all, I had to smile.
Grandfather asked if I would have my photograph taken
With him, and I leant against his knee in my striped dress,
But I couldn't smile, nor he: I touched his wedding ring.
It felt so electric and drained all of our energy,
So the lounge room turned blue for the afternoon,
And grandfather looked sad, though he was happy for me.
He said that if ever I should go on a long journey,
To be sure to map it the atlas, so he would follow me.
Mother was the only grown up child in the house,
Grandfather lived out in the country: he was a child as well,
But my father was a man of affairs, he knew everything,
Too much to still be a child. So mother and I
Would go shopping together and buy little things,
Or I would watch while she had her beauty treatments:
We would go swimming together at Fairhaven
And she taught me how to paint her toenails, massage her neck.
She would treat me to Earl Grey tea and sandwiches
On a day when I should have been at school, or at piano lessons.
That is all I remember. The balcony had a high rail
Which I used as a balance bar when no-one looked.
The river rushed up to take me in her embrace.
It was like my first kiss, long and cool.
I kept my eyes closed for ages, breathed in silver.
My new friends were carp, eel and trout.
I made my bed beneath a sunken tree trunk,
Watched while college boys dipped oars overhead:
I tasted seasalt on my lips, even this far upstream,
Knew then I'd set out on a journey one fine morning.
I am swimming towards Reedy Lake, I will reach Lake Connewarre
Before noon, then broach the estuary at Barwon Heads.
I will float into a green sea and join the calving whales,
Loll like them in shallow waters under Teddy's Point.
There is nothing more in this brown river for me,
My home has been sold to strangers, is boarded up.
I have heard your tale thrice over in nights of flood
Lingering into sodden days of discomfort and roil.
Soon I will be free as a wave dashing against the headland,
Be transparent as flecks of salt embracing golden sands.
See, a truck is grinding gears as it turns into Townsend Road,
It passes the publican at Breakwater Hotel, he is sluicing
The driveway with detergent, steam rises from the asphalt.
Strappers have taken out the mares and geldings for their run.
Away from the iron rumble of a goods train, traffic
Picks up its unending conversation with St. Mary's town:
Too early for schoolchildren, buses have one or two passengers,
Lonely, huddled well away from the draughty entrance.
Most ordinary people wave farewell while taking a last bite,
Before walking out into the tangled skein of their daily lives.
8 July 1999
Copyright © 1999. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Duplication of this
poetry and/or art without permission of the author/artist is forbidden
under copyright law. Please ask permission if you wish to use for
Tuesday, July 11, 2000