the book of your life arrived.
You're three years dead.
The author began the story
while you still had breath.
I am scarcely mentioned.
The first time we met
I showed you how to crush aspirin
in the bowl of a spoon,
inserting it through the wires
that held your broken jaw
as if I was feeding a baby.
This was at Mal's.
He showed you my poems.
You told me, 'Make the pauses
where the breath would naturally pause
if you were speaking it.
Shelley and Keats did that.'
I could go on listing anecdotes
piled up over twenty years.
But everyone has many yarns
of you, troubadour,
and most remain untold
except when old friends gather.
It's true I was not central
to your tale. Others, closer,
are also reduced to a line.
She has the essentials.
Still I find it strange
that you are dead and I'm gone.
Poems from a Peach Melba Hat
Poems from a Peach Melba Hat
for its author, Shelton Lea (1946-2005)
I was tiny Abalone Press
operating alone from home
in the hours my kids were at school;
funded by Bill's diving money,
hence the name.
And it had a name by then.
You touted for ads for the end-papers,
a 19th Century practice you revived,
joyful to demonstrate
self-funding for poetry presses.
But two of the seven ads
were Bill's and mine, ah well,
and one was your partner Christine's.
You wanted a matte pink board,
a delicate shade. You wanted
Joy Hester's painting
'Head of a Woman with Hat',
her splendid skewiff dignity
on your front cover. You got it.
And on the back 'Chloe'
the famous nude
from Young & Jackson's bar
with you, larrikin dandy,
perched on the brass railing
protecting her frame.
The tenth Muse, you called her.
You came for two days
to consult on the layout
and stayed two weeks with pleurisy.
You thought to go straight back home,
all day on the rattly Gippsland train.
You thought it was just a cough.
Convalescent, you yarned with my boys,
explaining the shape of a fugue
and the reasons crime doesn't pay.
On both you were well-informed.
You were funny and wise
and you heard them.
They never forgot.
We argued over apostrophes.
Now I'd have let you leave them out,
but that was twenty-seven years ago.
I missed one, reading 'julias' –
personal name for a lawn, how quaint.
Till I heard you, too late, reciting 'julia's lawn'.
Some of the Establishment scoffed
at the excellent reviews,
The street-wild poet, the very small press.
Who could praise so highly
and not be swayed
by friendship or even lust?
We dressed very fine for the dinner,
the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards.
You were short-listed for two:
Poetry and Australiana. No,
you didn't win. But the reviewers beamed
most politely on those who'd sneered.
Three years ago now, a boarder
stole my only copy when he left;
inscribed of course. My son David
found me another, signed,
in a second-hand bookshop.
I open it up. It begins:
'the day was fifteen bright balloons'.
It ends with the line,
'beware the greed of time.'
Somewhere in the middle
you're coming out of prison
on a winter day, hearing the Beatles:
'love, love me do.' And we do.
Published All Travellers We (Montmorency, Vic., Eaglemont Press, 2007.)