Ian C Smith ~ Four Poems

On hearing of her pregnancy long ago

Sifting through memen­tos that include his only pho­to of her, sea­son­ing yet anoth­er review of pathos, he comes across his long-dis­used P.O. Box num­ber, recalls writ­ing it auto­mat­i­cal­ly on the self-addressed enve­lope with the let­ter post­ed three months ear­li­er in hope of find­ing her. A sheer fluke to dis­cov­er it, or is it?

Small mis­takes influ­ence life’s slalom course, steep­er, faster, now, wis­dom sup­pos­ed­ly swap­ping places with the glo­ri­ous phys­i­cal, one’s ascen­dance, fol­lowed by the other’s, not long both. As a stu­dent he read Hardy, Dickens, et al, is also famil­iar with screen cos­tume dra­ma, gets irony, dec­la­ra­tions of love or guilt, unde­liv­ered let­ters, life-chang­ing stuff.

Information sought in trep­i­da­tion was chap­ters of her biog­ra­phy with­out him. Hopes risen like a rock­et reached an apex then hair­pinned as, not for the first time, he ques­tioned his com­mon sense, his mis­take unbe­knownst then. A stranger might have received her reply, shared it with laugh­ing friends. Now he burns with abashment’s ague.

Disturbing youth­ful events stirred him to com­pose the let­ter, haste induced by ner­vous­ness, its obso­lete return address. He is guard­ed about shar­ing his phone num­ber too soon. Fragmented rec­ol­lec­tion, chance, the stunned real­i­sa­tion of his blun­der, crowd in. He could be a Guinness Book of Records con­tender in a cat­e­go­ry of missteps.

Mobilising belief, he sweats over the let­ter again, that stink­ing deli­cious strug­gle with words just beyond reach, con­cen­trat­ing like a monk over cal­lig­ra­phy on pre­cious parch­ment in his cell. The need to know if a reply was sent insis­tent, he grasps this slight chance for atone­ment, want­i­ng to reverse reel his life.

A gold­en autumn evening like a prayer beyond his win­dow, light wind, leaves surf­ing the air. Lonely peo­ple lis­ten for their phones’ sig­nals, or await mail­men, invent sce­nar­ios, believe in fate, mir­a­cles, despite edu­ca­tion. They stare into space, try to find a page read mil­lions of words ago to recall exact­ly how things ended.



An old poet, his glow long gone, seclud­ed from soci­ety, segues back into a life lived, a time of prowl­ing Melbourne streets’ night secrets, wear­ing black glass­es, col­lar flipped up, fists punched into his thread­bare jacket’s pock­ets, edu­ca­tion still an unan­swered ques­tion; or sprawl­ing on his bed smok­ing, lis­ten­ing to the radio in the dark, vehi­cles’ lights shad­ow-danc­ing with walls that shake to the reg­u­lar rum­ble of trains as if his old city of dreams trem­bles on a seis­mic rift that might one day col­lapse like youth­ful hope.

In a plen­i­tude of silence, only a clock’s tick­ing audi­ble in his enclo­sure, calmer, final­ly get­ting it about truth, so blessed, he takes paper, a pen, its weight sen­su­ous, to extract details from his rasp­ing heart from those times, the pen’s metro­nom­ic slide record­ing days when hope gam­bolled igno­rant­ly, board­ing house ten­ants by the rail­way line where odours, fried sausages, hot steel, gar­lic, lin­gered beyond his door, where, breath­less, he faced down a thug who would lat­er mur­der two victims.

Concentrating on mem­o­ries; that city sky­line below the chiaroscuro of a storm’s seething approach like a Turner paint­ing, a naked girl’s lan­guid love­li­ness, eager voic­es when the future was guess­work, fad­ed glam­our of smoke rings blown away, always wear­ing the uni­form of the weary, rain falling soft­ly on parked cars, he search­es for odd con­nec­tions from the dark booths of his past when a juke­box pro­claimed the pain of love lost like time.

Between naps, alone in his cell where his phone rarely rings, map­ping the deep past, he writes his triv­ial life from the heart; liquor shots drunk from the bot­tle in those ghost­ly days adrift in opti­mism; the film he might direct, the nov­el that would shock, art a con­ta­gion.  Seared by recollection’s radi­ant flash he has returned to the bunker of lone­li­ness, door again shut, a com­mu­ni­ty of one.  While wind smooths grass around graves of char­ac­ters long dead he shall type his final drafts with two fin­gers, indices to unfin­ished stories.


Exile’s Pang

How soon the bright days of our youth and beau­ty end.  Horace Odes  ll.11

After half a life­time of guilty pro­duc­tive seclu­sion, when I see them again on a mutu­al friend’s Facebook I feel as dat­ed as blot­ting paper, my thoughts of mete­orite show­ers bat­ter­ing a dwarf plan­et strand­ed in orbit at the dis­tant reach­es of our uni­verse.  I realise my own appear­ance could elic­it a sim­i­lar effect.  We know scraps of each other’s lives, details blurred by dif­fer­ent val­ues.  One pho­to­graph is of me, clean-shaven.  I can’t recall where or when, or even the ghost who shot me, but guess.

Curiosity morphs into mor­bid fas­ci­na­tion, anoth­er hour of my life frit­ter­ing away.  Recognition of some aged faces baf­fles, pop-up tags prop­ping up mem­o­ry, shin­ing faces of chil­dren as gener­ic as bunch­es of flow­ers.  In that pho­to I hold a bot­tle in one hand, a drink in the oth­er, look hag­gard, pre­ma­ture­ly old.  This feel­ing cloak­ing me, famil­iar, con­flict­ing, one of unre­gret­ted rea­son weight­ed with too late’s intan­gi­ble sad­ness padding in as soft as a cat’s paws, trans­fix­es.  I like being alone, but there is a limit.

I log-off, see through our win­dows my neighbour’s vis­i­tor light­ing a pipe, look­ing out at the thresh­old of rain.  I gave my father, who wished he had nev­er mar­ried, a pipe for his birth­day when I was a boy with no under­stand­ing of sex­u­al ten­sion, old jeal­ous demons.  Thunder rum­bles.  Tobacco’s aro­mat­ic waft imag­ined, draws me back past peo­ple, before mar­riages, divorces, to a time of church bells on Sunday morn­ings, a time of yel­lowed boots dry­ing in the hearth, of child­ish joy in life’s mir­a­cle before days start to come apart, when one trust­ed that wish­bone, the future.


Feint Fanfare

To tko time I tracked down my dad the box­er, his haunts, mine, acci­dents of fam­i­ly.  I want­ed to exca­vate debris where our clan shout­ed, under­stand why, pound through our bruis­ing biog­ra­phy nobody else would want to research.  Near a silenced air raid siren where I broke my arm crash­ing my sister’s bike I remem­bered a dog run over in the gut­ter, its bulging eye.  Glancing mem­o­ries like blows can leave you feel­ing fouled.

Cause and effect calm­ing anger, I did road­work in my dad’s dis­tricts.  At his child­hood address oppo­site a pub­lic toi­let – I pre­ferred a thatched cot­tage ances­try but the trail led to Battersea – I spoke to a man resem­bling a retired fly­weight, hop­ing to improve my ring lore.  Asked about the old days, their under­tow, he com­plained all his neigh­bours were young, as if youth, not time, was blame­ful for draw­ing the cur­tain on secrets.  I imag­ined snow silent­ly blan­ket­ing London.

Finding work I bartered for a bed, clean­ing a minor mansion’s bath­rooms, I scrubbed and shone before skip­ping away to the rhythm of more road­work past vague­ly famil­iar build­ings.  Outside my school, burnt sug­ar smell now mem­o­ry, next door’s jam fac­to­ry closed, I recalled a screech of brakes, the sick­en­ing thud when a boy I knew rode a car’s grille, and his luck, after saun­ter­ing before it, show­ing off.

Spotting his ambu­lance, my sis­ter insist­ed I clutch my col­lar until I saw a dog else our moth­er would die.  Not sure if folk­lore applies to dead dogs.  Resurrecting ghosts meant top-heavy bus­es, knock­ing on doors, tight-lipped rel­a­tives mourn­ing corteges of the past, jab­bing, feint­ing, duck­ing, weav­ing, an ama­teur time-trav­el con­tender return­ing to attic rooms, rak­ing scrib­bled notes for missed points.

Mother accused me of being stub­born, like him, but hooked on his­to­ry, on expla­na­tion.  Dictating terms, manoeu­vring her into a cor­ner, I coun­tered stub­born with deter­mined, allud­ing to that gyp­sy time of gleam­ing taps, basins, stir­ring dust and cob­webs.  Invading your kin’s secrets informs your own char­ac­ter. I day­dream of a pho­to; a con­vert­ed inner-city gym, long trunks, ropy mus­cles; of shad­ow-box­ing, liniment’s whiff, my arm raised in triumph.


Ian C Smith’s work has been pub­lished in Antipodes, BBC Radio 4 Sounds,The Dalhousie Review, Griffith Review, San Pedro River Review , Southword, 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.