It’s when the plane takes off
It’s when the plane takes off, climbs, banks sluggishly
against the wind—below, the steel and terracotta suburbs,
the dense green canopy of national park and,
seemingly immobile, the blue-grey river’s length
splitting land from land, and then the indented coast,
blue waves flopping on scoops of sand – that white light
bounces off the sea to swamp the moment in sudden glare.
The engine’s like a vacuum cleaner in another room.
‘The sea is a useless teacher,’ I’ve just read, as are light,
rain, wind, those birds whirling in patterns sensible
only to themselves. Fish learn and can remember, monkeys laugh
and misbehave, elephants weep, and I sit strapped-in
listening to time, and time past, to the things I’ve said and done.
Someone shouted, ‘Shark!’ There was a flurry for the shore
and my younger, slower sister was left behind. I did swim back.
She was brave. But there was a trembling in her voice.
Every sound that’s ever been may still exist,
muffled ghosts shuffling from street to street,
ear to ear, huddled in doorways or drifting one by one
into the noise of time, the reverberating putt-putt-putt
of a motorbike struggling up the hill, lorikeets screeching
from one grevillea to the next, the changing pitch
of something coming near and drawing far away,
memory’s evidence wavering in an interrupted breeze.
What’s the job of memory? To re-invent ourselves
or apprehend the invention as it stands, to run away
or run towards the heart? I’m older than my parents
ever were, have children twice as old
as I was when my mother died, and still I wonder
what it is I’ve learned and what I should remember.
Light years, sound years, the senses marking out intensity,
warm air, cold air, wind that makes the scintillating stars.
When I was ten and my brother eight I buried him
up to his neck in our backyard. He was already
painted red from his ankles to his chin. It’s funny now,
but why did I do it then and how did I persuade him
to comply? My father chased me down the street
with a potstick in his hand. Later I lost my brother
at the Easter Show and wandered home alone.
I hear my father’s voice. See the confusion in his eyes.
Eyes give meaning to night and day, bless both
the hunter and the hunted. And ears? Ears gather,
all the noises that have meaning. Must screams be first,
or the strangled cries of making love, a stutter,
a whisper, exhalation that is felt as much as heard.
The skin has ears, antennae. ‘Little Deuce Coupe’
is playing in the background and I am caught, my hand
on the bikinied breast of a girl I’d never see again.
The trace of a sensation, the echo of a feeling, latency,
suspension, the rustle outside your tent, the rising wind
that wakes you from deep within the night, yourself
calling to yourself across the years – that awkward face,
the frown and scrunched-up eyes, ears that make you
look a little like Prince Charles. What might you say
to your older, wiser self? The fears are still the same.
I am the rememberer now but how am I remembered?
When my son popped up from beneath tight-fisted foam
his first words were , ‘I’m alive, I’m alive.’ His twin sister
whom I’d pushed into the face of an earlier wave before I turned
and failed to grab my son – I couldn’t hold him – was paddling now
with a group of surfers three times her size and trying not to cry.
God help them, they were only six. I lied to my mother
just days before she died. She didn’t speak, only closed her eyes.
An unvoiced sentence hovers now. His startled cry. Her surprise.
‘Reality is a sound,’ Anne Carson wrote, we must tune in.
I think she’s right, though the reverse is more simply true.
This light-weight guilt is carried on the wind, along with doubt,
longing, nothing more than dust, clouds, rain, squall after squall,
as if wind intended to drag the whole Antarctic north,
reflective sounds, ricochets of light, the sharpened syllables of ice.
My ears are turning blue, my eyes are streaming.
What I can’t comprehend is more potent than the merely understood.
In the photograph
In the photograph we’re standing in a line, arms around each other’s backs,
unforced smiles playing on every face, a golden time,
a delinquency; we’re lucky to have had it, we all agree, like a motion that’s been
carried unexamined. No, like the sun rising unimpeded from the sea,
no, like a line of naughty boys caught out. We haven’t really talked this
through. It’s as if it’s all out there in the darkening light beyond the
hidden behind the smiles captured so very long ago, and what they conjure back to
life, the approximations
of what might have been or really might have happened now that ‘really’ has so
little currency. The five of us,
and a convenience store called ‘Memory’ or the word ‘Forgotten’ scribbled in
the margin of a book, the long procession here
or back there then: a broken set of stepping stones. We haven’t changed or if we
have the other us is living too. The ginger hair, the freckles, the wicked
laugh, the shadows stretching from our feet, the jokes, the pranks,
running down the street pursued, the dressing downs and dressing up, the
shuttlecock, the boogie boards, the trips away. To be ourselves
we were each other. What might pretence, ‘pre-tend’ mean? To care before you
care? The moment before a tendency becomes apparent, something
from the Latin, ‘to stretch forth, put forward’? When we’ve peeled away the
retrospection, this stretching forward, stretching back
is still spelt ‘home’ and something in us will not decline. There’s no inscription on
the back. I don’t think there’s any need.