As announced on Games of Thrones, “Winter is coming”, but instead of walking icicles, we are threatened with extinction by bouncing droplets. I curse the infection, I condemn to Hell the prevaricators and politicos who have made our lives so miserable, and yet I laugh at the Police who try to intimidate lovers on a park bench. It’s going to be a long, miserable Winter. “August”, ScoMo stated last Sunday night.
I had thought retirement from classroom teaching would bring some peace and quiet into my life, and a surge in literary output, but this present state of affairs is too quiet! I must say, though, the shock of self-confinement is starting to wear off, and it’s now turning into dull routine. I sorely miss going to U3A art classes, and then sitting with Geoff Gaskill, Sandra Jobling and others who used to drop into the Deakin Café whilst we tapped at out keyboards on a Tuesday. All that has gone, as has the banter, argument and especially companionship, each essential to literature and art.
Jura works at her FaceBook connections, helping overseas visitors and other contacts with problems arising from the WuhanVirus and our governments’ varying responses. Questions such as; “How do I get home?”, “Can I stay in Canberra with my friends?”, “How do I contact the Consul for the Republic of Ruritania?”, and so on. Then, with her correspondents, here and overseas, having so many new spare hours, she has printed another batch of the first book, A Wolf at Our Door, and we have posting them off to the USA and elsewhere, whilst Amazon (oh horror!) is taking care of the other two novels.
I am blessed with a good computer & a fast ISP, so I can communicate with family and friends by e-mail, FaceBook and other services, and I do give YouTube a good bashing to watch on-demand TV series, as well as indulge in long bouts of folk & choral music. It is a wonderful tool, but in the past 3 weeks it has been something of a distraction.
So, some resolutions: from Mon. 6 April I will … 1. work for at least 2 hours a day on writing new poems, rewriting & polishing poems for publication or competitions, finish the last of the series of sci-fi/noir short stories and then search for a publisher, or competition site; 2. work for at least 2 hours a day on working up illustrations for Jura’s children’s book; and 3. walk at least 2 kms. up and down Camden Rd., along the banks of the Barwon River, or drive to somewhere interesting.
That fills 5 or more hours each day. What else can I do? Ah! I must read and annotate Cate Kennedy’s collection of short stories, Like a House on Fire (Scribe, Melbourne 2002), as I am tutoring a VCE student. I want to go re-read all my decadents; Ouyang Yu’s, The Eastern Slope Chronicle & The English Class, then revisit Henry Miller & Lawrence Durrell, and finish the rest of Vladimir Nabokov, and some others. Then, the other day, I was asked to be a judge in the poetry competition: I’ve shared the load with two other locals, and run the adjudication using e-mail and Zoom. Such are the wonders of modern Science.
Now that Autumn has surely arrived, the landscape has darkened, and the waterfront is losing its touristic colouration. Out for longer walks, aided by the automobile, and out with the camera and sketchpad. It’s a good time to work up some of the sketches to canvas or as constructed watercolours.
So, my days can be filled out.
But August? If we are locked away in our Hobbit Holes until then, I will wither and die. I want so much to hold my grandchildren, to sit with my son and split a beer, to chat about nothing in particular to the gang at Deakin Café, have a black coffee & cake at Boom Gallery, or go to an opening at Metropolis, get on a plane to Perth and then sit in the late Spring sunshine at Hillarys watching the boats and seagulls as the sun sinks into the Indian Ocean.
No doubt, stories, novels and even a few TV dramas will flow from this present situation. I can hear the violins weeping already whilst the heroic nurse valiantly tries to revive her intubated lover, a threnody whispering while the camera tracks down Swanston Street as a line of hearses heads out to the Barrrabool Hills, an organ grinding to the movement of anonymous bodies tossed onto pyres, a white-haired parish priest weeping as he makes the Sign of the Cross over his sister’s grave. And poems …
Letter to Xi
[after Ezra Pound, Canto 99]
As the Sun moves towards Equinox, and the weather changes,
So the ground beneath our feet begins to tremble like an aspen.
Each year Autumn seems to come earlier, the calendar slipping,
Sacred rites falling out of alignment, and the people are confused.
Whatever edicts used to obtain, they no longer have any force.
Yesterday, when we should have been preparing for the long fast,
None of the nearby cafés and restaurants were preparing pancakes,
Though a cooking programme featured a pair of ladyboys,
All dolled up as though they were parade queens on Oxford Street,
Worn out echos of Kybele’s priests, garish and indiscriminate.
Long ago, our parish processed around the church, in splendour,
Catholic, each going in his proper order, thurifers and monstrance
Glistening in the light strewn by the great bonfire, hymns rising
Like clouds of incense to the October night: even the Lodge came,
And the Archbishop was seen in the company of the Rabbi.
My father told me to take mother away if he phoned in the code,
Though he must stay on, to keep the two transmitters broadcasting.
His pistol still had six bullets to keep the Japs at bay, or the Reds,
Then to wait for the next message, or look for the drifting clouds.
And all the time we were glued to the Voice of America, our salvation.
Wise men make plans, having read the histories, for little changes,
And your régime is surely the world’s wise government,
The long Silk Road stretching like a ribbon from sea to sea,
Your sonship assured in true and ordered succession, as you
Are bathed in the people’s affections, and nurtured by our opportunism.
But, and here you need to pay attention: the rats are gnawing
Hard on the foundation posts, so many wise-arse lawyers
Rushing off to the court without great cause, harridans screaming
To pull down any man who’s displeased them, their sisters also,
And bats, which have roosted in the fish markets, are sneezing.
This perfected world is falling once again into disorder, into plague.
Widows die alone in locked rooms, their sons held at town gates:
Ships, far out in the Yellow Sea, burn down to the waterline,
Their crews and passengers clinging to each other in despair,
And from the skies, airliners fall like so many wounded eagles.
What chance is there to restore needed balance, which is made
Not in one mere day, a year, nor even in one Emperor’s reign,
Nor for the sake of the New Year, when families reunite in filiality?
A gentleman’s vocation is sincerity in maintaining the profession,
Rather than indulging in passions engendered by an economics text.
Greed, and pride, led Máo to the podium: had incense burnt,
Made clear laws to overturn Heaven and Earth, blasphemed.
Good laws come from good manners, which come from water
Tumbling down from the lofty hills of the Buddha’s abode,
From the earth that crumbles in one’s fist, sprouts millet and rice.
Though you’ve bought your office, and procured the people.
The drinking of blood is the depth of bad manners, unlawful,
As is the harassment of artists and scholars, or slicing babes.
No good will come of the state as it experiments with our lives,
You’ve disturbed the hills and streams that colour the air we breathe.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ted Reilly joined Geelong Street Poets in the mid-1970s. He is a founding member of GW, now enjoying U3A Art classes, attending a writing group and cruising blue oceans.
You can email Ted here.