When I was a kid in High School we learnt things ‘off by heart’:
poems by Keats and Coleridge, extracts from ‘The Ancient Mariner’,
soliloquies from ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Macbeth’, whole passages from Dickens;
chronologies of The Persian Wars, War of the Roses,
biographies of the Tudors; not neglecting the sciences, we memorized
physics and maths formulas,chemical equations, and slabs from The New Testament —
we were walking Wikipedias; now I’m a big kid, into my senior years,
I’ve grown rusty, which is why I’m in the backyard walking up and down —-
the bees must think I’m mad —- learning by heart my NEW mobile number
which everyone but me knows
what things did you learn ‘off by heart’? do you still remember them ?
M is in her cups.
Any moment now, the kookaburra cackle
the cutting off, like a hoon driver on the highway.
But for the time being I’m holding the table, telling the tale of the silver hammer beneath the front passenger seat of my car, what happens when my girlfriend spots it.
The little group leans forward, intent.
But it reminds M of something and she’s hyper now, jumps in, raucous.
This time I’m ready for her.
I took a photo today I’d like to show you. It’s for you, I say.
You did? Really?
Yes, I say, bringing it up on the screen, passing it across to her.
It’s what you do when you cut people off, how you make them feel. It’s kind of a metaphor.
She has a close look. Ouch,, she says. Lopped?
I’m walking down aisle #8 but it could be aisle #9, depending how they classify it.
But it’s not down either.
I’m afraid to ask.
I know what sort of response I’m going to get but I’m desperate.
I ask one of the assistants,
So where do you keep it? I ask. Where do you keep the canned laughter?
Pardon? she says.
You’ve got canned fruit and canned veggies but I can’t find the canned laughter.
Is this some kind of joke? she asks.
Sort of, I say, But I do need a can or two.
She looks around for help. You know the look. This guy might be dangerous, I better humour him.
I’ll go and ask the manager, she says.
Don’t worry, I say sadly, no one stocks it any more. She heads off anyway and I slump out the store in my clown shoes and frizzy ginger hair. I beep my red nose for good measure.
No one laughs at my jokes these days. I’ve lost my edge. Looks like I’m going to have to go back to Comedy School.
They were in a little cottage out the back with nothing to write about on a dark and stormy night. Delia, a tall, strapping, Scandinavian woman, with long greyish blond hair down to her waist, had just given them, a small group of seniors, fifteen minutes silent writing during the class on short story writing. You should be able to come up with something, she said,almost despairing of her hopelessly floundering flock. This was the second session and still not a word had been written. The thunder boomed and lightning flashed helpfully as if to provide prompts. Delia paced up and down out the front working herself into a froth.
Just then, as if on cue, the door flew open, and a drug-addled man with straggly blond hair and black tank top stormed in, neck and arms swathed in devil tatts, shouting obscenities in a strange guttural language, throwing chairs around the room thankfully with no one in them, and then with his anger quenched, stormed out again. Where’s Security when you need them, fumed D who immediately phoned the police. Suddenly everyone started furiously writing. Delia could not stop them.
ic by pretty sleepy on pixabay
Some poems start out as poems, homely descriptions
of slippers, for instance or berry bowls, toasters
but then over-reach, chasing chimeras, conundrums,
leading us down a rabbit hole of nonsense.
Others take the easier way, finding their inner teacher,
their gasbagging guru. Some poems start out as poems
but end up as pedagogy. You feel you’re in
the classroom again.
That little kid in Maccas
from Aldinga Primary
with one hand on his yellow scooter
is picking up his order as I
am putting mine through.
Hello, he says brightly
& I say, hello, back
& I think should I be even speaking
with this kid?
[hasn’t he heard of stranger danger?]
so I ask him when did school go back
& he says, Monday so I ask him what grade he is in
[ he isn’t that little]
so I guess, Year seven
& he says, Year 5
& adds he comes each morning to Maccas
to fill up his tummy
so he can work hard .
He collects his pancake with chocolate syrup and strawberry milkshake
& scoots off
with his bag of calories and good work ethic.
*pic courtesy of Wiki Commons
Any chance of a coffee, Cheryl?
I’m busy, John. Can you get one from the machine? It does a good job.
Not as good as you, Cheryl.
She smiled but it was no go. So I went to the machine. There was a sign on it saying,
Apologies. This Machine Is Out Of Order.
So I went and told Cheryl.
That’s funny, she said. It was working earlier. I’ll have a look.
A few minutes later, she brought me a coffee.
The machine’s working, John but I brought you a coffee anyway.
That’s funny: the sign said it wasn’t working.
The sign was on the side of the machine, she said. Only if it’s on the front does it hold true.
Oh? I said. Oh.
So I thanked her and after I drank the coffee, I left, a little troubled.
At home, I flipped through the community newspaper and found just the course I wanted: How To Read Signs. I filled out the form, sent in the cheque and enrolled immediately.
Never again would I be caught short before a sign.
There was this kid who stood at the back of the class
When I came to read my poems
And whenever I got boring he’d rotate
His arms like the blades of a helicopter
& the more I banged on the faster
His arms would whir
Until it looked like he’d take off
His teacher and the other kids paid him
In the pause between poems he’d say,
You done yet?
And I’d say,
And he’d say, Good and slow down.
And when I stopped, he’d stop.
The eagle had landed.
Whenever I do a reading I see
That kid at the back
His arms set to rotate.
It keeps me honest.