Whose six-pack? Whose scotch?

There are three of us in a babbling hotel,
close to the happy hour.
He is older than I,
younger than my father.
A man full of stories about the town that he left
when he was young.

A rich balladeer,
unique in his capacity to reflect
through the escapists fortune
of having been away.

In all the years till my father died,
when I was a youth and when I was already a man,
I never once supplied, or offered to supply, beer
or whisky or wine.

When I brought my mates around home,
we drank his beer.
When my brothers and I came to visit,
we could not retire to our beds while there was a drop left
in the whisky bottle that he always had available,
even if it was just the two of us doing the drinking.

You know, I never even thought of offering to supply it,
whether drink or food.
Of course, I realise that he would have been offended
if I’d ever done such a thing, but,
especially since he died, I’ve thought about it a lot
and wished that
sometimes
I’d bought a six-pack, or a bottle of scotch,
and at least made the gesture.

My own father responded,

well, that’s just the way they were
in those days, and now
you probably do the same for your own kids.

I looked at my father, and thought, yes,
that’s the way you have always been. Perhaps
I should get a six-pack or a slab of beer
to offer you, and see what you have to say
to that.

Meanwhile,
drink up gentlemen, it’s my shout.

What’ll you have?


© Frank Prem, 2003

company for a magpie

a magpie and a wagtail are keeping odd company on the park
the magpie has no partner and is not part of a gang of bachelors
he bustles on the ground in a few running steps this way and that
pauses to assess and then hurries forward again
the wagtail matches the running movements in a manner almost mocking
but whereas the magpie is all chest and legs
the wagtail is a tail-ticker who insinuates an occasional curlicue of flight

I wonder what the magpie has done to achieve ex-communication
it would be more usual to find his kind living as part of a thuggish band
of delinquent warblers marauding over claimed territory
I wonder too about his association with the scallywag-tail
the grim beaker and the clown

I suppose even a solitary misfit is entitled to a mate


© Frank Prem, 2002

Hammered Gold and Gilded Tin

It is a grail of sorts, the quest
for possession of a small
but precious and growing thing,
the evolution of a child.

The taste of truth is crafted
in a cup of beaten gold,
shaped plain and unadorned
of false or burnished pride.

The cup of venality
lies coated in thin enamel.
Gilded stuff, poor of substance.
Pretty, gleaming, shallow.

Which will nourish
the thirsty young?
From which a sip
for the future?
Hammered gold or yellow gilt?
Elixir or sugared syrup?


© Frank Prem, 2001

the new west

this is the west
the new west
a place of contrasts

old industry and aging housing for the 50’s immigrants
old Europe come in hope to live in new Australia
to be ‘New Australians’
more recent the stagnant slippage into unemployment
boredom
drugs and suicide rates
urban leprosy and tawdry reputation

new housing tracts of five hundred homes in a hit
welcome to beautiful Caroline Springs
just ten kilometres up the freeway from Melton
growth corridors sans infrastructure
new-wave arrivals
Vietnam
Afghanistan
Cambodia
new support groups and migrant resource centres
loneliness and depression

the Service-Partnership meeting
is peopled by community representatives with old-European faces
the early immigrant waves have become Establishment here
there are no Asian faces
and only three men in a sea of women

Ms Urbana is in the chair
on behalf of the indigenously named Community Health Centre
a tall big-boned woman with round face and round eyes
dark hair touched with purple tones reflected in the down-lights
she has no accent but that of Keilor
and yet she is straight out of some Slavia

Vesna is the admin assistant
Lydia has a point of order

the Coordinator of Projects has caught my eye
with the movement of her hands
her several rings catching the light
she also may be multi-faceted
the fingers are extraordinary             over-sized slenderness
she is using the long pointer to make a circle that remains
hanging in the air as an outline the width of her fingertip
when she makes a fist for emphasis
it is the size of a man
a disproportionately powerful appearance
on such a slender body frame

this is the new west
old wogs in control
new wogs the out-of-sight subjects of discussion
welcome aboard sir
what do you have to contribute?


© Frank Prem, 2002


This piece is taken from an unpublished set of poems reflecting on change over time in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne. This was an area that was turned into suburbs back in the 1950’s or thereabouts and accommodated the waves of European migration into Australia. It was know as a ‘New Australian’ area, filled with ‘wogs’ and other such unflattering names.

I knew the area as a youngster from visiting with family, and revisited as an up and coming Project Officer in the Department of Health in the late 1990’s and thereabouts.

Other poems in the set may appear (or not). Here’s one: a ride on the St Albans line

for differentiation

he watches her
familiar enough to anticipate
the next movement
next gesture
the face she’ll make
to distract him from his study

accustomed to her place
in their mutual life

these things have become
commonplace
ordinary and unremarkable
and yet

and yet
they are necessary
like air to breathe
like sun to warm a day

like life
to differentiate existence
from being


© Frank Prem, 2009

Dead Shrub

the shrub is dead
there is no doubt of that
a collection of fragile
and empty dry branches
suspended pointlessly

until an angle of falling light
reveals twenty-two intricate webs
woven in identical silk
patterning varied only as much as needed
to capture and embrace those twigs
in immediate vicinity

and two small dragon flies
clinging precariously
against a brisk breeze
reflecting gloriously
the sun


© Frank Prem, 2001

pastoral mechanics

I am not a carburetor man. Most things mechanical are outside the realm of my range of possibilities. Not so my father, whose hands sing songs of solder and braze to create harmonies of many parts as they caress the metals, bolts and screws that leave me cold and hyper-aware of my ineptitude. And so, the day began with worn mower blades that somehow had grown twine wrapped around a shaft and then extended itself to discover water in the motor and the inevitable dismantling of a saturated carburetor.

I can’t adequately explain how inevitable such a progression has come to seem to me over the years. Each occasion of mechanical mishap subtly swelling, almost un-noticeably, until the point is reached of sudden status change and we’re confronted by the serpent-like writhing of a major melodrama. The task of minutes transforming to become an entangled preoccupation of hours.

This time, the surprise problem announced itself with a gush of water pumped rhythmically by a piston out through the space more usually occupied by a spark plug. Apparently, the downpour two nights ago found its way inside the air-filter hose and down into the motor. I almost smiled at the predictability of the development, but maintained sufficient gravity not to interrupt proceedings.

My father has a workshop at the rear of his house allotment. It nestles in beyond the backyard, alongside the vegetable garden, chook shed and a small orchard of plum and pear trees. The mower has been hoisted onto an outdoor trestle so he can see better to dry all the parts.

While he is carefully contemplating extraction of the float valve from the carburetor and cleaning the apparatus with an oily rag, two hens have assumed a posture. They are facing each other, beak to beak, in a frozen tableau – ready for the artist or photographer. There are currently seven hens and my mother is telling me that having them all laying at once is a problem because she and my father can’t eat so many eggs. Each hen is known by the colour of it’s eggs. The small black one lays white eggs with a blue-green hue, that brown lays speckles. The white, of course, lays ordinary pale coloured eggs.

While she is speaking, the first reconstruction of the mower has ended precipitously with a flood of fuel. The carburetor float hasn’t gone back in properly. Father snaps a vicious short curse aimed squarely at the foul mechanism and commences to pull it apart again. As though coordinated, three of the hens have started scratching. Two are working in tandem, half hidden in an excavation that has taken considerable effort over a period of time. A brown one beside me lets fly with a near-liquid jet of good-will towards horticulture before starting to claw dirt backward. One big scratch, then close examination with a beady eye, before a follow-up scratch. The earth is being relocated, three toes at a time.

I now hold the mower tilted to an angle that allows access to its nether regions. The base plate seems to have been put back loose. No problem, do it again, but this time clean all the parts properly. I’ve always found the way my father can logically diagnose the nature of each problem and then the procedure necessary to rectify it a remarkable personal trait, and the limitation of my own role to holding objects in place and passing tools as required no longer troubles me as it did in younger days when I was certain that it was my appointed task to exceed my father in all areas and activities. Being aware of the flow of his processes and taking a small role as occasion merits has become sufficient.

The dog has now joined the hens. They are relatively new to each other but move easily together – sniffing in this corner, scratching in that. A quiet c-a-a-a-w, c-a-a-a-w makes for a gentle background to the afternoon until the sound of the chook-yard gate opening on the other side of the workshop sets all seven hens running in a frenzied unison of expectation that some new green-feed will have been deposited in the yard. A few moments later a more stately return to previous pursuits has begun and the pleasant softness of the day is re-instituted.

At last, the mower is assembled and roaring with good health. Hens and dog, startled, have found more distant areas of the yard to interest them, while my father and I are nodding knowingly at each other about the vagaries of machine engineering and how you just don’t know where the first thing you touch might lead you.

Silence returns and the blue smoke fades. The day has followed unexpected tangents, and been curiously satisfying. It seems mower maintenance can hold meditative rewards, even for the non-mechanical when the afternoon is lazy, the hens c-a-a-a-w and the dog has an interesting notion of a place to explore, while my father and I are each doing the things we do best.


© Frank Prem, 2008

On Charman Road

Charman Road people brace the wind aside
shoulder deeper within the layers of doing what’s necessary
ignore the favourable possibilities of an inside table
to hunch over kerb-side latte and primary smoke inhalation
raise their heads outside of coats for minimal moments
that cause an icy tear to form and trickle down
before being brushed by a rapid-fire hand unfolded only briefly
it’s cold enough for stoics on Charman Road

hands in pockets
folded-over arms
red-and-white knuckle plastic grocery bags
trembling breath and body
hugging melee of one

god it’s cold on Charman Road


© Frank Prem, 2001

gallery visit

it’s a free day
cloudy and cold
and for something to do
the art gallery beckons

in this little town
the gallery is a badge of sorts
it stands for civic pride
and a claim towards a sophistication
otherwise largely invisible

at the entrance is a sculpted cow
they call this mooo-ving art
and have placed multi-coloured bovines
everywhere
from parklands to streets

they even appear on hind legs
as players of football and various other sports
the alternative forms of cultural aspiration in town

~

the couple walks arm in arm
past the entry-cow
in through the foyer of aboriginal designs
motifs and objects

he stands close behind her
to see what she sees
rests his chin on her shoulder
while she leans her face to touch his
almost
they share the same vision

they’re in a light mood
no matter the exhibit
ceramics or pottery
paintings on clean walls

he is taking oddly spaced steps
almost latin
but really just playing the fool
amused by his own happiness

she is nowhere to be seen

wait

there

a shadow behind a pillar reveals her
peeping out
waiting to see if he’ll notice
or stay self-absorbed

eventually he sees her
laughs

they are holding hands
and their fingers are never still
twining
untwining
they touch each other constantly
as though that sensation is a unique thing
a gift perhaps only they share

in front of the black-on-white
fired plates and pots
beneath the security camera
strategically positioned to see all
they embrace
kiss

there is art
treasure
within their gaze
to rival the more ostentatious displays
that surround them

now he is studying a small object
something terracotta
she is behind him
he shivers when he feels her breath
on his ear

she touches the lobe
with her tongue
and he half gasps
while she flits away
then he step-slides in slow pursuit

they kiss again
to conclude their tour
of the gallery

in early afternoon
they’re ready now
to go home


© Frank Prem, 2008
for Mrs B.

ar-ah-ar for the ride

ahhrrhh ar-ah-ar-ah ar-ah

ahhrrhh ar-ah-ar-ah ar-arrhh

from the tenth floor of the hospital
the view across melbourne at this late hour
is of a suburban universe
twinkling through thousands of halogen and neon lights
red yellow and green for cars
that all have some place to go
even now

behind me an old lady
is moaning aloud in greek
for elli
the next time it’s for soula or toula
one of them
it all ends up sounding the same

ahhrrhh ar-ah

there’s one behind the curtain
with a tube running up through her nose

-ar-ah ar-arrhh

I think it affects her breathing

at three a.m. they brought in a big guy
way way overweight
I must have missed it while I was at doze
in a stiff arm-chair with about as much give
as a harassed night nurse
until he rattled the windows with a snore
that could have sliced through an old-growth forest
without needing to be re-sharpened

his pauses are just long enough to be filled in by

ahhrrhh ar-ah-ar-ah ar-ah                               soula

where is soula

and my guy
the fourth in this bedlam of ailments
is asleep at last still wearing his glasses
now set absurdly at a jaunty angle
that’s almost a summary
while the streetlight universe continues to flicker
with a flashed message that even though there’s nothing
no-thing
that really matters
some-thing elects to go on

call it life call it death
there’s no need to call it at all
just wait with your thumb sticking out
when the car slows down to catch the next green
hop on board and remember
you only get to ride once if you’re lucky enough
to ride at all


© Frank Prem, 2009