ME AND JOHN LENNON

I was thrown up into this world
Or born into it
Or cast down 
Some time ago
When everything was grey
Mostly
Although some things were black
Or white
And your skin colour
Could be wrong or right
Regardless of your heart
And actions
It made me nervous
That one could so easily
Cross the line 
And be punished
For who you were
So I locked myself away
In my room
My tomb
And listened to the radio
But mostly the music was grey too
Like Johnny Ray
And Doris Day
So I dreamed in Vistavision
And lived in the movies
Where the hero stood up to the mob
And did the right thing
Regardless of the cost 
Sometimes getting the girl
In the final reel
Sometimes not
For the hero was mostly a loner
A man who'd seen too much
And didn't want to see anymore
For he too 
Found that the world was grey
And was not above sacrificing his life
So that others may live
I continued on
Looking forward to Christmas
And my birthdays
When suddenly there was kindness
And laughter
And glimpses of the colours 
Of joy
And what the world could be
If only we tore the walls down
And embraced
And displayed our brokenness 
And vocalised our care for others
Imagine
I was about eleven years of age
With my mum in the Myer department store
In the city
When I heard a sound that changed my life
It was unlike anything I'd ever heard
I stopped 
Transfixed 
My mother asked me what was wrong 
I smiled because 
Suddenly 
Everything seemed somehow right
I wandered away
Toward the music 
Leaving my mother to follow me
The singer's voice 
Was the most exciting and dynamic sound
I'd ever heard
He sounded like a caged animal
That had just been set free
As I had 
The record was "Twist And Shout"
By a group called the Beatles
And on the front cover of their EP
They looked to this kid from St. Kilda
To be from another planet
Their hair, their clothes, their boots, their sound 
It seemed the planet they came from was called Liverpool
I needed to know what the singer's name was
And was told by the girl behind the record counter
That he was John Lennon
And he played rhythm guitar and co-wrote moat of their songs 
John Lennon saved my life that day
And he has had my staunch loyalty ever since
I grew to read much about him
In fact, everything
And have since met many people who knew him
He was a complex, fascinating, contradictory and flawed man
All of which made him even more interesting 
And still does to this day
Scarred by the early loss of his father, then his mother
And then his best friend
He put up a guard to protect himself
From any more hurt 
His singing tone sometimes snarled to hide his pain
But we heard it in his soul
And in the words of his songs
And knew that behind the tough guy facade he was the kindest 
And most caring of all 
My friend Phil Sloan told me that John's spirit was so huge 
That you actually felt his presence enter a room 
Before you'd even seen him 
Another friend of John's who'd known me for some time
Told me that he would've liked me
I hope so
Because I have spent a long time
Loving him 
He was my liberator, my hero, my friend
He made me laugh, he made me cry, he made me angry, he made me care
And sometimes when I am lost or despairing
I think about how Johnny Rhythm would handle things 
And it gives me the inspiration to go on
To try and find a way
I guess it was destiny
That he left us after such a short time
But perhaps his spirit was too big for this world
As his beautiful boy Sean said to his mother when she was grieving,
"Don't worry, Daddy's bigger now...Now he's part of everything."


(c) Frank Howson 2017
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FOR BAM BAM (The Hotel Lobby Dog)

We're like the dogs
Who shy away from your touch
Some of us bite
When we've been hurt too much
We try to forget
But we never can
The inhumanity
And cruelty of man

Some are like cats
Who tend to love with reserve
Dogs wag their tails
While the cats just observe
Dogs try to help us
But cats know they can't
For dogs think we are Gods
While cats know that we aren't

(c) Frank Howson 2017 Lantau, Hong Kong. 


THE NAKED SPOTLIGHT

The great actors know
What it's like
To stand naked in front of strangers
Your vulnerability exposed
And on show for all to see
No secrets
No guards
No veils
No safety net
No second takes
You're on and this is the moment
To learn to not cover yourself
For the sake of modesty
There is no such thing
Anymore
So you relax
And savour it
Burn
Don't run
It's thrilling that they now
Know you more intimately 
Than you know yourself
The monster with a thousand eyes
Hidden in the dark
Breathing as one
Committing every part of you to memory
And reducing you to a one line review
To be discussed amongst friends
At dinner parties
Laughing at how far you were
Prepared to go
For that moment of truth
That intimidated the audience
Reminding them how timid their lives were
In comparison
Exposing their cowardice
To walk the high wire
And to be seen in anything less
Than designer labels and tags
While you are free
To soar
Experience
Feel
Fail
And show 
The real you
8 shows a week
They will never be able to hold
Eye contact with you again
Without flinching
For your eyes are way too honest
And brave
And can see into
The darkest places of the soul
It has made you strong
Undefeated
Self-reliant
And lonely

(c) Frank Howson 2017



THE DREAM IS OVER

So many battles I've had to fight alone. Betrayed by those I loved
the most, they were also the ones I had been fighting for. The
weariness of this realisation makes you weak at the knees and 
yet you must continue to fight or else the duplicity of their 
motives will win the day. You become hollow inside, not by cancer, 
but by the fact that something deep and magical and life enhancing 
has closed down never again to be reignited. You feel lighter as 
you inch closer to death. All that remains on most days is a shell. 
This is when you are called upon to become an actor and give
'em what they want. A performance. A great performance because it 
is so convincing most people think you still function and have risen 
above the hurt and damage of the shadow people. But then again, your 
life, or what's left of it, hangs on the thread of your ability to 
push on through the small talk and darkness of "What if...?" without 
puking on someone's expensive shoes. So many amongst us are asleep 
at the wheel and do not understand or care about what is at stake. 
Love is a distraction. Pain is the only honest constant and it has 
become your friend. You cannot be hurt anymore, which is 
disappointing to a lot of women. You cannot be brought down any 
further, which is crushing to many men. You cannot be bought, 
because there is nothing you need. You cannot be humiliated 
anymore, which is pleasing to God. For now all layers of bullshit 
and make-believe have been ripped away. You are free now. God 
almighty, free at last! You once had a dream too. But now you 
have awakened to see the game for what it is. Nothing can scare 
you now. You are impenetrable. This makes you frightening to those 
who only operate by spreading fear amongst us. And at the dawn of 
our demise you are noticeably at peace. And powerful again.


(c) Frank Howson 2017

Painting by Frank Howson (c) 2017

THE RETURNING BIRDS

I sometimes love to sit on my second storey apartment balcony on a sunny day and look up at the sky or below to the people passing by, some I know, some I never will. Closing my eyes and tilting my head so I feel the warmth of the sun on my face. A warm that seems to melt away the years and renews by reminding one of the inner warmth that was felt during those perfect brief moments in your life.

One day I stood after being renewed, and was about to go back inside and resume some work when I heard a bird chirping away. I leaned over the balcony and looked down to the branch of a tree below and saw a bird building a nest. Transfixed I watched for some time as this little bird would fly away and return some moments later with the perfect twig to fit into this complex jigsaw puzzle of what only she could see would eventually be a nest for her forthcoming child. If anyone wants to gaze upon the wonder and effort of love, check out this painstaking ritual if, like me, you get the chance.

I stood there for hours that first day and watched this bird’s tireless solitary vigil. Occasionally she would sense my presence and look up at me, and I would smile back and gave encouragement even though I knew she had no idea what I was saying but hoped that in my tone she sensed my appreciation and respect.

This went on for about a week until the nest was perfection. Utter perfection, so cleverly and intuitively constructed, strong and sturdy, resting safely on a well protected branch. My eyes teared up from the astounding accomplishment of her love.

Sometimes she would fly back to rest in the nest and look up at me and we’d have our one sided conversations.

One sunny morning I went out onto the balcony and looked down to see two faces looking up at me. If there is a feeling of magic it was in that moment. I went back inside and returned with some food I thought was small enough to feed this new hungry family. I softened it in my mouth and then dropped it down to them. And so this ritual went on for some days until one morning they were gone. Leaving only that perfect empty nest. I wish I had gone and retrieved it and taken it somewhere to be bronzed as a keepsake forevermore. A symbol of pure love. But being only human I didn’t get around to it. Or perhaps I had too much respect to touch it with human hands. As a species we tend to destroy or damage the most perfect things in order to own them.

Some time passed, and one day I was sitting on the balcony in the sun, daydreaming, when two birds swooped down and landed on the balcony handrail and calmly stood there looking at me. I smiled at them and said “Hello” and got up to walk into the interior darkness of my rented nest when I had a realisation that stopped me in my tracks. I turned but they were gone never to be seen again. My instinct tells me that it was actually the mother and child returning to say “Thanks and farewell.”  I’d like to believe that. Somehow I need to.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2017

ST. KILDA

I was born in St.Kilda
Lived most of my life here 
Travelled the world searching for what was
Probably already found
And like the prodigal son I returned
My face lined with lessons learned
To the only place that ever felt to me like home
My childhood was spent in Fawkner Street
It was for a time my whole world
Among our neighbours were ordinary battlers
Sly grog salesmen
Gamblers
and gangsters
Public enemy Number one
Norm Bradshaw nicknamed The Beast for good reason
Lived there
When he wasn't on the run
So did his in-laws The Shannons
and our next door neighbour, the Aussie equivalent of Bonnie Parker - 
Pretty Dulcie
Colourful big-hearted contradictory characters
I remember the night that several rival gangsters
Kicked in Pretty Dulcie's front door and walked down her corridor 
Spraying gun shots
One stray bullet came through our wall
and if it'd been a little further to the left
Somebody else would be standing here today
The 6 o'clock swill at the Barkly Hotel
Produced enough colourful characters and street poetry
To fill a thousand pulp fiction novels
There was no better grounding to be a writer or an actor
Than to stand on the corner of Fawkner Street and Barkly
at sunset
And watch the cavalcade of originals spew out onto the street
and wander home in what seemed like a slow motion drunkard's dance
Two steps to the left, three to the right
Mr. & Mrs. Kilpatrick owned the corner Milk Bar
And were the moral guardians of the neighbourhood
If you were having a poor week
They'd give you supplies and keep a tab
You survived on your word and good name
In those days people trusted each other
My father worked for the St. Kilda Foreshore for over 30 years
His little office was under the biggest dip in Luna Park's Scenic Railway
and he looked after all the beaches as well as the O'Donnell Gardens
The latter was where a lot of my boyhood was spent 
Playing while he worked
In my mind recreating Sherwood Forest, the Alamo and every John Wayne movie
Hiding in the bushes, climbing trees, attacking the cavalry
Developing an imagination
Robin Hood, Peter Pan, Davy Crockett and Spiderman
I fought beside them
Blood brothers every one
We used to save the world before each day was done
My mum worked across the road at Candy Corner
To me, in my memory, still the best lolly shop in the world bar none
And my dad, during the summer months
Would work a second job at night
Running the ferris wheel at the sideshows to the right of the Palais
My first public appearance was on the stage of the St. Kilda Town Hall
at the age of seven, performing "Give My Regards To Broadway"
Although to us, Broadway may as well have been the moon
Years later my father actually died in an ambulance outside the Town Hall
It was a fitting place for him to leave this world
For you see, our world was St. Kilda
It was engraved in our hearts
Everyone I have mentioned, other than me
Have gone now
They are ghosts that haunt these streets
and boulevards and beaches
You hear their faraway laughter on the wind
and see their outlines in the mist of dawn
The spiritual guardians of a place that was every bit as unique
as Times Square, or Soho, or Wanchai
Every weekend people from all over Melbourne would jump a tram
Or a train and come to St. Kilda
To see the freaks, hear the music, eat the exotic European food, 
Rub shoulders with the ten most wanted
Poke fun at the bohemians 
Sneak a guilty sidewards glance at the painted ladies
Eat the cakes of a thousand calories
And parade along the promenade with someone special
Please, for sake of all those ghosts,
Don't let the soul of St. Kilda die
Atmosphere can't be planned or created
It is a magic
Like stardust from the Gods
And once it's gone
It's gone
It can't be explained
And it can't be fabricated
It's not a trick of Houdini
There is no recipe
It can't be reduced to something mortals can understand
But at the heart of it there is a truth
People don't come to experience a strip mall
Even if it has been exquisitely designed
They come to experience Life 
That to me is St. Kilda
And our Art
Tells the world who we are
What we think
And where we come from
And like Davy Crockett at the Alamo
I'll defend that till the end

(c) 2017

(Speech delivered at the opening of the St. Kilda Arts Crawl 
September 21, 2017.)




WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER

fake reporters
pushing their opinions into fake news
fake views disguised as news flashes
fake polls
reported by fake news outlets
designed to discourage people from voting
how many lines have to be crossed
before something is recognised as what it is
and a light is shone on the darkness
so that we may know its face when we see it
or does it really matter?
win at any price?
fake scandals
fake quotes
fake candidates
in a fake world
of fake feelings
and photo opportunity expressions of concern
fake headlines that take the focus away
from the real issues and the real scandals
and nobody really cares
as long as their team wins
but at what price?
and who do you wake to see in your mirror
after such a triumph?
and what is the statement you are really making?
where is objectivity in a dying world
rendered impotent by our naivety
as we dance to the tune selected by our puppet masters
thinking our opinion means anything 
to the NWO guys
but their vision of a new world
will sink as surely as Atlantis
taking us all with it
into the depths and darkness
of a hell
of our own making
where is Paul Revere when you need him?
silenced like them all
or assassinated by a bullet from a lone crazed gunman
a plane crash
a sudden heart attack
or a scandal
or jail
people keep voting for change
and parties keep running on that promise
only to deliver the same ol' same ol'
same car, different driver
and yet we complain when any change comes
as we are not used to it
and our stupidity even angers God
and Mother Nature
and not even the worst disasters can wake us
from our sleep
we no longer dream
as our nightmares have become comforting
and the great nothingness of indecision
is all we are used to
and crave
and so we live
until we don't


(c) Frank Howson 2017