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



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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.)




SPIRITUAL VAMPIRES

So many fucked up people in the world
Monstrously negative feelings about every living person
Every word from their mouths another poison bullet
Aimed at someone, anyone
Most times they actually kill the person who was attempting 
To help them
But I guess to them we all look the same
Eventually they implode and eat themselves
But don't breathe easy
There are many who will follow
They weren't loved enough by daddy
So now they reach out frantically to everyone they meet
To give them the loving family they were denied
But when such immediate desperation hits 
They frighten off their targets
And their baby love turns to a cold-hearted hate 
Within a blink of an eye
They hit out at the world 
For not giving them what they wanted
Yet they can't tell you what that is
They want to be celebrities 
Without doing the hard work
They want to be successful writers 
Without facing the pain
They want to top the charts with songs
That touch us without ever exploring themselves
They want babies 
But marry those who don't
Almost as though this self-fulfilling prophecy
Will forever more be their excuse 
For not having to love anyone
Or give of themselves
Or try
If you are trapped by them
There is no escape
Only a small room where death awaits
The living are always under attack from the dead
The spiritual vampires
Of the new millennium
Sucking off your light force
Until you are done
And then they will mourn you
Because now you are safe to be
Whoever they choose to invent
As their next excuse


(c) Frank Howson 2017




I’M THERE FOR YOU

I'm there for you
Even when I'm ignored
When you hit out at the world
I sometimes get in the way
Because I appear to be strong
I sometimes am not watered
Like the other flowers in your garden
But I'm there for you
Observing
Protecting
Advising
Defending
Encouraging
Worrying
Until I feel empty
From standing in these shadows
That rarely get the sun
I live for the laughter
The words of hope
Spoken by you or others
The light
The common sense that wisdom brings
To all
But is seldom noticed
Or heard
I am there
Waiting
Longing
Bleeding
Hurting
Renewing
Carrying the weight
Of every decision made in my name
That scarred me
Humbled me
Blessed me
And saved me
I am there for you
Every step of the way
To lift you up from every fall
To shoulder every tear
To make sense of every confusion
To call your name
When it's been forgotten by others
I have been there
So I can be here
For you


(c) Frank Howson 2017



NOT TO FALL IN LOVE WITH YOU

I just don’t know

What to say

Years from now

I’ll say I was led astray

But here we are

And what’s a man to do?

I’d have to be blind

Not to fall in love with you

 

We almost kissed

On that night

But we knew

We did not have the right

To break the hearts

Of those we thought we knew

I died where I stood

Not to fall in love with you

 

God has cursed me

Not to fall in love with you

Someone over-rehearsed me

Not to fall in love with you

 

I still do dream

After dark

Of angel wings

And faraway sounds of a lark

We leaned so close

That we almost did touch

You have condemned me

Not to fall in love too much

 

Can’t do small talk

Nor can think

Strike me down

But all I can do is drink

So here we are

I don’t know what to do

I’d have to be drunk

Not to fall to love with you…

 

You know how much I’d hate

Not to fall in love with you?…

 

(C) Frank Howson 2017

 

 

THE BRIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD

I always remember that dream-vision of a long cold country road stretching out straight in front of me and going on, disappearing into the blurred infinity of the horizon.

I feel that I’ve been on this road all my life and yet every time I see it again in my dreams it’s from the same viewpoint and I realise I’ve made no noticeable headway.  That’s when I feel weary and have to sit a spell and ponder it all. The only traffic passing me on this lonely road are the memories of my life flashing by like a huge over-loaded truck.

A truck thunders past and in the ensuing mist of dust I see my mum and dad. The haze clears and there they are. Unchanged. Smiling at me from across the road, and then gone. It makes me miss them so much I ache. Perhaps they were the only two people who ever really understood me. And loved me without agenda for what I was, and not what I was later perceived to be. All I know is, I’ve had to come a long way on my own. And that makes you strong. But every thing comes at a price and sometimes I wonder whether too much strength can make you as hard as a rock. And just as cold.

Another truck and I glimpse my first wife. Still beautiful and young and spirited. She too smiles at me but it’s different from the past. Her smile now exudes understanding, and empathy. Perhaps sympathic that I have been stuck here on this road for so long. She got away. And now knows the peace, wisdom and sunshine of the other side. I yell out, “We were too young, that’s all. And too poor. Nobody’s fault!” But she is gone in a mist of dust as another truck of memories flashes by and all I’m left with is her smile of warmth.

Why do I only see the dead on this road? Are they trying to entice me over to the other side? Sometimes I get so tempted I stand but at the last moment always remember something that compels me to sit again. And wait.

More deafening noise and dust. Then, there’s my Uncle Horrie who was never acknowledged by my family. An outcast for things beyond his control. I always liked him and felt sorry for his pain. He smiles at me and waves too. He seems so much more confident and at peace. Perhaps he is now sorry for me?

He yells out to me, “It doesn’t matter what they say about you. Over here, there’s only one truth. And it’s so clear to everyone there’s no need for words”. 

I stand again. Wanting to cross and escape all those who’ve knifed me in the back. The pain doesn’t come from the knife wounds but the realisation that friends would betray you. And that pain doesn’t ever heal. Some were bought by money. Some by fame. Some, just to see you fall.

I sit again.

Another truck passes and I’m distracted by the rumble and dust again. As it clears, I see my smiling Grandma as she nods to acknowledge my existence. She yells out, “You don’t talk to me enough, y’know?…You were the apple of my eye. And still are. I gave you your name. Frank by name, frank by nature. Keep telling the truth, no matter how much they hate it. And smile. They hate that too. Bye baby. See you soon”. 

I stand and walk a few paces onto the road, but an approaching truck forces me back.

When the dust clears I see a group of people but it’s my heart that’s the first to recognise them as it warms my entire body. I see my Uncle Frank, whom I was named after, who died before I was born. His sensitive nature taken by a war he had no right to be dragged into. But here he is, looking as young as he did in all those framed photographs my mother cherished until her dying day.  Then there is Uncle Bill who was always the beacon of integrity; Auntie Gladys; Uncle Arthur; Uncle Jack, Auntie Dagma; Uncle Alf and Auntie Daphne, Johnny Wheeler (still yelling out boxing tips to me and that I need a haircut); Brian Hickey (my first manager who believed in me); and Big Bill Stephenson (my boyhood football hero). They all look so pleased to see me and are yelling out things but I can’t hear what they’re saying. Too many voices and too much to catch up on. I smile back with a joy that makes my cheeks ache, as I wave like an excited child. The warmth that fills my body tells me I’m home.

I take a few steps onto the road, towards them, all reaching out with open arms to embrace me. Suddenly I see everything with such a heightened clarity it fills me with a deep sadness at all the mistakes I have made in my life. Seeing where I let someone down; seeing those I befriended who were never my friends to begin with; those I trusted who ultimately worked against me; all the times I was weak instead of strong; the times I was strong when I needed to be flexible; seeing the women who were lovely but all wrong, who would take me from my work and all the people I loved; and all the times I said “Yes” when I meant “No“.

I am so lost in these painful remembrances, that the next thing I remember I am back, sitting on my side of the road, and looking into that faraway horizon that may very well be just a theatrical backdrop for all it means to me.

I am weary from surviving too many life shattering jolts, too close together. Jolts that would’ve killed some, that have killed some, and yet I go on. Why? Must I continue on my way feeling that I have taken 12 rounds of the best Muhammad Ali could give at his peak? Why? In the dying words of my mother, “What’s the use?” And yet, still the jolts continue. What is the use?

Then I am crying, my head in my hands in case someone sees. Seconds later looking like I am wiping the dust from my eyes because, as Marc Jordan says “That’s how men cry”.

So here I am. Back at the beginning of this recurring dream. Weary but wise. Lost but found. Aching but hopeful. Waiting for God to begin the play-off music and not to blow my cue. When you gotta go, you gotta go, y’know?

Why am I still here and so many are gone?

Maybe it’s true that God calls home first those he loves the most.

A dear friend of mine who has a connection to the spirit world tells me, “You’re here a bit longer to complete a few more projects, and receive some praise, but most importantly, to save someone’s life”. 

Now, wouldn’t that be something worthwhile to cross to the other side of the road with?

 

(c) Frank Howson 2017

 

Photograph by Vanessa Allan.

DAY IS DONE

It's push and shove
And Christmas Eve
You stole my heart
Now I wear it on my sleeve
And I'm standing here
Where a boy once stood
When he dreamed of worlds
That lay beyond the woods...

Daniel Boone and Peter Pan
Davy Crockett and Spiderman
We fought together
Blood brothers every one
We used to save the world
Before each day was done...

It's winter now
On Nelson Street
The shadow men
Celebrating my defeat
Never been afraid
And not about to start
So they stole my dreams
Don't mean they broke my heart

Daniel Boone and 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...

And I'm wishing hard
On every star I see
That you'll find a place
In your heart for me...

It's Silent Night
And final drinks
I'm too far gone
To hear what anybody thinks
Now I'm walking home
Can someone tell me
Where that is?
Somewhere someone wakes
To a Christmas kiss

Daniel Boone and Peter Pan
Davy Crockett and Spider Man
I fought beside them
And with Zorro I would run
We used to save the world
Before each day was done...

Before each day was done...

It's done...


Cc) Frank Howson 1998