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
Advertisements

MEMORIES OF MOONLIGHT

My memory is going
Taking with it the moonlight
I can feel it
That bank of steel
That never let me down
Is letting go of things
Perhaps making room for new
Or maybe God is showing mercy
By finally unloading from me
Some of the painful baggage
I have carried for far too long
I don't know
Not even sure what my PIN number is anymore
But the jokes still come
To cover any situation
And never let me down
I have been using this technique
Since I was a child
Who felt things too deeply
To save face amidst any humiliation
Against any bullying
Or grief
Despair
Loss
Embarrassment 
It's seen me through many falls
And comebacks
And falls again
As I've clung desperately
To the glimpses of joy
While equally frantic to shed
The fatal wounds of misery
Now
All has become one
In a faded echo of some childhood song
Where only the chorus is still remembered
And the detailed verses
Are only hummed
The Tin Pan Alley story forgotten
But the melody memorable enough
To linger in that part of your brain
Reserved for joy and innocence
From a time way before
You knew of war
Or suffering
Or heartbreak
Or selfish love
Or painful longing
And here you find yourself again
And know it from memory muscle that this strange room
Feels like home
Whatever that was...


(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 HUMBLED

I stumbled and fell into this. It was not of my doing as the road 
I was forging went in a different direction to the dreams of the boy 
I was. This caused me great confusion and suffering as I wandered
lonely as a cloud through school poetry and beatings. My pain became
my shield and protected me from the salt of their laughter. I learned to 
make them laugh before they had the chance to laugh first. Several women 
attempted to wash my feet before my crucifixion one grey day in history
when our father forsaken me because of his drinking. I cried in agony with
a thief each side of me, one believing in me, and one to ridicule me for a
life that ended so. Somehow I rose from the dead and since then I have had 
several resurrections. In fact, the more times people write me off, the 
stronger I come back. My enemies have unwittingly made me indestructible. The shock 
realisation of this has killed many of them. The rest I have dealt with. 
People now stop me in the street and ask for my wisdom. But this wisdom was 
not my doing, and has come from the undoing of everything I wanted and loved.
It was fired by pain and made as strong as steel through humiliation and 
injustice. But still I go on. And those who have spoken against me have
been struck down by God or are dying in the poisoned bile of their lies.
I visit their graves at night to laugh. For nothing is forgotten or 
forgiven at this train stop on the way to Armageddon. I choose to travel
economy for my instinct tells me that God only welcomes the humbled. The man
who brags may get ahead in this life, but suffers a thousand years in the
next. The ignorant fool who never stops talking and always distorts the
third hand facts will be the next to fall on his sword and death
waits patiently in his gallery of art to silence his unrepentant and envious
ways. I am coming for him. Coming in the night. Coming in the dead end
street. Coming in his busy schedule. Coming for rightful correction. Coming.
Every hurtful snide remark is etched on my heart. Every belittling lie
is another stab wound he will suffer. Another thousand years to linger 
at the abyss. And the hellish realisation that it was all for nothing. 

(c) Frank Howson 2017

Photograph by Raija Sunshine (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

SAY GOODBYE

I remember only yesterday

Thinkin’ love would never go away

You painted all the colours of my dreams

The picture’s blurred and broken at the seams

And one by one these dreams they disappear

Till all that’s left is make believe and fear

We choose our words with a painstaking care

Then we wake to find nobody’s there

 

And so we say goodbye to me forgiving

Say goodbye to all that living

Say goodbye how could we part

Tear one more page from Life’s  flip chart

Say goodbye to all that loving

Say goodbye all roads to nothing

Say hello my brand new start

As you go say farewell to my heart

 

Oh my dear it seems like yesterday

When all my dreams were cruelly snatched away

The perfect girl for lonely me I thought

Dumped me for the life that money bought

And left behind a bitter broken shell

My bride now someone’s toy and I’m in hell

Just a place where lonely men confer

And talk about how once we were in love with her

 

And then we say goodbye to me forgiving

Say goodbye to all that living

Say goodbye why did we part

My love has stopped and won’t restart

Say goodbye to all that loving

Say goodbye all roads to nothing

Say hello go play your part

And as you go say farewell to my heart…

Too late to cry…

Say goodbye to my heart…

 

(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.)