THE OLD MEN AND THEIR GIRLS

The old men with their girls
Seated at the best table
The young girls treat the waitress
With a haughty disrespect
Why?
Because they are seated beside
Old men with more money than God
They so easily forget where they came from
Who they are
Because tonight they are queens
Reinvented
Making a huge effort to speak in an accent that doesn’t give away their back street upbringing
And it seems the first thing that dies is empathy
For someone who struggles
And serves in an honest job trying desperately to please
For that much needed tip at the end of the night
So she can walk home happy to be greeted by her young children
Who love it when mommy is in a good mood
Back at the best table
The young girls laugh at everything
The old well heeled men say
Even the serious stuff
One wonders whether they will be laughing long?
Until next month?
Next week?
Perhaps until check out time tomorrow?
Sex is so easily given
When it means nothing
But care about certain women
Really care
And it is much harder to get them to part with their favours
Perhaps a kiss is way more intimate
Than sex anyway
And more revealing
Than nudity
Perhaps I don’t know anything
Anymore
Everything I thought I knew
Was a sham
A pantomime
A play acting
And I was too young
To hear the hollowness
At the heart of her laughter
She got what she wanted
At the end of the day
And I got what I deserved
A table for one
For believing in Hollywood endings
My thoughts are broken
By the sound of laughter at the best table in the best restaurant in town
These young girls are trying very hard
To appear to be sincere to the Moneybags on their way to Life Support
I order a coffee
No sugar
No milk
Just as it comes
I don’t want to disguise the taste of anything
Anymore
It is as it is
The old men and the young girls laugh hysterically
And I feel sad for them somehow
Their eyes contradicting their open mouths and perfect teeth
Like those scary clowns with those insane smiles and eyes of terror
I know how their stories end
I’m a writer
With all the wisdom of a fool
And a life misspent
And no one to impress anymore
It’s a great relief in some ways
I need no sugar or milk
And as such have become an acquired taste
Not pleasing everyone
Not wanting to
But pleasing those who matter
The other acquired tastes
Of humankind
I pay my bill and leave
Giving the middle-aged waitress a tip that I hope helps contribute to her happy walk home to be greeted by those who genuinely love her
I will take the long way home down alleys that go round in circles
No need to rush
I am keeping no one waiting

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018

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SWEET ROSEMARY

My sweet Rosemary
She came to tea
In 1994
She showed me
A thing or two
Before I showed her the door
We met again
By new year’s end
We kissed beneath our tree
Call me a fool
But I ain’t cruel
So once more I set her free

From her sacred chalice
I’ll never again sip
All my golden chances
I let ’em all slip
Now I’d lay down my life
If I could only see
Once more the smiling face
Of my sweet Rosemary

My sweet Rosemary
Come back to me
I’m broken and alone
I lay here
Beside you dear
And your grave of icy stone

I remember her words
Devoutly now
She said, “We’ll always be together”
She knew that, somehow
You don’t know the cost
Till you’re hurt this deep
And cannot awaken
From the nightmare sleep

From her sacred chalice
I’ll never again sip
All my golden chances
I let ’em all slip
Now I’d lay down my life
If I could only see
Once more the smiling face
Of my sweet Rosemary

(C) Frank Howson 2018

(c) 2018 photograph by Raija Sunshine

BORN GUILTY

Some make a livin’ out of shootin’ people down
Some people burn down steeples
Others kill for crown
I was born guilty
For somethin’ I never done
I see my rejection
On the faces of everyone
If you don’t think like others
They’re gonna hunt you down
I hear they’re takin’ names
All over this town
This world’s an angry place
And it’ll kill you in time
And if you preach love
They’ll take you in your prime
So love the ones you love
No matter what the cost
And don’t try to save the world
Or what’s already lost
I’ll see you at the stop sign
You’ll pass me on the street
I’ll be with the nameless men
Discussing the finer points of defeat

(C) Frank Howson 2018

WRITERS

Why would anyone become a writer? Especially in a world that doesn’t seem to read anymore. Or go to the theatre, or go to the movies to see anything other than comic book heroes. Good question.

All the great writers were mostly drunks. Coincidence? Or is there a cost for looking too long into the abyss and reporting back to the good folk what they’re too timid to experience for themselves? Springsteen once wrote that there is a darkness at the edge of town. No, that darkness lies within us all. Each one of us has the latent potential to be a Hitler or a Christ. God has cleverly given us free will to choose our own poison. And the highly sensitive among us reach for the bottle, or the harder stuff, in order to numb ourselves to the responsibilities of that choice.

When I was at school I just couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was hopeless. Sometimes I feel sorry for those who attempted to teach me anything. Not sure if my undisciplined mind was a result of the trauma I witnessed most nights in my abusive family home, or I had what is now diagnosed as ADD. One day the headmaster of the school phoned my mother for a meeting to question her as to why her son had the highest I.Q at the school and the lowest grades. She was at a loss for words. But not me. Words always came easy to me. In fact I could talk myself out of any beating I was about to receive from a Christian Brother. That was quite a feat considering the relish they got from handing out such brutal punishment. These guys would’ve been more at home as members of the Third Reich than Jesus’ band of 12. But talk my way out I did. So, words became my friend, my salvation. And humour protected me from the cruel slings of other peer group bullies. I could always hysterically put myself down before anyone else had the chance to. Timing was everything. Playing the court jester got me through my troubled youth and shielded me from revealing my true self. And what was that? I was scared of everything and everyone. I felt like an alien most of the time in a strange world that only threw contradictions at you.

My refuge again and again were words. The only subjects at school that I attained any respectable grades for were Art, English and Religious Knowledge. The latter because I loved hearing all the Biblical stories and for some reason remembered every detail. They were filled with such amazing imagery and drama. Oh, and miracles. I guess I was depending on a miracle to happen in my life that would save me. And this Jesus character sounded like he might’ve been the only person who would’ve taken the time to understand me. Whether he was the Messiah or not is up for debate, but he sure sounded like a nice man. And like me, and all the other loners and misfits in the world, grossly misunderstood. I never forgot those stories and if nothing else they were great morality word plays.

Due to my restless mind I found it too difficult to persevere and read a book through to the end. But I tried again and again to achieve this. Thank God I did because I now must own over a thousand books that I cherish and have taught me more than I ever learnt at school. I always tell people I was self educated and that’s the truth of it. All my education took place in a class of one. In many ways, books saved my life.

My introduction to books began when I was a small child and my Irish grandmother would sit me on her lap and read aloud the adventures of Noddy in Toyland. We bonded through the whole Noddy series until she was taken from me when I was two.

The first book that hooked me enough to finish was, ironically, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. I guess it proved that I had a fascination with the mystery of women from an early age. This of course led to much heartache and my premature death but that’s a whole other story. Either that, or Ms. Alcott was one helluva writer that captured my imagination and kept me turning the pages. By the end of the book I felt I knew all the characters and cared enough about them to shed some tears. The mark of a great writer.

After that I read Enid Blyton’s book series “The Famous Five” followed by “The Secret Seven.” Then I graduated to “Biggles,” and then many books about the Wild West that introduced me to such colourful characters as Davy Crockett. Kit Carson, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Billy The Kid etc., etc., etc. Yep, who needed to time travel or see the world when you had books?

Then in my late teen years I read “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and my life really did change. A book about the ultimate loner always surrounded by a party of people. I savoured every word in that book – it’s prose was exquisite and the story heartbreaking. It foretold me that following the wrong dreams can get you killed. Reading Fitzgerald was like finding a new best friend. I understood him. And from what I read I knew he understood me. After that I read all six of his novels and every short story he ever wrote. I couldn’t get enough of his words and the insight he gave into the human heart. It really was like he’d read my letters or thoughts and knew me intimately. Of course being part Irish, like me, virtually every story ended in death or heartbreak. He painted such a romantic but dangerous world where his characters always paid a high price for caring too much.

Fitzgerald’s own life was cut short by too much booze and heartbreak topped off by rejection in Hollywood. But he remains my friend and I reread “Gatsby” every couple of years. It never fails to move me. Hollywood has never been able to pull off a wholly successful film treatment of it for the simple reason that most of the truly beautiful stuff in the book are the thoughts in the characters heads, and that’s impossible to shoot. Films are about action. Fitzgerald’s writing is about emotions. Unless you do endless voice-overs and that usually renders your movie as exciting as porridge. That’s why the great Fitzgerald had such a hard time of it in Hollywood trying to make it as a screenwriter in order to net enough money to keep his wife Zelda in a mental home and pay for his daughter’s schooling. He died a broken, despairing, weary man old before his time.

Like Gatsby, killed by the wrong dream.

I came to Charles Dickens late. Not sure why that was but come to him I did. The first book of his I chose to read was “Great Expectations” and was astounded. To me it remains one of the greatest novels of all time. And in my opinion he is right up there with Shakespeare.

I heard that Dickens original ending to “Great Expectations” was tragic and certainly all roads in the book are leading there. But his publisher leaned on him to come up with a more upbeat ending. Dickens listened, went away and rewrote it, and what he does is simply sublime. He gives it a happy ending that is so bitter sweet he moves us to tears as our damaged leading characters come together to try and seek a way forward, and into the sunlight. It is so beautiful my hands trembled as I read the final pages. This novel alone would’ve assured his place among the giants of literature, but he did it again and again, novel after novel – “Oliver Twist,” “David Copperfield,” “Nicholas Nickleby,” “Hard Times,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “A Tale of Two Cities” (another ending that is so exquisitely executed as our flawed hero rises to the most noble of acts, laying down his wasted life so that others may live and find the joy that had always eluded him. Death giving his meaningless life a meaning. If there’s a better speech than his final words, I would surely love to know about it.

After Dickens I discovered Hemingway, Steinbeck, Schulberg, Shakespeare, O’Hara, Maugham, Hammett, Greene, Wilde, Twain, Isherwood, Chandler, Huxley, Ephron and many others.

All complex people, flawed, contradictory, confused, and yet so much wiser in their work than in life. Perhaps the writing down of stories and emotions helped them understand themselves.

It’s interesting how great writing never dates. You may think that picking up something that was written a hundred years ago or, in some cases longer, couldn’t possibly be relevant to your life. But the surprising revelation is that the emotions felt are timeless. Just different scenery and choice of words. But at the heart of every great story is just another human being trying to solve the same problems, whilst dealing with the same heartaches, pressures and obstacles. The universal human emotion. If you write the truth in its naked honesty it will always connect – now, tomorrow, a thousand years from now.

It teaches us that we are not alone. We are all in this together, wandering around a desert seeking an answer to why we are here. And awaiting that opportunity to rise to the potential of who we could be.

John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.”

A person with books is never alone.

(C) Frank Howson 2018

HOMELESS 20146

He had no name
Let’s call him Homeless 20146
He was once called something
But it was long ago
There’s a rumour he had a sister and a brother
But they’re missing from our records
So let’s call them nameless
Blameless
People lose touch
It happens a lot these days
Families can kill you
In so many ways
He was just another victim
Of our coldest winter on record
We keep a note of these things    On our records
Important data for something
He seems to have otherwise
Been in good health
So the cause of death seems to be
The lack of a blanket
A pair of gloves
A hot cup of coffee
A friend
Which of these should I note
On our records?
Our fucking records
Our arse covering records
That no one ever looks at
No one ever learns from
And you who sit in your homes
By your warm fire
Sipping your hot chocolate
And laughing at TV shows
About idiots
That aren’t really funny
But make you feel smart
And superior
And it takes your mind off
Feeling ashamed that you don’t care
No, you don’t even think
About those with no names
And no faces
The ones you don’t make eye contact with
In case you may feel something
And that feeling could spread like a cancer
And spoil a perfect day
From your perfect life
So you mutter under your breath
“Get a job”
To justify your ill feeling
It saves you asking their name
Or finding out their story
And what bad luck led them to bad things
That led them here
You hate them for making you feel guilty
And wish the police would move them along
But where to?
Anywhere
Just out of the way
Of us good people
Who have somewhere to go
And a schedule
And a plan
And mummy and daddy
With a safety net
Lest you stumble
Well, there’s some good news
There’s one more
Deplorable gone
But you won’t remember him
Because you never looked at his face
And the deep etched lines
That were a road map of where he’d been                                       What he’d survived
And how far he had fallen
From the life his parents had hoped for
And those haunted eyes of his
That expected nothing
And saw that the world was naked
Perhaps he was Jesus on the make
And you missed him
You are safe now
The nameless man on the corner Of Lonsdale and King
Has ended his journey
Tonight he sleeps warm
And safe
In a place where names are not important
Or the cut of your clothes
Or how many figures you make a year
It’s a shame you never got to know Him
He knew things                       Perhaps you were scared of what he knew?
And his story may have made you weep
It was in fact he who could’ve given something to you
But you were in such a rush
Going nowhere
But
Down

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018

THE SEX LIVES OF MONKEYS

I wish you could’ve caught me in my prime. I cared. If you’d known me then you may have stayed. But I ripped my heart out and gave it to others. And they never returned it. Proving they didn’t have one of their own.

Like many young male idiots I was driven by sex to destinations unknown. Then one day I grew up to realise that a lot of energy is expended on so little in return. Kings have abdicated their kingdoms, presidents have lost their power, and mere mortals have squandered their wealth, their homes, their families, their reputations, their sanity – for what? Sexual relief in the arms of someone you will lose along with everything else you held so dear. It’s a funny little game isn’t it? But if it grants you a brief solace in a mad world I won’t be throwing the first stone. Or the last.

There are those who gain power by being desired. For a time, until gravity ends their reign. I no longer play the game so I can objectively appreciate their performance for what it is.

“It done been beaten outta me, masta, and you can have your heavyweight crown back while I lay on this canvas and block the sun from my eyes.”

It seems the path to God is through defeat and humility. So having all our childish dreams killed one by one is ultimately good for us. Is that how it works?

There are those of us who evolve, painfully, past this. But all wisdom comes at a cost. Those who resist it are forevermore locked in a futile dance finding comfort in the all too familiar steps but haunted by the sad drum beat realisation that it all means nothing and nobody really cares anymore.

In fact you may as well be speaking about the sex lives of monkeys for all anybody cares.

I was reluctantly and violently thrust into this world. Welcomed into this cold unfriendly place with huffs and puffs and blood and screaming. I didn’t ask for all this fuss and, if the truth be known, have spent most of this life looking for an exit door. At parties or events I never say goodbye. I like to just slip away. Like my mother before me. No prolonged goodbyes or grand farewells. No fuss.

When my time comes and the lights dim on whatever this was, I may look around with the excited expectancy of a child on Christmas morn, to see if you’re there. Of course, you won’t be. But it’s okay as you have hardened my heart to disappointment. I guess that was the lesson you brought me. All is forgiven. All is forgiven. For it was hard to be wise and in love at the same time, wasn’t it? Let’s just say we played our parts well in this fucked scenario written and conceived by a higher power when they were drunk. The plot had its holes and we fell through most of them and landed, arguably, as better people. Broken, but better. Maybe we will meet again on another stage and realise that everything that went before was just a rehearsal and that this time we’ll get it right, performing without masks or baggage or ego or all those things that got in the way of who we really were.

“What if you could have any woman in the world but you only wanted one and without her Life wasn’t much good anymore?”

Well buddy, to put it bluntly, you’re fucked. Humbled, but fucked. But come on in the water’s fine and you’ll find most of us here. Trapped in the stilted delusional conversations about something and someone that wasn’t real. You’ll find that your mind has worked overtime adapting what really happened to something you can vaguely live with. Repairing the stab wounds to your heart, and back, and ensuring that you only remember the good parts from a movie that at the time proved to be unsatisfactory and a time waster, but has grown in stature through repeated viewing. If you allow your mind to rewrite too much you will eventually cross over into insanity from whence there is no return. So forget your troubles come on get happy and join all the sad old men at the far end of the alley. We have no families anymore other than the family of man. No one seeks anything in our eyes and in return we search for nothing in theirs. Accept the truth and you are free of the chains that bind us to this groundhog existence. Being alone will not kill you. Being lonely will. And all that uncashed joy you held in reserve for that mirror partner that never came, try and spend it finding small joys in the simplest of things. A cup of coffee, a conversation with an old loyal friend, the smile from a child, an act of kindness, a sunny day, and a pretty young woman that you want nothing from other than her faith that are one of the good guys.

Yes, all is forgiven. But take the time to forgive yourself too. You owe it to your mind and your spirit to do that.

And as for that delusional movie that you keep replaying in your mind? In reality it wasn’t that good. Tape over it.

(C) Frank Howson 2018

painting by Frank Howson

GINGER BISCUITS

We told each other we had a good life full of ginger biscuits and roast dinners. I suppose it reminded me of my youth waking up Sunday mornings to the smell of something cooking and the excited anticipation of a family gathering.

I’m all that exists of that family now. So, in my defence, I will plead guilty to attempting to bring this ritual into our lives in the hope of a shared familiarity or perhaps the conjuring up of ghosts from the past. Futile dreams were our dessert. Big serves to disguise the cold reality that the best in us was gone. All that remains are the broken pieces of empty dishes. And the broken after dinner stories of broken lives that harbour in my memory and things I dream at night.

There were glimpses of great love in my family but thinly wedged between slabs of anger, recriminations, abuse, guilt and tears. Perhaps that’s what makes those glimpses glow so warmly in my heart.

You wanted a feeling of family and so did I but we were loveless refugees on the run and our pantomime of make-believe was a farce that didn’t hold up to intelligent scrutiny. But the first thing to die in such a delusion is intelligence. We played our roles with conviction but were hopelessly miscast, or perhaps just too old for believability.

We had a life of ginger biscuits and roast dinners but that was all. There we were, unarmed, falling where we stood in the small talk and repressed resentment that neither of us got what we had wanted. The past can’t be repeated, excluding the bad bits, by acting out the good. There is no cutting room floor anymore. Gone. All gone. My youth. My dreams of love. My good will to others. My mistakes of the heart. My misplaced loyalty to all the wrong people. Gone. And soon I will be gone, and all that will remain will be words. And people’s rushed and conflicting judgement of who they thought I was.

Fortunately there will be no one to play act the glimpses of my failed Quixotic quests to harness some joy in myself, and in others.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2018