THE YOUNG BOY CALLED ME OLD MAN

The boy called me old man but I pitied him and his youthful arrogance, for I knew the pain that waited ahead for him. Life humbles us all. Even the ones who think they are Superman in those summer days of our lives. There will be plenty of time for him to look back at how much he squandered his power on those who let him down. Like an incessant drum beat that slowly fades and diminishes altogether till there is only the relief of silence that comes to those old enough to appreciate it. Some will rage against the unfairness of the inevitable but will fall where they stand as young men step over their bodies in their excitement to enter the ring.

When we are young we dream of running away with the circus. When we are old the circus runs away from us. But by then we can see through the grandeur to the sweat, fear and blood of the performance. And the toll it takes from us all.

It is unjust that we amass some experience and wisdom that gets us nowhere but a park bench in the sun. For no one is interested in listening to what we know because they’re too busy rushing around making all the same mistakes we did. And good advice is only met with resentment from the young, like telling someone how a book ends and spoiling it for them.

Some young men have so many women they don’t know what to do with them. Eventually the women realise this and leave for greener pastures and something more substantial than big talk. Or a big car. For they were never really interested in the car.

Time is a serial killer that picks its targets indescriminantly but will eventually come knocking for us all in the dead of night.

Even for those who were once arrogant young things who thought they knew it all

(C) Frank Howson 2019

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MR. WILLIAMS PASSED AWAY TODAY

A million flowers
A million cards
And an unfinished play
A lonely room
Filled with lonely dreams
Mr. Williams passed away today

A hotel lobby
Is under siege
For an expose
The daily press
Want a photograph
Mr. Williams passed away today

Mr. Brando’s unavailable for comment
And Blanche ain’t been seen for years
The streetcars dim their headlights
So a city can cry its tears

Two sailors argue
As theatres close
All around Broadway
They want some light
But they haven’t heard
Mr. Williams passed away today

(C) Frank Howson 2019

THE FINAL STAGE – Adrian Rawlins review of what he called “My lost masterpiece”.

It started out like a normal day for the man of the house. He had breakfast with his wife. She was no warmer or cooler towards him than she had been for a long time. He read the morning paper, donned coat, picked up his briefcase and left for the office.

She reminded him that there was no office anymore. He had to acknowledge that all that is now part of “the past”. Putting aside momentary chagrin at the loss of anticipated freedom he feels safe. There will be no more journeys into the outside world.

He and his wife relapse into a conversational sortie we know they have ventured into often before, their discourse, though completely Australian, throws up the cliches and truisms of everybody wisdom and in almost Pinteresque way introduces echoes of Oscar Wilde’s sublime parable “The Happy Prince”.

A telephone rings but nobody answers. It has no dial – like the clock face in Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries.”

There is an unexpected knock at the door and a man with failure written all over him seeks admission. He has about him the air of a failed vaudevillian/cabaret performer. Like T. S. Eliot’s narrator he has seen the moment of his greatness flicker…but…”I am not Prince Hamlet…”

The dialogue is cryptic, enigmatic, redolent with oblique references to poems, books and cultural assumptions, skirting banality while continuing the Pinteresque reference to the daily metaphors which have been the cliches while still retaining their nugget of “the truth” and providing many moments of genuine “comedie noir”.

Another visitor bursts in, this time no stranger. Stinky Radford is an actor, lover, a forceful extrovert character, beloved by both Man and Wife. Asked about his life, he bravely lies while we see that he too is not Prince Hamlet, nor was he meant to be.

While the husband muses upon the remembrance of the past, Stinky makes love to his wife, who was once his wife too. Then, girding up his loins, he leaves to…try again?…to solve the riddle?…face the music?

By the time the audience have accepted the essentially metaphoric nature of this work of cinema: the room is none other than the stage on which Sophocles presented his vast and mighty tragedies, or Aristophanes his satires: the same stage which Shakespeare saw as emblematic of the world, “on which stars in secret influence comment”.

Another visitor – a youth, streetfighter, violent, working-class poet and thug – shades of Jean Cocteau here – bursts in and now we are given our first inkling of the exact nature of the metaphor we have been watching. Despite his bravado and overt displays of machismo, he is terrified by the wife’s advances. We are justified at this point feeling that perhaps all of the male characters are aspects of the husband’s psyche and that we are witnessing a revelation of Everyman/Everywoman in a decidedly contemporary encapsulation.

The wife reminisces volubly about a lover, a lawyer with an earring in one ear.

Stinky Radford returns, having failed to discover anything. The streetkid wants to go back but Stinky assured him “there’s nothing out there”.

The husband has already asserted “we are kindred spirits,” and “this is the room of the lost”.

Finally, Music and Light and mysterious opening of a door heralds the moment when Man and Wife must Face the Music in an upper room (the Upper Room?). He is the Happy Prince, denuded now of all his finery, and she, the Swallow who will not leave him. They are translated into Light.

Immediately they are gone, another figure bursts through the front door, demanding explication. He is obviously the Lawyer who has been the wife’s lover, and in the manner of lawyers he threatens to sue everyone until “you’ll wish you were dead!”.

As his three auditors laugh and laugh we now know exactly where we are and the form of the film, which has been hovering at the corner of our consciousness now snaps into place – and everything makes sense.

“The Final Stage” is, at its deepest level a work of art covering in an original and ground-breaking way the same philosophic and metaphorical terrain covered by Jean Paul Sartre in “No Exit”. It is also a funny, sad, poignant, piquant, witty and disturbing story which amuses us while it reminds us of the – dare we say? – eternal verities of Life and Death.

Because of the way “the story” unfolds – similarly to the creative method employed by Peter Carey in his best short stories – the film is decidedly out of the ordinary – its unusualness and the charm and variety of the performances, induce us willingly to suspend our disbelief. Those viewers familiar with poetry, the theatre, and great literature will find echoes of those other forms and discovery of such connections gives the film’s delightful tension. Theatre-goers, one hopes, will appreciate more fully the slightly theatrical edge to the dialogue. But everyone should be able to see that “The Final Stage” makes a significant, even historical contribution to our understanding of film form in the deepest sense.

– Adrian Rawlins
Critic &. Poet
1994

Review written for Farrago.

Produced, Written & Directed by Frank Howson starring Adrian Wright, Abigail, Tommy Dysart, Michael Lake, Zachary McKay & Tiriel Mora.

photograph by Luzio Grossi.

I FOUGHT A WAR FOR YOU

The trumpets that break the dawn
A fanfare to the dying and unborn
Passion replaced by duty
Love replaced by fear
And the ticking of the clock
Says “Young man please take stock
Before you finally disappear
I fought a war for you
I fought a war for you”

The battle across the hall
Still rages as our fathers stumble and fall
Isn’t anyone happy?
Anybody care?
It’s not the cutting of the vein that causes the pain
We’re killed long before that final dare
I fought a war for you
I fought a war for you

All the wasted years
Lost in action
All the hollow dreams
All the bitter tears
To make you happy
To have a faithful love
Forever young
Always in the sun
All the things I wanted
All the things never done
Like our dreams we too are fading
Before we have barely begun
I fought a war for you
I fought a war for you

I fought a war for you
Isn’t anyone happy?
Anybody care?
I fought a war for you
Put your hand on my heart
Can you feel it?
Can you heal it?
Am I still with you?
Are you still with me?
Let’s open the paper and see

(C) Frank Howson 2019

THAT’S HOW IT ENDS

She died in my arms
Not a word was said
In silence we rose
And got out of our bed
Her eyes would flash
I knew them too well
Every man in this town
Had a story to tell
But they weren’t her lovers
They were just friends
That’s what she told me, and
That’s how it ends

She cried for the boy
Who had dared to dream
His suitcase was packed
For the journey downstream
She’d lost her chance
To salvage herself
From the toys in the dark
That were left on the shelf
There were too many cracks there
For me to mend
That’s what I told her, and
That’s how it ends

We feared the many dangers
That stood in our way
Too many strangers
With something to say
We stood there grieving
At the death of our youth
The first thing to die
After the truth

She calls out my name
But the hunger’s gone
For some times we die
But still we go on
The game of love
Has been played and lost
Now old men sit alone
And fathom the cost
But there’s always tomorrow
And what fate intends
So the story goes on
But that’s how it ends…

(C) Frank Howson 2019

Photograph by Vanessa Allan

FUNNY

Funny
But here we are
Who’d have thought
We’d have come so far?
We danced so long together
Everyone else has disappeared
But all those things that seemed so frightening
Are now no longer feared
They’re just funny

Funny
But we dared to love
And now we shine
Like the stars above
Our friends can laugh in wonder
At how we left them far behind
But we got something they only dream of
And rarely get to find
They think it’s funny

Funny
How we never expected
To find love again
Taken by surprise we were
Don’t know where, hard to say when
The moon was just a neon
Till I looked into your eyes
Now everything’s for real
Beneath these friendly skies

Funny
How the chairs are placed
And the dragons
Have all been faced
Now hold me close forever
And never let me wander lost
We stood alone for far too long, girl
But we have paid the cost…

Funny
How quick the evening goes
When the two of us fill it up
Funny
How warm our hearts can get
When there’s nothing to interrupt
Ain’t it funny?
Funny
But here we are
Who’d have thought
We’d have come so far?

(C) Frank Howson 2019

Sketch by Frank Howson.

IN MY TIME OF DYING

In my time of dying
They’ll call for a holiday at the workhouse
For there’ll be no bills to be paid
Mouths to be fed
Or favours to be returned
And the women that loved me may walk a little slower
And the men who plotted my downfall will have nothing to do
The people who go around taking names will give them back
Realising their data and all their lists reveal not a thing about who we are in those lonely nights
In our lonely rooms
Where the hours after midnight are our only friends
And some will weep for what was denied
And others will laugh at the remembrance of what was done
There will be those who will continue to phone my number expecting me to be there
As I did for some weeks after my poor mother died
Others will walk with my ghost
Along familiar broken dark alleys
That I walked to expend my joy and tragedies when they were too intense to share with anyone
Some will cry at the ground beneath my headstone thinking I’m there
But I’ll be gone from the things that rooted me to this earth
Maybe some women will regret that we didn’t take that dance
Just once perhaps
In an intoxicating act of madness
Risking the stars for a shot at the moon
But we risked nothing
And got nothing in return
Staying home
While others saw Paris
Saving ourselves for what?
We weren’t given a life for safety
But rather to live
To make mistakes
To learn
To rage
To feel
To love
To sometimes get it right
And to find shared humanity
In the loss and ruins of our deluded dreams
Some will express disappointment
That they never saw what I did
Because there were too many excuses that kept them home in front of their mirrors
Reflecting on things long gone
Old men with cracked voices revealing broken hearts will drink to our friendship in all the bars where we laughed away the night
And reduced all our tragedies to punchlines of a joke
Those whom I loved will know that I loved them by the strange feeling of warmth they feel each time they remember me
And that will be because I am still with them
Smiling that smile when you have said it all
Shared it all
And given all
And they will be the custodians of my true legacy
Not the academics
Who never knew me
Nor the critics
Who never got me
Nor the talkative acquaintances
Who never saw me bleed
And be less than myself at times
Or surpass myself when a friend had stumbled
And needed someone to defend him or her
No, don’t look for me in the cold corridors of libraries
Or reduced to a 60 second grab on a news channel
Or killed again in some passionless speech from some senile professor
Who thinks he has worked me out
Or edited to the bone in an obituary dashed off by some hack demoted from the sports page
For I was never here for them
I was here for you
You were my mission
My purpose
I have seen how people are rewritten in order to take their place in the posterity of people’s hearts and minds
Sanitised
Buffed up
All the creases ironed out
Photoshopped
Christ-like into history
By a St. Paul who thinks there may be a buck to be made from my resurrection as a different man
My intentions adapted and rewritten to reflect someone more palatable to the masses
As if it is not enough to be crucified in life
They must crucify you in death too
Eventually we are all turned into Lincoln monuments
Stony cold and all-knowing
Devoid of all the doubts, regrets, mistakes, failures, anger, frailties and foolishness that made us human
For the road to earthly perfection and hero status is merely a Houdini illusion
The big lie
Told enough times to become fact
But if this circus comes to town
I don’t want you to attend it
For you knew me better than anyone
You saw me weep
When I pretended not to care what they said about me
You saw my anger
When I turned the other cheek
You saw my bewilderment when success came too late for me to care
You saw my scars from the loss of the irreparable
You saw my kindness without agenda and trusted it
You saw the pain that wrecked a life but was rewarded with a shining talent and an impossible schedule
You saw an old soldier’s dignity that could not be captured by the enemy
You saw the effort it took to face another day
You heard my prayers and the foolish hopes and dreams of a prize fighter punch drunk but still standing
You heard my approaching footsteps when all the others had run for cover
For you were my friend
And I loved you with all the nobility of Sir Galahad laying down his life when it was needed
Drinking
And discussing life
And the reasons we live it
Till dawn
At our little round table
Watching you being whipped for the sins of others
I caught your fall
And guided you to the ground
Safely
Laughing at the stupidity of taking it all too seriously
For it, after all, was just a dream
And now here I am
In another dream
And can be summoned up whenever you need me
I am stronger now
Rested
Weightless
Joyful
No aches
And the night, and people, can no longer tire me or disappoint
I am now all yours
And no one can be jealous of what we have
Your past and present friend
Who came to save you from the confusions of life
And in doing so saved myself too
It is only love that gives sense to this whole huge expensive gaudy experiment of God’s imagination
And in excepting your love
I have given you mine
And it is in this love that we are granted eternal life
In my time of dying
I will take one last look around
To see if I missed anything
And then close my eyes to what could’ve been, should’ve been
And was
For you are allowed no baggage in heaven
And yours will be the last face I see
There will be no will to find
Only the stubbornness that left me penniless
For I gave no names
To betray my brothers
For the betterment of my career
And the belittlement of me
I was always wiser in my work
Than I was in life
Thus I withdrew from life
And lived in my work
So if you ever miss me
This is where you will find me

(C) Frank Howson 2019