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
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
My home felt like a home to me. My mum and dad were there. And frequent visits from Uncle Arthur, Auntie Gladys, Uncle jack, Auntie Dagmar, Uncle Alf, Auntie Daf, Uncle Bill, Auntie Mary, Uncle Barney, Auntie Terri, and Uncle Charlie (who wasn’t really an uncle but was an honourary member of our family), who all added colour and laughter to our home at 51 Fawkner Street, St. Kilda.
From my child’s point of view our house was like Graceland and I was very proud of it. Today, I stand outside that same house and see a place so small and modest it resembles a doll’s house for grown-ups. Amazing that so small a space can house so many memories. To those who wander passed it would probably at best be considered “quaint.” To me it is a museum of my youth and I can still hear the distant echoes of laughter from my family, now all long gone.
My personality was formed in that house by those people. Life was simple and there was no need to be afraid of anything because my mum and dad held all the answers to Life.
It was a nicer world. People trusted each other. When we were having a poor week, Mr. and Mrs. Kilpatrick who owned the corner store would put the cost of groceries down on a piece of paper behind the counter and we’d pay them when we could. In those days to be able to wander up the street and buy an ice cream on the good of your name gave a small kid a lot of pride in who we were.
I learned the meaning of generosity and trust and the value of reputation in those bygone days. Your word was your word and your reward was the warm glow of pride when you were able to settle your meager debts.
From my mother I learned the meaning of kindness and never turning anyone in need away. I would sometimes wake in the morning and toddle down the corridor to find a stranger sleeping on our couch in the living room. When I’d ask my mum who this person was, she’d reply, “Oh that’s Tom, he’s from Hobart and didn’t have anywhere to stay so he’ll be here for a few days until he finds some place of his own.” People did what they could for each other.
From my father I learned that we all battle our own internal demons and that alcohol can sometimes make you say things you don’t mean. Hurt people hurt people. Sometimes in that house a kid got to hear and see things that ruined the dream world of Disneyland and Father Knows Best forever. But I learned forgiveness – knowing that at the heart of it my father didn’t mean what he said. He was not lashing out at us, but at the world. He’d had a much harder childhood than I could imagine and who knows what innermost regrets and sorrows his poor heart held and had to deal with every day. All I know is that he was the nicest man in the world up to 10 drinks. And that’s the man I choose to remember.
From my elder sisters I learned that envy can drive people to be cruel and mean-hearted and after many attempts over the years to forgive their actions towards me I had to cut them out of my life for good.
We were the last house in our street to get a television set and in the end we only got one by an Act of God. One day a delivery man from Steele’s dropped one off to us by mistake. Steele’s department store only realized their mistake two years later and dispatched another delivery man to pick it up. But by then we were seriously addicted to the weekly TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Richard Greene, and there was no way my dad was giving it back. When the delivery man sensed that my dad was willing to fight to the death to protect his family’s entertainment, the man from Steele’s swiftly departed and our ownership of the small mahogany television set was never contested again. My dad was a hero that day.
Before God granted us a television set, a boy had to invent his own entertainment. So each day after school, I’d rush home, change out of my school clothes, get dressed, grab a football and stroll out onto Fawkner Street and start bouncing it up and down on the pavement. It didn’t take long before boys from other houses would hear the familiar sound and start piling out onto the street for a kick to kick football match until night fell and we were all called home for dinner.
I used to try and take skyscraper marks, sometimes climbing up onto the backs of my opponents, like my football idol Big Bill Stephenson of St.Kilda. My mum and dad had taken me to every St.Kilda match from the time I was a baby in their arms, and as a young boy I had marveled at Big Bill’s genius at full forward. Then, one day when the Saints played Essendon, Big Bill had climbed into the stratosphere for a mark and came down landing badly and ruptured his knee. When he collapsed to the ground, he uttered the words, “I’m buggered” to which his opponent Don McKenzie replied, “Thank Christ for that!” So far that year Bill Stephenson had kicked 20 goals in just three and a half games and at that rate would’ve scored 102 goals for the year at a time when the leading full forwards averaged 54. He never played again. To me, it was a tragedy on the scale of the JFK assassination.
It’s funny the things that mean so much to us along the way and shape us as human beings. I still sometimes get teary eyed when I recall the long forgotten football hero Big Bill Stephenson. He passed away in 2010 with hardly a mention in the newspapers. But it meant something deep and profound to me. From Big Bill Stephenson I learned that no matter how high you soar, there is a still a price to be paid.
When I was born my mother wanted to name me Peter. My sisters wanted to name me Michael. And my Irish grandmother demanded I be called Frank. Guess who won out. A short time later we got a dog and he became Peter. Oh my, how I loved that dog. My first best friend. My confidante who never snitched on me if I did something wrong; who continued to smile at me even when I disappointed him and proved I was only human. From Peter, my rock, I learned loyalty.
One day I came home from school to be told the tragic news that Peter had run away from home. What? My best friend had run out on me? Had abandoned me for greener pastures? How could this be? It didn’t make sense. I grieved for many years over this and never got another dog. Perhaps deep down I still grieve in my schoolboy heart. Not that long before my mum passed away she told me the true story. Peter had not run away. The neighbor across the road had thrown chicken bones over our fence thinking the dog would like them. But Peter got one caught in his throat and choked to death. My mum invented the story that the rest of the family stuck by thinking it would be less traumatic for me if I thought he’d run away. I wonder if they still felt that when every evening after school I’d stand at the front gate looking up and down each end of the street for my best friend to come home. To me. It has probably instilled in me abandonment issues I carry to this day. If you love something too much, God takes it away.
Anyway, that was my first home. Sometimes I stand outside it today and fantasize that one day I’ll knock on the door and offer the people who live there a huge sum of money to give it back to me. I need somewhere to house these memories and am weary of carrying them for so long from one place to another.
And when I have it back, there’ll always be the kettle on for a visitor, a spare couch for someone in need, and if you have a dog with you, a big hug as I close my eyes and imagine Peter has come home.
(c) Frank Howson 2017
The hardest thing to get used to in heaven is that there’s no time. Not that much of a problem for me as having been a writer I was used to nights turning into days whilst I chiseled away at a new work. There’s not much point continuing that profession up here as no one seems to have the time to read. But here’s something for old times sake.
What’s heaven like? Well, it’s like Portsea with nicer people. No one brags about what car they own, or their penthouse in London, or how they made a killing on the market this week because of a pending war. Conversations like that seem a little facile here. Oh, and you can’t judge anyone by the cut of their clothes as birthday suits are the fashion of the day in this place.
Yes, we’re a friendly bunch. All the veils that separated us on earth have been stripped away and the fear of intimacy no longer exists. That’s probably because our leader (he hates being called that) is such a down to earth person. On arrival he told me I could call him anything so I now address him as Ted. My first request was to meet Jesus but Ted (whom I assumed was his father) just smiled and said, “Haven’t you worked that out yet? You’re all Jesus.” He really loves answering any questions with a complete mind-fuck that silences you. A bit like Bob Dylan. It may take an eternity for me to get what he means. So, I mainly sit and ponder until my head hurts.
There are some really beautiful women to gaze upon. I like to hit on Marilyn Monroe which is an exercise in futility as there’s no sex here. We seem to not need it anymore, or the expectations and responsibilities that used to accompany it. We generally just chat which consists of smiling and staring at someone while you read their thoughts.
Ted, our leader who hates to be called a leader, loves chatting about his favourite food recipes. He keeps promising to let me taste his Peach Melba but so far he hasn’t delivered. In fact, there are no meals as that’s kinda pointless too.
One day, or was it night?, I asked Ted what the point of creating the human race was, and he answered, “Well I wanted to find out what’d happen if I dumped a whole lot of ignorant people into a paradise, gave them total free will, and waited for the result.” I prompted him for an answer, “Which was?…” And he smiled and replied, “Pointless”. I’m going to need to sit and ponder that too.
The good news for men is we don’t have to shave anymore. And ladies don’t have to pluck anything.
I play cards with Freud, who should be called Fraud as he cheats at everything, and Van Gogh (still a grumpy bastard who can’t read a thing you’re saying). If Grumpy tells me again he only sold two paintings on earth I’m going to have to clock him. Vincent and I currently owe Fraud several million dollars but again it’s kinda…pointless.
Marilyn is looking very alluring as I sit here but the cruel bitch just likes to tease me. She taunts me with tales of how good Milton Berle was in bed and the fact that he used to trip over his own cock. This has obviously left a lasting impression on her. I wish I didn’t have to read her mind, it’s painful.
The one thing we do have is music. Ted is a freak about it. I sometimes think it’s like being trapped in an elevator and having to listen to endless muzak. Wagner is a favourite of Ted’s, although he occasionally, thank God, slips in some Elvis, whom he confidentially informs me was just as chosen as Jesus. I am now pondering the conundrum that both Jesus and Elvis are in us all.
This could take several more eternities to work out before I’ll have a follow-up question that won’t embarrass me in front of Ted.
God, he demands a lot.
It just crossed my mind that, between Freud’s cheating, Van Gogh’s whining, Marilyn’s tauntings about Uncle Milty’s cock, Wagner endlessly played far too loud, and Ted’s oblique answers, this could be hell.
(c) Frank Howson 2017
Well you're free now Of this world and its pain When I heard the news I went walking in the rain A thousand unanswered questions That'll never make any sense "Guilty" cried the moon The stars had no defense I'll never get used to you Not being around But you never belonged here You were an angel chained to the ground Well adios Until we meet again Some are born a hawk But you were caring like a wren And no one can point a finger And say that you weren't a friend Farewell from this life The next will have no end I'll hear you in the morning When the birds start to sing I'll feel you at sunset And at the heart of everything In the smile of a child In every mother's eyes And I'll beg your forgiveness I'm no good at goodbyes I'll never get used to you Not being around But you never belonged here You were an angel chained to the ground (c) Frank Howson 2017 Photograph by Maurice Rinaldi
The street beneath my feet Has never let me down Unlike the people Who think they own this town I tried my luck But the cards were cut When I complained I was told to shut up Goodbye black, hello blue What happens next depends on you I miss the world I thought I knew Goodbye black, hello blue I gave myself to you But then you lost your nerve I was your army Always ready to serve You cut me off And you burned my flag I surrender In peace I pack my bag Goodbye black, hello blue I'll spend my life forgetting you I'll miss the dreams that won't come true Goodbye black, hello blue So I'll be off Until who knows when I'll see you in the stars Until the broken heal again Goodbye black, hello blue What happens now we can't undo I'll miss the love I never knew Goodbye black, hello blue (c) Frank Howson 2017 Title suggested by Chris Thomas.
There is a toll for every virtue There is a tax for hearts like yours You didn't deserve your crazy childhood Or the loss of the brother you loved Cut down by animals in the night Those are scars that don't wash away No matter how many tears you cry When I'll think of you I'll see your smile And think of the battles you fought to be Let down by so many, we're only human, baby And both had rocky roads to bear You tried so hard to stand beside me You tried so hard to hold me close But you had too many ghosts to haunt you And they all got in our path In those hours after midnight When I knew I couldn't stay We were both two orphans We used to laugh and say But you got away, baby But why did it have to be this way? You were always such a loyal friend And you loved me to a fault Looking back you may've believed in me more than anyone And loved me more than I deserved But why did you have to prove your point like this? Gone, and taking all the laughter Gone, and taking all the kindness Gone, and taking all tomorrows And what may've been for you and yours The trouble with you was you cared for everyone Like a child in search of her own But too many things cluttered our space And we lost ourselves Too many things leave us alone Perhaps you got carried away by a foolish idea That all romantics exit like this But did you think of the pain you leave us? Did you want us to hurt so we'd understand yours? Too many questions without answers Just like those nights we'd argue until dawn I tried so hard to help you To make sense of what you'd been through But you couldn't understand me Your hurt was too deep to be cured Now every evening at sunset I'll look at that blazing sun and think of you It's going to take a lot to forgive The hurt you have bestowed us with So many took advantage So many manipulated behind the scenes They didn't realize how fragile you were Or perhaps they did And if so, they have blood on their hands I'll remember you pretty as a picture And a smile that'd light up a room With the excited joy of a child And those mad conversations that made no sense That ended in laughter or tears If you wanted part of my heart you have it But this was no way to take it It could've been yours for free (c) Frank Howson 2017