WHERE DID WE LEAVE THE STORY?

Where did we leave the story?
Oh, that’s right, you left me
Were we out of our minds
To ever think we’d be free?
What’s the name of that street?
No, wait, it’ll come to me
Did we throw away our good fortune
Whilst searching for destiny?

“I knew a man who went to sea
And left the shore behind him
I knew that man for he was me
And now I cannot find him”
You once sang me that song
On our way to the gym
I think it’s about a legless man
And how it was he could still swim

Where did we leave the glory
We’d fought so hard to win?
Perhaps God was insulted
And deemed it a sin
What is that condition
When we’re too scared to win?
But perhaps we can’t blame it on theories
The truth is we’re made of tin

Where did we leave those tablets
That got us through the night?
Who said we had a chance
And that we were in the right?
You know me so you know
When I glow in the light
I don’t give up till I’ve given my all
Although this time I just might

Why did you leave our story
Just when things had worked out?
Were you afraid to express
All of the things that you felt?
Well it snowed this Christmas
Alone I watched it melt
Then I toasted us with aged whiskey
Although our drink is stout

(C) Frank Howson 2019

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WEEKENDS & HOBBIES & ROAST DINNERS

I was asked a few questions recently by a new friend that really had me thinking. Scrambling for answers actually, and aware of the long silence the enquirer was experiencing. In radio they call it “dead air.”

One question was “What do you do on the weekends?”

Yeah. What do I do on the weekends? I guess the question reminded me yet again to my embarrassment that I’m not a normal person. For you see, the answer, truthfully, is I don’t know what I do on weekends. I guess normal people have plans or a regular arrangement. Or habit. Or get-together. Or ritual. Me? Nothing. I go with the flow. Maybe see a movie if there’s something showing for the over-fourteen market. Maybe see a band or a friend performing? Maybe walk along the familiar memory-laden streets of St. Kilda down to the foreshore and watch people having fun in the sun. Or the overcast winter waves crashing in where Brookes’ Jetty used to stand. Maybe meet up with a friend for something to eat and a beer or wine depending on the mood. Although I can always be tempted to have a sublime cheesecake and a coffee at Monarch Cakes in Acland Street.

Sometimes people call in to see me unannounced. Surprise visits are nice, mostly, unless it’s the police and they have the wrong house!

Other times the luxury of just doing nothing and thinking nothing is like a holiday in the French Riviera. That nice warm feeling that grows nicer with the years of just being home, safe, relaxed and alive. Sometimes like the character in the song “Waterloo Sunset” it just feels right to sit and watch the world by my window.

One thing I have enjoyed doing for many years is going to the South Melbourne Market and joining the throng as we file in homage past all the delectable meat, fish, poultry, deli exotics, fresh bread, pastries, fruit and vegetables on display.

In my opinion, the Chinese hole-in-the-wall takeaway at the Cecil Street entrance sells the best spring rolls in the world. When I lived in Los Angeles and would come back to visit my son I’d always make the taxi from the airport stop en route here so I could quickly grab a couple to go, such was the extent I had missed them in La La Land. I guess part of that addiction was that they reminded me of being home.

I remember my Sundays in L. A too when I’d walk from West Hollywood to Century City Plaza, a long but very pleasant leisurely stroll that would end at the cineplex there to watch a new movie and then an hour browsing in the beautiful bookstore (actually all bookstores are beautiful to me) at the bottom of the escalators. One time I chatted to Donald Trump there as he sat signing copies of his then latest book and I wished him well.

So much of my life has been solitary for one reason or another and some times I feel that it’s God’s way for a creative person. Walking, observing, taking mental notes of odd things, thinking, daydreaming, trying to make sense of nonsense, etc.

Would I have preferred to have walked these steps with the person I loved? No doubt. But I have come to grips with the resolution that it was not written to be a part of my story, this time around. Only fleeting years of romance here and there. And now the sweet inner longing has taken on a somewhat beautiful warm glow of loss. And that glow fills many songs and scripts and stories of mine and in them love is reborn and remembered fondly now the scars have healed and left one with the exquisite taste of what will not come again. Perhaps. But such longings can be walked away if you have the right shoes.

The second question I was asked was, “Do you have a hobby?”

Again, I was stuck for an answer. Any answer. But thinking back I remembered as a child buying at the corner toy shop those boxes that contained lots of plastic pieces with glue included in order to fit all the pieces together and make my own replica planes. Normally World War 2 bombers.

I’d also sit in my bedroom as my parents berated each other and read The Adventures of Biggles, Robin Hood, Treasure Island and Johnny Yuma The Rebel.

When I lived in Fawkner Street I’d grab my football each late afternoon after school and walk out into the street in front of my house bouncing my football. You’d only need to bounce it for a minute or two and presto! You’d have a fellow team of boys all eager to grab the football and in their imagination kick the winning goal. Looking back, so much of what we had to make do with was exercising our creative imaginations.

Anyway, back to the question, “What do I do now for a hobby?” It made me a little sad to think that I don’t really have a hobby in the traditional meaning. Everything I do is in some way work related. I write. And the writing is my therapy in that it’s my way of making sense of things.

I go to movies. But even that is in a way work related. Same as going to a play or a musical.

I paint and sketch but that is something I have been doing most of my life but have only recently at the urging of others taken it seriously and have been grateful for a couple of successful exhibitions. I must admit that painting does relax my restless mind and soothe me more than anything else I do. But a hobby? Like going fishing? Not really. Or playing golf? Nah. I like to chat to people. My mum was a chatter person. I like to engage in conversation with others as I like to laugh, to quiz, to swap opinions, to stimulate thought, etc. Maybe that’s my hobby?

When I lived at my previous apartment it had a nice oven and I did like to make a roast lunch or dinner every Sunday and have people drop in for something to eat. I guess it reminded me of my own family when my mother and father were alive and Sundays were a very special day. My dad would be sober and in a great mood and he’d take it upon himself to cook the roast and all the trimmings. It was a sense of family as it should be, as it could be, and it made me feel whole and even as a young boy strangely blessed, appreciating it even at those tender years because perhaps I had an instinctive premonition that these times would rarely come to me again.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

THE DEAD AND THE DYING

The heavy decrepit bodies of the great and not so, mingled with their offsprings, children too young to realise that this too would be their fate. Pathetic men way past their glory days paraded pretending that they still had it, while bored defeated women looked on knowing they didn’t.

It was another day at the enclosed perfectly temperatured salt baths. The warmth was comforting to the skin and the soul and made old bones and muscles feel rejuvenated. The inhabitants floated safe in this maternal womb away from the business deals that no longer mattered in a world that no longer cared and was on its last legs. Some old guys studied the racing form while younger middle-aged men preferred the stock market. Some gambled with their own money while others ventured with what they had married into, or had inherited. All in all there’d be few winners that day. There were no more lucky numbers to be had, or surprise gold and mineral funds in a world that had been looted, raped and gang banged so many times there was nothing left. Certainly not energy for outrage. Only resentment from natives who had been trampled under foot and squashed by the invaders who destroyed paradise without ever having taken the time to truly look around and realise the greatest wealth was above the ground. But like rats they burrowed lower and lower into darkness desperate for any shiny morsel of opportunity. Never thinking any further ahead than that.

We had destroyed the world without realising that such an abomination also destroyed ourselves. What we project outwards also implodes us. Given time.

I stood in the warm salt water as the floating bodies of the dead and the dying circled me.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

Sketch by Frank Howson.

A WALK IN THE RAIN

He aged within the silences of our stilted conversation. His eyes were those of a man who’d seen his kingdoms fall and the survival mechanisms of such pain had turned him into a statue. Although he was outwardly pleasant and patient there was no one there. He was a ghost haunted by himself but chained to a place that had been familiar in his real life. I wondered if like other theories of ghostlore he was doomed to act out his past mistakes over and over again until they revealed something he hadn’t known before. And replayed to the incessant drumbeat of “If only I’d done this. If only I’d done that. If only…If only…

The dark circles beneath his eyes told me he didn’t sleep much and that the night was rarely his friend. To him there was no morning, afternoon or evening only awake time and dozing time.

It was those eyes that still haunt me to this day. They told me they knew the secrets of this life and that the knowing of such things begats a penalty far beyond any pain most humans experience.

He said his best writing came to him at 3am which was God’s favourite time to speak through us, when the night is still and the silence is that of eternity. The world at momentary peace with itself and you feel you can hear God’s breath within the comforting embrace of darkness. Such were the fleetingly magic moments when inspiration struck him.

He felt he was no longer a person, but a vessel. He had worn himself out in his search for a lasting kind of love and knew now that it was not written as part of his destiny. Hence he no longer sought it for it only carried disappointment in its train. and such disappointment sometimes took years to wash away. A penalty for those who cared too deeply. Furthermore he now feared he no longer contained the capacity to feel the emotions of normal people, and wondered why God had spared him and taken so many others. Sometimes it crossed his mind that the lucky ones died young, still hopeful with dreams intact. He mused that perhaps that old saying was true, “God calls home first those he loves the most.”

These days he liked to walk in the rain. It made him feel something.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

Photo by Raija Reissenberger.

THIS PRISON HAS NO BARS

From the mansions of sadness
To the bums on the street
From the highways of loneliness
To the halls of defeat
I’ve watched your ascendance
The road I never took
Girl, you’ve come a long way
On a smile and a look

From the poolside of stardom
To the kids on the run
From the mountains of compassion
To the things never done
I’ve watched your progression
With an assassin’s eye
I could have been there too
But my heart doesn’t lie

There are stars in cars on every corner of this town
You’re gonna need a lot of help
When you finally come down
You’re slept with the Caesars
And you’ve dined with the Czars
But none of them told you why
This prison has no bars

From the towers of power
To a broken man’s plea
From the face on the magazine
To the girl you used to be
I’m waiting for some answers
Beneath the falling stars
Wish I could’ve warned you
This prison has no bars

(C) Frank Howson 2019

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