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.

MY HOME

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

 

SO THIS IS HEAVEN.

 

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

ANGEL CHAINED TO THE GROUND

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 



 

GOODBYE BLACK, HELLO BLUE

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.


STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN

Stop arguing with people who don't want to know.
Look at the small print.
Listen to your heart.
Stop yearning for what is gone.
Look out for children.
Listen to what is not said in a conversation.
Stop worrying about tomorrow, you may not be here.
Look into someone's eyes to view their soul.
Listen to the silence just before you drift off to sleep.  
Stop pushing for things you don't really need.  
Look and learn. There's a lesson in everything. 
Listen to your inner voice. If something doesn't feel right,
it isn't. 
Stop the wars fought for nothing.
Look after yourself.
Listen to the warm.


(c) Frank Howson 2017


photography by Vanessa Allan.

FOR CATHIE MANEY

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





IN BLOOD AND TEARS

There's nothing more I need in a woman's eyes
It's a lonely, hollow, comforting feeling
Finally knowing that
I am empowered and can no longer be conned
With the promise of something wonderful 
That will ultimately be paid for
In blood and tears
I now appreciate all people without any agenda
Other than to laugh and share some joy while we are still here
And at the heart of it that's all that matters
We hide behind so many veils in our youth
Playing roles that can't be sustained
Even the greatest actors can only summon up King Lear
Once a night
Free at last
I thought
God almighty free at last
All I wanted was peace
And some joy
And someone to share the good times with
But each candidate brought their carriage of problems
Their hurt caused by another
Their suspicions caused by another
Their jealousy caused by another
With no one to take it out on but me
So what should've been joyous times were ruined
Laughter replaced by tears
Kindness viewed with cynicism
Until it was turned into something nasty
That could only be understood by them
And this was called a relationship
Others would deem it a prison
Some, hell
It reduced life to a death
And made fools of those who had craved it
I still believe in some things
But less by the day
I wonder how much of us must whither
Before we pass away?
I am not a killer
And yet the faces of several people who have used me
Flash through my mind every day
I am considered a kind man
By some, a strong man
And yet I could kill a handful of people without a thought
Maybe most of us could
With a clear conscience
As we would write it off
As a public service
Our act would save other good souls
From being exploited and then
Thrown away to be useless
Having given them mansions
So that we could settle down on someone else's couch
While they rewrote history to alienate the ones you loved 
The most
Yet they weren't charged with your murder?
But perhaps justice is yet to be served
And if we took it upon ourselves to render it
Would the government not erect statues to us?
They would've in bygone days
Some people don't deserve to be called human
They don't act it, they don't think it, they don't care
They love to destroy other people's lives and values and then 
leave others to deal with the mess
They are spiritual vampires
Why should they be allowed to get away scott free
Sipping their white wine
Repeating other people's opinions
Only to laugh
And destroy another day
Another life?
I missed my calling
I should've been Wyatt Earp
or Bat Masterson
Riding the range
With the power to take or give life
Where and how I saw it
But instead of a badge and a revolver
I was given a suit and a tie
And an expectation of what I had to achieve
In a gentleman's world
I failed
Because of those I let into my life
with their promises of "This will be fun" and 
"I will always love you" and 
"Thank you so much for your kindness, it won't be forgotten"
But it was by the next day
Which brings me back to the gun
And why I am lost
Between the cracks of right and wrong
Watch your step
Night is falling
I'm considering becoming Jewish
Just so I'll know where my home is



(c) Frank Howson 2017


photograph by Vanessa Allan.

 

THE MAN WHO TRAVELS BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON

And so it goes
Once again I gave my all
Which wasn't enough 
When I was happy
I was too happy
When I cried
There weren't enough tears
To please everybody
When I broke
It was so quiet
No one heard
I died that night
That night you ruined my Christmas
Alone in my room
Well, what was left of me
But still I went on
Not wanting to let anyone down
I was expected at so many events
And people are so easily offended
So here we are
Going through the motions
Of an impersonation
Of a man in control
Of nothing
There were no obituaries
Only slaps on the back
Some a little too hard
And hollow
For a sensitive soul
Some hadn't been felt like this
Since the murder of unsuspecting Julius
But they got the wrong man
I didn't set out to conquer Rome
Or live for praise
Only to make my mother proud
And a safe place
Where I could do my work
In peace
And not be envied
Or pitied 
Or slandered
Or made to stand trial
Sometimes
I think of the frightened boy
I was
And lost
And shed a tear
When someone notices
I say I have something in my eye
I lie
And they believe me
I am a fugitive of your heart
Misjudged
Miscast
Misplaced
Washed ashore
Writing stories
That turn out to be premonitions
For those who have tired of happy endings
About men on the run
From a society that too readily believes
The worst in us
Cursed with too good a memory
It is impossible to forget
Every scar
Every betrayal
My face lined with lessons learned
The hard way
And there's nothing you can take to change that
As Elvis found out
Looking back
Perhaps my only lasting friend has been the night
And that glimpse of heaven 
That moment just before dawn
When the world is so silent
You can hear God's breath
If you listen close enough
That long night
When I forget to sleep
Because I'm addicted to the clarity
Of each rushing thought
That won't come again
And my job is to capture as many
As possible
Before they are gone
Like the women
Stampeding over the edge
And free falling
Into the darkness of the abyss
Joining my dreams of a happy home
And all those beautiful things
I didn't say to the right one
Who withered from waiting too long
And has now gone to Florida
To teach people how to act
So they can at least get things right in their art
And be convincing enough to pass as a human being
Without an alarm
I awaken to find
All victories shallow
All risks ill-timed
My laughter too loud to be acceptable
My critics misinformed and better suited to 
The sports page
Where the results are more easily ascertained
My women merely visions
That fade too soon
Building residue in my heart
That heart that is too strong to break
Even by experts
But weeps
For missing persons
Beneath the burden of searching for resolutions
It may never find
Not even at 3am
I too gambled for our savior's clothes
Winning only his crown of thorns
And the identity 
Of a man who travels by the light of the moon
Some say he is based on a true story


(c) 2017 Frank Howson














 

THE COMEBACK KID

 

Harold Davies had finally made it.  Well, he’d been famous for a lot of things in his life, coming in and out of fashion over about 40 years. But now he was back with a bona fide smash.  It was familiar ground but had eluded him for long enough now to be truly grateful for its unexpected return.

Early in your life this sort of success feeds your ego and you expend that on women who don’t really care and parties that all merge into each other until they resemble a Fellini nightmare. Pretty soon the money goes and so do the people who pretended to care.

Then you vow that next time success comes you’ll be so much wiser. But you never are.

Harold had learnt much. In fact, people came to him to ask for his wisdom in the hope that it would solve the problems in their lives. Harold tried to explain that he wasn’t born wise – in fact, he’d been an idiot – and that his wisdom was based on having made every mistake in the book during his life. But unlike most, Harold had learnt from those mistakes and this is how wisdom is acquired.

He had regrets. He’d been married three times because he was a hopeless romantic and so eager to find true happiness he kept on committing to the wrong women. Some of them were the most beautiful women in the world until you got to know them.

He came to feel that there needed to be a rehab for romantics. Women weren’t Madonnas and men weren’t Messiahs. We were just people stumbling around in the dark carrying all the baggage of our childhood and shattering other people’s lives in the process of sorting it out. Unless you were one of the lucky ones. Harold, clearly, wasn’t. He had a friend who’d been married for 40 years to the same woman and that man and his wife were as in love today as they were when they first met. Every time Harold saw them it brought a tear to his eye and he used to always tell them, “Never let each other go. You don’t realize how hard it is to find what you’ve had.”

Harold suddenly had fame and money again and beautiful women were once more noticing him and laughing at his witty conversation. And although he could’ve gone home with any of them, it didn’t matter anymore. His best was behind him and he was smart enough to know it. He no longer had the time to go through the motions. Every second now counted. This year alone seven of his friends had passed away so he was constantly being reminded of how precious time was.

He had nothing to spend his money on anymore. Maybe a few new clothes, some CDs, books he’d never find time to read, dinners with friends, and paying the rent. That was it. He could no longer be tempted by wild women, or booze, or drugs, or parties. They were all illusion and it was too painful to wake alone.

There were now plans to do a documentary on his life, even talk of being honoured by the Government, Lifetime Achievement Awards, etc., etc.  But it didn’t matter anymore. Sometimes Harold was sad that some of these things would’ve meant so much to him when he was struggling and still believed, but now he had no one to impress anymore. And realized how hollow it all was.

Projects and offers were coming in daily and yet all Harold wanted to do was go home to his little apartment that he loved and put his feet up and watch mindless TV. He’d come to believe that the most precious commodities in life were peace and joy. And joy came from finding beauty in the most simple things in life. A walk in the park. The smile of a child. A bargain on the shopping list. Running into an old friend. It was certainly not found in regret, or fear, or beating yourself up over things that could no longer be changed.

He had forgiven those who had conspired to damage his career. And in the process he has forgiven himself for playing the game in the first place.

He was happy to go now. He’d lived through the greatest period of music ever – the Sixties – had met many of his idols, and no longer saw the lasting value in anything new. He’d been ruined by giants whose like we wouldn’t much see again. The pain in being too smart is that you realize all this and know you’re damned to a wasteland that doesn’t cater for you anymore.

Yes, Harold’s true friends were so pleased that he had made a comeback and was now the flavor of the month again. And Harold was pleased to see those who were pleased for him.

But there was a price for looking too long into the abyss and reporting to the public what it was like. A price for feeling things too deeply. A price for loving a son who’d been fed lies and now shunned him. A price for loving with all your heart. A price for being kind to those who betrayed you. A price.

And, as the Scriptures say….”If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

Harold appreciated his new found success. But not too much. He had been taught some time ago that the road to God is through humility.

Sometimes when he thought about the wasted years and all the great things he could’ve done he felt angry but mostly sad for that young man who’d been shut out of the industry at his prime. Oh, the things he could’ve done. But now it was gone. Gone, gone, gone. And this was all we had. And in everyone’s life there is the same story.

While Harold was busy making his dinner he received a phone call from a prestigious magazine that wanted to do a feature story on him. But he declined. The editor was so stunned he phoned back to ask why Harold would refuse such a sought after honour?

All Harold could say, in his cracked voice that reflected his broken spirit, was that it was “Too late. Too late.”

The editor was still talking when Harold hung up the phone.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2016