I’ve reached the age, or shall do very soon,
When Conrad trimly stepped from deck to dock
And Proust withdrew into a cork-lined room,
Lord Byron failed in love and died of shock;
When Shakespeare bought a nice place out of town,
John Donne in orders hit the sermon scene,
When Virgil jotted the Aeneid down
And Rimbaud went and got himself gangrene:
The very latest starters had begun
And brighter youngsters all been dead for years,
Successes long enjoyed their wealth and fun
And failures found alternative careers
By their mid-thirties. I’ve been left behind
To wrestle this intractable c.v.,
Receive the dole and struggle to remind
You why I couldn’t’ve done differently.
Frozen in Finland, rotting in Brazil,
Depressed by England, fatuous in France,
Bitter in Australia and in Naples ill:
I’ve never had a shadow of a chance
While younger every year, relative to me,
The new arrivals fluently advance,
Selling film rights for enormous fees
And thanking Councils for their generous grants.
Yet life once glowed and quivered for me too
Till clouds rolled up from nowhere, made me wet.
No figure in my carpet’s yet on view:
I shiver wondering how the pattern set.
Was it choice of job or of location
That buggered up one’s chance of early fame?
James did seem gaga at the Finland Station,
Wordsworth in Campania strangely lame.
I warmed to Trotsky in a post-Mai Paris,
Called on late-phase Leavis up in York ...
Already The Career starts to embarrass:
Part-time nightclub bouncing was my work.
Then France got bureaucratic, made me leave –
Subversion, anyway, begins at home.
London offered brief drab grey reprieve
Until it seemed that Sydney’s time had come.
‘Miss Teen Universe’ in Murdoch’s Melbourne,
‘Man’s Severed Hand Sewn On’ on the front page
Were grisly writer’s debuts, not well borne:
I gave up at the ‘Bush Fires Threaten’ stage.
The press was more rewarding in its way
In New South Wales: I nearly finished dead
For a muffed police corruption exposé
In a not-quite weekly paper no one read.
Eluding killers, I did not escape a
Little lesson in being really null:
They said I smuggled words on bits of paper
And wouldn’t let me into Long Bay Jail.
Again I slammed the door shut on Australia –
Ciao! Worker cop crook wog wasp black gay Jew!
In Naples with a seeping sense of failure
Taught broken English to a wealthy few.
[No tenured, well-paid academic work’ll
Ever turn up now, that I can see:
When things turned nasty on the Arctic Circle
I’d spurned The University, it me.]
It took years of trying to arrive at
Galeõ three times, yet I must say
Brazil, like Italy, is far too private
For this Professional Life Resumé.
An earthquake and a rise in violent crime
Made Naples quite unfit for staying in,
Ruined a pleasant unproductive time,
So I said goodbye to the Mediterranean.
Once more across the skies the big jet burns
To Antipodes and long black sleepless nights –
Whatever it may mean, though, my return’s
Not fraught with overtones like Patrick White’s.
Forced landing, rather, waiting on repairs:
We have no lift-off with this real dud rocket –
O shield me, Ray-Ban, from their profane stares –
Can’t stick it – fuck it! – Fig Tree Pocket!
Furtively I skulk round gaudy bookstalls
That flaunt a callow creativity.
A quick thumb-through and flinch at passing footfalls
– All born since 1950, long since me!
Huge concrete bunker complexes are built
For conferences, talkfests, jamborees
Where every word’s a goad to silent guilt
And talkers get expenses plus fat fees.
They must develop this urge to create
From the yellow XXXX the beer cans hurled
About the opulent Skin Cancer State
That’s not unlike Brazil, though less Third World.
The place breeds talent, there is ample proof;
Where I fit in, as yet, is far from clear:
The much-promoted native son Malouf
V. child-sex vigilantes everywhere.
I’m roused by this young green and thrusting force|
Despite a new paralysis – my back –
Am stirred, perhaps, to mine the new resource,
Put down my worn suitcases and unpack.
Reader, should I turn another page?
Fly off to somewhere, maybe even worse?
Or limp serenely into middle age
And try to flog this flimsy book of verse?
[c/o Fig Tree Pocket