On the Road

John Tranter

We met at the bar concealed behind a false front
in the alley behind a curtain dyed purple and green
down the stairs to the shuttered room baking
in the Summer of Love, a country girl, dark glasses,
twelve feet of cedar bar stacked with drinks

but we already had those drinks, and it seems
in the pool of liquid on the bar surface,
after I finished pawing at her soft willing body,
I could see the outline of a face. Too close.
She joined a big city firm, designing perfume,

can you believe, and she used to say ‘You got
a soul, in the Big Town, because people let you live.’
Why are these problems linguistic?
That’s all we got, to frame the chaos with,
the big grid we drank with our mothers’ milk

with the cornflakes and the funerals. This went on
in front of die runaway truck of culture
loaded with ‘fashion’, that abstract policeman.
It’s the beach, dozing on the edge of my mind,
a life hung loose by the water, a giggle of a man

mumbling about the knife-edge of Darwinism
hacking at our schools, and what was in the sand,
kids punching each other in the surf, some on top,
some drowned. Now from the back of the bar the lost cry
of someone losing out to the Sixties, coded

into the static you can hear hissing in the car radio –
God and the Sheriff sharing a good cigar,
entente cordiale, agreeing they love a dash of
green, humanised water with their bourbon.
One chemical strips the other of information,

mingling in the tank of brew. It was lonely,
in the banking business, like a convalescent pushing
a truck uphill, inch by inch, and dog eat dog
in the bull pit, wondering who had the trend brackets
with the right linguistic spin to win.

Then that maelstrom of bad writing
calling students to their doom. ‘I didn’t
disillusion my poor charges,’ the old guy sobbed.
Why do I remember this? He was too much
like me, and I saw my father in the mirror,

growing sad, he had a tale to tell me urgently,
but I couldn’t hear, or stay to listen.
I moved out of bohemia, Kerouac went mad there,
that’s a lesson, then he died at his mother’s,
that’s another lesson, to do with philosophy,

Catholic childhoods, bad drink, Oedipus.
I dreamed to cope, and I’d seen what happened,
in the future, like a train becoming larger.
‘Here in the present we’re just waiting for history
to run us down. Teachers cannot help us.’