Two Poems

August Kleinzahler

Traveller’s Tales: Chapter 18

A southerly buster off of Bass Strait
was raising whitecaps in the Bay
and jittering the flags out across the plaza.
We were sitting under the famous bare-ass portrait of Chloe.
You know the one, in the old upstairs hotel bar, posh.
So _______ says to me, he says . . .
Wait a moment, you knew _______?
Not well, acquainted-like, a snort, or two, or three,
on the way home from the Culture Fair that day.
He’s, _______, telling me that story of Ava Gardner,
how when she was out here in ’58
for the filming of On the Beach, they ask her
What do you make of the place, Miss Gardner?
flash bulbs going off left and right,
and she says Perfect,
if you’re making a movie about the end of the fucking world.
Whuh . . . whuh . . . what was he like?
Who? _______ Oh . . .
Sardonic, bright, afidget in his hide,
slagging off all and sundry,
not much good to say of aught, they’re all like that:
an unwholesome pallor, vigorously earned, I’m sure.
And when was this? I dunno, I dunno:
like everything else, twenty years ago.
A stunned, reverential pause –
they tremble at the altar of that poor bastard,
not least his long-time friends, for show;
don’t want to be caught out not at Sunday prayer, no, no.
Krikee, seize up at 40 after a long, hard night
and leave a smart, mixed, testy oeuvre behind
they turn you into a smack-addled Apollo,
the home-grown Rimbaud of an entire generation.
Why would none of this have surprised him?
I can see him, sneering into his Terprin Hydrate,
another fallen, self-lacerating ex-altar boy,
third pew, centre aisle, at the Church of Eternal Damnation.

A Valentine’s: Regarding the Impractibility of Our Love

Evel Knievel, Robert Craig Knievel of Butte,
now that one, that wild . . .
The crack-up at Caesar’s Palace in ’68,
then trying to clear the 13 Pepsi trucks in Yakima,
and just down the road, here at the Cow Palace:
You could tell by the way he wore his hair
and the white kid leather jumpsuit with fringe.
An ordinary man doesn’t jump the Snake River Canyon
with nothing underneath his ass
but a two-wheeled, fin-stabilised X-1 Skycycle
and a seven-figure guarantee from some macher in LA.

Darling, I’ve walked away from a wreck or two myself,
or crawled, and earned the name of fool, full sore.
But let’s take off this one last time: no net,
no harness, no nothing underneath to break our fall.
Th’ animal Spirits that from pure blood arise
are what get us aloft and the fuel by which we fly.
So hold on, baby, we’re lifting off.
Don’t look down, your head will swim, and don’t let go.
Once in the air we’re on our own.
They’ll all be watching, assembled below.
C’mon, luv, let’s give the punters a show.