Balaclava TAB, Melbourne, 1983
I pretty much stopped writing poems a long time ago. Twenty five years. Maybe more. I found I preferred the river of prose to the billabong of poetry. (Maybe I also found that I wasn’t that flash at poetry, too.)
And, yet, in the dusty, rusty filing cabinets in the garage a few poems remain. Not thrown out. Not yet. Call me a sentimental, romantic fool.
One of the poems, written over 30 years ago, is called Waking For Her. It begins, This must be the hour the ship comes in
I’m guessing I borrowed the line from the song When The Ship Comes In from the Dylan album The Times They Are A –Changin’.
Oh the time will come up/When the winds will stop/And the breeze will cease to be breathin’/Like the stillness in the wind/’Fore the hurricane begins/The hour when the ship comes in/Oh the seas will split/And the ship will hit…
Not that my little poem is about politics or change or apocalyptic visions. Or ships. Far from it.
It’s about an hour of the day, of the early morning, dawn. It’s about paperboys and farmers and draught horses. And a woman.
Only the title of the poem suggests the woman, and my young yearning.
I may have been waking for her, but she was not beside me.
We met at a TAB, a betting shop. The days we shared shifts serving gamblers were probably the days I had trouble balancing my till. I could blame that on the punters harassing me with only seconds left to bet on a race, waving handfuls of $50 bills at me and shouting out horse numbers.
But the till probably didn’t add up because all I could think of, as she stood just a metre or two away, unflustered by betting deadlines, was her voice, her laugh, her brown eyes, her cascading hair, her full figure. And the inexperience of my heart. (Plus another vital organ.)
I could talk work with her (daily doubles, trifectas, quadrellas, angry punters) and I could talk writing with her (my serious poetry, her TV scripts about neighbours) but I could never say what I wanted to say. Instead I put clumsy words on paper and left them on her windscreen. Romantic. Hopeless? Pathetic? I get nervous, now, just remembering.
We had some meals together. Went on some drives together, leaving early in the day. I abandoned the windscreen communiqués and posted love letters and poems to her eastern suburbs home. We had a rapport, but she didn’t want more.
The one night I stayed we talked well into the night. She said, “Sex would not be good for the friendship.” Trying to fall asleep on the couch in her loungeroom, I vainly attempted to find a way to take that as a positive statement, as a compliment. I would have liked to have at least tried to test out her hypothesis.
With the sun rising, I drove home through peak hour traffic, knowing the friendship was already fading. The ship wasn’t coming in.
Waking For Her
This must be the hour ships come in:
the hour school boys become paperboys
and take world news to the avenues;
the hour draught-horses paused
along cobbled pathways, ironed away years ago
hearing only the echoes of their fourfold steps
and seeing only the breath of their nostrilled air;
the hours farmers leave homes
stranded above frost-green fields darkened
by the print of black-green gum boots;
the hour the ship comes in.
More Stereo Stories, by various writers, inspired by Dylan songs