The Long Years - Poem by Pam Brown
We act as if being alone were a problem,
perhaps it is a fixed idea
like the fear of dying in summer
when you decompose more quickly
- Peter Handke
these are the long years and these years
are the years which pass quickly.
these are the middle years.
these are the years when we realise
we have been going about living
the hard way.
remember driving at night
along Coronation Drive,
beside the river.
remember this as I remember it
as I remember the canvas fans
on the ceiling of the Renoir Café.
I was sick with influenza,
you were going away to France
or, maybe, that time, you were going
elsewhere and as I remember
the shade of the shabby fibro verandah
where you handed me your notes,
written closely in pencil
on small pieces of paper, each page
a different size, your notes
on existentialism which I kept
in a small black folder in a cupboard
and which were lost, later,
when I looked through the house
after everyone had died,
as I remember.
these are the long years
when conversational moments stretch
into stories repeated and repeated
until everything, the whole lot, falls
into a kind of overwhelming sincerity
and it is then that I become
so self-conscious that I can
no longer hear what is being told to me.
remember the auditorium
in which no one believed,
in which they performed,
and the boy who had an erection
halfway through his song,
the clock on the classroom wall,
the mustard colour
of a particular summer dress,
the patches of sweat behind the knees,
the stifling afternoon heat,
the terrible poems that you took seriously,
and the way we caught ourselves
remember, if you wish,
that I meet with with you, each time,
these days to honour
the spirit of torn-up letters.
these have been long years –
the unwritten letters would tell you this –
that, once, I was so very upset
that I hit myself on the head
with a shoe,
and that, just before then, before
I had been thinking about
the electronic staircase in Japan
where each step plays a musical note
when stepped upon,
and, earlier that year,
I had placed a postcard on the windowsill
above my table –
a detail from Lorenzetti’s painting
‘Allegory of Good Government’,
which I had seen in Siena in an earlier year.
it is the part of the picture
where Peace, Strength and Prudence
sit together on a patterned couch –
they look relaxed, as if bored by government,
Peace is so laconic she looks as if
she will fall to sleep
and dropp the olive twig she idly twirls.
as I remember something
viewed from the back seat of a taxi –
a woman stood facing
a cyclone wire fence,
tears made damp spots
on the straps of her sun dress,
the man placed his hand
on her pale bony back,
it was so very sad as serious
as if they might kiss.
remember the present or yesterday
as I remember the idea of our lives
and our actual lives,
and your use of that term, again
and again, ‘re-invention’
as a cure for loneliness –
like watching a woman
with a string of pearls slowly
testing each one
in the wine.
here we are waiting for the natural end,
for some future winter as I remember it,
and in these long years
we may eventually locate the places
beyond memory in imagined countries,
where English is the last language.
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