The most incredible poetry book (or book for that matter) that I’ve devoured this year so far is Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter (Faber and Faber 2015). Just as its cover advertises, it was vivid, dark, hilarious, surprising and unforgettable. Reading it was an important step in trying to make sense of my father’s death from leukaemia in June. If I hadn’t been able to write most days, I’m not sure I’d have made it through the months before and after either. I read poems to Dad in hospital (and played him Edith Piaf, Dave Brubeck and The Girl from Ipanema), played cards and talked, talked, talked about living and dying and childhood and watercolour painting and gardening and places he’d been or we liked, and beautiful or obscure things that had occurred to him as he spent long days and nights looking out at the Brisbane River but wishing he was home and his wonderful life could go on.
This is the poem I read at the end of my eulogy. I wanted to capture Dad’s optimism.
I want to get home to paint the trees, you say
they’ve been there right in front of me
for years and it’s time I did –
you hear the mana rustle in their leaves
Pan-vital even now against the white sheets
in the sterile room –
long ago you told me the wisteria
was bonsai-like because clay clogged the soil
but you have the painter’s orenda –
bad blood won’t stop the flow of blossom
to the last branches
or the sun dancing always
at your back.
I’ve had a few poems published this year (and very late last year) – and I’m ashamed at how long it is since I posted any updates. They are Nostalgia in Australian Poetry Journal, Nothing Bad in Deep Water Literary Journal, By Return In Pressure Gauge, Still Life with Captions in foam:e, Why Do Sea Otters Hold Hands? in Imbolc Best of Print Anthology, Dark Room in Grey Sparrow, The Fernery in Antiphon and most recently, two poems – The Bells and Complication in Poetry Salzburg Review. My grateful thanks go to the editors of these publications. These are silver linings in what has been the hardest year so far. But speaking of silver, here is one more poem about Dad that I was reminded of as I walked to Elephant Rock (and on to Currumbin Rock!) each day during the past week with my boys. This is how I remember Dad back 40 years in that place:
for my father from Tugun Beach
Is this heat dripping
through the tube to you
as well as blood,
into those arms
that tunnelled sand
and rode breakers?
I see you at the shoreline,
beaded in silver,
a salt god
counting waves in sevens.
It’s not the sun playing tricks:
you are vivid beneath the glaze.