Winter is coming on. It’s not here yet, and I’ll be gone by the time it is, but we’re on the approach. The days are still mostly clear and blue, though once the sun ducks behind buildings the chill can leap out like Sand Warriors from a dune to assault you with a staff. The nights bring a truer cold. It’s still much milder and later than the Melbourne version, but there’s no doubt it’s the same. The feeling in the air and in my chest match up with the season back home. The cool and crispness when you breathe in. The feeling of packing up and winding down. The leaves finally starting to yellow and drop from the plane trees, so the glowing green tunnels of summer will pretty soon be cluttered highways of cloud. The sun shines bravely but dies early, and its watered-down sickly appearance in the late afternoons leaves no doubt that summer’s last few shallow breaths are being sucked. Soon it will be time to pull the plug, board a plane, leave months of this place behind.
It’s also a weirdly nostalgic and evocative time of year for me: every one of my official relationships started (and a couple also ended) in that brief arc between late March and May, so the onset of autumn releases a parade of ghosts to float about and chastise me for all the shit I could have done better. It’s this weird feeling I’ve always had that particular points of each season are the same year to year, the same time. Like this autumn and all past autumns are not snapshots laid side by side, but slide transparencies laid on top of one another, so that the events of each separate season are all happening at the same time and forever. Just like every November I’ve just been kicked out of school and George W. has just stolen the election. Just like every blistering summer morning, when the air is heated to crackling point by 9 a.m., I’m eight years old and walking onto the back bricks of my parents’ house wearing that tropical motif t-shirt with the pastel palm trees. There is only one autumn, and only ever will be. It just gets more crowded. So to all the ghosts, I’m sorry. The list of failings makes lengthy and at times eyebrow-raising reading. But let’s be fair, most of you dealt out some harsh treatment too that really wasn’t deserved. I did my best, and the fuck-ups weren’t through lack of wanting. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed for the next instance, hey?
This point of the season has often found its way into my writing, or tried to. You’ll find it in poems like ‘Doorway’ (in my book if you have it) and a bunch of other half-finished bits, often abandoned because I realise I’m traversing the same ground. I’ll continually find myself trying to relate the precise feeling of Melbourne autumn nights. The way the streets are always wet, so the tar shines black and slippery like lizard skin, the shapes of streetlights and passing brake-lights reflected almost intact in its surface. The streetlights themselves, always orange sodium arcs that make everything beneath them seem surreal. The intense crispness of the air. This grim sad feeling of the year dying, but also this kind of burning vitality if it finds you in the right mood. There is tension in the air. There is crackle. You need to walk briskly to keep warm. Everything is about briskness. The ground will always be wet and earth will squelch under your soles. And somehow through this air, through this crackle, the lights shine more crisply than at any other time of year. The sweeping lines of freeways are hard as lines of shrapnel embedded in the skin. Office windows blast right through your soul. Traffic lights are multi-system laser batteries. If you get distance from the city and then see the CBD skyline in one sweep, the lights are hard blue jewels burning through the darkness, bezels glinting fiercely. It’s as though the lowered temperature of the atmosphere conveys the light more sharply to your eyes, a direct stabbing line between source and receptor. Add to this the cold air needling in your lungs, and the excitement of going to see a girl who replies to ‘Would it be a bad idea to come and see you?’ with ‘I love bad ideas,’ and you walk the streets red-cheeked and grinning, feeling like your hair is on fire.
So in the mild autumn of Buenos Aires, I found this poem by Hugh Tolhurst which made me think of the more dramatic slide into winter back home, the stack of transparencies from previous autumns. The poem is in John Tranter’s online magazine Jacket, which you can find here. It’s truly excellent if you’re into all that literature stuff. Good brain food. Tolhurst is one of my favourite poets, always writing with a sly and often dark sense of humour. When he reads, he always sounds like he’s smiling, like there’s something hidden in each line. There probably is. I have often made a spectacle of myself by laughing loudly through the otherwise studious silence. I’m not sure if I’m being a bad person by reposting this on a personal blog – if you think I am, the original poem is here. Check out Jacket in any case.
And if at first I was ‘Bold, Sir’,
let the weather be my apology
for Melbourne remains a terrific place
to stomp through drizzle in permitting
romantic confusion the exercise of getting lost
in a stretch of city with each street laid out
royally on the square. Your name does not appear
among the Victorian street names running North-South,
but heedless I booted my way around
absentmindedly working a gift, “Two Haiku
for a Tokyo English Teacher,” finding the lines
somewhere above Dudley Street, only for the gift
to amuse the farewell drinkers not the farewelled.
Rubbing people up the wrong way comes naturally
to one of those a Toowomba PhD wants to term ‘emergent poets’
despite my insisting I get out of bed very early…
Oh well, the future gets up early
and mine might rub the right way if I can as it were
win you over to embracing that absurd thing, the love poet
pleading love at first sight in his favourite spaghetti bar
and meaning it with all things disabused gallantly reinstated.
Suddenly Lorne seems more beautiful for your staying there,
and at home watching my twin-television improvisation
(a colour set with speaker dead, a black & white
beneath it burbling from the cupboard), I’m almost
willing on the English medium pacers’ slower balls,
let her do the wrong thing, let her do the wrong thing,
and no not overnight, but quietly, unfailingly.
— For J.P.