Sport 41: 2013
There’s something wrong with his hand. He becomes aware that there’s something wrong with his hand. A lightness, a heaviness, an iffy sort of something. His left hand wants to drag and make a lazy fist.
He thinks he’s had a minor sort of stroke. His doctor’s not so sure, and refers him to the hospital. Where Gerry’s impressed by the science-fiction laundry equipment, the deep-seeing whiteware of modern diagnosis.
CAT scan. MRI. He submits to their shrewd looking, their measuring and mapping, their whitely efficient cogitations. And he comes away and waits, he comes away and waits.
Computerised axial tomography.
A dream of fraternal amity. I’m on the turps with a resourceful little Irishman I once knew. There’s drinking in a bar and drinking on a bus and drinking in a frilly, fragile orchard, but then there emerges from my friend’s mouth . . . a mucoid something somewhere between . . . weta and tuatara.
Brain cancer. Tumours in the brain and in the lungs. Radiotherapy is Gerry’s only course, but his doctors can promise nothing.
He grew up in Liverpool, of course.
Equipped with a penny notebook, he haunts the railway stations, shunting yards. Though handy with a pencil, he wants to be a professional footballer. Meanwhile, there’s trainspotting.
Smoke and steam and soot. Locomotives green and black. And he wins a prize at school, is presented with a book: an illustrated history of the city’s fire brigade.
At the edge of Gerry’s orbit, John and Paul and Pete. He sketches and paints, is good at technical drawing. He reads e.e. cummings and marvels. He reads e.e. cummings and discovers a new use for his pen.
Firemen wearing helmets as black as coal. Greco-Roman helmets designed by Jacob Epstein, carved by his wilful hands out of hefty blocks of coal. And firemen are the heroes of nights redly lit, oh redly lit and rayed and loud with bells.
Steam and sooty smoke. The Liver Birds. And Gerry himself is a Scouser, a Scouse. Lobscouse being a seaman’s dish, a sailor’s tasty mess: meat stewed with vegetables and ship’s biscuit.
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
25/11/12. G’s house on Shelly Bay Road.
We work together on his poems, the pieces he’s preparing for publication. I suggest some small adjustments to punctuation; we cull a few rogue commas and ellipses. But we’re seeing eye to eye, enjoying a collegial back-and-forth.page 84
He smokes one of his ‘lites’ while I eat an orange. ‘They’ve got you on a steroid?’ I ask.
‘They have. And it’s heavy shit, it seems—my Korean pharmacist’s in awe of me.’
Dexamethasone. G’s fast developing the steroid-eater’s moon face, but his problems don’t end there. Before the radiotherapy begins, he’ll have to be fitted for a mask. The mask he’ll wear in order to prevent irradiation of healthy tissues. And then he’ll get a haircut, buy a beanie. Against the day when all his hair falls out, he’ll buy a beanie and get a No. 1 haircut.
‘And what do you think of them, these poems our friend’s producing?’
‘He’s writing three or four of them a day, and I’d have to say that I find them somewhat pathological.’
‘By which perhaps you mean . . .’ prompts Fergus gently.
‘By which perhaps I mean . . . that it’s almost as if the cancer itself is speaking.’
‘There are tumours in Gerry’s brain, all right? And one of these wee green mothers is pressing down . . . on the poetry centre in Gerry’s cerebrum.’
The Mersey Sound was published by Penguin in 1967. Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten.
By 1968, Gerry’s in Yorkville, Toronto. He’s editing Satyrday, a hippy newspaper, and Charles Bukowski is one of his columnists (‘Notes of a Dirty Old Man’).
Another publication circulates, a chapbook with an introduction by Andrew Mikolasch. ‘This little booklet of illustrated poetry by Gerald J. Melling signifies a new phase in the history of underground publishing.’
There’s a handbill tucked inside the slender volume. It reproduces photos taken in a booth, a strip of pictures showing Gerald J. Melling page 85 in a top hat. ‘Liverpool poet in exile’ says the blurb. His hair is long, his youthful beard shapely; he’s a joker, a jester, a lippy scallywag, but he needs our love and wants us to see the topper he found in Samuel Beckett’s dustbin.
Blue Lightning. He’s calling the rays Blue Lightning.
The treatments are beginning to take their toll, but Gerry undergoes his final session today.
And is the time approaching? But is a time approaching when he won’t want to come out and play anymore?
He grew up to be an architect, of course. A husband and a father, a responsible breadwinner.
An architect and writer. A friend and mentor to many, over the years.
He has his partner, Christine; his daughter’s flown in from Dublin, and his son’s never very far away. Perhaps, eventually, I’ll be edged out of the picture, but I don’t think I’ll mind very much, if and when that happens.
We’re crossing Pigeon Park into a cool northerly, and Gerry’s having trouble with his buttons, his double-breasted coat’s many buttons.
He’s taken a hit, he really has. In the four days since I saw him last, he’s really been worked over. And he’s moving very slowly, insincerely; he’s walking like a fucking amateur.
Coffee on the corner of Victoria and Bond. Once we’re seated at our table on the pavement, I’m able to take a closer look at him, and it’s clear that the treatments have reduced him. He’s been whittled at, diminished, robbed of stuffing. He’s looser, lumpier; the rays have somehow stretched and loosened him, and he’s slacker, baggier than formerly.
There’s an unlit cigarette between his lips. He’s feeling the cold, page 86 he’s audibly short of breath, and in just four days he’s developed a double-chin (albeit an inauthentic-looking thing). ‘You need a bronchodilator,’ I tell him. ‘I’m surprised they haven’t given you a Ventolin inhaler.’
‘So use it, mate.’
‘I should. I will. At the moment, though, I’m more interested in using your yellow lighter.’
The rays set up a resonance, it seems. An atomic agitation in the brain; a bluish, self-attenuating chime. ‘And it peaks, this weird effect. A day or two out, it peaks. After which, I’ll start to feel better,’ Gerry tells me.
Shelly Bay Road. Sunday. Gerry in a dressing-gown.
I’ve brought him a peppermint ice-cream on a stick. A peppermint Magnum is just what he needs right now (the thrush has made his mouth very raw and sore, of late).
His grey, chastened hair is falling thick and fast. Falling, drifting, getting everywhere. ‘So when are you seeing your barber?’ I ask.
‘Wednesday. Don’t fret. I’m being shorn on Wednesday morning.’
‘And have you bought a beanie yet?’
‘I’ve gone one better, boy. Observe.’
Disposing of his sticky ice-cream stick, Gerry dons a hat. A big black Borsalino-type fedora in which he looks just like Augustus John. Augustus John or Aubrey Beardsley. And if I had my cellphone with me (but I never have my cellphone with me), I could take a really terrific photograph.