Title: Sport 17

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, November 1996, Wellington

Part of: Sport

Conditions of use



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Sport 17: Spring 1996

John Dickson

John Dickson

page 13

To Start With

when I'm not staring at the wall
I do nothing serious. Most evenings
I squint my eyes with all my might I squint my eyes
and that's fun. And then I flex my fingers
the wrong five first, then those that remain
and sometimes, every finger at once.
When I want to write fast my fingers
let me write fast, and when I stay in the room
they stay and keep me company
and when there's words they write
I can't write without them.
You would have to be as simple
as I am so often simple to say such things
and anyway, the words aren't mine
I happened to read them once in a big book
I found ages ago in one of the other rooms
and no one came to claim the book
blank and tender and singing of walls.
And if you should ask, Am I reading nothing?
perhaps a patch of blue sky will lose its way
and all those feelings beyond your bewareness
especially those that taste of the dense
bitter smell of apples rotting in paradise
hatred, sadness, rage, despair
will vanish to laughter, or even, a smile.
For a time, then, you will stay here reading
before you stop and go and do other things
that's how it is. For company
you will have had these words
page 14 which aren't mine now, but yours alone.
When I lie in my room and face the wall
I think of that, but mostly
of other less serious things

meanwhile, tonight, in pouring rain
I tried to start my car. I flexed my fingers
the right five first, then those that remained.
I wanted to drive to a phone and ring Jen
somewhere amongst the millions of Istanbul
but the spark plugs were soaking wet.
One patch of blue sky lost its way
and my rage became yet more rage.
For seven years, Boddidharma stared at a wall.
And when someone, offering a severed arm
asked him, How can I settle my mind?
he said, flexing his heart, First you must find it.
When you know how to do it and know
nothing but walls, it's simple to be calm
about other more important things

page 15


on my birthday, the Angel had questions
your performance to date, your career path.
And when he'd finished, I said, Angel
we've been through all this before.
I have everything I need, a desk, a chair
paper and pen. And though I sometimes
hear voices murmuring in the next room
like old people who have lost their past
it's no problem: there's no discrepancy
between what's said and what I hear.
And the view is simply splendid.
Every night, after I close the blinds
the bush splits open the wooden houses
and plank by plank takes them back;
and every morning, the houses are there again
waiting for you to raise the dead.
As for my work, it's obvious to me
you haven't read the job description
you yourself wrote. Must I remind you now?
And since you've asked, I know nothing
about life in history, whether it goes round
and round in a great returning circle
(better rise above it friend
otherwise you will drop right through)
or whether like some vast machine
it moves towards a predetermined end
(better join it friend, otherwise
you will get left behind), for all I know
may be everything that happens
happened in a p resent time so vast
page 16 it's the size of the universe and twice as fast
walk past a gallipoli veteran
and troy burns once more, a storm
may be blowing from paradise
piling wreckage upon wreckage
before your feet, and with such force
you can never close your wings
thermopylae, rwanda, my lae
yellow tiger, hitler, pol pot
I know nothing about such things
or what can be done for human good
but if I've heard you right, I should go back
and help bring meaning to their carnage.
Angel, who are you kidding?
I'm not an unsuspecting tenor from Oklahoma
singing, Oh what a beautiful morning.
When I wake in my room, I'm nothing
but a shadow on a wooden wall
a minor bureaucrat amongst the angelic orders.
I write reports. I follow instructions
here and there correcting a comma.
I've no need to change eternity
for a place full of colour and life
but where word and thing are not the same.
Leave them to it, they have your gift
the structural unreliability of freedom.
And as for having answers.
Such debauchery of the soul!
Mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers
and my face is just my face.
Your choice, he said, and I went back
to my small room and fell fast
into a deep and wakeful sleep

page 17

The Assumption of Mr Dickson into the Order of Domestic Cats

at midday exact, I went back inside.
Choosing clothes took time, but after a smoke
and most of a bottle of Mouton Rothschild
I settled for the Company's normal outfit
a silk zingari-richmond tie, a white linen suit
and its latest fashion, a pair of bare feet.
For a time, I sat out on the terrace.
A clock ticked, a cat meowed, a cloud
clouded the sun. The clock ticked, the cloud
passed on, and the cat meowed yet again, and just
as I was thinking, The future? Ah yes, the future
the continuities changed to a singular point.
Shall I go? Shall I stay? I wriggled my toes.
How easy it is to squander existence

the afternoon was warm like a blue oboe
so I straightened my tie and set off
down the track called Stuart Street.
Near the Exchange, I heard voices—those
of the merchants who traded tv's, cars, and land
for muskets, beads, and prayer books.
And sure enough, there they were.
They shouted, they winked, they smiled
displaying their perfect teeth in a carnival
of beguiling gestures. For like the crowd
they wanted to go home, embark
page 18 on the waiting schooners, and sail back
to where life was much more simple

at the Captain Cook Tavern, the crowd
was somewhere else. Mainly middle managers
the Company had no further use for
they were dressed in grass skirts, and all
were swaying to a hooba hooba band
their pupils dilating to blindness
when the suave trombones swelled
to an indolent crescendo. I've forgotten now
why I permitted my feet to tap in time.
Perhaps, it was the opaque heaviness of the air
or a sudden rupture of all memory
the bush taking plankton before max
constantly floating his equations into the
prolix foliage of her muesli eating tusk
as if watering tuataras with a sour apple
and back came I my senses to, and yet again
I'd missed my chance. The schooners had left.
According to the usual suspect information
spread as word by those in charge
when everyone has finally disembarked
amongst their dreams of winding rivers
and forests bright with the plumage of parrots
they live in paradise like happy clouds
in an otherwise blue sky.
While I never say a thing, that's a lie.
When they wake, they're ambushed
by the challenge of nothing at all

page 19

of course, there was always work.
Whenever I see a gull's feather twirling
in an updraft of air, at intervals of ten seconds
I'm obliged to plot on graph paper
the various positions of its fall, joining
each point with a line that gives no idea
of the prodigious entanglements of its movement.
And no mistakes. Though why is beyond me.
What I knew was this: follow instructions.
But these days, my neurons were wearing out
the electro-chemical pulses going in
directions they weren't supposed to.
Like everyone else, I could go on the schooners
or, like a last freedom, I could choose
smaller and smaller intervals than the
one required, the slope of the graph
increasing to infinity until I met
a feather's shadow on the lawn below

I turned the handle and let myself in
leaving the door wide open to the stillness.
In the lounge, delicate cups on a tray
and the sound of a distant footstep.
I stood by a window as twilight came.
A flush of blood coloured silence deepened the sky.
Shall I go? Shall I stay?
I began to hum a tune from La Bohème.
My indecision was final

page 20

no, it wasn't like that at all.
When a cloud had clouded the sun
and an easterly breeze from the harbour
was rustling the leaves of a laburnum tree
a tom cat walked across the terrace.
It stopped, and began licking a paw.
Hey you, I'd called, don't you realise
we have a future as sly and innocent words?
The cat stopped licking its paw.
We exchanged a look of mutual forgiveness