Satin Kisses

Mother-Daughter-1000836
i remember when i stood
between your legs
you braided my hair
weaving ribbons of satin kisses

when little kneads rolled off
my fingers onto your shoulders
you sighed and said
angels were dancing

beneath today’s changing tree
and different backyard
will you let me lie on your lap
again and fall asleep

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Mother

In the book of my existence
my mother is the laconic Foreword
few would have read
Yet it is the most precious part in the telling

of that modest tale

like the ink in the author’s pen

flowing with love

the way her mind flows with thought

giving my heart hands

to hold the ribbons of life

my soul pearls of teaching

to wear as a necklace in the ethereal light
Only –

I don’t tell her this

often enough
not anywhere near often enough

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Ghost

She could feel his eyes follow her when she moved from painting to painting. With watchful pace he kept a devoted distance. Yet each time she turned he looked away, hastily pondering Pissarro’s wooded landscape vaguely before him, or peasants resting, or the 19th-century artist’s white-bearded self-portrait.

She had travelled to New South Wales for the weekend to attend the exhibition. The event was going to Melbourne, but not for three months, and she did not want to wait.

The collection was impeccable in detail, mostly oiled or etched. She had spent four hours meandering through the corridors of the painter’s life, and now stepping out through the freestone columns of the gallery, she squinted. The late-Spring sun slanted across park lands, and cast shadows of foliage on the ground.

She found a bench under a big oak tree and sat down. In the far side of the lawn, a group of friends was lying on the grass. One was strumming on a quiet guitar. She pulled out a book and started to read.

Someone came and stood in front of her.

“Hello,” he stretched out his hand. “My name’s Ryan. How do you do?” – it was him. She tasted a strong British accent in an afternoon-cocktail voice almost like English Cider.

Extending hers she smiled, “Hi.” He sat carefully down at the other end of the wooden seat.

He told her he was a visitor from London. His seminar had ended a day earlier than schedule. He would be flying on to Auckland the following morning. This was not his first time here but because he was always busy with conferences or research meetings he had never actually seen the city.

“What are you reading?” he asked.

She held up the book to show him.

“I’ve got this,” he raised Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. And grinned. She smiled, and went back to pick up the sentence where she had left off. Ryan thumbed over the page-thickness of the big book without opening it as if there was braille on its skin.

Then turning his body to face her, his big long arm on the backrest between them, he said, “Listen, I was thinking that, perhaps, we could, if you’re alone, and I’m not too repulsive that, maybe, you and I could perhaps wander the place together.”

For a brief moment he lowered his eyes that were as potent as his mop of hair. “I can, I mean, I can be quite funny, really,” he lifted his eyes again to meet hers as a wavy strand fell across his strained forehead.

She got to her feet. Slinging her bag across one shoulder, keeping it away from the lace-strap of her white cotton top that had an open-flap back, so that it rested against her back jeans-pocket, she said, “Well, let’s go then.”

Ryan leapt to his feet.

Standing by his side, she realised how tall he was. His checked shirt was tucked casually into faded denim. And he walked with long easy strides. She put on her hat.

They hopped on a bus and headed to the back. “So, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a financial analyst,” she replied.

“Yeah? I always treat my analysts at the hospital with proper respect.”

“It wasn’t a first choice; how I fell into it is a bit of a narrative.”

“Oh?”

The wind was parading behind them; she pushed her hair away from her face.

“To cut the story short, my father persuaded me that finance was the closest thing to music that was practical. He told me that since I understood music, and I understood mathematics, I had to understand numbers.

“In high school I had to keep telling myself that just as Bach’s Goldberg Variations rely on symmetry to transition from theme to variation, so might exchange, so might currency. I still do. From time to time. In periods of forced delusion.” she said.

“I played the organ when I was a boy. The last time I played I was 12. At my grandfather’s funeral. Midway through the procession I saw my grandfather sitting there beside me. And he was there, right there, next to me, watching my fingers. I told my parents afterwards, but they pulled me aside and told me that dead people were gone and never came back. But I knew what I saw. And I knew it was him.”

“My late father was a disciplinarian. He made me practise for hours a day with my eyes shut. And he watched my fingers closely. He loved it when I could play well. Mozart, Debussy, Chopin. He just didn’t think I could make a career out of it.”

The bus took them on a loop and they got down near where they had got on. St Mary’s Cathedral stood robed in her regal gown at the top of a flight of steps, catching an oblique sliver of the late afternoon glow on the profile of her young ancient face.

Enveloped in the golden sandstone and carved nave and stained glass they sat down on a pew, looking up and around them. There was no one else.

“Churches have a certain serenity that’s special to me,” she said with unconscious softness. “The first time, though, I found myself in a church was when my cousin died from a sudden illness. We were both 14. It’s been so many years. I have grown up since. But she, I suppose, is still 14.”

“I’ve never been religious, but everytime I walk into a church, I feel the pain of people who come here to seek comfort, looking for answers. It amazes me that suffering and peace can join in one common place for generation after generation.”

Ryan took her hand from her lap; and she let him.

As they walked towards Circular Quay the sky was a sea of flames perforated with cloud chasms. The soft light made their skin tones sing. There was a family pushing close behind. They let them pass. The parents were struggling with a handful of three young children.

“My life actually started off as something of a tragedy,” Ryan said, still holding her hand.  “My parents had not wanted me after four kids. And, I guess, because they resented my existence, I spent my childhood also resenting it.” He paused looking towards the harbour. “Then as I got older I decided that if I just accepted my life as hard, it makes it easier to be happy when something good happens.”

“I was a bit luckier then,” she replied. “Our parents doted on us, my brother and me. And my father was successful in his profession, so we mostly got what we wanted, although he was strict … and my relationship with him was not always happy.”

Just as Sydney Harbour Bridge was coming into sight Ryan brought her hand up to his lips. “It’s funny how I tell you things I don’t normally tell people.”

She glanced up at him, and smiled. They walked on in silence.

She liked Ryan. She liked the way he collected himself. And the way his mind trod. She liked how his temple throbbed a little when he thought; how his eyes dropped her into a well of sadness. And how they connected with hers. She liked his big hands. His close-cut nails. The way he looked at her. There was something about him that made her feel reckless.

“Give me a word, Ryan,” she said, calling him by name for the first time. “Any word, anything random.” She did not explain why.

And Ryan did not ask. With little thought he said: ghost.

As if it was something he had simply taken out from inside his breast pocket.

That night, at dinner, while Ryan was off to the bathroom, she found a piece of paper and scribbled on it:

I shall forever be haunted by the eyes of the boy who saw his grandfather’s ghost

And slipped it inside the cover of his book.

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Vignettes

i.
Put your stethoscope away; mine’s not a heart you can press your ear against for secret murmurings. There is a leaky valve in my chest. But it’ll never be seen from colours sucking and sliding in your sonogram. Read the circumspection between my lips, hear for answers in the absence of the postman’s bell, see how shadows of my silhouette are diminishing. Because, only then will you have mastered the cardiology beating in my quiet breasts.

ii.
We lay on the windswept grass
in the same drought
of a different geography

A bit of longing
mixed with some apathy
It’s been five long years

Thought I’d wiped you forever
from memory but here you are
inside me, making waves

iii.
Dear Dad

In my dream last night, Friedrich Wieck was my teacher. And he forced me to practise with my eyes clamped shut. As he rapped my knuckles each time I tripped and I floundered, music sang from my fingers to fill the air in every night corner. When I was finally allowed to blink into the light, dim from the lamp, I had become Clara Schumann, as slight as she was determined, playing Johann Bach’s Air on the G String. Because.

I miss you.

iv.
i am sitting silent at the desk
unfolding my heart like a letter
to read for him her contents — sadder now
in places, remembering still in others

autumn is red and gold
and green in leaves
clouds and skies of pain
always coming then passing

it is a day filled with
magic and love and poetry
how would he like to lie beside me
on the grass in the sun again

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Theatre review: The Judas Kiss

Dear Dad

The Judas Kiss

Towards the end of the play, Oscar Wilde says John, not Judas, should’ve been the one to betray Jesus since John was the apostle Jesus most loved while he hardly knew Judas. And watching how Oscar has been forsaken by the love of his life, we understand why.

Jason Cavanagh’s elegant revival of David Hare’s 1998 play is a rich portrait of unequal love, and a moving portrayal of what it means to live under the conviction that “Only when we love do we see the true person. Love is not the illusion. Life is.”

It is 1895. Oscar has lost a libel suit against the Marquess of Queensberry who has accused him of sodomy. The Marquess is the father of his paramour, Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie), and the writer himself now faces arrest.

Meanwhile, Robert Ross, his former flame who still harbours a passion for Oscar has organised for the embattled prosecutor-turned-defendent to leave whilst at the same time nursing the heartache of having the man he loves loving somebody else.

Under Chris Baldock’s thespian brilliance, Oscar who died more than 100 years ago wits his way back to life before our eyes. But rather than the flamboyant spirit with a piercing intellect you’d imagine, Baldock presents a more sombre figure that the Irish poet became.

Allowing himself to see only the best in his object of desire, Baldock’s Oscar is vehement in his delusion, in denial of being used by Bosie as a tool to rebel against his father.

Refusing to give in to the oppression of aristocracy, blindly believing that Bosie will work on acquiring his bail, that flight would represent a betrayal of their love, Oscar rebuffs Robert’s well-meaning gestures, and stays to be apprehended.

Hare’s exquisite writing finds character distinctions between Oscar and Bosie; it contrasts the devotion Robert has for Oscar with the selfish callousness of Oscar’s new beau, and compares Oscar’s unreturned love for Bosie with Robert’s for Oscar.

After the interval, in Naples, following two years of hard-labour incarceration, a perceptibly-diminished Oscar is reunited with Bosie who carries on with his promiscuous ways despite their destitution.

But Oscar, even when facing demands to leave Bosie or have the allowance from his wife cut off, will not abandon his lover – only to find himself soon enough dumped.

Through Baldock, we see the despair of a fervent romantic who, wrapped up in extravagant quixotism, had clung on to the hope that the world (including his wife and children) would understand if Bosie and he could prove their inextinguishable love.

“The governing principle of my life has been love,” Oscar says to the departing Bosie. “But of yours, it has been power.”

And the script is woven with a language that is as lush as it is lustrous.

Other performances, too, have been tremendous. Nigel Langley’s Bosie is positively unlikable (as he should be), callow and curiously self-righteous; hotel servants by Soren Jensen and Lauren Murtagh and Zak Zavod are appropriately human beneath uniforms of subservience. Oliver Coleman, though, is worthy of special mention: remarkably poised, he combines in Robert a quiet dignity and an emotional anguish when told that what he had with Oscar is “not the same” as what Oscar now has with Bosie.

Besides drawing out the psychological truths of the drama, Cavanagh also gives the simulated-sex and nude scenes an artful quality. And the lighting design by Rob Sowinski is excellent as well in conveying the dusk of a dying love, and the darkest moments of the final goodbye before dawn.

Having everything taken from him, not least his ability to write, Oscar would have seen why it was Judas who gave Jesus away – he hardly knew Bosie afterall — if he had realised that perhaps life is not the illusion; but love is.

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Respite

garden

through dawn’s gentle breathing
she walks the path of quiet
finds a moment of rest
in her heart’s garden

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Times Of My Life

I haven’t had many watches in my lifetime; what I have, though, I look after. There are many character traits of my father I wish I had inherited, because I obviously haven’t, but something I know I have is his attitude that says: what is mine only gets better. We appreciate our small blessings, and we take care of them.

Anyway, this is not what my post is about. I want really to talk about watches.

I grew up with a Swatch. One of those with sunflowers on an enormous face, and the strap dazzles with yellow and blue. I remember it was always set 15 minutes ahead of the actual time. I must have believed it stopped me from being late, but I think it was perhaps also because I couldn’t wait to grow up. I got it for my 14th birthday and wore this all through secondary school to university to the workplace. Until it started looking ridiculous in the boardroom.

Then when I went home for vacation once, mum bought for me a decent, inexpensive, dress-watch which I have been using since. For a long while it was showing Asia’s time that is two or (with daylight saving) three hours behind Melbourne’s. I know this might not make a lot of sense, but I thought it helped keep me in pace with mum, and her in my world, which was an idea that became ironically more significant after I decided I could never go back there to live. In the lift going to work, I sometimes got perplexed looks from people wanting to know the time. It was too hard to explain. So I didn’t.

On her recent trip to visit, mum brought with her my father’s old wristwatch. She gave it to me as a keepsake rather than for use; even when clasped, the chain slips right up to my upper arm.

Two days ago, I took the watch to the shop to have the band replaced. I made up my mind I didn’t want him to just sit there in the drawer. Sure, the sepia dial is too big; it has a diameter wider than my wrist. But I don’t mind; it is a blatant reminder to live my hours the way my father did: with strength and grace. I chose a leather strap that is resilient and made of soft hide even though it’s not scratch-resistant.

Unlike my other watches, however, I have wound my father’s to the local Eastern Standard Time. Not a minute too fast or slow. In my heart, at least, my dad does exist with me in the same space.

Speaking of the watch of the heart, I recollect an episode in my life when I was trying to maintain a long-distance relationship after the man I loved was sent to a different continent to live and work. I did not want to go to bed at night because he was awake. And I wished I was with him when I should’ve been concentrating at work. The narrative of that chapter was a ricochet of emotions between time zones.

Then, there is also the watch of the mind. At times – in fact more often than for my own good – I feel as if I am living in my childhood: sitting on my father’s lap, my brother’s steadying hand on the bicycle, mum reading to me in bed, the family lounging on a Sunday afternoon with my dad’s 45 rpm turntable. When days were good. When there were no regrets.

I heard the US Defence Department is developing a system aimed at establishing the most exact time with the most precise exactitude — something more powerful than the GPS. I understand it is especially important for military purposes. But I don’t know I really care; I suppose I only wish to live in the present, with all my watches wound to the same time, the local time, and live it well.

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