Prelude by Bruce Beaver

*

The only space I’ve inhabited has been my self.
Ask me where one street intersects
with another hereabouts
and I couldn’t tell you.
Ask me their names and I’d say
Never heard of them.
I wouldn’t exactly get lost
if you blindfolded and spun me
around three times a kilometre
from here. All I could say though
when the blindfold was taken off
and I was asked where I was
would be Manly.

Not the one I learnt by heart
as a child, or the other
I knew as a young man
its main street full of good
and varied shops.
It would be the one I call
the rotisserie with its
food shop souvenirs food shop
souvenirs all the way from the
wharf to Ocean Beach
in summer another kind of
rotisserie with the black coffee
coloured bodies and the bare
breasts inviting more than hot
stares. But that’s the South
Steyne end we’re in the section
somewhere back from that
portion of the lengthy beach
called North Steyne about its
middle flavoured by some
surfers and cultivators of
skincancers. It has plenty of
pleasant trees left pines figs
and gums most too old
and large for their own good.
But the only thing that shades Q’cliff
beach at 3pm is a 14 storey
block of units not a plot
of pines as they did 50
years ago. I was nearly
drowned there when I was sixteen
one year before the WW2’s
ending. Sucked out and under
by a rip I was upheld
and tossed on a shoreward
wave by 2 young lifesavers
as true to their title as I was
to cowards. I never swam in
the waves again or body surfed.
That terrible stranglehold of
green coils and black depths
fascinated like a cosmic
anaconda from the distance
of the beach no closer.
I’d walk the shore to see
the women’s bodies and watch their
minds trying to keep up
with them sexist and suicidal
at seventeen at nineteen
saved by a fate worse than
death by two of them
at loose ends with and without
husbands. By then a poet
but just as I didn’t know
where I was geographically
I didn’t know more than
four flowers from the others
three trees from the rest.
Reading Keats and Shakespeare
shamed as much as gave me joy.
I couldn’t even tell what a piece of
cake tasted like. In fact
I avoided that word and the first
person singular almost from the
start. I fussed about with what
I saw and tried to reinvent it.
After writing about practically
nothing but love for several
years I tried to write about anything
but it for another 50.
But it squeezed itself
in and I know as much about it
as the streets trees flowers
ocean and all around me
that’s next to nothing until I met
you and then I started Oh
so slowly to set about
learning something of it
from you by you with you
and finally got it into
my system and out onto
paper once and for all
but even then it was over
30 years after the event
of events and of course
illegal in its intent
but by then I had learnt
to lose fears of that kind
and poured out my small amounts
of passion into thimblefuls
of additives to otherwise
almost impersonal poems
and finally before too
late opened what was left
of the floodgates rinsing
our landscape known
once and for all.

*

Beaver was born in Manly, New South Wales in 1928. He was educated at the Manly Public School and at the Sydney Boys’ High School. He worked at a number of jobs, as a cow farmer, in radio, as a wages clerk, a surveyor’s labourer, fruit-picker, proof-reader and journalist, before deciding to write full-time. He died after a long illness on 15 February 2004. Bio here– from http://australia.poetryinternationalweb.org 
and interview here with John Tranter.


When asked to list their favourite books, the late (and great) Dorothy Porter named Bruce Beaver and said:
 
“Bruce Beaver is one of Australia’s greatest and most magical poets. I have been carrying his book Charmed Lives(UQP) around in my bag like an amulet. His poetry is pungent, discursive, feral, disturbing, wise and very funny. Charmed Lives is out of print. It shouldn’t be.
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