WATCHING THE SKY TURN BLUE
for Steve Forster
Watching the sky turn blue
in the last hours of the night.
Up like the stars dreaming myself awake.
Insomniac watchman making the rounds
of my own private zodiac
on the graveyard shift
looking for signs of an afterlife
that’s in spiritual alignment with the pyramids.
A clean slate.
A new day.
The world a new creation every morning.
Empty streets empty stores empty sidewalks.
The vertebrae of bridges sheathing the
like a spinal cord that’s stopped
sending messages to the brain
like wavelets and rain
to put the serpent fire out
that’s rooted at the base of my spine.
And the windows that couldn’t get over
the loss of the moon
aren’t talking to those
anticipating the sun rise
like the trickle of water music
arising from the willows of Stewart Park
slowly leaking out of the silence
like a crescendo of birds that come out
one by one like the stars
until you’re washed away
in the undertow of it all
like the words of this poem
riding the mindstream like a paper boat
all the bumpy way down to my heart.
The leaf and starmap of a lost art.
The dew on the cool blue green grass
has taken the spit shine off my boots
and turned their anthracite
into a flat Mars black nineteen-fifties Ford.
I can see the glass tears of a streetlight
that’s been crying all night like a candle
in front of the broken mirror
that’s been seen with another lover
slowly turning like a mood ring
into the sapphire blue of a new birthstone
with the occasional star in it.
A runaway Milky Way of lapis lazuli
pops into my head like Indian jewellery
in the showcase marinas of Dragon Moon.
Dolphins and flying fish
are leaping off the prow
in the fathomless depths
of the subconscious mind
from my shipwreck
like the nautical find of the century
up to the surface
to mark where I went down.
Maybe the Perth Courier will carry the news
in black slug lines of mourning
indelible as the darkness I feel
whenever I walk past the office door
and remember when my buddy
editor by day Kent
and Big Steve Forester and the Mudcats by night
rhythm and blues Kansas City
to night owls and feral cats
prowling and howling
into the wee hours of the morning.
And his death may have passed
like yesterday’s obituary
into local history
but there will always be
some events in the lives of poets and reporters
that will always be breaking news to the heart.
He’d come to my place
at seven in the morning
and we’d sit at the kitchen table
like seven year old boys
dealing with death and cancer
trying to find an accurate answer
among all these rumours of an afterlife
about what it was going to be like
to wake up one day
any day now
without eyelashes ears
fingers toes a nose and skin
and your eye for picture-music
the braille stops of a bird bone flute for the blind
buried beside you
as if you were an Archaic Indian
who died young
five thousand years ago
by the Straits of Belle Isle
knowing timing’s just as important as content.
We corroborated each other’s testimony
on the wild side of things
and whenever I’m down
Soap Factory Perth
lavishing its thick floral scent on the night air
I look up at his old apartment window
that the new tenants look through now
and though he and I would both agree
that it blows the public cool
of a private clown
to be so sentimentally foolish
even when no one else is around
I say God bless you Steve
wherever you are now.
And I think I can almost hear you
rocking out with the celestial spheres
like a blues harp among the angels
and I like the new underground sound
that’s taking heaven by storm
though it brings me to tears
that water the root fires
of this whiff of wildflowers
working on the nightshift
to think of you gone.
Gone gone gone
altogether gone beyond
like the riff of a base run
on a guitar-shaped universe
under the travelogue of play-dates
and places you gigged
stuck to the lid of your coffin
like the leaves and constellations
of an autumn that always comes too soon.
God bless you man.
I sing it out
like a one man band
with soul and heart
under your window
like a wolf pack
howling at the moon
for the loss of one of their own.
God bless that big awkward heart of yours
and the lonely boy you told me about
playing by himself
in the abandoned World War Two airfields of
I’ve tried to get closer to him over the years
as I always did when he was near
by impressing him with
the smoothness of my take-offs
and the fireworks of my emergency landings.
You were the first unimperial Englishman
that ever convinced me
he could wear cowboy boots convincingly.
And that you knew what it was like
to be down and out with George Orwell
sleeping among violent drunks
that kept waking up
just to spit into your wishing well.
I know you spent your whole life wondering
whether you were or not
and wandered off the horse trails
of the bronze riding academy often enough
just to prove you were
to me and to yourself
but you were real.
Outlaw blues man
with a lot of good habits
you were addicted to like your upbringing.
I’ve ridden with a lot of bad dudes
and seen a few hung along the way
like identity thieves caught red-handed
branding their names
on other people’s logos
but none of them knew how
to head off a stampede
in a lightning storm
like you could with a mike
and an edgy audience in front of you
as if you’d just pulled a gun in a bank
like Robin Hood.
I don’t know if it does any good
to lay food and tobacco and beer
bread and a baggie
homegrown Lanark County
with colas the size of treetops
frosted with the galactic radiance of stars
with crystal healing powers
at the eastern doors
of the burial huts of the dead
approaching the autumnal equinox
as the Ojibwa at this time of the year
believe it does.
Or if our souls go east or south
in the bodies of migrating
when the moon takes them off
like lockets and rosaries around her neck
as the Ojibwa Pythagoras the Persians
and the Christians
who caught on to the thought
all said they did.
Or if the Great Spirit
has a wingspan that includes us all or not.
Hard to imagine nature
comes pre-prepared with a womb
but not a tomb
that’s big enough for all of us.
And maybe there’s no more distinction
to be made between the exit and the entrance
than there is to be made between
a sacred grove and a parking lot
and in the clear light of the void
we’re all bound to see for ourselves
you don’t notice the difference
between the living and the dead
the way I do
looking up at your window
as if the oldies and goldies
of the rhythm and blues
had turned into the base metal
of an alchemical universe in reverse.
And maybe everyone ends up here
sooner or later
beside a soap factory
below somebody’s window
trying to throw
a philosopher’s stone through it
like a grain of sand
through the blank stare of an hourglass
whose timing is as bad as eternity’s
always half a note off the tempo
like a white boy playing jazz
with one foot on shore
and the other in a lifeboat.
And maybe you’ve got to
syncopate the backbeat
to stay on your feet dancing
long after the music’s over
and the lights have been turned off
like stars and streetlamps in the dawn.
I don’t know Bud.
I’ve just lived on
doing what I’ve always done.
And I hear they put that painting
I did of you dressed up
like one of the Blues Brothers
bending the music
like a mike stand
up against your coffin
and I was happy to hear that.
And there have been two elegies
I’ve written for you since
that have tried to say farewell
in a way that could convince my heart
but they both failed like a funeral
and it looks like
given I’m standing here tonight
watching the sky turn blue in your window
that it’s going to take more than your death
to make me say good-bye
at the end of the gig
when they’re breaking down the music
like roadies disassembling a Rubik’s cube
or typesetters yesterday’s news.
So I’ll just keep saying thank-you
over and over again
for being a friend of mine
until you hear me
wailing like a wounded blues harp in pain
and not just another banshee
scratching at your window
like a cat that wants to come in
and make a demo
with fading stars in the studio.
I’ll watch the sky turn blue
over the Old Brown Shoe factory
that’s given over to body builders
and tomorrow’s ballerinas now
and intrigued like the bees
by the smell of soap
I’ll jack into the sun like a power-amp
and you’ll grab the mike
like the bud of daffodil
or a streetlamp around the neck
and we won’t play
Should Old Acquaintance be forgot
on the deck of the Titanic
as it’s going down
like the moon and the stars
but as I heard you once sing
in Stewart Park.
The amplified echo of your voice
long after dark
all over town.