in in-between world
toes point to the sun
as head is drawn to the sea-bed
off Elwood Beach
I float in a dream
of two families of uncles
inspired by the sight of
three strolling Mediterranean men
in togs without bellies
tanned brown with glinting silver hair
profuse on chest sparse on top
clad in their natures like shimmering fish
another film rewinds then
of English summer-holiday
where ever-the-world's host my father
invites his brothers for a picnic
on the beach and whatever
parents kids nephews uncles play
postponing boredom sadness end-of-holiday
like frisky bachelors
they fetch & carry for my mother
joke swim produce sixpences for ice-creams
smoke cigarettes languorous as the officers
they'd endured all their war years in North Africa
looking back at the shore
the purpose of the world seems first & last
appeasement of the senses
self & world-knowledge
gained by simply gliding body
through water or air enveloped in sunlight
anticipating the trajectories of bathers & walkers
merging with or diverging from them
as if we're all summer's melting marionettes
absolved from guilt excused consequences
but fifty years back
i was sacked for acceding to impulse
an hilarious image ballooned in my mind
demanding an hilarious act to fulfill it
i raced the yards from soft sand
to the puddled ribbed flat
exposed by outgoing tide
where my mother stood girlishly entertaining
my father & uncles
i slapped her blooming blue-costumed behind
so perfectly my right-hand stung and the
startled seagulls and her cry was a pure pain
encapsulating my little devil's jubilation
i ran on & on
and would have cartwheeled if i'd known how
expecting our party to laugh & applaud
instead one uncle chased me down
lectured me like a policeman
marched me back to my tearful mother
& her angry retinue
i prickled red with embarrassment
was made to stew
until awarded the cold blue mercy of banishment
in in-between world
there is no nymph called Thetis
no son Achilles dipped by the heel
into magic waters
there's only ever sea & sea
no other mother's bequest
could so nearly offer immortality
those three manicured Mediterranean men
those look-alikes aliases surrogates
those also-known-as Egyptian uncles
approach the water dainty as penguins
upon the ice-flow
attracted by the laziness of my swim
which tempts their machismo
suddenly one charges & plunges in
calling his partners to join him
then my dream pops into place
and once more real world roars around me
[from DEAR TAKAMURA, 2002-03.
The English uncles are Derek & Dennis Bean; the Egyptian uncles, Gaby & Cesar Tawa. It was the gallant Uncle Derek who ran me down]
What curious symmetry brings bad news from either side of the family within an hour of each other? English uncle, Egyptian cousin --though, as my brother elaborates, Pierre was only a couple of years younger than our mother, his aunt, who better related to him as her cousin.
An old man, tanned Mediterranean to oblige this recitation, grey hair, open necked white shirt, brown jacket & trousers, deliberates for half a minute before continuing his shuffle along the pavement. I'm reminded of my cousin but the dawdler's probably a closer resemblance to my Uncle Cesar, thirty years passed.
After my son died, his doppelgangers appeared and for several years following --jumping out of the pages of the music papers, occasionally & startlingly in the flesh. The hesitating Mediterranean is my cousin Pierre's first posthumous herald.
In England, Uncle Derek is apparently dying --the nuance or substance of the epithet 'terminal'. The age he's achieved doesn't diminish one's shock. He's always been a figure of energy & creativity. Walking, climbing, making or teaching music, driving, travelling, socialising --Derek appeared to guarantee the promise of ebullient longevity on our paternal side.
Suing for immortality was Dad's conceit, somehow hobbled by abstraction & timidity; fortunately for Derek it's his character. Perhaps because he never harped upon age, Derek's ageless. The man of wit we've always known --at home with himself --identical with his language --pilgrim's miles in his legs --newspaper beneath arm --tree, shrub or flower in his eye --a piano in his head.
Kris Hemensley JOURNAL + Notebook
23/24 April, '13
[re Ringwood/Fordingbridge visit]
(…) Big hiccup at Ringwood --I realised too late after alighting from the National Express coach & mooching about in search of Pam, that I wasn't supposed to be meeting her in Ringwood at all but Fordingbridge, a short hop away on another bus. I'd attempted several calls to Bernard but for once he wasn't home --I thought he'd be able to phone Pam & tell her I was still in Ringwood. However once I did realise the mistake I caught next local bus to Fordingbridge! And there she was, at the bus-stop, waiting for me.
We drove fast, first leg to a local store to pick up newspaper for Derek & beer & cheese for lunch, & then on to their home.
Uncle Derek in red checked shirt (or pyjama top?), fawn slacks, blanket around middle down to his feet --blue socks, one of which loosened & after an hour or so Pam pulled it up for him.
Uncle Derek's familiar smile & soft, smooth-skin handshake, more hand hold than grip.
"I bring greetings from [siblings] Bernard & Monique & Robin!" Later on I repeat Monique's best wishes. Derek says, And mine to her.
How are you? I ask --Very well, & yourself?
He alternates attention between the television & The Times crossword. Pam tells him it was my idea to get the paper (""you've got Kris to thank for it"). Derek smiles & keeps working. He's watching Question Time from Parliament. Looks fascinating. I asked him what he thought of the prime minister, David Cameron. He ponders before replying. I think he's doing a pretty good job, he says.
Was the answer contained or encouraged in the question? Pam told me she's learned to conduct just that kind of conversation with him --confusion is not what she wants to foment.
Derek enjoyed (or at least he chuckled) when I referred to Uncle Dennis's appreciation of Ray Monk's biography Wittgenstein. Oh yes, Derek said, Dennis did like Wittgenstein.
Pam had brought out ham for our lunch, the traditional English fare. When I declined she laughed it off. Salad & a chunk of cheese will be fine, I said. I don't know how much a chunk is, she said. Lunch was good, accompanied by several glasses of ale.
Pam showed me WW2 snaps of Derek --Rodger [Derek's son, my cousin] had brought them to show her and in the 45 minutes before he departed for the airport & the flight back to Australia she had them copied. Northern Germany, Hamburg for example. Very interesting was a Forces bulletin advertising a piano recital to be given by Derek Bean --Schubert & Schumann. Signalman Derek Bean.
Pam described Derek watching the broadcast of Mrs Thatcher's state funeral, and how he was impressed by the choir. I sang in St Paul's Cathedral, he said. Hmm. When footage of the Falklands War was shown he remarked he'd fought in that war. You weren't in the Falklands, derek, she laughed. Yes I was, he insisted. So what did you do in the Falklands then? I carried a rifle, he said.
Signalman Derek Bean, holding his rifle, World War 1, World War 2, the Falklands...
Uncle Derek, indomitable, incorrigible…
"TWO HEARTS UNITED"
Pam Adams :
Email / July 25, '13
Preparations for Derek's service on the 31st... I am typing up the order of the service for the printer and have reached an impasse - I am wondering if you can make a beautiful translation of this - am I correct in thinking you know German? - I think I am...
Der Abend dammert, das Mondlicht scheint,
Da sind zwei Herzen in Liebe vereint,
Und halten sich selig umfangen.
This excerpt was included in the score by Brahms to accompany or throw light (mondlicht?) on the second movement of his Sonata in f minor, which Derek loved and played magnificently, and which will be played in his service by Gwenneth Pryor. Derek loved languages, Derek loved German literature, and I just thought it would be nice to include the excerpt in the order of service, that he would appreciate that, but I would like to add a translation as well. I can make out the words, but I can't put them beautifully - help?
Dawn of the evening, the moonlight glistens (?), the moon shines (I'm no good at this!)
Two hearts united in love (there are two hearts?)
stand in blessed embrace HELP!!! (stand? stop? stay? Aaaargh!)
Kris Hemensley :
Email / 26 July, '13
Hi Pam, I sent two urgent messages to 'my people' with German language : poets Cecilia White & Petra White. Cecilia, Sydney based poet, often in Europe, has responded with this 'translation' which she says is also an interpretation. She thinks it might have the musical feel you need.
Evening arrives softly
In love, two hearts united
Holding each other in blessed embrace
I hope this either assists you in yr translation or does the job entirely...
All best, in haste, Kris
Email/ 27 July, '13
Thank you so much for throwing yourself into the task at hand! Urgent! I like it. And thank your people! Amazingly, I needn't have worried, the printer had a translation in her vast store of everything she's ever printed, and apparently that excerpt has come up on many an occasion! Here's what she printed and I said, okay -
Through evening's shade,
The pale moon gleams
While rapt in love's ecstatic dreams
Two hearts are fondly beating.
Okay. Somebody took tremendous liberties, but whatever.... gleams and dreams rhyme so okay.
The Order of Service looks good, I'm happy. Now I have the weekend to do the outer cover.
Found some very interesting things! A box of pictures - one of you and Derek - do you have a copy of it? from his visit [to Melbourne] at Christmastime 1997, I believe, in your shop. Will send that if you don't have it. (There were two copies of most of the pictures in that set, but only one of that photo, so you may already have it.) Also the sweetest picture - which will go on the inside back cover, along with a couple of pictures of young Derek, soldier - of Derek crouching opposite, and feeding/petting a baby kangaroo. Sweet. Also found a letter I had written him while he was in Australia, detailing what he was missing in a particular class at Morley College. He was class secretary, and in his absence it was quite chaotic - and someone turned to me and asked when Derek would be back. "Morley doesn't stand if Derek isn't here," he said. "It's like the ravens in the Tower."
Petra White :
Email, July 28, '13
Evening grows dark, the moonlight shines, two hearts are made one in love, holding each other in happiness.