Metta

Today at daybreak walking on the footpath
the air brisk upon my face, first

across the quiet road, down the avenue
stepping on young-autumn leaves,

past a cat on a roof, then round a corner
I gaze forth toward the sky. The moon --

wide, generous, exuberant, so large
and so low I could touch it, like a window

opened in the dark expanse to reveal
your face. I pause

in this moment of my strides, and 
I say a prayer of gratitude, of

affection, and good wishes:

May you be happy, may you be free from fear
May you be healthy, may you be safe

Street Person

He bends and places a bottle of booze
On the ground. Dirty pants sag
To expose a white, resigned bum.

He sits his fat body down.
When I come back round the same corner
A woman drops a coin

Into his blackened hands. The alcohol is
Half-drunk. "Spare change?" he looks up,
Not at me

But into the distance beyond,
His eyes, red, with vague rage.
I move away, ashamed

But frightened, and his voice
Retreats, before being swallowed up
In another draught of memory and pain.

Film review: Nomadland

“I am house-less, not home-less,” says the main character near the beginning of the film, in response to a well-meaning probe. The notion that one’s home is something you carry with you — and in this case, metaphysically and literally — shapes the transcendental heart of Nomadland, a serenely visceral work based on a novel by Jessica Bruder.

Set in post-Global-Financial-Crisis America, this third feature by Chloe Zhao records Fern’s (Frances McDormand) induction into and experience of an itinerant life. With the demise of her husband, and the town in which they lived, the stoical, middle-aged former teacher decides to be a van-dwelling working nomad, as she sets off criss-crossing the harsh, arid landscape of the United States. It is a choice that invests its tenability not only on one’s health but that of the vehicle.

While sustaining this lifestyle through odd jobs, Fern finds friendships that lead her to a community of simpatico people at an annual gathering organised by Bob Wells, the famous wayfarer whose writings and Youtube channel have inspired thousands. Amongst the cast of non-professional performers who are genuine nomads (the magnificent Linda May and Swankie, and the charismatic Wells) is the other fictional role, Dave (David Strathairn), with whom Fern contemplates a deeper connection, in a gentle scenario that acutely depicts the conflict between complex bonds we forge with others and with ourselves.

Beautifully photographed by Joshua James Richards, Nomadland is a movie that discovers enormous humanity in bleak, washed-out colours and inhospitable contours — a tender, unflinching inquiry into the real world by a formidably talented actor.

Creation

Is there any question the carpet of
leaves on the grass, on
the path has heaps to teach us about

spiritual generosity? Would you ever doubt
the great, beautiful elm senses your presence
from vibrations you make in the air?

I walk like this each morning,
around the reserve, across the bridge,
over the lake, feeling my heart open from her clasp,

thinking: if I do not see this again
I would surely die. And look! how the magpie
cracks the darkness and tears up the sky -- as if

last night he had dreamed of blazing
his own path, and is now
determined to make it real

Song

Six o'clock, upon rising,
You put the music on:

Meditative beats, spiritual mantras,
Classical tunes.

It is not to fill the space;
There are voices of crickets,

Early taxis, the whistling wind.
Even the resident bird has woken up

To take its place at the corner
Of the parapet. No --

You put the music on because
Your mind is already busy crowding the day

With this and that, and the melody
Weaving its way about the hour is

The soul, with her patient nudging,
Calling out to you

To sit in her gentle presence
While the air outside quietly sheds its satin darkness.

You know she is always there,
Loving you more than  anything else

In the world. A tireless guardian, again
And again, bringing you back to

Your sacred truth.

Leaf

I read between the lines of my heart
While a red leaf floats like whisper upon my lap.
And is there any more clarity than before?
Only more conflict, more questions, more uncertainties.
Nothing like the delicate truth of trees, through time.
Dense, tedious heart, too many layers, too many possibilities.
Tome of inanity, I turn back the cover and close you up.
Leaf, teach me, teach me
To change colour, then just fall.

Morning

At Alexandra Gardens the fog hangs
like drapes from blushing trees.
I walk into its folds. I breathe
in a long time. It smells of
stone, stillness, mystery. It draws
deep into my belly, spreading
the bones. Letting go, I hear them
whisper:
Who was that? in her 
luxurious dress of silk

Threads

Is a connection man-made, like a highway?
Or is it preordained, like
To whom we were born?
Does it only run between us and
Real objects or people?
Things you can hear or see.
I think about the grandfather I'd
Never met whose spunkiness
Courses through my veins.
I think about the imaginary characters
Of my creative fiction that
Lie with me beneath a star-lit sky.
In religion faith is built
Upon the most profound bond ever.
One question leads to another:
Do we remember our former selves
Before this time period, before
Being in this body, on this journey, like a childhood memory,
Like the tail-end of a fitful dream?
Do we remember those we knew and loved
In these early lives?
Is there a spark of recognition when we see them today?
Is there a carry-over of old ties,
Like a relic, like an inheritance?
Come to think of it,
I must have been a forest-dweller
Bound endlessly to trees, and their shining leaves
To flowers
Birds
Ants 
Grass

On Foot in Fitzroy

The two-storey terrace houses
Have been conjoined
At their sides
A long time now
Their arched balconies 
Framing lit windows where
Love mingles with disappointment, and
Anguish dissolves into peace this
Is Fitzroy, Victoria the last trams 
For the day
Roll on here 
Past alleys of street art
Across the pain of the bar's 
Remaining patron
Asleep on the counter

Book review: The Scarlet Letter

“Truth is to power what fire is to wax, that’s why power and truth are mortal enemies,” says Bangambiki Habyarimana, a Rwandan author of the book, Pearls of Eternity.

The book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1850, is concerned with the relationship between these two adversaries, in whose battle we see inflict untold suffering upon the secrets-bearer when truth is subdued and power dominates, in the same way that freedom is the prize if truth wins.

The Scarlet Letter opens in the summer of 1642 in Boston, and is narrated in a third-person voice some two hundred years later, based upon inherited information. It is a time when the Massachusetts Bay Colony is of severe Puritan character, in which law and religion are indivisible, so that what is construed as sin is a naturally punishable offence. Against this backdrop a married woman, Hester Prynne, conceives a baby out of wedlock. Her sentence is to endure three hours of public ignominy on a scaffold in the heart of the market-place, and then to wear a scarlet letter “A” upon her breast for the rest of her life. Despite intense pressure to declare the name of the child’s father, she remains defiantly resistant.

Standing in the mid-day sun before the critical, grim judgement of the city’s inhabitants, Hester catches sight of her legally-wedded husband watching her from amidst the crowd. Two years ago, Roger Chillingworth, a scholar and physician had sent his beautiful wife from Amsterdam to Massachusetts to establish station, following their decision to emigrate, while he was himself delayed to attend to certain affairs. When he realises the nature of his spouse’s crime, as he enters the town, Roger Chillingworth is sworn to exact revenge — not on the fallen woman, but her accomplice.

Through a dramatic device the physically misshapen intellect unearths that the perpetrator of his wife’s temptation is a young, high revered minister of the parish, Arthur Dimmesdale. But, instead of publishing the sinner’s disgrace, Chillingworth perceives that the real agony of sin for the much-loved Reverend lies in the dread of its discovery.

In elegant, albeit rather dense, prose, Hawthorne describes the inmost condition of each of the four characters: Hester Prynne, (her daughter) Pearl, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth. The action of the book rests not in incident but in the gradual manifestation of the people in the tale until they become totally transparent. We are asked to regard less of the plot and more of the substance, which skilfully finds semblance with our own most intimate nature under each circumstance.

The narrative crosses seven years, during which we read Hester’s thoughts as a pariah of society, watch little Pearl’s elfish, wayward growth, witness Dimmesdale’s rapidly withering health, under a cocktail of Chillingworth’s medicinal care and insidious psychological torture.

Towards the conclusion of the story, Hawthorne engages in the discourse of whether “hatred and love be not the same thing at the bottom.” He contends that each involves a high degree of heart-knowledge, each renders one party dependent for emotional sustenance upon another, and each leaves the lover/hater desolate by the other’s withdrawal.

At the end, this is a romance, whose form assumes the spontaneity of a flower unfolding from a force within, with a moral significance in which we learn that a sinner — rather than live a life of saintly deeds, or scourge himself — should be true, and openly accept his shame, otherwise be subjected to the power not only of those who take the law into their own hands, but also that in the load of secret guilt within his own heart.

Twenty- twenty

It's Sunday morning, so I go
for a walk on the lockdown streets.
First, down the footpath,
crossing a driveway, where
a black cab waits at the McDonald's window,
blowing white smoke,
a masked face peering out.

Then onto the avenue,
where a glossy sign advertises a mansion
for sale, where potted flowers are hanging
over balustrades, and moss climbs on trunks.
The sun is out but mist brushes against me,
like wool. I look at a yellow-painted house.
There is a wide-screen TV on the nature-strip.

On to Petrie Square and light filters
delicately through a stained-glass mural
where in a sea of blue Virgin Mary is holding infant Jesus.
A rain-drenched copy of Harry Potter
and the Goblet of Fire lies abandoned on the grass.
And at the corner of Alexandra Gardens, a night-globe
blinks off; it is seven o'clock.

The moon in daylight is a pleasure,
even if sometimes I think it is like
aspirin in a glass. I stop
to read a sign beneath a tree: a
bicentennial time capsule to be opened in 2088.
There are several people of colour
in the park today, which makes it cheerful and warm.

Somebody has stuck a red blossom
in the hands of a bronze sculpture
embracing his lover. Elsewhere,
art is serving a long sentence
and visitors are banned.
And so, one has had her constitutional,
and one strolls back,

past Charcoal Grill,
with menus of rump for takeaway
and the music posters now wasted
and the golf shop on its last days.
Two more corners and I am home. There,
my heart is waiting in these pages
by the window at my desk.