Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Vera Di Campli San Vito


'If you would have the message of the Gods
to direct your life, look for that which repeats,
again and again…'
                             — Marion Zimmer Bradley

Taking my leave but wanting to stay
It'll all come with me, anyway
These small revolutions in my head –
Will the Gods explain them when I'm dead?

Have a nice life

You, with a hole in your sock,
red beard, long straight hair,
looking to belong somewhere.
The mild autumnal air is still
and at last, at last I don’t
care for this struggle any more –
wish you all the best
and have a nice life. For the rest
I’ll put you out of my mind,
let no thoughts of you intrude,
lest I’m tempted into longing.
You, with your quick blue eyes,
cruel mouth, airtight heart –
make yourself another cup of tea
and relax. This is the last you’ll see
of me.

Dead End

You’re at this dead end
where pavement meets wall.

There’s no good friend  

on whom you can call.

Where pavement meets wall
a skip’s overflowing.
On whom can you call
where are you going?

A skip’s overflowing
what you’ve not said.

Where are you going?

Shed your black dread.

What you’ve not said
crows pick and crow.
Shed your black dread
don’t feel so low.

Crows pick and crow
shadow thoughts scatter.
Don’t feel so low
know it doesn’t matter.

Shadow thoughts scatter
where crow spirits fly.
Know it doesn’t matter.
Ask yourself why

where crow spirits fly
there’s no good friend.
Ask yourself why
you’re at this dead end.

Halfway to –  (post-journey reflections)

Limited express tracks over the river
between towers of glass under mare’s tail skies.

Outstretched arms of cranes point to tunnels &
silver escalators moving deeper to a centre.

To unearth the uncommon: our destination.
All the newness of spring.

Blankness comes from movement,
like a horse in windy weather: keep it
moving & it won’t spook.

Sweeten the feeling.
If all this disappeared, what would take its place?

Peppercorns & pines, more sun than ever &

We’re swimming in camaraderie,
the air serene, mare’s tails swishing in the blue.

Each stop another line written
yet lost in this formlessness.

Alphington not Framlingham & Ivanhoe no crusader.
Poplars & pickets recede.

Red & green signal lights blink,
tracks slide together – the horizon.

Here is a platform for our company,
we work on the move.

Cranes beckon us back to glass towers,
each thought fluid as river water.

No fixed frame of reference – only a to & fro
till each finds a still point: blank, lined, squared.

What lies beyond?
Bend in the river, curve of the tracks.

Wind Poem #1

Oh the wind is anything but ordinary
in its organ loft in the clouds.

It turns the washing to origami
and blows leaves off the oleander.

An obstreperous ogre huffing and puffing
it makes a dust bowl of everything.

We wait for the off-season,
onlookers of an occult game of the elements.

This wind wants to nuzzle my norks
and make my nipples stand on end.

Wind Poem #2

This dun coloured dray horse
pulls a heavy load.
Its dreary work is never done.

Accompanied by the music of a dumb piano
he stops now and then to pluck
a mouthful of eau-de-Nil coloured grass.

All never ending work is divine
by nature, whether or not
it makes you feel ecstatic.

Eden never had electric lights
and living there meant
you could never be eclectic.

Wind Poem #3

Around the time of the summer solstice
the twins next-door would sleepwalk in my garden.

I’d taught them short-division
and we were working on the long.

Stalwart in their dreams, they used to
spit at snails on the grass,
ran the spectrum of bizarre acts.

Once I saw them breathe
into the spiracle of a stick insect.

They lived within their own sphere
and were supicious of all else.


When I arrive home later than expected
she's pacing up and down the street
one hand shielding her eyes
the other clutching a wooden spoon.

Never will I understand
why I'm punished when I'm late.
Sometimes, I have a good reason.
Shouldn't she be glad to see me?

But no. She has to Teach me a Lesson.
'Wait till you have kids –
then you'll know what it's like to worry.'
But I haven't. And I don't.

So what do I do instead?
Perfect my ability to get waylaid.

Dare's Lane, Ewshot

A woman rides a dapple grey horse
on a blue sky winter's afternoon,

rides a steady, collected canter
da-da dum da-da dum da-da dum.

She goes round big, goes round small,
navigates jumps and obstacles, then

halts at the far end of the manège,
dismounts in one swift, fluid movement,

adjusts the bridle and with slight effort
remounts. The big grey awaits her sign.

I lean on a fence a short distance away,
standing in mud, foot-numb.

Relentlessly round and round they go:
da-da dum da-da dum da-da dum.

She's rocking gently on her cantering
horse, a constant slow-time rhythm.

I watch and watch and wish it was me;
it's a perfect day for riding.

Little Mermaid

First time I broke the waves
and saw him, he danced
till dawn on his ship.
When the storm came
and he was drowning,
I gathered him in my arms,
kissed him and wished
he might live. I saved him.
But I lost myself.

At home I’d embrace
my statue, remember
the prince’s head,
limp on my breast,
the curve of his mouth
damp locks of his hair.

Imagine my desire,
my fierce, fearless hope,
wanting always to be
amongst humans,
amongst forests,
fields and mountains.

Love is a gamble.
I gambled my heart,
my art, for love.
I crossed my destiny,
paid a price.

My prince, I saw the best
in you, believed you would
give your best to me.
I left home and family
for you, forever lost
my siren’s voice for you,
lost my tail, my fishy scales,
and you married another.
I saved you, not myself.

On his wedding night
I danced and laughed,
though daggers
stabbed my feet,
plunged deeper still
into my heart.

O bride, who cherished
my story in your childhood,
hear me now.
You will never
change your destiny,
try as you might –
never change another,
love them as you will.
Accept your fate,
love others as they are.
And be wise to whom
you give your heart.


From a potterer

What can I tell you about myself? You, a stranger. I guess we’re all strangers to start with and, as someone once said, “How could the world continue if somebody didn’t kiss a stranger?” Autobiography reminds me of being asked by someone you’ve just met, “So, what do you do?” 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt like a black sheep. My family’s traditional values and love of material comfort and security frustrates my less pragmatic ideals. Perhaps it began when I started to show a love for animals? The only pets I was allowed were goldfish, tadpoles, budgerigars and mice. My father kept a succession of sulphur-crested cockatoos. Cats, dogs, and even guinea pigs were out of the question, never mind the fact that for a while it seemed that every stray dog and lost kitten would follow me home. What I wanted most of all, of course, was a pony. I grew up on the banks of the Yarra River, in an inner suburb of Melbourne, and I was obsessed with horses. When I was twelve or thirteen, I used to visit an old Thoroughbred, Matlock, at Creswick Reserve, having befriended his owner, a girl my age whose parents had succumbed to their daughter’s desire for a horse. One day, Matlock wandered out of his yard, out on to the main road. He was hit by a car and had to have stitches in his head. Even I knew that the city was no place for a horse.

Having decided that when I grew up I wanted to be a veterinary surgeon, I worked as a veterinary nurse for a local practice all through high school. I began by volunteering, just because I wanted to be around the animals, but eventually was offered a part-time job. I worked on Saturdays and in the school holidays. Even before I finished high school, I knew I wouldn’t have the grades to enrol in veterinary science. I studied maths, biology, chemistry and physics, but I wasn’t any good. The standard of the teachers at my school didn’t help. I barely scraped through my leaving exams and eventually completed an arts degree in creative writing, literature and music history.

I was always wayward. It came with my image of myself as a rebel. Having heard the wayward youth stories of others, I’m aware that it’s all relative. My rebelliousness was mild to say the least, but in the context of my parents’ strictness, it counted for something. Although I never felt particularly encouraged in my interests,  neither was I expected to do anything I didn’t want to, apart from find a suitable husband, marry and have children. None of this eventuated. I was always disappearing on my bicycle, sneaking off, late coming home, worried about getting into trouble. Once, in my student magazine/radio days, I arrived home at 2am with a long-stemmed red rose and a fifty dollar note in my hand. I had a hard time explaining to Dad that I’d been working legitimately, packing up a college fashion show.

I’ve spent all my life around books. My father loved books, especially encyclopaedias, dictionaries and atlases. I devoured books when I was a kid – from fairytales (The Little Mermaid made me cry) to popular children’s fiction by authors such as Mary O’Hara, KM Peyton, the Pullein-Thompson sisters, John Christopher, LM Montgomery and SE Hinton. I read lots of pony books, until my English teacher suggested I was a little too old for pony books now and might like to read something more grown-up. I don’t think he suggested anything in particular though, and so I came home from the local library with titles by Ian Fleming, Gore Vidal and Vladimir Nabokov (who dedicated all his novels to his wife, Vera). Perhaps they seemed the most “grown up” books to me? My mother said I’d go blind if I read too much. I paid no attention to her. I’ve worked in secondhand bookshops, in a university bookshop and in lots of different libraries. My hands have absorbed quantities of book dust and grime. The acid in the paper dries the skin.

I have friends who, like me, feel that they are in the world but not of it. Perhaps it relates to the black sheep feeling, its roots in our upbringing? Some of these friends I met at a Womenspirit camp in the early 90s. These women are the sanest, strongest, smartest people I know – creative, artistic, psychic, able to walk across a bed of hot coals at will. In theory, we’re capable of doing anything we want. In practice, we’re limited by the society we live in, the choices we make, our lack of confidence in ourselves. We struggle on, pull through, ride our ups and downs, our lives and the Great Weaving ultimately a mystery. My friends have had a great influence on my life. I’ve learnt about all sorts of things from them. Their presence shapes my identity, as does their absence.

When I finally departed Melbourne in 1993, bound for London via a visit to the relatives in Italy, I felt like a caged bird set free, with all the ambivalence that implies. I lived in London for nine years and loved it, worked mainly in libraries and, for the last two years of my stay, at The Poetry Society in Covent Garden. I’ve never felt quite settled in Melbourne – the grass has always seemed greener elsewhere. Having been back for ten years, I still dream of a place in the country – just me and my pony.




Old Fitzroy - - Dreaming blues, karlos? said...

Vera, I used to passover the railway bridge and look down and across that little valley, heidelberg, richmond, collingwood fitzroy eltham - Alphington, I often wondered about that area and people living there, gazing out the train window.

Vera Di Campli San Vito said...

Geez, Karl, just noticed this comment - one year later! I love your latest post & Valli's Kahlo book, which she kindly sent me a copy of.
Having grown up in Burnley (we always called it Richmond) I always felt like I was on the "wrong side" of the River. Taking the train out from Burnley train station towards Hawthorn, Glenferrie & Camberwell always felt to me like I was headed somwhere more exotic.