Hampton to Elwood

HAMPTON TO ELWOOD

I

The bay offers up a
tidied immensity –
down the path
at Hampton
the view’s
broken up
for our comfort;
you look out
while the breakwaters
hold you like arms.

The path
skirts the water, dainty and round,
as if minding the hems
of its skirts.

It hurts,
how little
great losing distance
there is to be found here,
how precisely
I am placed –
I had some idea
of emptiness,
and of
forgetting his face.

I sit down
with The Dolphin,
the details of the Lowell household, the sense of betrayal. I look up
at the water,
hoping for
a sense of scale.

An old man
grins at me, brown-toothed
and says, Some reading room, eh.
Shy as a lover
as he passes on his way.

II

I return to the
path. Sun-dappled, calm, the bay
keeps company, pace.
It distends
and collapses
as a matter of habit.
It’s like keeping a measurement, page,
with a slipping finger –
bring to bear
your scissors,
try to resume the passage,
and you cannot
find your place.

A seagull bobs
on the water, as wooden
as a model yacht,
as strangely
small and large.
His gift is
opposite
to that of the bird, which is real
but seems false,

but it has
a similar effect –
an outlandish bit of
decoration, a simulacrum,
disturbing in its
resemblance
to the real thing.

I glare out at the bay,
smug
as a lake
with its narrow mouth,
hateful
and contained.

III

Coming into Brighton,
I round the head
and then, in a moment, at a step –
like a trick, a cloth
stripped
from its table –
the city stands there, all of it.

The parts stand out,
as large
and detailed as a map –
the twin piers
of the Bolte,
the red-and-white-striped
chimney stack.

It all seems
within my grasp,
so completely pictured,
collared
at a single glance –
the Eureka
rising
like a mast
to draw all the others
beneath its circus tarp.

In the car park
the vehicles
edge up
to where tar
turns into
grass, grass into sand
and sand into water,
each transition
vaguer
and more natural.

Their occupants
look out behind glass,
braced, their faces
creased in distaste
or the fear
that something here
will ask them to participate.

I slouch past,
somewhat roused
by this new, concrete goal,
this gap-tooth linearity –
Melbourne, my adopted city.

IV

I set out to
inhabit this place,
to set inheritance aside,
that accident
of birth – the queer
gift of home,
its sinister ability
to know you
as much as it is known.
I would
turn
Melbourne over
like a stone,
in the comfortable knowledge
that none of the
crawlies
panicked on its underside
were my own.
Some hope!

That move, the radical disjunction –
the all-night train
the Pillar of Saint Simon –
like an astronaut
at lift-off,
the sudden, jarring motion
would dig
fingers
in my features
and somehow rearrange them.
The demands
I put on place
were demands on my person.

There’s little
surprise, then, in my frustration –
that liminal city of dreams
is meant to be
glimpsed, not lived in.
Just like him – reserved for lyrics,
peaks,
walks on the beach.
It’s mean
that these things
are so briefly apprehended –
seen, taken in,
and then held only
in the mind.

V

Past the boathouses,
the mansions and
Baths,
there comes into view
a white tower – ungainly tripod,
invader from Mars.

At a reasonable distance,
not much different
on site
than in sight –
its spars
a little wild
from keeping
its feet set right.
It
keeps its Point,
nervous, stamping
like a horse
in fright.

I take one of its
hooves
as a stool,
with a small, weatherbeaten
group –
a couple
passing a parcel
of chips and a chook,
a man
lost in thought
with his book,
a woman paused with her dogs.

None of us
betray much sense
that this once was
a place of some dread – a quarantine,
a yard of the dead.
This is what we can get,
the modest goal –
Point Ormond,
proof of the
way that place
regenerates,
shrugs off old meanings.

We will come
and go, making
different things of it –
a lookout among them.

Here, ten minutes from home,
I can see a distance in
every direction,
am raised up
out of circumstance.
It’s a miracle, the ease
of these
small transfigurations,
the city’s
simultaneous gift
of proximity and myth.
It is, after all,
all within glimpse.

I think of the man
who maintains
a narrow ledge
of Shakespeare and thrillers
at home, at Bondi,
under three hats and a tarp –
even he
is only on its edge.
The ascetic
is not a magician – he’s enclosed,
does not
hold anything in his palm.
He is perched on the lip
of something
bigger than him.

Suddenly pleased –
ready to leave –
I scurry
back down the hill,
into the
comfortable density
of settled life;
deciduous trees, the cosy
mammalian warrens
that we
make for ourselves,
where our
thoughts are scaled down, are not led
into matters
too large for their grasp.
There’s a thrum
of human nearness
as I pass
through Elwood,
a bleating soporific
in its clasp.
I turn a corner and a corner
and then
I’m home at last.