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Bedtime Stories #1

I stare into time’s eyes … She stares back at me. Actually, it isn’t time as in measurement, it’s my cat … she has that stare of eternity … like cats seem to have … like she has been born into forever. I stare into her eyes sometimes as she sits on my lap … we exchange knowledge … I have to admit to her that I do not like raw, gutted mouse and she draws the line at chilli con carne … lose the chilli, she says and she’ll give it a go … but she is partial to a nibble of smoked salmon … then she curls up on my lap and we both go to sleep.

I like bedtime stories … I like the night.

I am the night

Beware the people of the day,

Their plans, their tools, the schemes they lay.

Beware the people of the light,

They have no feelings for the night.

I am a person of the night,

I bask and wallow in its quiet delight.

I stand drenched in the light of a million stars,

I wash my soul in Celest’s sweet baths.

Night … soft as scented smoke,

Velvet smoothed draping cloak.

Comes, caresses me gentle all around,

Sweet as complexion rain on a Derry Down.

I stand under the sight of a million stars,

Starlight pouring down on me,

Each a whisper in this night,

Each star a story delight.

I am a person of the night,

I bask and wallow in its quiet delight.

I stand drenched in the light of a million stars,

My soul washed clean in Celest’s sweet baths.

My mother used to read me “Lassie Come Home” when I was very young. My mother wanted to be a writer … she did write some short stories and sold a couple too. But in growing up in extreme poverty like so many of that generation from the great depression and the wars, she held her own self and her privacy closely guarded, so she couldn’t be hurt … so her stories didn’t go deeper than a recalling of anecdote or observation … for to tell stories of a person’s situation, you have to reveal some of yourself … you have to cut out a piece of yourself every time you draw that picture.

But I do have a scratch of a poem of hers she wrote when a teenager in love … it is only a section, but it says a lot … I think..

“Now at last I am free!

Off through the scrub I run

Where sheep tracks only are seen

Nothing but bush and sun

Till all of a sudden I come

Out where an axe swings free.

Cutting, for love and money

The axe bites deep in a tree … ”

My mother married that axeman … an Italian interned as an “enemy alien” during the war … They made a sort of life in the fringe suburbs of the capital city … on the southern hills near the sea … far from the bush and Mallee, far from the Dolomites … two strangers in strange country … but the irony must be admitted in the revelation in the correspondence and account books of my parents after their passing, that while my father sent a not small amount of money back to his parents in Italy, my mother, likewise, invested regular amounts in the Brighton Parish of the Catholic Church … and we kids went around dressed in hand-me-downs … But the Rosary figured central to our meals every night after eating.

The Tide

Like a sailor old, who watches the tide,

Life’s many moods I do abide…and still I watch,

For there comes a wash of the river flow,

That carries the ebb, what comes and goes.

That “tide in men’s lives” that carries their thoughts,

Like flotsam swept before a wave wild wrought

By wind and storm or by deceiving calm they be brought,

To wreck upon Charybdis rocks or wash up on rugged tor.

Fortune for that sailor who with astute eye,

Will risk the temper of mood and tide,

And call the exact moment makes best to ride.

He casts the ropes that hold him belay,

All wind and storm be no delay.

Yet I and thee, chained to life’s fickle destiny,

Can but watch as the vessel sails away from we,

While idly biding …

Like empty shells scattered on a wide, broad shore,

Awaiting tide and waves also, to move us ever-more …

Anyway, we grew up in spite of our parents … even though they tried to stall that inevitability by sending us to Saint Theresa’s Primary School, to be harangued and psychologically tortured by some sexually frustrated nuns … the “Sisters of Mercy” … I think they lost their “by name” calling somewhere along the line … for merciful they were not! … I still remember one of them … Sister Mary Lawrence … who stalked the playgrounds looking for victims (most prevalently amongst the boys) with a chastising length of jarrah in her hands … growing up as a carpenter, I can perfectly record the measurement of that flitch as around 18 inches long, by 2 inches wide and ¾ of an inch thick … it was marked by having a bevel down each side along the full length … presumably done on Sisters instruction so as to get a better grip when inflicting pain onto a child’s hide! … I can recall one particular moment when Brian Hurley and myself were playing marbles in a “verboten” area of the schoolyard and Sister Lawrence bearing down upon us at great haste with that piece of jarrah held high like a missionary’s crucifix and her nuns habit flowing about her in a voluminous black terror … and to this day, whenever I hear a rendition of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” I am instantly thrown back to that moment of descending doom! It’s a pity those nuns couldn’t find sexual satisfaction with the priests in the presbytery next door … as I’m certain THEY TOO could have done with some release of tension!

When a Catholic priest goes to a convent to hear the confessions of the nuns there, it is said he goes to; ”Dust the Lilies” …. the lilies, of course, being the; ”Lilies of the fields”: The nuns.

Dusting the Lilies

Wither goest thou, Father John,

On such a splendid day?

Do you follow whimsy’s course,

A carefree wanderer … say?

A laugh, a smile, pause a while …

Then, cautious answer, yea …

“I go toward yonder gate,

Under stately blue-gum tree.

There, (with blessings of God) …

I go to ‘dust the lilies’.

To dust the lilies gently,

Lest such petals fade and die.

I’ll embrace their hips,

Kiss their lips,

And whisper a little white lie!”

I blame our grandmother for the almost fanatical adherence to Catholic doctrine … SHE was a fervent believer that converted from Protestantism when she arrived in Australia … why … heaven knows … but I have my own suspicions and in any case, it caused the catastrophe of her meeting and marrying one Richard Hocking … Theirs was to be a tormented, impoverished existence that burned a sense of shame and frugality into the very souls of their children … I believe parents ought to consider very carefully their own state of existence before inflicting any such example upon their offspring.

I awoke in a startled fright

From a dream I dreamt last night.

From a memory so long ago,

I’ll recall the moment as it did go:

A child, from the pusher,I broke free,

As my mother walked me by the sea.

I broke free to chase a rabbit fast,

Fled a shrub by the sea-cliff path.

I ran as does a child; sudden, swift,

As the rabbit fled over the cliff.

I too stumbled toward the edge,

But my mothers call of fright,

Drew me to a stop just right.

I could see the waves crash below,

She gathered me frightened in her arms …

But now, in this dream I did fall,

Tumbling over with rabbit and all.

As we fell in that slow dreamy way,

Each to each, eye to eye … knowing.

The creature looked to me to calmly say;

“Do not worry, you will not drown.”

But I kept falling, falling, falling down …

Just then I woke in chilling fright

And in that gasping, grasping struggle for sight

I stared and stared into the depths of night.

The stroking of a cat’s fur is so much more relaxing that that of a dogs … the cat is a more tranquil beast … it hunts, yes … just like a dog … but it hunts by silent stealth, whereas a dog will in most cases run down its prey and tear into it with force and brutality … and they hunt also in packs … I remember when I was in Rome for the first time around 1980 and the dog-packs were getting so dangerous that the authorities had to organise squads of police to mass shoot so many dogs to cull their numbers.

I like dogs too, mind … I like all animals … but I’ll be buggered if I will ever stoop to eating crickets and bugs for protein! … nah … f#ck that!

Anyway, peeps … that’s all for tonight … I’ll read you some more tomorrow … goodnight.

The Beatles: “Goodnight.”

 

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12 comments

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  1. Uta Hannemann

    Fascinating background story of yours, Joe . . . It makes me wonder whether I could ever have written something that was good enough for publishing. Being able to write something can be excellent therapy! If your parents and grandparents are from extremely different backgrounds, it is always interesting to find out what resides inside of you!

    I read the following in The Guardian today about Elizabeth Jolley:

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jul/10/the-australian-book-to-read-next-my-fathers-moon-by-elizabeth-jolley

    It seems to me, she (Elizabeth Jolley) probably had a very complicated relationship with her parents. Relationships like that just make you want to write! 🙂

  2. Joseph Carli

    Hello, Uta…My parents were not suited for each other…even though they stuck together through thick and thin…HE could never get over the idea of living in a suburb so far away from his friends, the other Italians in that city…SHE could never get used to the kissy-huggy-weepy of the emotional Italians when they visited…but they stuck together…in the early days of post ww2 they had little choice…you know the times…different world..then the kids rollled along…one after the other…I believe there is an old saying…: ” The juggler with child on hip cannot juggle…only jiggle”…..yeah…..I made that one up…but hey…
    I remember years after my father passed away commenting on their years together..and my mother in a moment of reflection blurted out that ” He broke the contract!!”….I presumed she meant by him dying…

  3. Uta Hannemann

    Yes, I think there are interesting details in every marriage. Some marriage partners are probably better off living apart and maybe find different partners that are more suited to each other. Above all, children do need the security of the parents not fighting each other! And I believe for children it is beneficial to be surrounded by a number of different adults and learn to appreciate different view points.

  4. Uta Hannemann

    Joe, I guess your mother stayed on her own after your father died. Maybe despite the problems in the relationship she felt quite attached to him and felt often very lonely later on in life. She may have depended on him always being there. She had not counted on him going and leaving her alone . . . So sad!

  5. Joseph Carli

    In our neighbourhood, most of the women outlived the men by quite a number of years…the males of that generation suffered more physical and psychological injuries than the later generations…so yes…there was a degree of lonliness felt by more than one of the “remainded wives”…and of course, with my generation revolting against the suffocating restraints of post war Menzies era conservatism, we too “deserted” our parents in droves….I remember old Mrs, A…. , who was in the habit of wearing shoes a size or so too small for her so that her feet would look more “dainty” regardless of the pain it placed on her …hobbling past our front gate to catch the train one day and as she scurried past she looked to me and whined..; “poor me, poor me!”…..

  6. Phil

    Ah more great thoughts from the AIM’s philosopher and poet. I love your stuff Joe.

    I am having a few wee drams Joe so I knocked this one up a bit lame but true none the less. Not a lot of thought.

    I stare at my lovers long blonde hair now a little grey
    I wondered what life would bring if she went away
    I could sail around the world perhaps Tahiti bound
    But I am a realist you see my feet firmly on the ground

    I could trek through the Himalayas what sights I’d see
    Walk the Tanami desert oh what pleasures wait for me
    You make your choices in this short but colourful life
    I woke up from this wet dream, thinking about my wife.

    You see my friends don’t look for grass that’s any greener
    Women can be beautiful but with a gold digging demeanor
    So choose well in life and hope your wife does the same
    Because if you die a lonely old man you are the one to blame.

  7. Joseph Carli

    Phil….in keeping with that old allusion…: “I’ll have some of what he’s drinking!”…

  8. Michael Taylor

    Did someone mention a “few wee drams”?

  9. Phil

    Did someone mention a “few wee drams”? Aye.

    A Wee dram washed down with a Carlton Mid. I have a stomach ulcer so must dilute the nectar. I don’t drink water, fish F#$& in it. Actually I shouldn’t drink at all I take enough prescription drugs to kill an elephant. But when your time is up, it’s up. My mum is 92 and can drink me under the table. Serious. We were at the Dr’s yesterday he reckons she’ll will outlive me. F$%^ I hope not she’s loaded. :}

  10. Anne Byam

    As always – a wonderful article, with much to ponder. Thanks again, Joseph.

  11. wam

    Another set invoking memories, Joseph. with a bonus story to take our minds off the poor old vics and ports
    I thank uncle joe for sending my dad back without any respect for the church no priest near us till joe was exposed by then I was passed the indoctrinating age but my sisters were baby boomers and were godised by mum as protestants.
    ps
    Do you remember “what are you?” at dances’??
    blair and turnbull were converted to fit with their wives?

  12. Joseph Carli

    ” blair and turnbull were converted to fit with their wives?”…as was my grandfather…imagine the….the….”surprise” of his parents when their only son appears unannounced on their Moonta Mines doorstep after fleeing to Sydney a year or so before and not writing a word to now introduce not only a wife AND child..but to also seek the congratulations of a strict Cornish Methodist parentage for his conversion to Catholicism!….Oh, but didn’t the wine pour and the fattened calf get slaughtered and the golden ring presented when the prodigal announced the news….

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