Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Call This Love

You call this the essence of love
It's banal and colourless to me
I can't keep the quickened heart
Or hold the lovers silvered eye

You rest in this so complete love
Always too soon it passes me by
And that languid lingering caress
Becomes the swift kiss goodbye

You tag this an endless love
For at the end of that day
When the springs run dry
All but me will walk away

You call it a lost fairy tale love
A fable with a no happy after
And chastened you pack and leave
To seek another temporary shower 

You then call that a desolate love
No rains will stop your thirst
I stay and divine the water lost
For I knew that love from the first.

The Third Whisper Of Love

Safe between the cold clouds and their rain 
How can I ever want for heat again?
This warmth will always be enough for me
No longer tepid and lukewarm I'll be

And to hold one breath and another
That is yours as our spirit melds together
Who would want ever to speak to be heard
When all is listening already and always?

Yet how can I ever be silent
When in you there is all that is yet to be said?
Yet when i speak from you I hear another
The voice one of a third infinite lover

But not one that would rend us asunder
No that's earths unjust storm and thunder
It's a soft whisper louder than breath
Louder even than that last drawn before death

But this soft trill is no harbinger of hate 
No this quiet voice heralds love's true fate
Which is to salve and heal the solitary one
And weave together untorn two once alone

And much more like the quiet gardener still
Plant unkillable seeds, water, wait and till
And reap fully a love once merely finitely
That embraces all enjoined in an everlasting trinity.

All The Religion I’ll Ever Need

I’m wasting yet another Monday night Instead of doing the housework or nursing the baby, I’m in a baptism class. If I had my choice, I would be in neither place. I’m not that welcome at home.  I already know what’s being taught here.

I’m the Catholic in the family, I received the religious education.  First at infants, primary then high school. Every Sunday I listened to the sermons. I even read the relevant texts.

And it’s not me being baptised.  It’s his Lordship, my first son.  And attending class is necessary for both parents to understand the ceremony.

Now I’m currently sitting in a primary school classroom. On a plastic chair behind a flat desk. And our teacher is a nun.
I’m now back in school being taught what I have already learnt in advance. Again I’m half-slumped in a semi-listening stupor.

Until I’m woken by the teacher’s voice.

Someone has asked a question. The one never asked in baptism class.

“What happens if the baby dies beforehand?”

“A loving God wouldn’t let that happen,” she replies.

That was when I found all the religion I’ll ever need.

The Happiest Dental Patient Ever

Was this the last one? I went to the surgery door and called his name.

He looked up at once. And his eyes twinkled at me. And he smiled as if he had been in last week! 

He walked in arms swinging by his sides as if it was too easy. Tall, thin and vaguely familiar. But he wasn’t on my books at all. He couldn’t be. He was a walk-in as far as I was concerned. 

I didn’t know him from elsewhere in this town. Today was just my second day. I still was remembering more important matters. Such as which room was mine, the name of the receptionists, where the autoclave was, in case my assistant forgot to bring in the instrument tray. Which saving my anxiety, she did.

But this guy! He swings into the chair like a test pilot promoted to astronaut! And I think to myself, is he another one too? Another professional? If he is he’s pretty confident in what we all do!

Unlike me. I make a bad patient. And I’m even worse, now that I lecture. And  worst of all, provide expert advice when things go badly. If it was me, I’d be jelly.

And I ask,”What can I do for you?”

He says, “Just a check-up, ma’am.”

And I laugh, and ask, “ma’am. No one says that anymore!”

He says as unbidden, he swallows, swishes and spits, “The school librarian made us say it.

And while he’s drawling, he puts on a posh accent, “Don’t call wimmen Miss, Ms, Mrs unless you know if they’re married or not. And she said never call them Madame. And never said why. Reckoned I worked out that one!  But our French teacher wouldn’t answer to anything else! Reckoned ma’am is the least worst thing to say. Yeah. no. It’s okay most times except when I say it to the really young girls. They hate it. They scowl at me and swear under their breath while they’re texting!!”

Between us the ice is broken. And it seems familiar somehow. I laugh, and ask, “What do you do?”

He said leaning back and opening wide, still talking like a Northern Texan, “Professional bludger. Tell people stuff they don’t need.Write documents no one ever reads. Better get started, eh?”

And that’s the giveaway. He’s from the deep north of Queensland like me. Even with his mouth wide open, he still makes each word twice as long like a native. And that “eh!” That’s a deadset giveaway right there! And then I laugh to myself. Sometimes I still lapse back, I think. Just because I shifted states.  Another lapse now too.

Meantime, the work begins. I peer into his mouth with my mirror and sickle probe. I check and call the numbers and state to my assistant who scribbles dutifully. He’s as patient as Job. Except a lot more silent!

I say, “There’s a small hole in your back molar. We could leave it for another appointment. Or we could whiz through it now. It will only take another half hour.”

It didn’t matter, I thought. He was my last patient for the day and I was running half an hour early. My husband still had his lectures tonight so time didn’t matter.

He nods me through.

Drill, chip, wash, clamp, check, double check, tighten the clamp, fill, let set, wash and clean. It’s like doing dentistry on the Dalai Lama, I suppose. He’s so composed and relaxed. Simple and straightforward. By the book, I thought, the textbook. Which made a refreshing change from the day I had. 

And then a memory returns to me. “Didn’t I do a root canal on you?”

He just laughs, “Yep you sure did, wasn’t the once-off either, took a couple of goes, if I rightly reckon.”

And I remember, he didn’t flinch an inch that time either. That’s why I know him but he’s not on my books. 

I say, “You would have been my easiest patient.”

As the filling sets, he laughs and tells me why (out of the corner of his mouth of course). 

“It was easy,” he says, “I had the full metal jacket as a kid, a couple of teeth removed, wired up, that mouth guard thing and braces. Thought it would never end. Always knew this would!”

The Lingering Look (of a Book Lover)

It’s no task at all. Simply take the books you don’t want and put them into the two spare boxes. But to succeed at this meant I had to be a zombie bricklayer. Pick up a book, one in each hand from the first pile. Then with closed eyes transfer to the outgoing book box.
Book Pile
Then I said to myself, “Don’t look down. Don’t make eye contact with the books.
But books tend to gaze back like long lovers.
And when it happened, I had that second and recurrent thought. “I like that book. I might need to read it sometime.”
My counter-thought. “I haven’t read that one. It’s unlikely I’ll read it now.
And then the thought trap closed shut. “I know I haven’t read it but some day I just might.”
Back and forth it went until I wore myself down. Finally, I could only complete the task the opposite way. I filled the boxes allocated for the books I wanted to retain. To overflowing. I could not fit another book.
 And then I thought. “Perhaps that paperback could just squeeze into that space between the hardbacks.
 Not a chance. No space even for a bookmark. That was the finish. I was done.
Two boxes filled. The next part should have been easier. All I had to do was lift and shift my gift to a charity book depository four train stops away. I picked up one box. Then the other. Suddenly those two boxes were leaden heavy. I couldn’t budge either of them. Spare Book Box
I then chose a course of action calculated to deceive myself.  I grabbed two large IKEA carry bags. And filled each with books. Now I could carry both over my shoulder.
Then on the street, I saw a man with two small black bags. He had just crossed the road. I recognised the bags from Abbey’s : a well known Sydney bookshop.
I thought to myself. “We have something in common”. But  the lucky man was adding. I sadly was subtracting. In truth we were opposed. I let him walk ahead of me. I tried not to imagine his joy at unpacking those bags of books.
Arriving at the station, I dumped the two bags. And sat with my back turned away from the books. But I peeked didn’t I? There was that thought again. “Perhaps I should keep Made to Stick?” I closed up the bag as the train arrived.
On the train, I ensured I sat near no one. I worried that someone would realise what I’m doing and stop me.
Until I alighted at the station. I avoided everyone and stayed unnoticed. I guarded my anonymity carefully, ensuring no one could possibly remember a man staggering with two full blue and yellow bags.
However, during the escape, I noticed a boy who was asking his mother questions about everything. I knew what would happen next. I moved quickly out of sight so he wouldn’t turn his curiousity towards me. But what I really was dreading was her answers. For she spoke with that curt finality that still irritates me even as an adult. I thought, “Perhaps a book would help her?” But that would mean I would need to look down.
Then followed the short climb up the steep street. Over the intersection was the charity’s office. But no book shed in front, or behind or on any side. I thought, putting the bags down, now that downhill trek to the station is a much better option than lugging these now even extra heavy books any further.
I decided to follow the internet directions. I looked for and found the car park. And shaded by trees was an ordinary garden shed. Unlocked. And three quarters full of books, with only some in boxes.
 I opened the door wide. I stepped back and swung one bag and then the other into the shed.
Then I stopped still. I didn’t look down. The shed smelt like a library. It was that semi fresh scent that had always carried knowledge from page to brain!
I was transfixed. I lapsed. I lost control. I looked down.
And I thought as I saw the first book, “Why would anyone throw out books on world geography? That’s fascinating!”
I shut the doors quickly before my gaze was held again.

Captured By An Audience

You never really wanted to go out there. You’re outnumbered for one thing. You know that any false move in front of them will be the last and final one. You’re thinking that the light is too bright, your  voice will be too soft, your tread too heavy, your stance too awkward. You’re really scared to death, deep down. You don’t know why what starts you on those first steps out there. You shuffle tentatively at first. Then you’re puzzled as to why you then confidently stride forth. It’s as if you’re already a success. Like you’ve already been applauded and called back for more. And then you meet.

 

You’re all alone, just you and them. You never expected them to listen, even for a moment. You start as you always do. You focus on relaxing yourself. Or you’re trying to look relaxed. Or acting as if you already are. But now you don’t have time to be confused. You’re already speaking. And listening to your tone, your rhythm, your timbre and your breath.  For it’s as if to your great relief, at the very last moment, someone far more confident than you’ll ever be has stood in for you. And saved you. And for that you silently give great thanks.

 

But in all of that you kept on speaking. And you never think that ten seconds in, they’re looking you in the eye. And that after eleven seconds, you can look straight back at them. And that after thirty seconds in, they’ve stopped fidgeting, all of them. You watch extra carefully and realise you’ve never seen so many people sit so still for so long, ever. You start to become aware that perhaps these people may have started to listen to you. You’d never think that there could be such a thing as an inviting silence. And you’re in it,far too involved now to realise how rare and precious is the privilege they have extended to you. And you meditate upon that and think perhaps you really do have something far more to say than your trite rehearsals. And you keep on speaking amazed and astonished.

But you were waiting for the whisper, the voice too loud, just  enough that will silence you and your words forever. But it never speaks. It is struck silent by the silence.  It never speaks because there’s nothing for it to say. Yet you say it just the way you’ve said it before. And in the reality, it’s better than you’ve ever heard. You never think the pause for breath, which seemed in practice so short and now is an everlasting chasm of time, is perfect comic timing.  You make the joke that you’ve heard far too many times before. You know they’ve heard it for the first time. As now do you.

 

You find yourself unexpectedly relaxing and experiencing that joy of the endless moment. And you’re left wondering why you ever were afraid in the first place!

Secret Still

 

 

I vouchsafed a secret
Held my breath for a time
Perhaps our hearts would meet
And she would tell me mine
 
She made me promise
Her word she would keep
She said she'd be silent
Even whilst asleep

She waited for a moment
And told all in all to all
To friends to children
Strangers she would call

Once I knew I closed all up
Thought it better that way
Sip salt from a broken cup
With the handle turned away
Nowadays I say almost nothing
And think it too much
But even that little something
Does have its touch

Secret still secret until

 

Just Grandma and Me: A Reminiscence

Perhaps I should have bought the game and computer too!

It began with Nicole Matejic. She was reminiscing about her old Apple personal computer experiences. In passing she mentioned the children’s game Just Grandma and Me (based on a popular children’s book).

 

Just Grandma and Me

Just Grandma and Me

And the next thing I remember is my daughter perched on a stool playing that game forever…

I was working in Canberra. At that time, I wanted to buy a PC or perhaps an Apple Mac? Part of my role was supporting PCs, yes 286s, XTs and ATsIBM PC XT

Our company owned one Apple, a soothing relief to support as it ran Adobe Pagemaker, a desktop publisher (DTP), one of the few pieces of software that made me look good. So began my fascination with DTP but that is many blogs away! My workmate too was an Apple evangelist.  Which left me wavering. Macintosh_Color_Classic

To resolve my dilemma, I decided to check the PCs and Apples out. That particular Saturday afternoon, my wife and new son needed sleep. So I took my opportunity. I thought I could take my three year old daughter, do my research, and bore her with tech stuff till she falls asleep on the drive home. That was the well thought out, well executed plan.

The last shop was an Apple shopfront near Woden in Canberra. I park the car, open the back door and unstrap my daughter. It’s late Saturday afternoon and she should be showing the first signs of fatigue. Not now, not ever as it turned out. We sidle into the shop hand-in-hand and I ask the tech guy  about the merits of the Apple! Of course he told me in detail. But I say, there aren’t enough Mac applications versus PC.

He can’t counter my point. We both look down and see that her ladyship isn’t too interested in these finer technical details. He says how’s about trying out a few children’s games. Sounds fine and fair enough to me.

I sit her on a stool while the tech guy runs up Just Grandma and Me. This shouldn’t take too long, I think. But in the moment, I was worried.

Not at how precarious her perch was. She wasn’t moving so it didn’t matter. No that dreadful moment when  two eyes turn towards me and ask, “Daddy how do you work this?” That moment would have to wait until she was running Windows Millennium on her laptop!

But that didn’t happen at all. For now the mouse was gliding over the game scenes like thread through silk. Each  click on each character brought joyous laughter at each unique antic. And then she would click through to the next part of an interesting and engaging story.

Wait a minute! I have to back up and take stock now. For I’m not watching this from afar anymore. I had been taken in too. Yes there was the easy technology. But the story within the game had fascinated me (as good stories still do…)

But her ladyship didn’t care for such thoughts of philosophical grandeur. She was signed up for life. As I was just about to find out.

For it was now closing time. And time to go home. No. No. No. Yes (me). All right I’m lodging an official protest. And an official request. For the game and a Mac.

I relented.

I bought a PC. Windows 3.1 and Dos 3.22 powered by a 386  hamster wheel topped by 2 mega dabs of Ram.I used it to play Tetris and log in to work via terminal emulator and attached modem. ZZzz….

I relented again. I  bought the PC version of Just Grandma and Me. It was probably more to assuage my guilt as the original protest had been withdrawn or forgotten. But somehow it didn’t have that beyond cardboard cutout charm of the original…check out the interactive YouTube version!

 

Breathe

Under the shadow of a wing
I woke blinking at the light
And now that dark turns to night
I fear I will disappear again

And I will catch my breath and hold it
Until I know there is no more breath 
Yet another will hold it for me
Until we both breathe again

The Glass Slipper (4) : She Met Me First

It was too dark to film in the pre-dawn twilight. And too hazardous to set up cameras and lights. Or send over their dumb drone in case it crashed and couldn’t be retrieved.

Occasionally, rarely, reality TV did have its benefits and now was one of them. Lonely at last, I thought. But, of course, only for a short moment. For I had to be back ready for the the morning feature. Me splitting wood bare chested (ugh!) for my fans.
I crept softly and slowly still hidden in the night. My torch picked out the sleeping shapes of cows not yet interested in me or milking just yet. Blades of grass reflected their sheen much like shards of green glass. And then the dark swallowed my light. For I had stopped at what looked like a fallen wall.
The last trees I had cleared.  I had left those broken remnants to season and dry. And now I was sawing them into logs and later kindling for the winter. And to boost my sagging ratings.
Behind me in the grey twilight, I could faintly see the camera crew near the house. They were trying to keep warm like ghostly puppets that were losing their strings.

But my work was in front of me, the latest pile of logs. I squatted, bent down, leant forward and drew each log into my arms. Once filled, I slowly stood up and started my trek back to the house.
Still, like the twilight, the other inhabitants paid me no attention. They’d wake soon and the routine would begin. Another day in the life
of “Down on The Farm” : the spun (and slowly unravelling) spin-off show. Featuring the recently separated husband of everyone’s favourite reality star, Ella who was doing I don’t know what.

I stopped.  I thought I saw something. But it was too dark. There is was again. Behind me, I saw a glimpse of curls, followed by a giggle.

“I’ll catch you,” I thought carelessly. I turned ponderously to follow. “Looks like she’s run around me,” I thought again. I finished my sedate circle. Nothing. I couldn’t see or hear anything. I kept on.

Surprised by my thoughts, I said to myself, “It’s nothing,just your imagination running wild in the wild.”
To keep my load steady, I stopped and crouched slightly. I raised left arm and then right and the logs in my arms settled heavily and made a pile yet again. I trailed my way back towards the house. It was still cool and grey and I was a shadow in the twilight. I saw the green roof turn olive-grey in the approaching dawn. The water tanks : squat and silver like oversize 44 gallon drums.
I trudged slowly. As far as I was concerned I had all day. But in the morning silence, I heard the whisper of a smile again, sent to me on the breeze. “A voice too young yet to laugh.”

I stopped again. I took small goose steps as I rotated trying to see the source of my audio dream. I didn’t want to drop my load yet. Still nothing. But something, it must be something. Perhaps…
There it was again. A whisper, now a laugh, curls and a glimpse of a cornflower dress.
To confound my pursuer, I stopped again and turned the other away.
“She’s quicker than me,” I thought carelessly. “Or will be.”
Ignoring the watchers, who had set up camera and microphone, I reached the woodpile and bowed down : a supplicant making his latest humble offering. I threw my arms forward and stepped back in reverential awe. A clump of logs flew forward, thudding and clunking as they hit the altar. Now for the fun part. I took off my shirt and threw it carelessly away. They’d like that, I knew. Apparently it was worth 20 points each time on the ratings.
Next to the stump was my favourite weapon of destruction. A green triangular headed wood splitter. I balanced it in my hands like I was buying a rifle. The head and handle were still smooth yet to be scarred by combat. That would be years I thought. And I had years now. I waited and felt the presence. A watcher ready to ask me a direct question. But she had years too. I heard the camera crew shuffle nervously, as they moved to keep me in view.
Even though the log pile was just the right height, I still leaned down, forward and across. I picked up log number one. I took its weight, squatted and placed it on the stump. Grey silver bark, wood core like cracked ochre. This one had finally seasoned.
I reached down to take the splitter again.
“And how long does it take to season?”
“As long as it takes,” I replied to myself (I thought). I looked up and around. The crew were motionless. They hadn’t seen or heard anything. Otherwise they would ask for another shot.
So I stilled myself, ignored the voice in my head and swung the splitter. Back above my head. I cocked my wrists and swung it just above the small of my back. I waited until it was just about to fall backwards and have no weight at all.
Like the string holding the arrow, I let go, timing turned into power. I struck wood, felt nothing except the tip tapping the stump. “No effort required,” I thought. Turning logs into kindling is the easiest part. Sure beats cutting down trees and sawing up logs. The dark held its breath and watched silently.

Except it wasn’t the dark.
Two more swings. The rest of log number one split into five pieces. I kicked the kindling away. That one done, I began again. Then I stopped. Someone was still watching me. It wasn’t the cameras. Being watched by them was like being stared at and then ignored as uninteresting.

No I was being observed. Closely and carefully. But not uncomfortably.
This time, I slipped and dropped the splitter mid swing. I turned right then left to catch whoever it was unawares. I saw nothing.
I felt her peer over my shoulder as I fell into the rhythm again. Pick up log, balance, pick up splitter, balance, pull back, let go, split log, split, split and kick kindling. Occasionally, I missed the mark, self-consciously. I would have to repeat the blow. Occasionally, too, I knocked the log over instead of straddling it. And steadfastly, I kept ignoring her.
And in the silence, her presence grew in my mind. I could see her curls, and hear her voice, even when she said nothing. I felt her read my thoughts, turn them over in her mind and read them back to me with another question. And slowly, the dawn crept through and the day began.
Much like the parent I wasn’t and had no intention of being, I more and more hoped that she would go away. Every so often, I would turn around to say it out loud. But I was deterred by the media presence.

I forced myself silent. I knew I would be thought mad muttering to myself in the middle of the bush away from my estranged wife.
And every single time I looked for her, she wasn’t there. She was enjoying this game I knew. She knew where I would move and what I would say before I did it.  I senses that this knowledge would not be used maliciously, however, rather playfully and ultimately patiently. For she knew that I would come around. Every so often I would hear a giggle and then a stifled laugh. I knew that she knew. As she knew I knew.
“Who is she? A haunting?” I had heard stories like this. Lost children haunting the place where they had died, waiting for their parents to return. But at dawn? In front of witnesses?
I stopped splitting and looked across at the crew.
“What’s happening?” I asked. No-one replied. “See anything this morning?”
No reply, neither nod nor shake of the head. Maybe they haven’t seen anything. If they had they weren’t saying, they were professional like that. Besides I knew these questions would be edited out.
I still sensed her listening to me. Much like the child I really was, I decided to scrunch the bed covers over my face, hold them close and feign sleep until she left me. I really hoped that she would slip away and find something else to take her attention, as little girls are supposed to do. Well, as far as I knew anyway.
I continued. Pick up log, set it on the stump, scythe the splitter through wood and hope for sparks,  kick the kindling away, dodge the odd shower of splinters, the rhythm continuous and all-encompassing despite the warming day and its hardening light.
In the silence between logs, I finally took my chance.

“Are you a fairy? A tree-nymph? A gumnut baby fleeing the evil banksia men?” The smile whispered into a giggle, then she laughed. At her giggle.
And while she looked over my shoulder, she beckoned the silence with more questions. “Who are you?” I asked (silently) in exasperation.

Her reply was familiar. “Why are you chopping wood here?”

“Instead of elsewhere,” was the implied thought I heard.

“Instead of where you’re supposed to be,” she thought at me finally.
I sensed that she was patient. And insistent. She knew I would answer her questions eventually. She seemed to have years to wait.
The sunrise rose above the green roof. And with it, the cold post-sunrise breeze washed over me like ice water. And then I knew where I was supposed to be and why.
I said, “Ella doesn’t want me anymore. I’m not in a fairy-tale anymore.”
But still her silence called to mine. She reached forward to take my hand.
I knew that I could send her away. But she would keep returning until I returned to her now pregnant mother.
The cameras kept rolling as I carried the kindling up to the house.

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