One bar heaters
even the earth still
doesn’t know for sure
the sun will rise
so we must lend our comfort to
in the early hours
we must lend it warmth
from our small inbuilt heaters
in that coldest hour
before the dawn
cause when you think about it
earth should start getting warm
on just the strength of knowing that
sunrise always does
course we know that we know it
and we sleep safe
in our knowingness
what an old
and insecure earth
cannot second guess
and that is why
we do this
we roll together in the night
re-together in the night
long into the night
and just before the dawn
we call it early
the earth calls it cold
the coldest part of the dark
and that is why
there is no punctuation
in this poem
We laugh at our audacious creativity. And at our shared in-jokes with W and W - what they call their one bar heaters. Ugh.
We love it! (Our creativity)
The men are tinkering under a bonnet.
The photo in my hands. Its top edge riffles in the hot wind of this Port Douglas streetscape. We are in town for once, to top-up on supplies essential beyond fresh seafood. Mostly gas and diesel. And wine. Boutique beer for the blokes. Greens. And fresh sheets for our tousled bed.
W and W had bonded fast and well over talk about the technical aspects of our campervan engines and their different on-board systems. Our’s a Mercedes, their’s a Winnebago. They share a love of mechanical complexity, which RVs have in spades.
And the vast outback. Their shared love. Both born on farms, on opposite sides of the world. They also compare prostate notes.
There was one time when they both had to back-track to Townsville in the small ute Will towed behind their RV, to buy a new alternator for it. (Much joking about American reliability vs German.)
And M and I naturally spend the night together in our van. In our double bed.
Talking. Lights out. Spoons.
Now this photo. What does it have to do with our rapidly-developing, sweetly sexual relationship?
“Just the truth, is all,” says M, employing her endearing Americanism.
“Ok, so tell.”
“This woman,” she began hesitantly. Short snippets. “My grandmother. Jane Anderson. You need to know.
“She was an American journalist.”
“She was indicted in 1943. Treason. The charges were dropped after the war. Lack of evidence.” She looks up, to see if I am still with her.
“She was Joseph Conrad’s lover. Supposedly."
The Heart of Darkness guy?
“Yes. She was the model for his heroine, Doña Rita, in The Arrow of Gold.”
Aha! Go on.
“She covered the Spanish Civil War for the Daily Mail. London. She was embedded in the Falangists.
“The fuckin’ fascists.”
A silence. The photo trembles.
“D’you want me to go on?”
Yes. Oh yes.
“She was captured, imprisoned by the Republicans. Held as fascist spy, M. Held. Tortured. Sentenced to death.”
“Released because the US Secretary of State got involved.”
“But how’s this? By way of thanks, she goes to the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft.” She spits out the words.
“German state radio. The Nazis. The freakin’ Nazis, M.! She was their voice to USA radios. She called herself ‘The Georgia Peach’. My grandmother.”
For once, I am audible: “What happened to her?”
“At the surrender in 1945, she hid. In Germany and Austria. Lots of places. Arrested in Salzburg, 1947. Today. 2 April. Sound of Music country, y’know. Crazy shit.”
She gestures hopelessly around her, at the waving palms, the bruised monsoon sky . She tips over her teacup. And mine. I quickly hike the photo so it doesn’t get splashed.
Oh, M. I’m sorry.
”The DOJ dropped the charges. Lack of evidence, they said. Holy shit! Here she’s praising Hitler in her American accent. For years."
Then the gut-punch.
“They said she was not even an effective communicator. Shoot, M. And I say I’m a poet.”
She bows her head. Tears.
She looks up. No focus. Herss is such a faraway look, that I look behind. Are W and W coming?
I reach out to hold her hand. It’s sweating. But it lies passive. A half-cooked mushroom, in a pan gone cold. A breakfast abandoned.
“All this, I confess to you, in incongruous Port Douglas, in the year of our lord 2021.”
She looks hard at me. Shining eyes. An attempt at a smile. A fragility I have never known before.
I try to divert. “Well that’s all OK with me, M. We can’t blame our ancestors.”
She struggles. I continue. Another tack.
“So was Joseph Conrad your grandfather?"
“Don’t know really.”
“She married a Spanish fascist Count Eduardo Alvarez de Cienfuegos in October 1834. My mother was born in April 1935. Yesterday. April first. April Fools’ Day.
“Yes. I think she had one last fling with Conrad. Maybe. She never said”
And then she goes quiet.
We sit, holding hands across the table, under the bull-nose verandah roof. Big 4x4 utes rumble by. An occasional road train.
The men arrive, with clinking carry bags. They order midday beers. And burgers.
They seem shifty.
Perhaps it’s M’s red eyes that are unsettling them. She’s taken off her sunnies. Naked.
They eat, silently, voraciously.
Will says: “There’s something…
Wallace finishes for him, “Something we must say.”
They are serious. It almost seems silly, in this rabid Top End sunshine, in this breeze, with the clouds massing over the hills inland. The sublime takes no notice.
“We love each other.”
Well, sure. Mates. (Me)
Yer. We’ve been on the road for a while. (Monica)
“No, you don’t understand. We really love each other.”
Monica bursts out laughing at the unexpected cliché. And the incongruous neatness of it all. Suddenly, we’re all laughing. All hands held.
So that’s that.
Only more symmetrical now.
M & M. And W and W.
Going our separate ways.
Only I will have to get used to my new Nazi-descended lover.
I’ve learned to love cunnilingus. But only when it’s done to me.
But there’s the one big thing about Monica’s slimy southern hemisphere lips. They remind me somehow, disgustingly, of mushrooms.