Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Garage by Robert Gray

In one of the side streets
of a small hot town
off the highway

we saw the garage,
its white boards peeling
among fronds and palings.

The sun had cut a blaze
off the day. The petrol pump
was from the sixties

of human scale
and humanoid appearance
it had a presence,

seemed the attendant
of our adventures on the road,
the doorman of our chances.

We pulled in, for nostalgia,
onto concrete. From where
did that thing's almost

avoidable sense of
sacrifice, or remorse,
arise? One felt it

as though a line
in the hand, drifted far off
somewhere, unweighted.

Who was this, in faded
cream outfit, with badge,
expressionless small head,

and rubbery hose laid
on the breast, dutifully
or out of diffidence?

Were arms being shown, and in
servitude or consent?
The stoic discomforts,

suggests a rebellion.
Elusively, such feelings
are wafted through us, but how

interpret them? A person
relied upon and yet
dangerous. Was this

another, or oneself?
Were we familiars of something
never to be known? I looked

down a blank street, of pines,
lightpoles, old houses
in shady yards, where it made

a genuflection, in approaching
the gentian-coloured hills;
then at the long workshop, a dim

barn, or empty corridor,
in the galaxy, with somewhere
far along it one star

crackling and bursting.
Then at the greasy
dog, in its narrow shade;

and at the old bowser—
a sense still proclaimed but
ungrasped, though everything

lay open. Someone shouted
acknowledgement, so we sat
quietly. The light

had become an interest
of this place, pronounced
in contrast with the peculiar

matt blackness of sump-oil
that was soaked widely
on earth, gravel, and cement—

an obscurity as opaque
as the heart's, which was keeping on
with its tunnelling there.

Editor: Jennifer Compton

Robert Gray is an Australian poet I always intended to get round to and read deeply and tick off my list, but somehow I never did. It wasn't until I read his translucent prose memoir – The Land I Came Through Last (Giramondo 2008) – that I was fired up to tackle his body of work. And luckily Cumulus (John Leonard Press 2012), his Collected Poems, had just been published so I had a handy volume for the task. I say task, because I had got the idea into my head that he was a 'difficult' poet. I was so wrong! He is the very antithesis of 'difficult' although no one would ever describe him as 'easy'.

I was on the train travelling from my home in Carrum into Flinders Street, and I was reading Cumulus, and, as we hit Mordialloc, I lifted my head and looked out through the train window, up at the sky and the light from the sea mirrored up in the sky, and fell into an abundant meditative state. I didn't want to read any more for the moment, but I held the book as if it was a psychometric object.

I chose this poem to post without fully understanding why I chose this one out of all of them. I thought that maybe it was because of the word 'bowser' which I haven't heard being used for a long time. I never stopped to wonder as a child why that was the word for a machine that dispensed petrol, so was delighted to find out quite recently that it was named after the inventor of the first gasoline pump, Sylvanus F. Bowser. But as I was typing the poem up I recalled (and it is strange how you have to recall something that has animated most of your life) how fearful and suspicious of cars I have always been. 

For instance, I have never learned to drive. I have never owned a car, or used a bowser. I would rather walk, or ride a bike, or use public transport that get in a car. A car is my last resort. Cities that have areas that don't privilege cars delight me. And of course, there is now a global consciousness that makes my stand against cars much more reputable than it has been in the past. I chose this poem before recent events in Lac-M├ęgantic, and because I am posting it now, my appreciation of the theme of the poem has been considerably sharpened.

Robert Gray was born in 1945 on the north coast of New South Wales. He lives in Sydney, where he has worked in journalism, advertising, as a buyer for bookshops, and more recently as an occasional teacher of literature.

Since 1970 he has published eight books of poetry and six selected editions of his work. For these he has won most of the prizes and literary awards available to a poet in this country, including the Australia Council’s Emeritus Award in 2011. He is also the author of a prize-winning prose memoir, The Land I Came Through Last.

When a landscape is sparsely populated, the eye is favoured over the ear. Robert Gray spent his childhood in the brilliant coastal spaces of the mid-North Coast of New South Wales, and he has spent his life looking at things, and in searching for the words for them.

Take time to read more poets searching for the words for things, in the sidebar - as Tuesday Poets, we post a poem we admire or have written on a Tuesday.

This week's editor, Jennifer Compton, was born in Wellington, emigrated to Australia in the early 70s and lives now in Melbourne. She is an award-winning playwright and poet, with 'Barefoot' shortlisted for the John Bray Poetry Award in 2012 and 'This City' (Otago University Press 2011) the winner of the Kathleen Grattan Award in NZ.  She has also been awarded a number of residencies including one at the Randell Cottage in Wellington, and blogs here. 


Gerry Snape said...

thankyou for introducing me to this poet...it's good to have such a lead in to reading someone new.

Michelle Elvy said...

Great setting and scene in this poem. The atmosphere is just right. I like your commentary as well -- how you admit to your stand against cars, which is interesting juxtaposed with the admiration and nostalgia of some of these descriptions. This could well be a scene from a roadtrip from my youth:

The petrol pump
was from the sixties—

of human scale
and humanoid appearance
it had a presence,

seemed the attendant
of our adventures on the road,
the doorman of our chances.

Even if it's a very Australian poem. I love this too:

We pulled in, for nostalgia,
onto concrete.

Great choice for this week's poem -- thanks for sharing!

Janis said...

Paints a great picture. I like this very much. I'll have to look out for more of his work.

Helen Lowe said...

An emotional landscape as well as a physical one, with a sense thrown in of worlds lost around the curve of space-time.

Thanks for posting, Jennifer.

Ben Hur said...

Jennifer, I found your introduction to the poem as intriguing as the poem itself. Perhaps we have discovered a new phobia: autophobia. And now the world has caught up to you.

The descriptions in this poem are fascinating and the way he chooses his line breaks. The "gentian sky" is evocative indeed.

Ben Hur said...

Oops...it was the hills that were gentian. I love how he talks of the blank street

" where it made
a genuflection, in approaching
the gentian-coloured hills;"

Claire Beynon said...

Echoing all the comments made thus far --- a wonderful poem and fascinating commentary, Jen. I appreciate the way you've woven your own biography in with Robert Gray's. Thanks +++ for this.

Mary McCallum said...

Now this is a poet I am thrilled to have found. Thanks Jen. I love the way this ordinary place enters into and invites in the whole world - the whole galaxy - the known and the unknown. The stuff of the heart. There is a holiness to this writing that I love. Evident, as you say Andrew, in the lines about the genuflecting road. How perfect is that? I am also relishing today the writing around the quality of the light. And the whole post is given extra light with the wonderful commentary by Jen - thank you to you and to Robert. What a treat.

Harvey Molloy said...

Thank you! Another cracking poet I have never heard of before coming to Tuesday Poem. Great choice, great poem. I'm going to look for more of his work.

AnneE said...

Thank you, the poem is fascinating adn teh commentary excellent. I remember "bowser" - we lived in a flat over a petrol station on the corner of Mt Eden and Valley Roads, and I had a crush on the garage boy, gazing down at him from my bedroom window.

MistaOla said...

Thank you for that wonderful poem. As an aspiring poet as well, you are the kind of person that I would look up to for motivation. My newly started Blog (mistaola.blogspot.com) is all about poetry and I'm hoping one day I can write with equal or more passion. Thank you again.

Garages nz said...

This is an interesting story to read about your creation from an inspiration. I am really inspired by your work.

Theo said...

This is awesome!