August 1998

John Tranter

John Tranter John Tranter has published thirteen collections of verse, including a Selected Poems in 1982, The Floor of Heaven (a book-length sequence of four film-noir style verse narratives) in 1992, and Late Night Radio in 1998. His work appears in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry. He recently co-edited the Bloodaxe Book of Modern Australian Poetry.  He is the editor of the free Internet magazine Jacket.
Moonshine    Read Along with the Author

I've realised why Ted Berrigan is not so
Berrigan, the Seattle engineer, not
        that other one
He writes to his wife in Kuala Lumpur:
        "What are you up to down there?"
("Doris... I'm getting to like middle age...")
        See? boring
it's because he has the inborn talents
        of a painter, not an engineer;
no matter how hard he tries, etc.
Another Boeing rolls off the assembly line
        Ted thinks he's okay
he's not okay,
        it's divorce time in Seattle.
He'll be the next to go: Doris! Doris!
imitating the collected works of
        the Darmstadt Engineering Group
reading soup in the darkened kitchen
        he's Canadian, they tell me
an "emigrant"; his wife's sick
she flies home to Ontario in a Boeing jumbo —
        did Ted build it? At least the fuselage? She
takes up a fat-free diet; it's goodbye to Seattle,
hello Saskatchewan: middle age
                rises above the tundra
the Boeing plant is bathed in its glow.



3-D    Read Along with the Author

When you look out the window at the neighbours
then glance back quickly, she seems fine.
Gaunt, maybe, a little neurotic...
it's the food she's eating, and the "happy pills".
There she goes, listening to important things:
the song bones, the engine wrapped in plastic,
custom pillars supporting a landscape, a jet
ploughing into the mountainside... Look
away again, out of the diary. Guess what?
She got a new job, she hated everything. Why
"everything"? Better — better for all of us —
if she could be looked after... a luggage locker,
that would be fine, or a holiday resort,
she could shout if she wanted to, couldn't she?

You look away, into the passenger compartment
of the car, and there she is, half alive,
reading the Discovery Kit, over and over.



The Colors of the Days    Read Along with the Author

Monday — blue-gray, with a band of pearl gray around the edges. Start work renaming the little flitches of colour on the paint chart. The air is chill, the sky blanched. The streets creak under a drift of powder snow, and the factories have locked their doors. There is traffic on the street below, but not much; mainly late 1940s sedans — beige, dull blue and lime-green — driving about slowly. What are they looking for?

Tuesday — green, the yellow-green of Pernod, a slight dip in the ride, a sour taste at the bottom of the glass. Susie says she's tired; she stayed out late at a publisher's party last night. Now the doorbell rings. Through the lens I can see a Korean gentleman standing there in the hallway holding a bunch of flowers and a large piece of notepaper, trying to deliver them to the wrong address, again. Afternoon — the month's supply of newspapers arrive from Australia. I note that the art reviewer of the Wagga Wagga Advertiser has attacked Monet again, to little effect.

Wednesday — a picnic rug, mainly light yellow, some gray along the sides, a kind of check pattern. The climate seems to be warming up. There's a dust cloud on the horizon, to the west. It can't be the Cavalry. Everyone's moving out of town, that's what it is, motors straining under the load, trailers full of junk.

Thursday — brown, grainy, the tint not full enough, a strip of silver trim. I decide to sit in the old leather armchair for a while. I light my pipe and read Popular Mechanics again, the issue that tells you how to build your own glider from balsa wood and doped khaki cloth. Dope — a kind of glue. But how do you launch it? And where would you go in the thing? I can see myself gliding high in the clear skies over Colorado looking for a suitable spot to land, a clearing beside a tumbling spring where I will build a makeshift hut and set to work carving out a niche for myself in the ravishing wilderness. Decades later a prospecting party will stumble upon my high-tech ranch built into the side of a hill, the Armorglass � walls, the highball cabinet with concealed lighting, the surveillance cameras, the secret launch pad tunnel.

Friday — black, a stripe of white and light tan where it dips at the bottom, as the metal swoops down and then up into the evening. A knot of people are standing around on the worn green linoleum in the hallway, drinking cheap red wine from paper cups and arguing about the place of socialism in a shopping-mall culture. There's a sense of something about to happen, but not quite yet.

Saturday — fields of white cloth loose in the breeze, some seagulls high up, far out across the pale green water, then some yachts moving away. Susie has placed an old towel on the garden path and she's lying there, a Saint detective paperback shading her face, trying to develop a tan the way you might try to develop a photograph. On that front, nothing much is happening. She's saving up to go to London, by boat. What sort of a future does she think she'll have there?

... [ Years pass ] ...

She comes back from Europe, old, tired and unwell, distressed at having wasted the best part of her life.

Sunday — a flush of red, old maroon paint with a stripe of cream shining along the flank, now the newspapers are folded, now the evening closes in with distant sounds of cool jazz leaking from a club where no one is listening — one last glass of sparkling water — and the doors bang shut with a gust of wind and rubbish in the back alley.



John Tranter: Poetry
Copyright � 1999 The Cortland Review Issue FourThe Cortland Review