Under the Native Frangipani

By | 10 June 2013

Ambushed by bees, I’m stopped at my father’s favourite
bivouac. While I’m bucketing water to save

what’s lived on long after him,
through a whirr like warplanes, drought shudders petals down.

My father in the last foggy weather of his life
had no breath to speak of who he’d been before.

He would pause, puffing, under the tattered camouflage
of this native frangipani, this domesticated rainforest escapee.

In my mother’s garden, the hymenosporum flavum tangled perfumes
of laundry and jungle. Away from its true climate, it alternated

between sending a high tent pole to the stars
and draping its torn canopy of green from side to side

before sucking out of summer heat a crinoline of blossom,
each crème brulée flower a semi-tropic explosion of scent.

Halfway between kitchen and chook-shed, house and first fence,
my father leant here on his stick, the last half of his lung

sucking in Toowoomba frost to mix
with Port Moresby mud …

The light and hope of a lifetime before that
bloom only in photographs, a black and white silence

where he is thinner, tall as a mast no family has yet
strung its sails on. Before he settled with us

he knew thirteen years of childhood, twenty-five years
in banks from Bourke to Dalby — and a war.

Then the ledgers of his bachelor’s experience were audited,
filed away, signed off with copperplate neatness

I longed to emulate, aged ten. Too late
I read old letters, fragile as the petals of these flowers,

learn from their faded khaki-cream of medals for rowing, a yacht
a cyclone claimed … float this youth over a clearer lake

than the sea I remember swelling inside him,
that tubercular tide where every day he launched

unromantic armadas of pills. Six months holiday is all I need,
he’d dryly say, heading for hospital not the Barrier Reef.

Years after his death, this is where I find him:
under the native frangipani. At his old bivouac

I hear his voice — and scent-bombardments
stop my breath.

This entry was posted in PRESENCE and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work: