Ern Malley: Pedestrian Verse

26 November 2005

I walked down to the corner of my street
and turned where the bunting swayed, listless
a little. Then they kicked up! a breeze moved them.

The footpath had been chewed a bit,
to widen it,
by a tractor at one end.

Near the garage were a lot of little lights,
but it was daylight and they weren't on.

I took a note from my wallet,
put it in my left shirt pocket then
in my pants, then back in my wallet again.

A nervous habit. I felt then
where it no longer was.
I do these things.

Feeling for it still now, with some urgency,
I had it in my hand as I approached
the counter of the petrol station – which doubles

where I live as a food and grocery store –
bought a stick of chocolate that I had
never tried on any afternoon prior to this,

simply on a whim.

The girls at the bus stop chewed and stared,
stared and chewed, and one of them said
What's the time? When's the bus coming?

I said, I don't know. I'm from out of town –
I know nothing of what goes on around here.

I often do this.

It makes me feel young, because irresponsible,
or so I think.

I went round the block,
the bigger block, not the little one,
as I really wanted to walk.

I thought about what the girls had said.

Or the way they had said it. They had
addressed me
out of some slight curiosity. I wondered what I had done

to deserve it. I hummed a little song – “Tomato time,
tomato time” – to a Latin American rhythm, but I could
think over the top of it as it was unobtrusive,

in fact
it kept time with how I walked.

But once I rounded the corner
away from the girls' gaze
my walk slowed and I gradually began, though I didn't

to abandon the song.
“Abandon” –
heavy word.

Anyway, I saw a number of uninteresting things,
but this simply causes me to think, become more inward –
or irritated if I am tired.

One does, then,
blame the itinerary,
and think of it as tiresome.

On a day such as this, though, I did not
think it tiresome. As streets go, it is a familiar
and quite interesting street. That is why I walk it.

A gay, light-hearted bastard, ERN MALLEY cuts a moodily romantic figure within the dun Australian literary scene, his name inevitably conjuring perhaps that best known image of him, bow-tie askew, grinning cheerfully, at the wheel of his 1958 Jaguar sports car, El Cid. It is this image that also carries in its train the stories of later suffering-the affairs, the women, the bad teeth-and, speaking of teeth, the beautiful poems wrenched from the teeth of despair & written on the wrist of happiness “where happiness happens to like its poems written best” (in his inordinate phrase).

As reported on Cordite News Explosion, despite our initial glee at receiving ten new poems by Ern Malley himself, we are humbled and disappointed to announce that this poem was in fact written by Ken Bolton and John Jenkins.

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About John Jenkins

John Jenkins is best known as a poet. He also writes short fiction, non-fiction and occasionally for radio and live performance. He has worked as a journalist and book editor and taught in universities. He lives near Victoria’s Yarra Valley, and is widely travelled. His most recent poetry book is Growing up with Mr Menzies (John Leonard Press, 2008).


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