Life in the carriage of the lazy and the late

I

I hear myself breathing,
Shallow, rapid breaths –
Thin, cold, crisp air drawn thinly into lungs
Lined with smoke from thousand million passively smoked cigarettes,
Just after dawn on a grey May day.
Locking the house behind me –
I have time to pause and wait and wonder –
My house, our home, locked safely behind me,
Though that bit about waiting isn’t quite true:
It’s a wonton wish, a hollow plea…

A plea for an end to solitary confinement of the mind,
An end to movement (commuting),
Giving myself to servicing the needs of others,
A self imposed, self-serving sentence of reflections:
(Light globe against glass of lounge window,
Who or what is ‘god’ if he or it existeth?)
A shake of a bald, aging head
I recall sixteen years have gone since were spoken
The words that could never be said

The school ground of my pre-teen boyhood
(At least the schoolyard I’ve committed to faulty memory)
Reverberates with cries and calls: joyous, gay, frivolous,
And I, who would to be naught,
Am king of all I survey.
Perspective.
Sixteen years later, the school – 2838 – long since closed down,
Torn down, burned in some act of random affray,
Memory is all that remains
And all that remains is memory of a lost boast,
Of life’s opportunities too numerous; Easters, Christmases,
Stubbies of cold beer and so much white bread toast.

I have in my mind the class picture
Taken this day tomorrow sixteen long years past,
Faces and names carry themselves forward
To the front of my mind, and –
When I dig up the dog-eared photo –
I’ll look first to Nicole only to be confronted
By the fact that it’s Nikole
And that loose stray K gives the game away, ensures it’ll end in tears
Reinforces my fault-ridden remembrances,
Underscores the distance covered over all those long years.

There are others too:
Jason – who would grow big and tall
And who would be lost to the hills of the East,
Jill – who I ran into and wrote to and never heard back from,
Katrina and Grace and Susan and Marina – innocent beauties all?,
Chris, Robert, Steven, Glenn (who was teased) and Travis.
To my right in the back row stands Travis –
Gone. Gone for good –
On the other side of some kid whose name I cannot recall,
My eyes are drawn back to Nikole – who had red hair,
Who recited the words to Paradise by the Dashboard Light,
Who laughed, and who in my awkward, private recollections was tall.

Long since given up on Jesus,
The Jesuits or any other breed of god botherers
I have only to think back to schoolyard
In order to feel the urge to whisper – under my breath –
A hollow prayer of forgiveness (that K haunts me),
First student comrade’s suicide must be over ten whole years now.
Travis at the Prom, one long walk into woods,
One shortened return to be greeted by the hug of brown earth
And the ever after, evermore question of ‘coulds’.
If Travis found himself a mound of earth,
A harrier’s snack, a feral dog’s bone,
Am I not now half way through my own life?
It’s not to be known.

For the time being (for the being in time – get it?)
I have but to walk to the train or the bus
To the sound of my breathing,
To the draw of a pay cheque,
To the falsity of intellectual commerce –
For Christ’s sake (and I’ve long since given up hope)
I work in computers,
And in sales.
All those Distinctions and more,
Did they count as fails?
The bus stop now. Waiting… Breathing… Waiting…
Is breath symbiotic with waiting?
Will only my last breath signify no more waiting –
If only Travis (stranger at any rate) was around for the asking.

I stand nearly six feet tall, 178 centimetres if the truth be told.
Should the truth, that harbinger of sorrow, be ever uttered
Henceforth from this day,
This morning, this hour, this minute,
This breath?
Condensation makes breath visible
And I stand erect with black bag over jacketed shoulder
Watching workmen drive by on this chilly of morns,
Watching business women parade by in their new sedans –
Carriers of elegance, of captured perfume,
Of stray golden locks trapped on seat covers,
Of scuff marks in thick carpet, of chewing gum wrappers,
And of business men’s business cards.
So many, many new cars
On this suburban road at this early hour,
Men and women alike hurtle past trapped behind sheeted glass bars.

Cars, trucks, buses and a lone black bicycle
Fly by not six feet from where I stand waiting…
Breathing… waiting… breathing… thinking
Thoughts of school days passed in a daze.
I recall hearing that the human body
Completely regenerates every seven years
And so these thoughts reach back
Two and a bit absolute whole lifetimes ago.
Physically I’ve changed not once, but twice,
My lips kissed for first time by Nikole –
The red-headed c-laden girl of remembered past –
Have been untouched by her for two whole lifetimes
And none of this makes any sense:
How the whole of her being is impressed on my mind,
How it is I can smell hubba bubba bubblegum and apple shampoo – her scents.

I hear myself breathing,
I hear a shallow pained rasping sound
And I question the universe and ask for an answer
To man’s greatest curse: why time changes all.
Harsh squeal of bus brakes
Overcomes the sound of breath being drawn,
The now familiar electronic pulse of ticket machine
Overcomes the sound of breath being drawn,
The mumbled “morning” from the driver
Is greeted by a suppressed yawn and a “g’day” issued from somewhere within and this
Overcomes the sound of breath being drawn,
The squeak of vinyl yielding as I take my seat
Overcomes the sound of breath being drawn,
The thump of hand on side of bus and a frantic, female “Driver wait”
Overcomes the sound of breath being drawn,
The scramble of heeled shoes up bus stairs
And a “Thanks for waiting, I’m running late”
Overcomes the sound of breath being drawn,
I leave all the breathing, and all the thoughts of Nikole and our first date,
And all the waiting, and sad thoughts of sad Travis
(Part exposed in bush grave) to the happy nuances of the day’s fate.

II

I smell myself living,
Familiar scent made manifest and reflected
In funereal tone of fellow commuters’
Commuterly dress.

There’s black and there’s grey so dark as to be black,
There’s grey and there’s black so light as to be grey,
Here, there, a splash of false colour
A red – an autumnal orange – a strong dark green,
But mainly, vainly, black of night
Worn proudly in wait on this grey May day:
A uniform for the players who’ve no more fight,
An embodied presence for the palpable odour of regret,
Of loss,
Of yearning,
Of ending.

There’s the whiff of scented perfumes
Worn by women office bound and officebound:
Dewberry – for the damned,
Musk – for the hopeful,
And so many more scents freshly applied
To have cold nose positively alive at start of long day.

There are a few people – young people in the main –
Who, like me, appear to have a bit of zest,
Though majority of fellow commuters defined
In single sentence – or less –
Save for scents always in the air,
Never trapped on clean sheet of crumpled white paper
By ragged scrawl of dark blue ink.

There are the sisters who travel together for
Safety, security, strength, and symbolism –
Always, always, always in black.
There is the older woman, who goes through book a week,
Romance mainly, romances plainly.
There is the man – dark grey shirt,
Bright silver (category two) tie,
Who buys Australian newspaper to glance through.
There are all the men in ill-fitting suits
Reading Herald Sun backwards from sports forward.
There is the man facing retirement,
Grey of hair, grey of suit, grey of mind.
There is evermore and another train,
Another time, another line,
All over city same shared commute,
Same wait on asphalt platform,
Same time lost waiting for train never on time.

The stale scent of vomit
Rises fitfully from asphalt below,
And I wonder what drug, drink, or ill health
Caused reflux sprayed dirty yellow
On surface of platform some time ago.
What ill-befallen fellow man –
Or stray dog –
What time of day,
What state of mind,
What time of want,
What needless waste,
Produced such state of being.

Scent of diesel fumes fills the air
As V-Line train lets out great crowd
Of country commuters –
Who, stand around like rest –
Until commute again,
Until slow, grey May day death.
Until intractable time lets go slow hand of destiny,
Grip of power, and of grace,
Of beauty and lines of time marking face.

Diesel swept away on tide
Of squally southerly wind
Battering bald scalp
Like steady waves on shore of sea,
Ears numbed, cheeks chilled,
Nose cold to touch
Draws in last remnants of diesel fumes…
For today

III

The scent of acrid cigarette smoke fills the air
And I look with disdain on tall, ugly, stupid man
Drawing heavily on own death
Just three feet from where I stand,
Consumed in cloud of poisonous fumes,
Swirling upward in stray swirling patterns
And wonder if this man,
On this morning,
At this time,
Is just so dumb.

I loathe this man – this lazy, dimwitted businessman –
And wish him under wheels of train that has not yet come.
That may never come,
That cannot be relied upon,
Save that when train turns up will be squeezed like sardine
Into carriage with the lazy smokers and the late commuters –
Commuters such as me.

I smell myself living a sort of half-life;
A commercial life inhabited
By the whiff of cigarette smoke and of stale spew;
Inhabited by false scents of female perfumes,
Of the tender lies these scents give soundless voice to;
A half-life inhabited by the trace of a new breed of scented men
Who wander like cattle into carriage
To be taken to the slaughterhouse of work.
All this portrayed against the other half-life
Of home and heat and warm bed,
Smell of baking and of orange scented soap,
Of being still, of not commuting, and of hope.
Life lived through nose – nasal knowingness –
Nietzche would be pleased, or drunk, or both.

With that stray thought leaping back into past –
To university and Terry’s thoughts:
Strange looks from other students,
Incoherent books.
The train pulls into station five whole minutes late,
Which, according to bureaucratic rules is actually on time!
Ah, the metaphysics of it all. Again?
I board – always last, always in the first carriage, always standing,
Always… always… always…
Pushed aside, organised, not caring for comfort of stinking seat,
And always in the carriage of the lazy and the late
On any grey day – familiar journey in the hands of fate.

I feel myself living,
Bounced around on rough rails
I taste myself loving,
Scents shifted to tastes on my tongue
I see myself dying,
As tunnel consumes train and outside all is black – and in vain