Peter Minter

4. Leave-taking, Sydney 1987

 

The garden blooms no more, my egotist.
Day’s butterflies have fled to other flowers,
And now the only visitors will be
The butterflies of night.

Apollinaire “Flower Picking”  (205)

 

… it is impossible to return to the subjectivity of the experience because it is no longer possible to access the geography in which the language event occurred …

 

If forgetting is some kind of beautiful annihilation, how is that together with frailty and contingency and indeterminacy it is also so creatively vital? Alongside various others, this question or something like it is at the heart of how I wake each day into poetry and then make my way through it. Not really a morning person. I typically emerge from dream with a cup of tea while I collect myself, and then soon after a coffee too. How to begin, the first flakes of sunlight shimmering through leaf shadow on the wall? Today I lay with Felix on the rug before dawn and made hand shadows on the ceiling with my phone flash-light. Our mesmerised attentions in the final hour of night. Day’s butterflies threshing at the windows.

I left Tokyo’s vast icy grey metropolis in January 1987. A close friend and I got amorously drunk on the flight back to Kingsford Smith and my parents then drove me home to a bright blue-sky Quorrobolong and a beef-steak BBQ. On my return I realised I could no longer speak English. At least not in the way I remembered. I found that English speaking tired the muscles in my jaw and tongue and I constantly felt that I was mispronouncing English words while composing in advance Japanese sentences in my head. It was slightly maddening for a couple of weeks. I fell to sleep each night relieved to be parlaying dreamscapes in Japanese, free of turgid English.

Of course most of that has now been forgotten. I still sometimes dream in Japanese, quite naturally and fluently, however I lost momentum with the language about half-way through my second year of university. By then I frequently only dreamed during the day, having hit the night-club party scene. The disappearance of selfhood was almost complete. I became someone else betwixt occasional lectures, most nights out and long stints going feral in either the bush or hanging out with friends at Sydney College of the Arts. Without access to the terroir of the former poetic consciousness, I could no longer find an aperture or depth of field for its subjectivity.

When I returned home, I returned to my own language as if it was entirely foreign. I was no longer a native speaker. But it was only then that I was ready to begin composing the poems that would become my first publications, and the nucleus of my first book. I had to take leave of all that I had been, clear in the knowledge that only in forgetting would I be granted access to a new poetic language.

And so the dual work of memory and the imagination had properly begun.

 

Leave-taking

Sometimes folding, slipping clothes into a travel bag
is all there really is to say.

After calling, whispering
Through rooms and corridors, past the unread books

And sleeping clocks, your breath I find asleep
In corners, out of view.

You sit by fragrant windows, staring
Past the trembling night. Wait until the birds arrive.

Then the moon will cover hills and our inadequate memory
with sheets of white.

(Sydney, 1987)


 

Apollinaire, Guillaume, and Roger Shattuck. Selected Writings of Guillaume Apollinaire. A New Directions Paperbook. New York: New Directions Pub., 1971. Print.

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