ODE TO CLARICE BECKETT, PAINTER (1887-1935)
And what else could a father do, but carefully edge you aside? His baby didn’t care for cars and races, so he left your believers on the doorstep. All the old money in Bendigo couldn’t get a ring on your finger, and so he delivered your rope on a silver platter. Christ, what a disappointment; Belgian paint dust under your nails, exhaust in your hair; lashes caked with stuff as if, before the mirror, you’d thought violently, this’ll make up for it all and more and more.
And while girls no better than you were fucked and framed by Madox Ford in Paris,
you put the status quo and their bathing houses into the picture, and their Model Ts;
all to be rewarded with a lone call from the other side
that might have just been the sound of your patience running out.
And now they wipe their brushes on your nous,
too lost in the found to warm the quiet virus that killed you.
I could say you went out that afternoon looking at the horizon
and not feeling the winter and the death thoughtfully insisting,
but your reach matched your grasp and so,
it was just bad luck,
Geraldton wax and corners of conversation overheard
and a town full of living rooms, sitting rooms:
thick spreads of carpet and dust
the races of a Wednesday afternoon,
TV if you’re lucky,
and in your kitchen,
that smell like aging milk and something else,
sun edging in at angles or not at all.
Geraldton wax and cutting through the heavy skeins of your conversation;
lying in state after waves of sex, you’ll still hear the voices next door, hear the grass
growing up by the fence, just about,
see the nasturtiums coming up under the patio.
You’re thinking of burrowing down into the cool ground, parting those
leaf-skeletons like handfuls of crisp, gritty omens.
Every minute, another map of dust is slid under the locked doors of empty rooms,
posted by the wind,
by the ocean brimming close, and you wonder when you will find its
when you will slide by and up the coast,
interrupt your roots and go.
*Geraldton wax is a small, tough native desert flower.
“Look at this!”, he says, then falls back slow beside us
as if we’d already guessed his pride. The chapel, coloured one by the wind,
waits for its flock to return, clean sockets glaring with fierce hope as we
approach like a kid to its first horse.
He disappears inside, still clutching his wine glass and hollers
“Be thou my battleshield”, but it’s long gone on the air,
and he comes out grinning, slapping the stone door-frame and saying
“old girl” with such force that a few turn away.
“The poplars …”, someone points; sallow this Autumn, and standing
to grand attention in a scape that collapses flat. A mothlight willow
stretches down to dust, down to its shadow, pulling the grasses up.
The earth has been skinned to white
by him, and the wild joy of those yellow blushing trees
can’t hide his failure to conjour up sense from this place –
the fact that he’s ruined.
ZELDA FITZGERALD TO HER DAUGHTER, SCOTTIE,
HENRY PHIPPS PSYCHIATRIC CLINIC, BALTIMORE 1932
It’s over, honey. I’ll be out next week, and again there’ll be three,
a regular family and how! Do say what Daddy’s been doing –
you know he’s ill, too. I’m sorry, dearest, you’ve been through it
as well; God knows we didn’t see this coming, but we
carried on some funny stuff those years, and now we’ve got to pay
it back with interest, Do-Do would say. Alot went on before
you came, so much; I wish to Heaven I could tell you, and more –
I wish you had been there, in the background, watching those gay
times; but, I suppose you were, and much too young. Much too
soon, perhaps. Your first gin fizz at three, imagine that! Most nights with
Paris nannies, fools the lot. Ah, we were all fools. Goofo smitten
with that brute from Chicago, and me. Me, throwing down enough to
fill the Mediterranean and buying squirrel fur on the Champs-Elysées.
And waiting, that’s what it mostly was; killing time while Daddy shut
the apartment door and stopped his nerves, with no damned sound but
the hush of his cigarette in its tray and the pen on its page.
And waiting, drinking with Hadley and the women and the wives
whose roaring men our Goof could never match. He thought I was
careless, but Christ, how I hated asking for his money, when there was
nothing for it but to dance over the top of our lives.
Well, you can read the books. They’re his diaries, and no mistake;
Fitz got his value out of me, yes sir, and still buying whiskies with it. But my
novel’s almost done, at last, and the Doctors might get it together behind
Scott’s back, behind Scribner’s, if that’s what it takes.
We’re still as brilliant as ever, you see? Will you read mine, dearest?
Perhaps you’d tell Daddy I’m about ready to come home again;
I must get back in shape for the Russes auditions; I could still be a hit with them –
Or he might send an allowance cheque – Will you ask him, please?
He mentioned New York and one of its goddamn women of letters;
those lumps ain’t got a patch on me, Goof said then, but – are you old enough
to know? – he doesn’t want me like then. Doesn’t want to touch
me. Take my scrapbook, if you like: Montgomery’s Prettiest
and Most Attractive Girl, and there’s a photograph the summer we
went to Mother in matching plus fours. That year there was a second child,
almost; Do-Do had doubts, see.
Write him in the city, if he’s well. Tell him I’d like one of our drives,
when I wait for the sharpest bend to ask him for a smoke,
and he shakes and swerves, fumbles in the pocket of his Norfolk,
while I slug him out a cap of gin and we hang on for our lives.