This page features Andrew Leopold’s poems about both Eltham and other places.
About Eltham and its immediate surroundings
About Eltham and its immediate surroundings
Crowtree – on yard-duty at Eltham High
The squalling of a crow from a denuded tree,
Scornful, raucous, intrudes upon my reverie,
From dreamy Elysian Fields calling me away,
Back to the ennui of my ordered day,
And the Euclidean world of compliance effete,
To the demands of the quartz fibre’s measured beat.
In the cycle of dust to dust, its life-force spent,
And with knobbled brown trunk, invaded, wind- bent,
Grey spidery limbs, naked, brambled and stretching,
Upon the plumbous sky a stark brittle etching,
Stands the moribund wattle, black tanbark flaking,
With its honeyed sap, amber, bubbled then caking.
With its unblinking eye of ferrous green,
Above a long black beak, glossy, but still unclean,
The scavenger crow sits, complacent, in that tree.
While I am painfully work-bound he is carefree.
He gleefully taunts me with his dissonant cry,
Then flaps off with a flourish into the dour sky.
Death of a village
The village main street is a gulch for the torrent of cars,
Flushed from the city like last night’s rains,
That dripped from the clouds hung under the stars,
Then trapped in a network of dispersing drains,
Swept through the suburbs with raging force.
Where coaches of Cobb and Co. paused midst native grass,
Before their uphill, and over, dash to Weller’s Pub,
The traffic surges past the cliffs of brick and glass,
That rear, (antagonistic to hills of aromatic scrub),
From the exaggerated tessellated red brick footpath.
With latrine decor of glazed ceramic tiles,
Legal offices and estate agents vie with bank facades,
In self-centred conflicting architectural styles,
Creating an incoherent concretion of brash charades,
In arrogant disregard for the identity they have destroyed.
[Apparently inspired by the old farmhouse in Falkiner Street, as observed from a classroom at Eltham High.]
In a paddock of thistles, above the brown,
Of stalks of dock weed and wearing a frown,
Of cracks in her stucco, a slattern squats,
While her masonry crumbles and her timber rots.
Hung in front like a match-girl’s tray,
Against clay-yellow walls, in a dingy grey,
Is a concrete balustrade, all whorls and loops,
Below a rusted ironwork fringe that droops,
Where the roof-line sags ‘neath press of slate,
That’s encrusted with lichen, glaucous: its weight,
Buckles the rafters, creating depression,
Above rows of long eyes devoid of expression.
What spirits asmodean within her depths lie,
Behind curtain-hung windows reflecting the sky,
Who emerge to capture the souls of the dead,
That wander the lightless world of cold dread.
After lives of preying upon those poor others,
Who have shared this planet, with them, not as brothers,
But pawns to be used to further their aims,
In the pursuit of wealth, or power, in games,
They employ to collect material possessions,
Or satisfy cravings of carnal obsessions?
In that seldom accessed labyrinth of memory,
Wherein linger figments and wraiths of yesteryear,
Faint and indistinct,
Like distant nebulae,
That reluctantly reveal themselves to direct perception,
But freely admit their existence to peripheral vision,
May spontaneously flare into prominence,
Dominating the penumbral view,
Expunging for the naked eye,
Those proximal neighbours that erstwhile outshone them.
Her image too,
Springs into sharp focus and the scenario replays.
Where the Wattletree road scores the balding hill,
Then skips on rackety planks across the sullied creek,
And sighing of the earth has raised mudstone ramparts,
On the brow of the morning she appeared sometimes.
Emerging from one of a score of houses,
Through lack of interest,
I never knew,
As though ‘treading the boards’,
In her passage along the dusty lane.
Oblivious of weather is what she seemed,
Since, every season she dressed the same:
In her American- beauty velveteen coat,
With its subtle relievo pattern,
Once attested her better taste,
But now declared her lost in time.
Abraded and drooping haphazardly,
It hung like a rug on a clothes horse.
Irregularly buttoned it was,
In an unsuccessful attempt at concealment,
Of the threadbare,
Florally decorated dress,
That skimped above tyred tops of stockings,
Gartered at half-mast and pilled with dags of cotton,
Above button-up shoes of scuffed, tired black leather.
Her face was rubbled from old infections,
The flaccid dry skin stubbled and creased,
And her hair hung lank over prominent cheekbones,
Dusting her shoulders with flakes of dandruff.
Extravagant strata of talc,
Infused with perspiration,
Were clay-pan like,
Beneath exaggerated daubs of rouge,
That failed in their efforts to conceal,
The blotching from rupture veins,
And the jaundice of exhausted flesh.
Never a prisoner of her generation,
Age had not shackled or daunted her.
She shunned the musings of her peers,
And all of their preoccupations.
No crochet hook or click of needles,
Could satisfy her lust for life.
Not for her any stoic acceptance,
While in the antechamber of eternity.
The Reaper could grimly hone his scythe,
In gloating anticipation,
But she would not yield a second’s breath.
She lived each day in denial of death.
There are fulgent windows on the midnight street,
Vulgar interfaces between commerce and compassion,
Ablaze with false promise of human warmth and sincerity.
The brittle blue of bank signs and the lurid spectacle of estate agents’ windows,
Entice the solitary walker with ostentatious but undercoated inducements.
As he walks the empty street the residue of human presence,
Some faint echo in the mind, or precipitate from an unidentifiable experience,
Invokes a desperate longing for communion with kindred spirits.
In clothing store windows warmly dressed manikins, with smirking masques,
Mock his threadbare garments, and intensify the chill,
That seeps from the pavement through tissue thinness of abraded soles.
Supercilious diamonds glitter in the cold light,
And flash their tantalizing colours,
Behind iron-bar mesh and threats of prosecution.
The liquor store speciously advertises,
In a range of proofs,
And pretentiously implies that a glass in the hand,
Is the insignia of social success.
Travel agency placards display nymphs with oversized breasts and scanty garments,
Who invite the viewer into a make-believe paradise.
The pressures and pains of age contorted his form,
As, vulture-like, his head from his shoulders canted,
And from his bloodless thin lips a hot mist panted,
Into the dark cold air of the hovering storm.
His frail legs levered from his long arching back,
The thrust against hard pedals spreading them wide,
As he doggedly pumped them to make his slow ride,
Along the narrow tessellated redbrick track.
On his outsized tricycle, over handlebar hunched,
He laboured to propel it at walking pace.
The pressure of the effort, upon his thin face,
Etched deep lines of thick pain as his muscles were bunched.
While his body is wasting his spirit abides,
And it carries him through his dark long day of pain,
As his fragile old bones, brittle, endure the strain,
That threatens to shatter them whenever he rides.
When his bones were much younger he rode straight and tall,
Astride his bay whaler beneath Palestine’s sun,
And again at Beersheba he put Turk to the run,
In the Light Horse’s response to the bugle call.
Is the bugle still calling within his aged mind?
As the people around him all hurry to work.
Are his ghostly companions still routing the Turk,
While he’s weeping inside for the dead left behind?
[When the creek alongside Main Road in Research was barrelled.]
The once meandering creek’s a barrelled sterile rut,
It’s arrow straight and gently sloped, surveyor cursed,
A dark non-rippled flow through bloated concrete gut,
None seeps to earth to quench the fronded fishbone’s thirst.
And where candlebarks once blushed in late December’s glare,
Stalks of greying wood their crosses thrust into the sky
Blackened cables in catenary hang and thread the air.
Below, the exhumed clay and gravel, mounded, lie.
Wombat’s lair was excised as the gentle hill was pared,
The tractors crawled like maggots on the broken lands,
And where echidnas snuffled, the lithic outcrops bared,
Protrude like fleshless knuckles from arthritic hands.
The leafy carpet trails that once we walked in youthful love,
Are buried now beneath a smoke-hung strip of tar.
Dull towers of fretted steel, snake-tongued, rear above.
With grey indifference, they, the rolling landscape mar.
September at Eltham High
Youthful September is impetuous and wields her power with enthusiasm,
As she cajoles unborn Spring into life.
Then nascent spring slowly stretches the tips of eucalypts.
She fractures calyxes and explodes the buds,
Urging flowers to unfurl and exhorting growth of juvenile foliage.
She swells the veins and curls the sprigs,
Forcing sap to extremities and into new leaves,
That she bronzes and burnishes with transparent cuticles,
On their upper surfaces,
For their brief sojourn with beauty,
Before they assume their summer coats of drab and glaucous green.
The leaves rustle their resentment of the taunting breeze,
That exhorts them into fidgety motion.
Indignant wattles with bated brilliance,
Wait impatiently in the wings for their cue,
To flood the land with multitudes of exquisite yellows.
Winter’s unkempt verdant legacy clothes the bosomy champaign,
Pausing briefly at highways and broken watercourses,
Before hazing into the powdery distance,
Where the amorphous mountains,
Floating on a tundra of albescent brume,
Merge with the embracing sky.
Beneath the crusty surface radicles sprout,
Seeking earth’s centre,
While plumules search for sunlight,
Thrusting towards the surface,
Where they sneak through the cracks in the schoolyard bitumen.
Wildflowers waggle in the breeze, flagging down itinerate bees.
Sometimes the sun is a cold ball of orange embedded in ragged cloud,
That diffuses its light and dilutes its heat.
Yet, other days hint of summer.
After brittle dawns,
covert strips of frost-painted grass lurk in shadows,
With long fingers of sunlight probing for them among the sheltering trees,
Who drop dark patches of spreading melt,
When the tepid morning sun struggles through the spectral mist,
And persuades them to divest themselves of the coruscates glory,
Bestowed on them by black night and an empty sky.
Mature September empties the schools.
In a deserted schoolyard crows and litter flutter,
As the inquisitive breeze invades the silence.
European wasps hunt in discarded drink cans,
And foil wrappers glitter in the sun.
Hopeful seeds sprout on untrodden pathways,
And ducks occupy the sodden sportsgrounds.
Pregnant mice forage in hollow classrooms seeking scraps of food,
Also paper, and other materials, from which they construct their nests.
Shrivelled flower petals lie where fallen,
Around the bases of vases, over text books, and other scattered debris,
Upon the tables in staffrooms.
On the sink a dirty cup sprouts mould.
In closed courtyards, and other hidden places, fresh graffiti spatters walls,
Waiting to welcome everyone to the new term.
The viscous heat of the molten afternoon sun,
Invades the deepest shadows of the shingled-roofed tiers,
Which, reluctant to escape into the languid air,
Collects, in creases of the skin,
And upon scalps,
Then dribbles down shallow vertebral columns,
And from armpits,
Or staining shirts with triangular patches.
In the open terraces the radiant force of the sun,
Parches the skin of exposed limbs,
Initiating subcutaneous eruptions,
And evacuation of body oils,
Presaging afflictions of the aged.
It bleaches eyebrows,
And glances from the frames of sunglasses,
Speckling with flashes the multifarious colours of the crowd,
That has come to savour the bloodletting,
And to take vicarious pleasure in the deaths
Of tortured and frenzied bulls.
Into the arena of meticulous death,
Whose dark sands thirst for innocent blood,
The matadors strut, with arrogant pride,
To the blurting applause of brass and brash strings,
and the noisy, fickle, acclaim of the crowd.
A garish parade.
And an overture to the torture,
Inflicted upon the unfortunate bulls.
But what emotions stir the crowd,
that circle of jackals,
As the magnificent fighting bull,
Bred for the crowd’s amusement,
That sleek-sided black aggressive flesh,
Hung with horns,
Enters the arena.
Then pauses, warily sampling the air.
While the thirsty dust,
waiting to drink his blood,
Curls in anticipation about his polished black hooves,
Then rises to mingle with the hot air that scalds his lungs.
As his flanks heave, he snorts in angry confusion,
Tosses his gleaming horns, and bubbles at the nostrils.
Where is the valour?
What is admirable about the vicious banderilleros?
That like dogs of a ravening pack,
Dart forward to implant their cruel barbs,
Into the neck of the bull,
Who rages impotently,
as they flee before his charge, in mockery,
According him the briefest victory,
The ignoble picador with burnished phallic lance,
And a comical hat,
Astride his mutilated and plodding steed,
that is grotesquely padded against prodding horns,
And with sense of smell nullified,
Yet terrified still,
Has its blundering efforts to escape neutralised,
By the beast upon its back.
upon the withers of the bull,
With gouging weapon,
Makes indecent assault,
To destroy the bull’s tossing muscles.
The flashy matador,
With ego preened and body groomed,
Incites the crippled bull,
Flutters his tantalising cape,
Goading the stricken animal,
Into exhausting futile charges,
Confusing and mesmerising Taurus,
To the acclaim of the crowd,
With cocky mincing steps,
He executes the Faena,
That little dance of death,
With so-called masterful display,
He callously extinguishes,
With relish and barbaric flourish,
A spark of life,
Gestated through aeons past,
And which links together all sentient matter,
That man wantonly destroys,
But is unable to create,
Deprived of life the mound of flesh,
A black hulk of aimless protoplasm,
Froths blood that dribbles to the sand,
That adhere and suck,
With embarrassed haste,
From the arena it is dragged,
For the market next day,
Leaving the matador the badge of merit,
And if the crowd is satiate,
Maybe a hoof.
Memories of Pigalle
Three score years, and more, have nocked,
And from the bow of time have sped,
Into the stygian depths of cold eternity,
Yet that voluptuous and brittle quarter of Paris,
With its brazen, polyglot spawn,
Is a vivid canvas, the mind, upon which,
with sympathetic brush and long nostalgia strokes,
Resurrects the people that populated the night.
Our curiosity unbridled, and naively inhumane,
(Could we claim our youth as legitimate excuse?)
When, the face of human misery we viewed as entertainment,
As looking for diversion we walked the garish street.
Remember how we laughed Jack?
As early in the evening, the first time we saw him,
That strange man,
Fondling and patting the nondescript car,
As in conversation he held it,
While thrice and again, he around it rolled.
Then later in the evening we saw him once again,
Even more besotted with bacchanalian juice.
With whom did he converse,
as he lunged along the footpath,
Dodging non-existent objects?
Who joined him in his laughter,
Or listened to his words,
When he boasted his behaviour,
in elaborate pantomime.
What stirred in his addled brain,
When he shook the sleeping woman,
Who, in her mound of filthy rags,
Lay in a darkened doorway?
What act did it symbolise,
When, with a guttural laugh,
Into her trembling hands,
he pressed a single peanut,
While she lay there drunk and stuporous,
Her mind still clogged with sleep?
Did her spirit briefly flicker bright,
Fanned gently by the faintest hope,
Which like a breeze subliminal,
Had urged the embers into life,
From cinders of her aspirations,
But unsustained, quickly faded,
As she, pathetic noisome bundle,
Dropped back into her torpid state,
With no respite for her tortured soul,
As she slipped into her troubled dreams.
And your soul Jack, did it blanch?
As certainly did mine,
When suddenly we came upon,
Those lorettes of the working man,
As smilingly their trade they plied,
While standing in the muted light,
That seeped around the ragged blinds,
And melded with their forlorn efforts,
Which caked upon their bloodless faces,
Colours thick, and pencil lines,
Concealing what the merciless glare,
Of daylight, in its forthright way,
Expose them would,
Men’s criticising eyes?
And the one that stood amongst them,
Who did my heart imbue,
With an enervating pathos,
Was she really what she seemed to me:
A tragic waif, a mourning sylph,
Who captured from God’s other realm,
Was now compelled to satisfy,
The carnal appetites of men?
Or was she just another whore,
Whose untrue image in my mind,
Had filtered through a lens of hope,
And less substantial was in fact,
Than shadows in the twilight trapped,
While I in youthful innocence,
Her shallow wiles beguiled?
[The ‘Jack’ referred to in the poem above migrated from Zimbabwe to Brisbane in 1980, together with partner Audrey and a permitted total of $800.]