This page features Andrew Leopold’s poems about Eltham and the people that he has observed in Eltham.
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.
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?
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.
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.