Like time travellers,
we arrived at the boarding house,
rare in our youth and togetherness.
Behind the brave smile
of the white, wooden facade
the men lived like mementoes
in sad, concrete shoeboxes.
It was the nadir of winter
and shadows seeped through the courtyard,
squeezing old lungs with icy fingers
until they wheezed like defective accordions.
In the drab lounge room
television held out its flickering promises to them
as they sat on musty furniture in mustier suits.
The kerosene heater could not dispel
the coldness of their hope.
At six o’clock, we assembled
in the ’50s functional ugliness dining room
where they used the arctic cutlery
to cut each other down to size.
The car accident man whose disfigured face
was reduced to spouting clichés,
the man whose heart was devoured by the bottle,
the man who walked miles every day
but had nowhere to go,
the man whose wife had turned him out
for fear of catching his self-pity
and the friendless young man
who had never learnt to listen.
It seemed almost sinful
to look forward
to the European summer
when some of these men
would die forgotten
in the Australian winter.
POET'S NOTE: This winter has seemed a particularly cold one and some of you may have read about the accommodation crisis in Christchurch that Gerry Brownlee denies we are having. However, there are people living in cars or in substandard housing for whom the winter is a brutal ordeal.
Recently, the single men who lived in the blocks of council flats over our back fence made the front page of The Press because they were given only five days to vacate the complex because the city council deemed it unsafe due to earthquake damage. Some of them had lived there for many years.
These things reminded me of a poem I had written years ago when my first wife and I stayed in a boarding house for a couple of weeks between our rental lease expiring and our departure for Europe.
The poet wishes to acknowledge The Press in whose pages this poem appeared.