Ahead of Us

Ahead of Us

by Dennis Haskell

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but in fact / we are as we are / together, alone, as you can see, / with elusive memories for company, /with your wisps of hair / disappearing as gently as breath. 'After Chemo' Ahead of Us is Dennis Haskell's eighth book of poetry. Dedicated to his wife Rhonda, who lost her battle with cancer after a long illness, Ahead of Us contains poems of love, of two people forging a partnership together and of the inevitable end of that partnership when one person dies. It is a celebration of life and and of the fragile thread that holds us here.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781925163858
Publisher: Fremantle Press
Publication date: 02/01/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 112
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Dennis Haskell is an Australian poet, critic and academic and the author of eight collections of poetry as well as the author of a number of critical studies and editor of a number of poetry anthologies. He is Emeritus Professor at the University of Western Australia.

Read an Excerpt

Ahead of Us

By Dennis Haskell

Fremantle Press

Copyright © 2016 Dennis Haskell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-925163-85-8




    Chance, I know that my chances
    of having a conversation with you
    are slight, at the very best, I
    know it's no use taking exception
    to your presence, but what on earth
    are you doing in this life? Your place
    seems so arbitrary; and
    if we could sit down together
    I know the talk would be hopelessly

    haphazard, since love could lead swiftly to gardens to garbage,
    a line of poetry might read
    "kohl adrift more she role ti dah".
    There are those sure your heart belongs to Dada
    but you know its heart belongs to you.
    So around the world we'd go on a
    marvellous, maddening, richly frustrating excursion
    in which go is only occasionally distinguishable from woe.

    Some think you are not the ultimate
    in godliness, which you find a glorious test;
    you who know no meaning know meaning best.
    Only when we get to death, in
    which you see you have a role, we part company.
    You say, "In the end that's the subject
    which is for you, but is not for me".


    The surreal numbers flicker like
    eyelids, 100 kph, 150, 200,
    the nitrogen-filled tyres now
    more skittering than turning, whistling
    to the ground like a fingertip touch
    at parting, 250, then suddenly
    we are clear out of this world,
    its scattered lights that had stood
    above us at intersections, tending fragile
    corners, lonely doors, now patterned
    crazings on a glazed painting. Cézanne
    was correct – there are only two
    dimensions: them and us. And here,
    above life, there is nothing
    we would wish never end
    but the never of ending.


    Small clouds flock outside the window
    like phlegm in the sky's throat
    that we fly into, hoarser and hoarser,
    the engines coughing above cut outs
    of paddy fields, deep olive green
    plantations intersected by water,
    and dry strips of land, where men
    and women work: nature is being
    put in its place. Lower and lower

    until we are being whispered about
    by destiny, or chance. We hang
    dangling at speed, in fragile air;
    but today luck chooses us, the
    headlines will escape our names, we will enter
    the miraculous serenity of procedures,
    of routines, all our fear buckled up
    in a gift of banality, of schedules
    that even we will quickly forget;

    then the rumble and crack of wheels
    on the ground, hooked by gravity and
    weighty again. The most valuable
    elements of our lives are hardly noticed.
    Now the sun's gleaming off the wings
    and we're heading homeward in the light
    at last unperturbed by its luminous
    and utterly ordinary silence.


    What would Our Lady, or anyone's, think
    as uncaring crowds swarm past
    her buttresses, and flashbulb lights
    far outnumber the flights
    of prayers? An amplified male alto
    soars like a linnet through the Gothic aisles,
    unquestionably glorious. Stone everywhere as if
    to keep the earth out. A brilliant father offers
    confession in French, English, Italian, Japanese.

    Jean Verdier, Jean Juvénal des Urse sleep
    secure in their improbable faith, in
    this belief museum, amidst circular
    candelabras of devotion, their
    deepest 'truth' barely flickering. Yet
    uncertainty is a kind of grief. The cameras assert
    a dearth of ideas. People exit, troop off
    to the awful Tower. Bones seem stronger
    than belief, yet they also rot in earth.


    Remembering the scarf-necked, firm
    and almost smiling face of Jean Moulin,
    I looked at the statuesque,
    almost imperial Arc de Triomphe,
    turned and walked with a few
    thousand other hurrying, dawdling,
    window-gazing, free and fanciful faces
    along the vision-wide boulevarde, the
    expansive paths of the Champs Élysées:
    feet and cars and motorscooters,
    and dead, wet leaves; Peugeot, Swatch,
    Louis Vuitton tout en or, Lacoste
    beside Fouquet's grand brasserie,
    Galeries des Champs and the Galerie des Arcades,
    Sephora's infinite rows of cosmétiques,
    Les Comptoirs de Paris, while Yves
    Rocher offered nature for a price,
    a literary collection mentioned
    "Les Écrivains et la Mélancolie".
    Whatever's wrong with them
    Club Méditerranée will take you away
    from the Mediterranean, the paradisal fields,
    the peck-peck-pecking green-necked pigeons
    where your purse or wallet speaks
    its triumphant Esperanto, and
    lights are strung out in the trees.

[Jean Moulin was leader of the French Resistance during World War II]


    Having endured what no-one could call
    a good night's sleep, not half a night
    but at least some, I lumbered towards Liège
    on a slow country train. More sleep
    than you, My Love, would have had
    after quitting Roissy Airport,
    Paris glittering far below,

    and I calculated the minutes when
    you must have stumbled
    off the plane, and gone straggling
    through Changi, your head
    tired, your eyes struggling open,
    ankles swollen, your legs
    enjoying being legs again, the
    muscles stretching, the blood
    starting to flow freely. Outside,
    a chimney belching great
    gouts of smoke, as from
    an old train, white cows
    head down in lush grass,
    a potholed track down which
    two women push infants, ragged
    clothes strung out on a ragged line.

    When you stepped behind
    those slicing doors, reality
    simply walked away. So I sit here and yet
    step along Changi's carpeted floors,
    past the resplendent orchid displays,
    past shining perfume shops,
    past iPod and CD players, beckoning
    like insinuations of happiness.

    Time goes on
    no matter what we do or say,
    and from my window
    the twisting roads, the
    crooked-back farmhouse roofs,
    the cigarette-chimneyed towns,
    and the long, flat fields
    of Belgium
    stretch far away.


    It is a cloudy day when the light
    does not seem ours by right
    but only borrowed, and all time looks
    much later than it deserves to be.
    The land leans out of the window
    at your elbow towards where a sunrise
    of thought, of ideas, of understanding
    should be. Trees mark out distances
    like goals, and there are more of them
    than your mind, or the light,
    can hold. What are they doing there
    to you? What are you doing here
    racing through the uncontrolled landscape
    of your life, all the stations
    that will be given to you?
    Near clouds clot the air and early
    darkness is closing in like fear.


    "Our floating life is like a dream ..."
    In 1775 Shen Fu, about Yün, their lives
    already entwined: "I asked for the manuscripts
    of her poems and found that they
    consisted mainly of couplets and three
    or four lines, being unfinished ... I wrote playfully
    on the label of this book ... and did not realise
    that in this case lay the cause
    of her short life." Beginning
    Six Chapters of a Floating Life.

    Tianjin, Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing ladies and men
    by tens of thousands on tens of thousands
    of bicycles, mopeds, motorscooters, motorbikes,
    gauze their faces, handkerchief their mouths,
    so many particles of dust and lead
    pixel the air. The clouds ache, then
    mud and uncertainty pour onto streets
    while the wind swings its shrill seizures
    all around my windows, nature's opera
    makes an immediate audience of millions.

    And pausing over Shen Fu and Yün,
    their lives afloat, I think
    of our single lives, of last year, when
    death almost swept you away.
    In Hangzhou, Ferrari, Versace, Louis Vuitton
    arc the magnificent West Lake,
    obelisks of apartments arrow the ground
    like headstones for the living.
    As far as anyone's eye can see
    the small, ancient villages are being swept

    into the prim nostalgia of history. Now
    stinky tofu in the streets, Starbucks,
    azaleas in flower, a traffic soldier's shrill
    whistle – ignored – the rush of feet
    fills the street, and the next street, and the next, and the ...
    Dodging battalions of legs, on pedals, flat to floors,
    coming from a three-quarters empty country
    the faces come toward me, staring straight ahead,
    too many to think the "What if?"
    of other possibilities.
    I find it hard to believe in

    individuality, that each gaze has
    in mind fears, whispers, expectations;
    Chinese count in numbers so enormous
    they add up to anonymity.
    No matter how many faces you see
    there are always more, no matter
    how many arms and hands you touch
    there are always more, no matter
    how many motorbikes and voices you hear
    there are always more ...

    And beginning here without you My Love,
    surrounded, drenched in this dense, teeming life,
    I feel as if the world itself were short of breath,
    and all China a stretch of long silence.


    When Marco Polo went to Hangzhou, long ago,
    he had beauty and bewilderment to go;
    now he can rest in a hotel that tourism feeds:
    it is especially designed to meet you all needs.

    Located in the luggage desk, we provide you with
    the service of transportation and savings for free.
    We are not responsible for any loss or damage
    while you are check-out. If you are stolen
    call the police.

    Satellite TV channels are available for details.
    Please refer to your TV program.
    The water from the gap in the bathroom
    can not be drunk directly.

    Café Le Mediterranean – It is located on the
    17th floor. To enjoy the best beautiful
    panoramic view of West Lake while
    savouring typical local tidbits,
    this is a real life.

    Each floor equipped with modern Fire Prevention
    System, Please does not move casually
    except emergency.
    Civilization does not reach for the sky,
    neither do we.

    No encounters with members
    of the opposite sexes in the rooms that
    is what the lobbys is for.
    Guests are invited
    to take advantage of the chamber maid.

    Be prepared for danger
    in times of safety.
    We have only one earth, just like
    we have only one pair of eyes.

    And at every turning, then and now,
    Marco's and your eyes
    meet mischievous surprise.


    My Love, that odd window knocking
    you no doubt remember
    I never heard
    "till there was you"

    is simply the tapping
    of yellow-beaked Singapore birds
    as they fly from scrawny cats.

    I hear it nightly, that tapping
    sharp in the air. You've gone and

    all I hear now is clear and spare
    as if everything stood outside me.

    Sentimental Beatles songs I play
    soar over flurries of cats and birds

    – you once said the wish
    to recapture youth, to tumble over
    the cliff face of the past

    "is the first sign of senility".
    In Singapore's absurd, befogging heat

    I want desperately to write you
    a poem of the scrawniest simplicity

    to tap and beak inside you,
    flown into a language
    full beyond words

    from the flurry of my feelings,
    from the pit of my life
    where I am now,
    as dumb as the animals.

    for Ann Jamieson, wherever she may be

    One day, one summer, about 1959
    my mate and I approached tall,
    long-haired, pony-tailed Ann Jamieson
    with a cacophony of bugs and beetles
    we must have taken days to collect.
    She shrieked, and fled in terror,
    we chased, aiming at her hair
    hysterical locusts and bewildered beetles,
    delighted with our bravado,
    her schoolbag flapping on her hips.

    This apology comes late by fifty years.
    Boys who have reached eleven or twelve
    have odd ways of showing they like you
    which girls who have reached eleven or twelve
    strangely, find difficult to construe.
    We laughed like larrikins,
    unaware of the urges which had lain
    so long in the chrysalis of our bodies
    and had now begun to stir and buzz.


    I spent a week at St Anne's-on-the-Sea
    For a dose of English summer – wind and rain mainly –
    But I never did manage to see the sea.

    I stayed at Breverton, the lovely B&B
    Where Anna and her kids were kind as kind can be:
    I spent a week at St Anne's-on-the-Sea.

    I looked far, as far as any eye could see
    And saw sand flats stretched across the estuary
    But I never did manage to see the sea.

    The tide crept in at night, oblivious to me
    Through the force of nature's perversity
    I spent a week at St Anne's-on-the-Sea.

    Fish and chips and a pint – a gourmet's specialty;
    Under "No dogs" signs dogs walked nonchalantly
    But I never did manage to see the sea.

    I thought nature and humans could readily agree
    But the sand flats leached away endlessly:
    I spent a week at St Anne's-on-the-Sea
    But I never did manage to see the sea.


Excerpted from Ahead of Us by Dennis Haskell. Copyright © 2016 Dennis Haskell. Excerpted by permission of Fremantle Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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