Geoff has a wife now, in fact he'll have Bess always;
they've got two off-spring, which he considers plenty
for a fulfilling family nowadays.
His wine is fortified, his toothpaste pepperminty.
Taoists his flock boasts, Maoists, greenies, gays
(whilst only one parishioner-in-twenty
could be remotely termed a red-neck zombie).
Cords are Geoff's trousers and his van's a Combi.
Their daughter's Sophie (they baulked at Alana
when, hearing this name, his mother cried out Eeek!).
Bess reads Christina Stead and Helen Garner.
They go for walks beside the Merri Creek.
Geoff has friends from Cooktown to Kiwana,
and corresponds with them not twice a week
exactly: that might be overdoing it
(temper your pace or else you'll end up ruing it).
But imagine a kind of pride that's always branded
'trouble' (as if some deity with a knack
for mischievous malevolence had commanded
'Thou shalt forever row against the flack!').
Bess has that certain pride: which landed
her, luckily, where it did. Eight years back,
whilst young adults were pairing all the quicker,
she leap-frogged the lot and snared her vicar.
And, whilst the chains of conformity keep clinking,
Bess, a true-born one-agin-the-many,
is oblivious to what her peers are thinking.
Peers? It seems unlikely she has any.
'Words may be cheap but worse their value's sinking,
opinions now get flogged at two-a-penny,'
thinks she whose hallmark's never to be had
by latest bargains from The House Of Fad.
Life after this one? Bess seems hardly frightened:
she figured long ago at Sunday school
God might exist and then again she mightn't.
Mere blind faith? This woman's no such fool.
It only serves to get her hackles heightened.
But how she'd love to blurt her golden rule:
'See here you useless bunch of no good jerks
my life's devotion's doing decent works!'
With four square flair (like some symphony of Haydn's)
that's the Bess way to run a drop-In centre:
with few demands and almost no contrivance
(only the bigots and ignorant resent her)
here's some examples of this woman's guidance:
strategies to neuter your tormentor /
suggestions to each abused and spaced-out waif
they try some subjects at their local tafe.
Her family's modern, has fluid gender roles
(none of the clout, a lot of the caress)
whilst (like a bottle washed-up in the shoals)
their message to the world is nothing less:
'Thanks for calling, we're the Cattermoles:
Geoffrey, Sophie, Alister and Bess.
So be you oldie, middle-aged or teen,
leave your voice upon our phone machine.'
But coming home to all such well-meant dirging
(parish pump enough through which to churn)
who wouldn't give their messages a purging?
Well, tonight, here's one call he'll return:
a voice, precise if mellow, which keeps urging
'Tune up your fiddles, we've a Rome to burn!
I see a blaze where now there's but a glimmer!'
Leo Pengilly's inviting them to dinner.
Lithe if languid, with trim austere beard,
part animated icon and part satyr,
nothing in Leo you remotely feared.
Who didn't love his oratory and chatter?
Though evangelicals found him rather weird,
(Masses rarely equate with low church clatter)
for it must've gauled when, to say the least,
an artist manque appeared as their parish priest.
A number's left, he's omitted an address.
'I bet you any pound, mark, franc or guilder...'
(though Geoff's excitement wilts when it meets Bess)
'Leo's living somewhere in St Kilda...'
Which could, to his wife, be the bottom of Loch Ness;
the thought, as you might gauge, has hardly thrilled her..
But, though there's sighs at whatever he's proposing
she'll tag along upon the night that's chosen.
She often does. A martyr's mission (hers)
includes church fetes, dutch auctions, crazy whists;
plus Geoffrey's centrefold parishioners
(chosen for these imaginary trysts:
a harmless diversion since such a petition errs
towards restraint; and who's been, even, kissed?).
Yet, to herself, Bess has often said,
lying in wait upon their marriage bed:
'Espoused saint I'll tell you Where's the diff:
as 1 lie, loins quivering, ungird,
Bess I hear be with you in a jiff,
Yet whilst my stew's waiting to get stirred
you play a well-strummed auto-erotic riff
courtesy, if that's indeed the word,
of Messrs Hefner and Cuggione.
(Some crave their playmates? I'd prefer their money!)
It's a bit extreme to gawk at a firm high bust
(rehearsing another round of gimme / lemme)
but it's overplayed to term this simply 'lust'
as some would wish it and demand; since many
a shapely leg and pretty face you'd trust
to be as much God's handiwork as any.
With half his mind on Raquel, Bo and Farrah,
Geoff glides his Combi Van across the Yarra.
Now imagine (though the parallel hardly fits)
Punt Road a (not quite) accidental Ginza,
and, thinking they're Lauda, Mansell, from the pits
the Saturday traffic zooms southward into Windsor;
their radios ablaze with Sixtie's Hits:
Hey Jude', 'MacArthur Park', 'Needles and Pins-a'.
(Music to do your wheelies, drop your u-ees,
from the days of Marlboro Men and poor dead Louies.)
Green is the colour to give a driver balm;
and green it is when they speed through The Junction.
But Bess keeps sighing. So, faced with wifely qualm,
Geoff turns paternal, without the least compunction.
Parking he murmurs: 'Calm please calm.
We really shall enjoy Pengilly's function.
A pleasing thoroughfare this Foster Street.
And here are tips to cause us no retreat:
pretend you're a Chappel going into bat...
it won't be like the nude scene out of 'Hair'.
Still if disaster's sensed well that is that...'
But his face starts sparkling for, taking whatever air,
Leo saunters the driveway to his flat
admitting, through a pleased if vacant stare,
that he who's greeting Geoffrey like a brother
is influenced by some drug or another.
Meet Bess my wife.'
And there's a bow: 'Enchanted!
Tonight should prove Furioso e con brio,
and though till now the evening's merely cantered
we're sure, by dawn, to sweat ourselves some b.o.'
Bantering on like hosts have always bantered
(and certain his bonhomie's witty, supple)
Leo's pleased to usher in the couple.
'Joie de vivre requires no special pleadings:
it's total war and you are General Patton,
it's Wimbledon and you head the seedings,
so think of those hatches we're not required to batten.
And read these passwords for tonight's proceedings
above the door there, conjured up in Latin.
Study them well, may no phrase prove more apter
to grace a verse, a poem or a chapter!'
[Which they do now. Okay you reader guys
(no-hopers, nannies, notaries and nerds,
the wonderful, the wicked and the wise)
to see who are the wheys and who the curds
I'll institute this quiz without a prize.
Let's hear from those who can translate these words.
So be you man, hermaphrodite or female
drop us a line or contact me by e-mail.]
Geoffrey grins as he reads the motto
(its calligraphy quite exceeding par)
and whilst he's no antipodean Giotto
or any kind of brushwork superstar,
Leo's talent, like third division lotto,
is a small yet pleasing prize. Thus far,
however, few guests have hardly flipped
at this pithy phrase set in a gothic script.
But where is Leo's dinner? Well that's altered:
a Party's ragin' and its swing is full.
The beer is Cooper's, the whiskey's double malted
(there's a pile of grass they term 'The Is'le of Mull').
With each new guest our host turns more exulted,
he won't permit a solitary lull.
Since, being one to no way underplan it, he
has enlisted nearly all this town's humanity.
But Mrs Cattermole's lips it seems are pursed.
Well, sweeping this guest into his bachanalia
Leo terms her 'Good Queen Bess'. He wasn't the first.
So? One word tonight is banished and it's 'failure'.
Since this is Operation Fred Nile Do Your Worst
time: we've a world to gain; well okay Australia;
with zeal of a Loyola, patience of a Gandhi
underpinning our modus operandi.
As this his six-and-thirtieth year commences,
Leo feels like a bowler verging on a hat-trick:
'Now. if you think my guests have lost their senses,
are with the fairies, holed-up in some attic,
they're decent folk though: Capricorns to Cancers
and return, And here's our best: M, the enigmatic,'
His girlfriend who, wrapped in a sarong,
says 'Pleased to meet you, like to share a bong?'
Bess declines the joys of getting addled
and who can blame her? Geoffrey goes the plunge.
(His brain goes backstroke before it's doggone paddled.)
But here as elsewhere history takes its lunge:
tonight throughout the world a cusp is straddled:
the past is hippy and the future's grunge.
But how can we know that with Leo slaving
over a hot party? He continues raving:
'I met archangels once, whilst on some acid,
and, to their boss I hollered Howdy Gabes!
This creature grinned, his handshake wasn't flaccid:
since Jacob was Jakes and Abraham was Abes
he'd heard much worse and took it very placid:
Out of the mouths of near-enough-to-babes
were strangest words to, in greeting, give me,
or else they were a way of coping with me.'
And now from every footpath, laneway, road,
the muscle-bunnies have commenced their entry;
each hoping to be the subject of an ode,
a Billy Joe for someone's Bobbie Gentry,
their self obsession's stalled on overload
(a pity Leo can't afford a sentry).
Yet if their torso's probably are glistening,
they sound banal and nobody is listening.
Though we feel (what biceps! pecs!) a trifle humbled,
embarrassed by our last attempt at gym:
all pain no gain, we merely strained and stumbled,
our strict regime proving only whim.
Vanity! Vanity! How our ambitions tumbled!
Then Leo, staring, sighs 'Regardez him!'
propelling his friend about to view a young man.
This muscle-bound, tanned, decidedly well-hung man
(sports suspenders, hair tinged with a puce highlighter)
has equipment sheathed in low-slung leather jocks,
'My!' exclaims Leo. 'They'll hardly get much tighter:
the things chaps do to shovel off their rocks!
Looks like, Geoff, we're in for an all-nighter,
so stay for breakfast: bagels, cream cheese, lox.'
'But it's the sabbath, father, we'd be peppered
with that scorn reserved for a some what errant shepherd,
Oh there's little limp in any of these wrists.
And, for the secular, they're sure red blooded.
The things you see! That man's just kissed
a man!' And Geoff imagines being tut-tutted
to by outer outer-suburban evangelists,
mealy-mouthing far worse than Elmer Fudd did.
Whatever Geoff once joined it ain't the wowsers
(though doubts if anyone will drop their trousers).
But the interrogations get the curlier:
'It may be me but Cattermole don't you think
this year's boys seem to be getting girlier?'
is followed-up, you guessed it, by a wink.
Had Geoff and Bess arrived a trifle earlier
they'd have caught the plonk and plunk and plink
of Koto music. Now games of Hello sailors!
are sound-tracked by Bob Marley and his Wailers.
[But to accommodate this party's tones,
nuances, shadings, one sound stands supreme.
Bel Canto? Be-Bop? Robeson's mighty groans?
Well it isn't Lully and it isn't Cream.
Ladies and Gentlemen ... The Rolling Stones!
They've sung The Earth from Chile round to Cheam!
So here's to Mick and to his partner, Keith
(whose prospects 'round this time were rather brief).
And to their rivals from some decades back:
John, Paul, George and Richard nicknamed Ringo.
Who caused upheavals equal to the sack
of ancient Rome, they certainly did by jinGo to selection
But I must get the Lovemakers' back on track,
for few, I fear, can understand this lingo;
nor rhymes which getting Wearnier and Wearnier
could give the English language quite a hernia.]
So for respite from drug crazed hippy lechers,
and, as if engaged on some research,
the Cattermoles are viewing Leo's sketches.
This gives the night a pleasing kind of lurch:
fueled by a brace of generous you-betchas
(for un-like their holy, mother church
parish priests have little in their coffers
and knowing this too well) Leo offers
'A portrait, Geoffrey, Bess, to be done gratis,
as of now it seems like a good idea.
I have a dream: it's to become an artist,
with cash and a reputation by next year.
Which may not, I grant you, sound the smartest,
but wait till Public Taste gets into gear.'
As a joint is passed from a lad with rippling sinews
Leo smiles, takes a drag, continues:
'Now here's an observation worth the weighing:
art's been a longtime consort to the cloth.'
(Take it from Leo, he knows what he's saying.)
'Fras This 'n' That and whatisname Van Gogh,
knew how to get wowserdom a-braying;
just grab your phone and check with a fine arts prof
how The Uffrizi, Hermitage and Prado
are crammed with many a priestly desperado.
Another joint? It hardly could get crazier
than putting on a pair of boxing togs
to go a round with Ali or with Frazier.
This place is heading to the best of dogs.
(Throw in the Kiwis then it's Australasia.)
So ratchet your inhibitions down some cogs.
As moral decline carves in a further notch
shelve the soul: this year's for the crotch!
Back in those days of the Twist, Watutsi, Fug,
I figured sex much more than making babies:
a quite refreshing option to have dug
and not the form of intellectual scabies
which still takes coupling for a kind of bug
like influenza, cholera or rabies.
And so to hell with what's or what's not fashion,
I only feel these bounds placed on my passion!
And 1 could write this as a twelve bar blues
with singers to perform it, if 1 knew some.'
(Leo's confessions have shortened Bess's fuse,
though he's just absurd and not remotely gruesome.)
'I find,' he says, 'often that I muse
whenever I meet a cute, milksoppy twosome
You mean your passion's hardly more than cerebal?
And no-one minds? Well 1 think that's terrible!'
A migraine's feigned, the two of them leave early.
But Bess will drive and deal with navigation.
Geoff's not in the dog house, it isn't that she's surly
(he knows her well and discounts pre-menstruation)
or how his wife can't be remotely girlie
But it won't be just spousal imagination
recalling for years how the missus groaned,
'Father Cattermole, don't you know you're stoned?!'
A bit abashed, though this side of ashamed,
to make amends, to show Bess he's still her-man,
let's play some records! And the music's named:
John Coltrane? Or why not Lazar Berman?
Then Cattermole wilts (he, so rightly famed
for booming forth a mighty powerful sermon);
Forgive me please if this sounds like tripe
but, 1 suppose, Leo's not your type?'
'Geoff, good lord, my tolerance spans the prism!'
(Sexual preference, socio-economic;
from Gellibrand to Kooyong via Chisholm.)
Bess rebounding her force seems supersonic
to accommodate any fetish, ism:
Mensa member with the sub-moronic,
round and flat-earthers, dries or damps or wets,
plus devotees of funny cigarettes.
'There's only hypocrisy which I find so grubby!
And that's not just some malignant elf!
'Tolerance, tolerance Aye there's the rub' he
muses in soft measures his spiritual health
To anyone (bar a hubby
quoting The Bard essentially to himself)
her complaint seems obvious as a girder
but, Bess understands, he hasn't heard her.
'Goodwife, m'dear,' he gently lectures, smatter-
ing metaphors unworthy of a priest:
'the bread of living's going to stay as batter
unless our planet's artists give it yeast.'
'Okay then, see it all one platter:
the fast a merest flipside to the feast.
Lent, therefore, will put us in recess.
But after Holy Week we'll have them over ... Bess?'
As in the tale of Toad Hall's Mr Toad
home they go the drivers and the drived:
up Brunswick St towards St George's Rd,
in North Fitzroy midnight has arrived.
Tomorrow: work for Geoff (a pleasant load:
he's not about to get his parish tithed).
Kick out the cat, let's pull down the awning.
God's in his / her heaven. The vicar's yawning.
Bess loves him but since Alister was born
their passion's flickered. Well she'll have to wear it.
If centrefolds are erotica not porn,
and Playboy's bought for literary merit,
and some nights she will stay awake till dawn,
there's always her Henry James with which to bear it.
How true how true Amor Vicit Omnia
has yet to be a charm against insomnia ...