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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 8, Number 1, March 2014


Gerry Jacobson
Canberra, Capital Territory, Australia

Never Was

There are many deathbeds where the path not taken is far more real and present than the one actually chosen.

                                                                 —David Whyte

1. Might Have Been

I enjoy the chaos of the Sessions Bar. Sit in a warm corner with mulled wine one evening and J comes past also carrying mulled wine. She asks am I waiting for her? Well, I might be! I am hoping to see her. I know her husband hangs out in the sessions. He's a keen folkie and comes up from Victoria for the National. But I wasn't sure if she was around this year.

We talk for a while, about our respective grandchildren, travels, mutual friends in the dance scene. She cuts it short after ten minutes or so, needing to re-join her family. And I go back out into the night. We don't talk about what might have been.

in the morning
you bustle past me
I kiss your cheek
stifling the impulse
to drown in your arms

2. Designer Sunglasses

I get off the train at Campbelltown and K is waiting for me. Smartly dressed woman in her fifties. Kiss her, avoiding the designer sunglasses. We walk across to her car. Side by side, a deep knowing, deep familiarity. In a distant past life we walked the streets of Melbourne hand in hand going to concerts and films. And we bushwalked across Tasmania together in that wild and glorious time.

hand to hand
heart to heart . . . and then
we move away
into our own dance . . .
how long do feelings linger?

In the café we talk for a couple of hours. About our kids, our marriages, our travels the last thirty years. I've sought the meeting. Heard that her son was killed in a plane crash. A parent myself, I can't ignore this. So I track her down, write a letter of sympathy and ask if we can meet.

She's married to a German engineer, and I form the impression that he's a rigid man, not very sociable, doesn't share her love of music. She hasn't told him that she's meeting me.

She shows me an old photo, her and me at 23, in evening dress at a college ball. A handsome young couple smiling into the camera. Smiling into the future.

Our eyes meet over the coffee cups. It dawns on both of us. We would have been better off together than with the partners we eventually finished up with. She asks me directly: "Gerry, why did we split up?" I wriggle. "Oh, I don't really know, it's all so murky back in the past!"

But I'm lying. I do know. I can't bring myself to tell her.

even now
I hide behind
dark glasses . . .
how do I unlock
the secrets of my heart

3. Subconscious

Walking along the river track with the guide. She stops on a spur to allow people to catch up. "Oh," she says, "there's a cave over there!" I walk over, see a shaft going down a few feet. At the bottom I can just see a rusty metal grille. A locked cave entrance, about 18 inches square.

A shock of recognition! That recurrent dream about crawling through a narrow cave entrance. All my life that dream. Confinement, only just squeezing through. Something beyond the squeeze, dead bodies perhaps. Somehow I know that I've been here before.

that stirs the treetops
grey sky
that threatens snow . . .
time that stands still

I think that I was last here at Yarrangobilly on a caving trip about fifty years ago. I have no real memory of it. But that cave exploration has lurked in my subconscious, haunted me ever since.

deep down
in that velvet dark
dripping stalactites
listen to my song

We carry on up to the show cave for our 3pm guided tour. Afterwards I walk up and over the hill. Then down through eucalypt forest. At dusk I come out into a clearing near Caves House. The sun is setting and my hair is standing on end. It must be where I camped with N all those years ago. My body remembers!

full of thoughts
is an empty road . . .
love that never was

Author's Note: The tanka "in the morning" was first published in Ribbons 7 (2011); "even now" in Magnapoets 9 (2012).



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