The wrong order

By David Walsh

Tim, my brother, died over twenty years ago. Some of my earliest memories are of him writing poetry. Before he died he had a plan to get some of his poems together for publication. But he didn’t have time. Between diagnosis and death he had only a few months. And morphine and suffering kept him busy.

Tim Walsh Tim Passes, Dark Mofo 2014

Tim Walsh
Tim Passes, Dark Mofo 2014

After he died I set about locating all the worthwhile material I could. But, to my continuing shame, I managed to lose a folder which contained a number of bleak, beautiful poetic capitulations to his condition. His cancer didn’t come out of the blue. He had a congenital condition, choledocal cysts, which had been operated on when he was just six months old. The result was arguably positive, death was deferred thirty-three years, but through those years Tim endured severe, chronic pain. The site of this type of surgery, it turns out, often becomes inflamed, and that led to his symptoms, and that led to his cancer. For some reason nobody told him that might happen. He, nevertheless, often speculated that he would die young. He didn’t think his body could sustain the repeated insults.

I know where I left the folder. On the stereo cabinet. And I know what was playing when I put it down. It was Paul Simon’s ‘Most Peculiar Man’.

And all people said, what a shame that he is dead.
But wasn’t he a most peculiar man?

I went to get the folder the next day, or the day after that, and it wasn’t there. It hasn’t been there, or anywhere else as far as I can determine, for those twenty years. So, just like Tim, that time has passed. There won’t be a book of Tim’s poetry. I only have a few poems left.

Forty years ago.

Tim was a little older than me. He read widely, mainly poetry: Shelley, Shakespeare, Betjeman, Byron, Tennyson, Masefield, Hopkins, Wordsworth, Whitman. And because I didn’t know any better I read them too. He taught me stuff I didn’t want to know then, but am very grateful for now. He showed me how to write amusing little ditties. This one he wrote when we were still children.

I wrote a simple poem.
A simple poem but mine.
And the words on every second line
Always seemed to rhyme.

And it parted in the middle.
Two verses my poem had,
But it finished on the eighth line,
And that kind of makes me sad.

He taught me about iambs, the stresses on every second syllable that Shakespeare used to astonishing effect. And he taught me about enjambment, running a sentence over the end of a poetic line, used to best effect with rhymes at the line breaks. Thus I wrote:

Playing with some stressful iambs
The line ran out before I could
Finish. I asked myself what would
Shakespeare do? And then I knew.
A ploy poets call enjamb-
Ment. When I write myself into
A corner. I escape just like Ham-
Let. That’s as tricky as Harry Hou-
Dini.

Two years ago.

As a surprise for my fiftieth birthday, some friends commissioned Dean Stevenson to set a couple of Tim’s poems to music, and to play them at the party. It went well. One poem he chose Tim had written for my twenty-first birthday. He had been in hospital having another round of surgery, and was mindful of his mortality. Thus it began:

Time passes, and we being mortal, think of death.

The songs went so well, in fact, that Dean asked for more poems. But there are no more, he had already been given the eight that I know of. Those eight were, apparently, enough. Enough for this concert, at least.

Twelve years ago.

Mum died in 2001. Every night between Tim’s demise and hers she read a poem before she went to sleep. James, Tim’s son, wrote in the note he sent to Dean when they colluded on my birthday present, that ‘Dad… composed this for my grandmother Myra, to help her feel some joy in his memory’.

When thine eyes have lost their soft dream shine
At pass of years and loss of time
And you are old and grey and full of sleep
When your heart is sad and your soul is deep
Stop. Reflect. Wipe away your tears
And think of the joys of bygone years
Think happiness. Friends and laughing lovers
Think of good times, come, think of others
But should no joy come from your past time
Take down this poem and read its rhyme
Hold it tender, close, and near to thee
Think of one friend. Think of me.

Twenty-two years ago.

When Tim went into hospital he was already dying, but we didn’t know. They opened him up, confident they could fix him. When a mooted four-hour operation took fifteen minutes we knew something was wrong.

So all the interventions became palliative. A nurse was assigned to show Tim how to use oral morphine. Tim said, ‘I know all about that, I had to administer it to my son, Billy’. Billy was born with disabilities, and dead at eight months. Dad said, ‘We die in the wrong order in this family’. Dad was already seventy-five, but destined to live another eighteen years. They sent Tim home.

At home Tim played his girlfriend and me a song, ‘Stuff and Nonsense’ by Split Enz. The chorus goes:

And you know that I love you
Here and now, not forever.
I can give you the present
I don’t know about the future
That’s all stuff and nonsense.

 

Dean Stevenson and the Arco Set Orchestra will perform Tim Passes at Dark Mofo on Thursday June 12, 7pm at the Odeon Theatre.
Buy tickets

Me boss’ missus

By Elizabeth Pearce

Me boss and his missus are on their honeymoon in Istanbul. Which reminds me: I told me boss’ missus I was planning to write a blog about their wedding, which I attended in March. Here it is.

Kirsha hasn’t changed her surname to ‘Walsh’, but has kept it as Kaechele (KASH-el-a).1 This is not for feminist reasons. She didn’t like the harsh repetition of consonants: KirSHA WalSH. Her august mate, David, was against Kirsha changing her name, but for more politically motivated reasons: apparently patriarchal re-naming is perniciously retrograde. My own view is that our cultural lives are rich in retrograde gestures, especially where ceremony is concerned. The etymology of the word ‘woman’ is itself profoundly sexist: from the Old English wimman, meaning ‘woman-man’. In other words, ‘man’ is the neutral designation, the standard human, and everything else is an add on, an exception. (‘Wimman’ also seems to be an alteration of wifman, meaning female servant. Even worse.) To call ourselves ‘womyn’, as some feminists advocate, is a token gesture, and token gestures are worse than nothing, the noise in the machine that doesn’t disrupt its operations. Ross Chambers argues that empty oppositional gestures actually strengthen inequality – contribute to the machine’s smooth running – by fooling us into thinking we’ve made a real difference, and hence falsely satisfying our sense of social responsibility. (And he said that before the advent of Facebook ‘share if you agree’ campaigns.) I feel the same way about those bullshit ‘I just want to acknowledge the traditional owners of this parking lot/cinema/primary school…’ that accompany civic ceremony. If you really want to acknowledge the traditional ownership of the land, get off it and give it back. I am comfortable to call myself by my husband’s name (getting married is in itself ludicrously old-fashioned) because I know in my heart and in my behaviour I am womyn, through and through. I haven’t asked Kirsha, but I suspect she feels the same way. For her, though, aesthetics wins the day.

Enough of that. I think what Kirsha would really like (I’d like to write something nice for her. I like her, she’s my friend. And my patron’s mistress, let’s not forget) (I mean ‘mistress’ to mean ‘a woman in a position of authority or control’ rather than a participant in adultery)… What I think she would like is a description of the lascivious and licentious – positively salubrious – succession of ceremonies and celebrations that accompanied their exchange of ‘I do’s. This is not mere sentiment: Kirsha is what she calls a ‘life artist’, which means that she practices a sort of boundless aestheticism that gathers around acts of personal and social significance. In more practical terms: she turns events like dinners and parties, as well as more modest community-based gatherings, into living installation art, as well as bringing together art, architecture, commerce and ecology in projects such as the Heavy Metals campaign and, of course, the Moma Market.

It also means that her own identity, on a day-to-day basis, is often shot through with performance. One of my favourite memories of her (that sounds weird, like she’s dead, but I’m not sure how else to phrase it): in Versace, Fifth Avenue, on a work trip to New York when we were supposed to be looking at the Whitney Biennial. (We did later and it was horrid. I hate art.) Kirsha put on a stellar performance of the spoiled rich man’s wife, throwing a pretend tantrum (although the sale’s assistant was none the wiser) because David would only agree to buy her one dress, not two. ‘This is abusive!’ she squealed, stomping her stiletto. ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this to me!’ Another time, at the Birdcage Bar at Wrest Point Casino, Kirsha and her super hot Yankee friends were playing dumb for a large group of drooling, dorky conference scientists. ‘Tell me, Michael’ (batt, batt, batt go the lashes): ‘what exactly is surface chemistry?’ Somehow, someone ended up flashing a nipple. Not sure how it happened. Next thing, we were being thrown out, the whole hot-Yankee contingent, for improper exposure (it really was just a lonesome hot-Yankee nipple, nothing more); in protest, Kirsha and her friends did a full Spring-Break style topless parade around the bar and back before being manhandled out onto Sandy Bay Road. It was gold. I’ll wager that not a day goes by without those surface chemists thinking of it.

Here are some photos of the wedding (I’ve never been much good at descriptive writing). Have a nice life, Mr. and Mrs. Kaechele.

Kirsha Kaechele and David Walsh Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

Kirsha Kaechele and David Walsh
Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

Kirsha Kaechele

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

Bridesmaids and bride.

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

Kirsha Kaechele Image credit:  Jonathan Wherrett

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

David Walsh and Kirsha Kaechele's wedding.

Vows.
Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

David and Kirsha's Wedding.

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

David and Kirsha: the reception.

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

David and Kirsha's Wedding.

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

Party. Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

David and Kirsha's Wedding Party

Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

Kirsha Kaechele

Mrs Kaechele.
Image credit: Jonathan Wherrett

1Later she corrects me: KE-sha-la. Basically I have no idea to pronounce her last name. Or her first, let’s be honest.

Protest

By David Walsh

There is a lot to protest in Turkey. Injustice is rife, with crony capitalism at its heart. Geza Park, one of the last remaining green spaces in European Istanbul, was earmarked to be sacrificed for a shopping centre, and the company awarded the contract has links to the government. And then there was the mining disaster, which happened shortly after the opposition party complained that safety standards were being flouted.

So last night tens of thousands of people marched up Istiklal St, towards Taksim Square and Geza Park. Kirsha and I were there too. We had gone, not to check out the action, but to find a dress for Kirsha that is Islam friendly, not a feature of her regular wardrobe. We arrived before the protestors marched. There were armoured vehicles and police everywhere.

After a drink at in a rooftop bar we returned to the street. By then the chanting crowd was moving up the street, making an enormous racket. Many were wearing mining hats and gas masks, a reference, I assumed, to the dead miners. It was all rather exciting. I asked an English-speaking onlooker what it was all about. He told me it was ‘political’.

Kirsha wanted to go further up the street to Taksim Square, the obvious centre of the action. I thought that unwise. While we were arguing a young lady told Kirsha to cover her mouth, since the police had started using tear gas. I found a raised vantage point, and I could see the water cannons further up the street. The crowd careened down the hill. We soon felt the water cannons, and saw the sparks and heard the snare drum crack of the tear gas canisters being fired. Moments later we tasted the canister’s rather unpleasant contents. So we became part of stampede. We tried to hide down a side street, but it proved to be a dead end. As we returned to the main thoroughfare the surreality of our predicament was both underlined and alleviated when a taxi disgorged a passenger on the corner. It must have battled up the hill against the human tide, the driver doing his job as always, facing yet another of the apparently surmountable obstacles that the Istanbul streets presented.

So we got in the taxi. The driver headed down the street at the same speed as the panicked protestors, and even though the tear gas was choking us he (nonchalant as the best taxi drivers around the world always are) drove with his window down, down the hill to safety. As we crossed the Golden Horn, the gas in the air dispersed until, halfway across the bridge, the protestors gave way to elderly fisherman casting their lines into the Bosphorus hopeful of reeling in their dinner, while history passed them by, as it always has.