Sunday, 9 October 2016

Max Richards shares: 7, Chris Wallace-Crabbe and Isaac Babel


Max Richards at the window overlooking Lake Union in Seattle

A sequence of four dream poems arrived from Seattle by email on the 20th of May 2016. As with ‘share 6’, Max Richards (1937-2016) reveals how an intense reader of literature will meet authors in their dreams, whether local or exotic. He liked to present some of his rambling verse of this kind in different fonts and point-sizes.

Dear Readers, I Dreamed

1. In a Manner of Speaking

Dear readers, how are you all
enjoying my new poem -
OK so far? - opens well?

I say all - as if you’re plural,
if not multiple,
however alone you are

as you read. Alone -
but not lonely?
We keep each other 

kindly company.
Truly, I have trust
in what we can achieve

together, a sort of
double-jointed, double-
handed enterprise:

like a sparrow tangled
in a spring-green hedge
a phrase tries to emerge.

What arrives is like
a simile, trailing twigs
and green debris.

The hedge continues
briefly trembling,
subsides to stillness.

The sparrow continues
on its morning tasks
near where it emerged.

Is it nesting time? -
well concealed. Is some
nest deep inside it home

for a sparrow family?
Are you still with me?
I like to think so,

and me with you - surely
you are, in a figurative
manner of speaking?

2. In My Doggerel Dream

I heard word that Chris 
Wallace-Crabbe, Melbourne’s 
venerable poet and general
all-rounder, had taken up -

metalwork! Soon after,
Chris turned up with, in tow,
his first major project,
the size of a small car,

highly-figured brass plates
on all sides. I said to him:
‘I hear you’ve interested
the Post Office in this,

Chris. I can’t see the slot.’
‘Discreetly placed, Max.
Yes, they’ve asked for
a score, or more, one

at least for every big
town across Australia.’
As if they’d get folk
posting mail again. 

Now I could see the brass
figurations were snails.
What logic was this?
Dream logic, I guess.

My car was jammed full
with frozen goods from Coles
in North Balwyn
which my wife’s parents

still call Dickins.
I pressed on Chris
some fresh-baked sponge cake
which he tried to resist

with a pained grimace.
He took one slice
in a plastic dish,
returning me the rest.

‘We creatives must eat,’
each acknowledged each.

3. Me and Isaac Babel

Isaac Babel is available for you 
to interview, the jingling words reached me -

provided I provide a true
(non-spy) interpreter. Strange - I knew,

as he did not, his waiting fate -
that firing squad ordered by Beria

This called for great discretion from me. 
My first, anxious visit to the Soviet Union -

reading and rereading Red Cavalry
How shocking they still were, those stories:

lawlessness, hopes smashed, more cruelty
than compassion. What strength! - to have seen

so much, and written down what those in power
dreaded being known, or didn’t they care?

We met in Odessa. He insisted 
his crim Jews, now gone, were true fiction.

Exile would be safer, Mr Babel. He nodded. 
My family want me in the West with them.

My work is here. Filming Gorky’s books, you know.
Now I write the truth for later readers, when

things improve, then Russia can be honest again.
I left him sad. Why waste his time with me? -

foreign, behaving secretively.
Years passed. Generations. Some reading.

4. If I Say

as in my dream I was about to
(meeting you nowhere in particular,
uncertain of past and future)

how lucky I have been to know you,
you will hear in what I say
some foreshadowed farewell

grateful but ominous
acknowledging how some time
sooner maybe than felt before

that ‘have been’ may change
to ‘was’. Soon maybe second
person ‘you’ will change to third.

How lucky I was to know her.
It assumes of course the ‘I’
in this survives the ‘you’.

Yet the farewell might just be
one that gets said last thing
before a going away, some

ordinary separation kindly
Time may permit to end.
See you soon, I trust.

When shall we two meet again?
May we both survive this
so uncertain separation.

In this life, this we prefer,
such return, such reunion.
Don’t distract with notion

of afterlife, after death...
is death. Yes, you’re hinting
what may one of us suffer

outliving the other.
If I should say (which I won’t)
‘let it not be you’ - how cruel 

the unintended under-thought,
to wish either dark
alternative on another.

So, better not to broach any
of this whether under bright light 
face to face or dreaming darkly.


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