by Garry Robert McDougall

Plush time in Place Hebrard,
volcanic rock and ancient anchor by my shoulder,
puzzling Vincent Van Gogh's mural eyes
from a stone building by the Rhone,
the artist in his hat, cross-eyed to a cross-street,
turbulent waters beating my ears.

Dizzy for Musee Raymond, enter dignity door
to fair light and courtyard over the river,
thinking: 'What am I doing here?'
Pont St Espirit's visitor without standing,
fool to a courtyard vista,
plane-to-see trees across river's forever,
harried downstairs by a musee Madame
appearing before my lost-for-words lips,
past paintings, film and memento,
descend steep stairs to unknown crypt,
dark treasure or stony fate, her saying
'Do not miss', in thin, enthusiastic English,
thousand-year hands of grace.

In dim corridors,
underworld font and ancient walls,
scratched and chipped, a granite presence,
crystalline Time's disagreeable shoulders
buffet me, stone corridor to the ice well,
home and household overhead,
renowned lifeblood Rhone flows past walls,
green-grey foaming revenge,
torrents beneath my feet, a voice saying
'What are you doing here?'

Find my self at the ice well,
massive body of Time recalling
red-blooded boatmen floating
alpine ice down the Isere,
when winter rime turns to springtime thaw,
barges career on swollen waters,
glide past Grenoble,
dance around gorge and pasture, boatmen dreaming
of Arles and Avignon, Pont St Espirit's
swaying wheats and plump hay
paling before Deadman's Drop, rapids de Rhone,
turbulent river pummel splinter boats,
slump waters confound, compound,
crewmen grit their teeth saying
'All for one and one for all,' like ice.

Push through to relieving waters,
sailors breathe easy again,
on-shore merchants haul, kiss and cut ice
for this Roman well, long lists of its usefulness
at their chill fingertips:
cooling fruits and precious potions,
Jack Frost to the drowned and corpulent,
transparent privilege for bishops,
landowners and traders- all the king's men-
foreigners pleading for heat relief
when cold carries weight for summer's excess.

Ice is glacial rule,
merchants dumb to the drowned and widowed,
deaf to the wailing ones beating on their doors,
turning away the beggars of bread,
cold shoulder from their capillary towers,
saying: 'Let ice make Gold before bread,
and even if we eat alone,
let's see who enjoys summer's excess.'

Cross-eyed Vincent, crossroads Pont,
Albert Hebrard give me strength-
merchants and kings do not own the future.
When a million people stand at the blizzard precipice,
daring the present, demanding their future,
then ice shall melt.

A momentous voice booms:
'What are you saying? Come away.
Shrink from your intemperate edge.
Your insight spoils my treasure.
Tis Nature that my boatmen slip down stream,
Avignon blessed, monopoly indulged.
Pull away from my mansion of ice
lest an old woman pluck your goose.
Let boatmen forever carry the cold
that carries weight, for summer's excess.'

Shrinking from musee walls, I emerge to bright today,
recline in the Place de la Resistance cafe,
Pont St Espirit fragrant in pink and grey.
Rhone channels cool nuclear power-rods,
jade waters floats canoes, nourish orchards
and fields of lavender.
Boatmen are ghosts. Kings have disappeared.
The young ones eat ice creams and gallettes, saying
'Let's see who enjoys Summer's excess.'

Shouldering my pack, I journey Ardeche hills,
well relieved of rock and anchor,
at Rue Camus meeting an Algerian
seeking time and direction to Musee Raymond.
When tanned locals puzzle their watch,
I say, 'Do not miss. It is by the eyes of Vincent,'
my fellow traveller searching my own,
'What are you doing here?'

Garry Robert McDougall's picture

A Sydney poet and novelist, Garry gives Spanish Pilgrimage presentations, writes novels and occasional opinion pieces, teaches poetry and exhibits paintings and photographs. He is a member of the DiVerse poetry group and the South Coast Writers Centre executive. In 2013 To San Domingo de la Calzada won Second Prize, Glen Phillips Poetry Prize. In 2012, Beating Time won Highly Commended in the Peter Cowan National Short Story Prize. In 2015, he won First Prize in the Peter Cowan Short Story Prize. His early walks guidebooks, Great North Walk and New South Walks Heritage Walks, were both published with Kangaroo Press. His two novels, Belonging and Trust, are Australian stories based on historical events around 1900 and 1988 respectively. His third novel, Knowing Simone, is set in Victor Hugo's France. He won artist/author in residence with Arteles in Finland, combined with long distance walking journeys in Spain and Portugal, soon to be published as Damn! His novel's common thread is respect for people caught in hostile historical circumstances, dramatising their negotiation of powerful social and historical forces. His poetry might rhyme, be experimental, lyrical, visual or sparse, but time, word, place and the human spirit are paramount.

Last updated July 07, 2016