By Peter RosePoetry UWA Publishing
The Subject of Feeling
'Youth and maturity, love and infatuation, memory, music, loss, landscape, Peter Rose exposes the human experience in poems that are gorgeously lucid and often profound. The Subject of Feeling reveals a fearless wisdom, a wry wit and a quiet depth. These poems stop you in your tracks.' - Andrea Goldsmith
The Subject of Feeling is Peter Rose’s sixth collection of poetry. Rose is one of Australia’s finest contemporary poets and this volume continues—and elevates—his attention to the poignancy of familial relations, lust and desire, and the delicacy of observation of loss and love in the everyday world.
Peter Rose’s The Subject of Feeling is electric with the thrill of sharpened elegy. A masterful portrait of love and loss, it culminates in new Catullus poems, providing a rollicking, gutsy satire of Australian literary life. This is courageous poetry that excavates the soul in its articulation of family tragedy and personal loss. Indeed, The Subject of Feeling twists and writhes with the transience of corporeality and the haunting ache of family stoicism. Rose knows when to stop, and go; the poems presenting deep feeling in a hard, glinting language. It is a tenebrous collection, boasting a complex and delicate equipoise of power and urbanity.
Hardly chary of the past,
needful of it, an addict even,
the self-styled romantic clinician,
but habitually wary of yours,
wary of what I might uncover,
might force you to recall,
as though I would be treading
on something still moving, unset,
I nonetheless asked you one evening
about your rheumatic fever,
how it came about. The Depression,
poor diet, you replied.
Twelve you were, visiting relations
in Tongala, where you had grown up,
been abandoned, site of livelong deracination.
A cousin fed you mushrooms.
Next day they sent you to hospital,
where you stayed and stayed,
eight months in fact.
How many times
did you see your family during
that time? I revolutionarily asked.
Not your father of course –
he had long since vanished
(an absence since you were two).
Even I knew that.
But what of your mother?
What of Daisy, my grandmother,
whom I did know? What of her?
How often did she come up on the train?
How often did she bring you books, fruit?
Not once, you said. Too busy.
Too poor. Too preoccupied running
the boarding house in Yambla Street.
She was still running it in her sixties.
How glamorous it seemed
to a boy from Wangaratta –
all those mysterious rooms
full of butchers and police recruits
and young ruckmen down from the country
hoping to play for Collingwood,
acned boys whose heads hit the ceiling,
or so it seemed to me at six, or seven,
little knowing my head would nudge it soon enough.
Paul Wadham, say: how he comes back
to me now, Paul Wadham,
though long since dead.
He once took me to a beach
with his girlfriend. They sat apart
playing Beatles records, just released,
on a tiny gramophone. I picture him
at Victoria Park, spinning round
on the boundary before throw-ins
because of some weird ocular tic.
I was embarrassed for him in the grandstand
and knew without being told by my father
that Paul Wadham would never triumph,
that his days were numbered at Collingwood,
though not that he would be dead in his forties –
not that, yet. They keep death from us
like the ultimate pass.
So you were there
for eight months and never saw a soul.
What insight it must have given you
into what my brother went through
during his year in hospital after the accident.
First they shaved his skull, then they
drilled it and lay him on his back
with those dreadful calipers in his head,
those calipers we cannot prise from ours.
They angled the bed every few hours,
turned it a few inches,
whether to help his circulation
and stop the bedsores
that would form in good time,
or simply to give him a different view,
a better glimpse of suffering in the ward,
with its new admission every day,
the latest freckled youth dragged
from some creek or car wreck.
Or shot even, like one of them:
shot neatly in the spine. And what
did Robert see, supine on his bed,
motionless from the head down,
motionless, numerate, broken,
the boy who had only lived to play?
I couldn’t imagine then
and I can’t imagine now forty years later.
They could turn me upside down,
hang me from the rafters,
spin me round on the boundary
like a clumsy puppet with a tic
and I would be none the wiser.
Then you told me
something I had not heard before.
Robert said to you one day
in that shy laconic way of his
(just like you in Tongala,
not once complaining, famously stoic)
that to keep his mind occupied,
to stop himself from going mad,
he spent his days counting
the acoustic tiles on the ceiling of Ward 7 –
counting them over and over again,
while he waited for the next visitor,
waited for the next stalwart aunt
or gulping sportsman to loom above
his tilted bed, almost hitting the ceiling,
waited to see if his young team-mate,
having read about it, been summoned,
would blink at those terrible calipers,
would look away or break down
as a few of them did when they saw,
only to be consoled by Robert,
humoured with one of his ready jokes,
revived and gently righted again –
or led away to weep if they couldn’t bear more
Before that, though,
before the visitors came,
before the drugs and the grapes
and the football gossip –
Robert lay there indefatigably counting
those stained acoustic tiles –
never to arrive at the same number,
always one or two out:
one less, two more.
The statistician in the family,
the boy who only lived to score,
could never get it right
however hard he tried,
however carefully and needfully.
The mystery of it would never square.
Never, never, never, never, never.
He won’t be in the garden on your return
The weather may be ne,
the chairs set out,
tomatoes and all ripening in the sun,
memories of this or that –
innocence, a porcupine
but he won’t be in the garden on your return
Delude yourself as you wish, say reason is triumphal
as a clinical test,
forget the bromide
in the calculus –
for he won’t be in the garden on your return
The Subject of Feeling
Outside the church, unmemoried,
names of the dearest
deserting me, I turned as they
slid you in the hearse, set off
with a small police escort.
For a quarter of a century
we had been ramming you
in cars of various sorts,
long before the age
of ramps and hoists.
They took longer to prise you
from the giddified wreck –
two hours was the report.
Eschatology is a slow
While they forged above
a woman squeezed inside
and stayed with you,
marvelled at your composure,
heard about a new daughter.
Then the subject of feeling –
why you had none in your feet.
Men ground the car with steel
and flung it open
like a sack of wheat.
The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist