City-sewn, bound to concrete and asphalt,
I did not dream rustic romantic fancies
looking at the sea like a poet. White waves
were too distant, too scenic. Romance for me
was as fleeting and brittle as celluloid reels
spilling alluring places on a cinema’s screen.
Seven times I went to see Now Voyager,
enthralled by the desperate love of Paul
Henreid and Bette Davis. The world was real
only in the dark of an auditorium. So all
of the Queen Anne Lace blooms on breakers
cannonading a shore lacked the power
to entrance me. What I dreamed could be seen
in the beams a projector relentlessly aimed
through smoke-filled air. I was Gary Cooper,
Claude Rains, Edward G. Robinson, James Stewart
in turn. I fought with the Bengal Tigers
subduing India. I shared Errol Flynn’s
swordplaying glamour. And with C. Aubrey
Smith extended the British Empire. So
in the true life that I lived I did not
walk past gateways stench-filled with garbage,
did not hear any bitter, quarrelling voices
coming from hovels, nor have to find standpipes
to wash myself under. They were not in those reels.
Far away went stained mattresses with lumps like fists
knuckling your back, and the scratching claws
of brown fibre sticking from rips in the ticking.
I could forget flour-bag bed sheets, canecutters’
ajoupas, hookworm, the scourge of tuberculosis
and all the soul’s famine the colonised suffered.
Without the sea I was doing quite well
weaving myself into happier dramas, swimming
like Johnny Weismuller, my favourite Tarzan,
out of the strong hunters’ net we were trapped in.
Not having access to waves that nature
washes over the eyes to sedate the attention,
in the magic of celluloid I found my protection.
Copyright © Cecil Gray