A Fun Poem for National Poetry Month

Several months ago, a good friend loaned me a copy of Opal Sunset: Selected Poems 1958 – 2008 by Clive James (W. W. Norton & Company, © 2008) assuring me that I was going to love the poetry. I was unfamiliar with James’s work but I trusted my friend’s judgment and – sure enough – he was right.
So with the start of National Poetry Month I felt it only appropriate to share one of James’ poems from the aforementioned collection.

James is an Australian poet (you will note the spellings of caviar(e) and colo(u)r in the poem below) who deserves a far greater readership in this country. I could have chosen any number of poems to reprint here but I chose the following because it is fun.

Since the poem is rather long and my space is limited I’m just going to make two observations before you read the poem for yourself. First, I really enjoy the tone of the poem’s narrator. While each stanza has the linking structure of a rhymed last line, there is the sense that the narrator is struggling to find the right words to tell his (or her) spouse how much they are loved.

And secondly, you will note that the next to last line of each stanza is in the form of a question that repeats the last few words from the preceding line. In my mind I imagine the spouse, with a pleased and slightly bemused smile, gently teasing the narrator about his (or her) ongoing struggles to find the right words. So, when I read the poem I hear two voices: the narrator and the spouse. See what you think.

Anniversary Serenade

You are my alcohol and my nicotine,
My silver flask and cigarette machine.
You watch and scratch my back, you scrub me clean.
I mumble but you still know what I mean.
Know what I mean?
You read my thoughts, you see what I have seen.

You are my egg-flip and my ego trip,
My passion-fruit soufflé and strawberry whip.
When the dawn comes to catch you on the hip
I taste the sweet light on my fingertip.
My fingertip?
I lift it to my quivering lips and sip.

Homecoming Queen and mother of our two
Smart daughters who, thank God, take after you,
This house depends on what you say and do—
And all you do is wise and say is true.
And say is true?
True as a plumb-line or a billiard cue.

On from Byzantium and Cooch Behar
Our Messerschmitt two-seater bubble car,
Laden with foie gras and caviare,
Follows the shining road to Shangri-La.
To Shangri-La?
With Blossom Dearie singing in the bar.

When the sun fades, the Earth will fly away.
Tell me it isn’t happening today.
I have a debt of happiness to pay.
I die if you should leave, live if you stay.
Live if you stay?
Live like a king, proud as a bird of prey.

My share of Heaven and my sheer delight,
My soda fountain and my water-sprite,
My curving ribbon of a climbing kite,
You are my Starlight Roof, my summer night.
My summer night?
The flying foxes glide, the possums fight.

You are my honeydew and panther sweat,
The music library on my private jet.
Top of the bill, we fly without a net.
You are the stroke of luck I can’t forget.
I can’t forget?
I’m still not ready for you even yet.

You are my nicotine and alcohol,
My Stephane Audran in a Claude Chabrol,
My sunlight through a paper parasol,
My live-in living doll and gangster’s moll—
And gangster’s moll?
Mine fedora, yours folderol.

The ring is closed. The rolling dice we cast
So long ago still roll but not so fast.
The colours fade that we nailed to the mast.
We lose the future but we own the past.
We own the past?
From our first kiss, a lifetime to the last.