Less than four weeks out from the Winter Solstice, Australia has experienced the warmest May on record, revelling in mid summer temperatures and azure blue skies.
Across the world, stricken with emphysema, the great writer and thinker Clive James is stranded in England where ‘his lungs of dust’ cannot endure the long haul flight home to his beloved Sydney.
In his new poem, ‘Sentenced to Life’, Clive writes of the English autumn, that the sky is overcast, ‘but my mind basks in the light I never left behind.’
To honour Clive’s yearning for the Australian light, I paddle my kayak down a river that empties into an ancient coastal lake.
Mid stream I rest from my labours and drift with the current, wrapped in silence, the sun daubing the water with gold. I look up to see a great white Sea Eagle overhead, surfing the winds.
For Clive James, this heroic and flawed man, who says walking is like ‘wading waist-deep in clay’, I pray his spirit soars and flies free.
And even as the Pacific sunset is but a dream in his nights made long by coughing, Clive counts his blessings.
Sentenced to Life
Sentenced to life, I sleep face-up as though
Ice-bound, lest I should cough the night away,
And when I walk the mile to town, I show
The right technique for wading through deep clay.
A sad man, sorrier than he can say.
But surely not so guilty he should die
Each day from knowing that his race is run:
My sin was to be faithless. I would lie
As if I could be true to everyone
At once, and all the damage that was done
Was in the name of love, or so I thought.
I might have met my death believing this,
But no, there was a lesson to be taught.
Now, not just old, but ill, with much amiss,
I see things with a whole new emphasis.
My daughter’s garden has a goldfish pool
With six fish, each a little finger long.
I stand and watch them following their rule
Of never touching, never going wrong:
Trajectories as perfect as plain song.
Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known
The name for Japanese anemones,
So pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone
Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees
Without my seeing them. I count the bees.
Even my memories are clearly seen:
Whence comes the answer if I’m told I must
Be aching for my homeland. Had I been
Dulled in the brain to match my lungs of dust
There’d be no recollection I could trust.
Yet I, despite my guilt, despite my grief,
Watch the Pacific sunset, heaven sent,
In glowing colours and in sharp relief,
Painting the white clouds when the day is spent,
As if it were my will and testament –
As if my first impressions were my last,
And time had only made them more defined,
Now I am weak. The sky is overcast
Here in the English autumn, but my mind
Basks in the light I never left behind.
— Clive James