Those Evocative London Placenames

This is a slam poem about grow­ing up. I wrote it after read­ing Han­nah Lowe’s beau­ti­ful pamph­let, The Hitcher. I always felt jeal­ous of Eng­lish poets because they got to lead lives in all these beau­ti­fully poetic Brit­ish places­names, while I was stuck in bor­ing old Can­berra. Here is where I come to terms with it.

 


I used to be enam­oured
With all
those evoc­at­ive Lon­don pla­ce­names
Wanted to live
Where the streets were built of time
And coals­moke,
Wanted to breathe the his­tory of Eng­lish
In every syl­lable of my city;
Took to the Can­berra streets
A one man army
With pla­ce­names for ammuni­tion,
Made streets called after
Birds and dream­times
Into Pall Malls and Park Lanes,
I would not stop until I could play Mono­poly
With the White Pages,
Walked across a dozen ped­es­trian cross­ings
In silent south­side sub­ur­bia
Christened each one Abbey Road,
Turned the High Court into Earl’s Court,
King­ston into Kens­ing­ton,
Grif­fith into Green­wich and
Made the Molon­glo a Thames
Before dawn had even thought to break
And then danced back into bed.

 

But when I woke up
I found that Garema Place was still in place,
Par­lia­ment House was clock­tower­less
And no masked man had tried to blow it up
Because des­per­a­tion and the times had moved his soul,
There was no river under the bridges
Where Exeter and Drake had sailed ships
So heavy with gold
Their bot­toms dragged on a mil­lenium of
Silt and secrets,
No Bard had pro­claimed of time and blood
From the planks of Can­berra Theatre
And as I walked our planned-and-planted streets
I found that round­abouts marked the graves of archi­tects
Where I expec­ted flea mar­kets and
Alleys so awash with gin
That juni­per twined there from cracks and loose cobbles.

 

I took to drink­ing:
Ale from as Brit­ish a pub as I could find
Refus­ing to meet the street out­side the eye­socket doors
As spring turned to sum­mer turned to autumn and the rain
And road­works swept away all my edited street­signs
Leav­ing a Can­berra fresh as a dew­drop.
The ale ran dry, with the last golden drop on my
Parched tongue I went out­side,
Stumbled in Panadol-white sun­light,
Fell and
dis­covered:

 

That I was wrong and young in my leather pants and
Rice­pa­per skin to be enam­oured
with all those evoc­at­ive Lon­don pla­ce­names,
That I have been built by Bur­ley Griffin,
The Brinda­bel­las brought me up
On their blue­berry and smoke backs
Lost in the Cot­ter I made dino­saurs of cow skulls,
Caught my first but­ter­fly in Tid­bin­billa
Wings shiv­er­ing in my sweaty palms
Ripped my knee on a King­ston side­walk,
Snuck from school and smoked my first cigar­ette
Defi­antly cough­ing my inno­cence away
In Telopea Park, long and green as a cucum­ber,
Ran away from home and walked all the way to Civic,
Broke my mother’s heart and came back,
Fell in love
And fell in love
And fell in love
And rewrote each time
What love was and where it happened,
Took my bike in the night and bit­ing rain
Through the fail­ing Grif­fith street­lights
To see a girl in a bra for the very first time,
Sat on a car roof in Quean­beyan
Throw­ing gravel at the stars
Until they gave us wishes,
Drank but­ter­scotch schnapps in aban­doned coun­cil flats
And shoved a desk through a win­dow
Because I’d never broken glass before,
Because I’d never been a teen­ager before,
Because life was new and glor­i­ous,
Because love was new and glor­i­ous,
Lost my father on the shore of Lake Bur­ley Griffin
And saw his ghost in every old man
In Woden Hos­pital,
Grew up, broke up, broke down, defined the map
Of my life in Bur­ley Griffin’s blue­prints,
I was as planned as this city
And as silent as this city
And as loud and new and young as this city
And went to Lon­don, watched my dark eyes in the
Mir­ror of the Tube,
Became enam­oured
with all those evoc­at­ive Can­berra pla­ce­names,
came back.

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