California Dreaming; The Fire Still Burns

California Dreaming; The Fire Still Burns
(An essay and a 
collection of inspired poetry)
By Rob Swales
Ten Promises to Myself
Higher than the highest mountain on earth
And as close to God as I can ever be,
This is what I can promise me;
  1. That I will always love me greatly.
  2. That I will share this love equally.
  3. That anything money can buy I will not take with me.
  4. That I will be unafraid and fearless.
  5. That I will not count the years but savour the moments.
  6. That I will encourage all that I witness as awesome.
  7. That I will never forget to talk with my creator daily.
  8.  That I will laugh everyday, even if only on the inside.
  9.  That I will be the best me I can.
  10.  That I will never forget YOU!
Returning Japanese
I feel compelled to
Write this part of my 
California journey from the 
Back of my notebook
To the front.
My father has never
Been to Japan
But he still fights the war
Against them in his stories.
In this way old
Hatred keeps him alive.
By now it must
Taste like fossilised
Beef jerky, the hatred
That is.
I’m flying JAL
To Japan
Surrounded by the enemy
Of my father’s stories.
The encounter
Is only armed with grace,
Good manners and smiles.
Still the bullets
And bombs of ‘42
Ring in the ears
Of my inner child,
Recounting the cursing
And the dull thud
Of death in Darwin’s trenches 
And estuaries.
‘You’d be a Jap now
Son, if we hadn’t stopped
Them in Darwin!’
My father would tell
Me while we fished
Away a Saturday afternoon.
As a young boy
I would ponder
Whether the Jap
I would now be
Would be me
Or would I be someone else
Things my father
Often said would leave
Me confused for days.
Eventually I would forget
All about what he had said
And go on to being
Confused about something
Someone else would say.
I do love rice and sushi
And I will use this 
Opportunity to make 
Peace with the enemy
… for my father.

By Sebring to the Sierra Nevada’s.
The Hertz check-in at SFO
Looks like a stationary
Conga line. Two hours spent
Waiting to pick up a Mustang convertible
And there are none left to go. We
Settle for a Chrysler Sebring. In 
The next hour I set off the car alarm,
Leave our driver’s licences
At the Hertz counter and have 
Three attempts at navigating
Onto Highway 92 before
Engaging the terms of success. The
Compass In my head keeps sending 
Me west. Driving on the wrong
Side of the road is completely weird.
Yesterday I was a left-hander,
An overnight flight and I’m right. 
I keep freaking Jo out. I keep
Freaking myself out. Yosemite
Calls us into the Sierra Nevadas
To Groveland, a living
Connection to 1849. We find
An authentic Mex café. Our
First Californian meal together 
Is splendid. Splendid food,
Splendid service and splendid company.
Friendly Americans? You betcha!!
We head east in search
Of luxurious rest and find none
But a lonesome cougar. A vacancy
Eludes us and ads 
Another page to the adventure.
An hour after we left 
We arrive back in Groveland
And take the last bed in town.
(See ‘A Furnished Tent’)

A Furnished Tent
‘Wildfires in Yosemite
National Park’, headlines
Californian news. Every room
Within fifty miles of where
We find ourselves beneath
An impatient sinking sun
Are inhabited by the fire-fighters.
So much for the Aussie tourists
Who never need to plan
Or book ahead.
A ‘furnished tent’ is our
Last resort. That’s if you call
A blow up mattress and a torch
We have a need to sleep
Not in a car.
The shower/toilet arrangement
Is interesting. No door locks
And the doors swing out, no
Clothing hooks, but hey
We’re all dressed the same
Under the illusion.
Exhausted but clean
We hit the mattress, and in moments
Are both asleep. Jo sleeps like
A seasoned dreamer, and I, more
Like that of a demented guard dog. Every
Blemish in the night tortures
My smoke alarm. 
Gravel crunching,
Cloaked conversations
Whistling Ponderosa Pines,
Harleys cranked
And coerced through
The park in low gear
Break the tender thread.
Tent zippers slice open
My attempts at solace.
Smuggled murmurs become laughter,
Become moans so sweet
That I forget about sleep altogether.
Sometime after one a.m.
I conform to the afterglow
That holds onto the night. That is 
Until my mobile registers a text message.
The Broncos won. Well that’s a bonus.
And for one night I know
What it feels like to be
White trailer park trash.
Grand (Canyon) by Design
O mighty piece
Of earth
Still full of grace
Through space,
Your silent eye whispers
A vision
Of eternity
Taken from the first breath,
And blesses
Us all.
Instantly, I am charmed
And yield
To your red-brown earth 
The canyon of desire
The place of your birth
Enough cognition is released
To fuel a wild-fire
And peaks so tempting
I’m forced to retire
Like a breeze
Through a window frame
I was passing through
But my compass
Got stuck on you.
Not with passion
But interest enough to walk 
Your streets with my dreams
And my thoughts.
Your coffee says more.
Your chilli dogs
The world’s finest, 
So I sit and ask questions
That tempts me with kindness.
Surrounded by desert
The sun smells
Of summer
The Naked bronze of a woman
That sends my thoughts
Back down under.
Then I rejoin the broad way
From where I began
And follow the bonnet
Through this once promised land
In search of distractions
Beyond green cactus tender
And the meaning of death
As moths hit the fender
And I find a mountain
Of art filled treasure
Where artists find substance
Through brushes with leisure
And I’m forced to say
Goodbye Sedona and hello Jerome
And I know I could stay
But I need to go home
To where the hearts of all dreamers
Are filled with whims and desires
Where kaleidoscope eyes
Can build endless spires
And the stars are the thoughts
That joins all the leaven
And love the spirit
Of art painted in heaven.

City Lights Bookshop
From every word
Across every page
On every shelf
In every corner
Fills every room
With the hope
Of humanity
Leaping forward
To float and sing
Like the eternal dust
In the sunlight called life.

Rubbing Shoulders
I climb the stairs
                To the poetry
                            Room. Jack
                                      Is there with
                                 His friends, on the top
                                                    Shelf, but sober.
                                                      The silence chatters
                                                             Of the wonder that lay
                                                                    Between the eternities
                                                                                Of these covers. You
                                                                                        Never need speak in these situations, for a pilgrimage of this nature is ordained in the ink spent. ‘What took you so long?’ The walls randomly ask the jester but the thief replies, ‘The dream is already in the quickening.’

Transformation on the Corner
               Of Columbus and Broadway.
I can fly and now I sing Romans 12:2:
‘And be not conformed 
to this world; but be transformed
by the renewing of your mind.’
To my right
The Beat Museum,
To my left
City Lights Bookshop,
With evidence contained
Within bricks
That people have 
Made a difference
To the world they left behind.
Did Kerouac and Cassady
And Morrison and Ginsberg
Die knowing
They could have 
Done more while they were here? 
I bet they did. With unselfish
Reason they left some for us
Who would entertain their demons
And shadows. 
The hunger, feeding
On the fire 
Of the eternal famine,
The thirst, to return
To birth
And start with a clean
The desire, knowing
All that sins
Are unreal
And the obligation
I have now undertaken
To be transformed
On the intersection 
Of Columbus and Broadway

Ferlinghetti Smiles
I say that the war
In Iraq has always been a distraction
From the oil
Also known as
The US of A,
Its own humanity
Like head lice.
This oil is now reduced
To a stain
On the globe
Economy, which
Can only be hidden
By a trillion
Pieces of green paper,
It remains
A slippery trail for the black knight
When he rides
The landslide home
In November.
The war criminals
Will claim freedom,
And the body count
Ignored until after
Their booty is spent
Or legally divided amongst the alliance.
‘Weapons of mass destruction’
And ‘collateral damage’
Will roll of history’s tongue
Like Buffalo Bill and the Indians.
Bush’s fire is already out
But the skin grafts 
His flame has created
Will remain an
Antichrist for
The Ten Commandments.
Somewhere near Byron Bay, Australia, 1968. (Chapter 1)

Byron bay with Mt Warning near Murwillumbah looking over

I arrived in California forty years behind my fantasy. My body no longer capable of the bravado of my youth and my ego no longer hungering for the recognition once craved. Today I resort to the opportunity and adventure to be found in ink and re-cycled paper to write about my personal California Dreaming. The reality of the experience and words will be how it is now because that’s all there ever is. This essay will be strengthened by the poetic licence all writers are granted and the colour carried forward from the southern hemisphere summer of ’68, a vision I have carried with me since that time, waiting for this day to arrive.
Laguna Beach

Skim boarding @ Laguna

In ’68 I was living a short south-easter from Byron Bay on Australia’s east coast. That was the year I also purchased my first pair of Levi 501’s. It took three weeks to cure them to a stage that they were comfortable enough to wear without giving inner thigh rash. 501’s were the only Levis in the sixties. They were as thick as cowhide and course as 240-grade sandpaper, basically unwearable, until broken in with some rough love. Three weeks of washing them, tying them in knots and kicking them around the back yard with your mates.

My mother freaked out when she saw how I was treating my new, ten-dollar jeans. She was even more freaked out when I would not let her iron seams in them. And I really freaked out when she cut the label off the back of them. She could not understand why anyone would want to wear their clothes size on the outside of their clothes where strangers in the street could read it. My outrage at her act convinced her to get the label out of the bin and sow it back on. The leather patch never looked quite the same but that original pair of 501’s kept me company for ten years. They could tell some stories of their own if they were still around.
That pair of jeans was my first bodily contact with what California was all about. For years I’d been listening to the songs and music of bands like the Beach Boys, Mamas and the Papas and Jefferson Airplane painting endless pictures of summer, sand, surf, sex and all the possibilities that love, hormones and adrenalin can conjure up for a teenage boy. Then in ’68 along came a song called ‘California My Way’ released by an Aussie Band called Iguana. Along with the film clip my mates and I would be over there. Over there on the other side of the ocean we swam and surfed in most weekends. There was just so much more to be had there. Film clips never lie and song lyrics are the only real truth. 
Our local bands did great covers of ‘Barbara Ann’, ‘California Girls’ and even ‘California My Way’ at our local School of Arts town dances. On a Friday nights my mates and I could have two or three (or ten) beers and dance the night away in our groovy 501’s with thong (flip-flops) accompaniment. We didn’t need much more to be ourselves. Throw an old T-shirt on top with one or two holes in the right position for effect and we were a force to be reckoned with. 

When I got dressed to leave the house on the Friday night (which in summer meant I wouldn’t be back until Sunday night), my mother would just look at me and shake her head. My father would give the usual sermon about what he would wear in HIS DAY when he went to a dance. I’d answer back. ‘But Dad this is YOUR DAY!’. But he never got it. What I got was that it wasn’t important what you wore as long it they were 501’s, thongs and scruffy old T-shirts. Forty years later that is still what I like to wear the most. Now I have five pairs of 501’s, around twenty T’s and an assortment of thongs. The only thing that scares me about that is those kids who wear their shorts and jeans below the cheeks of their bums with their undies and bum cracks on display. I guess it’s the modern day version of putting your waist and inside leg measurement on your Levi’s tag out there for the world to see.

The bridge from 'Play Misty for Me'

The modern gurus say that some things never change and in my personal wardrobe department that is basically true. My father, still kicking at eighty-three, is still giving me the same lectures. Just like back then I still don’t listen. The difference is now I don’t argue back with the old man. I have more respect for him these days and much less anger. I listen to him then most times adopt the silent equivalent to the modern youth stance of ‘whatever’. At least he gets the chance to clear what he needs to say from his asbestosis lined lungs. Then we can both sit back together on the back deck of his home and watch the sunset in peace.
‘It’s a beautiful sunset today old man.’ I tell him.
‘Every sunset I see these days is beautiful.’ He replies.
I look over at him and I’m lost for a comeback.

Dad with Jo August 2011 - still watching sunsets


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