Belief by Les Wicks

By the Wayside

Over the drinks

Alise started discussing “us veterans”

as though we had conquered something real.

There were enough stories that day,

our backs bent, the calcium dust we shed as we struggle on towards dotage.

There’s a form of war universally fought against the years.

She had a hit in the 80’s.

Staunch, she faces this foe that always defeats

but that’s not the point.

Later, look her up on google, 251734 results.

Then think back her ex-lover Janet

that careless brilliance the photographs, poems

her singing voice raw with gitanes & clarity.

I think about the “fallen”,

those casualties to narrative,

the ones who shone with promise flared a few years

then disappeared.

Because I saw Janet last month, North Wollongong.
Written out, whatever-happened–to’d.
She’d raised 3 kids,
2 of whom weren’t her own.
Her 4th education was in a psych ward —
she graduated with a patience for small circles.
A next-door neighbour loves her unconditionally
though Alzheimer’s has robbed most context.

Janet cooks. & laughs.
This is now her audience, her demographic.
There are so many of them — Remember? Where are they now?
Some had predictable disasters.
Of course, my own irrelevance crowds at the edges
& is itself irrelevant.

My place is guaranteed in the void.
Incidentally, so is yours.
Janet said I still dabble
as though it were an embarrassing affliction.
We patched in the decades, cracked a few revelations.
Beachfront café was shared like a joint —
the crackle & smoke obscured loss, apology.

I didn’t say
she wouldn’t have acknowledged
that nothing stopped that didn’t need to.
There was no point discussing contradiction & regret.
She was dying, pancreatic cancer.
Notions of fame & achievement had walk-on roles, comic relief.
Our respective kids are doing great,
though we are anxious about them.
Brilliant careers aren’t worth the confetti they’re written on.

Worn out is a core part of the contract.
It’s a tiny dire.
I hunger for her dignity. She’d swap me for 3 more months.