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  • Ian C. Smith

The Last of the Great Axemen: Ian C. Smith

Ian C. Smith’s work has appeared in, Antipodes, Australian Book Review, Australian Poetry Journal, Critical Survey, Prole, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two-Thirds North. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.

As he says: "These words are my life."


Digits Damage Deus Ex Machina

He slices his fingers with secateurs, another instance of his hapless old-and-absent-minded routine these dreamy dreary days. A neighbour binds the dramatic wound tightly with Elastoplast. He is impatient with dwindling time, hours too precious to waste travelling to A&E for stitches. The binding soaked with his medicated blood dries, hardens, reminds him of plaster casts of youth, other bloodstained misadventures.

An editor whose acceptance months earlier of his poem about a teenage factory labourer’s near fatal workplace accident, a mangled thumb, and morphine’s effect, has written a text to accompany it, referring to poetry, novels, and films, the beloved brawl, the pungency of their working past, Satanic indeed, pulsing like his blood. Happenstance, memory, regret-tinged pleasure.

He finds the braided timing of these events of harrowing discomfort ironic, aware of what seems the phenomenon of his days now. He will select unusual words then resume reading, turning pages to reveal these exotic words; or think of somebody almost forgotten then receive an email from that person. Again and again this occurs. Is it due to an overcrowded mind? He abhors mumbo-jumbo, feeling monitored in these days of surveillance, yet likes the idea of angels’ wings casting shadow, prepared for anything.


The Last of the Great Axemen

Nothing stirs, nobody abroad in the eerie early light when he clicks his vehicle door softly shut, drives from his photo-filled flat to the protected wetlands where a fallen river red gum bough, partly harvested by him, lies in wait where no firewood may be gathered except in permitted periods.

He parks as close as he can, nose, old eyes, streaming in the scouring cold air, remembering when he was thirteen, always courting trouble, when he axed enough logs to fill the area under the water tanks, his bastard father arriving home from work, refusing to acknowledge the proudly stacked piles, the effort.

He totes tools across his wasted shoulders, axe, heavy log-splitter, sledgehammer, for this hard timber that takes years to rot, cocks an ear for movement, perhaps a long-distance runner trying to postpone the inevitable, but there is only stillness, hands burning with the cold, another memory.

The heavy slabs he breaks must be manageable to carry to his vehicle with frequent rest stops, several trips along the path skirting this lagoon, past silent swans, pelicans, watching, an ethereal mist starting to lift from their water, daylight ascending.

He swings lustily, splits the great log, a glistening red streak from its early days, its heart, exposed, but in those moments he ruptures his bicep tendon, knows with no regrets he could have had sawn stove wood delivered for the harsh winter ahead, knows those unknowing shall think he had no lack.


To My Sons

At the age you were in Year 9 I read Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, a WW2 saga of blood and glory in the news, which I also read, but in the way seagulls gobble thrown remains of fish’n’chips, without discernment, just need. I joined a small lending library, a shop, weekly loans inexpensive, my pay a child’s wage for factory work. Machinery never interested me. Halfway through the lengthy novel the meaning of a strange portmanteau word, sonofobitch, the mantra of enlisted grunts, the middle syllables of which I mentally pronounced as ‘offer’, made sense. It wasn’t a curse used by Australians, but was heard in American movie dialogue. In an unheated rented room become a steamy South Pacific island, reading because I knew nobody, inklings of first publication’s thrill impossibly distant, I felt abashed, stabs I still feel, but with humour now.

The year before that strange time, I weighed 9st. 6lbs, bigger than average then, but not now, everybody, everything, larger; 60kg., according to Google’s facts and figures at our fingertips today. I would have treasured The Guinness Book of Records, let alone the Internet, if it existed when I played schoolboy football fearing no boy, also against men, yet wept most nights after our evening meal – the fault line of my father’s bitter jealousy of me – with my friend the dog rolling in reek, me rolling cigarettes imagining a tough tattooed gum-chewing guy in a motorcycle jacket living at the heartbeat of what I suspected was an enchanting world, instead of that silent tableau, my distress a secret, seeking love though I didn’t understand. If my father had written something, anything, about his boyhood, no doubt harsh, I might have better understood my own sonofabitch days, even cherished them, as you should yours.


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The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.


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