Sunday, February 8, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 87 - For Helen He Would Do It

Continuing my series of found poetry, I've taken this latest scene, just tappety-tapped on my keyboard over the weekend, from my gardener work-in-progress and molded it into a poem. I've posted prose excerpts from this story previously. You can find them in my Fiction Excerpt Archives.

My poem last week centered around the other main character from the gardener story. The story begins in 1840's England and moves across the sea to Van Diemen's Land, which is now known as Tasmania, just south of Australia.

I've modelled Robbie, my gardener character on Scottish actor Ewan McGregor. I've modelled Elkannah Bent, the former convict who takes Robbie to serve out his sentence on his farm, on English actor Ray Winstone.

For Helen He Would Do It

Robbie trembled
Two years a convict
Somehow he’d managed to escape this. He pulled

His shirt free
Shrugged it over his head. Mr. Bent grabbed
It, tossed it on the workbench. “Your hands,” Bent said.
Robbie held them out

Watching Bent tie the rope
His master pulled him forward, tossing
The other end over the beam. A firm yank
Stretched Robbie onto his toes, the rope biting
His wrists. He gasped

A sickening chill spread through him
Bent’s footsteps crossed the floorboards. Robbie knew
Every item in this work shed. Bent walked toward
The bundle of poles and sticks Robbie used
To support vegetables and flowers.
His gaze roamed over the farm yard

To the paddock beside it
Out to the wood and the hills beyond.
The image of his father, his mother loomed
As they’d done when he’d landed on the stone floor
Of the first gaol cell. What would his father think?
His son sporting scars across his back. And his mother
She’d be unable to look him in the eye

Feeling slightly horrified from this moment on.
If he ever did see her again.
Robbie bowed his head, shame finally
Crawling over his skin. “You’re right about me
“Am I?”

Robbie heard
Bent’s shirt slip off, heard it land
On the workbench with all the rest
“I was raised to regard
Myself as one thing.

But I’ve turned out to be
Quite another.”

His master walked around him

He passed into view
Cane in hand. Robbie saw
For the first time

Criss-crossed grid of scars
That formed Bent’s back. He’d always
Wondered why Bent never took his shirt off when they
Worked in the hot sun

Robbie swallowed hard
Bent turned. Hard muscles told the story
Of agonizing days. He looked like he could break Robbie
In two. Robbie trembled as he

Hung there.
“I wouldn’t have taken you
For someone in need
Of a hard lesson, Flynn.”

Robbie thought about
Morrison’s Indian army walking stick

Clipping him in the chin
Brigadier-General Chase’s cruel slaps
Until he hung in Morrison’s grip. The kicks
Of the gaolers, the ropes’ end
Of the warders aboard the hulks, the shoves
From the sailors, the weight
Of the shackles on the road crew. And

Never a blow from his dear father. Not
Tears stung his eyes
His throat closed tight
Robbie clenched his fists above
The rope holding him in place

For the lesson
His master meant to teach him
“Why don’t you respect me?”
Bent asked. Thinly-veiled
Pain haunted his gaze. Robbie

Looked away. “It’s for
The master to make me
Respect him.
Bent walked up close

“Did you
Respect your
Master back home?”

Robbie met his
Gaze. “I did,
“Did he make you

Respect him?”
Robbie lowered his
Gaze. “Yes,

Bent took a deep breath. He
Walked behind Robbie. He touched the

Tip of the rod to
Robbie’s back
Robbie resisted flinching
“Your back
Is not marked.”

Pulled the rod away
“Then how
Did he make you
Respect him?”
“He was British Army,
Robbie said.

In India. Everyone respected
“A poor master I
Must make, after

Sir? He gave me
The only thrashing I ever
Had. So it must be me,

Bent said nothing, only
Took another deep breath
Took a step back. Robbie’s heart
Twisted, a surge of

Fear took flight
Inside him like a
Flock of startled birds. He must not

Disgrace himself.
He realized with sudden
This moment would be his last.

Robert Flynn of Cheltenham
About to join the ranks
Of men he’d dreaded
Joining from the
Night he was led from Ashbury Downs

In irons.
Elkannah Bent would
Baptise him into the
Robbie Flynn of Van Diemen’s Land.
As he’d done so many
Times before

In the shivering dark of the gaol, standing
Faint in the dock before the Quarter Sessions, in the
Stench of the hulks, battered by
The sea on the crossing, disoriented by
Heat on the road crews
Robbie asked himself the same
Question once more.

If he’d known
What was to
Come, when he’d
Waited for Helen in the
Conservatory – if he’d known all of it

Would he have left Helen to be
Used so
Cruelly by
Zachary Chase?
Or would he

Still plant his fist in that
Wanker’s face?
Nothing had happened to Robbie until
This moment

That ever made him change
His answer. This
Flogging would be no

For Helen he would do it

All over again

- Julia Smith - 2009

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anthonynorth said...

I got totally engrossed in that. Marvellous.

Danny Wise said...

Phew! The anticipation here, your characters have so much depth!

Julia Phillips Smith said...

Thanks, Anthony and Sweet Talking Guy - I get nervous whenever I post stuff from my stories. Stage fright!

Jill said...

I always like the imaginary of your writing Julia! And you still can see the love Robbie has for Julia.

Amy Ruttan said...

Great poem Julia. :)

Tumblewords: said...

Amazing, amazing! Your words just fly with energy and your story comes alive...

Anonymous said...

You certainly know how to tell a story and I can hear Ewan McGregor speaking Robbie's lines.

Jeeves said...

Required more than one reading. Nice one!

Anonymous said...

I love your found poetry!

I must confess--the title drew me in and Ewan McGregor sealed the deal.
Fortunately, you didn't disappoint: it was a wonderful read!

Anonymous said...

A condensed classic - almost a novel in itself.

gautami tripathy said...

This is great. Loved the narration so much!

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