'Feed Fred and sit with him
and mind he doesn’t walk about.
He falls. Tell him his ute is safe
back home. Thinks someone’s pinched it,
peers around the carpark all the time.
His family brought him in it and
he thinks it’s gone.
He was a farmer once...'
I take the tray. The ice-cream’s almost
melted round the crumbled orange jelly
and the soup’s too hot. I know
I’ll have to blow on it.
Hunched, trapped behind a tray,
he glances sideways, face as brown
and caverned as the land itself,
long thin lips droop ironic
at the corners, gaunt nose.
The blue and white pajamas cage
the restless rangy legs.
In and out they go, the feet
in cotton socks feeling for the ground.
'Are you a foreigner?'
'Not exactly. Just a little sunburnt,'
and I put the jelly down. I mustn’t feel
a thing: my smile has come unstuck.
I place a paper napkin on his lap. He winces.
'You’re a foreigner all right,' he says.
'OK,' I say. What’s one displacement more or less,
wishing I were a hearty flat-faced Fenian
with a perm and nothing doing in the belfry.
Someone like his mother. Or a wife who
spared him the sorrow of himself.
Now he grabs the spoon. 'I’ll do it.'
'Right,' I say, 'You go ahead. Just ask me
if you want some help.' The tone’s not right.
I watch the trembling progress of the spoon
for what seems years, paralysed with pity
for his pride.
How does a dark-faced woman give a man called Fred
who cropped a farm and drove a battered ute
a meal of soup and jelly?
Outside the window, clouds are swelling
into growing darkness and there’s a man
hard on his knees planting something in the rain.
from Ask Me (1990)
The Poet: Fay Zwicky (née Rosefield) was born in Melbourne on 4 July 1933, the daughter of fourth generation Australian-Jewish parents whose families had originally emigrated from Eastern Europe. Already an accomplished pianist by the age of six, she began performing with her sisters in a chamber music group known as 'The Rosefield Trio' and continued to work as a concert performer for over a decade, in both her native Australia and overseas, after gaining her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Melbourne in 1954.
In 1972 she and her Dutch-born first husband Karl Zwicky re-located to Perth, where she became Senior Lecturer in American and Comparative Literature at the University of Western Australia - a post she retained until her retirement from academic life in 1987. Her first book of poetry, Isaac Babel's Fiddle, appeared in 1975 and she went on to publish four more poetry collections between 1982 and 1999, including a 1993 retrospective volume titled Fay Zwicky: Poems 1970-1992. In addition to her poetry she has also published many essays and, in 1983, the short story collection Hostages. What she has declared will be her final book, the poetry collection Picnic: New Poems, was published by the Giramondo Press in 2006.
Zwicky has received numerous awards for her work, including The Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, the Western Australian Premier's Book Award (which she has won three times), the New South Wales Premier's Literary Award, the Christopher Brennan Award of the Fellowship of Australian Writers and, in 2005, the Patrick White Award - an annual prize of $25,000 awarded to a writer who has made 'a significant but inadequately recognised contribution to Australian Literature.' She was also named 'a State Living Treasure' by the Western Australian government in 2004, an honour she deemed, in her frank uncompromising way, to be 'most repulsive.'
Click HERE to read more poetry by FAY ZWICKY at The Poetry Foundation website. To read a short article about her which originally appeared in the 12 November 2005 edition of the Melbourne newspaper The Age, please click HERE.
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