Monday, July 1, 2013

Tuesday Poem - Fettler by Geoff Page

XVIII   Fettler

Sometimes if it’s quiet at smoko
I like to think about the lines,
the way they radiate from Sydney
all over New South Wales,
those parallels of travelled steel
shining in the sun —
and sometimes all the human shit
that’s dropped at speed between them.
A fettler’s life is not romantic,
not the way a Sydney teller
might glamorise a swaggie,
‘out there in the open air’
and all that style of thing.
We hold the whole damned state together
if ever truth were told,
keeping everything in trim,
smelling out the rotten sleepers,
checking on the gauge,
measuring a bridge’s sway
and testing out the signals.
Not a lot of status but
it’s more or less secure —
though all that asphalt on the road
might change a thing or two one day
but not while I’m around.
Life gets scary though at times
out here on the gangers’ trolley,
all that up-and-down at speed
between the goods trains and expresses.
It’s organised, of course, but as
the poet Robbie Burns has said:
‘The best laid plans of mice and men
oft gang agley’. OK?
You hear vibrations in the rails
rising through the wheels,
levering out towards the ten-mile
or back home to the depot.
At times we’ve had to stop and run —
or tip the trolley off the rails
before it’s smashed to pieces.
The union’s not too bad on this
but accidents do happen.
Not today though, I dare say,
not out here and on our way
back to Eurandangee.
I check my watch; it’s half past two.
We should be home by four,
having left some honest sweat
along our stretch of metal.
With Harry on the other end
we’ll go a round or two, I reckon,
back there at the Royal.
‘Bit of re-hydration, eh?’
as Harry’s prone to say.

Fettler is taken from Geoff Page's wonderful new book (maybe it would be best 
to describe it as a sequence? or is it a verse novel?) 1953, just out from UQP.
See the link below for how to purchase and pic and bio of the poet.

This book really worked for me, and I am just old enough to know how authentic
it is. A time-traveling adventure in literature. There you are, back in 1953. 
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Very hard to pick out just one taste of the book
- but I chose Fettler because I have a soft spot for those gents. 
The cottage we lived in in Wingello on the Southern Highlands was built by a 
fettler. He had an apple orchard on the side, mostly worked, I would imagine, 
by his wife and eight children.

If you want to see more Tuesday poems click on the quill icon at the top.  

1 comment:

  1. I like the tone of this poem, the understated assurance that his job is important, if not glamorous, and the local feeling of it, too - some phrasings I admittedly do not understand (not the way a Sydney teller/ might glamorise a swaggie -- for example), but I do like the sounds as I say them aloud. Glad to come to this today - it does have an historical feel, and I like that very much.