There is a poem called Introspection (by Chris Wallace Crabbe) taped to the wall here. It’s been taped up there for about three years. Today Robert turned around and looked at it, then moved closer and read it all the way through. Out loud.
Have you ever seen a mind
It’s like an old cow
Trying to get through the pub door
Carrying a guitar in its mouth;
When Robert got to the word “guitar” he gave a bark of laughter, loud enough to startle a browser on the next shelf.
He kept on reading out loud, and twice turned around to laugh at me with his eyes shut. He said, ‘That’s good, that’s good.’
When he got to the last line:
It’s harder with a piano.
He barked even more sharply, and I was pleased because I knew that he would. He repeated the last line twice and laughed, high pitched and vibrant and delighted and one man politely left the shop, but Robert didn’t notice.
I haven’t seen Robert for ages; the last time he came into the shop he said that he hasn’t been able to write, that he’d had engine trouble, centrelink trouble, troubles with his pension, troubles with the neighbours and wasn’t able to concentrate (on his life’s work).
He’d also been having some trouble with some troubling chords on his troubled old piano – he’s working his way through a piece of music of his own making. He feels that music is a signal from another place. He said that when a melody cannot be spoken alone safely, the composer will call for more parts, more instruments and that each melody will work to protect another one, that one will act as bodyguard for its mate. And that that is what the mathematics of music is doing, all the time. He said that therefore, a symphony is equal to war. No necessarily fought where we can see it.
He feels as though the government is out to delete him.
Robert has been writing a book for years, it contains himself and his own agony, so regardless of who reads it or not (it is one of those delicately cut gems, sliced with precision and agony, polished every day with the whatever disappointing and colourless cloth that Robert feels is working with at that moment) it is a gift to the world.
He may not finish it.
The last time I saw him, I had a small gift, a dictionary of mythology because I knew it might be useful amongst the Egyptians tombs and sandstorms where he is always reading.
He was joy. He said: wow, thank you very much. Then he left and I haven’t seen him for ages.
I hope he comes back.
Robert came by this morning to see if his book Creation Myths had arrived. It hadn’t. As usual he is not perturbed. There is a copy of Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism here, he is completely pleased, it turns out to be a book that is important to him and its poor condition does not deter him. He says that everybody should read it.
Robert, at the moment, is reading heavily. He is reading Jung, Freud, Marie Louise Von Franz, Arthur Avalon and he is reading art, history, mysticism and the ancient plays. He says that his wallet is empty because Centrelink have done something with his aged pension. And he says his gaze is overcrowded at the moment but that these things are of no matter because they are conducive to good work.
I have had no other customers today and I am glum. Robert says: not to worry.
I am reading In the Company of Rilke and there is time so I use it all to tell Robert why. He is always impressed by any book that has been chosen, no matter the reason. He is in complete agreeance on its importance, we concur on conclusions: Rilke the Visionary, Rilke the Mystic, Rilke the Consolation…. we look at the book and both of us are blinded by its sun.
Artwork by Blenda Tyvoll