A letter to Les

Les Murray with Margitt Lehbert at a poetry reading in Munich in 2014 // WikiCommons

Dear Les,

I’ll do that when I’m finished dyin you told me was your dad’s escape clause. And now it’s yours? Then here’s the letter you’ll never read. Over all those years it was always real letters, real postcards, never an email — the two of us old-style Luddites, sorting out the social world from your byline as the cussed contrarian. But I tell you now (and should have told you earlier and often) the two reasons I always pored over your letters. Just like your poems, they prodded me to sit up and take notice of the natural world, getting under its skin, translating it, jumping the species gaps. Then, back in our own species, you were the canny storyteller: the tale of such a person in such a place at such a time — as in your poems, no waffle but all warmth. And those high-speed, high-octane metaphors — d’you reckon you were hardwired in a metaphoric mindset?

And here’s another escape clause, mine this time. That review of your latest collection came out just too late for you to see it. Your dying was bad timing, mate: you’d have skewered the review, quibbled and chortled, tapped it for a bucketful of criticism-of-the-critics, sniffed out whiffs of the thought police, pulled the chain on their excreta. Re such stuff, there was that meal we had in Aberystwyth when you had to rush off to the lavatory, took the wrong turn and ended up using the loo in the house next door, telling us it was the cosiest restaurant gents you’d ever used. Fair play: the Welsh housewife felt honoured. There’s truly international fame for the lad from Bunyah.

Seriously, I thought you were doing pretty well as we both hit our eighties. With Valerie to see you through it, you’d fought off most attacks from the black dog, and you’d recovered from your temporary dying to come back Conscious and Verbal. (You always had a good nose for titles, like Waiting for the Past.) But I’m back to your dad again. What you called your “last hello” poem to him started Don’t die,

Dad — But they die, then went on to Snobs mind us off religionFuck them. I wish you God. Well, even an old atheist like me can wish you God now, though I’d guess you’d prefer any chance of an afterlife to be in Bunyah rather than some Paradise Found. Back here it’s your poems — fifty-odd years of them — that guarantee your afterlife. They’re your testaments old and new.

Yours ever, Mike

Mike Freeman is the poetry reviewer of Mekong Review. His review of Les Murray’s Collected Poems appears in the May-July issue of the magazine

April 15, 2019
May 9, 2019