My Life in Orbit, Poetry by Ken W. Simpson

Genre: Family, Nostalgia, Life, Society

My Life in Orbit
by Ken W. Simpson

21 Turner Street

Our first house
a bungalow
was on the corner
of Turner Street
and Park Road
with roses in the front
and a withered vine
beside the back fence.

I remember kindergarten
at an old church hall
my first day at primary school
then the year at home
so my younger brother
with a stranger’s personality
could be company
marching to the rhythmic rattle
of kettle drums
playing cherry bobs
and family holidays by the sea.

Bickeigh Vale

Four poplars, evenly spaced
stood like sentinels
outside our place
bisected by a gravel drive
flanked by lawns
and a pomegranate tree.

Wild blackberries behind
sloped to a wilderness below
with a chicken shed
converted into a clubhouse
where we gazed at girlie pics
and compared erections.

We were the side-effects
of Pop’s success
passengers on his merry-go-round
unable to get off.

Enrolled at Scotch College
I passed through
wrought iron gates
along a snaking driveway
past a copse of trees
a rugby pitch
and the Memorial Chapel
to the Assembly Hall.

Like a church inside
it had traditional pews
slots for hymn books
honour boards on the walls
and an aisle
down which the masters strode
draped in their academic gowns.

My years there tend to merge
in classrooms
where masters sat at desks
inculcating by dictating
and playing sport
in a house footy team
incapable of winning a game
for an entire season
apart from a rushed behind.


Aged fifteen, elated to be free
and without prospects
but insulated against adversity
I existing vicariously
a paradox in a suit and tie
waistcoat, hat and signet ring
travelling each day by train
to Pop’s accountancy firm
in the city
to work as an audit clerk
checking receipts, invoices
vouchers and files
a mechanical marionette
routinely anaesthetised
with a calculator instead of a mind.

I had another life
where I could fantasise
at different places
at the movies
in other worlds
insulated from the daily grind
with dreams
of becoming an army officer
that merged with an infatuation
for Sybil
a colleague at the office
I invited home to dinner
and hovered
blissful and inarticulate
before walking her home
where she left me abruptly
wordlessly, forever.

Unable to qualify
as an accountant
I found another job
in the despatch department
of a furniture store
until I was dismissed
two years later.


I liked to draw
and agreed
when Pop suggested
I study art at Swinburne.

For the first two years
I studied design
copied casts
and drew the nude
in life class
before specialising.

It was art based on the past
which suited me
and the golden mean
with little creativity.

In between I learned to box
played tennis on a city roof
had dancing lessons
and went camping.

I fell in love with Mary
and was so overwhelmed
in life class
I fled to the nearby pub
each model break
to swallow a glass of beer
before hurrying back.

With no prospects
of a career as a painter
I applied to teach
as a temporary
and was sent to Echuca.

After a three hours
by steam locomotive
I arrived
with nowhere to stay.

I left my suitcase
at the school
when directed
towards the river
where adolescent boys
splashed and cavorted
inside a pontoon.

Moments seemed suspended
a sort of limbo
in the summer heat
before I was ferried around
seeking accommodation
at hotels and guest houses
until Bill, a Maths teacher
suggested I share his hotel room.

At assembly
the next morning
intoned the oath of allegiance
saluted the flag
and were marched to classes.

I was given a syllabus
to teach free drawing
alternating with lettering
clay modelling
and solid geometry.

It was educating
the old fashioned way
with leather straps
as teaching aids
in a battle of wills
waged relentlessly
with casualties on both sides.

I was unprepared
for those early country days
and weekends
when Bill was away
sharing the room with drunks
and tedious lonely Sundays
when at a loose end
I wandered the dreary, empty streets.

In reality I was drifting
deceived into thinking
I had what it takes
to make teaching my career.

A few weeks later
I flew to Melbourne
and picked up a black
FJ Holden.

On Friday nights
I drank beer
with my colleagues
until closing time at six
although over the border
in NSW
such restrictions didn’t exist.

I began a romance
with Jill
a student I drove home
one day after school
who had inadvertently
missed her bus.

One evening
parked by a lake
we got bogged
and Jill had to phone her dad
who laconically towed us free.

I left the hotel
and rented rooms
then foolishly agreed
to drive the landlady’s son
across the bridge to NSW
but stayed too long
becoming involved
in a drunken altercation
with local thug
who kept insisting I take off my coat
and fight
which we eventually did
throwing punches
wrestling on the ground
until separated
then scattering when warned
the police were coming.

As a result
my landlady was informed
and icily asked me to leave
but I soon found refuge
for a time
with Bernie my boozy colleague.

I became friends with
who arrived
to catalogue the school library.

We kissed
in her hotel lobby
but it became an ordeal
when the same guest
kept appearing
and reappearing
like a horse on a carousel.

I moved to a primitive
weatherboard shack
on a turkey farm
without hot water
or a refrigerator.

On hot evenings
I’d drive into the forest
and swim naked in the river.

At the weekends
I played tennis on grass
and drove into NSW
to roam the paddocks
and shoot at rabbits.

I painted a portrait
of the chemist’s wife
aware my interpretation
pleased he not a jot
and a private pupil
who unknown to me
was a notorious cheat
owed me money
but refused to pay.

I was among the teachers
who escorted
Echuca schoolchildren
to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
by special train.

From high in the stands
I ate sandwiches for lunch
and vomited
from food poisoning
on board the train
all the long way back.

Going nowhere
as a temporary teacher
I decided I’d try
to qualify
for teacher training
by painting
pictures overseas.

Helped by Pop
I booked a cabin
on a cargo-passenger ship
sailing to England.


From the deck I watched
the wharf recede
as the pilot climbed aboard
to navigate the Tintagel Castle
and me, out to sea.

My cabin was one of six
on the top deck
with the officers to starboard
and the dining saloon below.

The gulls had left us long ago
as we sailed
independent and alone
into the Indian Ocean
Bill and ‘the brute’ from Queensland
sitting on deck
sipping gins and tonics
having siestas every afternoon
watching magical sunsets
flying fish
and iridescent waves
with bingo in the evenings.

We anchored outside Aden
and were taken ashore
by launch
to the brightly lit port
where tall black policemen
in blue shorts
strolled by the duty-free shops.

We sailed up the Red Sea
to Port Suez
where Bill, the brute, and I
were driven to Cairo
crammed in the back seat
of an unlicensed taxi
in Nasser’s Egypt.

Bothered constantly
by juvenile touts
we drank beer by the Nile
consumed the local food
urinated over a hole
sat around a hookah
puffing and sipping tea
while an elderly Arab
offered us replicas of antiques
from ex-King Farouk’s palace
hand crafted, fine inlay work
in gold, silver and mother-of-pearl.

Laden with my large wall plaque
we drove back to Port Suez
where a launch
shunted us back on board.

We joined a convoy
and sailed through the canal
between banks of sand
to Port Said
then into the Mediterranean Sea.

Through the straits of Gibraltar
then around the Bay of Biscay
into the English Channel
to tie up at Calais.

We spent a tipsy time ashore
before crossing to the east coast
of England
then north to the port of Hull
where I lingered for a while
before taking a train to London
and a room
at the Strand Palace Hotel.

To find my bearings
I roamed the streets
and responded to ads
for rooms to rent.

Soho had an air of promiscuity
with its illegal streetwalkers
sleazy bookshops
basement jazz clubs
and tawdry clip-joints.

One evening
plucking up courage
I propositioned
a passing prostitute
and followed
as she walked away
entered a building
and climbed a flight of stairs.

Casually she attached a condom
then waited indifferently
on a double bed.

After answering an ad
I rented three rooms
on top of a lodging house
at Streatham
then enrolled
at the Heatherley School of Art
to paint portraits and nudes.

I accepted an invitation
from Bill
to visit Yorkshire
and tour the countryside.

His friend
a former bus driver
drove us slowly
changing gears
with great deliberation
through the Yorkshire Dales
to the Lake District
then north
to sample Scotland’s finest malt.

I arranged to visit Florence
taking the train to Dover
then the ferry to Calais
where I boarded the Rome Express.

It stopped briefly at Paris
where I had a beer
then roamed the corridor
in party mood
and met a team
of Irish water polo players.

I joined them
in their compartment
where we sang tunelessly
and drank my duty free scotch
until I left
in the early hours.

Finding the connecting door
I was encouraged
to step onto a station platform
as the train slowed
scurry ahead
and climb back in board.

I awakened
the worse for wear
and gazed blearily
at the blue Mediterranean
passing below.

I changed trains
for the last leg to Florence
and then a taxi
to the Anglo-American Hotel.

I felt duty bound
to cross the Ponte Vecchio
over the polluted Arno
admire Renaissance art
at the Pitti Palace
visit the Uffizi
and gaze admiringly
at Michelangelo’s David.

Two week’s later
I took the train to Pisa
and flew back to London
to a temporary address
before booking my passage home
on another Clan Line ship
the Clan Sinclair
with an all Indian crew
sailing via Suez again.

Bill came down from Keighley
to enjoy a parting glass
before we sailed
repeating the journey
to Port Said
through the canal
down the Red Sea
past Aden
and into the Indian Ocean
to anchor off Cochin
on the southern tip of India.

Rowed ashore
we passed a beggar woman
holding a child
with an amputated hand.

A few days later
we docked at Fremantle
and after visiting Perth
sailed around
the Great Australian Bight
to a very hot Adelaide.

There was just enough time
for a celebratory wake at sea
before tying up at Melbourne
early the next morning.

Oliver’s Hill

When Pop sold Bickleigh Vale
we moved to a new home
at Frankston
on top of Oliver’s Hill
overlooking Port Phillip Bay.

I had a basement flat
opening onto a lawn
near a fish-pond
and a swimming pool.

Each day
I travelled by train
then a tram
to the teacher’s college.

One morning
I noticed my lost love
like some miraculous mirage
near the railway station.

I approached
expecting to meet her
but when I arrived
she wasn’t there.

Feeling wretched
I recalled her last words
over the telephone
I loved you, I love you
and will always love you.

I adored her
but all I could do
was continue searching
until she vanished
into the penumbra
of my unhappy mind.

I seemed to be groping
for something out of reach
because the aesthetics of creativity
seemed alien to me.

The masses embraced loud sounds
sex and tribal sporting contests
not works of art
or the harmonies of Bach.

There seemed little need
for creativity
within the essence of our lives
dictated by the corporate mind.

After graduation
I remained at Frankston tech
for a few more years
until promoted

Pop bought the house next door
for my brother Peter
his wife and children
and I moved to Carrum
into an upstairs unit
overlooking the bay.

Most mornings
I’d jog along the water’s edge
swim out to sea
have breakfast
then drive my VW beetle
to Dandenong tech
where I was deputy department head.

One day, Dave
young and newly married
a disciplinarian
taut as a bowstring
and admitted himself
to the hospital next door.

Untreated for several days
he jumped off the top floor
and died.

Teaching the modern way
was all about free expression
with materials
abstractions and mobiles
tinkling and wafting around.

The system changed
within a year
when my classification
became redundant
and my promotion meaningless.

I was back at the beginning
in a time warp
without a future
going through the motions
trying to be innovative
and adapt
to inspire with an enthusiasm
I didn’t possess.

Vietnam divided the country
with our government
going all the way
with Nixon, Kennedy and LBJ.

Pop retired
bought another house
with acres of land
to develop as a nursery
with Peter as manager.

My youngest brother
graduated from ANU
with an arts degree.

One wet lunchtime
I noticed a boy
at the back of my classroom
sitting on the guillotine.

I told him to get off
which he did
then to my surprise
stormed outside.

The resentment festered
like an open wound
and he became my nemesis
a sociopath
the product of an unstable home.

At times
I’d rant and rave
but he’s look away
as if I wasn’t there.

Teaching had become
like a TV Commercial
for me
with clones in classes
appearing tediously every day.

and devoid of ambition
I struggled to finish
my fifteenth year
explaining in an interview
as best I could
why I couldn’t continue.

and glad to be free
I spent my days
happily enough
painting water-colours
but it wasn’t to last.


The stress from teaching
didn’t fade
but developed into depression
a twilit world
of forgotten days
and merging moments.

One gloomy
autumn afternoon
I took a taxi
to a psychiatric clinic.

I dreaded the dawn
heralded by a flute
playing somewhere outside
and the amplified telephone
we were expected to answer.

After cheerless breakfasts
we exercised
by initiation, then imitation
before going for a stroll.

On week-end leave
determined to never return
I slit a wrist
and telephoned
for an ambulance.

I agreed
when Pop suggested
I work at the nursery
in the glasshouse
potting plants
and setting seed.

My mother
had a genetic disability
causing her to lose balance
sometimes fall
and break bones.

In and out of hospital
she grew gradually weaker
lost her mind
and passed away.

Pop contracted
Parkinson’s Disease
and managed for a while
unwilling to hire a nurse
but alone at night
he sometimes collapsed
beside his bed
unable to move.

I visited him at the hospital
one last time
but he didn’t say a word
and soon after died.

Due to the side-effects
of antidepressants
affecting my coordination
I was admitted to hospital for tests
but after discharge
at the mercy of cold turkey
I descended
into a personal purgatory
which continued
when a new drug failed
until a new prescription
finally worked.

I remember listlessly watching
the 2000 Sydney Olympics
on TV
and sitting by the window
attempting to read
Remembrance of Things Past.

John sold his inheritance
the home
on top of Oliver’s Hill.

Uncle Ken

I preferred the anonymity
of the night
and ceased to swim
in what seemed to me
a reproachful sea.

Perched on a chair
I drank
watched awful movies on TV
and slept late
to delay the day.

I’d walk past
disinterested houses
across a bridge
over a creek
to watch the ducks
but at times
I’d lose my balance
and weave

I prepared to cross a road
and staggered over
on the other side.

An X-ray and a scan
revealed I had
a tumour on the brain.

Within days
I was in a hospital room
wearing a back-to-front
surgical gown
talking to a Nun
who left me
with feelings
of peace and serenity.

I regained consciousness
in the recovery ward
deaf in the right ear
and with a headache
followed by another operation
when my bladder failed.

Transferred to rehab
with a catheter
attached to a plastic bag
I had to learn to walk again
and urinate normally.

I became friends with Maria
a Vietnam refugee
who owned
the Carrum general store
and her five daughters
Elisabeth, Anne-Marie
Evelyn. Theresa and Margaret

Jodie Kewley
from Red Hill South
became my muse, critic
and lifelong friend.

I began to jog again
and swim backwards
out to sea.


I tried to help Maria
escape her loss making legacy
by helping her to qualify
as a masseuse
before opening a business
but she seemed more intrigued
by a lottery scam
created by Evelyn and Elisabeth.

She diverted a cheque
I made out to her
into Evelyn’s account
but she and Elisabeth
lost the lot
shut up shop and disappeared.

I realised
the only way
to get my money back
was to invest in Evelyn
by purchasing jewellery
at auction in the US
and selling for a profit
in Australia.

Evelyn gave birth
to Alfred
and Margaret
begged me for a loan
she had been defrauded.

Since she seemed desperate
I agreed
then foolishly
signed a year’s lease
for her hairdressing business
and became the proprietor
of a loss-making enterprise.

With Margaret managing
I joined my mate, Harry
on a plane to Dubai
from where he flew to
and I to London.

I booked a coach tour
of Europe
but my troubles began
in Amsterdam
in the red light district
where my passport was stolen.

I had to travel
along the autobahn by taxi
past the black forest
to the Australian consulate
in Frankfurt.

Worn out and wheezing
I carted my luggage
to the railway station
and bought a ticket to Prague.

Unable to continue
due to bronchitis
I left the tour at Vienna
to fly back to London
sleeping a lot at my hotel
before the fight to Dubai
where I met Harry
and we flew home together.

My hairdressing business
was losing thousands
every week
and I learned
after a colonoscopy
I had bowel cancer.

Evelyn drove me
to hospital
for key-hole surgery
and a diet of crushed ice
for a week
then six months
of chemotherapy
scans and blood tests.

Evelyn and her husband Steven
were charged with fraud
and stood forlornly
side by side in the dock
at their committal hearing
unable to get bail.

Found guilty
they were sentenced
to three years
away from their children
and as an unsecured creditor
all my assets were confiscated.

Finally free
the nightmare over
we began to re-establish
our lives together.

My brother, Peter
died in a hospice
when bowel cancer
spread to his liver.

I decided
to leave my Carrum unit
by then decrepit
and eventually found
an ideal property at Bittern
in the countryside
where in the evenings
rabbits nibbled the grass
beside lorikeets and magpie geese


The Bitten property
with a home and land
was like a dream
where I set seed
grew vegetables
began a compost heap
planted a lemon tree
in a new environment
so real to me
yet like a mirage
I failed to see
it was all illusory.

The conflict
between fantasy and reality
eventually began to clash
as I passed through
long and dreary days
unwillingly and apathetically.

Prescribed antidepressants
I had to wait
existing somehow
emotionless as an empty shell.

When sleep retreated
I unwillingly awakened
by the curse of consciousness
hoping each day
tomorrow would be better.

I spent three weeks
at a psychiatric Hospital
visited by Evelyn and Steven
who renovated and sold
my Carrum unit
then the Bittern property
before finding a suitable home
at Lysterfield
where we could live together.

* * * * *
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When Indonesia
invaded East Timor
the Australian government
looked the other way.

Four journalists
four Australians
and one New Zealander
were murdered at Balibo

For twenty-five years
successive governments
pandered to the genocidal
Suharto regime.

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