‘The Allure’ by Phillip Hall

‘The Allure’ is a companion piece to Phillip Hall’s previous article for The Blue Nib, ‘Hounded’, which can be accessed here

I am the eldest of six, born into a fervent, modest and loving family. Evangelical Christianity was our cornerstone, always nurturing and sufficient – until, for me, it wasn’t. Holding onto God has been like clutching at a handful of water, no matter how careful, you just know it will seep out somewhere. My hands remain wet, but the promise is gone. As a young man I lost a baby son, and then a few years later, exactly ten weeks apart, I lost both my younger brothers in separate accidents. I side-stepped grief counselling, instead brawling with heartache, survivor guilt and trauma on my own. And religion was an absolute failure in consoling or explaining. I felt bereft:

The Moment of Death

is     as significant as taking a dump, there are no
prayers, no new age
trite words beyond words

I have unwrapped a son
born too soon in an afternoon’s bloody mess
of wrenched bedding

I had a brother, broken and leaking, die
fallen in scenic wonder and collected in my lap
the unraveling     long wait for air
ambulance retrieval

Another in hospital with tubes
and drugs and things     it was my decision
on doctors’ advice, to turn off
life support and watch
colour drain

Perhaps because of our rather baroque
sacramentality, I am addicted
to aesthetic minimalism, to a vigil
suffused with the labored breathing of the dying     breath
that falters     in farewell

Mine is the failed breath of those keeping watch
the strain of nostalgia, the incandescence
of loss

But the closest I now get to any
ascetic tradition of ecstasy and insight
is lifting stuff
at the gym, or drunkenly
slicing up my thighs to tip my toes
in the pool of blood coagulating
neatly on the floor

My mum came from a long line of problem drinkers and gamblers, she knew grog’s damage, and as a consequence, for her, we were proudly tea-total. But as I became consumed with my grief, seeking divergence in over-work, grog became my escape, my natural way to relax and wind-down:

Bacchus In Ruins

(As meals are made for laughter, so wine gives joy to life
but indiscretion sprouts wings. Ecclesiastes 10:19-20) 

The Luftwaffe exposed
Bacchus beneath rubble, twice born of fire and nursed in rain
a dual gendered, liberated boundary, lounged in disarray
the grace of Bacchus is our release
into pleasure, where prayers
to a fennel staff topped with a pinecone might
adjust unshackled abandon     and

‘In drinking wine, we drink him’ wrote
Euripides in The Bacchae, but in this contest
to be the ‘one true vine’ I have drowned
in fundamentalism rushing to rub myself out, to empty
cask and glass in the mirror
                                    of precepts: ‘to thine ownself be true’:

I am soursob weeded shit
sniffed on unwashed fingers, and I thirst
to gape camel-like at hubris and catastrophe
ah, I resent every day surrendered
to moderation, the guttural groaning
that celebrates order, a life denuded
                                    of ecstasy     and defeat:

I am fallen
not to revelry, but to self
hatred, lust
            for transcendence, and my appeal
for guilt free suicide     is the poured libation
                               of metastasis     with treatment denied:

        Nonetheless, I still love all those
suburban honeyeaters under clear
blue, spring rich skies, but
even in sunshine, my worth is shrouded
         and I’m stuck     self-medicating against  
                                                                       the blue.

Within a few years I was drinking about a litre of wine every day. And, unfortunately, grog not only gave me some letup to my stress and anxiety, it also gave me license to self-harm by cutting. Self-harming was not something I chose or planned, so I didn’t need to rationalize it to myself or my partner. It was just something that started to happen every month or so as the pressure-cooker inside me needed release:

blood lust 

why do I need blood
to leech from my thighs and pool
at my toes, to make plain
the pain I feel

why does my spirit stress
greater secrecy for the gashes
I have made than for my own

anus     I am ashamed, and addicted
to slashes     entrances
onto me

but still I want my children (&
~their partners) to process
past my naked scarred, stiff trunk

                                               and see me

Of course, like my drinking, cutting started as pretty mild, slowly becoming more severe as I needed to see more blood to feel release. Eventually I had a big breakdown in late 2014 which resulted in a suicide attempt and period of hospitalisation. I guess this was the circuit breaker I needed, forcing me to submit and get help. I now drink far less, and go for long periods when I don’t drink at all, which is a boon for my mental health. Grog is my gateway to despair.

I have been blessed with family who have stuck by me when I have surrendered to so much mischief, and I have also been lucky with the professional help I have received. One psychologist, knowing the dangers grog threatened me, and knowing my obsession for Australian Football and The Western Bulldogs (my local team) got me substituting alcohol with footy cards. So now, instead of counting change secretly for my cloak-and-dagger grog, I openly save my pennies for footy cards. And as my collection grows, the grog giant dissolves:

The Passion of Cards

for Martin Axelsson & Steve Wang

Pulling into Flinders Street Station I’m on guard
against all those four-litre, fourteen-dollar casks
            once secreted into the corners
                         of my home,
grog’s mouthful giving
                                    license to mischief:

            the station I need to pee
so, bee-line to the NGV
I only work
                               in a clean stall:

     Now I channel spirit
into footy cards, considering
                the cost
 of each indulgence against
                              another cask not drunk:

Consequently, I have a calling
            to Card Zone and should
have departed at Flagstaff but don’t know the way
                                    so awkwardly
            I pick a path the length of Swanston:

            My consolation:
not tempted outside Clocks at Flinders
(a welcome bar) where Mirka Mora drenches
                        my morning in irreverent, wide-eyed
                        children, animals and angels     all captivated
in a longed-for garden mural:

            At home I now count
                                    change openly
my family teasing, which card my new quarry:

            I collect
only Doggies (female and male),
            and arrange each token
in guernsey number so
            with each purchase the whole
collection must be freed
                        and reassembled:

This album travels
                        close, a passenger
            of cards against pints;
                        it gathers signatures, medals and cups
and is a portrait gallery
            of an evolving player list as I track
                        down those who managed
a handful of breakout games before injury’s cull; all custodians
of ephemeral, fantastical feats; and from these sleeves

                                                proof I belong.

I can no longer work, so am home alone (unsupervised) for long periods of time. My clever partner anticipated this as a problem. The solution was as perfect as it was simple. I needed a dog to keep me sober, loved and needed. She adopted for me a rescue greyhound – genius! But I am lucky for more than my partner and hound. I also have four miraculous adult children who are never embarrassed by my brokenness, and periods of hospitalisation, by the mental illness that has come to define too much of who I now am. They reassure me by spoiling me. I am lucky and connected. And their love and nurture gets me through:

Spring Symphony

for my daughter, Ceinwen, who took me to ‘The Planets’
after Gustave Holst & the Hammersmith Socialist Choir

Our places booked
we are headed for Hamer Hall’s passage,
a train our preferred carriage:

So now she takes me by the hand, leading me
                 out the door to ramble
                                                         into Sunshine:

            Every garden bed blooms
oranges, mauves and pinks, while lawns
are studded with soursob yellows and the dandelions’ airy
white globes:

                        The nature strips’ green grid
is an upright haunt
of flowering gums, paperbarks and callistemons; while casuarinas
are encased in deeply furrowed, dark, hard bark with canopies of wire-like
foliage and inflorescences grouped in whorls
                                                forming short cylindrical spikes:

Such a harvest
of seed and honey eaters, and above
it all – a Tullamarine flight path and daylight moon:

Exiting Flinders early we cross the Yarra for more gardens
a picturesque land where purple pea has been cast
                                                a life line in the ark, and we are free:

She takes me to bronzed pathfinders
            where a male nude is a hammer thrower in action
            while a female nude is still a reclining water nymph, waiting:

But her impatience subsides
            into childhood at Genie, a kitten fantasy
            where delight has wings, and other children
now climb and play:

            At Hamer Hall we ride
                                    escalators down to glittering
sunken walls where anticipation is a crystal
                                                            pulse and flicker:

Seated in this concert hall, my back is that little bit straighter
            in my vintage Footscray guernsey
                                                            because to soar as a Doggie
                        was once grounded in union patronage; and patriotism
is also a Holst hymn for the Hammersmith Socialist Choir
where ‘This Hath I Done for My True Love’; while sacraments
            are a Morris Dance before the altar
as the kneeling Red Vicar is Christ Militant with incense,
                        swinging in the bell tower: remember
victims of the bleak midwinter:

Holst loved Hardy’s green forsaken land, redeemed
                                    in a Commonwealth’s News
            From Nowhere where working class brass
                        bands and socialism could be delivered
with a trombone from a bicycle’s saddle:

Here the movement of bodies
is a symphonic haunting
                                                of us all;
though Mars is a storm
where chromatic major triads sprawl
across staccato, and the slow heave of bassoon and horn
is a defeat in growing menace; but Venus is peaceful, resigned
                        nostalgia, sighing
with relief as Neptune’s wordless and off-stage female
            chorus recedes to eternal silence:

            And in memory
            of Jupiter’s jollity
            I am in tears, bustling
            currents of shifting
            stress, adjusting a hitched-up
            spirit once again held
                                                in a daughter’s hands.

Phillip Hall publishes the e-journal Burrow

About the contributor

Phillip Hall
Phillip Hall lives in Melbourne, where he is a passionate member of the Western Bulldogs Football Club. His publications include Sweetened in Coals (Ginninderra Press, 2014), Borroloola Class (IPSI, 2018), Fume (UWAP, 2018) and (as editor) Diwurruwurru: Poetry from the Gulf of Carpentaria (Blank Rune Press, 2015). He also publishes the e-journal Burrow: https://oldwaterratpublishing.com.

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