At school, I read Robert Gray’s poetry.
I used to visit him
at a bookshop where he worked
On Oxford St Paddington.
I bought Chekov’s short stories
Which he approved of.
He had a gentle manner.
He’d always smile and say hello.
That shop closed
And he moved to one in Double Bay
Where I visited him once or twice.
When I came back from travelling
In Germany, he said I’d prefer Italy.
He was right.
He had such a gentle way about him
I think he lived in a house nearby
With his partner.
That’s a long time ago now,
In the nineties.
I was in my twenties.
I wonder what he’s doing now.
He said he was writing a book about Patrick White, which turned out to be his memoir which was published in 2008, The Land I Came Through Last.
Robert reads from The Land I Came Through Last and speaks about his friendship with Patrick White:
The late ferry is leaving now;
I stay to watch
from the balcony, as it goes up onto
the huge dark harbour,
out beyond that narrow wood jetty;
the palm tree tops
make a sound like touches
of the brush on a snare drum
in the windy night. Going beyond
street lights’ fluorescence
over the dark water, a ceasless
activity, like chromosomes
uniting and dividing. And out beyond
the tomato stake patch
of the yachts, with their orange
lights; leaving this tuberous
small bay, for the city
across an empty dark. There, neon
redness trembles down in the water
as if into ice, and
the longer white lights
feel nervoursly about in the blackness,
towards here, like hands
after the light switch.
“I think I like to write because I discover what I think about things that way. I wouldn’t understand my own experience if I didn’t write about it.”