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John Tranter

By Blue Ontario’s Shore

I listened to the Phantom by Ontario’s shore,
I heard the voice arising demanding bards [...]
Rhymes and rhymers pass away, poems distill’d from poems pass away,
The swarms of reflectors and the polite pass, and leave ashes [...]
The proof of a poet shall be sternly deferr’d ...
                    — Walt Whitman, ‘By Blue Ontario’s Shore’ (from Leaves of Grass)

Marion owned a Van from which
the Sunset View was portable and thus
perennial; his pal Homer had a Mobile Home
in whose polished sides a swarming universe
wavered and slipped from future to past tense
along a wobbling strip of two-lane blacktop.
Could they, twain, yet be one, in the hamlet
of Sodus? Homer and his buddy Marion
came to a Huddle by the Owls’ Nest;
the Mud Mills turned Yellow in the sunset
and a noble thought struck them both
near the Noble Corner, though their motives
were muddled. Marion was a Morrison
and had a twin brother, name of Clyde,
who had brought down a fog of shame
on the elder branch of the clan. When
the torpid fifties leered over the horizon,
Clyde, like many an anxious Communist
before him, had fled to torrid Mexico
and wallowed there in a mess of memories,
then hove north to the city of the Angels
in search of Joy and a Fair Haven. There he rose
like a Phoenix from Furnaceville, ashes
in the fume and updraft of the sixties, lost
like the snapshot of a girl he had been dating,
name of Little Egypt, Gypsy Queen, and
in a name-change (to Wayne) found
his soul’s Center and his future waiting.

— Names in italics are the names of towns in upstate New York by the shore of Lake Ontario. John Ashbery grew up on a fruit farm in that region, near the town of Sodus; his nicknmame when young was ‘Ashes’.
— John Wayne claimed that his real name was Marion Morrison. This poem suggests that his identity was ambiguous.

John Tranter, Sydney, 2005

John Tranter
Sydney, 2005

John Tranter has published twenty collections of verse, including Heart Print, Studio Moon and Trio (all published by Salt in the U.K.) In 1992 he edited (with Philip Mead) the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, which has become the standard text in its field. He has lived at various times in Melbourne, Singapore, Brisbane and London, and now lives in Sydney, where he is a company director. He is the editor of Jacket magazine.

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