States of Poetry Series Three - ACT | 'John at 70 years, the Marriage 40 years old' by Mark O'Connor

For John and Bini Malcolm

 

Just when you think it’s all coming together
And you could take a bit more of this partnership,
Time coughs and observes, it’s been forty years now, more than average,
And maybe it’s time to sum up.

In the road to the planets and stars
The step from the croft to the town was the harshest
Then – for a Scot – the plunge into alien England.
Later to the India Company, an ancestor writing poems in Suthron,
Letters to the Iron Duke from Mount Malcolm, being
General to a chunk of sub-continent, and a local god.

– And then there was Bini, her Afrikaans history
re-uniting Europe with the old, old family home in Africa,
Bini with her wise eye for the World’s old follies
To match John’s shyer, slyer, mode of speech,
Endlessly curious and unshocked at how the world works
More amused than indignant, if eager for better things.
Early-risers, in search of the fourth Transcendental
Ever lively, eclectic, curious and unsated.

In marriage as in an apple grove, half the grafts take.
Some wither at once, snap at the union in winter storms
Or die from delayed sap-strife.
But sometimes the nick of a side-graft takes,
The delicate cambium knits around alien tissue
Till the two inarching stems gladly grow
To a mossy triumphal arch that props a green forest,
Beloved of the birds, red with apples,
Famous for hospitality ...

Sundry sons were among the fruits.
They played and fought like wildcats
Then lengthened their limbs and their dignity
Gained degrees, turned bankers and such,
& attracted lasses
That might turn them into pater familiases

Strange how each generation
Climbs to some ledge unknown to the parents,
Yet would never know how to take up
The empire that grandma and grandpa laid down
Each night by their bedside.

‘He’s not the father of my children,’ a woman once told me,
‘He’s my friend. I don’t like the fathers of any of my children.’
But how much happier is Bini who can say:
I do like the father of my children.

Let us be grateful for this pair
Forty years into their union’s flowering prime.
He with the longest and fittest legs in Woollahra
She with the wisest, sharpest, kindest remarks –
A pair who reversing time’s laws, have turned their wondering children
Into the fixed point for the Wandering Olds
Only those truly stable at home can travel so blithely
Such a centrifugal force demands pivots of humour, and love.

Old Sir John Malcolm may have thought:
‘A soldier, sir, is better accommodated than with a wife.’
But this pair travels as one. Their letters
Full of names Evelyn Waugh would love: Major Fonseca, Father Danny,
Colonel Mohite of Dingley Dell India, the Wadias,
the squirish Patwardans
(Their mansion hemmed in by the Tantric Sex Ashram),
St Godfrey of Iraq, Chestertonian poet,
And his wife Honor, true Vicar of Dibley.
All these are not types but friends, well loved
Their India no Naipaul-ish Area of Darkness.

What can we wish, as the seven-O and four-O numbers come up
For John and Bini, who have used time so richly
But chronia polla – a rich store of time still to come;
And more years to amaze us.
Long may they rise early, and set late.

Mark O’Connor

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