Bob Orr


Neal Cassady’s Car

I would much prefer to be a panel beater
than a poet.
With my angle grinder and my tins of filler
with my spray paint and a hammer
I would walk in overalls around a workshop of disasters.
I would whisper to myself I’m a panel beater now
and things are so much better than those days I was a poet.
I would take the car of Neal Cassady and make it new again—
like a metaphor of life it would tell me that fate
doesn’t always end in fun.
Neal Cassady more than most intuitively knew about internal combustion.
I would hammer Mexico out of its buckled fender
I would straighten up the out of true chassis of America
I would spray paint its bonnet the blue sky of California
I would rewire the red cities of the Detroit of its dashboard
I would install brand new headlights
to drive through the black of a Jack Kerouac night
I would replace a back seat as sad as Denver city.
In the meantime though I have to drive this poem fast
overtake on yellow lines
at level crossings take my chances
run intersections with my foot down
make out I haven’t seen the blue and red flashing light
that comes up fast behind.
I’m not sure where I’m going but know I’d like to be there
before this poem’s petrol gauge tells me I’m on empty.
If it all comes to grief does it matter
it surely can’t be written off by an insurance man’s bleak smile.
Tomorrow with the tiny hammers of a typewriter
I’ll make this poem cool again
as if it were a car once stolen in America by Neal Cassady.


A Greek Café in Kings Cross

It was a Greek café in Kings Cross
where the coffee was at best luke warm
where some sort of goulash redefined the term expressionist
where a paper rose dreamt on about a side street in Athens
where flies from the great outback crash landed exhausted
where a blue and white flag hung like a soiled tea towel from the wall
where George’s black pallid arm was glued to the counter
where Achilles and Odysseus discussed the Caulfield Cup
where a window display of feta sweated out the time of day
where a poet of the Antipodes sat waiting for something GREAT to happen
where outside a busker played the chords of a city’s purple haze
where I read without interest the Australian’s situations vacant columns
where I read with passing interest Bjelke’s latest rort
(both of us being from the same crooked country)
where I realized without question that only Sydney Harbour’s
blue quick flashing waters
would be happy to give me the freedom of the city.
It was a Greek café in Kings Cross not far from the Wayside Chapel
where we both met as we said we should—
a small woman of April in small goat leather sandals
she walked in just like she always would.
When she lit a cigarette in that unremarkable café
Achilles and Odysseus began to vaguely dream of burning towers
George shifted one arm for the other on the counter
the busker played a silver love song on a battered tin harmonica
the poet of the Antipodes ordered one last glass of Pernod
knowing that something GREAT could be almost about to happen
and in a back room alone an old woman dressed in black
carefully lit a votive candle to an icon.
How could she have known that I would before too long
on other pavements seek out the one rose of all the world.
To anyone reading this poem
Please could you let me know
should that café
                             still be open.



Bob Orr lives in Auckland and works on pilot boats in the harbour. His last book of poetry was Valparaiso (Auckland University Press, 2002).