Geoff Page


The Villas

It might be the Amalfi coast
or, equally, Lake Como;
the watercolour of the water

makes it hard to tell.
It’s some clear morning after rain
and yet there’s haze as well,

more from distances in time
than droplets in the weather.
These villas with their rippled vistas

are always incomplete:
some battlements, a belvedere,
the remnants of a terrace.

It’s Europe back before the wars,
or Italy at least,
the sort of houses suited to

a diva’s downward years,
her small solicitude of servants.
The lake or level sea 

takes up less than half the frame.
We see how villas own the view
and yet comprise it too;

and how the houses lower down 
don’t need the painter’s brush so much.
His name is in the lower left

and knows it will not be remembered.
Some call it kitsch but he knew well
all this was merely true nostalgia

for what was never really there.
He knew that we would know this too
and knew we wouldn’t care. 



You think it must be
only yours,
alone here in the 
coffee bar,
this sweet slow hour 
or so with papers,
the traffic flowing 
car by car.
Then you see it’s 
not just you;
your doubles sit there 
in the glass,
six guys, all 
at separate tables,
horses long 
put out to grass. 


The Saturday Evening Post

Those Norman Rockwell covers
back there in the ’50s...

the Huck Finn boy with fishing rod,
those faithful black retainers,

the old men all avuncular,
the women straight from Doris Day

or otherwise as grandmas,
that smell of cookies in the kitchen.

The draughtsmanship was so convincing,
the detail in the detail.

Inside would be the ads for what
we’d soon be calling ‘whitegoods’,

hygienic and efficient,
a measure of the ‘Modern Age’

like Popular Mechanics.
We knew, just entering our teens,

that, not long past, the U.S.A.
had ‘saved our ass’ — though that was not 

a term we used back then.
The Hit Parade arrived each week,

sung through splendid teeth.
Norman Rockwell got it down,

some have said ‘invented’ it,
those timeless, spare New England towns,

the mythic Mississippi.
Our parents spoke of Eisenhower

but not so very often.
By 1965 or so

The Saturday Evening Post could not
survive our disenchantment. 



Geoff Page has published eighteen collections of poetry as well as two novels, four verse novels and several other works including anthologies, translations and a biography of the jazz musician, Bernie McGann. His awards include the Grace Leven Prize, the Christopher Brennan Award, the Queensland Premier’s Prize for Poetry and the 2001 Patrick White Literary Award. Selections from his work have been translated into Chinese, Hindi, German, Serbian, Slovenian and Greek. He has also read his work and talked on Australian poetry throughout Europe and in India, Singapore, China, Korea, the United States and New Zealand. His most recent publications are Agnostic Skies (Five Islands Press 2005), Seriatim (Salt 2007), 60 Classic Australian Poems (UNSW Press 2009) and Coffee with Miles CD (River Road Press 2009).

Page writes: “Although a poet should never ‘explain’ his or her poems a few comments may be of interest. ‘The Villas’ is based on a deservedly-forgotten greeting card. A lot of Australians (including me) like to sentimentalise Europe somewhat. It can be unbearably poignant at times. ‘The Horses’ may (remotely) reflect my upbringing on a cattle station — and (more certainly) my pseudo-retirement into Canberra’s coffee bars. ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ recalls my childhood wonderment at the hyper-realism of those Norman Rockwell cover illustrations during the 1940s and early ’50s. Only later did I realise he was being mythological.”