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Albert & Frank

October 17, 2022

Albert & Frank

TLDR: a middle aged poet spends some time with his grandfathers

when one of Einstein’s early theories about light bending
was proved correct
through observations of an eclipse and subsequent calculations
he celebrated by going out and buying a new violin
this is something I can identify with

of my paternal grandfather, also named Albert,
I have no similar anecdotes or stories
despite his contribution to my genetics
I know more about the other Albert
(having read a thick book)

unless, I guess, I indulge in a thought experiment
so beloved of the other Albert
to spelunk below the nurture and seek to find him
with my admixture of the physical psychic ancestorial legacies
that with infinite complexities define all personages

I never met Albert nor called him Grandpa
he died before my parents met and mingled
at an age that I have breezed past in recent years

he was an accountant from the north of England
a descendent of cloggers and weavers
who spent the last of his days
in Launceston in the north of Tasmania
these are things I cannot identify with

my maternal grandfather, Frank,
like Albert born in the ancient past of 1909
was a strong presence in my childhood
even though we didn’t live in the same neighbourhood
and proximity of influence was on a more annual type basis

he was adopted, like my sister
and was definitely Grandpa
others called him Curl
and his given name passed through to my generation
inserted into my younger brother’s name
and gifted to the son of my Vietnamese aunt

Frank was a man of humour and convictions,
with a varied career that included being
apprentice upholsterer, tea merchant and greengrocer
this is something I can identify with

when I knew him he ran Lilydale Sports and Toys
somehow I didn’t grasp the significance of this
until I was much older
I never remember telling my school friends
my grandfather owns a toy store
which sounds like a child’s fantasy
or the beginning of a story

but then mine was not a typical Australian boyhood
I grew up in libraries

other significant Franks in my life seem to be musical
which is fitting as Frank loved to sing
but of the contrasting styles of Sinatra and Zappa
only the former is likely to have appealed

Albert & Frank
Frank & Albert

they would have known something of the other Albert
and his theories
at least what was in the papers
and perhaps mulled over their significance –
at once they changed everything and nothing

Frank as a pacifist perhaps as horrified as the other Albert by
the development of what was then called The Atom Bomb
this is something I can identify with

the Albert who made his career in numbers was perhaps intrigued by
the higher mathematics

but tomorrow is another working day
more about relatives than relativity
more about toast and tea than atoms

Frank & Albert
Albert & Frank

ten years old when the first half of the world war ended
with the depression and the second half
waiting for them at twenty and thirty
eras when Frank’s team Collingwood won premierships
at midcentury Albert emigrated his family to Australia
only to be dead at 50
before my parents met and mingled

Frank died when I was 17
just as I was shedding my atypical Australian boyhood
and shortly afterwards I reversed Albert’s journey
and went to visit the ghosts of my ancestors on both sides
– I identify as British Isles mongrel –
and lived briefly amongst them as a tentative first draft adult
in the north of England
writing songs of the spirit and ignoring physics

it was Yorkshire
rather than Albert’s Lancashire
a difference largely expressed in accents, cheeses and ales
but I got a taste of the bitter cold and of the cold weather people

my tentative first draft of adulthood made the connection
– and the pilgrimage –
to the town where Albert’s son, my father, took his first steps
but somehow failed to grasp that I was amidst the
dark satanic mills of Albert’s life
and the reverberating generations beyond that run down
the trunk of my family tree

perhaps the cold numbed my brain
but then mine was not a typical Australian tentative first draft of adulthood
all I wanted to do was read and write and play music
maybe my grandfathers dreamed of doing all that too
but tomorrow is another working day

certainly my story strays far from theirs
and I will live out my days in tropical climes
(where cold is defined as 23 degrees
like on this particular morning as I write over coffee
on the pavement outside the guesthouse near my flat)
and I will probably outlive Frank as well as Albert

my life would indeed by unimaginable science fiction to them
even to the other Albert, with all his capacities

they lived by pen and paper
oddly, this is something I can identify with
even though laptop meltdown throws my life into chaos

Albert & Frank
Frank & Albert

when one shines a light who knows what will be seen
the sudden appearance of torchlight in the dark
can create unexpected illuminating observations
where none were before

the other Albert was part of a continuum
like a writer sitting along and thinking and scribbling
following thoughts through to their conclusion
as creative in his way as, say, Frank Zappa

the world is frequently recreated by people sitting in rooms
making stuff up
it all depends what you’re striving for
the extremes of art of science and science of art
make strange but appealing bedfellows
united in the quest for a glimpse of the divine
even if such is denied

Frank & Albert
Albert & Frank

while small business requires a certain amount
of creativity and improvisation
the phrase creative accounting has connotations
it’s all relative
but tomorrow is another working day
this is something I can identify with

I cannot imagine my grandfathers doing what I am doing right now,
sitting in a café drinking coffee and indulging in a beer
and scribbling for a couple of hours
Sinatra either
Einstein and Zappa maybe, but without the beer

I have read thick books about all of the above
except my grandfathers
this creates illusions piling on top of each other
dubious conclusions
as I make tentative first drafts of my sub-elderly years

but then mine is not a typical Australian middle age
even in these tropical climes

so here I am on this slowly warming morning
(it is now above 23 degrees)
having a beer with my grandfathers
and some other Alberts and Franks
albeit alone and in a place where none of them ever set foot
and this is something they would not identify with

as I once wrote, inspired by my beloved Cambodians,
what have I done for my ancestors lately?
this is a bare carving of initials just two generations down the family tree

how far back before was there no coffee, only beer?
when libraries and leisure travel were not for the peasants like me?
once upon a time the Einstein of his day
changed the science of his time
for centuries to come
only to be overruled in the laws of physics department

the Cambodians know that their ancestors built magnificent temple cities
that is something that I can almost identify with
but Gothic cathedrals and the works of Shakespeare and Newton
don’t feel like the fruit of my forebears
so much as an inherited cultural legacy for such a British Isles mongrel
as myself

the private world of my grandfathers is gone
only shards remain
I can only sweep them up
glue them together
and try to glimpse a tiny fragment of reflection in this dull mirror

they had more in common with each other than I with them
has this always been true for those
who live through the same times
and experience the same changes
who were adults before they heard a dial tone
who were adults before they flew in aeroplanes, if they ever did
who were adults before they were even in an automobile, if they ever did

how about trains? or bicycles?
even worse, what was the metaphor for something you never forget how to do once you learn the first time before the bicycle came along?
it’s just like learning to… walk? giggle? do Morse code or semaphore?
Albert & Frank would never entertain such foolish thoughts I’m sure
tomorrow is another working day

Albert & Frank
Frank & Albert
both more real to me today than yesterday
and more often than not, i realise,
I turn out the light thinking: today was an interesting day

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