davey dreamnation

seething since 2001

Jethro’s Whitman Cabinet

” … a cabinet was specially made. O’Dowd’s wife Evangeline
had an uncle, Jethro Fryer, a carpenter who took on this task.

SANDRA BURT


i hammer nails & saw wood (to make his 
	house of whitman his shadow cabinet 

not a coffin so much as a grave of words
	a grove within which they sit together 

eva (my niece with her apples & he his - 
	leaves of glass or whatever he does 

no matter I am really a carpenter & i am
	alive in a book in these lines of poesie

my name is (jethro fryer it's a name to 
	whisper down lanes or to slice shavings

of curled wood from a plane or chisel 
	with, some trick played with mirrors 

a dovetail joint almost invisible my 
	fingers search the seams for meanings 

a quiet word or a pencilled line a blade
	in the workshop the rich scent of horses 

& foggy blurred monday morning noise
	he strides in like the prophet of nonsense
 
morning jethro! uncle in law i ask you
	(it's an apothecary's cabinet he's wanting -

to place his liquor above a young one's
	innocent grasping hands though (oh no he

says not that nothing like that at all in
	fact whitman (he - see whitman leaves 

he intones leaves of glass well he's almost 
	lost meh there look here he starts sudden

pointing to his jacket you see this here
	he insists it's a leaf a blade soft green

- & so I want a cabinet that's made of leaves
	do you follow meh jethro (i do, i swear!

inside his whitman cabinet he places the latest
	masterpiece lord captain nice & snug it sits

o it rests against its brothers like depressions
	six children in a single bed & as for meh

i remember generations sleeping outside on
	wide verandahs come winter or summer

when the rains fell (all safe as mother's milk
	beneath thin blankets thicker sheets

young men brought up on tough love walking
	miles to school (over glass we used to

joke strong as draught horses nevertheless -
	their calluses written into the books he

pores over every day for meaning imperial law
	that i abhor on principle but digest being

principled in defence of the commonest men
	imaginable (railway sleeper men abattoir

workers no one else will take on we see through
	them all their manhood & their memories

streetwalkers (whistles of a policeman as his
	truncheon made a drunkard dance arcs 

his dripping spittle yes i correspond & try to
	keep up with things  receive books

& newspapers in the mail still smelling of
	the postman's horse & hands of mother

sunshine soap (wrappings torn & frayed here
	just in behind the door of this cabinet

still coyly hiding the latest captain it's 
	a hit already & he hasn't even read it  


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2 Comments

  1. Diane Hildreth nee Fryer

    David,

    Jethro was my gt gt uncle and eva my gt aunt. I am from Jethro’s brother’s line – John Robbins Fryer. Both were carpenters but jethro stayed at his craft while my gt gt grandfather’s eyesight prevented him from continuing.
    I have photos of the cabinet and note from the line about sunshine soap you have also examined it.

    I love the first lines alluding to Bernard’s position in parliament as Parliamentary Draughtsman – and the shadow cabinet of Whitman’s work as a catalyst for his own – however after reading letters housed in the National Library in Canberra I wonder how much actual work he did when he wasnt having clandestine affairs.

    I have a beautiful letter from Eva to Bernard after he finally left her which really encapsulates it all.

    Did you know the collection in the National library was nearly lost – one of his sons wanted to burn everything on his death to avoid a scandal!

  2. Dear Diane,

    Thank you so much for your comment – I haven’t actually seen the Whitman Cabinet, only seen photos and read an article about it. Looks like I’ll need to travel to the NLA one day soon to read all the juicy correspondence!

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