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