Dreams

Stone Cross

Burnt alive in a house fire
Choked to death in my own bed
Overdosing on morphine
Shot four times in a robbery gone wrong
Drowning in a pool of water
Stabbed to death in a fit of jealousy
Pushed from a great height
Beaten and left for dead in the middle of nowhere

And she finds me in the night
And holds me and says it’ll be okay
She holds me and says it’ll be okay

Thrown out of a moving train
Sucked out an airlock into the vacuum of space
Going down in an aeroplane
Hanging on to a railing for dear life
Jumping from a high balcony
Hit by a car while crossing the road
Killed in a terrorist attack
Executed as an innocent man

And she finds me in the night
And holds me and says it’ll be okay
She holds me and says it’ll be okay

Betrayed by my best friend
Flatlining on the surgeon’s table
Crucified next to Jesus
Suffocated in my sleep
Crushed in an earthquake
Mauled to death by wild animals
Struck down by a heart attack
Dying in my old age sad and alone

Every night I dream these dreams
I dream of death and an endless pain
I dream of my death again and again

Electrocuted by a faulty wire
Set on fire for speaking heresy
Praying for mercy to a god I don’t believe in
Dying of a broken heart

And she finds me in the night
And holds me and says it’ll be okay
She holds me and says it’ll be okay

She holds me and says it’ll be okay


I wrote this poem last night after lying awake most of the night with a series of vivid nightmares. Each time I closed my eyes I saw myself dying and it’s been happening off and on for most of this week. I had similar dreams a couple of years ago when I went through a traumatic period and I guess everything we’ve been going through recently, first with my father and losing our home and now with my grandparents’ dementia as well, has reawakened some of those dreams and flashes.

I was debating about whether or not to post this as it’s so personal and I didn’t want to worry anyone or give them the wrong idea about what I’m feeling (that I might be suicidal or something). I decided to in the end as part of the process of dealing with all this is opening up and making my feelings public. I don’t think it’s my best poem but it’s not meant to be. It’s meant more as a stream of consciousness and in a small way writing it has helped me to deal with some of the shit I’m going through at the moment, which is all I wanted it to do and I’m happy with how it came out.

The photo is one I took a couple of years ago, of a grave in the cemetery of St Jude’s Church in Randwick. I’ve always liked it and the atmosphere in the photo and I thought it suited the poem quite well.


Photo: Stone Cross © CJ Levinson 2011
Poem licenced under Creative Commons

Come Home

The Long Road Home

Sitting alone with my thoughts
I feel the tears come again
They run down my face
Like rain in the desert
And I’m not ashamed
For I’ve seen stronger men cry
For far less than this
And so I cry and I cry
Until the tears fall no longer
And then I stare at your picture
And wonder where in the darkness
You have gone?

I just hope that
Wherever you’ve gone
You’ll come home soon

All I wanted was to help you
But you pushed me away
Time and again
Like I meant nothing
Until my tears became fortresses
To protect me from your armies of pain
You hurt me so much
That I didn’t think it could hurt any more
And now I know I was right about everything
But it brings me no comfort
I just wish that you’d heard me earlier
So that perhaps we wouldn’t be here today

And I hope that
Wherever you’ve gone
You’ll come home soon

And I know that deep in your heart
You didn’t mean the things you said
And I know that in your right mind
You never would have done it
But something deep inside
Has got its hold on you
A monster eating away
That’s filled you with lies and deception
But I know it’s not you
And so I forgive you
I just hope that in time
You can forgive yourself too

And I hope that
Wherever you’ve gone
You’ll come home soon

It would break my heart if you ended your life
So we’ll find a way through this together
I can’t promise not to be angry
Or not to cry or feel betrayed
But I promise to still be there
And I’ll take your hand and lead you forward
And walk with you through the darkness
Into the light
And whatever the future brings
We’ll face it one day at a time
And get through it together
So please come home soon

Please
Wherever you’ve gone
Come home soon


I wrote this poem over the course of the last week. I wrote it in two sessions and it’s probably the fastest poem I have ever written; it took about two hours to write and each time I sat down, the words poured straight out and needed very little editing, which is unusual for me.

The poem really started as a way of processing a very difficult situation my family has been going through these last few weeks. A member of my family tried to commit suicide two weeks ago; while I don’t want to say who it was publicly, it was someone who is very close to me and it was an extremely close call and it has left me absolutely devastated.

It came without any real warning and I’ve been going through a mix of different emotions since, predominantly shock, and also anger. The anger isn’t necessarily over the attempt itself but over other factors as well and while it’s a natural response, I realised several days ago that I haven’t really been processing it properly and the anger has been making my pain a lot worse as well and it’s something I have to try to let go of. So writing this poem has been my way of trying to do that and to accept what happened.

The poem is probably the most personal one I’ve written and is based on my own thoughts and feelings but I’ve also tried to make it so that hopefully everyone can see a bit of themselves in it too. I wanted it to feel personal but unique as well so that hopefully everyone who reads it can get something different out of it.

The photo by the way is one of the first street photos I took, of a man who seemed a bit lost in his own world. He didn’t even notice me taking the photo and I thought the scene suited the poem.

I hope you like the poem and that it brings some hope and beauty to a dark situation, one I know many people find themselves in. Mental illness and chronic depression are terrible ordeals, not just for those suffering them but their families as well. ~ CJ.


Photo: The Long Road Home © CJ Levinson 2011
Poem licenced under Creative Commons

September 11: Ten Years On

In many ways I almost can’t believe that it’s been ten years since September 11. Perhaps it’s because I remember that day so well and it had such an impact on how I looked at the world but it feels like it was only a few months ago to me, maybe a year, not ten. And yet at the same time it really does feel like ten years have passed as well – so much has happened in the last decade, both personally and globally, that at times it almost feels like longer. I guess it’s strange that both perceptions can feel true but many people I’ve spoken to recently have said the same thing. I suppose that just shows how much of an impact September 11 really has had on the world.

I often find myself thinking back to that day. I was sixteen at the time and my parents and I were living in a hideous cockroach-infested flat in Hillsdale that we hated and were trying to move out of as quickly as possible. At the time I felt miserable; it was one of the first times that my health had worsened and I felt trapped and lonely and missed my friends. I’d also just received several nasty rejection letters, which for a sixteen year old who’d only just started writing were devastating.

Then September 11 happened and it put some things in perspective. I can still remember exactly where I was when I first heard about it; I was having a shower when my mother knocked on the door and said there’d been an explosion at the World Trade Center. I didn’t understand at first; I thought she meant there’d been an accident and didn’t think much more about it while I finished and got changed. When I came through though I knew immediately it was serious; my parents were staring at the television, horrified. I looked at the TV which had crossed to one of the US stations and saw the smoke and fire… and then moments later the second plane flew into the South Tower.

For as long as I live I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling in my stomach as I watched the plane hit; it was almost physical, like my soul had suddenly been ripped from my body. I felt weak at the knees and had to sit down. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; I remember hearing shouts and screams coming through the TV but it felt surreal, like I was watching it all from somewhere far away.

Continue reading

Family Trees

Šternberk Family Tree

Photo: Šternberk Family Tree, from Šternberk Castle

Do you ever think about your family tree? About where you come from? I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot recently. The idea of learning more about my family line is something that has always interested me and I’ve often found myself looking at genealogy websites, wondering if, out of all those people, one of them might be a distant relative.

I suppose my interest is partially about accepting my own mortality. Life is such a fragile thing; we’re born, we live, we die. There’s nothing particularly special about me as a person but that I am here, alive today is part of a remarkable chain of events that stretches back through time. But why me? Why not someone else? If the lives of my parents, grandparents, ancestors had been just a little different, that chain would have been broken and I wouldn’t be here. I guess in trying to understand more about them, I hope that I may understand more about who I am as well.

Several members of my father’s family have done some research into our family tree and I’m hoping to see it soon. I’ve been thinking about trying to extend it if I can, so that it includes the family on my mother’s side as well. I thought I’d start with censuses and hopefully my research skills will come in handy.

One person I have been particularly interested in learning more about is my great great grandfather on my father’s side. His name was Isaac Levinsohn; he was born in Kovno, Russia (now Kaunas in Lithuania) in 1855 and had a remarkable life. He wrote several memoirs and religious books, one of which, his memoir of his early years and conversion to Christianity, my family recently had restored. I’ve spent the last few weeks reading and thinking about it.

I’ll probably write a longer, more detailed post about it at some stage as it’s a fascinating story and I’d like to read his other books as well, but to be honest I didn’t have the reaction to reading it that I thought I would. With the exception of myself as an atheist, most of my family is very religious and have admired Isaac for many years. I do as well but so often I’ve heard (particularly from my father) how wonderful and uplifting Isaac’s story is. Reading it, I found it very sad and lonely.

Basically Isaac’s memoir is the story of how he converted to Christianity. As a child Isaac’s family were pious Jews and Isaac felt immense pressure from his father to become a rabbi. For years Isaac studied and tried to follow his family’s wishes but from a young age, he developed an intense fear of death. He was terrified of the idea that when he died, he would be judged unworthy before God. And so when he was sixteen Isaac left Russia and his family despite their protests, trying to find peace and a way to be saved.

Isaac travelled through Germany, experiencing fierce anti-Semitism, and several times became so lonely and disheartened that he nearly committed suicide. Finally he settled in England in 1871. He spoke no English and had few possessions when he arrived. Eventually he befriended a converted Jew who helped Isaac and introduced him to Reverend Stern, who had a profound influence on him. Over time Isaac began to convert to Christianity and his family disowned him. With nothing left Isaac dedicated himself to Christianity, becoming a preacher and a member of Charles Spurgeon’s congregation, preaching to other Jews and converting them, often on their deathbeds.

Isaac’s story is remarkable but I didn’t find it to be quite as uplifting as the rest of my family. I fully admit that may be because I am an atheist and also because I haven’t read his other books yet, but I’d like to think I can look beyond that. Reading it, I just felt very sorry for Isaac. He wrote it in later life and much of what he remembered was filtered by his beliefs, so his perspective on Judaism and what he felt as a Jew feels somewhat tainted. In his memoir Isaac often writes of his darkest moments hopefully as they prepared him for his conversion, but at the time that couldn’t possibly have been what he felt as he was terribly conflicted. I didn’t feel like I got a genuine picture of what that time was really like for him or what he was feeling.

To be honest reading it, Isaac seemed like a scared young man, a boy terrified of death and of failing his father. He was also severely depressed, anti-social and suicidal (most likely due to bipolar) and losing his family broke his heart. That he found peace and later reconciled with some of his family and did so much good is wonderful, but in the end I found much of his story to be very sad.

But I am glad I read it. It is a remarkable story and Isaac’s leaving Russia for England is one of the major events in my family’s history. If he hadn’t left Russia, I wouldn’t be alive today. Who knows what might have happened to the family line if he had stayed? They might well have perished in the Pale of Settlement – or worse, in Auschwitz or some other terrible place. Perhaps descendents of his extended family did die there; I don’t know. That’s one reason I’d like to know more about our family tree and read Isaac’s other books, to find out more about what happened to them.

I think if I had the chance I would have liked to have met Isaac. He was an interesting man and I’m sure hearing him tell his story would have made it even more compelling. As his great great grandson, there’s a lot I’d like to ask him.

There are other people in my family I’d like to know more about as well. My grandfather on my father’s side (Isaac’s grandson) died before I was born; my father talks about him sometimes and thinks I would have got on well with him, but I don’t know as much about him as I would like to. He was my grandmother’s second husband, after her first husband whom she loved very much died. I often wonder what their lives would have been like if he had not died. Would they still be married now? Perhaps in some alternate reality they are… a reality where my father and I never existed.

I know little about my mother’s side of the family as well, except that historically it is a large Irish family which has settled in various countries. It’s something I’m looking forward to talking to my mother and grandfather about, particularly when I try to trace it back further. My uncle (my mother’s brother) and his partner recently had another child as well, my third cousin. So it looks like that side of the family tree is continuing to grow.

I don’t know whether I’ll add to it. Obviously I’m young and it’s possible I’ll start a family one day but for some reason I’ve always thought that my part of our family line will end with me. The last Levinson. I don’t plan to get married or have children; if I meet someone, great, but it’s not something I’m looking for. I don’t want my genes to live forever; I don’t believe in achieving immortality, except perhaps through writing.

I think that’s one of the reasons I am so interested in our family tree, though. Because in a way it is immortality, following that one seed as it stretches back through time. It reminds me of just how remarkable life is, that despite all the odds, we’ve all lived on this planet, if only for a short time. I think the least I can do is to try and remember.

If I find anything more about my family tree, I’ll let you know. I’m looking forward to seeing what my family has found out so far… and hopefully adding some details of my own.

What about you? Have you ever tried to trace your family tree? Found out anything that surprised you? I’d love to find out.

Update: After posting this yesterday I’ve heard from a couple of relatives we didn’t know about. Looks like there are at least five relatives we didn’t know about. Very excited, particularly as it’s happened so quickly. Hopefully we’ll be able to swap stories.

Hell on Earth

bushfire_sunset

Image: Smoke Clouds ~ Jety

Red sunrise burning
Wind howling among the trees:
Nature is unleashed

The beauty of fire:
An unstoppable fury
Dancing on the wind

Eucalypt forest:
Ancient trees of memory
Scorched by angry flames

Smoke clouding the sky:
Embers falling like raindrops
In the darkest light

Twenty years of life
Reduced to rubble and ash:
We have each other

A fallen tree trunk:
Cars abandoned by the road
Toys scattered inside

Amidst the burnt grass
A single flower remains:
A lone miracle

The sadness of night:
Survivors gather to pray
Tears fall down your face

A city of tents:
Shelter and home to many
Memories survive

Red sunset fading
Raindrops falling to the ground:
A young country mourns

Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence

7 things I want to do before I die

The beginning of the new year’s made me think about a few things. Well, that’s not unusual; I’m always thinking. 😉 But particularly I’ve been thinking about some of the things that I’d like to achieve in my life. Recently I’ve decided to have a look at my priorities, so I thought making a list of some of those things might be a good place to start.

It’s just a short list; I plan to add something new each year so it stays fresh. They’re things I’d like to be able to look back on in later years, things that would make me feel I’d achieved something and could remember with fondness. I wonder how many would be on your list?

7) Learn to dance.
I’m a terrible dancer. I always feel self-conscious and awkward. A large part of that is I’m very sensitive to noise, so being near loud music is difficult. But I’d love to be able to dance; to dance with my wife at our reception would be something I’d remember for the rest of my life. Of course, first I’d need a wife…

6) Spend time on every continent.
I’ve always wanted to see more of the world. Over the next 10 years I hope to see more of Europe and the Americas and it’s my dream to see the Pyramids. Eventually I hope I’ll be able to spend some time on each continent. Antarctica will be the difficult one, if you believe Al Gore.

5) Make a pilgrimage.
I’m not sure where I’d like to go yet but making a journey I’d remember for the rest of my life is something I’d love to do. Jerusalem would be one possibility, or tracing Rome’s history… probably what appeals to me the most is tracing Darwin’s route through the Galápagos.

4) Sleep under the stars.
This is probably the easiest one to do but one day I’d love to get out of Sydney and spend several nights under the stars. You can barely see the stars at night here and the sky is never clear; I imagine being away from the city, the darkness would be beautiful.

3) Listen to someone’s life.
I’ve always liked the idea of a speaker for the dead, to use Orson Scott Card’s term, someone who would learn and speak about a life honestly. One day I hope to listen to someone tell me their story, to truly get the chance to know them… and then if someone wanted to know about them after they had passed, to share it so they would live on.

2) See John Williams and Howard Shore in concert.
I talk about music a lot, but I’m actually more interested in classical music than I am pop music. I write to it and I think movie scores are the closest thing we have to the great compositions of the past. For me John Williams’ score for Star Wars and Howard Shore’s for The Lord of the Rings are the greatest scores ever written (Miklos Rozsa’s Ben-Hur a close third). I’d love to hear both performed live, given the opportunity.

1) See all 4 Grand slams.
Tennis tragic that I am I’d love to see Wimbledon, the Australian, French and US Opens live. I haven’t been to the Aus Open in Melbourne yet but I hope to go next year; if things work out well, that might be when Federer overtakes Sampras’ record. Hopefully I’ll be able to see the others too at some stage. Maybe I’ll be able to see Agassi’s and Graf’s daughter win Wimbledon. 🙂

Are you afraid of death?

I’m not sure why but I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. Maybe it’s that we’re getting closer to Christmas and my mind’s been turning back towards the past, or that we observed Remembrance Day on Sunday and it’s been lingering in my thoughts. It’s not unusual for me to think about death; I’ve always thought that death, though sad, is a natural part of life and there is beauty to it, if you know where to look. But for some reason it’s been different this time.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve felt depressed, but my thoughts have lingered more on the process of dying than they usually do. I’ve had people I’ve known and loved in my life pass away before their time and it was painful; they didn’t seem like the same person and it was very difficult seeing them like that. Peaceful certainly isn’t the right word for their passing, but it was almost a relief to see them go in the end, their agony relieved. We had a chance to say goodbye, something a lot of people don’t have; for many people death comes suddenly and everything that they wanted to say or do is suddenly out of reach. That’s the kind of death I think must be the most difficult to adjust to, for everything to be normal, and then suddenly so different.

My poem from a few days ago is about death. I tried to write it in such a way that the reader could take what they wanted from it, but my inspiration was death. I had been thinking about what it must be like to know you’re dying, to know this or tomorrow will be your last day. What must that be like? Can any of us really know until we’re facing it ourselves? I think if it were me I would be trying to remember the moments of my life, perhaps the regrets as much as the achievements, the friends I had and hopefully would still have around me, and taking the chance to say goodbye.

I think under those circumstances death would be peaceful; perhaps still not something I would be ready for as I’m not sure I ever could be, but at least surrounded by family and friends I would hope it would be a time of remembrance rather than sorrow. Respectful. But to be honest I’m not sure if I believe that’s what would happen. I’m not sure what I believe any more.

I’m not afraid of death. If for some reason I learnt tomorrow that I only had a few days left to live, I wouldn’t fear it; I might be angry, or sad, or any of a thousand different emotions that I couldn’t possibly describe, but I wouldn’t be afraid. I consider myself a spiritual person rather than a religious one; I don’t know if there is something after death, but I would like to feel there is. But even if there isn’t that’s not something I would fear; death is natural and as long as we meant something to someone, that they held us dear in their hearts for a time, then I believe we live forever.

What I am afraid of is leaving people behind. Of leaving things unfinished… of starting down a path and finding I can only follow it a certain way. That to me is the scariest possibility of all. People say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I don’t believe that. Does anybody seriously believe that? It’s certainly better to have experienced than to have experienced nothing, but to have loved and lost is to have left someone behind… perhaps someone who depended on you, and needed you, and suddenly you aren’t there. Yes, if you’re the other person, you can love again and the pain will ease in time, but the relationship is different. Not better, not worse; just different. There’s something lost you can’t get back.

I suppose my one greatest fear in life is that I won’t measure up to my own standards. I look at myself and I’m relatively happy with who I am; I won’t lie and say that there aren’t things I wouldn’t change, moments I wouldn’t live again, or friends I wish I had stayed in touch with and miss dearly, but I take all that as a part of what makes me who I am. But no-one knows what their future will hold and I don’t know where I will be in twenty years. I hope I will be successful in the ways that matter; earning a respectable living, being a good person. I’d love to have a novel published, obviously, and to be secure in where I am. But I’m not sure I will be that. I feel like I’m at a stalemate right now that might last awhile. And if that’s true and I don’t achieve what I want, will it have been worth it?

I don’t know. That’s the one thing I can’t answer and that’s not me being negative, it’s simply that I do not know. How do you weigh what your mind says is possible against what your heart says it wants to achieve? By what measure do you weigh the soul of a man? By the life he has lived, the sights he has seen, the people he has loved? I would hope it is that, but is it really? I lost a friend when I was very young. It was a senseless death, just one of those things that happens for no real reason. I think she would have been a great person and I often wonder what she would be like today. We’ll never know, but I often think of her. And maybe I hold myself against that sometimes, even though I don’t mean to.

So I think that’s what I’m afraid of; not of death, but of what death represents, the measure of what you leave behind. Of course in the end there’s not much anyone can do except to live and value each moment, but I don’t think a lot of people do. I think a lot of people really are afraid of death, or if not death then of the unknown. They push it back as long as they can; they destroy their bodies in the pursuit of youth, they create conflict, they try to be remembered. We have an unhealthy relationship with death, particularly in Western culture; it’s a part of our lives but we try to ignore it or not think about it. And when we are touched by death, we grieve, which is natural – but we don’t always remember. We don’t see beauty, memory, life. And if we don’t do that, I’m not sure we really live.

My favourite poem is Kipling’s If. If you can dream-and not make dreams your master; if you can think-and not make thoughts your aim. I love those two lines in particular; I think they say so much about being creative, but also for how we should treat each other and value life. To dream, but not to dream so far that the dream becomes bitter when it doesn’t become true, in relationships, in life. I think that’s a good way to live and that’s what I try to do. I think most people probably would too, if they thought about it. It just saddens me when I turn on the news and all I see is… death isn’t the right word. Carnage. There’s nothing natural about what we’re seeing on our TV screens every night and that’s why I think it’s all the more important to hold onto some of the more peaceful aspects of death, if we can find them. That’s what I tried to represent in my poem.

Anyway, to anyone who’s got this far, sorry if this seems like a darker post… I’m just in a bit of a melancholy mood at the moment. I’ve said more here than I intended to, more about myself than I usually do… and that’s okay because increasingly this blog is becoming a window to my thoughts on life, and I can’t do that without investing some of myself into it as well. And it’s helping me sort through things more than I expected.

But I’ll have something lighter for you tomorrow.

The smallest of truths

Image from Stock.Xchang

The smallest of truths
Hidden in a field of lies
Towers over all

Beauty without form
Colder than a frozen heart:
Only anger warms

A forbidden kiss
Reflected in candlelight:
My heart remembers

Memories of life
Strongest before the darkness
Fade away with dawn

A final goodbye:
A time for joy and sorrow
Time enough for love

Leaves falling to Earth
Branches reaching to Heaven:
Finally at peace

Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence