Almanac Poetry: Going to America (for Einar Eugene Smith)


In this, her second poem published here, Jane Greenwood says farewell to the Einar Smith. Another colourful member of the St Peter’s Lutheran College’s faculty, Einar died far too young.

He was American, from one of those states settled, in part, by Norwegian Lutherans. If you’ve ever read the brilliant observations of Garrison Keilor – Lake Wobegon Days is a good starter – then you’ll have an idea of the Prairie Lutheran heritage which influenced him. Like many, Einar left to study both at university and at seminary. He became an ordained Lutheran pastor, and wound up in Australia.

He had a brilliant mind, an interest in ideas, and a breadth of philosophical and theological projects the contemplation of which occupied his everyday. He was also a scientist. He had a doctorate in Physics. Jane might be a able to remind me of the topic of his thesis.

He wore his enormous intellect lightly.

He had a unique way of conducting a church service: his voice was soft, his accent strong and he spoke with a gentle resignation – delivering the liturgy and offering his sermons more in hope than in brash confidence.

During the week he spent time with other big minds like Mike Selleck, mentioned in the introduction to Jane’s first poem, and Pastor Neal Nuske who came from the Darling Downs, Queensland’s Prairie, where he had been a member of the Aubigny congregation in my father’s parish. They would meet at lunch. Staff members who lived on campus, like Einar, were provided with a cooked lunch. And other staff could join them for the princely sum of $2 for corned beef and white sauce, or fish and chips, or crumbed snags and mash. I would listen to their interactions.

He would also come to Friday afternoon drinks which were, for a long time, at the RE (Royal Exchange) in Toowong. (Later drinks were on the terrace at the St Lucia Golf Club just near St Peter’s.) Friday drinks in the teaching world have a special place. Mike, Einar, one of the art teachers and I were the regulars. Jane was busy chasing her tribe of children. Einar told stories of life as a Kansas pastor, of bib-overalls parishioners, of gardens and fruit trees, and tornadoes, of the pious and not so pious, of joy and of suffering. Each week, as Einar (who shopped at Mr Big Menswear) was getting ready to leave the pub, it became a ritual for Mike to ask, “What’s for dinner Einar?”

Einar would summon his most American accent and say, “Hot dogs!”

Mike would follow up: “How many?”

Einar would reach into his shopping bag for the KR Darling Downs franks. “Just twelve tonight.”

Einar had a significant liking for top-shelf French spirits and he was more likely to enter the world of conversazione with a brandy balloon in his hand. He could see through the crap. Existential reality and the big questions were front of mind from a very young age for him.

St Peter’s was a very musical school, with a wonderful choral and orchestral tradition. Traditional hymns were sung at daily chapel. But so were the contemporary Christian songs of the post-60s world. Einar and Mike tolerated these jingles. However they were just as likely to be line-dancing in the pew to ‘Give me oil in my lamp’. They had one song they called ‘Drop kick me Jesus, through the goalposts of life.’

I miss these people.



This is Jane’s poem:




Going to America

For Einar Eugene Smith


Now, as the world turns onward,
And sullen daylight struggles over hills,
I write to say ‘Farewell.’ Somehow,
One feels, the occasion being momentous,
There ought to be a clash of cymbals,
Sound of trumpets, roll of drums,
The New World beckoning her son.


Now, as I think of gifts,
And wonder what will travel, what you’d use,
I hope perhaps this gift of words you’ll welcome,
Since words are what we’ve shared:
Precious colloquies of remembrance.


Crosswords over coffee; companionable critiques;
The ones that found the ending
To that speech I did one year: they burnished it.
Tipsy Lohe Street words, champagne-flavoured,
Run through with giggles as I tripped upstairs
(In a dignified way of course) and everyone
Looked terribly surprised (but you, who cried
With laughter, there, on your steps, the prayer mat
Behind you.)
Common room words, played to the tune of
Laughter, or high seriousness, coffee-flavoured these,
And smoky with good fellowship.


Home words, too, some unspoken (how kind
You were to dignify my ghastly pumpkin soup
With silence born of friendship)
But mostly shared at table, or helping us to decorate our tree,
One of the family, here at Christmas.


These are the words I leave you with, my friend,
Hoping the fugues they play in memory
Will counterpoint your absence from our lives
And conversations echo in the stillness
After the last note has died.




Read more from Jane Greenwood HERE.


  1. Kevin Densley says

    Really like this, Jane. In particular, I found its tone suitably affecting, given the occasion for which it was written. The poem is also a touch Larkinesque, I feel, in its mixture of the everyday, flourishes of humour and (bless you!) clarity. One of the major attributes of good writing, I feel, is clarity – and this can apply to more abstract work as well as the more ‘realist’ (for want of a better term) variety.

    I’ve been supplying the Footy Almanac with almost a poem a week for years now – good to see a ‘new’ poet enter the picture.

  2. Jane Greenwood says

    Oh, that’s very kind, Kevin! Thank you. Einar was a special friend – as John noted he had a sense of the importance of the everyday, but also a high seriousness. (Although we were possibly unacceptably prone to making one another weep with laughter, once over a story that involved Einar’s belief at a dinner party that the attractive woman over the table from him was playing footsie with him … he responded, and couldn’t work out why her face did not give the game away at all. Then he discovered that it was the family dog beneath the table who was enjoying the attention… )

    Thanks for your encouragement, Kevin!

  3. Reading your poem in a harbour apartment in seriously smoky Croatia. Spent a scorched hour Sunday with my wife and two of her brothers scouring the isolated cemetery in a tiny village in the Biokovo mountains looking for relatives. “No that’s not him – same name – dates don’t tie up – look over here another Slavko”. I found it strangely affecting having none of the cultural connection, but having come to know a little of their hardscrabble lives and how Australia was paradise when they migrated. “Cast your nets on the other side” was never more appropriate than in the case of post WW2 European migrants.
    Your poem struck a similar tone for me. Grateful for the opportunity; saddened for the loss. More please.
    I don’t read a lot of poetry but the profound simplicity reminded me a lot of Mary Karr. I have read all 3 volumes of her memoirs (brilliant) and that led me to her poetry.
    “Suicide’s Note: An Annual” an excoriation of David Foster Wallace and the narcissism of suicide.
    And on a poignant sporting note her “Loony Bin Basketball”

  4. Subtle sadness and hope in this – my feelings anyway. Sadness of death (obvious) and a sort of hope you’ll see him again?

    Precious colloquies of remembrance.

    JTH – love your introductions to these as well. Superb. I remember Michael talking about Einar. Must be a few years ago now!

    More please.

  5. Rick Kane says

    Hi Jane

    If there was a clapping emoji and a heart one too on this site they would start my comment.

    This is a beautiful, touching poem. Reading it aloud was even better. I love your turn of phrase (like, played to the tune of laughter), how they kinda catch me out and then immediately they read/feel like expressions I hear all the time. Delight bombs for the mind!

    As Dips said, more please.

    And JTH, you mentioned the great Bobby Bare song, Dropkick me Jesus which is a ripper. Not that it has to do with this poem to Einar but there is a song by Jimmy Buffett called My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink and I Don’t Love Jesus which is worth a listen. And She Left Me for Jesus, by Hayes Carll. Cheers

  6. Love the phrase, ‘Precious colloquies of remembrance.’

    Thanks for this, Jane.

  7. Jane Greenwood says

    Oh my goodness, thank you all! I guess, as John notes, that there’s a special tenor in a staff room filled with friends, all of whom have a voice, and with whom you can unashamedly laugh and cry. So yes, we sang Drop kick me Jesus, and When it’s hog-stickin’ time in Nebraska (all four lines exactly the same), and laughed, I’m ashamed to say, at the occasional hilarity to be found in kids’ essays (the unfortunately named Fanny in Far From the Madding Crowd once occasioned Mike Selleck’s tears).
    Peter_B, having traced some forbears to a small place called Workington in Cumbria, once a well-known fishing village in Tudor times but lately fallen victim to the closure of mines and markets in that part of the world, and finding a couple of them in St Michael’s, their small dog at their feet, I get what you’re searching for … it’s all about connection, isn’t it. And Rick, I badly need to up my knowledge of Jimmy Buffett and Hayes Carll. Just the titles have me in stitches!

  8. Jane Greenwood says

    Thank God for YouTube! I could just wish that ‘My Head Hurts etc’ had film to go with the sound track- but that’s a hoot in itself. And as for ‘She left me for Jesus’ … Crying, now! Thanks, Rick!

  9. Jane Greenwood says

    And Peter, thanks so much for the gen on Mary Karr. What an incisive mind! I shall have to find the memoirs but these poems are a great intro.

  10. Wonderfully heartfelt and most enjoyable.

    Thanks, Jane.

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