‘J’ai Du Coeur Au Ventre’!

By Ian C. Smith | December 12th, 2023

Memories and bravery


Scene from the Flamsbana mountain railway in Flam, Norway, by Leonovo. Used in an essay on memories and progress over the years, “J’ai Du Coeur Au Ventre,” “I am brave.”

Memories fly through the mind like landscapes out of a train window, moving swiftly to its destination. For writer and poet Ian C. Smith, the memories encompass a time-worn saying, “J’ai Du Coeur Au Ventre,” an old French saying meaning “I am brave.” 


A lad sits in shadow at a railway station waiting out the night, dreaming of ocean-deafened escapades, of tidesong. This is black char of fire Australia stripped bare, where the horizon shimmers like a hallucination under a blazing sun. In the ticking silence a guard dog stares from a gravel yard.

Showering, I can’t see beyond my gut, grown stealthily during this sprint of years as I zoom through precious time. Shrugging into a T-shirt I marvel at how long I have unthinkingly worn this relic, clothes low on my must have list, ditto T-shirt messages. Sixteen years, I estimate, admiring its good souvenir breeding as I mind-track over places we have been on show, activities this stout cloth has served, its colours faded to pastel, a well-travelled, stretched, scoured, weather-beaten veteran.

School was structured savagery with one exception, a lone adult like a safe house, his language teacher – isn’t it always? – an inspiration who never blistered him. The pen is mightier than the sword was that gentle man’s timeworn motto, one the lad’s banshee mother also quoted among other motley saws in her quasi-educated repertoire of shackled despair.

Before tossing that T-shirt in the tub again, this gift from Quebecois visitors to Australia who hosted me many years earlier, turning our considerable language-gap into hilarity, a joyful interlude on my hitchhiking odyssey of North America, I peer in the mirror at its forgotten cartoon. A chubby little guy puffs uphill on the hard part, a winding road behind him with scenes of life on Earth. His heart bursts clean out of his chest, sweat flying, I have guts, the caption’s translation.

He knows his parents will skewer each other now he has finally left. They would bite their own tails. He hopes, in the way of hurt lads, they might regret his absence, or die of the plague, as he boards the dawn train to uncertainty, a gipsy leaving the encampment at the cyclone-wire end of town in a blur believing, because he is still so young, forever yawns ahead, he is finished with weeping, and has escaped memory’s cud.


Ian C Smith’s work has been widely published. He writes in the Gippsland Lakes region of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.


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