Poetry

A selection of shorter poems from ATG, SST and ADP is reproduced below.

Australia

Here flanks of sandstone roll above
The cramped ground split; from water came
This Dreaming and the snake's strange stare.
Then deserts brought new loneliness,
After an ochre history,
Silent until our senses clutched
Burnt images whose messages
Slapped back the glare towards the source,
Thought bruised against the monolith.
There each nerve strained its energy
From flesh to word, into the world,
Speech from a glinting continent.

ATG 3

 

Final Solution

The face of winter darkness blends
An iron cross crushed within each flower,
Where camps were thick with wire and blood
As their twilight sky was fed
Distant battles, marching songs.
Each alien pressed down in the mud
Perished with a warning breath:
When honouring a chosen race
Beware the state's new testaments.

ATG 8

 

 

Asking Auden

 'Who,' the inquisitive will ask
'Was he?' A writer who spoke honestly
Of his time and character
On this abrasive satellite,
Acknowledging the muck
Words can make whole.

Don't get uptight
Or too plastered
As you prime your pals —
Chester, Igor, Rhoda;
Think of this poor planet,
Rotten with bad sorts
And horrors greater than any
Ever imagined before.

I can hear you bitching on,
Calling out the old complaints:
Frog effusions are offensive.
Why are people always late!
,
Looking like a scruff and dropping
Ash upon the Muses.

Wystan, tend attentive ears,
Bless us on the earth below,
Send a rhyming, mystic message,
Drop it in the Grand Canal
Where The Rake was first presented
And your hotel rooms were bad.
Let the gondola ferry forward
Through the reeking air and slush,
Bringing with it new precision,
Agape and eros, beauty,
Mastery of form and space.
Wystan! Please stop gossiping,
Listen to my plea,
Send unconscious powers aplenty,
Send the critics out to sea.

Suddenly a voice is heard,
Genial features looming:
These interruptions just won't do.
Be yourself without my help.
Be true to truth and ready for the worst.
Work hard and don't expect
That God is easily pleased!
With that he sighed, sat back, relaxed,
Ethereally smoked, and drank a glass of schnapps.

A promise then, remembering
The folds of that transatlantic face —
To summon up fresh energy
For the new century of the race
Called sapiens, whose language grabs
From past and future tense
Continuing words of grace.

ATG 94-95

   

Official Secrets

Our brave new world
Breeds images for circumnavigating life.
Fresh-cut tissue quickly stitched
Or glass concoction foetus-bound,
Satellites that whir beyond
Our solar system's centrifuge,
Are marvels of the rational,
But the nerves have miracles
Still with their felicity.

While the dusty skeleton
Of all faith was strengthening,
Christ was Sol Invictus haloed,
Decked with hopes of double life;
Not luminous or flapping heavens,
That was thought a finite bliss.
There remains a mystery —
Not one second can be named
Despite the scientist's certainty:

Nuclear blisters in the sky
Giving us our radiance
And each planet in ellipse
Where the matter gravitates
As a vacuum sucks us in
Its infinite and programmed byte,
Down the black hole of our chances
Time's gold chariot galloping,
Reined by double-spiralled chains.

We are human and we know it —
That's the solace that the bird
Cannot muster as it migrates
Under the weasels and whales of clouds.
What pattern comes — we can only guess it,
But at evening we go on,
For the sunrise praises all
When we raise our heads at dawn
And feel that pristine density.

SST 46-47

 

Summer Nights

Somnambulist of the frittering days,
Largesse of spirit dumped,
Full house of the gleaming nightmares —
What mysteries are borne
On this hot circuit,
Arteries flash-flooding
Then drying up the dams behind your eyes.

For all these sheeted ramblings
A hired fool performs,
But when the acid sky
Pits each bedroom's inner springs
Your soul is studded bloodily
And melancholy fills the fierce horizon.

Here a king and queen
Stand in swirls of wheat,
Their Magna Carta setting down
A sunset clause extended,
Containing sure decay.
They order tax, obedience:
Consume, be silent, die.

And we obey,
Even though a cataclysm
Barges the heart
And a passionate retrospect
Tells us something important came
Between the sperm and flame.

Acrid dream.
Sitting up in a sweat,
It's morning, and the air scorches.

SST 73

Translated into Korean by Hanyong Jeong
Viewing 2002, 150-153 ISBN 89-88151-30-5

  

May I Have This Dance?

Time, that is swifter than an acid burn,
Mustier than old photographs,
Jams in your blood its ambition,
Is never tired, doesn't need
The supermarket queue, carries on regardless
When mouths scream for mercy, is kind
At the end in the terminal ward,
Cares not at all for your fear
Of the plot in the yard of grave hopes,
Knows of blue skies above
And red flowers below, preferring
The grey sheet of sleep.

Time has roared
At people pussyfooting, gets annoyed
At those over fifty, parties and children,
But has to put up with them;
When all's said and done
Its temperament is quite placid.
It likes a nice tulle gown
When dancing through the ink
Of stars, but gets bored
By pyramids, pop stars and priests
Whose soapstream
Lathers our thoughts.

Time is a spoiled brat,
Eating bruised bananas,
Enjoying late night television,
Wearing false eyelashes,
Is anything but like
These wrinkles and grey hairs,
Tame philosophy
And cultivated groan
Cindering in an instant
If time decides to waltz with you.
What's this? A hand extended!
May I have this dance?
SST 88-89

   

Rock Face

Up cracked sides,
Gripping splitting rope,
Top an expanse,
Hoping we'll lap
A salt lick treasury source,
Shins sore
From love bite merchants
Who whisper Look down from below,
Churning sea's greenback flack
Teething on rocks, waiting for fresh meat.

Swinging in the wind
I hear the cry of a foetus,
The shriek of an octogenarian —
Climb on dear friend
(My double gives me a chin up).
Then, fingernails bitten to stumps,
I flop on the perilous top.

Rising from black vertigo,
Blood leaking, cartilage torn,
I stand and see before me
Graffiti scorched on basalt:
I am I am I am,
A white flag on the horizon.

SST 99

 

Gifts

Dust in a room at Claridge's,
Snow on Tchaikovsky's tomb,
A galah done like a dinner
In burning eucalypts;
Last things
Bearing answers
For questions cramping the ribs
As light rims stone,
Suburbs strelitzia-sliced.

Brilliant technologies
Give Buddha vision,
Video discs
Showing Butterfly's swordplay,
Holiday's howl,
The rhymes of a streetwise rapper;
But onto this grid
A pattern must drop,
Microbe, crystal and feather flop.

End proofs are awful,
But surely these gifts,
Dust and snow and wing
Raised in subtle fluttering,
Are miracles, broadening out
Our Mephistophelian doubt,
Bringing to heel at last
Light and time and space
In radiance about my face.
ADP 18

 

Confused In The Pacific

Haka or haiku —
We're learning to tell the difference.
ADP 22

 

On Children Going To Sleep

The lion's claw retracts, and stars glint
Near smiling eyes that free
Our hippodrome of grief to levels of giraffes,
Away, far away, from life
Whose gifts we seek.

Here a mercy grows
On profiles fading into sleep,
Requisites of love
Putting python in a cage,
Orang-utan at ease.

Clouds baptise, harbour diamonds
Heaped beside these shapes,
Bent beneath a branch,
Time hanging on a loop
Of human mystery.

Now eucalyptus effervesces
As slow coils of sea
Arch overhead at midnight,
A dreaming, green aquarium
Floating over jumping sheep.

Soon animals crouch round their bed
As joy brings peace and strength,
Then all that childish good enfolds
Our witnessing with leaves of gold
Until this room, by them, is blessed.

ADP 40

   

from Five Shakespeare Studies

II

Here's the smell of the blood still.

Macbeth

Sticking ooze, our pictograph
For aliens to glean.
Sword or axe or atom split,
The aim's the same — reduce
That gleam of eye to ice,
Noble lip to dead men's tales
(Most often men it must be said
Who bring the living to the dead).
Never the field fresh with flowers
Except it fill with malcontents,
Whether brought by chance
Or genocidal happenstance
Matters not, as long as the view
Is carpeted with fools
Who trusted others rather than themselves.
Ocean isn't red;
That should perplex you on your bed; —
After all that killing
Green is still colour that's returning.
Suffer near those wardens where a sigh
Of hope can blast a cloudline from the sky;
That's all you'll see from prison,
Learning meaner vision
As when guts are spattered on the ground
Or torture squeezes liquids without sound.
What colour has its glamour got —
Crimson, rose, vermilion,
Ochre, scarlet, carmine,
All swirling in this mess
On top of which sits imperial custard
Blitzing the chemical messages' mustard gas:
Douse that nation! crop those children!
Aryan nation you're my elation,
Pure and true as youth is wise!
If the nearest you've got to this delicate issue
Is a cut finger dried with a desperate tissue,
Don't think you're au fait with the truths
Of old rigor mortis — one day you'll dive in,
Drink up, do laps in its festering soup
Before the lot stiffens and drags you beneath
In battlefields, hospitals or baths
Where time runs out and razors are preferred.
Still we must bathe for pleasuring, then
We'll search and kill, for we are sporting men.

ADP 89-90

 

You, who have come thus far

You, who have come
Thus far
Without benefit
Of delight
Which trades in generations;
When years
Cannot be marked
By twenty-firsts or wedding noise —
You are a cause gigantic,
As large as any star.

So, if it prevails
That, after shopping,
You return to tea
Or the telly flickering,
Spending latter decades
In survival mode, alone,
You're still living with a grace
Equal to a dynasty
Of parenthood, domestic drama
Once performed without much fuss;
Now it comes with lurid scenes
Equal to a drama queen's.

Whatever need our skin revives,
All of us are like to die,
Including those who've lived apart
Or served a further destiny
That we in our suburban habit
Haven't cared to know.
Unmarried aunts, so often pitied,
Live as much as any dotty
Mother's crazy bourgeois path
From teat to tennis court to tomb,
And that bloke you steer clear of
Loves his beer as much as you
And probably is kinder too.
Never let the obligation
Of parental rectitude
Keep you from the cause that's special
Or deny your magnitude.
You have worth as much as any
Family that's happy here —
Whatever cost or cause,
You too are beyond compare.

ADP 103-104

 

Reversal

Insouciant, laughing spiral
Socked to grandeur, DNA
Spilt through this frame
We inhabit saltily.
There's the rub that's rational —
Sense is just developed splashing
From the gene pool's pairing lakes
(Mischance brought on panicked art
To subdue our loneliness).

Splicing what the test tube empties
Leads to ruin in the lab.
That order will not stick.
We're possessed by star and fire —
Standing under studded skylines,
Chaos brought to steady state,
We create the world with words
And, with senses overproofing,
All the sacred scriptures groove.

ADP 105


Promotional flyer for launch of A Temporary Grace,
Pentimento Bookshop, Balmain August 28, 1991

Mash-up —lines and stanzas excerpted from poems

Moon, appreciative satellite,
Repose of the dreamland visa,
Spare us a little poetry for our sins.
 
 
   Time will turn over
   All your palaver,
 
   Leaving cremated
   Ash understated
 
   Near the bright roses
   Whose blossom supposes
 
   Beyond all this strife
   A finished design.
 
 
Yet you lived in your ivory tower
Moralising for all,
Never lifted a finger to help
One amnestied soul from its hell
 
 
   If your aim hits home it’s enough
   To set fires on the top of Parnassus
   And snatch up new grammars for slanging.
 
 
Did I climb out of the trees
To shave this stubbled chin,
Sloughing off male mask,
Throat cut with trembling hands?
 
 
   Don’t rap with the others
   Whose mode is to blunder,
 
   Who cannot tell when
   To develop a yen
 
   For a nice plate of sushi
   Or a quick trip to Fiji.
 
 
Farmers show,
With that stride through grass,
How blood and bone string up hopes
On the edge of a yearly illusion,
Squinting at skies
Or smelling what feral dogs gutted.
 
 
   History is bunk some capitalist insists—
   Sea mauls ferries in the Phlippines,
   Mud buries the unprepared.
 
 
Future wins the undertow
Of your emphatic overflow
Bringing, suddenly, to this chair,
Healing skin and brilliant air.
 
 
   Too serious. Yep.
   OK. Smear mango on my face,
   Let cellophane cover my ears,
   Put my pinkies into mud.
   Ah.
 
 
Listen. Music of hot monoliths,
Songlines stretched through stone,
Artesian basins filling
Under that intent,
Words washed onto pages
Round a continent.
 
 
   But for now this sufferance
   On mountain ribs or armoured plains,
   Where only hope is left to know
   The tear which blisters, grief that blunts,
   Showing our desperation just.
 
 
Limbs stroking rhythm,
Slimmed to a fin,
Lifeguards on the shore
Fading as you skim
Deliquescent orders
And new triumphs win.
 
 
      A metaphysical option is delight
      Of yes or no in direst circumstance.