03 Bruce Beaver, 1928-2004

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Australian poet Bruce Beaver, Manly, Sydney, 1984, photo by John Tranter
Australian poet Bruce Beaver, Manly, Sydney, 1984, photo by John Tranter

[The New Australian Poetry, page 1]
Australian poet Bruce Beaver died in the early hours of the 17th of February 2004 after a long illness. He was 76 years old. You can read my obituary article here:

Bruce Beaver

      I (for Frank O’Hara)
God knows what was done to you.
I may never find out fully.
The truth reaches us slowly here,
is delayed in the mail continually
or censored in the tabloids. The war
now into its third year
remains undeclared.
The number of infants, among others, blistered
and skinned alive by napalm
has been exaggerated
by both sides we are told,
and the gas does not seriously harm;
does not kill but is merely
unbearably nauseating.
Apparently none of this is happening to us.
I meant to write to you more than a year
ago. Then there was as much to hear,
as much to tell.
There was the black plastic monster
prefiguring hell

[The New Australian Poetry, page 2]

Bruce Beaver

displayed on the roof
of the shark aquarium at the wharf.
At Surfers Paradise were Meter Maids
glabrous in gold bikinis.

Meter Maid: Photo: Bette Arkinstall, parking attendant, Nerang Street, Southport, [Surfers Paradise], 1968. (Supplied: Gold Coast Local Studies Collection, photographer Bob Avery.)

It was before your country’s
president came among us like a formidable
virus. Even afterwards —
after I heard (unbelievingly)
you had been run down on an island
by a machine
apparently while renewing yourself;
that things were terminal again —
even then I might have written. [1]
But enough of that. I could tell by the tone
of your verses there were times
when you had ranged around you,
looking for a lift from the gift horse,
your kingdom for a Pegasus.
But to be trampled by the machine
beyond protest…
I don’t have to praise you; at least
I can say I had ears for your voice
but none of that really matters now.
Crushed though. Crushed on the littered sands.
Given the coup de grace of an empty beer can,
out of sight of the ‘lordly and isolate satyrs’.
Could it have happened anywhere else
than in your country, keyed to obsolescence?
I make these words perform for you
knowing though you are dead, that you ‘historically
belong to the enormous bliss of American death’,
that your talkative poems remain
among the living things
of the sad, embattled beach-head.
Say that I am, as ever, the young-
old fictor of communications.
It’s not that I wish to avoid

[The New Australian Poetry, page 3]

Bruce Beaver

talking to myself or singing
the one-sided song.
It’s simply that I’ve come to be
more conscious of the community
world-wide, of live, mortal poets.
Moving about the circumference
I pause each day
and speak to you and you.
I haven’t many answers, few
enough; fewer questions left.
Even when I’m challenged ‘Who
goes there?’ I give ambiguous
replies as though the self linking
heart and mind had become a gap.
You see, we have that much in common
already. It’s only when I stop
thinking of you living I remember
nearby our home there’s an aquarium
that people pay admission to,
watching sharks at feeding time:
the white, jagged rictus in the grey
sliding anonymity,
faint blur of red through green,
the continually spreading stain.
I have to live near this, if not quite with it.
I realize there’s an equivalent
in every town and city in the world.
Writing to you keeps the local, intent
shark-watchers at bay
(who if they thought at all
would think me some kind of ghoul);
rings a bell for the gilded coin-slots
at the Gold Coast;
sends the president parliament’s head on a platter;
writes Vietnam like a huge four-letter
word in blood and faeces on the walls
of government; reminds me when
the intricate machine stalls
there’s a poet still living at this address.

[The New Australian Poetry, page 4]
Australian poet Bruce Beaver, holding hat, apple picking in New Zealand, photo by Nigel Roberts.
Australian poet Bruce Beaver, holding hat, apple picking in New Zealand, photo by Nigel Roberts.

Bruce Beaver

Three anti-depressants and one diuretic a day
seven and five times a week respectively
save me from the pit.
I pray while I’m taking them and in between doses
because, as Dylan Thomas says, I have seen the gates of hell.
Once I drew back in distaste from the metho drinker
and his bleary lady friend — you’ve seen them
weaving a way through non-existent traffic.
He, swollen faced, with a backside kicked in
by what the tougher call life. She,
the terrible veteran doll of Pantagruel’s nursery.
Let them pass into the peaceful holocaust.
In Rushcutter’s park they congregated over bottles.
Walking, we avoided them as mined ground,
fearful of their implosions bloodying the day.
Later I fell so far into self-sickness
I envied them. My thoughts
haunted their submerged wreckage like a squid.
At their groaning subsidence I retreated
into a pall of ink.
                                        Whatever I tell you,
you have heard before.
                                                    I remembered Swift’s
fascination with the insane. I whistled
‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came’
outside the grimy walls of Callan Park.[2]
Inside — il miglior fabbro — the best of us all
chewing bloody knuckles, wept dry,
daft as a headless chicken circling in the dust.[3]
Where are prayers said for him and the parkside horrors?
Some prayed for us, I know. I’m still here
partially, trying to live detachedly.
Is it only the exceptional ones, the broken battlers,
shred me into uselessness? Does it mean
I’d pick and choose in hell? Discriminative?
Like a dog in rut — no,
self-abasement’s out. So is complacency.

[The New Australian Poetry, page 5]

Bruce Beaver

I’m never likely to forget
the day I walked on hands and knees
like Blake’s Nebuchadnezzar, scenting the pit.
So it’s one day at a time spent checking
the menagerie of self; seeing
the two-headed man has half as much
of twice of everything; curbing the tiger;
sunning the snake; taking stock of
Monkey, Piggsy, Sandy’s belt of skulls.

in and out of the streets
                  among them moving
ponderously black-garbed
with a stricken expression
                  an old woman
with a white beard          the younger women
and the girls don’t
                  see her at all
does she see them I wonder watching them all
all the courteous
                  and rude old men
gnarled shrunken bent bloated
                  white and flaccid
as the inner thighs of contented matrons
food is moving them
                  to and fro
along the streets          food and thoughts
of more food

[The New Australian Poetry, page 6]

Bruce Beaver

                  moves them into
and out of the jammed with comestibles super-
        markets     the big
                  and little depots
of produce where still you may smile and be smiled
upon       talked to
                    even by the
hereditary attendant       the Mediterranean the African
                  the Central European
acclimatised or second third
generation local
                    already the millionfold
unoriginalities of racial
                  at least the fingerprints
are different         the creases in the palms
of the hands
                  are as individuated
as petals’ leaves and moments among them         lost and found
                  for the duration
of a day’s eternity the ones
who look into
                  eyes for a sign
of life among the food-buyers
under the big-leaved
                  trees       bending
the coarse grass of the jungle floor
the garrulous vegetarians
  the fruit and root
eating survivors of Lemuria
gather and feast

[The New Australian Poetry, page 7]

Bruce Beaver

                    strewing the ground
with dropped skins seeds and fragments
of pulp       their leader
                    is vocal and moves
expertly beneath the laden branches
      the gifts of his prowess
the males and the females carrying young
inside and outside
                    their hairy bellies
move in hierarchical patterns
among themselves
                    eating and screeching
encouragement and warnings to each
other until
                    the moment of
dispersal       back to the sleeping tree
or glade of awakened
the TV screens in the discount house
mouth and flicker
                    silently behind
price-tagged plate-glass
the noon cooks
                    the crushed fruit
of the Moreton Bay fig on molten
asphalt       shaven
                    armpits and
deodorised genitals steam
quietly under
                    cotton and nylon
food is the one thought of the ruminant
hour       the blessed

[The New Australian Poetry, page 8]

Bruce Beaver

                    eat prana
plankton of the air and know
hunger       he sat
                    at our table
toying with the food we had
given him
                    telling us
how filthy are the living       they dirtied
his books       he said
                    he’d like to get into them
with a machete       we saw how hungry
he was and how dead
                    and were afraid
we could not tell him the dead are supposed
to stop eating
                    surely there was
more than food to think about
there was always he said
                    the smeared pages
of his books       the hairs       the stains
starving starving
                    the other two
told us of marvels of taste       birds cooked
in wine       meat
                    seasoned with rare
herbs yet they bickered over children
and others       we listened
                    but all we heard
was the sound of dragons’ teeth munching
the peristaltic
                    groan and squeak of
the bowels of compassion and the voice of
the people saying

[The New Australian Poetry, page 9]

Bruce Beaver

                    I love you so much
I could eat you       saying I’m hungry as sin
saying love
                    here is my heart
my liver my kidneys sweetbreads       we
resolve to spend
                    less on food
the coarse meats and fibrous vegetables
of a drouthy
                    land will partially
cover our plates       and when the dead
rise with machetes
                    we will offer them
the food of our thoughts and bury them to a
sound of muffled
                    champing       a communal
prayer to the god of guts       while the news
of countries starving
                    hangs over all our
tables like a screaming grace
tonight the old woman
                    with the white beard
and the skinny hump-backed creature mouthing
obscenities silently
                    at the underclothes
counter in Woolworths shall dine with the heavenly
bodies on cold
                    tinned pets’ food
and the readable table cloth shall cry

[The New Australian Poetry, page 10]

Bruce Beaver

take it up       with reticence if you must
but don’t be prepared to lay it down
before something to be said has been said
outside the house the weather is unremarkably
fine       the light is bright enough to disclose
a man in white overalls painting the flats
opposite       further off the sounds of the construction
of a large block of units       someone warmly
singing banalities       the painter is tapping now
at a rusty length of guttering       from the shore
and from the road beside it the rush
of traffic and ocean       a faint susurration
of bird calls a fainter smell of
benzine ozone bruised grass and browning
jasmine       inside the house from the room next
to this the typewriter clacks       soon a kettle
will whistle careless of inattention
coffee will come on time and be sipped meditatively
these things and instances of being surround the poem
which is this afternoon a small vacuum
abhorrent to nobody yet       beneath the flooring

[The New Australian Poetry, page 11]

Bruce Beaver

a mating cat prowls mewing submissively
calculatingly       the six sounds of ringing trowel
singer hoist motors ocean and typewriter
subdue the prowling cat’s monotoned overture
the poem has broken through itself       it is the coffee
as yet unmade       how real it tastes       to sip it is
the most natural thing in the world       if I get up
to make the coffee the made poem of coffee
will spill all over the desk as it has done before
steaming over the page and onto and into my
trousers       so careless of me       I refuse to pour another
cupful of the poem until the globe about
the vacuum reseals and the empty plenitude becomes
itself once more       this morning I thought I was dying
again so I’ve spent a fair part of an otherwise
unexceptional day looking into other men’s vacuums
though some are more like amber or lapis
lazuli or glass globes that can be held in
the hand and shaken to simulate a snow-fall
or autumnal leaf-fail       the amber objects have
bees and flowerets       the lapis lazuli (which I have never
seen) are in name only       my eyes are neither

[The New Australian Poetry, page 12]

Bruce Beaver

ancient nor glittering       the vacuum refuses to be
itself       it is filled with objects noises odours
it is quite tangible and tastes like coffee       it has
made its point and continues to be and change and will
contribute to a fragmentary whole forever       for a while

      from. ODES AND DAYS
Refusing to listen to the evening
news in order to write this.
Through the closed door,
a hollow flimsy construction,
filters that masculine oval-
toned voice with just a hint
of urgency to it.
Unbelievable things are being reported,
incredible things are on view
on the slightly ghosting screen.
It is obviously a grave responsibility
to be human and to stay alive
but I sit here wondering about that last sunset tinge
of saffron along the hill’s
rim; the lid of black coming
down on the blue; the lights
and the stars winking on
and off the same as before,
only unique.

How often it seems to happen that
the flaws I find while reviewing others,
clumsy rhythms, obtrusive pet words,
obscure dislocations of meaning,

[The New Australian Poetry, page 13]

Bruce Beaver

are my own errors still unpurged.
I moan and grunt at this and that:
the lack of a lyrical tone, the tic
of an obsessional mannerism,
and above all the unoriginality
of such and such a thought in
someone else’s style. Are we all
pasticheurs with talent enough only
to find out what works, and how,
in others our artistic betters
until self-consciousness becomes
as schizophrenic as a prism
and we realize our seamless garment
was a coat of many colours after
all, as shrinkable and runnable
as a bargain basement birthday present?

Blood from a small split in my thumb
marks this note-page as I write.
No larger than a crushed flea’s
or mosquito’s disgorgement.
Colour of — yes — watered tomato sauce.
You cannot see it because I have
declined to reproduce the effect
in red ink; so much for poetic
veracity. I mention it only
as a reminder to myself that
when punctured or otherwise
grossly mistreated I bleed like
others. That there are inside my
veins, vessels and arteries
so many pints of crimson sap.
That it often comes under great
pressure and threatens my head
and body melodramatically
but really. I’m writing right
through it now. I’ve been writing

[The New Australian Poetry, page 14]

Bruce Beaver

with it in the pen and on the
page for 27 years and so far
haven’t run out of letters or corpuscles.

Early this morning before 7 am
I sat at the kitchen table and looked
out at the grey yard. Halfway up
the window pane a small spider
crawled laboriously, slipping back
every quarter inch or so. It was transparent
and its feet looked as fine as thread,
its antennae or forelegs transparently
waving in front of it. It looked as if
it had just been hatched out and into
that cold world of grey skies and icy
window pane glacier face. I looked
away only too aware of what an
image it made. I recalled Toynbee’s
parable of the races part-way up
a sheer cliff, hugging into a crack
unable to go forward or back to
whatever the future and past held
elsewhere. I looked again and the little
spider had settled for a hold on the
wooden centre-frame. As far as I can
make out it’s still there twelve hours later
in the stormy night, probably alive.

You so truly inhabit your verses now
I hear your voice speaking in all
of them — your speaking voice.
Do you know what I’m saying to you —
now you are poetry, you will live it forever
after. You have been living with it for years

[The New Australian Poetry, page 15]

Bruce Beaver

first like a lover, then a husband, a father.
Now it is you. Whatever you do from now on
will be a making. Yes, even those terrible
hours, dull or frenetic, when you are imprisoned
by years of week days, even when you are cleaning
your teeth, looking for a lost letter,
reading a poem or a tax return.
Even in bed remembering Goethe’s restless
post-climactic fingers tapping out metres
on a moist back (not his own).
Now you are what you wanted to be, fearfully,
even collusively, and so alone you will give
your self of selves again and again
to other poems, other lovers, life.

When life was all about me
like a constraining womb
I wrote poems about death.
I did not call them death poems
but thought they were all about life
in extremis, life as an agony.
Now at the end of winter
death seems to be everywhere,
in the brown and grey of dead leaves
in the dull and unscintillating glare
of the midday river’s surface,
in the heavy smells from a nearby factory,
even in the stormtrooper’s strut and stance
of a foraging magpie,
the awkward rigor of an excreting dog.
So many sights and smells
even a sound or two
of TV commercials

[The New Australian Poetry, page 16]

Bruce Beaver

and the feeling of frost in the toes
and the back of the neck,
my wife’s cold nose
and my own cold, pen pushing fingers —
So many ciphers of the year’s
dead end that will not
in a week or two transform itself
for September’s sake but will hold off
for as long as it can from celebrations
of sneeze inducing pollen,
the clashing colour schemes of new
blossom, the pallid blue of warmer
skies, the faintly honeyed air,
the paraphernalia of spring.
Not life or death, just the first kicks
of continuity. So that now,
still surrounded by death —
death of this, death of that,
fly shells in the window groove,
beetle shells among the brown leaves;
death of these, death of those,
5,000 in the Philippines earthquake,
3 children in an Ulster family —
I write madly about life.
In another month it will be on again,
the girls will stop hugging their cold
tits, the boys’ denim flies
will be bulging, the little kids
here and everywhere else
on the continent will be rolling
around in clover grass and on
the warming asphalt. Dogs, cats
and birds will go madder than usual
about their courting. Everything
and everyone will come alive
until summer bums or sulks its way
through the wreckage of

[The New Australian Poetry, page 17]

Bruce Beaver

December and everyone celebrates
the birthday of the king of life,
death notwithstanding.

Death beckoned me towards the beach
The same one on which I’d spent days,
Weeks, years made up of the hours
of my life as a child —
Then hidden in the warm salt hazy dusk
of summer evenings I’d moved mesmerically
from end to end of the darkened sands
feeling their mush or powder between my toes
at the phosphorescent tideline
or breathing the tired air
beneath the seawall.
Or forgetful of everything but the now
of sunlight and spray of the breaking wave
shouts and cries of the playful surfers
at morning, midday or dreamily fading
late afternoon of the interminable days
of summer, blue white sky and the jade
and opal of the everywhere reaching sea
and the illimitable horizon line.
Or walking forward towards the central
Steyne’s mid-point of beach and my home
two streets back from the sands and the blowing
spray, walking beneath those colonnades
and high cathedral roof of healthy pines
where the pigeons clustered and rose to fall
gently irresistibly to the grassy verge
of the path beneath the pines, where I heard
walking a music moving with my steps
within me as I was within that landscape.
Or kneeling again on the cool sands
of autumn, following the line

[The New Australian Poetry, page 18]

Bruce Beaver

of wrack, on my childish knees,
shuffling forward like some pale and smooth skinned
animal snuffling its way from stick to weed
and other relics of the ocean’s saga.
It was death that walked with or knelt
beside me there — Death the colour of dawn
or sunset, bright midday or dark midnight
of deep summer when the sleepless people
come to walk within the lukewarm shallows
or sit beside the wall in the breathless air.
Whether in heat or chill air I moved
beside the ocean it was death that led
or accompanied me — Not mine, but the myriad
around me in the streets and every second
house, the simple cottage or the foursquare
block of flats. Up from the beach or down
from the hill I’d watched death knock at many doors
and the dead come out and move towards the ocean,
go lightly across the sand or heavily
dragging reluctant feet to fade into
the neverending cortege of the waves —
Until I knew I moved and went with the dead
in pretty costumes or the plainest cloth,
lightly or heavily garbed to suit the season
until the great storms would come and neither
the partly living nor the dead could cross
the battered shelving sand or find a way
into that abyss of the transformed ocean.
Then I would huddle in the sheltered room
and make new myths about the life of things
until death beckoned once again
to me to go out into the streets
of Limbo, down to the sands and waves
and wait a while as forever came and went
across the calmer waters towards and from
the perpetually falling horizon line.


[1] Bruce Beaver believed (wrongly) that Frank O’Hara had been run over on the beach while sunning himself. This misbelief became widespread in Australia. In fact the incident occurred in the pitch-dark early hours of the morning when O’Hara, very drunk, stepped into the path of an oncoming vehicle on the beach at Fire Island.

[2] Callan Park was widely known as a mental hospital in the 1950s. It is now empty [2016].

[3] The major Australian poet Francis Webb was incarcerated in Callan Park mental hospital for many years.