A bitter God to follow, a beautiful God to behold.
Becoming an eskimo isnt hard once you must.
You start by going far away, perhaps another landmass,
into the jungle of cold air and make a room a cave a hole
in the surface with your axe. Furnish it simply like devils island
carve a ledge for effigies and another to sleep on.
Land of the midnight sun it keeps you awake turns ice walls blue there are blue
ice walls the effigies a bled white silhouette /
wrapt in a fur you try not to remember but its easier just to let go
and be re-tried re-convicted re-crucified after a few years you even
forget to bleed. Blue all year like a duke’s veins
like her eyes might have been once
when she had eyes. Freezing to death is the cleanest place on earth.
And identity you need not concern yourself with names you are the last of your species.
The worst pain is the morphine blue crevasse and real eskimos
never mind that. Their hallucinations are red-etched norse demons
[The New Australian Poetry, page 54]
In the early winter mornings
sometimes you will hear the snow winds blowing in on you
soon then you will become impatient as lost souls do
you will think you hear someone calling
when it comes to that all you need do is
take a last look at the effigy collection
say farewell to friends you may have made among the graven images
then walk as a human lemming would
out across the bay to where the ice is thinnest and let yourself vanish.
It is waking in the night,
after the theatres and before the milkman,
alerted by some signal from the golden drug tapeworm
that eats your flesh and drinks your peace;
you reach for the needle and busy yourself
preparing the utopia substance in a blackened
spoon held in candle flame
by now your thumb and finger are leathery
being so often burned this way
it hurts much less than withdrawal and the hand
is needed for little else now anyway.
Then cordon off the arm with a belt,
probe for a vein, send the dream-transfusion out
on a voyage among your body machinery. Hits you like sleep —
sweet, illusory, fast, with a semblance of forever.
For a while the fires die down in you,
until you die down in the fires.
Once you have become a drug addict
you will never want to be anything else.
PARNASSUS MAD WARD
First day she hid in bed
under the covers. Then tried to climb up the wall.
[The New Australian Poetry, page 55]
On the third day she was telling a parable:
‘There was a dead dog on a road. Rotting. Everyone thought it ugly.
But Christ said, “Its teeth, they are beautiful”.’
Overcast Thursday, in the garden
she was picking flowers. ‘I like pansies,’ she said,
‘my friends. They have faces.’ Pressed one between the pages
of her sculpture book. It rained, we sat on a bench
beneath a maple whose starfish leaves swam in watery
afternoon. Wet grassblades green day everything green
this absolutest colour. Speaking later of Heine:
wondering within myself how if poets become mad
there continues to be such colour and how
if gods shall have been discredited forgotten
there still can be innocents there still can be love.
he turns his back to dress; i’ve lost him
already, after inevitability took our
hands and made us play, we talked
for hours in the slow
warm dark, touched each other, his body
is red like a fox, i had seen him before,
although he is sandpaper rough, not furry
like his kind, i love all poets; there is
no private self; as, if he needs me,
i go to him. the habit
forms, that we lie together
each time. when he touches me, it is true, a small
space turned in my belly; but
often he starts by brushing his red
fingers through my long, downy hair,
or kisses me. in the next bedroom
our host sleeps in electrified blankets,
wifeless through this and summer when
it comes to his cold province; he guesses
nothing, but would not care.
[The New Australian Poetry, page 56]
Black greyed into white a nightmare of bicycling
over childhood roads harried peaceless
tomorrow came a mirage packed in hypodermic
the city we lived in then was not of your making
it was built by sculptors in the narcotic rooms of Stanley Street
we solved time an error in judgment
it was stolen by the bosses and marketed as the eight hour day
Waking under a bridge in Canberra to chill scrawl
seeing the designs we had painted on its concrete like gnawed fresco
Venice with princes feasting while Cimabue sank deeper into cobweb
as the huns approached in skin boats
back in the world Rick and George on the morgue-lists of morning
one dead of hunger the other of overdose their ideals precluded them
from the Great Society they are with the angels now
I dreamt of satori a sudden crystal wherein civilisation was seen
more truly than with cameras but it was your world not ours
yours is a glut of silent martyrs’ money and carbon monoxide
I dreamt of next week perhaps then we would eat again sleep in a house again
perhaps we would wake to find humanity where at present
freedom is obsolete and honour a heresy. Innocently
I dreamt that madness passes like a dream
Writ out of ashes, out of twenty years of ashes
For George Alexandrov and for Rick
anonymity. perfect black,
featureless. you’ve come in
halfway through, out of sight
of endings and false starts. already
[The New Australian Poetry, page 57]
scatches appear, dust from somewhere
has made an indeterminate face, a grey,
not that of streets, and not of clouds
before rain; dust; nothing else, the only gravity
is imperturbable silence, which traffic spoils,
recirculating known roads, probably deserts.
there had been reasons for this shifting,
this namelessness, strangeness — some exile state
to which the passport must be common, frail,
worn, and of paper usually a bus ticket
or rent receipt easily lost, but saved.
memorise the writing, all language is the same,
there are only three characters, three words;
some think them colours, or that each
is an expression, which can be shown
by gestures of the hands, you had thought this
a secret, a privilege beyond death, hardwon discovery,
next door, they make your coffee for you,
know its ingredients, the cup you like, and
what to say to you; they know your symbols; to learn this
THE HERMIT OF GREEN LIGHT
only the wind and a river know the way to his
hut in the woods, and sometimes only the wind.
the moon, who is his lady, calls him
from the orchard, her light
releasing dim scents of heavy fruit
fallen, concealing the earth, the wind,
a white visitor, knows him through shutters,
through a torn shirt he wears.
he has no love now, has scraps of song
to hum in odd corners of night, besides the moon
he tends broken birds, the forest victims.
cats tumble about him; there are books, the sound
of the river, it is almost enough, this imperfect
silence: often it is enough.
[The New Australian Poetry, page 58]
for Union Carbide, A.D.Hope & Sir P. Hasluck Askin
midnights of consciousness, still, and even
silent, for now the jets are grounded, due to
lack of visibility, & only random thought & squads of
landladies’ plaster ducks attempt flight, occasionally
an owl thuds into a building, it is always
dark now, the air a factory black
like X-rays of the children’s lungs, the coated
earth is brittle, dead horses rot slowly
where they fall, using modified
radar & homing devices, vehicles crowd roads,
sightless, to carry workers from their
shelters to factories, a distant, hardly
safer government issues voluminous
decrees which litter the towns like printed snow.
also the works of the Official Poets, whose genteel
iambics chide industrialists
for making life extinct.
thoughts of the adriatic, terza rima, rilke
high in a castle, borrowed for the occasion
i’ve left work; it rains; the future
must be in my hands and this white paper
stacked to the left of the typewriter, the dusty
lute music tea domestic noises
cars on the wet street
the first winter
thoughts of the country, fenced with failed
memory, shaped trees, into a personal land
[The New Australian Poetry, page 59]
today he will write some verses, his schedule
allows for a poem on his travels, or
a mythological topic.
the day is hot so he selects the past / waterfalls,
dryads, a god or two. from the filing cabinet
of his head, in which legends are filed, alphabetically,
he picks out Hylas and a springside of nymphs. these tiny people
come to life for him, obediently; the ingredients mix well
the beautiful youth / himself / the women / his / who take him
for their own. he makes of this an allegory, displaying his knowledge / minimal /
of psychology / referring to another file / and from the news,
a topical allusion. his measured cadences unfold, a page or two is covered;
he pauses, reviewing what is written. for him the parentheses ripple outward
pleasingly, and he sees in the still pool of his verse
a clear reflection of himself as god.
he rises, leaving the study, it has served its panelled purpose; switches off
his music machine. the record, labelled in flawless french
L’Apres-midi etc / returns to yet another file, and his gods and
go home to their woods
as far now from his mind
as the toy soldiers of his childhood
[The New Australian Poetry, page 60]
Upon the yellow lattice of parchment
lines of lettering are inscribed. If
you have attained the wisdom, you might
translate the dactyls into
jeremiads. In place of the elaborate
black script, you will see
extraordinary hallucinations. Where stood a ‘T’,
a gas-lantern on its iron standard;
where was a ‘C’, now is the
hideous crescent of a doomed daystar,
hollow, where an improvident sun
has bankrupted the sky and where
rain is the Rubicon and
summer’s last fire has burnt your boats.
Or, in the furnished
famine of a salon, as the inlaid
ebony of a chess-board
fades suddenly into
harpsichord-keys, the games
replace your realities and plunder your senses
until your actual being
is less than a metaphysical reflection
in your goblet of kirsch.
it is less yet, this extravagant elegance.
For you will perish in melancholy
if you look beyond the gilt subtleties of the pavilion
toward the minute infinity of judgment; that, or
that you will deify doubt by
names of gods that never were, and
be of them by embracing heresy.
you sketch and detail
with a quill of crystal
illuminations in an intimate hagiography,
and your imagination preys most on
the obvious victim.
[The New Australian Poetry, page 61]
In my father’s house are many cobwebs.
I prefer not to live there — the ghosts
disturb me. I sleep in a loft
over the coach-house, and each morning cross
through a rearguard of hedges to wander in the house.
It looks as though it grew out of the ground
among its oaks and pines, under the great
ark of Moreton Bay figs.
My study is the largest room upstairs;
there, on wet days, I write
archaic poems at a cedar table.
Only portraits and spiders inhabit the hall
of Courland Penders… however,
I check the place each day for new arrivals.
Once, in the summerhouse, I found a pair
of diamond sparrows nesting on a sofa
among warped racquets and abandoned things.
Nobody visits Courland Penders; the town
is miles downriver, and few know me there.
Once there were houses nearby. They are gone
wherever houses go when they
fall down or burn down or are taken away on lorries.
It is peaceful enough. Birdsong flutes from the trees
seeking me among memories and clocks.
When night or winter comes, I light a fire
and watch the flames
rise and fall like waves. I regret nothing.
COURLAND PENDERS: GOING HOME
At the end of the road are stone posts, two either side of
a cattle grid. Trees cripple sight with a bias of green. Beyond
the gates, an elm drive winds among fields
to the house. This is unnoticeable, horizoned by spectacular ranges; enforested, a Vlaminck ‘House In the Woods’.
Halfway along the row of twelve-pane windows downstairs,
a heavy door. One opens it with a key rusty from disuse.
[The New Australian Poetry, page 62]
The hall is hung with portraits, hunting scenes,
minor Nativities and forgotten Madonnas. Corridor. Enfilade through
rooms which gape coldly. Dust sheets smother the furniture,
there is a rustle of mice disappearing.
It is dim even when the shutters have been prised apart, brown shadow
unexorcised. The gale outside anthems a dead family. Night
comes down and there is nothing then. Impersonal fire in a ghostly hearth.
When morning passes like a train at a level-crossing, who else will know?
Draw the curtains there is no world without. No patchwork Herefords
grazing; no wife or sons; only a crop of brambles; only rabbits to be shot
from a veranda rail. Dream
of a white horse in sunset pasture, or that someone will come. Futilities.
The calendar accelerates, days are empty but for lists and numbers.
All the corners have spiders, suggesting Dostoevsky’s Eternity. Permanence
was their material, those nameless builders, the house outlived even the strongest.
It will be a mortuary soon. These poems are stillborn, anachronists, insubstantial.
Suicide would be wasted, death comes soon enough.
If one has nowhere further to go, it is not important
POEM BEGINNING WITH A LINE
i sing to my candle
she sings to me
you call this living?
tells me a story, how, once, beset
&c., but oh, obscure, deep as dim ashbery in her hair
[The New Australian Poetry, page 63]
Canopy of nerve ends
airship skying in crowds and blankets
pillowslip of serialised flesh
it wraps us rather neatly in our senses
but will not insulate against externals
does nothing to protect
merely notifies the brain
of conversation with a stimulus
I like to touch your skin
two islets in an atoll of each other
to feel your body against mine
spending all night in new discovery
of what the winds of passion have washed up
and what a jaded tide will find for us
to play with when this game begins to pall
The road unravels as I go,
walking into the sun, the anaemic
sun that lights Van Diemen’s land.
This week I have sung for my supper in seven towns.
I sleep in haysheds and corners
out of the wind, wrapped in a wagga rug.
In the mornings pools of mist fragment the country,
bits of field are visible higher up on ridges,
treetops appear, the mist hangs about for hours.
A drink at a valley river coming down
out of Mount Ossa; climb back to the road,
start walking, a song to warm these lips
white-bitten with cold.
In the hedges live tiny birds
who sing in bright colours you would not hear
in your fast vehicles. They sing for minstrels
and the sheep. The wires sing too, with the wind;
also the leaves, it is not lonely.
E N D