06 Michael Dransfield, 1948-1973

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Michael Dransfield

      BUMS’ RUSH

Yea, is not even Apollo, with hair and harpstring of gold
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

they etch those on stone make fifty copies and sell them at cape dorset.

[The New Australian Poetry, page 54]

Michael Dransfield

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.


      for Libby

    First day she hid in bed
under the covers. Then tried to climb up the wall.

[The New Australian Poetry, page 55]

Michael Dransfield

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]

Michael Dransfield


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]

Michael Dransfield

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
shatters you.



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]

Michael Dransfield


      for Union Carbide, A.D.Hope & Sir P. Hasluck Askin
Clutha etc.

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
poem workshop
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]

Michael Dransfield

we live together, my lands and i,
my love’s green marches
sensing a time, under the red soil and the snow
and grass, in which nothing important
changes, has ever been different;
only lost for a while

Poet Michael Dransfield, Collected Poems, cover, University of Queensland Press, 1980. Unknown artist, a drawing from a photograph.
Poet Michael Dransfield, Collected Poems, cover, University of Queensland Press, 1980. Unknown artist, a drawing from a photograph.



today he will write some verses, his schedule

allows for a poem on his travels, or

                                        roses, 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

little people

go home to their woods

as far now from his mind

as the toy soldiers of his childhood

[The New Australian Poetry, page 60]

Michael Dransfield


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.
And so
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]

Michael Dransfield


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.



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]

Michael Dransfield

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

how long one takes to get there, or by what means one travels.



i sing to my candle
she sings to me
ah, bohemia
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]

Michael Dransfield


Canopy of nerve ends
marvellous tent
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.

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