[The New Australian Poetry, page 73]
Button-grass flats, pale through the drizzle: my eyes
Unhinged, unhingeing; patch-brown pools:
My body’s own still liquids.
After the climb, hard through the spine’s country,
Where leatherwood and myrtle drip
Holes into the bent flesh,
After the droplets running off the tight skin
Around the vein-riddled gullies
Stretched on a hairpin bend,
This is the homecoming, arriving at this level —
The brain laid open in the wet,
Nerve ends like sags, open.
2 The Hut
The plastic strips flap in the doorway still
Sad alchemical colours to ward off evil.
[The New Australian Poetry, page 74]
The poet comes home like a blue-arsed fly
Too late for the real summer, too soon
For the winds that take the corner of the year
On two loud tyres — the screech of March.
I light the fire and wait for my life’s details
To dry out — buckled paperbacks,
The sleeve of an early Dylan record
(Young jew-angel’s face, cowboy mystery,
Holding his guitar’s neck like a flowering tree)
A man could die waiting between these hills.
Outside in gumboots, moving rocks around,
Channelling off the water, watching it take
Used-up petals like brain cells with it, down
To the flats where my brackish eyes are set like traps,
I am immune here, acting without itch,
Connections all leached, open, waiting.
One day, too late for insects, bleak with peace,
After a month of my turning stones by the moon,
The hills will hear the brash harmonica
And send a patly scored reply in gusts.
And in that instant as the axis tilts
Someone will cross the sags, his clothes blown dry.
Your highway body,
My love a sideflower
Indigo-petalled like a
That married bastard mauled your
I wore my red scarf over the Shoalhaven
And saw how sadly straight the
[The New Australian Poetry, page 75]
The sun aches,
My diesel head has
the knowledge of smiles
that knock. Fuel / need is somewhere
like a flake / is a shining giveway.
Methedrine and bitumen
pave the way / torn cans
flash / and all the backs that built it:
Balmain guernseys bent in the rain / I am
bruised between midday and gravel edges.
High in the cab / Christ,
the sky’s so loud / what are
the D.M.R. doing in my spine?
Exhaust / various metallic colours:
and my vertebrae are the broken white line.
My bakelite mantle set pulled him in
Through the whine and crackle of KZ and I
Drummed on a dented pencil tin
To ‘Danny Boy’ or ‘Mona Lisa ’,
Tensing my hands and jaw as his art
Made seven syllables of ‘heart’.
Five p.m. was too early to get
Anything like a good reception
And I broke the volume knob off that set
Trying to bring America closer,
Or if not America, then at least
Stan the Man, oracle and priest.
Masturbation and vandalism
Came with darkness, but first the radio
[The New Australian Poetry, page 76]
ADVICE TO A POPULAR HERO
Slide your fedora forward. Tilt yourself
at a similar angle from the wall. Move.
The big getaway this time. The big Ford’s
near rear wheel spins: a can of film.
Somewhere out on the highway you will meet
your successor. You will know him by this mark:
the right-hand thumb-skin roughened by the thread
that opens up the shifting spanner’s smile.
You must pretend you haven’t noticed him.
Keep your eyes low. Grab a meal. Drive away.
We have replaced you, but you’ve only lost
a fantasy. Stick to your real work.
I Behind the Phoenix Foundry
Mallarme’s curse rides over Launceston,
Autumn sticks to the foundry yard.
This morning had the old trick in it:
the air virgin, dry,
What is tempting now
is the easy elision, the colour-coded sketch:
to surround the sonnet with absence
like a page
[The New Australian Poetry, page 77]
Let the hero go spinning out into his margins.
Open the tombs.
Observe the chemistry of after-death:
nitrogen, seepage, the skilled craft
The racks of angle-iron are bright
with flux. Oxygen creates
these orange flakes. Real gases
control the world. Two kids
play here, off the street, safe,
in harmony with the tough scrap.
Where is the old stability?
The dinghy wobbles on the ebb.
Who will come home
past the long island?
(Eucalypts stand green.)
No-one coughs blood. This is not Valvins.
Through the heads with the tide:
one, singing at the tiller,
burnt against the clouds?
Thank god and Dampier our swans are black.
III Against Mallarme
This is a canny pioneer country.
The trees stay the same colour
until they’re scrubbed and
trucked and chipped and sold.
The unnerving smell of the bush
has been a challenge to the genius of man
for cyclic comfort. Man,
on his own terms, wins, and gets
Pinus radiata where birds don’t go.
[The New Australian Poetry, page 78]
Even while the mist of fish blood
spreads, ‘effulgent haze’, from
the hard hope of the knife,
the fisherman knows
that one day the catch will be
something stranger even than his song.
A leaf from an imported tree
falters, then settles.
The kids are called in to the terraces.
An absence of their playing remains.
The poem, however, refuses to hang about,
will neither be caught nor rust,
is not dependent on seasons,
but is being forged
in the haul, in the furnace,
the real grave and the game.
shall appear at the window while I’m
writing at my childish desk;
shall rake the room with a shadow,
the horn of his beak undeniable.
I will not look up, but will
know his big eyes like
paper. When bone crumbles,
what remains is very white.
His beak crunches through
all kinds of art.
My friend, the novelist,
has sent the owl here
[The New Australian Poetry, page 79]
with his nerveless probing,
his sincere lack
of honesty, the face
full of desire.
The owl has taken my words.
How to die honourably?
Never let the owl win!
The owl wins.
The ship hangs from hawsers.
It is loaded with fictions
and would move.
The prevailing rationality
of the waterfront is Wittgenstein’s.
Metal cups keep the rats
from trading plague.
But myth has used the gangplank
on two legs.
Big Jim is invoked
by cynical clerks.
‘Ecstatic surrender’ is hidden in containers.
Of course we fought the owners,
the bloody Dutch, the N.C.C.,
Menzies and Chifley both:
the irrational officers of pseudo-thought.
But Krupp and Haddy were rational men.
Cranes are more rational than bent backs.
There is your mystification:
not in the cargo but in its handling,
not in the ghost-crewed vessel
vanishing, but twisted in with
the steel rope.
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