13 Ken Taylor

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[The New Australian Poetry, page 166]

Ken Taylor


      THE SOCIETY AFFAIR

The hinges of the wrists turned
back on themselves.
All streamed out, heedless of trailing scarves.
The host
at first relieved, turned to entertain unreason, found she’d left the bed, knew,
quite suddenly,
it was the end of the season.


      JOURNAL — 1965

      for John Gill
I’m what’s known in the trade as a good man smelling of bread, or cheese
good with children, like a failed teacher,
with a minor confidence
resting probably on ignorance,
not karate,
able to shave without a mirror
and quietly sit the dog-watch in lighted kitchens.


[The New Australian Poetry, page 167]

Ken Taylor

AT VALENTINE’S — PART ONE
for Kris Hemensley

At Valentine’s now
we potter
with boxes,
(the smell of ants,
urine by the
corrugated iron,
sand,
dried gum leaves,
rain spattered bottles
show the dust of
drops of rain
near the shed)
still keep
small ends of wire,
copper wire found
snipped and
scattered near the
base of poles,
copper wire,
to be wound
for something,
brass wire
to go into
tins of cigarettes,
tobacco,
with names
slightly rusted and
pictures of
Empire,
eight gauge wire
bent
for rabbit skins,
twelve gauge wire in circles
because it coils in circles,
crockery packed in
Bromwich Suns and

Larwood Heralds,
saving the old
papers to do
good for some-one,
a bush-fire
supplement
unburnt since
Nineteen Thirty-Nine,
slightly
sandy
like the smoking
beach that Friday,
covered with parcels,
boxes, people and blankets,
where we sat beneath
burning sticks and leaves
pouring in rivers
off the tops of mountains
into the sea.

The sea
still,
except for one small wave
to slap the edge of charcoal acres
unbroken
to the shore.
Saving tins of
hard red paint,
a paint
said to weather best
of all paints
by the sea,
so that all the corrugated
galvanised houses
oxidised in dull red
together,
a red
without the molecules
of red, thick after



[The New Australian Poetry, page 168]
Ken Taylor

years, thick
enough to
hold off
countless
falling gum
leaves by the
sea.

Saving
Literary Supplements
from ‘The Age’
by the sea.

Playing a
gramophone
by the sea,
an upright
gramophone,
the lid rimmed
to close on velvet
for Melba,
innumerable tenors,
a portable gramophone
at Alison’s,
an outdoor
gramophone
which played
‘‘What Every Girl
of Seventeen
Really Ought to Know’,
from
a veranda
to the bush.

What was that
sweet song
about,
a year before
the War?

There were bottles
at Alison’s,
there were bottles
in the sand,
here were bottles
in sacks,
there were bottles
in sugar bags,
there were bottles,
a ha’penny each
in oil drums
cut to stand
for rubbish
for sandwiches
for paper.
There were bottles
in stacks
beside tents.
There were bottles
beside sheds
in clusters
beside tents,
there were bottles
made into fences,
bottles melded
in bonfires
a ha’penny
a bottle.
Once
there was a bottle
under the barbed wire
strands near
the fibro
house of the
nice new people
from Geelong,
who didn’t drink,
who swept
the sand from
the unroofed


[The New Australian Poetry, page 169]

Ken Taylor

veranda,
the sundeck
of the fibro
bootbox house,
with the
new smell
of septic
tanks only beginning to
hang forever
round the stumps of
gum trees,
stumps that lived for
    years until
the post-war
dozers
pushed them
out.

‘Cleared the place
up’
was the phrase
in that shire
for
outdoor
articles
such
as
trees and
mountains.

Small articles
articles
could be
wrapped and
placed
in tins,
with seashells
in tins,
with seeds
in tins,

with
greased but
verdigrised
bullets in tins,
single nuts and bolts
in tins,
grommets in tins,
pieces of felt in tins,
in this tin
the
metal
pieces
from the sling of
a Martini-Henry
rifle.

Shall we
fight the
Boers
again ?
How shall
we pay
again for
the plumed hats
in the open
Rolls?

The half
holidays
for
our
children?

Here are the tins
still
on the shelves of boxes,
still as
plumb bobs.

Shall we plan again



[The New Australian Poetry, page 170]
Ken Taylor

on the calico oiled
graph paper?

Shall we make
field notes
again
in the graph
paper notebook?

With the plumb bobs,
pencils and
a small
stuffed monkey,
with
canes,
sticks,
rods,
poles,
perched
on nails
set
thirty
forty
fifty years ago
in the round
dry
gum trunk
uprights of
the shed.

At night
there were
cards,
Sevens, and
other
games for
more than three
from Hoyle
or

Pear’s
Encyclopedia
in a section
past the
recipes for
beer
and diagrams
of English
games,
of Racquets,
of Croquet.

At night
there were
two lamps,
one
on the
black veneer
of the gramophone,
one
on the
oil cloth
table,
with light
for the ivory
pegs in the ivory
veneer crib-board,
the red ochre
on the fire-place
bricks,
with
rain
in the trees,
rain on the
galvanised
roof
and rain
pouring
into the square zinc tank
by the window.



[The New Australian Poetry, page 171]

Ken Taylor

Rain for
the trees,
rain for
rivers
for
mountains
for the sand-hoppers
dry
under kelp
along the
shore.

Rain for
the worms
in Miss
Howell’s
garden,
where
Miss Howell’s cottage
sat
in apple trees,
maiden fern,
gooseberries.
raspberries,
and blackberries.
In the
morning
Miss Howell’s cottage
smelt of
sour milk
on old
stones,
with cats
like mice
and the weatherboards
damp
as a Koolgardie
safe
set

to draw up
moisture,
in the heat
of that
summer.

Miss Howell had
eccentric strength
was
educated,
lived
beneath
the portrait
of her
dead
father.

Miss Howell said
she was given
too many trout
in the spring.
Miss Howell said
she would take
each one
for the cats.

Miss Howell
had berries
black cotton
and cats.
My late
grandfather
has stone
fruits
and birds,
held mice
up
by the tail
for kookaburras,
hated cats



[The New Australian Poetry, page 172]
Ken Taylor

and brought
trout
when he
could
to Miss Howell.
At home
near the
flywire door,
on a shelf
formed
by noggins nailed
between the studs,
he kept a shanghai,
a catapult
of leather laces,
the tongue
of an old shoe,
a willow prong,
book bands of india rubber
and blue metal
from the
reverberant
valley of
the blue-stone
quarry.
Stones to
scatter
cats
seeking birds
in the purple
plum tree,
the yellow
plum tree,
the many
apple trees,
and the tree
of freckled
apricots that

co-existed
among
flowers,
couch grass,
and twenty foot high
eucalypts,
topped
and left
to hold up
clotheslines,
or the braided
linen, tapered
casting lines
to run out from
jumping
reels,
to dry,
to be dressed
with mutton fat
in the melting sun.

a sun
high enough
to fire the
surface of
pools in
valleys of wet
stones and fern,
of trees
layered with
fungi harder
than fallen trees
and dazzled
sheltering
fish.

a sun
to make
sand from
seashells,



[The New Australian Poetry, page 173]

Ken Taylor

rocks from
mountains.

A sun to crack sunglasses,
to burn ants,
to heat grapes
in brown paper bags,
to show the dust
of roadside bracken.

A sun
to vaporise
the red petrol
surging
pumped,
to rise
in the indexed glass
tanks of
bowsers
with canvas hoses
standing in sand
in the dust crescent
of the general store.

A sun
to break
the structure
of paint
of pigment,
of hair on
the backs of
sweating
inland horses,
of the wrinkled skin
of men
as they
scraped out dams
in the sun.

A sun
to cauterise

the mind
so that thought
uncoiled,
from rocks
unwound
as snakes
into the water
of deep pools
in the sun-high
shrieking valleys of
cicadas,
skipjacks and
bull-ants and
bleached leaves
on the red
roof of the shed,
bleached leaves
among the bottles
beside the shed,
bleached leaves
inside
beneath
the dark
weight of air
mildewed
by oranges
long dried
away.

Mauve and
green dust
once oranges
in boxes,
Berri-Co,
boxes,
end-papered
slap-papered boxes
made in a packing shed
of rivers of oranges,
glue and guillotined stacks



[The New Australian Poetry, page 174]
Ken Taylor

of pictures of oranges
on thin paper.

This paper,
this picture of oranges
on this box,
still a clear
orange
in the shade
pressing on the smell
of oranges.

Valencia
oranges grown
and packed
in the limbo
lines of irrigated
flat fruit-blocks
by the flat
unpeopled
rivers,
the brown rivers of the
flat interior,
flat lands,
irrigated
in lines
laid by these
still plumb bobs,
these field note-books,
this waxen
permanent graph,
this snapped
locked and
rusted set
of pens,
unpacked
forever
now
from the canvas-hooded
Willys Overland.

A car of cracked photographs
with Rowland
unrolling maps
on the bonnet.

A car of rope,
canvas,
an army
great-coat of
Nineteen Eighteen
recalled at sea
from France.
A car of spades,
of plumb axes
locked like watches
in leather pouches.
A car of small bottles
of oil and kerosene
to remove dust
from compasses
and rifles.

Why couldn’t
the rusted iron
telegraph poles
be saved
from rust?

… Of brown
triangular
kerosene bottles
with Neat’s Foot Oil
for leather.

A car of bandages
of cloves for toothache,
snake-bite outfits, of
bottles of
eucalyptus oil,
of oil to be warmed



[The New Australian Poetry, page 175]

Ken Taylor

for painful ears
and small flat bottles
of Fleay’s Cholera Drops.

Why couldn’t men
be saved
by embrocation
by medication,
‘Five drops in a
spoon of sugar?’

It was a car
of dust in the
cracks of canvas,
of amber dust
in the cracked
celluloid
side-curtains,
of dust
sifting through
the hood,
of dust
pounded through
the floor boards,
of dust
covering the
four gallon tins
of Yellow Box honey,
of nectarines,
peaches, of
plums,
of grapes
of raisins
in resinous
stencilled
packing cases, and
always boxes and cases of
charts,
of graphs,
of field notes and

pencils
glass cutters, awls and
needles for canvas,
rubber-banded,
tied,
marked
and stowed in the never-empty
    back seat.

Spilling over
lashed
along
the side running boards
with batteries and
spare wheels set
in the mudguards,
with
car-long
bamboo rods
for garfish
whipping the air
in front of the
round
racked
head-lights.

A car of distance
of substance
of precise
Box Kodak
record.

A car of
recurrence, of
provision, of
specifics, of
slow
wooden-spoked
and beaded-rim traction
through dust



[The New Australian Poetry, page 176]
Ken Taylor

and the red
rains of erosion.

It was a car
used
to set
the first
straight lines,
to set the first
levels
of land
and water
in part of
a flat, waterless
land.

A car of cracked
photographs
with Rowland
unrolling maps
forever
in the flow
of land
and water.
Was it a car
used to find
issue with a
flat land?
Was it a car
to be forgotten,
to be stripped
for brass and copper
round instruments,
to be wrapped
in paper,
to be hidden
in the hills before
the orange carpets of clay

were unrolled for the visitors?

Shall we turn
for love
forever
to the dark boxes?
the tins
the photographs
in the bleached
dry leaves
of sheds,
corrugated,
once-red,
once ripe,
with the smell
of oranges?

Cornell University
Ithaca, N.Y. — December 1966.


[The New Australian Poetry, page 177]

Ken Taylor

     
AT VALENTINE’S — PART TWO

In a father to son process
unbroken by the most demonstrable wars,
we have, in love, preserved an ancient empire
to points beyond relevancy,
gaining the illusion of a fresh start
for all contestants
with each fresh colony, each awful dominion.
How anxious we became about the fresh starts!
How understandably anxious
as we played the war games of a sandy world
with even more attention to detail than father.
Why did we fail to see the action,
an excuse of most intimate and compelling worth
for our slight failure
to end the middle ages
in this continent?
Well — I know why.
It was just too difficult.
The chance of success was
something to avoid
at this cost.
It seemed always worth less than the candle
of our repeatedly satisfied desires,
for continuity.

And now the little guerilla roofs hide in
lightly timbered country,
the Empire dwindles to a single, sun-bright
dusty detergent country store.
We live in the distance of shadowed ground
between you and the grey palings of memory
inclined to earth.
Each year the nails rust.
Each summer is drier than the last.
And what is without is within,
as fish people trees
in occasional brown floods,
as flies engage the boxed green shade


[The New Australian Poetry, page 178]
Ken Taylor

of cypress dust,
as passion fruit tendrils
tremble with honey-eaters and
miles of mauve grass move
with the weight
of one white ibis.

So, as with camels,
the camps of blacks and
stumps in the middle of streets,
the will to change recurs in
generations of
bicycle boys
wheeling jets about the vacant lots
of frontier provinces,
building cities by challenge and response.
Once more at the cutting edge.
Once more a fresh start.
An end to grey pink parrots in the copper trees,
to sheep,
the dead bundles of straw
cart-tailed to reed-dry creeks.
An end to the shapes of work, the
planes of sheet-iron by poppet heads,
discarded boilers and
lichen on the split face of quartz.

Peppercorns raise axe-marks
against the sky and
earth itself becomes a dump,
something to be carted away,
to wait for seeds,
dust,
the pollen of time.

We own a continent
the way a cripple owns a street,
matter of elbows and angles
against the light.


[The New Australian Poetry, page 179]

Ken Taylor

As roots, branches, dead shapes of wood
instruct the waters in mysterious disciplines,
deflect a final enlightenment
with juggling, endless
legerdemain above stones
with leaves to turn toward the
deep therapy of the sea,
so…..
‘…the sea boiled up
        about him and I
            knew that he was gone.’
All the air seems fresh this evening,
it may rain.


      MAURIE IN AMERICA

      for George Buehr, Buck, Mia Maurer & Peter

      ‘TAKE CARE’

‘Take Care,’ They say,
‘Take Care,’ as you leave
them, presumably shuffling all
the shapes of violence.

It was Maurie who said that care
died away from kitchens and stables
and small children.
It can’t live
on a turn-pike
he said,
where sure you can do
everything carefully but
care itself becomes
velocitated
and dreams it can open


[The New Australian Poetry, page 180]
Ken Taylor

the door and walk around
talking about specific things
to all the approximate people
in all the approximate cars
as something like
anything under
seventy-five.

Do they mean
KEEP YOUR INTERVAL
rather than ‘Take care’?
Peter once paid a toll
for the guy behind
and then parked
to watch
the explanation
the argument
the flung
money.
Some-one was
taking care
that day.

Perhaps the wives
of all the men
who go to mow
say ‘Take care’
as they hold out
their orange
jackets,
vests,
and flags
and witches’ hats,
and try and mark
the men’s lips
with a final
dabbing
scarlet
kiss.


[The New Australian Poetry, page 181]

Ken Taylor

They may be imprecise
colloquial people
unconfident of
all the zebra
boards and bands
and signs and lines
or
tiny
naked
flares
sitting the pot
harmless as babies
in the humid mown lands.

Near Battle Creek and Tiffin
wooden barns form a
rudimentary
alphabet
of large and clear
sheltering letters but
the sentences are
unintelligible
at any speed.
Do they say
‘Take care’?
The overheard
farm-scraps of gossip
among the cafeteria mop ladies
all say, ‘Take care’.
Take care when the
tractors are milked by
night in their fields
and the gas-maids
rumble away
with the
car boys.
Take care when the
bang bang trucks
like model deer
wheel as targets


[The New Australian Poetry, page 182]
Ken Taylor

over the overpass.
Oh yes, do take care,
SAVE GRAND CANYON
and, please God,
register Communists
and forgive us
our fire-arms.

Take care, God!
Keep your interval!

Near the cities where the black power burns
the sky rode away in a wild grey wonder
and Maurie saw
Whitman
standing in chains
on the top of a loaded truck.
Maurie said his beard was
as black as diesel
smoke.

And, at first
He’d looked younger.
At the next toll
a Mr Foster
told us that
these days, Walt,
or did he say Old Walt?
only scanned the sides
of roads as though
he was looking,
just looking
for his hat.

Mr Foster
didn’t seem to need to be
told to take care
in his glass
and brick
cubicle


[The New Australian Poetry, page 183]

Ken Taylor

with its flashing
lights and hinterland of
State policemen, slumbrous
lumbering State policemen
all ready to die
for Checkpoint
Foster.

Maurie said
he thought Foster’s lips
moved in the Take Care shapes
just as we left the turn-pike.

Days afterwards
in a forest
way past
Freesoil
up in Michigan
we found the cabin
open — everything gone
all the speakers kicked out
of the sound-box Peter made. Maurie
thought it was rather a pity.
I think he wanted to tie
it in with Peter
being the first
American into
Dachau.
But
he smiled
after a minute.
‘You’ll just have
    to take care,’ said Maurie,
‘now’.