26 John A. Scott

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[The New Australian Poetry, page 304]

John A. Scott


      THATCHING

            (Thatching, the corpse was

Worked into the roof)

                                      The weather consumes:

Bind the straw with flesh, and there is strength.

      Yet that night, from above where the body lay

Held, and scarred with shadow,

The candles found an arm

Reaching towards earth. My fear was

To call the companion who, raising

Himself deliberately on one elbow answered:

The Wind has loosened the weave.

In the morning I shall repair. There is now

Only time for sleep.

                                    And indeed, there was wind,

Burying the house, as if room and roof were the ancestral grave

In which we lay, beneath generations of the dead.

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 305]
ABC radio producer Andrew McLennan, left, poet John A. Scott, right, circa 1981. Photo John Tranter.
ABC radio producer Andrew McLennan, left, poet John A. Scott, right, circa 1981. Photo John Tranter.

 

John A. Scott

      THREE SONNETS: BEFORE HER DEATH

      (from The Sonnet Cube, 1970)

      To Violet Scott, I believe, my Mother.

      ’57: Works & Days

There were rooms. From The Marigold Hotel

to St. Claire Convalescent. The Lover-Guest,

Mr Skelton talking of the garden below,

Staying up overnight in the office, threw

Open the gas-tap. She found him there, his face

Laid in the scattered stationery, a likeness

Patched from an unsilvered mirror   &   though

I passed two seasons above that garden to see

A shadow fall again upon the sundial, corridors

Remained: a half-light pooling under doors

      of the wealthy, deposed in madness & on the

      stairwell always that climbing figure.

I am told of this woman in letters from Graylingwell,

Perhaps here, the off-season for business.

These places of suicide & decay.


      ’64: The House Gave Onto James Street Baptist

& long after

Its hymns would drift in the shading-down of light.

This sanctity, this shadow & pulse kept me beyond

Her single room, moving in a faith of ceremony: Her

White-clad body lowered beneath the waters as if

God Himself could cleanse insanity. For

It was this (as I knew it) where she sat, half-

Covering the glass with her dress; voice turning

To the cold venom of laughter, I knew this room

From the stain of gas, from its belongings to death,

& I ran out to the terribly frosting yard with its

Tent of vegetable stems and stakes of splintering wood,

Late September evening to listen for my father,

As if to be once more    A Family in this place.

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 306]

Poet Laurie Duggan, left; poet John A. Scott, right; circa 1981. Photo John Tranter.
Poet Laurie Duggan, left; poet John A. Scott, right; circa 1981. Photo John Tranter.

 

John A. Scott

      ’70: Old Stooge & You Are, Missus, What On Earth
Was Your Sister Writing To Me, Washing Her Hands
Of The Whole Affair

The mail.    From Holloway to Spelthorne

Saint Marie in her single room,

This England.    & perhaps (whilst snow

Over the grounds at Graylingwell)

I can forget the means of society,

Dancing justice without cease,

Its power of attorney, divorce & Law,

To receive letters, these months.

Yet how long rain stayed overnight, how

Many Years to the evening dampened September,

When I would’ve gladly given my life

      for those beautiful liars.

Perhaps now, whilst rain awakens the Grounds

      at Graylingwell,

Coming to this: old (lady!) & You are,

Before Your time, give me life again.


      TWO PERFORMANCES

      1 Edith Piaf & Hancock

                  & was carried

From the stage, the parting of mask & face

Grained from eyes & from forehead, his mouth wedged open in cry,

The Englishman, 1930

Until on the streets of Paris sang O My Mother

She leapt upon his shoulders

Each foot seeking the strength, amid diamonds

Of the formless blouse   exclamation of the acrobats

Afterwards stumbled into the air and retched alone

With the presentation of his spilling face, grained

From eyes and from forehead    And walked

Rue de Belleville past the side-show, this man’s

Birth in the hard winter of   The Carnival

Abandoned since into the setting.

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 307]

John A. Scott

      2 Lenny Bruce

In August that amorphous craft

Spelled it out: SHUT OUR BIG MOUTHS   or

Join a mourning press furiously flashing

Bulbs   Two-at-a-time in the can

August 66 when Judson Memorial came frenzied

For chants, aphrodisiacs & The Fugs

& all that all-out need to get him buried   but

Remembered, smashed in the tempo of the City

& is it the Years have given a distance

Now, nothing to cash in, or

We are lost now   But all aside we come

Searching late and last for comedy,

One of those real performances (exposure &

Obscenity) the sane body craves.


      FLOODED CITY

      1 & 2

          How long these perfect words

have called the time by Evening   The City

blackens & already   Your eyes recoil

from objects not yet threaded with darkness

These perfect words like a blood-rush

reel You to streets & hallways

long frames running down to their lives

these strangers, these rains

The sadness slows the days from

You, perfectly.

Moistened ground from a window where You

see it   She asks You to share the pain

Talk to me now she says & I will listen

The other City would have killed her for less.

The cold awakens You before dawn   Your

eyes, accustomed to darkness, have drawn

her close   as if for love

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 308]

John A. Scott

Light gathers about her breath   her face

like a seeding flower   She says Each time

this pain is irreversible, each time wanting

to give in, to keep up the habits

The rain-heavy wind shudders

momentarily   It taunts You & then

even this becomes easy.


      3


        It is complete   You

have hacked passage through another day

& the struggle has elated You

It is a child’s guile pretending sleep

Maimed with exhaustion, she is dying now,

mouthing Your hatred   You remember

those words for their perfection

Doors You knew still open onto strangers

this other place   other City   Outside

You see the children bend & bathe

their wrists in the floodwater   Evening

unclasps them from the skyline & abandons them

They are adrift again, with the white gulls

throbbing gently in their throats.


      SIX SONNETS: EVEN THEIR STORIES

      1

                  Towards light, the veins

above Bay spread earthwards. It is possible

to watch only for seconds, as the Carnival

before it. Further in, a group of women

are bent low at the sand, faces wound with

fine dark cloth, at touch their fingers

solidifying the sea. The work is deliberate.

To lever from the shoulder a wave

into splinters at their feet. In one fragment

a young girl, in another a crab. Fine slivers

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 309]

John A. Scott

embed in their palms so that when they

arise to caress You the face becomes

ribboned with lightning. For that moment

      illuminating the chasm


      2

                  The crowd appears

scratched in glass by nightfall, below &

moving on. Having looked to this mirror

as if it were a window, the City grows

dark on Your face, the river lanterned & still.

On that morning only an hour from night

it was possible to feel where bone

had pressed hard to bone. Such times rely

on memory, that is their sadness.

      At the glass You cannot see her moving

late in the room. Behind You only the sound

of clothes & breath, or what must be

this place melting into the same City

      a procession moving on


      3

                                                  Among the people, she wrote,

You almost forget. Their bodies are alive & every moment

threatens an explosion. Shop windows for instance cave in

under pressure, but the keepers seem anxious only for the

likelihood of theft. You come to expect a passing face to

shatter in the same way. The tenements from the Bay road

seem at night like stars lined up for attack. Everything is

spectacular & violent.
                                   Even their stories. They tell me

there are women whose touch freezes the water. They are

condemned to gathering up the ocean each night into vast

stores on the beach. Then the morning sun melts it back

into the gaping hole they have left. Their crime was having

loved. I will punish myself, burning out my eyes on this

Carnival.

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 310]

John A. Scott

      4

                          Down the steps, Your

face is bound by wired light. They hear

You & break apart to the tiles. I’m not

the Police, You cry, I need to piss! & take

each step slowly, for balance seems almost

impossible. They are housed here on poison,

no walls can hold their pain. From the

cubicles they imitate barking. It’s all on

heat. The wood splinters in their jaws

as they break through, swarming for

relief. I tell You this because the Carnival

demands it. Because it is clear what weight

has carved their house in the earth. Below
    the surface, children


      5

                            hold torches through this web

of storm drains. Their shrill voices carry time

& separation, their shadows cling as ribs

supporting the stone. You pass gaping junctions,

drawing flame to their updraught.

      Rainfall is always similar here. Warning notes

from the down-pipes, the first bank of water

firing down the shaft, the flood. & every

Year the dyes are brought down from

the Carnival, through the prism of the grills

into a pure white liquid.
                                      The bodies

of children are used to float messages to

the Bay. Upon the breast of a young girl

You ask, Why this fear of love?


      6

                          The Bay flares

with electricity. Underwater it would

appear as vast swirling curtains, a dying

Universe. Even here it moves beyond the

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 311]

John A. Scott

ledge of celebration, clinging below

to some black heart.
                            With light, she wrote,

the air finishes. The child came to me with Your

words & I wept for You. As for the Carnival,

it reaches us only when the frozen sea

is torn from our backs. Voices so full of pain

remind me of the Urinal sex of which You

spoke. Yes, I wept for You until day brought

the ocean upon us once more, & the child

            drifted on to another.


      FIVE SONNETS: HISTORY

      I

            He scrambled

From the pouting garden   A terrace of sinew

Trailed from its opened mouth, giving

Underfoot as he chose the familiar path to Reception

The bell rang clearly through the ceilings as if

His fingers were electric   Perhaps so,

Or how else was the garden expelling him

with sparks over the miles of half-digested lawn

Sluggish waves he thought and the soft

Breakwaters of vegetation   Everything touched:

The sky riddled with green cable or the reeling

In his veins   Report personal effects lost

On some distant border   And earth hanging over him

      Like a sulking child


      II

            His biography said nothing

If only for that reason those he knew

Remained located in history, spun off with

Little said   Lately, a life subject

To increasing fear: the sharp chest pain keeping

Him pressed to the bed sometimes an hour

After waking   The need to imagine familiar

Women as persons unknown

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 312]

John A. Scott

            Here on the telephone, the heat

Of his own breath incubated another’s mouth

Into a forced intimacy   Like the other end

Of doing it for money, death at

The face, and his conversation had turned to

            The Trophies


      III

            You realise of course that one tears

From the surface of this Earth only at a high cost

He listened to the pointless barter   Standing

By a road, aware of hired cars, their motors

Left running, their drivers sharing a cigarette

The history of this place is well known   It is

Rare to succeed and what is left become

Collectors items   The location was marked by a late

Model auto, upturned and soaked with bullet-spit

            The location was a cabbage field

Described in some file as a show of hands deformed

As if by fire about the swerve line   And suddenly

It was important the transaction be concluded

            Now, on this signposted road


      IV

            From where you stand

Ideology probably seems dead   Resistance

Well, something to do with your women?

He laughed Those who search constantly for

The self use the word Politico as

A term of abuse   I confess, it is often difficult

To separate belief from stance, at times

Even spite   However, you will find nothing

Has been touched   Least of all

            The inscriptions on The Trophies

The man fell silent, clicking his fingers

At the driver   They were carried from the hired car

Already the contents had seeped through

Layers of packing   The driver was holding them

            At arm’s length

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 313]

John A. Scott


      V

      Untied,

Their fine down leant against the wind

Their pulse restrained by cords

Their scorched forest like antlers at the scalp-line

      A hum of circuitry      A stench of blood crops

      A whine of can rims on their feet

Their borders burnt through with cigarettes

Their nostrils filled with petrol

Their hands sewn with metallic thread

Their bound limbs rocking on the perch

      That night he bluffed his heart back across

The terrace, the gleaming flesh packed under

His arm   He slid into the garden, into its lips

      Like a fat cigar


      THE CELEBRATION

      (September 11, 1973)

      (for John Hughes)

            & so some hundred beasts

of burden were to be chained inside the city bells,

each body’s dull sack replacing the tongue. For

it should be understood that victory, never gained

without sacrifice, must echo its cost in celebration.

& so the night of herding & enclosure. At dawn

the first ropes were pulled, & the low bellowing

of those beasts whose sheer strength enabled them to

survive the hours, gave way to a splintering

of bone. Only an infrequent clash of nose-iron rang

out for the Years, unmuted by flesh. & those who

were gathered in the stadium awoke to this frightful

music, & together they threw back their heads,

            as if for slaughter, & for song.

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 314]

John A. Scott


      FIVE SONNETS: STUDIES

      I

      Alliteration & The Rise & Fall
      of the New Classifieds.

      The Possibilities of Alliteration

Would seize his stout-man’s drive the remaining

Week of his life & suitably perhaps, his

Death ran on page nineteen CORONARY CLAIMS

CLASSIFIEDS CALLIOPE       Even a portly man

He’d thumb through the finest pages ‘Say P’

He’d say, his eyes full of compassion ‘PAAA AAA

AAA Pergola to Let, Partly Planted, Pensioner

Preferred but PETS PROHIBITED Please’ or

‘Parrot’ & He’d weep ‘(Polly) has Perch, Polemic

No Pecks, Practically, will improve, Probably’

Or over the Page, per Classified Category C rates

‘Percy: Personal Performance. Pert & Perfect’

      Unaware that time was Getting On.


      II

      How to Argue with a Truck

Air-cooled Engine, SAE 21 (Developing

180) Direct Injection 6 Cylinder with

Alternating Drive 8 Cylinder Diesel

Overhead Cam, Capacity 429 Cubic Inches

12 Forward & 2 Reverse Gears

Tyres 10.00 X 20 12 Ply, with

Additional Caterpillar tracking

& Provision for 15 ton concrete roller

Mounted in Red Fibreglass-covered

18 inch Steel Chassis, fitted

With Child-proof locks, seat belts &

Padded dash The Unit is moulded

Into the Design of a Huge Volkswagen.

Standing quarter mile in 6.1 seconds

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 315]

John A. Scott

      III

When Things Go Wrong
(They all Go Wrong)

                                        (To Music by Robert Moore)

When things go wrong, they all go wrong,

The hand of friendship is King Kong’s,

Pains in the Head, Son’s wet the bed,

      The Parrot’s dead.

It never rains, it only pours,

Not cats-and-dogs, but dinosaurs!

There’s Noah’s Ark across the park.

      It’s getting dark.

When I think of all the misery just waiting for me,

If I ever had to go outside, I’d probably suicide.

And now my wife is in the car,

She’s packed her bags & said ta-ta!

She’s going abroad, I’m being ignored.

      She says she’s bored.


      IV

      The Work of Art in the Age
      of Mechanical Reproduction

      They were celebrating

New Year, the rich, housed for the night

In a lawn marquee. On the other

Side of its canvas, Georges Seurat worked

Quietly on a Parasol. The noise

Disturbed him, in particular the persistent

Bass guitar. His working surface frequently

Gave under someone’s weight.

      Some Years later, on exhibition,

This same canvas opened out with

The first to leave. The Gallery attendant

Was astounded, as were the emerging

Guests — some of whom had never been

      To New York before.

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 316]

John A. Scott

      V

      The Popular Song

      He had often walked

Down this street before, but the pavement

Always stayed beneath his feet before.

All at once his body was ballooning upwards

Coming to rest outside the window marked

      U-CAN: HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS

A cleaner stared at him, holding a full

Ashtray in his right hand. He walked to the window

& tapped on the glass, trying to gain the floating

Man’s attention. Being ignored he rang

The Police — he was new to the job & didn’t

Want trouble. No, he doesn’t seem the least bit

Bothered. & he wasn’t, knowing he was on

      The street where she lived.


      A DOCUMENTARY ON GRAVITY:

      EIGHT SONNETS ON DRAWINGS BY ROD MOSS

      1 Hesitation Preface Blood in Beads

                          Feathers amass

& roll as clouds once did. As once the rain,

food pours from the raven’s beak. Within

the nest You see how forests were stems

woven that first day between separate

darknesses & how those parting the weave

fell & broke inwards to dust. At other times

the bird appears with bright objects, some

clearly from another life. It brings

leather & steel, the oldest of creatures

brings lace, rejoicing in its knowledge.

Later the massive wings will spread in

blue-black folds, taking with them

      the sky, as night once did.

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 317]

John A. Scott

      2 Triptych

            for accidental sweetmeats’

a bar might offer, loose & firm under

the pagan eye. Her dogs had taken

scraps onto the back lawn

away from the sprinklers, a chair catching

the late sun, as she turned,

snapping back the blinds. She knew

them on that line, the skins, the lovers.

Hanging & cleaned out ‘real

good’ as if she were a mother again.

Outside a phone was ringing, outside

the haze of octane voices spread flat above

city. In her bag ‘I’ve got everything,

      Medicine kit, George’s wrist

            under seige from some

mechanical heat, pinning his back to the wild

grass, he could no more return than hear

its screams of delight, than the blonde

hair in his fist, beating

her head through the smoke. The trees

had begun to magnify: a loss of dimension

through pressure & pounding into the air above

his chest Our real aggression he thought

is optical. By mid afternoon, the grass had

become fit to smother. One arm was already

a part of earth, his watch ticking quietly

beneath the blades. Over the fence

      Violet waves to the foes.

            on the other side of the face,

the leather reshaped from a spike, spinning

off sweat, curving down to the upturned

arms. Yet beyond the net he saw the alsatian

strike, tearing blindly at his child, a pocket

of air caught in this oil. His cry was deep,

unrecognisable & he knew himself a

photograph of the dead propped amongst

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 318]

John A. Scott

the living. They called him back to the game,

the fence, the toys. Around him the yard was,

as it should & on the lawns, lapping at

the rim of summer, he saw Violet. She was

pure & tanned, out from the flick

      of washing day


      3 Defying Gravity (Lament of George Ps manhood)

            From the hotel window he

saw Mont Saint Michel catapult off the earth.

Its isle & sea-netted causeway had risen

briskly into the evening, tearing out a wedge

of rock, not unlike a tooth. Several

volcanic outbursts followed & lava flow spread

vast steam-clouds above the ocean. He set

his martini upon the desk & lighting

a cigarette, wrote Dear Sybil, have just seen

Saint Michel defy gravity. It sounded

ridiculous scrawled on a postcard of the place.

The cigarette burnt back & he found himself

watching the fruit bowl, definitely watching

      the fruit bowl.


      4 Caloric Descent from the Legendary Parlous Days

                          & if the binding

broke her double-jointed, sliced out bust

beneath wire, all the reels a dollar

with the golf ball gag half-rotten in

her teeth, all the reels some pinched mouth

flexing like a nervous hand, at times

he cleaned the stains away like a cat, dressed

down the stairs, back to that time when

untouched the alarm rang. The hands moved

from six & seconds before six when she was

asleep. He joined her there, curing the

wire-weals & whispering   Today none of this

will happen again, and what led to

      this barbaric present.

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 319]

John A. Scott

      5 Fragments of After Earth

                          An Evening.

A trawler lagging to dock its catch. Through

the thin ice of shadow on which we found

our world’s decay. This last of harbours paved

in leaf. Only it was never questioned who

among us could see another, saying ‘Yes,

You will suffice’. For we were stifled by crimes.

We were chained to perfection & silent

in this harbour view. An early dusk when

they thought I had left for —, I watched

the pasture of their faces slide beneath

water, a load to dredge & find burdened

with leaves. Even the most

      beautiful dead


      (A Documentary on Gravity)

                          Are returning.

(Only their eyes were lost to the sky. It

was impossible to hold the weight of

even the closest. They cried to Gravity for

release: the black moon, heavier in

the veins, drawing their tidal blood).

If I had spent those hours with friends, only

saying Take this sharp wood of love,

for each heart has the cyclops-eye

which must be blinded. Offered comfort

of my weakness, the surety of doubt

before the leaves closed against

our speech. Before the mute drone of the

      city on this real earth.