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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Most Human of Things


I float, horizontal, on the heaving night-

tip my head back and feel the night beneath me and around,

buoying me gently but unthinkingly

on its ballooning troughs and swells.

Languorous, I sink my hot neck into its chilling lick of gloss.

The night air fills my nostrils, it fattens my lungs,

but there is no drowning.

I am in my element.

 

A queer music wakes me from my drifting.

It is an oriental trilling that, minutes later,

turns into the fading throttle of a Postie bike

along the rim of the bay.

At this hour, all kinds of events make music,

and the marsupials speak like people in the ceiling,

chasing each other in a passion of patriarchy.

 

The animals wake me, and other times,

I hear my name spoken, or the threatening breath of a stranger

that turns out to be my own.

In the night, my own skin, my own flesh, comfort me.

I love the weight and the heat of myself when I wake,

not knowing the time, my mouth dry as the Sneffels Volcano

where you can find your way to the centre of the earth.

 

Oh, you must know what I mean.

It must be the most human of things to wake and wonder at the night…

the most human of things to bow down to the horizon,

to put one’s cheek to the ground and to wait out the darkness

pretending sophistication, pretending science,

while the ghoulies and ghosties are abroad.

 

That’s why I sleep in a tent of muslin, like a big cotton conch.

At night, I am the germ of human.  I am a soft creature,

I am a mollusc. The hawking and slagging of the waves

shuffles me on the shale.

 

De Compostela


I’ve become more physical with the years.

When I was a child, I started off meditating on clouds.

The wistful smell of freesias taught me breath;

the mufflings inside the willow taught me listening.

I drank the mercury raindrops from my mother’s velvet roses

to discover pretence, and tore apple leaves

to make tiny clothes for fairies that I knew to be false.

At the top of the willow, further than my brothers could climb,

I learnt inevitability.

 

The old are more physical than we are:

they squabble and gobble their meals with compulsion;

and they revel in their bowels.

The old insist on lotions rubbed into their fragile skins;

they long for hot water sprayed on their backs.

 

It is not true- the idea that approaching death

makes us spiritual.

We become less and less so, until, finally,

we are all physicality.

That’s when the spirit is so thin and transparent

that, once again, the body is reunited with the dirt.

  

*The compostela is a certificate of accomplishment given to pilgrims on completing the Way.
 
 
 

Frenchman's Cap


(The Frenchman’s Cap area is one of the most spectacular parts of Tasmania. It is wild, remote and quite inaccessible…)

Sometimes, an ordinary life is a kind of ecstasy.

Ordinariness is an art,

a sour wine-making,

a hive robbing,

a harvest of strangled sweet peas

tipped over by November gales.

 

My lover and I have never kissed.

Tonight I put new seed in the tiny trough for my birds,

and I laughed at the sweetest weight of their bodies

when they fluttered and perched on the side.

I love the hands of old people, though,

not so long ago, their fingers  frightened me.

 

Tonight, I ate mussels with crusty bread.

They look like inner labia, and the ocean taste reminds me

of oysters prised  off the rocks by a mother

 who always carried one sharp knife, and hid the others.

 

I suppose it’s ordinary to love a man the way I do.

People do it all the time, and, from the outside

it seems plain enough. But from inside, where I live,

it is the most extraordinary of accidents.

My love is like stepping backwards to take a photograph

and falling to your death.

 

Ordinary Ecstasy


Shadows of a cherry tree,

its leaves antique-laced by pear-slug,

glide on an eyelid,

and a small and gentle breeze pats at prayer flags

like a furled cat claw playing lazily;

the two birds, one green, one blue,

exclaim in rustic French.

Tiny spider on my belly

is left alone by an arrested swipe.

Its legs are transparent.  It is almost glass.

Today, I planted hydrangeas

the colour of raspberry juice

spat out with cream.

Yesterday, it was hibiscus

the oily saffron of a bald monk’s robes.

Colours are my drug of choice.

I can hardly bear them.

The good thing about ecstasy is that it passes.

I can hardly bear it.

 

I need not mention your neat buttocks,

your thin thighs.

Some people believe this is, likewise,  

just too much to bear-

and, anyway, you are far away,

and the liberation from you

is also a kind of ecstasy.

How would it be, to have you love me

as much in return?

Such a thing might be too ordinary

for me to endure.
 

 
Lisa Gerrard, Persian Love Song

My hand wants to write a poem...


My hand wants to write a poem:

it’s like a dog

waiting for its mistress

to throw a stick into the waves.

My hand is quivering with suspense.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Mother Tongue


All these years, and you would not play it for me.

Sometimes, you would reach for it,

rest it across your thighs, and strum, haphazardly,

a few incomplete chords.

 

Why won’t you play? I wondered, afraid to ask,

but wishing for it as much as I longed to hear

you speak in your mother tongue.

 

(You were washing the dishes,

and looking out the window-

Say something for me?

And, gently, you spoke words

that swooped lazily across the sky

caught low in my backyard.

I asked what you had said,

and you told me you had made a poem

about the playful sweep of a brown bird

from walnut tree to roof.)

 

One time, you plucked carefully,

with the gentlest of moth feet,

and you sang a lullaby.

But, oh! so quickly, it was over,

and all that was left behind

was uncertainty,

the way that you can hear a windchime

in the distance, and stop,  in silence,

to wait, unsure, for the sound to repeat itself.

 

I don’t know why you decided,

after so long,

to lift the timber torso onto your lap

and start to play,

with your big, calloused hands-

the big-knuckled, square hands of a

hardworking man.

Your square fingertips fumbled the strings

and you bent your silver-fox head forward

and started to whistle- breathily-

the tune of a sad and haunting song.

And then you started to sing.

 

And then it was one song after the other,

and, soon, I sang along with you,

and, after all these years, it was a communion,

it was the blameless coming together

we had never expected to have.

 

I didn’t want it to stop.

It was like when you find a white wallaby

grazing in your backyard by the sea, on an island,

in the dark, and you stand, frozen,

your bare feet on buffalo  grass already icy with frost,

and you hold your breath,

not wanting to startle the creature-

alert, and white as a bowl of milk in the night,

and poised, ready to halt, to look in your direction

and spring away, barely ruffling the leaf litter

underneath…

 

like one of those fleeting things

that you know may never happen again,

but that remain in your memory,

glowing and milk-white.

 


 

 

 

Aloneness Took Me


I should have done this before:

I should have let the light in-

its eggshell blue.

I should have let the new morning in.

I should have seen the branches

of the old paperbark tree

shifting, should have seen the borrowed flush

of the sky cast over the sea.

 

I have been closeted with my aloneness

like a bride on her honeymoon.

I have been  adjusting

to the smell of aloneness on me,

to the strange, intrusive stickiness

of our embrace.

 

Aloneness thought he had me, at last,

all to himself.

Aloneness was greedy.

He used me up.

Tamales


One long, dry summer,

we were as close

as an electric storm on the way,

and the sweet, toasty smell of your

corn husks hanging in my pantry

was the perfume of a dusty, Southern longing.

I thought you an old man-

selfish and virile-

but really only sixty-three.

I once cut your sparse, grey hair,

while I secretly bled,

repelled by the deep, ingrained cracks

in the leathery skin

of your sun-toughened neck.

We met for bitter coffee, most weeks,

and you brought me piles of library books

smelling of applewood smoke,

and you lent me a recording

of Spanish songs se llama ‘Cantemos en Espanol’

(El Unicornio, Ojala, La Maza)…

I used to drink gin and smoke bindies

and listen to Mercedes Sosa’s

beautiful, sad groanings

in my orange vinyl and plywood caravan-

would lie weeping, heavy, lethargic,

my inner thighs itching with sweat

on the orange foam mattress,

and I’d be filled to a hot aching

with a new desire,

and with the sweet, burnt dust-memory

of corn shucks.

Secretly, I would play a tape

on which you’d recorded yourself

reading ‘Sunstone’ in your graveled tones

(or perhaps it was Borges…),

the Spanish words a sand-sifting, a delicious seduction,

a secret fever that I kept hidden.

You were almost indifferent to me-

I knew that-

but it seemed you had dryly breathed me back to life.

My troubled core an earth-oven of longing,

the aftermath of my closetings was always tainted

with the smoky, toasted musk of corn husks.

 

 

In the tomb of Saint John many find nothing but manna...

...for some men say his body was translated to Paradise.  And you must understand that Saint John had his grave made there while he was alive and laid himself in it alive; and therefore some say he did not die, but rests there until the Day of Judgement.  And indeed there is there a great marvel, for men can see the earth of the tomb many a time stir and shift, as if there were a living thing underneath.

Silk Road


Chinese dulcimer fingers deserts of rubble,

stones between the toes of tired camels,

and a setting sun near midnight, when, finally,

the air softens like dried tea dampened with brine.

The mothers fill their cheeks and spit tannin

onto their babies’ oiled arms, legs, creases.

Today, I touched your buttocks and your inner thigh

with my toes;

to me your buttocks are like bread loaves,

and I can’t get by for a day, without having them nearby.

How I love to sleep with the window open,

and the air undulating over me.

It is a rudimentary lovemaking-

the cool sliding of the night air over me.

When I wake, my hand always seeks my breast

in a benediction- it is a comfort

to remember my breasts;

it is a comfort, to stir in the night

and to feel the touch of the green-blue air,

to feel the black shadow of the trees,

black in the night,

deep in the night,

moving just enough, in the damp.

 

I could be in a tent in any desert;

I think I was born with a tent in my heart,

in the way that Greek boys are born

with a ship in their salt hearts.

I could be under muslin in any desert;

I could be breathing in the smoke of dung or of tamarisk;

I could be listening to the harsh sound

of the fellahin’s song;

I could be lying back, looking up at the sky,

reclining to the scratching and padding

of elegant, calloused fingers

on fish-skin drums.

I could be shuffling my leathery feet in the dust,

while the tamarind of the sunset lights up tiny motes

and purple puffs of fine talc.

Once upon a time,

you walked the markets with your man-friends,

your face covered in beard,

your body clothed in a long shirt,

holding hands,

sitting to drink mint tea.

Mater Misericordiae


How to let go?

how to breathe again?

how to unlock the tiny door

to the Tabernacle of my lungs?

 

How to let the tiny bird of my breath

out through the open door

of its wicker cage?

how to let the flapping birds of my breaths

explode from my belly

like Tarkovsky’s swallows

from Our Lady’s heavy skirts?

 

Oh, let it go, let it go!

The cage isn’t made from wicker but from pride;

the door isn’t locked with metal

but with anger.

 

Let them fly, let them fly!

The little birds butt against the walls

of conceit and hubris

woven together into an armour

that binds the spirit tighter

than a torturer’s iron corset.

 

Let them fly, let them fly!

Oh, let them fly!

Old Love


Sometimes it seems

that the world is full of old love-

men in handspun jumpers,

women in berets,

old people trudging the sand;

old men at the wheels of their cars;

tiny women slouched next to them

barely  able to see over their car bonnets;

cranky old men,

their dentures loose in their mouths,

sitting on the edge of their beds

where beautiful old ladies lounge

like odalisques,

their faces radiant with intimacies;

a gaggle of old people up the far end

of the beach,

while muscular dogs

lunge into the waves;

an untidiness of gulls

littering the air like

so many paper scraps

thrown to the wind.

 

 

 

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Semi Precious


I lie flat on my back,

and you are there in the molding around the lampshade;

I roll onto my left side, and you roll there with me;

asleep awake asleep awake

the tinny seconds leap over each other

and fall in a heap.

 

I close my eyelids, and you are behind them;

I turn to the window you tried to unlock,

and there you are,

slotted in amongst the panes.

 

At 3am, the pillow is you.

I force it close, hating it.

 

Your eyes are strange and yellowish.

Your eyes are amber, with dead insects inside.

I cannot trust your jaundiced eyes.

My blue ones don’t speak their

yellow words.

 

Lapis and amber,

trying to speak a language

that may as well be made of stone.

My eyes are Prussian blue, yours are ancient tree sap.

Is it any surprise, then,

that we should peck and bow

at each other’s words

like click-clack fowls

ducking for grain?

 

Your body speaks a language foreign to mine;

my body speaks through touch;

yours speaks a language of mime.

Your mimicry makes me afraid.

It seems that you might commit any crime,

as long as there are no fingerprints

left behind.                                  

A Savage Orthodoxy


Mercedes Sosa and Misa Criolla;

the wind outside frigid, blustery.

Pan-pipes bring the Andes into my

high-ceilinged bedroom.

The front door rattles.

Good Friday is roaming outside

my house.

 

Once, when young, the poultry farm shriekings

on Good Friday morning

were the howling ghosts rising up from their graves.

 

At my First Communion breakfast,

I vomited saveloy and raspberry fizz-

why wasn’t it the body and blood

of little Baby Jesus?

The hymn they sang made me sick inside,

it was  so beautiful,

and life so transitory,

the light on our mothers’ faces

supernatural- a chrism.

Though, now I understand,

it was ordinary motherlove,

not the Transubstantiation.

 

Misa Criolla fills me with the same fearful beauty-

reminds me of the six-inch spikes on the grille

that we saw my sister’s best friend behind

when she became a Carmelite.

 

Beauty and cruelty,

compassion and ugliness,

mixed together to create una mescla,

a misa criolla!

A savage orthodoxy.

 

 

 

Tumbleweed Lullaby


A chipped ceramic pot of dune,

faded blue and white,

sits like a scruffy buddha

at the foot of my disheveled bed.

Purple grass, untidy with seed;

tiny purple daisies,

their blooms corrugated,

making dry stipples;

sherds of water-softened glass

littering the soil.

 

On nights when there is no moon,

the threadbare canvas of my room…

Silent gulls carved from pine

could almost blink.

A crooked feather might ruffle.

Heat, and the thrum of misplaced frogs

in the sedges;

two dingy windows ajar

letting in an algae-blue light;

the open sky above the big blackwood

the colour of a breath,

sweet and awry and unhurried.

Sometimes, the night air was a lazy drug

when I needed it most-

the night air rocked me with a musky sleep,

cradled me on a sweeping arc,

levitated me on a current of lusciousness.

Bare arms above the covers,

I dozed, dazed by the snail-trail

silvered touch of the cool.

 

Kookaburras, there must be three!

They incant at the unripe greening of the sky,

their mantra filling the blackwood tree with ink.

The geese up the way rehearse

and trumpet their evening prayers,

where they all squat to face their feather-flurried ground.

 

Night falls, crashing into a thousand silent pieces.

Now, all sounds are ricochets

within the creaking walls of this house;

now, the whole world is held inside

the windows’ weird reflections.

Taylor Camp, Hippie Utopia, 1969

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Mole Creek, Hobbit Cottage 6

We start to burrow down into the house,
like animals circling, circling,
to press down a sleeping place.
The shadows and the gentle light from the window
shuffle on my notebook as I write.
You can't see them, can you?
I wish you could!

I wish you could hear the morning fire
cracking in its black drum;
I wish you could feel the peace and lethargy in me.

The mirror in this pale place
turns its nose up at my bulk.
Why do I feel so ashamed,
when bulk and weight
are so highly valued in the walls,
the furniture...even the garden?

Once upon a time,
all the knots in the ceiling and walls
would have been faces.
I would have felt them watching me.

Mole Creek, Hobbit Cottage 5

Oh, I want to tramp these hills.
I want to feel light as a feather,
weightless as a cobweb.
I want to take a paper bag
and put all the dried and insubstantial things
in it.
I want to walk off the feeling
that my whole life is shoddy.
I want to walk off the judgement
of this heavy stuff,
this creamed-honey flagging,
this blackwood panelling.

I want to huff and puff away
the shame I suddenly feel
for my flatpack kitchen table,
and wobbling chairs.
I feel like a tribeswoman
with a Coke tab for a wedding ring.
Suddenly, I feel the shoddiness,
the weightlessness, of my life.
I have built my life on shifting sands.

Suddenly, I am ashamed for
my innocence.

Mole Creek, Hobbit Cottage 4

Birds in the cotoneaster tree!
The sun now white, now molten,
above the burial mound.
In a far paddock,
the crows gargle.
Finally, the house is warm-
it has, finally, let us in.
Yesterday, it would not take to us.

Today, we will bring in piles of wood,
and we will show this old stone byre
who is boss.
We will tame the harsh malevolence,
heating every shadowed corner of the house,
letting in the light.
I will fill the kitchen with cooking smells.
I will inform the straight-backed chairs
that I could split them up for the fireplace
if I wanted to.

Was that what drove my father,
when I was small,
to split up Grandma's camphorwood box
for firewood?
Was it the only way
to put the ghosts
back in their place?

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Mole Creek, Hobbit Cottage 3

And, now, the jaundiced stain beyond the paddocks
becomes a glow,
and the sun rises,
crowning above a hill like a tumulus.
The stout window panes
fill with gold dust.
Encouraged, aroused,
the fire licks and spits
in the cast-iron hearth.

A filament of spider's web
slides and glistens
just outside the window.
The birds sing!
They sing at this sudden
orgy of impermanence.

Mole Creek, Hobbit Cottage 2

Last night, the fire would not draw.
An unexpected puff of smoke
issued from the vent like a spectre,
and we pressed together
under a quilt.
So, this is what quality is!
Substance, endurance.
I have never felt its Protestant assurance
before.
Nothing in our house was ever so heavy, so wrought.
Even the chairs that have lived with me
for fifty-seven years
do not have this weight.
(They now sit outside my back door).

No one would ever dare leave these chairs
in the weather!
So, that is why they believe in such a practical God-
unruffled, predictable;
a quality God with exquisite joins.
Even the ghosts here are tangible:
they thump up and down the roof
in the night,
or get down our throats
and make us cough.

Oh! I never felt the world so solid!
Even the birds seem to know their place,
chattering away in polite accents;
reading from King James.

Mole Creek, Hobbit Cottage 1

Gentle morning!
Singed sunrise,
sallow behind trees
still blackened by night.
Sleep in a foreign place,
and we stuck chairs
weighing a ton
under doorknobs.
Everything is so heavy and solid
in the stone and blackwood house.
I have never experienced such weight-
such spirit-levelled craftsmanship.
Even the curtains are heavy,
almost too heavy to push aside.

Mother Tongue


Mad World Gary Jules
 
All these years, and you would not play it for me.

Sometimes, you would reach for it,

rest it across your thighs, and strum, haphazardly,

a few incomplete chords.

 

Why won’t you play? I wondered, afraid to ask,

but wishing for it as much as I longed to hear

you speak in your mother tongue.

 

(You were washing the dishes,

and watching out the window-

Say something for me? I urged.

And, gently, you spoke words

that swooped lazily across the sky

caught low in my backyard.

I asked what you had said,

and you told me you had made a poem

about the playful sweep of a brown bird

from walnut tree to roof.)

 

One time, you plucked carefully,

with the gentlest of moth feet,

and you sang a lullaby.

But, oh! it was over so quickly

and all that was left behind

was uncertainty,

the way that you can hear a windchime

in the distance, and stop,  in silence,

to wait, unsure, for the sound to repeat itself.

 

I don’t know why you decided,

after so long,

to lift the timber hollow torso onto your lap

and start to play,

with your big, calloused hands-

the big-knuckled, square hands of a

hardworking man.

Your square fingertips fumbled the strings

and you bent your silver-fox head forward

and started to whistle- breathily-

the tune of a sad and haunting song.

And then you started to sing.

 

And then it was one song after the other,

and, soon, I sang along with you,

and, after all these years, it was a communion,

it was the blameless coming together

we had never expected to have.

 

I didn’t want it to stop.

It was like when you find a white wallaby

grazing in your backyard by the sea, on an island,

in the dark, and you stand, frozen,

your bare feet on buffalo  grass already icy with frost,

and you hold your breath,

not wanting to startle the creature:

alert, and white as a bowl of milk in the night,

and poised, ready to halt, look in your direction,

and spring away, barely ruffling the leaf litter

underneath…

 

like one of those fleeting things

that you know may never happen again,

but that remain in your memory,

glowing and milk-white.