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Saturday, 31 December 2016

Tiny Buddha

Acrylics on canvas, P van Rijswijk
Today I let the music in, and remembered
how it softens the cicada-husk of you,
the way sleep does;
how it quiets the circling animal within
the way rutting does;
how music makes the borders around things clear
as though, suddenly, the clumsy hand that colours your life in
learns to stay inside the lines.
Music nectars your half-lit bedroom
until it seems full of an amber chicle.
I recall the first mad months after he left-
my baby daughter would ever so carefully
make up my bed, while I lathered and slathered in lavender.
She would plump hand-stitched pillows and arrange
a sprig of wild fuchsia or a wattle switch, fuzzed with wool,
and when she had put me dumbly to bed,
she would twitch the frog-music on.
My sister had sent it from Rum Jungle,
and to me, it was the tropics,
it was that dry-cleaner steaminess,
and it was those big glycerine drops that slide
off the greasy leaves of rubber trees.
The music was the sound of the little myopic frogs,
like tender jade buddhas, whistling in the dark;
it was the heady come-hither stink of mosquito coils,
and the white fluff left behind in your bed by geckos
that curled up like sardine-can lids from the timber ribs
of a donga built like an umbrella.
Every night, I fell asleep to the mystic drugging of the frogs,
until my daughters could stand the zombie droning no longer.
In that soporific sound, there were the leafy depths of the big wet-
a cyclone-sodden benignity;
the spiraling of a bamboo flute touched with spit;
the dark echoings of a thousand amphibians trapped in the gloom.
Now, released at last from that coma of grief,
I fall asleep to the worry-bead shuffling of the hot-water-heater
and the distant tinkling of tiny temperate frogs,
brown and sober in the sedges.
Now, the night is no longer a subterranean narcolepsy
that fills me with terror.
I no longer wake with dream-tears
on my sleep-branded cheek.
A scrubbed, fresh-painted light washes my room
with godliness.
These days, I sometimes sleep alone
in an empty house
and oh!
how it rings with the lusty singing of dignity.

Suns and Moons

Acrylics on canvas, P van Rijswijk

Friday, 23 December 2016

Proof that a Woman is a Bird

Acrylics on canvas, P van Rijswijk
Evening, my bedroom a boatshed above the bush;
a wasteland of wattles and eucalypts, the grey gums
named by their smells, by their dead-man shreddy skins.
My bedroom, an aerial hiding-place.
Waves of belated aloneness drag up onto the sand,
the rotted footings of my listing room awash
in the clean green amnion of the waves;
the purple sands imploded from underneath;
the shore flushed, oedematous with the incoming tide.
The wind, onshore, buffets the silvered planks
of this solitary shed. Alone, unequivocal, on clean linen,
I discover the surety, the security, of my boatshed.
What valkyrie shrieks those wild and wanton cries? In the air! 
It’s in the air! It’s even in the air- that crystal gleam; the harsh
and unforgiving light; the green of the horizon cold and sour;
the bitter tang; a pallid evening star, downcast.
(Today I passed a woman by the yacht club point
who knelt before a man;  I couldn’t help but stare
as I drew closer and saw her splaying
and carefully dismembering a gull.  He looked on,
horrified. And I drove by.)
In the rough palings, the timbers of this shed, a curdled  stain
with eyes where once the branches forked.
They, alone, watch at night- those wooden Rorschach eyes.
And the slump-backed tides return, and the chundering tides
retreat, sometimes leaving a stinking flathead flapping drearily.
Other times, dropping a sandpapered Venus
at spurred and calloused feet.

I don't want to be a nun...

Miserere by Allegri

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.




Acrylics on canvas, P van Rijswijk

In Slavic folklore, the Firebird (Russian: Жар-пти́ца, Zhar-ptitsa; Ukrainian: Жар-пти́ця, Zhar-ptica; Serbian: Жар-птица or Žar-ptica; Croatian: Žar ptica; Bulgarian: Жар-птица, Zhar-ptitsa; Macedonian: Жар-птица, Žar-ptica; Polish: Żar-ptak; Czech: Pták Ohnivák; Slovak: Vták Ohnivák; Slovene: Rajska/zlata-ptica) is a magical glowing bird from a faraway land, which is both a blessing and a bringer of doom to its captor. Some believe it can see the future.
The Firebird is described as a large bird with majestic plumage that glows brightly emitting red, orange, and yellow light, like a bonfire that is just past the turbulent flame. The feathers do not cease glowing if removed, and one feather can light a large room if not concealed. In later iconography, the form of the Firebird is usually that of a smallish fire-colored peacock, complete with a crest on its head and tail feathers with glowing "eyes".

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Searching for Blood

Inside a mosquito net, sky-blue,

tiny questions make ellipses around me.

The tiny, whining questions of life

occasionally quieten,

then start up again from nowhere.

My skin burns with uncertainties.

Even the night whines,

searching for blood.

Mountains of the Moon, Bayou Music

Why cling to life?

Why cling to life?

I have read the last page:

I know how it turns out.
Violin, cello, piano, flute

Ennui of the never-never...

Ennui, and it’s hard to breathe,

your lungs heavy on your belly,

your belly heavy on the earth’s centre.

Oh! I can barely be bothered…

Ennui, and the stink of boredom wafts upward,

tainting the whole house with lethargy.

Oh! I can barely be bothered blinking,

stretching, crossing ankles;

and time becomes a torturer;

time becomes a humper

diligently humping away the seconds.

Oh! I can barely be bothered living;

I can barely be bothered being.

This ennui, this state that makes you pick out

your own gravestone,

mark out the plot with string,

tap into place with a mallet a little crucifix,

a little sign painted white and bearing your own

careful lettering that says:


Wind in the grass

Green Skin

Underwater light,

a patch of sky in the west

like the mouth of a sea cave beyond reach.

I am no longer sure enough to write poems.


In this underwater chamber,

I breathe the deepness beyond certainty.

Up there is the world of people;

down here,  the weight of the oceans,

the weight of solitude.


Solitude made me drowsy today,

and I slept.

Solitude made me chaste,

made me swoon,

listening to that flute;

to these birds and frogs

calling, calling.
Calling in the half light

Cliff jumping


What the night really is...

Driving home from South Arm-

and I decide to see the night as it really is.


Bereft of colour or space,

the night is a sooty tunnel with no beyond.

The night is a railway tunnel

caked in the soot of a century.


This is what the night must have been when

I was a child. There is no world beyond.

The sides close in. I do not want to touch it-

it will come off black on my hand.


The trees are not alive.

The trees are sentries guarding the horror

of death.

It’s the colourlessness that strikes me most.


I do not like remembering how a child might see.

I drive past the place where two people were killed

only yesterday.
The road is strewn with sand.


Cut Around Dotted Line

The bay flat as an omelette

and fried to lace at the edge.

Ernest people walk the hard-packed sand;

they seem introverted or despondent.

I love the marram grass

between the boardwalk and the waves.

The marram grass is like me:

a little out of place.

I am one of those people who carries

out-of-placeness around with them,

like an overcoat.

I am always a little wrong,

as though someone may have cut me out

and stuck me on.

There is not enough time in one lifetime

to find out where you fit.

Once, I sat by the creek with a small campfire

and a billy of tea-

even then, I couldn’t settle.

I felt the eyes of my own torments

watching me.


Shadow Box

A sailor once tied me in knots.

In the middle of the night,

I ease them undone with my pen.


A figure eight knot in my neck gently flowers

and becomes a butterfly testing its wings;

that coiled knot in my belly springs undone

like a bean vine uncurling tendrils;

loosen, loosen, here, there; unwind, unbind,

lay me out in arabesques and lovely loops.


Too-much-life is a weathered seafarer

practicing his craft.

Leave me be, in my puddles of jute,

the fibres eased and pleased

with their lazy uselessness.



The Hour of Three Sounds

Time for poetry, when the quiet presses in

against the sides of your head,

like hands trying to muffle what the trees say secret

 to each other in the night.


The leaves of the cherry blossoms sound like

green water cascading over stone.

There are three sounds, then:

the whining, the whispering and the pig-headed silence.


Sometimes, you sleep through it:

the hour of the three sounds.


Oh, I wish I could hear them! I wish I could hear

all the people breathing their washboard sighs into the quiet.

I wish I could visit them, smooth their rumpled bed-covers,

grease their dry, cracked lips.


I wish I were a mother-god, to watch them all as they slept.

I would plump the white pillows of the fretful,

and sit and watch the dying as they called for someone

to turn on a light globe already burning.


I would quietly slip away from true lovers,

and take a step between those who were cruel

in their wanting, in their not-wanting.

And I would sit for a while with the sleepless…


wait for a while until the silence passed

like a black-winged angel of death.

I would sit with the hopeless, brushed in the quiet hours

by the tip of that terrible passing wing.



Sleeping Muse, Constantin Brancusi, 1909