Peter Boyle

Peter Boyle lives in Sydney. His first three collections of poetry Coming home from the world(1994), The Blue Cloud of Crying (1997), and What the painter saw in our faces (2001) have received several awards including the New South Wales Premier’s Award, the South Australian Festival award and the National Book Council Award. His latest collection of poetry, Museum of Space, published in 2004 by University of Queensland Press, was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Award. A chapbook Reading Borges was published by Picaro Press in December 2007. The Apocrypha of William O’Shaunessy, fictive translations of imagined classical texts, is due out from Vagabond Press in May 2009. Since 2001 he has also worked on collaborative poems with Australian poet M.T.C. Cronin. A first collection of these collaborative poems, How Does a Man Who Is Dead Re-invent His Body? The Belated Love Poems of Thean Morris Caelli, is forthcoming later this year from Shearsman Press (UK). His translations from French and Spanish poetry include The Trees: selected poems of Eugenio Montejo (Salt Publishing, 2004), as well as translations of Federico García Lorca, Luis Cernuda, César Vallejo, Pierre Reverdy, René Char and Yves Bonnefoy. In 2004 he was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Award for translation.



Poems from The Apocrypha of William O’Shaunessy


Half an arm’s length above me
mosquitoes tracing a zigzag pattern,
unpredictable, elaborate,
more beautiful than stars.

Completely still
I watch the grey swarm’s
inexplicable drawing –
tiny masters of life and death,

(Erycthemios, Knowings, Book IV)


Book III, IX

By morning
three women, an old man
with a cart, two children.

By evening
two women, two men,
a young boy with a dog.

This summer,
two years passed.


Flies zigzag on the air;
a stone lies
where it has always lain;
smoke stirs
in a green space between silences.

Days end.


Today, looking down on the plain
where three roads meet,
a white dove settled
on my shoulder.

There is only
one journey.


Rain falls on dark roads.
Behind rough white walls
tears are endless.
In salt brine
olives best preserve
their sharp pure hunger.


Just above the level of the trees
two lightning bugs flicker their passage.
In the garden a single candle
shows me the path to the sky.


In the outer spaces of the world
the pure light awaits.

(Irene Philologos, A poetic journal of ten years in Boeotia)


Book III, XI

“The blue snail”

It does not offer
an answer
to autumn.

where it has dragged
its own sky

everything it touches
with belonging.


Over a stone bridge
all feet leave their own
residue of mud.


The vendors of bread and sweet pastries
stalls laden with beads and perfumes
mansions of the rich
sinking yearly deeper into the city’s
obliterating mud

And before me
the white butterfly confused by the wind’s messages
the plum tree opening its fragrance of coolness.

(The Green Book of Ebtesum)


Book IV, XXX

The blind horse knows the scent of the world.
Walk with it slowly.
Rest your hand on its mane
so you may know that nothing is endless.
There was a river that restored the tracks it erased.
There was a pebble not touched by any journeys
left behind for you alone
forgotten in the hands of the sky.

(Erycthemios, Knowings)


Book V, VI

Among the Mountain People II

And it was a tiny hand reaching out of the soup,
the tender grasping cry of a flying fox
whose bones the old men were crunching –
and the bitter chill was still
around the oil-doused cauldron.
The fire blazed its monumental resistance to night.

How they laughed, the women,
seeing our startled gaze,
our lips dropped in disbelief –
they knew that even children of the forest rafters
don’t begrudge the passage of their still budding flesh
into thin broth.

This gliding that goes on when the last skin dissolves,
the tenderness of wild faces.

(Iannarchus, Poems written while travelling with the embassy of Antoninus to the Silk Kingdom)



To the north
bow low
scatter the beads of water
gently scoop tufts of wheat
let the wind trickle
through emptiness

To the east
bow low
scatter the grains of dawn
may your hands be open
let where the sun is
know you
“Shame on my head
on my eyes
Shame on my lips and tongue
Shame on my hands
on my walking
Shame of the seed
and of destiny.”
Again dip slowly your hand
into the grain sack
scatter grain
scatter what lives
what will live
“Grain of grains
dew of sea
fire that rises from mist
accept our shame”
bow again
lightly sprinkle the water

To the south
stand firm that the realms
of Four Heavens
may see you
bow low
scatter the grains
let the ghosts
know of your presence
scatter the dew of water
let the beads of water
rest on the lips of all people
let the thirst of the living
and the thirst of the dead
be calmed
bow again
wait for the silence
to give you permission
to stand

To the west
eyeing the west as an equal
eyeing the west as a mother
eyeing the west as your child
scatter the grain
scatter the bright joy of water
kneel do not speak
wait for the light that rises and sets
to touch you
wait for the winds that come
from the lands of all the dead
to filter around your ears
wait for their voices to enter you
wait till their voices speak
wait till the words
are fierce and tender
wait till the words
tear at the sinews of pain
till the words slice
through forehead and skull
till the heart is open to all words
the earth is struggling to say

Kneel longer
wait till their voices
wait till the silence steadies you
“I give back
I give back
I give back”

(Dawn Ritual of Purification for families and descendants of those who participate in slaughter,
 to be used by all visitors who enter the Holy City of Kitezh)



He is coming,
the great poet of African silences.
Water is in his steps,
the great torrent
of water crashing though rocks,
water that slips and glides
through the locked fingers of children
dreaming of sunlight.
He speaks the soft rain of all seasons,
he speaks the fragrance of fruit,
the drawers and porters of water,
the skilled craftsmen
who shape and guide water
to accomplish all the longings of men.
He speaks the unspoken abundance,
the full granary’s ease, the floor laid out
for the ritual greeting,
In his speech lives the woman whose soft voice
tames all beasts,
who feeds doves and scorpions alike.
He knows the secret name smoke carries in its own language.
He understands night and speaks its infinite epithets –
he knows the twelve words for waiting,
the three hundred diminutives of sad.
And through his voice
flows great calm
and the five tones that unite
thunder and raindrop.
His voice is the child at five
and the woman at eighty.
He comes to renew our world.

(Thrasymenes, poet and archon of the Greek colony of Phos in Mauretania)



Nausicaa:  You have come from far, and love
                    is a stranger’s right. But first
                    speak to me of the journey, of what news you bear
                    of places known only to exile.
                    For from strangers all seek a name or a word,
                    a presence, a gift brought back.

Osiris:       Many wonders mark the earth.
                   Small fish that climb the sky and race across water –
                   I have seen their wingbeats dazzle the sailors at noon.
                   Or an old man bent above a blue lute
                   out of India, I’ve watched his worn hands
                   threading time,
                   making the horizon at midday tremble,
                   settling the shape of sunset in lands
                   where the water-craftsmen dwell.
                   Beauty is the one word uttered by earth –
                   it is beauty I bring you.


(Fragment from “The handmaidens of Persephone” by Xeuxis of Anagoge)



Ana Blandiana translations by Daria Florea

Daria Florea was born in Romania in 1964. She is an enthusiastic single parent and short story writer currently undertaking her post graduate studies at the University of Newcastle, Australia. After fleeing the communist dictatorship in her home country and residing in Australia for almost 20 years, she has rekindled a professional interest in the literary and political themes in Ana Blandiana’s poetry.


Nu-i asculta pe fraþii mei, ei dorm,
Ei nu-nþeleg cuvintele care le strigã,
În timp ce urlã ca niºte fiare aprobatoare
Sufletul lor viseazã stupi de albine
ªi înot în seminþe.

Nu îi urî pe fraþii mei, ei dorm,
S-au învelit în somn ca într-o blanã de urs,
Care-i pãstreazã cruntã ºi apãsãtoare în viaþã,
În mijlocul frigului fãrã-nþeles
ªi fãrã sfârºit.

Nu-i judeca pe fraþii mei, ei dorm,
Rar câte unul este trimis în trezire
ªi, dacã nu se întoarce, e semn c-a pierit,
Cã încã e noapte ºi frig
ªi somnul continuã.

Nu îi uita pe fraþii mei, ei dorm
ªi-n somn se înmulþesc ºi cresc copii

Care-ºi închipuie cã viaþa e somn ºi, nerãbdãtori,
Abia aºteaptã sã se trezeascã
În moarte.
Don’t listen to my brothers, they sleep.
Not understanding their own shouted words,
While they scream like approving wild beasts
Their soul dreams beehives
And they swim in seeds.
Don’t hate my brothers, they sleep.
Wrapped in sleep like in a bear rug,
Preserving them savage and oppressed in life,
In the middle of the senseless,
Endless cold.
Don’t judge my brothers, they sleep.
Seldom one is sent off into the awakening
And if he does not return, it’s a vanishing sign,
For it is still night and cold,
And the sleep continuous.
Don’t forget my brothers, they sleep
In their sleep multiplying and caring for children.
They believe that life is sleep and, impatiently,
Can hardly wait for their awakening
In death.




Þara mea pãrãsitã de fructe,
Pãrãsitã de frunze.
Pãrãsitã de strugurii
Emigraþi prevãzãtori în vin,
Þara mea trãdatã de pãsãrile
Rostogolite în grabã
Pe cerul mirat ºi încã senin,

Veºnic împãcatã,
Mirosind a ierburi
Care-ºi dau sfârºitu-n soarele domol,
Credincioºi pãianjeni
Þes pânzeturi albe
Ca sã bandajeze
Locul frunzei, gol.

Noaptea stele coapte-þi
Fermenteazã cerul,
Vântul curge ziua
Tare ºi-amãrui,
Orele-þi mãsoarã
Nucile cãzând
ªi te lumineazã
Cuviincios gutui.

My country deprived of fruit,
Abandoned by leaves.
Abandoned by the grapes
Migrated prudently in wine,
My country betrayed by the birds
Somersaulted in haste
In the wondering yet still clear sky,
Forever content,
Smelling of grasses
Which pass away in the melting sun,
Faithful spiders
Weaving white webs
To bind up
The place of leaf, empty.
At night baked stars
Ferment your sky,
The wind flows the day
Strong and bitter,
The hours measure your
Walnuts falling
And light you
Quinces decently.



Eu cred

Eu cred cã suntem un popor vegetal,
De unde altfel liniºtea
În care aºteptãm desfrunzirea?
De unde curajul
De-a ne da drumul pe toboganul somnului
Pânã aproape de moarte,
Cu siguranþa
Cã vom mai fi în stare sã ne naºtem
Din nou?
Eu cred cã suntem un popor vegetal-
Cine-a vãzut vreodatã
Un copac revoltându-se?

I Believe
I believe that we are a botanic nation
Otherwise, where do we get this calmness
In which we await the shedding of our leaves?
Where from the courage
To start sliding ourselves on the sleep-toboggan
Close to death,
With the certainty
That we will be able
To be resurrected?
I believe that we are a botanic nation-
Who ever saw
A rebelling tree?



Scaieþi ºi zei
Scaieþi ºi zei uscaþi de soare
Schelete lungi, subþiri de temple
Rãmase albe in picioare:
Iremediabile exemple
Ale nemorþii ca povara.
Precum o nesfârºitã varã
Timpul intreg e doar o zi
Rãmasã vãduvã de seara,
În care frunzele nu cad
ªi nu pierd pagini trandafirii.
Nu e trecut, nu-i viitor,
Un azi etern, nãucitor,
Cu soarele deasupra nemiºcat
rãderostul nemuririi.
Thistles and Gods
Thistles and gods scorched by the sun,
Long, thin skeletons of temples,
Standing pale survivors:
Irreparable examples,
Undeath is like a burden.
As an unending summer
All time is only a day
Widowed since night,
In which leaves do not fall
And the roses do not lose their pages.
There is no past, no future,
An eternal today, stunning,
With the sun above unmoving
To measure
Immortality’s failure.



Spectre de brazi mai vânturã stindarde              
De ceaþã, proorocind sfârºituri noi,
Dar cine are forþa în casandre
De cetini, chiar, sã creadã, dintre noi? 
Pe-acelaºi loc, dar mãturând cu pãrul               
Mult cãlãtoare zãri de cãpãtâi,                     
Topindu-ºi în rãºinã adevãrul,                   
Cel necrezut în scrâºnet, mai întâi,                        
Nu pot sã plece, nici mãcar nãluci. 
În jurul lor ºi cerul ºi apa emigreazã  
Vântul întreabã-ntruna „Nu te duci?“   
Cetina plânge-n hohot „Sunt acasã.“

Fir Tree


Spectres of fir trees still flutter pennants

Of fog, foretelling new endings,

Yet who has the courage, in Cassandra Branches,

if only to believe, between us?


On the same spot, yet brushing with their hair

The all-journeying skies of endings,

Melting the truth in their resin,

That unbelieved in screech, firstly,

They cannot leave, not even as ghosts.

Around them water and sky migrate.

The wind asks constantly: “Don’t you go?”

The fir tree sobs: “I’m home.”



Torquato Tasso   
Veni din întuneric spre mine el, poetul,
Poetul de spaimã ratat.
Era foarte frumos. Ca la razele röntgen
I se vedea în trup poezia.
Poezia nescrisã de fricã.
"Sunt nebun" – a rostit. De altfel ºtiam
Lucrul acesta din prefeþele cãrþilor,
Dar el îºi purta nebunia ca pe-o parolã
De intrare în noi, ca ºi cum ar fi spus:
"Mã rãscumpãr astfel
De lipsa-adevãrului din poemele mele.
E preþul imens. Vin spre tine.
Dar eu am rãspuns: Pleacã de-aici!
"Scriam la lumina de autodafeuri – îmi spuse –
Simþindu-mi pe trup
Cãmaºa pãroasã care se-aprinde uºor.
Odaia mea avea ochi de cãlugãri ferestre
ªi-n loc de uºi, lipite una de alta, urechile lor
ªi ºoarecii ieºind din borte erau cãlugãri,
ªi noaptea pãsãri uriaºe-n sutane-mi cântau.
Tu trebuie sã înþelegi…" ªi cu degetu-ntins
Îmi aratã în trupul meu poezia,
Poezia nescrisã…
Dar eu am þipat: Pleacã de-aici!

Torquato Tasso


From darkness he came towards me, he,

The poet failed by fear.

He was very handsome. Like an X-ray

The poetry could be seen in his body.

The poetry unwritten out of fear.

“I’m mad,” he uttered. Besides, I knew

This fact from book prefaces,

But he wore his madness like a password

For entering us, like he would have said:

“This is a way to redeem myself

For the lack of truth in my poems.

The price is enormous price. I come

towards you. Receive me!”

But I declined: Leave me!

“I was writing in the auto dafé’s light

– he told me – Feeling my body,

The hairy shirt that easily lights up.

My room had monks’ eyes for windows

And instead of doors, stuck one to another, their ears.

And the rats coming out of holes were monks,

And at night gigantic birds in large habits sang for me.

You must understand…” And with a pointing finger

He reveals the poetry in my body,

The unwritten poetry…

But I screamed: Leave me!

Fiecare miºcare

Fiecare miºcare a mea
Se vede
În mai multe oglinzi deodatã,
Fiecare privire a mea
Se întâlneºte cu sine
De mai multe ori,
Uit care
Este cea adevãratã
ªi cine
Mi-e fricã de somn
ªi ruºine
A fi.
Pentru mine
Orice rãsãrit are
Un numãr necunoscut de sori
ªi-o singurã

Each Move
Each of my moves
Is seen
Simultaneously in many mirrors,
Each look I take 
Meets with itself
Several times,
I forget which is
The true one,
And who
Mocks me.
I am afraid to sleep
And ashamed
To be.
For me
Each and every sunrise has
An unknown number of suns
And a single
Descântec de ploaie

Iubesc ploile, iubesc cu patimã ploile,
Înnebunitele ploi ºi ploile calme,
Ploile feciorelnice ºi ploile-dezlãnþuite femei,
Ploile proaspete ºi plictisitoarele ploi fãrã sfârºit,
Iubesc ploile, iubesc cu patimã ploile,
Îmi place sã mã tãvãlesc prin iarba lor albã, înaltã,
Îmi place sã le rup firele ºi sã umblu cu ele în dinþi,
Sã ameþeascã, privindu-mã astfel, bãrbaþii.
ªtiu cã-i urât sã spui "Sunt cea mai frumoasã femeie",
E urât ºi poate nici nu e adevãrat,
Dar lasã-mã atunci când plouã,
Numai atunci când plouã,
Sã rostesc magica formulã "Sunt cea mai frumoasã femeie".
Sunt cea mai frumoasã femeie pentru cã plouã
ªi-mi stã bine cu franjurii ploii în pãr,
Sunt cea mai frumoasã femeie pentru cã-i vânt
ªi rochia se zbate disperatã sã-mi ascundã genunchii,
Sunt cea mai frumoasã femeie pentru cã tu
Eºti departe plecat ºi eu te aºtept,
ªi tu ºtii cã te-aºtept,
Sunt cea mai frumoasã femeie ºi ºtiu sã aºtept
ªi totuºi aºtept.
 E-n aer miros de dragoste vie,
ªi toþi trecãtorii adulmecã ploaia sã-i simtã mirosul,
Pe-o asemenea ploaie poþi sã te-ndrãgosteºti fulgerãtor,
Toþi trecãtorii sunt îndrãgostiþi,
ªi eu te aºtept.
Doar tu ºtii –
Iubesc ploile,
Iubesc cu patimã ploile, înnebunitele ploi ºi ploile calme,
Ploile feciorelnice ºi ploile-dezlãnþuite femei…
Rain Chant
I love rains, I passionately love rains,
Maddened rains and calm rains,
Young-girl rains and loose female rains,
Fresh rains and boring, never-ending rains,
I love rains, I passionately love rains.
I like rolling through their tall white grass,
I like to rip off their blades and wear them in my teeth,
For men to become giddy seeing me like that.
I know it’s rude to say, “I am the most beautiful woman,”
It’s rude and perhaps not even true,
But allow me when it rains,
Only when it rains,
To utter the magic formula “I am the most beautiful woman.”
I am the most beautiful woman because it’s raining
And I look good with rain’s locks in my hair.
I am the most beautiful woman because it’s windy,
And the dress desperately struggles to cover my knees,
I am the most beautiful woman because you
Are away and I am waiting for you,
And you know of my waiting.
I am the most beautiful woman and I know to wait
Yet still I wait.
The scent of live love is in the air,
And all passers-by sniff the rain to feel this scent,
During this particular rain you can quickly fall in love,
All passers-by are in love,
And I wait for you.
Only you know –
I love rains,
I passionately love rains: maddened rains and calm rains,
Young-girl rains and loose female rains. 

Durere limpede, moartea m-a-ntors
În braþele tale supus, aproape copil.
Tu nu ºtii dacã trebuie sã mulþumeºti
Sau sã plângi
Pentru fericirea aceasta,
Trupul meu, dezghiocat din tainã,
Este numai al tãu.
Dulci lacrimile tale îmi picurã pe umãr
ªi mi se strâng cuminþi lângã claviculã.
Ce bine e!
Neînþelesele peregrinãri ºi cuvintele,
Ucenicii de care eºti mândrã ºi care te sperie,
Tatãl, bãnuitul, nerostitul, veghind,
Toate-s în urmã.
Liniºtitã de suferinþã-nþeleasã
Mã þii în braþe
ªi pe furiº :
Mã legeni uºor.
Leagãnã-mã, mamã.
Trei zile numai sunt lãsat sã m-odihnesc
În moarte ºi în poala ta.
Va veni apoi învierea
ªi din nou nu-þi va mai fi dat sã-nþelegi.
Trei zile numai,
Dar pânã atunci
Mi-e atât de bine
În poala ta coborât de pe cruce,
Încât, de nu mi-ar fi teamã cã te-nspãimânt,
Lin mi-aº întoarce gura
Spre sânul tãu, sugând.

Clear pain, death returned me,
To your breast subdued, almost a child.
You do not know if you should thank
Or cry
For this happiness,
My body, peeled out of the egg of mystery,
Is yours only.
Sweet, your tears drop onto my shoulder
And collect obedient near my collarbone.
How good it is!
Uncomprehended wanderings and the words,
Disciples of whom you are proud and who scare you,
The Father, the suspected, the unnamed, watching,
All are left behind.
Free of known suffering
You hold me
And secretly
Rock me gently.
Rock me, mother.
Three days only do I have to rest
In death and in your lap.
Rebirth will come after
And again you won’t be given to understand.

 Only three days,
But until then
It is so good for me
In your lap, lowered from the cross,
That, if I would not fear to scare you,
I would turn my mouth gently

Towards your breast, to suck.



Ar trebui                                              

Ar trebui sã ne naºtem bãtrâni,
Sã venim înþelepþi,
Sã fim în stare de-a hotãrî soarta noastrã în lume,
Sã ºtim din rãscrucea primarã ce drumuri pornesc
ªi iresponsabil sã fie doar dorul de-a merge.
Apoi sã ne facem mai tineri, mai tineri,
Maturi ºi puternici s-ajungem
la poarta creaþiei,
Sã trecem de ea ºi-n iubire intrând adolescenþi,
Sã fim copii la naºterea fiilor noºtri.
Oricum ei ar fi atunci mai bãtrâni decât noi,
Ne-ar învãþa sã vorbim, ne-ar legãna sã dormim,
Noi am dispãrea tot mai mult, devenind tot mai mici,
Cât bobul de strugure, cât bobul de mazãre, cât bobul de grâu…
We Should
We should be born old,
And arrive wise,
To be capable of deciding our worldly fate,
To comprehend from the prime crux what ways begin
And only the wish to walk to feel reckless.
Then should we become younger, and younger, walking,
Mature and strong to arrive
At creation’s gate,
To pass through it and in love entering adolescents,
To be children at our sons’ birth.
Either way, they would then be older than us,
They would teach us to speak, rock us to sleep.
We would disappear even more, becoming even smaller,
Like a grape, like a pea, like a grain of wheat…

Frunze, cuvinte, lacrimi,
cutii de chibrituri, pisici,
tramvaie câteodatã, cozi la fãinã,
gãrgãriþe, sticle goale, discursuri,
imagini lungite de televizor,
gândaci de Colorado, benzinã,
steguleþe, portrete cunoscute,
Cupa Campionilor Europeni,
maºini cu butelii, mere refuzate la export,
ziare, franzele, ulei în amestec, garoafe,
întâmpinãri la aeroport, cico, batoane,
Salam Bucureºti, iaurt dietetic,
þigãnci cu kenturi, ouã de Crevedia,
zvonuri, serialul de sâmbãtã seara,
cafea cu înlocuitori,
lupta popoarelor pentru pace, coruri,
producþia la hectar, Gerovital, aniversãri,
compot bulgãresc, adunarea oamenilor muncii,
vin de regiune superior, adidaºi,
bancuri, bãieþii de pe Calea Victoriei,
peºte oceanic, Cântarea României,
Leaves, words, tears,
Matchboxes, cats,
Trams sometimes, queues for flour,
Ladybeetles, empty bottles, speeches,
Elongated images on TV,
Colorado beetles, petrol,
Flags, known portraits,
The Euro Cup,
Trucks of gas cylinders, export rejected apples,
Newspapers, Vienna loaves, blended oil, carnations,
Airport receptions, Cico, sweet bread rolls,
Bucharest salami, diet-yoghurt,
Gypsies selling Kent, Crevedia eggs,
Rumours, the Saturday night serial,
Coffee substitutes,
The world struggle for peace, choirs,
Production per hectare, Gerovital, anniversaries
Bulgarian tinned fruit, national meetings,
Superior regional wine, Adidas shoes,
Jokes, (security police) boys on Victoria Avenue,
Oceanic fish, Ode to Romania,


Anthony Lawrence

Anthony Lawrence’s most recent book of poems, Bark (UQP, 2008) was shortlisted for the Age Poetry Book of the Year and the Judith Wright Calanthe Award. A verse novella, The Welfare of My Enemy and a new collection of poems, The Unfairground are both forthcoming from UQP in 2011. He lives in Newcastle.




Whistling Fox


My father could whistle up a fox
with the bent lid of a jam tin.
Pursing his lips, he would blow the cries
of a wounded hare into cold Glen Innes hills.
Into a giant’s marble game of balancing granite;
the wind-peeled stones on the tablelands
of New England; a sound like a child
crying called the fox from its nest of skin and bones.

I was there the day my father flew
the eyes from a small red fox.
He fired, opened the shotgun over his knee,
and handed me two smoking shells.

It had come to us like any whistled dog,
leaving its padmarks in frosty grass.
That day it left its winter coat behind
with blood like rubies sown into the dripping hem.


Trapping on the Foggy

for Richard


When I’m trapping on the Foggy,
fifteen miles off Catherine Hill Bay,
the world is good.

In the morning paper, a murder
in Leichhardt; someone’s fist
photographed under rubble in Mexico.

Out here, the blue wind makes calm
the most violent of days.

Daydreaming over my landline,
the ocean settles me, and I drift.


I watch the tankers come and go,
fixed heavily to their destinations.

It’s mostly routine, but once
a bronze whaler followed a trap
to the surface – it came out of the water
and laid its great head over the stern,
snapping in the air, tipping the runabout’s
nose to the sky. I looked into its eyes
and knew it wanted me.


I must have sent down a thousand traps,
each one with its lines of chicken gut
woven through the wire.

And with every trap, I release myself
slowly, descending through miles
of green, sun-shafted water, down
through the bubbles, in touch with everything.

I tip a barnacled ledge somewhere far below,
and wavering there, settle on the reef.


I finger the handline like a downcast kite,
translating each bite into possibilities.

These curious fish inspect the bait
like terriers, and when the snapper throw up
their luminous bodies, thrashing and curling
in the phosphorescent deep, I’m a child again,
staring into tidal pools, my hands bent
and pale in clear water, counting bright shells.



Just below the Falls

This is how it is, just below the falls,
with a fine spray of mist in my eyes
and a whipbird cracking into the trees.
I’m here because the poems are on the move again.
There will be no quiet stirrings of experience,
distilled by the years and ready for translation –
what’s approaching’s got its tail dragging in my blood.
It’s a fertile time, knowing that the love poem
and the elegy will be equally attended; knowing too
that the footprints I’ve left on previous encounters
with the falls will soon be gone, stamped out
like a shell’s flattened spiral into the stone.
It’s been coming on for days, entering my speech
and sleep, bringing news from the other side.
This is how it is, where the sandstone ledge
I’m standing on is breaking away, and the whipbird’s
ricochet is lost to water’s thunder.
Something will happen if I stand here long enough –
a poem will come or the ledge give way,
though I’m through with falling back on the notion
of the suffering artist – we all have our demons
to contend with in our time.
This is how it is, just below the falls,
where rainbows hang in a bloom of spray
and the poems come on in stages. Where the cycle ends,
the ledge falls down like dark, like heavy rain. 


Tidal Dreaming

You wake and tell me that your dream was tidal –
the rattle of stones, the miles of salty wind
giving voice to trees and honeycombed caves.
You tell me quietly about the gentle rocking
motion of the waves, your warm body moving
slowly upon my body, advancing and receding.
And as I listen I remember that I too
had been dreaming, that possibly I had taken
leave of my body’s sleeping anchorage.
In the wide bays of each other’s arms
or sleeping alone, our places in the bed
still wear the positions we made as we turned,
seeking comfort or space in the dark.
No need to question how far we travel
when behind our eyes time and distance
disengage their symbols to flicker and collapse
like glass in the skylight of a kaleidoscope.
When I lean forward to kiss you, pine needles
fall from my hair. On my skin, a smear
of charcoal where fitfully I’d passed,
brushing burnt-out trees. And it seems
you were there beside me, flying over
the wreckage of week-old fires – in your hair
also, the evidence of pines, on your skin
the ash-grey stains.
               Coming to rest,
we gathered ourselves into wakefulness, moving
again with moon-drawn water, our voices
returning from caves and forests. And silence
by morning’s pale-blue noise, our shadows
passed with belief in love beyond the tired
streets of light and work, our heartbeats
measured by the pulse of the waves, incoming
deep and regular. To sleep beside you
is to know the secret dark each other’s
dreaming has encountered – forests and caves,
where stalagmites and stalactites
grow towards each other like patient tongues.


The Aerialist

Blonding (Jean François Gravelet), 1824–1897

Despite the legs, varicose like branches
veined with congealing sap,
the hands, gnarled and knotted with disuse,
I could still conjure a terrible height
from the verandah to the lawn,
do a softshoe along the railing
then walk the length of the drive,
pausing to dig the stones from my palms.
The life of an aerialist is no worse or less
potent because the body is grounding itself,
weighted to the marrow with decay.
It is only the tools of my high-risk trade
that have fallen to redundancy: the cable
on which I travelled above the falls
of North America, the long pole I held –
an eagle’s slow dark flapping –
they are warping and unravelling in the shed.
My retirement from the windy meridians
of balance and applause has refined
a discipline displaced by youth for the brief
flirtations I made with death and acclamation.
I’ve not forgotten the surreal heliography
of a thousand upturned eyes and cameras,
or the collective gasp from a crowd of mouths
as I wheeled a barrow stacked with knives
towards Niagara’s roaring vanishing-point.
Once the wind rocked the barrow violently,
and knives flashed like slender-bodied salmon
falling back from an unsuccessful spawning.
These days I walk the wire in the high
and silent air of meditation. I can twirl
a blue umbrella, or wheel a box of blades
above the falls for hours – the cheers
and the mist still around me as I rise
then step away into the shadow of an elm.
I’ve returned in recent years to stand alone
at night behind the safety rail.
They’ve lit the falls with spotlights,
now white thunder is a rainbow veil,
with Beethoven’s Sixth coming awkwardly
like muted weeping through the spray.
I rarely discuss my time in the air.
Talk is a tripwire on memory’s corroding line.
Though, when asked to remember
the most difficult walk I’ve made I tell
a story about my father. One night he came
staggering home through the rain into death,
his heart and balance quartered. I met him
at the gate, then carried him inside.
He was breathing hard the words I would later
speak like prayer above the water and the crowds:
I’ve been trying for years
to heal the private wounds of my life


The Syllables in Your Name

I finger the Rosary beads I found
in a country church
after lighting a candle
under Gothic spires, dark
with thoughts of prayers for you.

Reasons for our separation
come through remembering candleflame
that lit the feet
of a slumped and wing-attended Christ,
shadows blue as snow, and now

the click of beads, but mostly
I mouth the syllables in your name.
Today the string came apart,
and there was a sound you’d expect
scattering beads to make.

Sympathetic hands came forward
with beads to a man who had
yet to complete the Rosary.
With a passive vocabulary, I thanked,
moved off and disappointed them.

In the generous shadow of a column,
as a man swept last night’s rain
from the floor of the Pantheon,
I threaded beads
onto the twist of purple wool I’d found

where Nigerians stand selling
handbags and cartons of cigarettes.
When each bead could be numbered and praised,
I mouthed, like a mantra over the reasons
for our separation, the syllables in your name.

These poems appear in New and Selected Poems, (University of Queensland Press, 1989)


Scars and Their Origins

For the lesson in how to harness martial energy,
I did not have to study the sea-
facing towers and blades on a wind farm,
or replay footage of a cheetah ending its run
when the wildebeest moved out of range,
or hear a street-fighter who found God
talk of devotion as paying homage
to the tissue of scars and their origins, no,
I learned how to listen and when to distance
myself from the moment, and where I once
went to school on the immediate
and the external, now all I have to do
is remember how you wept and turned away
from the open lesions of my anger.


In the Shadows of a Rockspill

darken your hands
in a seepage of the gathering dark
and then move off into something new
like the eyelid of a sleeping lizard
sealed with the blue rivets of ticks
or a flourish of air
in the path of the owl you disturbed
not unintentionally
     All this will appear to you
          as you travel
attentive or unapproachable
under the hard veneer of your life
saying I will remember this
or you will be captive to the constant
awful noise of reclusiveness
which is not solitude or absence
but simply another place you have entered
in order to leave

These poems appear in Bark, (University of Queensland Press, 2008)



The storm is isolated, black, and comes in fast
breaking lines across a torn embroidery of foam.
I stand looking out from a shelled water table
over stones the wash has kelped and waved aside.
At first it’s like unspooling celluloid, under-
exposed in hard, projected light:
an incoming tide of shapes
that merge to seed a furrow
where the sea’s dark pelt and raining wind combine –
a closing front, loud with acoustic whips of air
as angled wings snap past and lift away.

I will not move, though fear has not disabled me.
It is the upright, spell-bound grace of being
where instinct drives a self-repairing wall
of light and shade.

The precision that keeps a wing-tip
just above the waves keeps me from harm.
Grounded they will rest, feed, then make arrangements
for another touring season.

When the last birds have swept aside
their lapsed itineraries, and climbed wet air
to oversee the underworld of burrows
they claimed years ago: the rank, game-reeking cavities
beneath headland grass, I will leave.

Can the scent and texture of our skin be changed
by such encounters?
Stepping over pools where anemones bloom
like tidal resurrections of red flowers
I put my hand to the sun
to see lit blood illuminate the webbing.
Climbing high, I listen
for the sounds of welcome and arrival.
When amazement breaks the filters

our senses wear in uneventful light
we move beyond the place
where memory harvests meaning.
I move and I am changed, then changed again
by the telling of it.


Street Theatre

At a high open window, working with rags
to buff the brass Buddha she used to weight paper
a woman is frozen by fright and alarm.
When he slipped from her grip and fell, he glanced
off the head of the man who comes
each day, his face and hands painted silver
to stand on a box to make money. 
      A black and tan kelpie is first on the scene
            followed by a rodeo clown
wearing overalls, makeup and dust, then a girl
whose white tasselled boots had been worn down
from being worn out.
      The standing man was lying on his side
            unconscious or worse, surrounded by coins.
The Buddha was sitting upright in the gutter
and apart from a scratch on his shoulder
he was fine.
      Not since locals bashed act from the word actor 
            had an inland city seen such street theatre.


Stephen Edgar

Stephen Edgar has published seven collections of poetry, the most recent being History of the Day, published by Black Pepper Publishing in May 2009. His book Lost in the Foreground won the Grace Leven Poetry Prize and William Baylebridge Memorial Prize for 2003. He won the inaugural Australian Book Review Poetry Prize in 2005 for his poem “Man on the Moon” and in 2006 was awarded the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal for excellence in literature. Edgar was born in Sydney in 1951 and grew up and was educated there. In the early seventies he lived in London and, on returning to Australia in 1974, moved to Hobart where he lived until late 2005. He currently lives in Sydney again. He attended the University of Tasmania, studying Classics and English. For many years he worked in libraries but for the past twenty years has made his living mostly from editing, indexing and proofreading.

         (Photograph by Vicki Frerer)





Like gazing at some other family
In a fogged window pane,
Or in a mottled mirror that has lost
Flakes of its silver tain:

The four boys head and tail in the one bed,
Their breath turning the room’s
Frigid midwinter to a dreaming kitchen,
With its fug of steam and fumes.

Does such a place exist? Where might it be?
How get to here from there?
But there they are, there we are, clambering down
The bank, our thin legs bare,

Barefoot (it’s hard to credit) in that cold.
My sook-soft soles revealed,
I’m piggybacked by one of my cousins over
The thorns that mine the field,

Till we reach the dingy creek to fish up yabbies
On strings of sodden meat,
And lug back home our squirming bucketful—
Which of course no one will eat.

Over it goes, then, in the yard; we watch
Them spill and clatter away
Through grass and fence and blackberries, back to
Their soupy deep. One day

We ranged the paddocks—to the quarry (was it?)
Across the railway line,
And tightropewalked the daring empty tracks,
Or, listening for a sign,

We’d place an ear down on the sun-cold metal
And think we heard the humming,
That charged vibration borne from far away
Of what was coming.


Sun Pictorial

How formal and polite,
How grave they look, burdened with earnest thoughts,
In all these set-up sepia stills,
Almost as if, embarrassed and contrite
To be caught practising their fatal skills,
They’d stepped aside from slaughter for these other shots.

The American Civil War,
The first war captured by the photograph
In real time. Even the dead
Seem somehow decorous, less to deplore
The sump of blood to which their duty bled
Than to apologize, humbled, in our behalf.

We know how otherwise
It was. They knew it then. The gauche onset
Of murderously clumsy troops,
Dismemberment by cannon, the blown cries
Through powder smoke, mayhem of scattered groups
In close engagement’s pointblank aim and bayonet.

How far from then we’ve come.
The beauties of the Baghdad night still stun
Me: a blue screen where guns and jets
Unloose the lightnings of imperium—
Intense enough to challenge a minaret’s
Aquamarine mosaic in the blinded sun

At noon—and smart bombs fall
Through walls to wipe the city street by street.
Morning, and in the camera’s light
The formal corpses ripen. Who can recall
By day precisely what they watched last night?
Or find the unknown soldier in a field of wheat?

Being surplus, like the killed,
Millions of those old plates were simply dumped.
And in a modern version of ‘swords
To ploughshares’, many were reused to build
Greenhouses, ranged and set in place as wards
Above the rife tomatoes as they blushed and plumped,

While, through the daily sun’s
Pictorial walls and roofs, the long, desired,
Leaf-fattening light fell down, to pore
Upon the portraits of these veterans
Until their ordered histories of the war
Were wiped to just clear glass and what the crops transpired.

(These poems appeared in Lost In The Foreground, Duffy and Snellgrove, 2003)



You can’t see it from here,
But caught up in its business to begem
Some ripple-silvered bay or the crests of trees,
Or just a golf course with its dewed veneer,
Ante meridiem
The day unfolds its golden auguries
On a charmed sky. A secular congregation
Is out already to revere
The lit east with a helpless expectation.

It’s like a Hopper painting:
A row of figures sitting mute in the sun,
Which by a plantlike, heliotropic action
Their faces and their thoughts are orienting
Towards, almost as one.
And, gazing on that source of benefaction,
They contemplate and inwardly affirm
What lies in store for their acquainting
At the expiration of a certain term.

And even as they stare,
Appraising what the morning rays appoint,
The light that photocopies her crow’s-feet,
The grey encroachments in his thinning hair,
That stiffening hip joint,
Has swept past as though history were complete.
Back in the bedrooms of this white hotel
Their things, wiser than they, declare
No contest in these fancies. Where it fell

An empty shirtsleeve throws
A purely formal gesture of despair
Across a bed, while nothing will arouse
From lank indifference the pantihose
Haunting a sidelong chair,
The disembodied presence of slip and blouse.
Those traveller’s cheques, laid out in a fat wad,
Half signed away, only propose
Their outlays for the briefest period.
The day’s lucid ascent
Has charmed its way in here, it’s true, but lacks
Suspension of disbelief that those outside
Contribute, their frank willingness to invent.
On their reclining backs
They count up the instalments, smile squint-eyed
Into a rushing solar past their sight
Will never stay, far too intent
On what’s to come to see it for the light.


English as a Foreign Language

One day in bed I read Cavafy
In Greek—her favourite: “Ithaca”—
And in return I won the trophy
Of her admiring Ah!

And I was flattered to astonish
That way. It wasn’t much to do.
She put in a request for Spanish
Bedtime recitals too,

Hoping that she might thereby sharpen
Her skills in the language she loved best.
In the event it didn’t happen,
Like most things she’d suggest.

And Pushkin too, a modest portion,
But that was pushing it too far,
Though I taught her “I love you” in Russian:
That’s ya lyublyú tebyá,

A lover’s commonplace avowal,
But rather difficult to sound
In Russian; it can be a trial
To get your tongue around.

But she repeated those words over
And over till she had them pat.
In English, though—well, she could never
Quite manage to say that.

(These poems appeared in Other Summers, Black Pepper, 2006)


The Earrings

I think of you on whom
          Each lobe,
Shifting between the light and gloom,
Displays in some far room
          Its hollow globe.

Small metal worlds are these,
          With real
And independent gravities,
Attracting as they please,
          Or so you feel,

With their grey weight and sheen.
          Once they
Were hers. But she, oh she has been
And will no more be seen
          By night or day.

They were long lost inside
          The void
Of an old jewel box, denied
Adorning: to be eyed,
          To be enjoyed.

They had no hooks or rings,
          And broken
Eyelets: unpolished, useless things
With dormant glimmerings
          To be awoken.

I give them then to you.
          Hers, mine
And yours: all ownings in these two
Now mended spheres accrue,
          Blend and combine;

All of the properties,
          The pain,
Pleasure, desires and memories
That nothing will appease,
          Nothing detain,

Inhere in these brief globes,
          Their slight
Rocking, dependent from your lobes,
A gravity which probes
          Darkness and light.


Playing to the Gallery

The last scene, and the two protagonists
Go through their studied pantomime in the park,
Obeying all the script’s instructions, playing
For time as though time hung upon it, playing
To that gallery of sun-bedevilled windows
Warping along a wall across the street:
Site of their judges—none of whom, they know,
Is really there. All the performances
Assume an audience—even of one—
To applaud, to laugh, to weep, or silently
Observe with admiration what they share
By faith alone. The scene inside the church,
The bedroom scene, the labour ward, and the other,
Later scenes, in which that chill locale
Will bring to bear the comprehensive weight
Of its resources. Or the scene beneath
The acid drops of starlight and the moon’s
Bland irony. Wait; listen, when they cease,
For what succeeds their final pause.
Far inland, bulks of stone well-versed in sunset
Perform their purple passages on cue;
The ponderous Pacific solemnly
Repeats its monologue on rock; wind, wind,
Playing for time, recites impartially
Leaves, grasses, patterns on the random water
Across the bay, or the daily rubbish, lofting
Like a kite above the telegraph wires
A solitary delinquent plastic bag,
As though it pleased some connoisseur of light,
As though it changed the history of this day.


The Cars

In the open gallery which adjoins
The station, the installed art of the sun
Projects each day’s obsessive stripes and bars
Of light and shadow over the parked cars,
Each pattern as it’s done undone,
Highlighting and obscuring a few coins

Beside this gearshift; on that dash
An almost empty pack of gum; the Ruth
Rendell abandoned on a passenger seat,
Curling beneath the calculus of heat
And time, a comb with one bent tooth
For bookmark; here an ashtray stuffed with ash

And lip-kissed butts of cigarettes;
The mud-caked boots and other walking gear
Jumbled in the back of a four-wheel drive.
Although each morning many cars arrive
Which every evening disappear,
On these few each day’s sun rises and sets.

Elsewhere a list is being compiled
By the grey process of officialdom,
Phonecalls are tallied and the absentees
Accounted for, the tracked-down families,
For whom photographers will come,
Summoned by sobs, bruised eyes, a blank-faced child.

Elsewhere the helicopter sways,
Casting its shadow over what remains,
Like a raptor idling in its famished weight.
Like scavengers small figures investigate
What residue the wreck retains
Of those who have gone home by other ways.


Those Hours Which Grew to Be Years


(The lynching of Frank Embree, 22 July 1899)

1: Morning

          Take him away,
          Airbrush him out,
And all these men who stand about
In the clean light of day,

          Stern, humourless
          And dignified,
Seem called by duty and with pride
To some urgent address,

          Some clear appeal
          A patriot
And honest citizen could not
Refuse to hear and feel.

          And citizens
          Who hold their pose,
They fix unflinching eyes in rows
On the unflinching lens.

          But there he stands,
          His body stripped
And scored with the judicial script
Of whips, his handcuffed hands

          Held to conceal
          The private place,
His face upheld, composed to face
The lens, and all that’s real.

[ 2: Meridian

It may be nothing but the tree’s
Rubbing against itself below,
But through the leaves
There is a creaking in the breeze,
A bulk that briefly jerks and heaves
To and fro.]

3: Afternoon

And still they do not look at him
          Where he hangs high
Suspended from a maple limb,
          But eye to eye

About his blanket-covered thighs
          And their raw stripes,
Rehearse, recount, particularize
          With lighted pipes.

And nor will he take note of them,
          But broken-necked
Looks up beyond the hanging stem
          As to inspect

Some far-off singularity
          Posed in the sky’s
Flecked blue, if such were there to see,
          And with his eyes.


The Grand Hotel

for Les Murray

Apart from that, though, I recall
Something you said about the place:
That you could never see it all,
It seems to propagate with space;

Always another stair to climb,
Always another corridor
With other rooms to count like time,
The end of which is always more;

A sort of Tardis made immense
That somehow manages to flout
The laws of sense and common sense
By being larger in than out,

The three dimensions’ mean constriction
Opened, unfolded and unpacked:
A building out of science fiction.
Or, come to think of it, science fact.

For don’t they say if we could shatter
Their shackled forces we should find
Dimensions at the heart of matter,
Immensities wound up, that mind

Cannot conceive? That’s some hotel,
And just the place to take to heart
And contemplate the parallel
World that this world is made by art,

Whose finite limits charge and prime
The senses they unpack, and store
Dimensions beyond space and time,
The end of which is always more.

(These poems appear in History Of The Day, Black Pepper, 2009)


Let Me Forget

You run your eyes across the glossy
Lithography of paradise: the sand’s
White gold, the opaline transparent blue
You’ll soon be lolling in, a sky unmarred
And constant to the limits of the view—
All in your hands.
You take the tickets, pass your credit card.

Behind that door, like Cavaradossi,
If you could hear above your heart’s content,
Blindfold and bound,
A stranger fastened to an implement
Appeals for mercy with the world’s worst sound.

Your wife has bought the extra virgin
Inflected with a subtle trace of lime,
The milk-fed veal, as tender as herself,
The chicken livers, the King Island cream—
It seems a pity to omit a shelf—
The chives, the thyme;
And there’s her shopping voucher to redeem.

Behind that door, it is no surgeon
Who makes the live incision, or instils
Into the eyes
Of some mute animal the caustic mils,
Or monitors its functions as it dies.

So home you both go, your attention
Diverted now towards the holiday
In prospect, now the meal tonight, your friends,
Problems with Chloe, and the arbitrage
Absorbing you at work, on which depends
The tax you’ll pay.
You park the Merc before the locked garage.

Behind that door, past comprehension,
Beyond imagining, the universe;
The laws upon
Whose unknown code the selves that you rehearse
From day to day are based; oblivion.

So much you’ve failed to see or mention.
But you’ve no guilt to own to or dispel.
Each day you take
This anaesthetic and it keeps you well
To face the day you could not face awake.



Judith Beveridge

Judith Beveridge has published four books of poetry: The Domesticity of Giraffes (Black Lightning Press, 1987), Accidental Grace (UQP, 1996), Wolf Notes (Giramondo Publishing 2003), Storm and Honey (Giramondo Publishing 2009). She has won many awards for her poetry including the NSW Premier’s Award, The Victorian Premier’s Award and the Judith Wright Calanthe Award. In 2005 she was awarded the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal for excellence in literature. She is currently the poetry editor for Meanjin and teaches poetry writing at postgraduate level at the University of Sydney.



 The Herons


Then the path wound down

to a browner place, to a river

where rain-grey herons slender as rushes

drifted off like camp-smoke.


I’ve only seen their colour

in a few opals baked deep in clay country.

When they stared, it was as if

their eyes carried on


through emanations.

One stood so peacefully

as if it saw and heard the single

far off, crystal note;


slender, rag-thin bird we called

blue Gotama. We crumbled a mushroom—

all we could call

sacred, yet common:


but they looked past all hungers.

So we trod quietly back,

left them sitting above the long

brown earthworm of the river


and our pile of useless

vegetable soil. They were

beautiful as blue veins in the wrists of monks

fasting for perfection.




The Caterpillars


On the headland to the lighthouse,

a brown detour of caterpillars

crimped end-to-end across the road.


Poke away the pilot and the line

would break up, rioting,

fingering for the scent.

Put him back, they’d straighten.

You could imagine them humming

their queue numbers.


I’ve only seen such blind following

in the patient, dull dole queues,

or old photos of the Doukhobors,

the world’s first march of naked people.


I watched over the line for hours

warding off birds whose wings, getting close,

were like the beating of spoons

in deep bowls. I put a finger to the ground

and soft prickles pushed over,

a warm chain of hair.


This strange sect, wrapped in the sun

like their one benefit blanket

marched in brotherhood and exile.


Later, a group of boys

(their junta-minds set on torture)

picked off the leader.

Each creature contorted,


shut into its tight burr.

I could only stand like a quiet picket

and watch the rough panic.


I remember them, those caterpillars,

pacifists following their vegetable passion—

lying down in the road and dying

when they could no longer touch each other.




Occasions of Snails




They slide out of the light

leave a chrome stain through shade on the brickpath.

Their excreta are milled like censer ash

as they wander aisles, scented paths,

crawl over ageing grasses,

bask in warm mud like the terribly poor.

They wander the earth

as if looking for St Francis of Assisi.




So many anonymous buds—

a bucketful from the lettuces and roses.

The colour of autumn’s loose litter—

they are aimless, evicted,

itinerant for the velvet luxury

of the orchid and lily.




The evening is cool, a cricket’s call

fills the ground like a slow cistern.

I bend close to the earth, watch a tiny snail

rock in the crib of a leaf.

A trail just visible where spiders are tooling lace.

It works the abrupt edge.

It is a couturier cutting away.

It will quickly feather this leaf.




As a child I squinted for their script.

I searched the vast twin prayeryards

of sunshine and wind.

I watched for their headlines

as if they were notices for the arrivals

and departures of angels;

as if they were the proof—

beautiful and brief—of anonymous flights

scrawled across the house-walls, down ditches,

on uncut grasses, on a splintery fence;

as if they were the tinsels of a local moon.




Now I am a gardener.

I make their landscapes deadly.

I make Golgothas in the garden.

And I have laid my poisons—

the mockery of diced stems.




I have pressed them to the earth.

I have trowelled them into the soil.

I have riveted their pastel to the bricks.

I have denied them soft altars, plush roads,

these trackers of unattainable softness,

these evacuees of needle-thin tracks

who never look back on their painstaking silver.




But look how they go—

beseeching the deities Gloss

and Lightheadedness; how they stroll

amongst mucilage and essences

as if in mystical consortium

with nasturtium and rose—

how they find the sane bewilderment

of a child wandering in her garden

with a rose in her head.

She curses her brothers

who drop them on cactuses,

turn them into sludge

and laugh them into sad weak bubbles.


Still, she remembers the hiss

of so many tossed into the ash.

Those winkled from their sockets by twigs.




Sometimes, when I hold them,

when they are immured

and smelling of lavender;

when they turn their dibbled heads

from my palms, I remember

those soldered paths

and this world’s exotic itinerary.

Again, I track their rubbled passages

(to the roses, to the compost).

They have crawled into eggshells

as if into temples, as if into light.




How to Love Bats


Begin in a cave.

Listen to the floor boil with rodents, insects.

Weep for the pups that have fallen. Later,

you’ll fly the narrow passages of those bones, but for now—


open your mouth, out will fly names

like Pipistrelle, Desmodus, Tadarida. Then,

listen for a frequency

lower than the seep of water, higher

than an ice planet hibernating

beyond a glacier of Time.


Visit op shops. Hide in their closets.

Breathe in the scales and dust

of clothes left hanging. To the underwear

and to the crumpled black silks—well,

give them your imagination

and plenty of line, also a night of gentle wind.


By now your fingers should have

touched petals open. You should have been dreaming

each night of anthers and of giving

to their furred beauty

your nectar-loving tongue. But also,

your tongue should have been practising the cold

of a slippery, frog-filled pond.


Go down on your elbows and knees.

You’ll need a speleologist’s desire for rebirth

and a miner’s paranoia of gases—

but try to find within yourself

the scent of a bat-loving flower.


Read books on pogroms. Never trust an owl.

Its face is the biography of propaganda.

Never trust a hawk. See its solutions

in the fur and bones of regurgitated pellets.


And have you considered the smoke

Yet from a moving train? You can start

half an hour before sunset,

but make sure the journey is long, uninterrupted

and that you never discover

the faces of those trans-Siberian exiles.


Spend time in the folds of curtains.

Seek out boarding-school cloakrooms.

Practise the gymnastics of wet umbrellas.


                                       Are you

floating yet, thought-light,

without a keel on your breastbone?

Then, meditate on your bones as piccolos,

on mastering the thermals

beyond the tremolo; reverberations

beyond the lexical.


                                       Become adept

at describing the spectacles of the echo—

but don’t watch dark clouds

passing across the moon. This may lead you

to fetishes and cults that worship false gods

by lapping up bowls of blood from a tomb.


Practise echo-locating aerodromes,

stamens. Send out rippling octaves

into the fossils of dank caves—

then edit these soundtracks

with a metronome of dripping rocks, heartbeats

and with a continuous, high-scaled wondering

about the evolution of your own mind.


But look, I must tell you—these instructions

are no manual. Months of practice

may still only win you appreciation

of the acoustical moth,

hatred of the hawk and owl. You may need


to observe further the floating black host

through the hills.






Something’s dead in that stand of trees.


Vultures circle and swoop.

Flies fresh from the herds

hum around my head.


I watch the maggots rise, cooking up.


Ants in tiny rows keep convoying

skin, tissue.


Even the moon can’t keep itself clean:

soap soiled by a dung-collector’s hands.


The carcass is a spotted deer’s.


Only yesterday, perhaps,

it was grazing among the trees,


its hide so much the colour of the trunks,

it would seem to be hardly there.


How many years have I journeyed?


Time. So much its own colour.


Death in every stand of trees.




In the Forest


So long in this forest—I hardly remember

my home. Though sometimes when I see

the pink reach of lotuses—I remember

the underside of my mother’s hands.

And sometimes, when I see a scorpion


jack up the green stinger of its tail,

do I think of my father’s lithe thumb,

gesturing. Sometimes the wing of an

insect, weighing no more than two

layers of lacquer, will make me count


how often I saw Yasodhara’s face

under the sky’s veneer. I’ve seen so

many lives born outside of reason; little

antennas poking through their cocoons.

Now, a praying mantis strokes the air


with a casual feeler, then tenses its legs

against the weather. How long will it sit

folded in upon itself, brave petitioner?

All day I bow to these creatures—

those who wait their cycles out more


devoutly than moons. But sometimes,

watching a butterfly emerge, I sense

my own eyelids flutter in the strange

puparium of a dream. O, I don’t know

if I’ll ever wake, changed, transformed,


able to lift on viridescent wings.

But as I watch, I feel my mind enter

a vast space in which everything

connects; and a grasshopper on a blade

of grass listens intently with its knees.




The Lake


At dusk she walks to the lake. On shore

a few egrets are pinpointing themselves

in the mud. Swallows gather the insect lint


off the velvet reed-heads and fly up through

the drapery of willows. It is still hot.

Those clouds look like drawn-out lengths


of wool untwilled by clippers. The egrets

are poised now—moons just off the wane—

and she thinks, too, how their necks are


curved like fingernails held out for manicure.

She walks the track that’s a draft of the lake

and gazes at where light nurses the wounded


capillaries of a scribbly gum. A heron on one leg

has the settled look of a compass, though soon,

in flight, it will have the gracility of silk


when it’s wound away. She has always loved

the walks here, the egrets stepping from

the lute music of their composure, the mallards


shaking their tails into the chiffon wakes,

the herons fletching their beaks with moths

or grasshoppers, the ibis scything the rushes


or poking at their ash-soft tail feathers.

Soon the pelicans will sail in, fill and filter

the pink. Far off, she can see where tannin


has seeped from the melaleucas, a burgundy

stain slow as her days spent amongst tiles and

formica. She’s glad now she’s watching water


shift into the orange-tipped branches of a

she-oak, a wren flick its notes towards the wand

of another’s twitching tail. There’s an oriole


trilling at the sun, a coveted berry, a few

cicadas still rattling their castanets. She loves

those casuarinas, far off, combed and groomed,


trailing their branches: a troupe of orang-utans

with all that loping, russet hair; and when

the wind gets into them, there’s a sound as if


seeds were being sorted, or feet shuffled amongst

the quiet gusts of maracas. Soon the lights on

the opposite shore will come on like little


electric fig seeds and she will walk back

listening to frogs croak in the rushes, the bush

fill with the slow cisterns of crickets, her head


with the quiet amplitude of—Keats perhaps,

or a breeze consigning ripples to the bank;

the sun, an emblazoned lifebuoy, still afloat.




The Shark


We heard the creaking clutch of the crank

as they drew it up by cable and wheel

and hung it sleek as a hull from the roof.


Grennan jammed open the great jaws

and we saw how the upper jaw hung from

the skull. We flinched at the stench of blood


that dripped on the fishhouse floor, and

even Davey – when Grennan reached in

past the scowl and the steel prop for the


stump – just about passed out. The limb’s

skin had already blanched, a sight none

of us could stomach, and we retched 


though Grennan, cool, began cutting off

the flesh in knots, slashing off the flesh

in strips; and then Davey, flensing and


flanching, opened up the stomach and

the steaming bowels. Gulls circled like

ghouls. Still they taunt us with their cries


and our hearts still burn inside us when

we remember, how Grennan with a tool

took out what was left of the child.






I’m sorting out the hooks in Grennan’s big old tackle box.

                      I pick one from the box. It has a sliced

shank, a rolled-in sports point, a wide gape and long bite.


I like the ones too whose points lie offset from their shanks

                      and those with sinkers like fisheyes

moulded onto them. This hook with a corroded point


and rusting suicide barb I name wild-beaked bait-giver.

                      This hook looks like the neck

of a little egret when the wind lifts a wisp of feathers


from its nape. This hook has a kinked shank and sickle

                      curve, so I call it ibis leaning

over the shallows. These two forged-silver, light-wired


bait-holders brazed together beautifully I call greenshanks

                      in flight. I know Grennan and Davey

would think I’m silly naming these old hooks, but what


else is there to do when you’re stuck in a boathouse, no fish

                      running, when the hooks’ real names

Sproat, Sneck, Big Bend, Model 20R are just not poetry.





                                                                             I have always loved the word guitar

                                                                                                        David St. John

I have never been bumped in a saddle as a horse springs
from one diagonal to another,
a two-beat gait light and balanced
as the four-beats per stride become the hair-blowing,
wind-in-the-face, grass-rippling,
muscle-loosening, forward-leaning
exhilaration of the gallop.
And I have never counted the slow four-beat pace
of distinct, successive hoofbeats
in such an order as to be called The Walk.
Or learned capriole, piaffe, croupade in a riding school,
nor heard the lingo of outback cattle-cutters
spat out with their whip-ends and phlegm.
I have never stepped my hands over the flanks
of a spotted mare, nor ridden a Cleveland Bay
carriage horse, or a Yorkshire coach horse,
a French Percheron with its musical snicker,
or a little Connemara, its face buried
in broomcorn, or in a bin of Wexford apples.
I have never called a horse Dancer, Seabiscuit, Ned,
Nellie, Trigger or Chester, or made clicking noises
with my tongue during the fifty kilometres
to town with a baulking gelding and a green
quartertop buggy. Nor stood in a field while
an old nag worked every acre
only stopping to release difficult knobs of manure
and swat flies with her tail. And though I have
waited for jockeys at the backs of stables
in the mist and rain, for the soft feel of their riding silks
and saddles, for the cool smoke of their growth-stunting  
cigarettes, for the names of the yearlings
and mares they whisper along with the names
of horse-owning millionaires – ah, more, more even
than them – I have always loved the word appaloosa.