Gwee Li Sui teaches literature at the National University of Singapore. His graphic novel Myth of the Stone (1993) was published to critical silence; it is out of print today and its publisher has since wound up.Who Wants to Buy a Book of Poems? (1998), his volume of humorous poems, was not meant to be published; it was privately circulated before a selection was bravely issued under the same name.
Last Death in Iraq
9 April 2003
Of course, collectively,
It made perfect sense.
The day is glowing,
The old is no more.
So the last man to die
In Saddam’s Iraq
Finds himself thinking
One day like
The men in the
Like the Christians
Like I do
The morning I pick up
My pen to write
Against a war that is
Confucius! Thou shouldst be living at this hour:
Thy folks have need of thee! They have become
All bureaucrats: pens, forms, letters, tiresome
Ping-pong matters − O how our old men cower
To one corner and wet their Eisenhower
Trousers! Are we no more than this feared sum?
Then raise again thy cane and beat us mum;
Teach us good sense, manners not to overpower!
For thou alone art most qualified and smart:
Thou art the poster boy of this strange age
That sees in paperwork a privilege.
So mock us: in the name of Ancient China,
Save us from more red tape and its counterpart—
Even more circulars blowing its tuba!
The Blinding Truth
What I cannot see I cannot see—
Cannot see intelligence in nature, the tree in the bird,
The pattern in the yellow an angsana forms,
The fact that something else thinks in this moment I scruple,
How the world thinks and how I think I think as I watch you think,
The colour of my own brown pupil in yours,
The practice of our faith, a fixing in words,
The shape of each day to be speared through the dark.
When you beam and talk of rooms besieged by many corners,
I cannot find the verbal house in the labyrinth you call home;
And entrepreneurs are not my heroes, nor progress progressive.
When you deem global evil a poor shadow, the trick of subtle good,
I imagine how, on an old bed ten minutes away, the night
Is not the ticking of a grand clock which tallies for dawn.
Your hung Christ brings Sunday peace, mine hysteric living;
Yours knows property prices and backs instinctive wars,
Mine flies into the corridors of discussion where nothing is owned,
Where all weapons shall be beaten into the humanities.
The moving sun, your happy miracle of the same, is still your star:
I cannot see how such occurrences should describe religion at all,
Why I cannot see black, brown, yellow, a tree, a bird, stupid nature—
All else a perilous rupture that connects.
Who’s the idiot who says
if you meet Buddha on the road
If you meet Buddha on the road
leave him alone,
don’t kill anyone,
and don’t listen to stupid advice.
Jan Owen’s fifth book Timedancing was published by Five Islands Press in 2002. Her Collected Poems is forthcoming with John Leonard Press.
Listening to Bartok
From a distance, this half breath,
played in hesitation as by a child
tasting tomorrow’s saddest rhyme,
is ‘almost’ posing for ‘enough’.
The girl has learnt how want
elides get: this shuddery slow kiss
over her skin’s moist silk ambivalence.
She casts off doubt like a classic gown
for music’s shift. No moon.
Thyme and oregano crushed as in a book
exhale a double scent like irony
which guarantees nothing,
warning too soon the game is spent.
Lemon verbena is taking their weight,
ants trekking his arm, grit prickling her back.
From the starry overleap of night
only Saturn leans down.
The lines of a face arise within
and travel for a lifetime:
dry riverbeds, cliffs, endless dunes,
valleys of pomegranates and figs.
Swansdown is bringing them home
with ylang-ylang, almonds and apricot wine,
horizon playing horizon out
like a skipping game till extravagance
spills its hoard, all cost deferred.
Must a promise back away from its own mirage?
Dark is no antidote.
The lame night-watchman lurching by
has stroked her thigh three times.
Above: the Horse-head Nebula stretched out easy,
130 million light-years, nose to throat.
He slaps the sweat of his neck,
the tiny intimate bite of an ant,
and the borrowed music slips back into its den.
But the gist of shimmer’s payload
is grist in the mill, Shrove Tuesday:
such small eternities – C sharp, G minor,
quarter notes from the oud.
And the least tlink of a pebble
will swear time’s round.
Left hand plays a sombre tune.
The kernels float in their syrupy wine
like ancient embryos. Or dark souls levitating.
Deliciously bitter, and all they knew of love.
At night in the jacaranda suburbs,
over the wavy pavers
faking Escher under their purple season,
I pass a lit white wall where shadow and I
make a transient couple. If I say to him
Pattern is also obsession at bay,
he’ll reply: Your habits recrossing
their own predictable paths
are neither a soothing of edge nor a safety net.
I rent upstairs on a street of anti-doubt,
valiantly wrought iron gates, orderly borders,
twin lions and urns. Symmetry rules.
Between the spill of lamps,
crisp footstep-clicks are company
when shadow is cancelled out.
Darkness, like divinity, casts none,
but welcomes in the light:
Damayanta seeking Nala
concealed in the circle of gods
all bearing his face and form
knew him in the blink of an eye
by sweat and dust, and by the shadow he cast.
I meet no camouflaged gods,
but these spent bugles of jacaranda
come from that fading place where gratitude
chooses mortal being over heaven.
Only shadow knows your secret shapes.
To own it well is trust’s defence,
denying it makes massacre:
at best, your unlearnt life is on the line;
at worst, quiet queues are musicked
into the death cathedrals.
And here, for destination, are the roses’
memory scent, four hundred names
gilding the stone arch to the park.
The same two cannons flank the lawn
as when my brother and I played
war on the slippery-dip barrels −
Ack-ack-boom, you’re dead. My turn!
Over the road, the Christmas pine’s decked out,
and St Augustine’s battlements
flash red and green, the season’s spiritual traffic lights.
The cypress mopoke tolls his lugubrious name.
Turning back, I pass three men and a bottle
knocking off work at an outside table.
Further down, on the floor of a closed café,
someone is huddled between two chairs.
Then fashions, skimpy in orange and blue,
the Fairy Boutique and the quilt shop,
antique and liquor store,
Videoland lit up, Mitre 10 dimmed down.
And here’s my street
with its stepping-stones of yellow light.
Past twenty-four’s magnolia
in full flower like a roost of souls,
to the last dark stretch where shadow and I must part,
slipping back easily into our warm shared night.
Ivy Ireland is currently studying an M. Phil in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle. Ivy has a penchant for mysticism, cosmology and cabaret performance. In 2006, Ivy worked as a co-cordinator for “The National Young Writer’s Festival”, and has performed her poetry at various events including ” This Is Not Art” and “The Peats Ridge Festival” . Currently, Ivy is a co-director of the performance troupe, “The Lovelorn Living Party”. She is one of the Australian Young Poets Fellows 2007.
‘For you yourself have created the karma that binds you. You are helpless in its power.
And you will do the very thing which your ignorance seeks to avoid.’ − Bhagavad Gita
Off working for peanuts,
off the books,
off in some country where I was not allowed,
I fell down two flights of stairs
on my base chakra.
I did not see a doctor,
I knew better.
Six months later,
back on a slab in my rightful place,
I had fractured my coccyx.
That type of thing never heals.
The grinding bone:
The tail that was:
I began the enquiry:
Injuries to the base chakra,
emotional or physical,
birth a wanderlust.
Back in that cold country,
lying prone on my solar plexus,
embalmed in numbing spray Laura’s ma stole
from the Falls Rd hospital,
I planned my escape–
Root cracked and numb,
no personal loophole in spacetime,
no tail to curl around the branches
of my family tree,
no train to wind around my lover as he twitched,
beside my blocked Kundalini.
Him: you’ll be alright,
you don’t need it,
we haven’t had tails for thousands off years,
Me: we nurse ghosts of all that has come before;
My tail will keep you awake at night
when I am gone.
One red blood rush.
It is correct to say the
chakra contains the obvious pulleys and levers,
our basic understanding of the cycles:
Low heat rising.
Whatever comes next.
It is also correct to say it contains all the dead:
The threads are sung back into our bodies,
we fuse them through only to gush them out again.
Sol and Luna got married in my guts.
First flurry was fear,
then undying love,
then temperate flow like the guru said.
For followers of Kali,
union of irreconcilable opposites is All −
wine and illicit sex at night,
yoga and fasting in the morning.
I’m afraid of things that dissipate categories,
that are The Ultimate Aim.
Still, when you caused it,
something snapped in there, like the
corners of my mouth spanning outwards
“gone, gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, oh what an awakening”
– Heart Sutra
don’t for a second think this one’s going to be about St Valentine or this or that fat goblin with a bow or even you
and me or this and that kissing some such under the waterfall or any other veiled reality the Buddhists tell me I
don’t understand or really participate in nor do I wish to
when I felt the invitation unfold from yours I wanted to hide but instead I wrote back
there is debate over the true colour of the heart chakra some say green of all colours it is compassionate green they
say others say rose pink which makes more sense to me though what would I know and anyway I hate rose pink
does that mean I hate hearts my own heart
that’s melodramatic and ridiculous how could I hate my own heart
in yoga meditation she tells me to pluck the twelve-petalled flower she says it’s gold residing there at the pump site
and send it to some significant one but I get scared that if I do that I won’t have any core to go home to when
it gets too rough out here on the sea of televisions so
I keep it for myself then feel selfish then decide to give it out to everyman
there are actually seven heart centres according to this or that holy text my friend Reuben says he’s got heart
centres in his heels they all represent a different love isn’t there a first principle in all this excess I want the right
doctrine to represent everything I want to feel it feel it for all and sundry no differentiation I want it to be atomic
that which can not be broken down
why does it always end up here at integers
I had a Inanna icon once,
believed in it,
for she is the oldest and the first.
Once, I held her up to my ear,
so she might say ancient things
my bleating throat could not.
She, too, refused to speak.
I got ill,
laryngitis in all this quiet,
moved house or country.
Somewhere in between,
Inanna fell out of the box.
I had thought she was impervious.
They say if you ask and mean it,
she will appear in the sky, the Great Goddess,
bless you with a boon. Perhaps say something.
There is sky blue where all I can’t say I wish for
There is the non-verbal stored elsewhere
There is the silence held dear haunting blood later
When they adjust a throat chakra,
they whirl the 16 petals to the left to let the emotions out.
The patient might start muttering things uncontrollably.
the first thing I mutter is Science where my bones are kept
the second thing I mutter is God where the disguise is kept
the third thing hints at Unity since I am now impervious
there is a superstring
replacing the unbreakable
electron with something that
could be snapped
if we desire it
little threads of sea
topography of my body
to its instigator and
through the firegate to
O Agni You
honey around the outside
like staring at fractals until your brain bursts
sahasrara is the channel vessel
inner lotus of 12 petals
outside honey flower has 960
what’s the meaning of this angel ladder?
reclining in a quiet grey bubble
the pineal gland remembers.