Peter Boyle reviews Yuxtas, by Mario Licón Cabrera


Yuxtas (Back and Forth)by Mario Licón Cabrera


Launch Speech by PETER BOYLE

7 December Sydney 2007

Cervantes Publishing

ISBN 9780949274205


Peter Boyle lives in Sydney. His most recent books are 

Museum of Space (UQP) and Reading Borges (Picador)





I want to start by thanking Mario Licón for inviting me to speak at the launch of his new book Yuxtas. Ten years ago I first had the privilege of meeting Mario. He was living then in Little Comber Street in Paddington with Jennifer Green, Jenny who is in many of these poems. Not long after meeting Mario I was there at the funeral for Jenny, one of the many deaths that mark this book.

Meeting Mario meant being taken into a new world, the world of his passionate intensity for poetry. I had already read Lorca, Vallejo, Paz but Mario knew their work inwardly, with an intensity and depth possible for someone who had grown up inside Hispanic culture and inside the beautiful Spanish language. Mario’s readings of those poets, particularly Vallejo, captured their seriousness, their depth and resonance. As I‘ll want to show later, the rich tradition of Lorca, Vallejo and Paz, of Hispanic poetry in general, is a strong presence in the present collection, Yuxtas. Briefly speaking, it is a tradition that sees poetry as above all a place of truth. In poetry “no hay mentiras,” “there are no lies”. “En esa mar, no se miente” – on this sea, there is no lying. Poetry is marked above all by simplicity, by directness, by standing in a place of truth, rather than by metaphors or embellishment. It locates the value of poetry within the tone, the simplicity, the purity, the immense openness with which we start, rather than the verbal dressing up of what we have to say.

Coming now to the book itself, I would like to talk about it in two parts. Reading the manuscript for the first time over the last few days, I saw it as falling into two parts. The first part contains many poems I was already familiar with − either from reading earlier drafts of them or because of their similarity to other poems of Mario’s I had read before. They are poems of places and landscapes, of moving between landscapes but also of moving between languages. In them Mario gives us the blessing of letting us see our world enlarged, enriched as two worlds are put together and the familiar realities of Australia are seen through a double language. The second half of the book is something else again. It was a new discovery for me, a real revelation. There you get these wonderful poems, poem after poem, intense confronting poems of death.

One of the many benefits of living in a multicultural country is that you have the possibility of seeing the familiar world around you in so many ways, seeing it as perceived through different worlds and different languages. So the first half of Mario’s book is largely arranged by pairings of places and landscapes. The Domain is set against Chichen Itza; Centennial Park against Chapultepec Park; Hill End is placed beside Hermosilla City. The technique enlarges our world, shifts our perceptions so we can see differently.

It is not only landscapes Yuxtas travels between but also languages. To give you an idea of how Mario glides between languages and uses the special richness of both Spanish and English, to transform the most everyday item or experience into something glowing with beauty and strangeness, I want to read a short poem from near the beginning of the book, “Un patio vecino/ A Backyard Nearby”. I’ll read it in Spanish first:

Como un pájaro herido una sombrilla
roja y rota flapea rodeada

por macetas quebradas y plantas muertas
todas tiesas y desnudas bajo la brillante luz seca.

Algunas sillas volteadas rodean una mesa
cubiertas con raídas bolsas de plástico negro.
En el tenderdero un gancho solitario (now the English words}
clings y clangs contra un brazo de metal.

A Backyard Nearby

A broken red umbrella flaps,
like a wounded bird,
surrounded by cracked pots and dead plants,
stiff and bare under the dry-bright light.
{what a beautiful evocation of the Australian light, the typical
light of a summer “the dry bright light”}
Around a table, upside-down chairs,
covered with ragged black plastic bags.
On the clothes-hoist a lonely cloth hanger
clangs and clings against a metal limb {contra un brazo de
metal).a metal arm.

I want to turn now to the wonderful moving elegies and poems of death that make up the last part of this book. Among the powerful poems in the second half of the book three that stand out for me are “Osario,” an elegy for the death of his father, “Volker Shüler Will’s Funerals” and “La Muerte Agradecida,” both about the death of his mother. These are tough powerful poems. It is not easy to write about the death of one’s father or mother or wife. Anyone who is a writer or a poet knows that. Such hard things in life often flatten us completely, reduce us to silence. The tradition that sustains Mario here is one of simplicity, of honest directness, a tone of simple truthfulness. There are poems earlier in the book which show how this simplicity can work so strongly. An important element in this book is the presence of Vallejo with his vision of poetry as absolute truth, of speaking from a place where only the essential is left to be said. This can be seen in a very short poem from earlier in the book, “I hear/I read”:

I hear
crying aloud.
I imagine
their bright
colours amid
the branches
shining under
the morning

I read
about a
young Mexican
who jumped
from the 6th floor.
Too poor
to help
his mother
and brothers.

Mario Licón identifies poetry as the force that makes it possible to stand in the presence of these fierce experiences of pain and loss and to continue. Poetry becomes a gift that enables us to be open to what surrounds us, open to those presences of our own dead and of the world. To read just a few lines from the poem “Tonight”:

Tonight I want to give thanks . . .
To poetry for giving me a pair of hands
with which I can greet the wind and touch
the faces of my beloved dead ones.

How is it possible to speak from within this space? By cultivating a simplicity, an honesty, a humility before the world. This is very much the legacy of the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo, a legacy there within the poetry of Mario Licón.

I will leave it to you to read for yourselves the long poems “Osario,” the wonderful moving prose poem “Volker Shüler-Will’s Funerals.” “La Muertre Agradecida,” the elegy for Jenny, for his brother. One can only imagine how difficult it must be to write of so many beloved dead ones, to be so deeply surrounded by the dead. Mario has enriched us all through these poems. I will finish by reading one of the shorter poems about death, a very beautiful poem with a delightful presence of life in it, “Cancion/Song.” I’ll read it mixing the Spanish and the English:

And how did Inez die?
Longing for love
longing for love
on her bed
on her bed.

And how did David die?
Murdered in prison
murdered in prison
by injustice
by injustice.

And how did Esperanza die?
Y como murió Esperanza?
Regando aquella flor
regando aquella flor
que tanto quería
que tanto quería
Watering that flower
watering that flower
that she loved the most

Y como murío Ilusión?
And how did Ilusion die?
Así como llegó
así como llegó
just as she arrived
just as she arrived



Thanh Thao

A poet and sports reporter, Thanh Thao was born in Quang Ngai Province, grew up in Hanoi, took a degree in literature from Hanoi University, and now lives once more in Quang Ngai. He was a correspondent for Vietnamese Army Radio in the Southern campaign of the war with the United States.   He became famous for his long antiwar poem “A Soldier Speaks of His Generation,” which was sent directly from the heat of battle to his hometown newspaper in the North. He is a member of the Vietnamese Writers Association and poetry committee and president of its branch in Quang Ngai province. Even though this position usually comes with Communist Party membership, he is not a member, the first such exception in history.   Winner of the National Prize for a Lifetime Contribution to Literature in 2001 and two National Book Awards—for The Footprints Passing a Meadow in 1979 and the book-length poem The Waves of the Sun in 1996—he is one of the most popular contemporary poets in Vietnam. An admirer of the Russian poets Boris Pasternak and Sergei Essenin and the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, Thanh Thao has grafted the early modernist style of western lyric to his own. The publication of individual poems in the 1970s and his collection The Rubik’s Cube,1985, stunned the quiet world of Vietnamese poetry. He has published at least fifteen poetry collections and several other literary works.


The following poems are translated by Nguyen Do and Paul Hoover, and will be anthologised in a collection of Contemporary Vietnamese Poets called Black Dog, Black Night forthcoming in 2008 by Milkweed Editions. 



his face turned to the past
turned to a sigh
turned to hopelessness

without apology
a man flew through the treetops                                                
leaving behind a woman, a thin trail of smoke

the ships searched for a place to rest
the stars searched for a place to be seen
crowding into a puddle of water                        
where it gives birth to the sky                                                   
as the poems searched for their flames   


March 12

comes a faint sound of women selling rice cakes
on my birthday                        
it makes me remember             
a packet of rice                                                             
a bowl of dried sweet potato mixed with molasses
a mother thin as the morning light                   
and laughter beside a heap of trash

now I have become my thoughts                                  
and love what I lack

on my birthday a boat floats to an empty space
a lonely street in which some leaves are rolling
a wood-burning stove is poked, its fire like a whisper,
echoes from fifty-six years ago
a day as pale as today
that no one cared about, no one remembered                                         
a little puppy is dumbstruck looking at a lonely street

a boy with country blood was born in a town
in a quiet time before the storms and flames
it was a childhood rippling with dragonfly wings
and fireflies whispered at night
in front of the house, the river where I had swum since I was six
not with an otter’s skill
but in the natural way of kids
to sink or to swim


fifty-six stairs
some of them weepy and some with hiccups
I have almost forgotten them
like a fisherman with the fish netted


how can I burn fifty-six candles
in the wind
if only in my life I could save a single one of them
but I blow them out instead

This poem first appeared in New American Writing 23


Andante for the Millennium (2000)


When I circle myself,
the way a dog marks its place by pissing,
that’s when I break through,
because the high trees are calling,
the stars loudly call,
small bits of nothingness whisper,
a colorless beam of light
passes into my mind,
a woman pushes a trash can as if beating the drumhead of evening.
These are signs to me
to quickly clean up my mind,
be on time collecting the trash,
put the all away in the all,
to be perfectly clear.
That’s the time,
as a star disappears,
when word after word appears.


The wind blew me
a sideways look.
I crouched like a mimosa
looking at its thorns
which are the tears of a tree
gazing at a dump where the moon is bright as milk.
A festival of dogs
barks at the moon and laughs.
They can smell tragedy,
call out with the same emotions
of those who search the night –
a job, a hope, a refuge,
all that the dark night promises.


With two pens,
two chopsticks,
I’m going to look for the source of water
slowly and quietly.
Look, the pen is a little nervous,
breathing with every stroke.
I know I’m in a drought;
go slowly and silently.


When I was young,
I spent my time like rain sinking into sand.
Now I add leaf to leaf
on the branch,
save a box of matches to keep warm in winter.
The old box can’t be recognized by its cover.
In childhood I held a black cricket.
Now at five in the morning, a kid is learning to walk on crutches,
a truck vomits black smog into the new millennium,
a mentally ill woman with amnesia runs beneath a street light,
behind the sunrise
the mayflies cease for a moment
all their searching and finding.


I already know
that other worlds
are no different –
a bird that tries to love its cage
has no need to begin singing.



Up and down a fishing rod
to fish dreams of the past,
the dreams
of snatching shadows from under the green sadness
of water hyacinths.
I come again to my father and mother’s home
where a newly planted yellow plum suddenly blooms
like a spotlight on a flood plain,
like my mother’s eyes
staring from the garden’s corner
where custard apple has a pure greenness.
I come again
to the well,
its perfectly rounded sky,
and the tree’s oblique shadow
like my mother’s shape,
the faint sound of bells
and the rainy bells of the leaves
twinkling as they watch me;
childhood’s crystalline cloud

I’m silent as a coconut palm
that doesn’t know why it bore fruit!


To Suddenly Remember

like someone beating a drum, the rain dropped on my waterproof army poncho
which was torn and badly needed mending
my friends were like forest trees, diminishing day by day
the war cut them down
like an electric trimmer
but now they’re all at peace
I remember also that evening, as a child,
the sweetness of the banana in my mother’s hand,
even sweeter when she carried me on her back!
the road over the dike echoed the soul of the river
dark brown sails and bamboo shadows floating slowly
a bridge where an older man got tired
and lay down to rest but not sleep
the room where he keeps only the barest necessities
the ripe smell of bananas
some old chairs
and a small ancient teapot
the aged sunlight
an evening of summer rain
and the bomb’s echo from the Duong bridge that sounded like rolling thunder
my parents lived there in a home
a ten-square-meter country
but because of our greater home
my parents didn’t prevent me
from going into battle
not hoping for a brave death or “rainbow”
I’m the hand on a compass
that only turns toward our room
where everything is old


Note: In Vietnam, the word for “rainbow” also refers to an honor or glorious achievement.
This poem first appeared in New American Writing 23




I saw you, Mi, run around the moon’s back
you were the best of dogs
you could outbark all the shadows
had footsteps like clouds
you still console me on the hottest of days


when someone loudly calls my name
I always depend on your eyes
which were brown as the earth


when the wind was gathering wave after wave
and the light of sunrise waved up and down
you flew past on four feet
in a good mood on a sad day
your ears twitched gently toward darkness


haven’t seen you on a staircase
haven’t seen you in the air
our home was suddenly vast
with the faintest sound of your steps
you moved through the walls


your muzzle rubs against my heart
the night bursts into tears


A Leaf

a green tree will hand me a leaf
inscribed with unclear words
as we are closely related
lonely and silent at night
miserable by day
it will have something it wants to say


Wave Oscillation


Following me are sad dreams
in which my dying mother’s face appears,
like nights of worry as the rough sea drones.
Mother, so lovely, where did you vanish?
How do I turn time back to the past? How?


For all of my life, two shade trees have consoled me.
Whose footsteps remain
on the village trail?
What lights are in your eyes now that the rain has cleared?
Now the small stain of a star rises deeply,
a horizontal line that separates two sufferings,
but still leaves the spicy, fragrant smoke of our stove
in the garden with its dark green banana leaves –
from morning to night you still walk back and forth there!



And You Wake Me Up, Ginsberg . . .

And you wake me up, Ginsberg, where I sleep on a log like a dog that sometimes speaks in sleeping, waves its tail
and howls with smoldering anger. And you wake me up with an owl in front of a forest, a drop of morning haze,
the sound of a person on the street recovering his previous life, the wind shredding newspapers, a series of drafts
extolling the mass media, and a bicycle rolling and flickering on a hot day. And you wake up me, a suppressed
kid, a miserable, homeless man; all untruths are listed under my name; my success and prosperity are confirmed,
recycled most likely from waste. But no one can recycle the pain and tears, although they want to create literature.
You wake me up as roughly as a cop rouses a  beggar dreaming on a park bench, rubbing his eyes as he thinks
about dreaming another dream. The paths I have been walking, both long and short, are meaningless; however, I
wait and, while waiting, I sink into the newspapers, throwing word after word, all those miserable words, in
exchange for a few pennies by the never-green leaves. This summer is so hot; I’m really tired. But you wake me
up, Ginsberg, I stand up as the morning rises, a howling rises, the green of never-green leaves rises. We live
without limits, but who knows what is best to do in these heavy times. The howling in blood, the rebel cells, isn’t
strong enough to become a tumor, but it doesn’t matter. I know someone who gives people immortality pills or
secretly puts mines of expectation in their chests; they will make this world shiver before it sinks again in their
sleep. Their mission is like a fly in a bowl of soup. I’m sick; please turn the sunlight blue until it’s salvation. You
wake me up in time, which the sun confirms by raising its hands in my direction. And now I’m as immovable as a
dusty plastic sunflower.



This Is Usual

You tell me that I’m melancholy, but what the hell is it if I’m healthy as you,
and what is your power based on?
In a rainstorm we hear the sound of sighing – we can’t say
what we think or try to say what we don’t know.

The river is as puzzling as breath; it decorates its voice.
You don’t talk, but the way you are silent
speaks more than speaking.
I have experienced many holes, many rains, which crash into the shade
through leaves and branches,
which are in shock.
I lean on time to catch the time that doesn’t run out.
To ignore the land is to be old, dry, lean, and thirsty.
You persuade me by lying down in my cocoon then searching
for a way home, looking calmly at a catfish that gives birth
at the top of a banyan tree
in the summer-fool-crazy rainstorm.



A Journey

A daydream takes me; I go into the private darkness of light.
The darkness differs significantly from reality, but it is still the reality
of a cow chewing the sunset; on one side is the yellow sunrise, on the other the darkness of sunset –
the faint border between
reunion, separation, reunion.
We have lived by suddenly moving, freely and easily,
from this area to another.
The lonely one who travels only with his mind
on unending hallways
to meet relatives who passed away
is as happy as any tourist
with blocked views.

don’t dig any holes that will break my journey!



The Goal

A truck. The dark, nasty night. Losing direction. Trying to climb down in order to climb up. Can’t see that
truck. Can’t see the way home. Fences. Strangers. Another truck. But not the one I was looking for. That’s
probably Truong Son. There must be another war. But no. The truck. My “brother” the driver vanishes. I’m
suddenly very confused. Can’t see the goal. Where do I go? The night is like a cocoon. Pictures flicker. There are
human beings, but I’m unable to speak to them. No way home. No address. A stair slopes increasingly
up. Slipping. Down is easier than up. Slipping down then vanishing. Trying to talk louder by remaining
quiet. Trying to speak without a sound. All that remains are the views skimming along in the side mirror.


Note: Truong Son is the longest mountain range in Vietnam, running from north to south; along with the Ho Chi Minh Trail, it serves as the border between Laos and Vietnam.


If I Knew

Drawing the bow intensely then suddenly releasing. No arrow. But feeling little pain. Maybe the arrow secretly
shot back, but I don’t know. Sometimes I choke when I swallow something. Don’t know where it runs to. A heat
between my chest and my belly. I have been neither waiting nor expecting very much. But how come that arrow
still comes back? The darkness flows into secret corners. I crouch like a rock or root. Someone sits on me,
mumbles and spits then leaves. The night gnashes and grinds. I don’t want to be alone, to be the bare branch
waving alone, like a cow or buffalo waves its tail. I want to say something for someone. But no one is here, or
they are here but I didn’t know. Don’t know what to say. Everyone counts their steps on their own separate
path. The sound of counting makes it a path. I don’t know how to count or I count wrong. Do I have no path? Here
are the breaking lines on the dike where my self is flooding. Why do I stand on the bank of my river life,
frightened to jump into it, even just to get wet? Who doesn’t dare to swim doesn’t dare to sink!



A Soldier Speaks of His Generation

The day we leave,
            the doors of the passenger train open wide.
There’s no longer a reason for secrets.
The soldiers young as bamboo shoots
                        playfully stick their heads from the windows.
The soldiers, young as bamboo shoots,
                        in uniforms too big for them,
crowd together like tree leaves on the stairs between the cars.
The train whistles too loudly
And too long, as if broken,
like the voice of a boy who nearly has his man’s voice now.

In our generation,
that train whistle is a declaration.

The generation in which each day is a battle,
its mission heavier than the barrel of mortar 82
that we carry on our shoulders.
The generation that never sleeps,
that goes half naked and patiently digs trenches,
that is naked and calm in its thinking,
that goes on its way as the past generation has gone,
by ways various and new.

In the forest, names are quickly engraved on trees.
The canteens are engraved with the letters N and T.
Each backpack contains a uniform,
some dried fish sauce, and a small lump of steamed rice.
The camp’s woodstoves flame on the stone bank of a creek,
above which hang tall cans of sour soup
made from Giang leaves and shrimp sauce.
What we have,
            we share,
                        share on the ground
To enemies, we spend all we have in battle.
To friends, we give until all we have is gone.
If you see that our skins are black from the sun,
our misshapen bodies seem older than they are,
and you can count the calluses on our hands
along with the war medals – still, nothing quite describes us.                                                     

Oh, the clearing in Dau forest with its dry, curved leaves!
Every footstep crackles like a human voice.
In the night as we march,
several fires suddenly flare on the trail,
our generation with fire in our hearts
to light the way to our goal.                                  

One night when rain lashes on all four sides,
We’re in Thap Muoi with no tree to hide us.
As the swamp floods, we have to push our boats against the rising tide.
The horizon lies behind whoever drags himself ahead,
Silhouetted by the flash of lightning.

Our generation has never slept, walks every night in the flood.
Mud covers us thickly from head to foot.

So our voices are those of cowboys,
and our gazes are sharp as a thorn,
because the fire that can burn in a bog is the true fire.
When it flames up,
it burns with all of its strength.

What do you want to tell me in the hazy night, Quoc,
as you sing passionately the whole flood season?
The Dien Dien flower raises its hot yellow petals
like the face of a hand that sunlight lands and stays on.
Our country comes from our hearts, simply,
Like this Thap Muoi that need no further decoration
                                     and is completely silent.
Stronger than any romance, this love goes directly
to any person
who doesn’t care about the limits of language.

Unexpectedly, I meet my close friend again.
We both lie down on a My Long trail,
on an army coat under the dark sky,
where just this evening a B-52 harrowed the earth three times,
where for several years the bomb craters are uncountable,
where I suddenly speak a simple dream:
“When peace truly comes,
I will go to trail number four, spread out a coat and lie down
            completely satisfied.”
My friend gazes
at a star rising from a water-filled crater.
His eyes look so strange; I see
they contain both the star and the crater . . .

A vortex spins on the roof of an ancient forest.
The wind whistles a long time inside the empty shells of trees.
The bats flicker in and out of sight.
A flattened place in the cane grass smolders.

We have passed the limits of the dry season,
passed the rainy season, the long limits of the rainy season
when every night our soaked hammocks hang on Tram poles.
Our boats move across the river under the faint flares of the American army.
Sometimes, in awe of the skyline filled with red clouds at evening,
we forget we are older than we are.
Our feet walk in rubber sandals across a hundred mountains,
but our shadows never walk ahead of our futures.

Battles of come again in memory.
Rockets explode against the sky in a mass of smoke.
Our hearts beat nervously in our very first fight.
Our army-issue canteens smell as they burn
            on the roofs of the trenches.    
And the garbage cans lie strewn all around.
In the silence and deafness between two bombings,
a hen’s voice suddenly calls
from a small, ruined canal.       

Our generation has never lived on memory
so we don’t rely on the past’s radiance.
Our souls are fresh as Chuong wind,
our sky the pure blue of a sunlit day.

The transport boats sail the crowded Bang Lang canal.
That evening rockets attack,
bending down the Binh Bat trees.
Sunset covers both banks like blood.
The canal turns white from the flow of toxic gases.
Suddenly I see my face on the water’s surface,
among those poisonous mists,
on which floats the Binh Bat fruit,
on which floats our breaking country,
and I see
also floating the faces of many people,
some of them friends and some I have never seen.
They are so very young
as they flicker along on the stream
into a distant meadow
on an endless evening.

They’re the people who fought here first,
twenty years ago as one generation,
and also the ones who will come later,
twenty years from today.

That evening
on the small canal
artillery attacks and flowing water.
How clearly you can see
            the faces of
                   our generation!


This poem was very controversial in Vietnam after it was published in Hanoi’s largest literary review, Van Nghe, and was prohibited by the government until 1988, when Vietnam reconstructed its economy and politics.

This poem first appeared in New American Writing 23

Giang is a wild vegetable, sour to the taste, which North Vietnamese soldiers used in soup.
Dau is a kind of tree commonly found in the forests of southwest Vietnam.
Thap Muoi is a swamp where one of the largest North Vietnamese army camps was located.
Quoc is a nocturnal bird that sings “quoc, quoc, quoc“; it also means “country.”
Dien Dien is a wildflower.
My Long is the name of a trail in Thap Muoi swamp.
Binh Bat is a kind of tree that can be found in Thap Muoi swamp.
Chuong is a kind of southwest wind.


Andrew Slattery

Andrew Slattery is a Communications graduate from The University of Newcastle. His poems have appeared in literary journals, newspapers, magazines throughout Australia, Europe, North America and Asia. His awards include the Henry Kendall Poetry Award, the Roland Robinson Literary Award, and the Val Vallis Poetry Award. He lives in Berlin.


Bathey Pelagium

Having slid up and below the surface;
urged itself to reach out
and take the moon whole in its eye,
the giant squid goes to depth –
eight arms and two tentacles

swirl the slick, torpedo body
on an imagined course to the ocean floor.
Twin front finlets rudder its frame,
lining through a school of oarfish.
The deeping waters start to cool 

its runneled core. The floor
is not subject to the moon’s lug.
Tube worms and giant clams pulse,
but seem motionless in the mudded dark,
like organs under skin.

The sun is cold. There are no tides or years.
Giant squid rests its locomotor,
it’s lurked arms scan the boundary
of its mantle length for food.
The ocean floor is an undulant blank,

with an outline so faint
this whole thing could be myth.
Slow-swimming along conveyor tides,
it takes the ocean with it and keeps the earth
in its spinning. The giant squid 

spools along canyons cut from the ice age –
movements aggrandised over time,
its organ pipes roll the sea bed,
with solitary rills, hear its weight
unlying the sea.


Kalle Metro Graveyard

Someone snuck in a cemetery. A break
in the line of sandstone apartments
like a tone blip in the city plan. 

Surrounded on all three sides by the high-rise living –
the whole yard the size of a house, but thick
with blooming dark grass and the pale whites 

of tree foliage. The centre gate is locked off
and wrangles of weed truss the tall iron fence.
Inside, the gravestones are edged black

with granite moss and hold a calm slant,
they line the ground, side by side, and some
so close they seem to be one split block.

Someone’s decision to bury the coffins
vertically. They said it would triple capacity;
that it was in keeping with the skyscraping

pitch of urban planning (“Drop ’em in
feet first… it’ll save space.”) Those too ‘proper’
to be cremated; too ‘proud’ to end up

on the outskirts in the communal graveyard.
Someone snuck in a cemetery, into the heart
of a city gridded with slender cross-streets

and municipal pressures. Bodies standing up
cool in their boxes. They must’ve slid them in
like a flower stem led down a tall jar. And tall

runs of whiteweed rise up the fence, through
the black, wrought gate latched to a sole iron
pin. The grass is strewn with wraps of strange flowers,

thrown over the fence by a visiting relative, or anyone
whose heart the city has warmed with stone.
The ground holds to the cold like the joining

of bone. At night, the apartment windows flick on
from all three sides, they throw down twisted squares
of light and bring the flora junk and top stones

out of mute dark. In summer, when the green rim
of a moon arcs the night, the tall weeds lean out
from the fence and dip their tips to the warm pavement.


Terry McArthur

Terry McArthur is a poet, songwriter, and playwright. Terry’s plays include Country Of Tears for The Midnight Sun Theatre and Dance Company which was performed at the inaugural Sydney Arts Festival and Naratic Visions which he co-directed with Chin Kham Yoke. He has written produced and directed multi-media performances including Seeking Knowledge and Casting The Oracle for the Australian Awards For University Teaching, and New Horizons for the opening of the Sydney SuperDome. As a lyricist Terry has co-written hit songs for John Farnham and James Blundell. As one half of the spoken word duo the cube he has released one album Permanent Scars and is now preparing to release Weapons Of Mass Sedition. Terry’s poetry has been published in, Upland (University Of New England Press), Holes In The Evening (Fat Possum Press edited by Michael Sharkey) and The Tin Wash Dish (ABC Books edited by John Tranter), Thylazine, Blue Pepper and Stylus. Terry’s latest collection of poems, Walking Skin is due for publication with Artesian in early 2008.


The Weather Eater’s Lament

Summer swift black sun burns
Dry rivers drink in dread the blaze
Days are dust settled thick and thin over
This track where light and language languish
The tongue no longer speaking

No more speaking
What’s done is done
Who can trace the ember from the fire
Smear ash across the face of our broken land
Or bear our lamentations beneath the dead drought years
Crossing and recrossing this once fertile valley
Hearing the song of the future blow in from the void


More Dirt Music

( for Tim Winton and Audrey Auld Mezera )

South of the dry lands
Between dirt and sea
Moving forward under brazen moon
Crossing the night tracks by foot
There is a moment when your eyes fall upon the gathering gates
A moment like no other
Those ancestral gates desolate and perpetual
Call in the forgotten songs
Cradling the words that sing of love and loss
Each song a code that blisters hearts
For who can bear such words of joy and sorrow
Who will carry such secrets in their marrow

Under the starlight of the gathering gates
There is no tomorrow
Only the songs under the shadow of blood rocks
Only the songs wedged in the red earth
Seeking out the singer
Seeking out the season
South of the dry lands
Between dirt and sea


No Worries

( for David Gulpilil)

He appeared
As if from nowhere sniffing the air
Looking out upon us who watched in the darkness
His darkness
And he spoke
As if his words had always been with us
We listened as if hearing for the first time
His darkness
One leg he said in whitefella world
One leg in his dreaming

His story
Fell upon us like the rain of rains
His coming into the camera lens like a luminous spirit
Bearing the lineage of his people
Holding the lightning in his eyes
We took him in and grappled him to ground
Fed fame and paid pittance
Let him drink and almost drown
Crowned him blackfella king
Deserted him for newer younger kings
Let him drift and ride the roar between twin worlds

He looked at us in our darkness
He smiled the smile of ages
He sang the song of his father
And disappeared
An invisible crocodile beneath the river’s banks




Sue King-Smith

Sue King-Smith is currently completing a PhD in Creative Arts at Deakin University. For three years, she was the co-editor of The Animist, an electronic arts ezine that has been archived by the National Library as part of the Pandora Project. In the past few years, she has had poems published in various journals including, Famous Reporter, The Paradise Anthology, Tarralla, Blue Giraffe, Woorilla, Pendulum, Oban ‘06 and Tamba and she has had essays published in JASAL and Linq. Her first collection of poetry, An Accumulation of Small Killings, will be published by MPU in early 2008.



Swimming the Unconscious

Before degrees of separation,
we swam the mire, quick-silver dark
with pores as porous
as water. Schools of fish caught us
in collective darting tides,
all of a mind, singular, no beyond
or outside and we rode the sliding
fractals of existence. Opening rice-paper
wings in unison, and rising
into flight we soared the curdling
updrafts and hung like tiny origami
marionettes, guiding strings
unseen. Migrating south we bounded
down a mob of kangaroos, eyes slight
for dangers, our sinewy legs
like springs. Life was a small
f lowered chaos and we duck-dived
kaleidoscopic centres.

Sometimes still, synchronicity swims
through ether, and you send
me an email, and I send you a book,
that cross unlikely paths in
cyberspace. And they speak the
same language, tell the same story,
and we laugh across the coincidence
that is not coincidence at all. (We shared
a primordial womb once.) And at night, still,  
we dive head-first into waters embryonic
and old as time, swimming the


Sherryl Clark

Sherryl Clark has been writing and publishing poetry for over 20 years. She is a co-editor of Poetrix magazine, and teaches at Victoria University TAFE (Professional Writing & Editing). Her verse novel for upper primary readers, Farm Kid, won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Children’s Writing.




Down this back street
where foreigners are like
grains of rice on black cloth

you come to play
your secret game, undressing
with the slow malaise

of heat coating your skin,
ready to haggle with me
over who should spring the trap.

Rank clothes hang from windows
like human curtains,
your hands stroke his hair

you contain pain in your fingers,
strike like a cobra
prodded with a stick.

I see your face twist
in the mirror; from where I hide
it looks like a smile.



There are days when I don’t know
how to keep breathing this air;
there is too much of it, or
not enough, it’s too thick or
full of life, too empty of
anything I can use. I look
at clouds and wonder if
they are any better, being
full of water, or if I
should move to the desert,
to an altitude where the air
will whistle in and out of me
in thin, clean streams.
At night, I lie on my back
stare at the blank ceiling,
wait for air to be blameless,
to do its job of pressing
and sucking without my
interference.  Or to just stop
demanding I deal with it.
I try as hard as I can
to resign, abstain, push it away,
but here it comes again,
shuddering, determined to
have its way with me



Sam Byfield

Born in Newcastle in 1981, Sam Byfield is the author of From the Middle Kingdom (Pudding House Press). He has been published or is forthcoming in magazines including Heat and LiNQ (Australia), The National Poetry Review, The Cream City Review, Meridian, and Diner (North America), Nimesis (UK) and in many online magazines including The Pedestal Magazine, Foam-e, and Divan. He currently works for a public health/environment NGO in southwest China.



All afternoon panning for sapphires
in eucalypt shadows, hands dry
from rocks and river water,

frost-browned grass burnt back
by the optimistic site owner –
no snakes in that grass now.

Cockatoos make a sound like pure panic
and the dog races off after rabbits
and trouble, but not too much,

while the Milky Way comes out
like it only does in the country,
a massive tangle that seems to float

above the Earth. Way off, the cough
of kangaroos, big rough males
like the one my father told me of

from his childhood, that kept coming
and no amount of .22 slugs
could stop. Another image of him,

out on the Nullarbor hitchhiking dead –
west, nothing but sand and crows
for company, ending up in Esperance

and writing her, saying
it was the most beautiful place he’d seen.
He came back and proposed, straight away.


The Infinite Possibilities of Water

From here I can see the flood; the view is sublime.
Thirty year swell and the beach fills with container ship,
the Pasha Bulker like a boulder resting in a river bed.

            God of such things, remember the anemone fossil
            I discovered high in the mountains, a swirl waiting eons
            to be found? And quickly lost, as such things are.

From here I can smell the salt of the rearranged beach,
and I can see the gulls, watching the ship and thinking
What a strange sight for a Sunday.

            God of such things, remember the salt of her breasts
            three days up the valley, how she felt as insects danced
            like fireworks and the whole place shuddered?

Light funnels away from the ocean, turns red
then white; then, the quiet reconnaissance of the stars.
In the morning the faintest hint of smoke.

            God of such things, have you ever noticed how sometimes
            a woman smells like pine, or pine smells like a woman?
            The streets fill quickly with flood, yet the warmth.


Cures in a Cold Place

Ten minutes off the plane, first snow of the season. It starts as tiny darts, wind-whisked and rapidly dissolving,
then the city fades to white. It seems timed for my arrival.

I left here four months ago, walked straight into trouble. I was hollow, as if some piece of me remained in the city,
some fundamental part. Months later I landed on my feet and the terrain began to look familiar, yet things were
still off kilter, my yin and yang somehow askew.

Spent three days in Beijing, a city that has never been good to me. I had to make things right, settle some scores.
Outside a rowdy nightclub a beggar told me of his sick eight- year-old daughter. They’d come to Beijing to see a
doctor from a city eight hours south, but now had no money to pay and no ticket home. He said a man should
never be this low, begging to save his daughter. Above us, the flicker of coal-stained lights.

Then today, Changchun, the lake, frozen over a month earlier than usual, foot-deep tracks like tears across the face
of an angel. Old people spoke soft, faces lined like willow trees; the young threw snowballs and flirted in that
Chinese way. Street sweepers cracked the ice from roads, danced as if the snow made them warm. I found a piece
of myself, put it in my pocket, whistled a tune.




Rob Walker

rob walker’s first full collection micromacro (Seaview Press) was delivered in 2006 after a twenty year gestation period. He’s published online, onpage, onradio and onCD. His latest chapbook is phobiaphobia – poems of fear and anxiety (Picaro Press). He moved to Himeji, Japan in January 2008.




we drift
into sleep. my hand
an explorer wandering
your familiar valleys and
mountains playing the
xylophone of your
back. you are a cello
my hand languid
draped on



Danny in Detention

Dad   works   at   Hills   but   he
hasta  go to  the  physio.  for  his
arm.  whennie   was   a   kid   his bruvva   useta     twist    is   arma
round.  me   bruvva  &  me  fight
all  the  time  he’s  16 I’m 11 but
I  can  bash  im  up.  he’s psycho
he  calls  me  pissweak so I bash
im. dad belted me. I  adta  go  to
bed ungry. me  bruvva works  at
kfc. dozen  gimme  nuffin.  dad’s
got  is  own   playstation   in   the lounge.                             dozen
lettuce     uzit        tho


The koan before the satori
(a long haiku / short tanka)
One hand is clapping in a forest,
The other crushed by a falling tree,
                                       also unseen



Koan: a Zen teaching riddle
Satori: the spiritual goal of Zen Buddhism, roughly translating as individual Enlightenment, or a flash of sudden awareness


Philip Hammial

Philip Hammial has had twenty collections of poetry published, two of which were shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize – Bread in 2001 and In the Year of Our Lord Slaughter’s Children in 2004. He is also a sculptor (33 solo exhibitions) and the director of The Australian Collection of Outsider Art.

                                                                                                                                                                                                 Photograph 2006: Philip with his daughter Genevieve



With a little help from a reader
we could crawl up onto the back
of a bicycle & blow. A horn? If
you like. Or a kiss? Maybe, but first
a question –  what
is your aim? To kill
swimming? For a closure to swimming
a kiss won’t do. Better
a horn, its blue. With
a little help from a reader we could wear
the same face for both, for the grown men
asleep in a bucket, for the children snoring
in a thimble & not care which belt
we’ve been trained up to. With
a little help from a reader we could blend
the desire for hearing with the desire
for speaking & come out on top
with meat to burn, your choice
of kangaroo or stork. With
a little help from a reader we could home rule
the market women AND their troublemaking
husbands, them to houses confined until
some progress in basting & roasting. With
a little help from a reader we could insist
that our at-a-crossroads-style becomes us
& everyone after us, even the marchers
as to heaven. With
a little help from a reader we could be joined
by an Alice whose relationship to history
however tenuous is precisely the joinery
that our journey requires. With
a little help from a reader we could swallow
the first & the second & even the third word
& even, if some truth was thereby accomplished,
the whole of the poem.



So you really think we’ve established
a case for bliss? Stand up in court
for how long? –  two minutes
if we’re lucky. Which reminds me: some joker

has taken all of the socks from my sock drawer
& filled it with forks with bent tines, all the better
to eat what with? Our last supper for two
was a disaster. Served by nuns

in a forest clearing, we were constantly distracted
by a klatch of monks who insisted that happy slaps
(as per those on London buses) could induce
instant liberation. A kind of pudding? Sue

those slap-happy bastards. For what? Their
bowls? Their beads? Count to ten
while I put this flesh to one side, for
later. Right now there’s work to do. We need

to set up for the next scene – a carriage
at rush hour, Aunt Jane getting on at Redfern
for her morning performance, will squat & pee
as we roll into Central. Watch out

for your shoes. Socks
still missing. Stand up in court
in piss-splashed shoes, no socks, our case
for bliss? Two minutes if we’re lucky.


A Ball

You saw it on NAGS, the scratch channel, how friends
in black can breed with friends in blue & at the end of nine
have a worthwhile product, a ball, say, that you can bounce
wherever you like. Why not

in a casbah? It’s speech as though by magic
translated into Arabic, you’ll break the spell
of Delmonico (the lion tamer ripped apart
by his seven lionesses). These urchins

will love you; they’ll let you live to tell the tale:
how camels, having negotiated the perils of the Pont
Neuf & the cobblestones of Rue Dauphine,

eventually arrived in Oran with three rimes
& a metaphor into which anything, even a recipe
for a homemade bomb, could be stuffed.


Marcelle Freiman

Marcelle Freiman is a Sydney poet who migrated from South Africa to Australia via England in1981. She lectures in creative writing and post-colonial and diaspora literatures at Macquarie University. Her poetry has appeared in a range of literary journals and anthologies. Her first book Monkey’s Wedding (1995) was Highly Commended for the Marjorie Barnard prize.



The journalist Nat Gould gazes into a doorway of a Sydney Opium Den 1896.

My pipe is honey, Englishman,
to you I am indolent, yellow
on a low bed in my house of pleasure,
head on a silk cushion, hip rounded.
I see you clearly through the smoke
sweet odour of my O P’Ien,
my slender pipe of bamboo like a flute.
Your slack mouth hangs with lust.
Is it my cheongsam body you desire
or the pagodas, ice and crocodiles,
the Herb of Joy brings,
the fine pitch of taste, the way
my smooth skin lives?   

You at the door, half in half out,
– I am not a woman
but opium and sex. You would steal it
as your country did at Nanking,
pious in your avarice.
My life is nothing to you –
I am dragon-woman
exotic to you as baboons and monkeys.

This is no den, it is your own
dark cell. Your necktie
is choking you. I am bright as fire,
my hands are small.
Yes, drink from your hip-flask, Mister,
shake my gaze from your face
if you can.  

Nat Gould, ‘Eaters of Raw Meat’ (1896), The Birth of Sydney, Ed. Tim Flannery, Melbourne, Text, 1999.



A smile, crazy with shame,
little lost diamond-eyes,
the clown mask pushed
its face against the glass
days of empty rooms
when we played a mad tune  
flippy with pigtails and mama’s red lipstick
stolen for sheer revenge –

turned itself tight, yes,
little monster found its power
but got trapped in the smile
like a puppet, got locked
in the cold room,
wild at the boar-shaped world –

and elsewhere it knew was sun,
like the ball left in the corner,
yellow as light of windows.



I like streets that go down – Grace Cossington-Smith 1971

It’s a road that ribbons down a hill
and up –  a velocity, a force
more than a road –  

the sky is wide and bright
and the speed of your eye
grabs the horizon –

wanting elsewhere, beyond –  
fast as telegraphed voices in the wire,
fast as the line

of the eucalypt that bends its curve
on the surface of your eye
upwards from the purple gully.

How it fights with the walker, this road,
with the slow horse cart,
its line tense

with trees humming green,
edgy with the speed of sound,
the speed of your eye on the road.