Siobhan Hodge reviews Renga by John Kinsella and Paul Kane

Renga: 100 Poems

by John Kinsella and Paul Kane




Renga: 100 Poems is a collection over ten years in the making. Paul Kane and John Kinsella, writing in exchange via the Japanese renga form, have compiled a long-running poetic dialogue – unlike traditional renga, each poem is individually written and a response then followed by the other poet. In his foreword, Kane states:

We each had a long history with the other’s country and we both wrote out of a sense of being firmly placed in our respective locales. Moreover, many of our interests coincided, particularly in aesthetic and environmental concerns. Why not continue an hour’s conversation over an extended period – and in verse? (iv)

Despite this light-hearted opening, consistently at the forefront of these exchanges is a deep concern for the environment, documenting anxieties and innate senses of responsibility to the world. For example, one pair features a biting criticism of mining in Pennsylvania and Western Australia:        

Atop one ridge in
central Pennsylvania
geologic waves
roll steeply, starkly away.
Coal country, that first black gold.

        Miners digging graves.
Here, not meth but methane kills,
as an oil rig.
Hard country, anthracite black,
with pastel clouds, slate blue sky… (Kane, “Renga 27”)

Kinsella’s reply situates similar concerns in Western Australia:

There’s a fair chance
that one of our neighbours
is furtively mining away
the valley wall: the scraping
and hammering, back and forth
of a front-end loader. His trucks
that weigh heavy on axles,
frequent departures.

…When the valley wall gives
way, the shockwaves will spread
for acres. We’ll all hear The Fall.
But hearing is selective still:
what we hear to the point of pain
others cancel out with paeans
of praise. Who’d refuse God
in God’s own country? (Kinsella, “Renga 28”)

For both poets, the collection is a means of consolidating frustrations regarding destruction of the natural world, but the text is not exclusively eco-critical. Rather, this is an organic discussion – political and philosophical – in a revised form of epistolary poetics. This is also a collection preoccupied (in the most playful sense of the word) with the many meanings of “home”. The poetic dialogue, labelled a contribution to the pastoral eclogue genre by Chris Wallace-Crabbe in his blurb for the book, Kane and Kinsella engage in a rhythmic dialogue that doesn’t stray far from the importance of situatedness in the natural and human-impacted world. In “Renga 3”, Kane introduces some of these ruminations:

So the poet asks
“Where do we find ourselves?” as
if seeking a place
of knowing could conjugate
“to be.” I am is future
tense when now recedes.
Yet think of the paperbarks
along the Murray
wetlands, how they need an ebb
in spring floods to grow young trees:
alternation rules.
That’s why now is moment by
moment, and why I
find myself in your country
each year, like a second home.

By the time the collection reaches “Renga 78”, notions of home have become saturated, as shown in Kinsella’s response:

Homecoming homebound homebody homebred.
Homeland homemaker homeomorphic homeless.
Homebuilt homeowner homesteader homeostatic.
Homeschooled homework homer homeland.
Homespun homemade homebrewed homeopathic.
Whatever the case, the changing light.
Whatever the case, homewardbound.

Each poem is a means of traversing geographic and philosophical distance, but connection is also multi-faceted, growing and evolving, and linked with the speakers’ abilities to traverse these spaces. Experiences of others, including Aboriginal people, are highlighted but not co-opted. Renga is an accumulation of acknowledgements of outrages – against people and the environment – accompanied by ruminations on the personal experiences of both poets, but the focus is primarily on the voices and experiences of the poets themselves. Within these layers of observation neither thought nor experience are being colonised. This is a deeply critical collection, concerned with the impacts of pollution, environmental destruction and decay.

Why select the renga form for a collection of this nature? There is no detailed discussion of why this traditional collaborative Japanese poetic form has been selected, beyond Kane’s definition: “a single entity built by accretion, like limestone, and a virtual fossil record of the multiple procedures used to construct it” (a more comprehensive and generous assessment of the form than his earlier description of it as “the little brute”!) (vi).  Renga are constructed by several poets working together. Kane adheres more firmly to the form than Kinsella, who splices in a lyrical approach. Stanzas are traditionally written by alternating poets, inspired by the one preceding, but Kane and Kinsella opt instead to present individual, entire renga. A discussion of motivations for this style of adaptation, as well as poems that reflected on the impact of the renga on their dialogue and the environments they discuss, would have been welcome, particularly in this collection’s depictions of emblems of colonialism and environmental exploitation. The decision to select a traditional Japanese poetic form is situated firmly in the opportunities offered by the form, regrettably missed is the opportunity to open discussion of the historical and cultural significances of the form itself, as well as the opportunity to reflect on the implications of this act of cross-cultural world literature, a contribution which would have well suited the thematic focus of the collection. Timothy Clark observes that:

In Japan, a renga was a collective poem written according to a great number of apparently arbitrary rules, which each participant adopted from his predecessor… Renga is not primarily a poem or a theory of poetry, neither is it quite criticism; it is a situation, an experiment with the nature of poetry and language (32).

Clark surmises that the poetic form is an incorporation of Buddhist conceptions of the dissolution of the ego, reflected in “the subversion that Renga brings to any thought of property in relation to a poet’s voice” (33). However, in Renga: 100 Poems, the author of each piece is acknowledged via initials in each piece’s title. There is no subsuming of authorial agency or identity, despite what the traditional form would typically entail.

For a collection preoccupied with communicating over distance, acknowledging room for empathy without complete mirroring of experience, the renga is an ideal means of conveyance, but the form gives room to both what can and cannot be shared. In “Renga 61-67” Kane and Kinsella highlight on-going issues of Aboriginal disenfranchisement in Australia, both poets employing a series of black-white binaries deeply critical of colonialism’s “…roll call / of slavery and land claims” (Renga 66, Kinsella). However, there are no directly Aboriginal voices in this collection; Kane and Kinsella acknowledge but cannot speak for these experiences. Rather, this is a vital discussion saved for another 2018 publication, False Claims of Colonial Thieves, a superb poetic treatise and dialogue between Charmaine Papertalk-Green and John Kinsella. In Renga, Kane and Kinsella echo an earlier non-Japanese interpretation of the renga as a form that constructs layers of tension and selves, demonstrated in the 1971 collection Renga: A Chain of Poems,  a multi-lingual exercise by Octazio Paz, Edoardo Sanguineti, Charles Tomlinson and Jacques Roubaud. In this renga collection, Paz, Sanguineti, Tomlinson and Rombaud presented “multiple voices, multiple selves”, embodying Paz’s notion of “the transient, unstable, relativistic self” (Starrs, 280). Despite adhering to the conventions of the collective, communal form, both texts do not render authors’ voices anonymous. Unlike the 1971 Renga however, Kane and Kinsella’s Renga moves to thematically bridge gaps, rather than emphasise them, while also strictly avoiding any appropriation of voice.

Kane and Kinsella’s poetic responses conversationally engage with the preceding piece before taking the introduced theme in a new direction. Among the shared concerns are mortality, environmental destruction, war, shifting between and intricately connecting the personal, political and philosophical. One recurring image is fire, as in Paul Kane’s “Renga 49”:

For two days we lived
in a stinging haze of smoke
as the Gippsland fires
far away burned beyond reach.
Smoke puts everyone on edge.

The plan: fight or flight? –
that atavistic question.
The Ararat fires
ended on our mountain,
the one house given to flames.

Our Warwick neighbor,
Burning off the adjacent
field one autumn, lost
control of the blaze in wind:
we were blackened fighting it.

In Victoria,
it’s different: fire is fiercer,
and we’d likely flee.
A house I can rebuild, but
a life? I want my own death.

And yet, we’ve ceded
so much to indifferency,
slowly poisoning
our world – no, the world – ourselves,
blackening the days ahead.

Wounded in his den,
the baited badger will kill
a dog. The snarling,
the cries, are all we’ll hear when
we, in turn, are run to ground.

Kinsella’s “Renga 50” compounds anecdotes, voices and shared experiences, coupled with grim warning. For both poets, the role of preserving place is a constant and communal threat:

The restart of the fire season:
a mushroom cloud on the first
horizon – the penultimate –
an edge not far enough for
comfort. From his fire-tower

my great-grandfather scanned
the sea of trees for that wisp:
that leader, sign you can never
over-read. I went there
as a child and did the same.

I barely remember. Maybe
he was already dead. I’ve been
talking fire all day long: poets
writing it, neighbours discussing
        the risks, all our preparedness.

The firebreaks are done.
Scraped and scraped again,
looking for that second layer,
that second safer layer.
It never reveals itself.

Mostly, it’s the smell: weird
Signs of noses cocked to the air,
like some unwholesome fetish.
It’s so dry that ‘dust to dust’
would seem our mantra.

But it’s not. ‘Fire to fire’,
‘fire to fire’ is all we utter
when the water-tanks are low
and flood (should we be smitten)
could only fill the valley

enough to lap at the foot
of our place.

Urgency and threat to human life, paired with suspicion of both method and motivation, permeates both works. The two poems are emblematic of the complex relationship Kane and Kinsella have adopted with the renga form; this is a collaborative poetics in politics, embracing the traditional symbolic theory of no distinct hierarchy of voice, communal assumption of responsibility by the two speakers, rather than perfect mirroring of traditional syllabic structure. But this is also a form that intrinsically excludes voices and control; the lead poet sets the tone and theme, and the later poets must follow. Absent voices  – the colonised people of the countries flagged in the collection, lands, animals – are excluded from this hierarchy by nature of the form, but not with intent to oppress. However, moves are taken ensure that these experiences are not excluded, as in Kinsella’s “Renga 64”:

… Today, the sky is wheatbelt blue.
The still leafless trees shimmer a silver-green

Of what’s to come. Premonitions.
Though it’s all black and white.

I grew up with black and white television.
We don’t watch television now

Which is said to be in colour. As is Nature.
I’ve contributed to this knowledge. This rumour.

A sense of personal culpability is incorporated into this reflection of marginalised binaries, though no direct voice is given to those oppressed groups. Throughout the collection there is pressure to revise oppressive angles, recognising destruction and destructive tendencies wherever they may appear.   

In “Echolocations: An Afterword”, Kinsella addresses the thematic concerns of place, mutual concern, co-writing, and the ethics of belonging. This is a collection of “commonality amidst the difference” as “Words crosstalk, lines subscript, and yet each line is ‘intact’, a moment in a place sent across a vast distance” but not without anxieties (115). Selection of the renga style for this long-running dialogue across continents brings to the forefront the importance of shared experience rather than subsumed voice, and the need to make meaningful connection.

Timothy Clark, “”Renga”: Multi-Lingual Poetry and Questions of Place”, SubStance
Vol. 21, No. 2, Issue 68 (1992), pp. 32-45.
Roy Starrs, “Renga: A European Poem and its Japanese Model”, Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 54, No. 2 (2017), pp. 275-304.
SIOBHAN HODGE has a Ph.D. in English literature, her thesis focused on feminist traditions in translating Sappho’s poetry. She had critical and creative works published in a range of places, including The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry, Westerly, Southerly, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, and Peril. She has won several poetry awards, including the Kalang Eco-Poetry Award in 2017, 2015 Patricia Hackett Award for poetry. Her new chapbook, Justice for Romeo, is available through Cordite Books.

Roisin Kelly

Roisin Kelly is an Irish writer who was born in Belfast and raised in Leitrim. After a year as a handweaver on a remote island in Mayo and a Masters in Writing at National University of Ireland, Galway, she now calls Cork City home. Her chapbook Rapture (Southword Editions in 2016) was reviewed by The Irish Times as ‘fresh, sensuous and direct,’ while Poetry Ireland Review described her as ‘unafraid of sentiment…a master of endings.’ Publications in which her poetry has appeared include POETRY, The Stinging Fly, Lighthouse, and Winter Papers Volume 3 (ed. Kevin Barry and Olivia Goldsmith). In 2017 she won the Fish Poetry Prize.

The water is rising again
though it hasn’t rained here for months.

The bayou is coming to the door
of her house, her white colonial house

where she rocks on the porch.
She welcomes the bayou.

The bayou remembers
in the way all swamps remember:

preserving past centuries
like a jam of clotted green memories.

The woman’s dress is ruffled lemon cloth,
a pale froth at her black throat.

The sight of her would put
a thirst on you, old man, as you work

on the sugar plantation. But you
will not drink: she has a sweet tooth

having known until now only bitter.
The sun climbs higher

and higher, a golden elevator
to heaven, as she rocks

on the distant porch. In her lap,
a cat sleeping like a gun

on which she rests a ringed hand.
Silver gleam on fur. Later,

when the sun burns down to amber,
she walks to the water’s edge

and climbs onto an alligator.
Gliding down the swamp’s slow river,

she has nowhere in particular to go.
The dark braid hanging on her back

reminds you suddenly
of that sycamore with its noosey rope

through which you once saw the low
sun like a ruby, as if the earth

was begging you to marry it.
If only you had accepted then,

promising to love its children
as your own. Now you are the one

who has been made to kneel
and look, your hands are bleeding.

We came to meet you, Ophelia.
They said we were reckless, driving down from the city
to that little house in the west.

But we were five women who had nothing
if not each other, and have faced far worse things
than your unrest.

On the way we passed sandbags already slung
by the road, long pumps trailing from streams
while the radio said status red,

status red, and on our phones
all of Ireland a rainbow grid. And us burrowing
straight for the dark violet heart

of things, the sky turning green as a bottle.
A strange light over the sea. The air like a balm.
Water folding itself over, settling to glass.

And in the morning we woke to you everywhere.
In the attic, the water tank still gurgled
the house’s quiet song

as if a circle of livid trees did not surround us,
as if that low growl rising from the earth
held no fear for us.

Lighting the fire, lighting a joint.
The slither of flames and gentle scrape
of the grinder, turning like a wheel.

The lights in the house all dimming and
coming back. And coming back, and coming back.
As fishing boats drawn up on shingle

would be returned from land, as blue lamps
would re-illuminate the virgin’s shrine.
We watched leaves swirl

on the patio, until there were no leaves.
We watched the trees bend and almost break
until the windows were crusted with salt.

Make the world new for us again, Ophelia,
who refuse to light cigarettes from a candle
for the sake of a sailor’s soul—

despite what we have borne
at the hands of sailors. Oh tropical storm.
This is no country of palm trees and flower-

filled ditches, but it is the only land we know.
Women who dream of the impossible,
our roots grow deep.

Angela Stretch reviews Disturbance by Ivy Alvarez


by Ivy Alvarez


ISBN 9781781720875



For every verse novel there has to be a starting point, a line in a letter, a speech or a phrase with symbolic meaning, or an image. In Disturbance, it is an inquest into the death of three family members.

Ivy Alvarez introduces us to a spare, judicious survey of a wide range of daily experiences,which begins when a number of half-apprehended intuitions fall into place, the shudder of realignments travel through the body like an electric current, raising goose bumps that herald the imaginative grasp of a sociological truth. Alvarez’s lyrics are strikingly modulated to specific human registers as if she had the killer’s demons tested, then submitted them to the rigors of nothing less than a whole human drama. What drives us? What drove Tony, a husband and father to a family murder suicide?

While I was reading Disturbance, a homicide took place in the Riverina (NSW), at the hand of a respected farmer. The perpetrator turned the gun on himself, after murdering his wife and three young children. The rural community continues to struggle with the fact that ordinary men, men who are seen as good men use violence.  Alvarez’s depiction is a chilling parable to the brutal tragedy that unfolded, west of Wagga Wagga. In both cases the victims affected were from small-town middle class families, who’s nearest and dearests had received no forewarnings about the unfathomable acts that were to happen. In Disturbance the family are framed as being wealthy, with an up-for-sale home valued at fewer than two million. They are owners of a BMW and hold a life insurance policy worth three hundred thousand. Tony seems an average sort of country Dad, with a hankering for hunting, golf and a swinger for a mistress. The mother Jane is troubled with the banalities of her estranged relationship with Tony and the drudgery of her domestic life. In the poem Warning (49), we glean Tony’s possessive nature, his building reproach. There are diametric complexities between the two families but the grim reality of violence is evident.

Born in the Philippines and raised in Australia, Alvarez settled in Cardiff, Wales where she wrote her first collection Mortal (2006), a reimagining of the betrayal of the Greek goddess, Demeter and her daughter Persephone to the underworld. The narrative sustains its power because it is the speech not of just one person, but the souls of a mother and daughter. The maternal origin points us to the source of the world, the point of intersection between nothing and something. In Disturbance, her second book, Alvarez responds to a real account of a double murder suicide that happened in the United Kingdom and like all effective incendiaries she confronts history and comes to terms with an array of cultural influences, a complex, divided inheritance; the daughter who didn’t choose to survive, the mother who didn’t choose to die.

These are strong poems which move fluently between the living and the dead, the reported past and the recorded present.  There is a perverse malevolence that gnaws at you in the second poem from the circumstantial evidence listed, quantified by duration, frequency and moral accountability. The post-mortem begins in Nuclear family:

They met 27 years ago

One injunction
One divorce

One emergency number
dialed at 7.11 pm

                                  (Nuclear family, 8)

Alvarez traces the tormented, catastrophic history of the family members, embuing them with only flashes of emotional colour. Witnesses are shadowed by questions of what might have passed, as are we, who try to read between the lines and fathom the family’s irreversible fate. The story pulsates with the biographical measures of a family’s destruction attested to by the local community, neighbours, the estate agent, journalists, the Detective, policemen, the mistress, and even the local priest.

The self-evident sometimes has to be restated, reinterpreted and questions recreated about characters to get behind the mask. A dialogue between the public and the private spheres is an important part of a good narrative and poets continue to set the standard in searching for a deeper reading of the humanity of the lived life, and a vivid sense of the life once lived. In this portrayal the extraordinary comes into view in the mainly private spheres of Dad, Mum, son, surviving daughter and the other more than twenty voices that are both directly and indirectly involved.

Alvarez seems compelled to share her understanding of dyfunctionality. We may not know it comprehensively, but the book offers us at least a dramatic core that performs or perhaps explains. She provides cumulative details, evidence and testimonials, chiseled on the page in various forms, playing with sequencing and time.

The words of the Operator who received the call for help hang in the air:

The phone rings: laughter and shrieks.
Another crank call, two cranks in ten minutes.
I just got here.

The minute hand swings over.
It’s 7.11 pm.

(Operator, 10)

And much later we hear from a Witness:

We’re laughing − a rare thing.
After dinner and we’re at the sink.
We hear a car on the gravel drive.  Our laughter dries.

                                    (Witness, 75)

And so it must have happened by increments across the community— that slow withdrawal of voices, the silence falling as the conversations between people querying the unexpected, suggests something intense and morbid had taken place.

off the record?
five thousand per dead body
but we don’t look at it
that way

(The estate agents, 14)

There’s a shiver of black humour, or rather a notation of bodily memory that reaches home to acknowledge the curiosity of why things happen.

I don’t know what could have set him off

then again
I cannot understand
how cows know
to chew in unison

(A neighbouring farmer, 15)

The poems succeed by inflection, as different circuits are rewired, allowing us to register subtleties not previously accessible. Alvarez provides us with a sense of comprehension through the views of a community numbed, a complex socio-economic layout of whom and where to place the blame, to seek justification for actions made and to perhaps identify the warning signs and be more vigilant in the recognition of these signs.

What is captured is a capacity for monstrous indifference, a means to register murder, sociopathy and violation. The tragic genre is the poet’s intent, an archetype of assemblages generated by one expectation leading to the expectations of the next. In The Journalist speaks III, this non-fiction verse narrative achieves a stage pitch.

all complexity flattened to a headline
‘Three shot dead in village’

Black cameras crowd in,

flashbulbs white as maggots.
She gives them a flat, dry stare,
The surviving daughter who releases her statement.

                                    (The Journalist speaks III, 50)

Disturbance is a book of dark intensities and deeply felt connections, haunted and haunting, at once brooding, sensual and lucid. A smaller cast of characters would make logistics simpler, but the reasons for domestic violence are just as compounding. The apparently simpler observations by a cast of characters play out a vital role; to speak out from within community, take on a deeper responsibility that incorporates some element of recognition of this major societal issue.

Alvarez’s diverse upbringing may have provided her with the social and political purpose to write about domestic violence from varying points-of-view. In doing so she has developed an elliptical but determined way of approaching her subjects that pushes forward an array of directions by turning back and engaging in a past she has imagined.


ANGELA STRETCH is a Sydney based artist, curator, writer and organiser. Her work uses language and poetry through different mediums and has been exhibited and published nationally and internationally.  She is the coordinator of the Sydney Poetry Program at the Brett Whiteley Studio, AGNSW.

Idul Adha by Nik Tan

Nik TanNik Tan was born in Melbourne and is an Australian of Chinese-Indonesian background. He is a lawyer and former Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officer, where he worked on the Indonesia desk. He is currently studying a Master of Laws at the University of Copenhagen and working at the Danish Institute for Human Rights. Nik is a freelance writer who has had work published in Eureka Street, Inside Indonesia and Muse. 





Idul Adha

Novi is up early climbing over Ari and sitting for a moment in the pre-dawn darkness. Her singlet slips down at one shoulder, her pregnant belly just discernible within the grey cotton.

She steps outside to the concrete shower, a cubicle open above chest height. She slings the singlet over one wall and slips a purple elastic band from her wrist around her hair, tying it back.

Reluctantly, she takes one of the hand-buckets strewn around the stone square and dips into a full bucket. She raises it high and pours a cascade of water onto her forehead. The water parts her black hair and runs down her face, neck, breasts, back. Gasping, she leans down again, trying not to upset the water onto yet more dry areas of her shivering body.

With each bucket, the stinging shocks ease as she ladles first one shoulder and then the other, until new bucketfuls come fast and sure, slapping on her wet brown skin, and puddling on the grey floor.

Novi rubs a layer of coconut oil into her hair and leaves it to set and absorb into her scalp. She uses an aged bar of soap sparingly, concentrating on her armpits, groin and feet. She eases a towel around her and pit-pats to the kitchen.

Although it is now grey outside, she lights the kerosene lamp. The light hits the recesses of the kitchen as the smell of the lamp’s fuel hits her nostrils, gritty and a little pleasant. She squats in her towel on a tiny wooden stool, legs open as she leans forward, still dripping, to begin the day’s cooking.

In front of Novi is a rectangular woven mat, slightly raised on four squat legs. On it lie stunted carrots, long beans, fresh greens, red sugar, garlic and shallots. Two round woven pans sit at one end of the mat, each half-full with rice.

She rests a chopping board the size of her stool on the edge of the mat’s solid wooden frame. Now awake and cold, she finely chops garlic and shallots into a small, potent mound.

Novi doesn’t need to look as her hands work, instead her attention is set to the dirty window directly in front of her. The cold scent of chilli mixes with and then overpowers the kerosene.

Moments before the sun’s morning rays cut through the soil caked on the window, a rangy cock walks past stopping as the compulsion to crow forces the sound from its upstretched throat. Answering calls from neighbouring houses herald the morning.

Taking a truss of fresh chillies Novi drops her right shoulder into the mortar, the pestle grinding red skin, flesh and white seeds into first a lumpy pulp and then a thick paste.

She turns her back against the sun, concentrating on the firelicked wall above the gas burner. She places the wok over its blue flame and waits. When a dash of oil sizzles she measures in teaspoons of the chopped spices and sambal before adding rice from one of the round baskets. She scoops the rice upon itself coating the glistening grains in chilli and oil. She leaves all the food for Ari, choosing hunger over breakfast.

Novi dresses in a starched white blouse and neat blue jeans. Leaving the coconut oil to absorb, she pares her hair back, shuffles into a pair of yellow flip-flops and starts for the mosque.

She picks carefully between the stone path before her and passes of her birth, schooling and marriage. Each house is a little bigger than the last as she approaches the mosque, the centre point of the village.

Around Novi insects buzz among sapling green trees, the morning sun reflecting  off the white stones. Beside each house are small paths leading and losing one another throughout the steep steppes of fecund rice shoots.

Today is Idul Adha. She reaches the blue and dirty white mosque, ignoring the pack of boys milling around the muezzin’s tower, waiting their chance to scale the ladder and deliver the call to prayer.

One of them is her little brother, Alit. She stops and calls him over, waving palm-down. He runs over, face full of expectation at the chance to broadcast to the whole village the word of Allah. At thirteen, he is still a boy and shows no signs of manhood.

“Alit, how is our grandmother?” Novi demands of him.

“She is sick”, Alit replies, eyes darting back to the scrum of boys who are now calling their friend up the tower to come down.

“I know that”, she says impatiently, “but does she eat?”

“Nothing since grandfather died”, Alit says, eyes back on his sister now, lowered in respect even though they are the same height.  

“Tell her I will visit this evening”, she says. She pushes him back to the gaggle of waiting boys, who are now grasping at the shorts of a boy descending the ladder. Alit nods as he turns and runs back to the tower, pushing past his friends to climb to the top of the tower.

Her grandfather died 27 days ago and her grandmother is still fasting. At his funeral she had kissed the ground in which he lay and vowed not to eat until she joined him. Her grandmother Oma Dirjo was bent by long years planting and harvesting rice, her toes splayed by time.

As she hears Alit begin his discordant calls, she passes into the mosque, leaving her flip-flops to join the neat line of shoes and sandals already there. Inside are friends and cousins, kneeling and murmuring invisible lines of the Koran. Novi prays for her grandmother and her own unborn son.

After prayers, Novi walks up the cobbled hill, past the cemetery to the small plateau where neighbours, cousins and friends gather. One hundred people stand around the clearing, chatting and smoking. In one corner, a frenzied group of children, Alit among them, pulse and chatter as one body.

In the middle of the clearing, on a blue tarpaulin it stands. Grey flanks shudder with anxiety, or maybe merely to discourage flies. Five men stand around the cow, Ari at its head, holding the rope leading from the bullring. He drags down the rope, asking the beast to kneel. Ari is dressed in faded green football shorts and a white singlet, his bare sinewy arms straining against the animal’s strength. His kind eyes are lowered against the sun in concentration.

As the cow reaches its haunches, ungainly but forbearing, one man ducks under its girth and deftly slips the noosed rope over her front hooves. She haltingly lowers her bags legs, tail flicking at flies. A second man slips an identical noose around her back hooves and draws it closed.

The two remaining men gently begin to push her left flank, coaxing the beast onto her right side. In silent terror she shivers, unable to kick or stand. Almost lovingly, Ari grasps her neck and pulls her down with him, his two brown arms barely encompassing the white-grey folds of her broad neck.

The children play on, unaware of the theatre and the blue tarpaulin’s pride of place centre-stage. Novi stands, arms crossed beside two of her sisters, watching Ari caress the cow to the surrender of slaughter. The ring of people watches and waits patiently, ten metres or more from the tarpaulin. This will take some time.

The cow is down, Ari still at its head, two men at its back and two at her outstretched knee-locked front legs. They pull her heavily so her head spills over the edge of the tarpaulin and above a small but deep hole, a plastic bucket set inside.

Ari is kneeling now, still embracing the cow’s neck. Her eyes loll in panic, dark and deep. Ari nods to Novi’s father, who stands to one side in ceremonial dress. His garb is Javanese, not Arabic, and except for the white cap on his head, he is not recognisable as a Muslim at all. He deliberately steps to the undulating body, and stops with his hands poised above the cow’s head and Ari’s kneeling body. His hands form the shape of an open book.

The chatter stops and even the children have stopped their play. The spectacle of the climax has finally drawn the attention of the audience. Alit runs to the tarpaulin and takes up the long knife. With both hands he lugs it to Ari.

For the first time, everyone can see the trauma as the cow lies bound and stricken before death.  The clearing is silent now, but for the buzzing flies and the shuffling bulk of her doomed struggles.

Ari bends over the grey folds of the cow’s neck. Novi stands on the inside of the body, sees the regular rise and fall of Ari’s knife and the crimson waves falling over his hands and into the ground. The cuts are surprisingly gentle, like a fine saw slicing into soft wood. Ari’s strokes are sure and graceful. The cow makes no sound, its struggles spike then cede, its mahogany eyes turning wooden and glassy.

The final act is over, meditative children entranced by the show of death turn back to one another and begin to shake off the solemnity demanded by rite. Whispered Arabic honours Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ismael, his own thirteen year-old son. Two men replace the bucket, before Ari flays again through the slopes of grey skin, folding into wet linings of flesh.

Adults turn away from the stage too, still encircling, but now facing one another and filling the blood-heavy air with holy day chatter. Novi’s father, having presided over the ritual, walks three steps from the cow’s carcass, squats down and, tucking his sarong between his legs, lights a cigarette.

Novi stays watching, stepping forward to see the flow of blood into the ground. Ari is leant over the gaping head making swift nicks and cuts to ease warm brooks’ passage from arteries to soil. The four other men get busy now, laying into the body with their own machetes.

One man removes the hoofs while another carves lines in the slack skin like a tailor. Swathes of grey cloth come off, lubricated by the stretching inner layer of membrane and muscle. Cartilage and flesh shine in the sun, the mechanics of life exposed in death.

Two hours later six buckets in different colours are full of warm blood and stand in line beside the tarpaulin surrounded by a cloud of flies. Where the cow’s bulk lay sits a red pool, seeping across the blue surface, only fist-sized lumps of offal lolling in the scourge. The meat is distributed in thirds: one-third to the family; one-third to friends and neighbours; and one-third to the poor.

Everyone holds their own trussed plastic package of the spoils, rough rectangles of flesh, with a complementary bag of white and red bones for those who wish it. The mass that stood as a sentient beast now sits heavy and silent on children’s shoulders and in the arms of their mothers.

Novi and Ari turn for home, she holds a bloody bag and he nurses his hooves in one hand, his long curved knife scraping in the dust in the other. They take the prized body parts to her grandmother, Oma Dirjo, hoping she will agree to eat.

They arrive at her low doorway, calling out respectfully for the right to enter. Greeted by silence, Novi kicks off her sandals reflexively, thrusting the plastic bags of flesh at Ari and runs inside to check on the old lady. She has been left alone since morning as her children and grandchildren flocked to the slaughter.

She lies huddled on her woven mat bed, dressed in black mourning for her husband. She is on her side facing Novi, perfectly still. Her silver hair falls across her neck and black blouse. Novi knows she is gone, and pauses in the doorframe to take in the grace of her grandmother.

Shards of sunlight slant across the black cotton covering her back and legs. Her feet are neatly tucked together, pale soles pointing towards the sun. Her knees are drawn in towards her chest. Oma Dirjo’s wizened, lined face is hollow and peaceful. Above her head sits a portrait of her husband as a young man, black and white and blanched by time.

Pushing off from the doorframe, Novi walks reverently to her grandmother as if afraid to wake her. Practicalities run through her head: calling the uncles and aunts to attend her; explaining the death to her young cousins, nieces and nephews; organising the cleansing and final burial alongside her grandfather.

She leans down beside Oma Dirjo and holds her knobbly, cracked hands. Novi cries out suddenly, a surge of pain stabbing her gut as she realises her grandmother will never meet the son in her belly.

William Byrne

william byrne

William Byrne is an emerging South Australian poet in his mid twenties. He has always lived in rural and coastal townships, excluding an urban interlude for university study for degrees in architecture and design. He has recently had work published in Westerly (Univeristy of Western Australia) and The Disappearing (Red Room Company).





Water dries so fast
on my fore and index fingers
once I leave the chiesa,
that foreign place of incensed marble.                                              

It evaporates
as soon as I see the sun
and basking in it, the smooth shoulders 
of the lane’s cobblestones. I trip                                                                    

in my penance, later, while seated 
in the brassed café
as my lips part for vermouth.
Again I see Rome’s dark shoulders 

then her leather heels and passing souls,
then half smoked cicca,
their pale ghosts hanging in the streets, 
then smooth, tanned Roman fingers. 

Chiesa water dries so fast on my fingers.
The vermouth is also dry.




In my old car, tyres wet, we spoke
black over green like a Rothko painting,
the young crops startled in our headlamps,
their fronds thrashing in the yellow glow.
You too were startled when I turned the headlamps off,
even though we had pulled up aside the field.
The lamps were deadened, yet the radio hailed
in a distant AM. Ice crystals formed on the window,
shading thinly the edge of the screen.
Beyond the glass, grey clouds brushed past the moon
rising on the curved horizon beyond
wheat past further than sight from  two sets of eyes could see. 

Afterwards, we drove to a town
at the edge of the wheat, leaving the earth
on the side of the road where we parked
a dry-ish print framed in rain craters
and shallow puddles bleeding into its soft sides.
We laughed so hard that night as we spoke and tried to see.




Ali Jane Smith

Ali Jane Smith’s first poetry collection, Gala was published in 2006 as part of the Five Islands Press New Poets Program. Her work has appeared in journals such as Southerly, Cordite, and Famous Reporter. She has recorded readings for audio Cd and performed in schools, universities, pubs, cafes, shopping malls and festivals. She is the Director of the South Coast Writers Centre.



Poems as Dolly Parton: A real live Dolly

Up close you can see
the texture of my skin.
The smile that was always mine
the eyes full of thoughts
of you and the other people
I care for. Of the world
and what can be done.

If you take my hand it will be
the hand that you know.
The touch that you have grown
used to and never grown used to.

The voice most of all
shows the things that change
and never change
like a long, long love affair.

It’s easy to hear what’s been lost:
the range, the clarity, but
in my voice now you’ll hear
all the joyous moments
inspired thoughts, desolate
hours, true griefs, and loving gestures
you have known.


Poems as Dolly Parton: Only Dolly Parton album you’ll ever need

I know you love
the dirt-poor dreaming girl
who lets you forget
the hours and pains in
writing, singing, playing, looking pretty.
The show that lets you forget the business.

I know you like the stories.
You like my heartbroken women.
My happy singing women. My ruined
but still hopeful
lost and longing never despairing
picked up and dusted off
women who know the cold truth and carry it
alongside warm hopefulness.

You look at me as I
smile out at you from your tv
a photograph or the stage
when I sing and laugh and let you see
a glistening tear that doesn’t spill.

You want me to mend
your hurts and forgive.
To see the good in you, but
the pain and cruelty as well.
To know
and still love you.



Cameron Lowe

Cameron Lowe lives in Geelong and works as a plasterer. His writing has appeared in Island, Meanjin, The Age & The Best Australian Poetry 2007 (UQP). Throwing Stones at the Sun, a chapbook of his poems was published by Whitmore Press in 2005. He is currently undertaking postgraduate study at The University of Melbourne.




for Alice

Deferring to wind & water a sort of swimming
begins, an allowance for flotsam on the tides of memory,
ambit lights glowing in the midnight depths,
slivers of silver teasing at the edges of sight.
             To be alone, then,
moonlight playing upon the sea’s skin.

Thinking scales, a child’s game of spindly fins,
the past rising toward its surface of familiars,
the things we are, in this darkness,
& the things we are not,
the dried thing we found on the tide line,
going a little green about the gills.

There will always be this gentle stirring,
this need to hold onto something
even as it changes shape, the little fish’s lullaby,
or the siren song amid the storm,
swimming in a music that breaks upon no shore.


at the shores of the afternoon’
                                       Nick Riemer
Between painted lips,
or deeper inside the body,
closer to the chest’s cavity,
listening to her swimsuit swelling,
fingers a clutch of leaves
swaying in the summer breeze,
hands smoothly-shaped stones,
the diaphragm contracting,
even now that eyes are closed.
Seashells, she might say suddenly,
half-asleep in the sun, dreaming
perhaps, of distant, pebbled shores,
little waves rising,
crumbling, repeating again & again,
meddling with memory, the map
of her back itself an ocean,
glistening with oil,
under the long echoing blue sky.



Maria Freij: Beneath the Surface and the Scars in Anthony Lawrence’s Poetry



When I’m trapping on the Foggy, / fifteen miles off Catherine Hill Bay, / the world is good” (“Trapping on the Foggy”, lines 1-3) writes Anthony Lawrence in his faux-simplistic manner. In his earlier collections, Lawrence often explores traditionally masculine activities, carried out by men in the company of men, like the drinking and pool-playing at the Anna Bay Tavern in “Lines for David Reiter”, or in solitude, fishing and remembering. The solitary moments are often filled with the urgency of being-in-the-world: the voice plays with these masculine scenes; its subtlety and sensuality is neither obviously male nor female, but both. The themes are human above all, and the voice encompasses many unexpected nuances. In a sense, this renders the voice ‘genderless’, a quality that allows for a more honest probing of the self and the landscape, an honesty that in later collections has seen Lawrence explore trauma  and grief by mapping the emotional landscape with sincerity and integrity.

In “Trapping on the Foggy”, we see the narrator reconciling his Other self, his place in the world, and his childhood. This poem is an excellent example of the deceptive simplicity at play in Lawrence’s work, where fishing is never merely fishing. Indeed, the small slice of universe the persona inhabits in this moment is soon encroached upon by the surrounding world; its wickedness enters already in the next stanza on a local as well as international level:  “In the morning paper, a murder / in Leichhardt; someone’s fist / photographed under rubble in Mexico” (lines 4-6). Even though the natural environment offers some consolation when the “wind makes calm / the most violent of days” (lines 7-8), this is not where Lawrence leaves us. Rather than pursuing the redeeming features of beautiful and uncorrupted Nature, he turns to the image of the tankers that come and go, which place us so visibly in the vicinity of Newcastle, Australia’s biggest coal port—few are the children who have not counted ships on its horizon. It also places us in the larger context of post-industrialisation, and the contemporary pastoral. These lines echo Charles Wright’s “Looking West from Laguna Beach at Night”, where the oil rigs off Long Beach are “like floating lanterns out in the smog-dark Pacific” (line 3), man-made intrusions in the pristine environment (albeit one where the native flora has already been tampered with: the stars are in the eucalyptus, a species introduced to California for its fast growth and commercial value).

Wright’s oil rigs are mirrored in the “mythic history of Western civilization, / Pinpricked and clued through the zodiac” (lines 14-15). Similarly, in Lawrence’s “The Barn, the Moon”, his persona turns upward and struggles to name what he sees, hinting at a conflict between two worlds. The cosmos invites a reading of the microcosm as the idea of the very large leads to the focus on the minute, on ‘you’—the real pinprick in the universe:

Tonight I saw two planets
aligned over the blunt rocket head
of the Point Moree lighthouse.
Guessing their names,
their position in the sky,
I thought of you.

(lines 27-32)

Wright’s (anti-)epiphany—“I have spent my life knowing nothing” (line 18)—comes explicitly from within, an acknowledgement of his existential condition. Lawrence’s epiphanies tend to come from elsewhere; in “Trapping on the Foggy”, as the persona falls into daydream, out of the depths of his subconscious emerges the memory of a shark:

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. (lines 14-19)

The fisherman and Lawrence the poet are inextricably linked, the act of fishing a recurrent trope standing for the poetic act. Recurrent, too, are the hints of an underlying threat: the sharks; the sun, which is “a red balloon dragged under by the run of a surface predator” (“Carnarvon” (x) Collecting Live Bait at Dusk Under the One Mile Jetty, lines 16-17); and the funnel-web spiders “at the bottom / of swimming pools, sipping like deadly / pearls their bubbles of oxygen” (“Black Yolk and Poison”, lines 3-5).

Above all, Lawrence’s relationship with the sea is one marked by sensuality and intimacy:

And with every trap, I release myself
slowly, descending through miles
of green, sun-shafted water, down
through the bubbles, in touch with everything.
(“Trapping on the Foggy”, lines 23-26)

The sensuous moment exemplifies this physical knowledge that one gains knowing the world through the senses, through the body. Many poems touch on this affinity and relationship with the sea, and the sexual undertones are sometimes more explicit. The legs of the redbacks in “Black Yolk and Poison” are “like fingers touching fishing line, / translating vibration into hunger, / hunger into death” (Lines 10-12), hinting at the most human of needs. In “Shearwaters,” the qualities of the sea are hard to separate from those of a woman:

an incoming tide of shapes
that merge to seed a furrow
where the sea’s dark pelt and raining wind combine –


Can the scent and texture of our skin be changed
by such encounters? (Lines 7-9 & 25-26)

The process of creating a poem has a prominent role in Lawrence’s work, as theme and as subject matter. It is as if the poetry cannot be escaped, as if, whether he’s holding a pen or a fishing rod, Lawrence is always writing. This sensation is accompanied by a certain weight. His worlds become one when the lure hits the water, because it must sink into other depths; however, the fishing trope can conjure up an artifice. The idea of being constantly conscious of the meaning of an experience, of its immediacy and pertinence, is exhausting, and potentially means that all moments are tampered with, created, man-made. There are certainly occasions when an indulgence in stylistics and the poems’ self-referentiality dominate:

A pair of sooty oystercatchers are probing
an oyster-blistered mantle of exposed reef
with their red beakspikes. I’ve found it’s
often best to wait a few days before turning
such things into poetry, but the accurate
wading and stabbing of the birds demands
immediate attention.
(“Sooty Oystercatchers, Venus Tusk Fish”, lines 1-7)

Here, a chasm is revealed—the writer cannot fully inhabit the moment: he is changing it through the interpretation he is making (and, notably, its opposite is also true: “I move and I am changed, then changed again / by the telling of it” (“Shearwaters”, lines 34-35)).

In “The Barn, the Moon”, Lawrence offers memorable images and another glimpse of his aesthetics: for Lawrence, poetry is part of the natural order, and the only way to make sense of our place within it:

Some things emerge
from the day’s ordered scene
to arrest our inner attention,
and we respond to them,
using words or actions
until they pass, or remain
to build a small fire in our sides:
sunset through a pane of dimpled glass,
and the table is gold.
I respond with a shock of emotion
these words make visible. (lines 1-11)

Not until the words are written, and the images are translated, do their true significance and effect become real. The reflexive element notwithstanding, Lawrence gives equal attention to his narrative selves and the craft, like in “Trapping on the Foggy”, where he skilfully navigates the gaps and achieves a precarious balance through a Wordsworthian return to lost time:  “I’m a child again,” he writes, “staring into tidal pools, my hands bent / and pale in clear water, counting bright shells” (lines 37-39). Memory is critical to Lawrence:  indeed, to “move beyond the place / where memory harvests meaning” (“Shearwaters”, lines 35-36) is to allow the past a vivid presence.

Clearly, Lawrence is not, as his imagery might suggest, merely a landscape or nature poet. His real exploration is of the inner landscape and the processes at play in being a man and in being a poet. Unlike Murray or Kinsella, Lawrence does not evince a political agenda; nor does he aim to define the Australian landscape and its people. Lawrence makes no grand statements; his is a much more personal, private, and autobiographical poetry. His kinship with the sea resembles Robert Adamson’s affinity with the Hawkesbury, a nourishing and absolutely essential relationship that sees Lawrence, with playful awareness, “finger[ing] the handline like a downcast kite, / translating each bite into possibilities” (“Trapping on the Foggy”, lines 29-30).

The simultaneous presence and absence in Lawrence work—his tacking between inner and outer landscapes—allows for a poetry that speaks eloquently of love and loss; these deeper resonances become more pronounced in his later collections. The mantra that is “The Syllables in Your Name” is whispered in a faraway place, further underscoring the separation. “Infidelity and the Punishments Available” evokes distances growing larger by each stanza. In his lyrical poems Lawrence steers us into another type of unchartered waters: those of the strong psychological states into which he invites his audience. With honesty and openness he speaks of alienation, love, and madness, and again of the role of writing; art, for Lawrence, has become an instrument with which he navigates inner selves and landscapes. In these poems, too, the sea tropes have a prominent place: in “Tidal Dreaming” the narrator ponders having left his “body’s sleeping anchorage” (line 9) and the two characters are in “the wide bays of each other’s arms” (line 10). When Lawrence moves from the narrative into the more lyrical voice, and blurs the line between wake and sleep in this poem, the sensuality of the voice is poignant:

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. (Lines 14-19)

This is a beautiful, loving, and most intimate moment to which we are privy. Lawrence’s lyrical poems are secretive, opening doors to rooms that not everyone can enter, and where the masculine imagery all but disappears. In these rooms, “rainbows hang in a bloom of spray” (“Just Below the Falls”, line 24) and a narrator divulges a truth in which we may all share: “I’ve been trying for years / to heal the private wounds of my life” (“The Aerialist”, lines 52-53).  

In newer poems, like “Scars and their Origins”, there is also a noticeable shift in how Lawrence approaches both the moment and the writing of it:

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.
(lines 9-14)

The distance from the moment allows for a different vision, and a space for healing. When Lawrence describes trauma, he takes a more direct approach to his craft and the snare of memory and guilt. His voice is unswerving, and the metaphors less engineered. This is certainly true in “Just Below the Falls”, which suggests a fall in mood and the crucial role of writing to existence and survival:

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.
(lines 13-22)

Lawrence’s seductive entanglement of the subject and the poem is an invitation to a most intimate moment: the imagery and sensory connection leaves the subject vulnerable, to his predicament and to his audience. This is a careful balancing act, and one at which Lawrence excels. It is a large task, bridging the gaps between inner and outer landscapes, the craft and the image, and the past and the present, but one to which Lawrence is committed. A painful and arduous act, remembrance is ultimately a saving performance—one that keeps us from falling “captive to the constant / awful noise of reclusiveness” (“In the Shadows of a Rockspill”, lines 14-15).



Lawrence, A. “Black Yolk and Poison”, in Three days out of Tidal Town, 2002: Sydney, Hale & Iremonger Pty Limited.

Lawrence, A. “Carnarvon” (x) Collecting Live Bait at Dusk Under the One Mile Jetty, in Three days out of Tidal Town, 2002: Sydney, Hale & Iremonger Pty Limited.

Lawrence, A. “Lines for David Reiter”, in Three days out of Tidal Town, 2002: Sydney, Hale & Iremonger Pty Limited.

Lawrence, A. “Sooty Oystercatchers, Venus Tusk Fish”, in The Darkwood Aquarium, 1993: Ringwood, Penguin Books Australia Ltd.

Lawrence, A. “The Barn, the Moon”, in Cold Wires of Rain, 1995: Ringwood, Penguin Books Australia Ltd.

 Lawrence, A. “The Queensland Lungfish”, in Cold Wires of Rain, 1995: Ringwood, Penguin Books Australia Ltd.

Lawrence, A. “Trapping on the Foggy”, in Three days out of Tidal Town, 2002: Sydney, Hale & Iremonger Pty Limited.

Wright, C. “Looking West from Laguna Beach at Night,” in Chickamauga, 1995: New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux.


Jee Leong Koh

Jee Leong Koh is the author of two books of poems Payday Loans and Equal to the Earth (Bench Press). His new book of poems Seven Studies for a Self Portrait will be released by the same press in March 2011. Born and raised in Singapore, he lives in New York City, and blogs at Song of a Reformed Headhunter (


In His Other House

In this house there is no need to wait for the verdict of history
And each page lies open to the version of every other.
—Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, “In Her Other House”
In my other house too, books line the floor to ceiling shelves,
not only books on stock markets, self help, Singapore ghost stories,
but also poetry, Edwin Thumboo, Cyril Wong, Alfian Sa’at,
and one who moved away and who wrote Days of No Name.
My father comes home from the power station. When rested
(and this is how I know this is not real) he reads to us again,
for the seventh time, Philip Jeyaretnam’s Abraham’s Promise
in a sweet low voice, unbroken by a frightened young supervisor.
When he closes the book, my dead grandfather stirs from a dream
and says a word or two, that really says he has been listening.
And my beloved, knowing his cue, jumps up from the couch
to clear the dishes, for, as he says, dishes don’t wash themselves.
Softly brightened by a feeling I do not hurry to identify,
I move to the back of him and put my arms around his waist.
His muscles twitch like the needle on a motorboat’s dashboard
as he turns a porcelain plate against a rough cotton cloth.
The light from the window looks like a huge, blank sea.
In this other house there will be time to fill it but now
the bell rings with a deep gold tone, and here, on a surprise
visit, are my sister and her two girls coming through the door.

The Hospital Lift

The Virgin was spiralling to heaven,
Hauled up in stages. Past mist and shining
—Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, “Fireman’s Lift”
My mother is the aged Queen of the spin
of washing machines. Her body sags now
but when she was young eyed and toned
she washed St. Andrew’s Children’s Hospital,
whose best feature was its old hotel lift.
I would close the brass grille with a clang,
thump the big black top button, grow up
watching the concrete floors drop to my feet,
the bowl that glowed in underwater green
the babies crying, startled by the light
in blue gowns the boys chasing the clown
the professional look of clean white smocks
before arriving on the roof, the air
smelling of detergent, wind and sun,
the sheets flapping like giant birds.
When my mother turned to greet me
with a tight smile (now loosening indefinitely),
how was I to guess the magic act
of hauling up an ancient lift
by spinning modern wash machines?

The Bowl

I made a trip to each clock in the apartment
—Elizabeth Bishop, “Paris, 7 A.M.”
One clock is short. Another clock is a dog
that bounds round every twelve years and barks
at dogs not yet born and dogs gone before.
The good clock in the kitchen is a bowl.
The one I check to go in step with New York
rests in my pocket, next to my penis,
and rings with a ringtone called Melody.
So many clocks! How does one keep time?
I have lived here long enough
to have had three loves, one of whom
is sleeping in my bed, a ghost from the west coast.
He ticks softly, this clock. The second
goes all the way back to the Mayflower, he talked.
The third is striking fifty-one today. He sounds sad.
How do I sound to him?
How do I sound in his tall apartment of clocks?
My collection of clocks
in that apartment, and that apartment, and that apartment in the city?
First visit to an airport, I was rapt by the world clocks,
Jakarta, New Delhi, Tel Aviv, Berlin, London, New York,
steel round-faced timekeepers, all different and all right,
their hands ringing in my ears
the sound a wet finger makes rubbing round the rim of a water glass,
and I felt like a dog that is trying to catch its tail.
Dizzy, yes, but filled with so much joy
I think I have not left the spot.

Bob Hart

Bob Hart is the author of two books of poems Acrobat and Lightly in the Good of Day (Bench Press). He grew up in Harlem, on 145th Street, 142nd Street and 158th Street. Her served in the army from 1952 to 1954, and was stationed in Germany during the Korean war. Now he works for a mail sorting company in Midtown West, and lives in Brooklyn.


In A Guitar

I like the anger in a guitar—

it doesn’t need a reason;

no need to gain back face, having lost none.

Its strings smell no insults;

it is mouth, not ears.


I like the sorrow spilled from its hole

whose hollow has lost nothing;

rejoices in its own hollow being

(devoid of void, though massless),

empty bowl of tongues.


I crave the tremored fear of its strings

which riverrun, but nowhere.

Five nerves take turn to shiver their speaking:

our doomless deathless dying

by the blood guitar.


Although it drums an air of its own

it can drum one into battle!

It has no politics but it pushes—

or pulls like blind horse running

as its path shines black!




Man, Can They!


Man those girls can laugh!

I mean they really splatter cheer into the air.

They let go. Oh boy they let go.

Can their chairs hold them, tables contain them?

They should ride horses

jump cloudhigh fences; they should, they should

run beside the running deer; do

Phoenician somersault on bulls, then

leap amid spectators in the stands.

Make way for those laughing girls—

wave banners for them; fly the flags.

Spare no colors. Spare no winds. Let the light

burst its sides with brightness.

Let the heavy turtles of the galaxies

declare a rabbit holiday.

It’s catching. Help me hold my sides.

This is too lively for

the likes of any gravity-coherent solid thing.