Archive for September 13th, 2011

Published Poems

From Antipodes,  December 2005:


Veronika on the Gold Coast

You must have wondered

at your sentence; to be sent

from Köln to the Gold Coast

to learn the clarinet. A boy

soon asked what ‘that thing’ was,

but you knew boys everywhere

were dumb, though here

brain death was endemic.


You did love the beach

until it was a prison

and you fancied the boys

until they spoke of engines;

you were sweet and serious and even

loved the heat and sun

until you knew it never stopped

and no one ever seemed to take an interest.


It was not arrogance that made you

laugh in a shopping mall of glass

where the minister for culture

had erected a plastic David,

but rather, sadness and fear

that you might soon dissipate

to become as hollow as their cars,

or vapid as the burning sand.


You were shown the “big” things;

a pineapple, large as a house,

a banana, long as a boat

and perspired

in their shadows, blinded and wet

belying your years to think

how small was all this empty size,

and how lost is rootless modernity.


From Meanjin, 66.1, 2007:



I rode into town from Vienna

to be welcomed by your arms flung wide

by the glistening to hasten the thawing

of my heart strained across this divide.


We buried our love in our shoulders

to inherit the scents we had lost

to revisit the tricks of your pelvis

in a room stained by poverty’s cost.


I’ll see that your legs remain parted

on this street where the concrete has died,

with my heart in the throat of your beauty

I will drink to the clench of your thighs.


The musk lingers far into morning

where we carry our love like a bird

found lost in the thrust of migration

o’er the frets of this musical world.


Shutting Traps


I feed magpies on

hot mornings

with their chests puffed

on the clothes-line –

they sing in echoes of squeaky

swings, slow as wind-chimes on water lapping

limescaled walls in an underground cave,

or a lost cry from the past.

I make them earn

their meat



Loving her was like loving a magpie

if she squawked too much

I wished her ill,

but when she sang

small metallic pipes hummed

softly, a low triangle left ringing

in an empty odeum.

I rarely, if ever

let her sing



You magpie cunts

you drive away the bulbuls

and give the kookaburra shit

then walk into my kitchen

past couldntgiveashit cats

and when I’m fed up with your crap

on my clothes,

you hop and say ‘how dare you

defy my insolence’

I will wait and watch

and crush you

in the slamming door



When she left me

I stopped trapping mice

so no more

but after


I shall set traps

for the younger birds

who venture too near

too beautiful



Caught one the other day

and that’s just

the beginning…



From Sentinel Poetry Online, 48, November 2006:


Gaza drowning


In the morning more gunmen,

black-clad and with weapons

raised to prise some credit

in this lottery of warlords; smiling,


cheering and firing

guns. Yet this was something else,

for only a day ago the massive tanks

– pesticidal spaceships – rolled out,


leaving the scraps to the oven hatred

and the safety of home-grown thugs.

Yesterday the rubble and helping

Asif’s father take bricks in


a half-dragged cart; dusty white

with glistening, tanned-skin streaks

of sweat. You heard at last

the beach was free, but the hours ran


in the fight to boast this liberty.



Today the sea is free again,

they say it will now always be;

that constant thing, the only thing


free of the smashed and half-built

and raw, free of the ruins

that litter the shore

unblemished as a tile


and wet as a wound,

it beckoned

this parable of endurance beheld;

it glittered


as though damascened, such wealth

lived only in dreams in siege-saddened rooms

where unslaked generations brood.



To the beach for the one thing

they handed you pure,

an ablution to mark the still birth

of a land; down the long, pitted road


to the long-forbidden sand.

Asif was there with you, his hands

smooth from lime and his smile

encouraged you into the brine.


Playfulness surged in the spray

of his joy and discarding your shirt

you followed this boy

to the salty delight, this border


now gone, you flailed you arms

and the dust came away

and ducking your head, you pushed

under waves, mere ripples they were


yet soon you were far

from the shallows and feeling

a tug underneath,

you thrust up to clutch


at an ocean of breath.

The weight of your body

the screams of Asif,

the disordered panic


as your lungs filled with sea.

Half-submerged, dripping, afraid

and unsure, Asif stood waiting

til he saw you return


buoyant as ever, you came up at last.



Wasn’t it you?

Wasn’t it you who approached me

down the aisle of a supermarket?

Back in town, I guess,

from some unimaginable failure.


Wasn’t it like you

not to let me touch you –

a stroke of your back as a prelude

to placing my arm about you?


Wasn’t it you who said that we might

just as well be together again,

since you were here now and since

I had spent six years pining?


Wasn’t it you who knew slowness

must govern this strange recommencement,

this unlikely coupling of something

long dead with a dream?


Wasn’t it like me

to cling to these night hopes,

to lie still expecting

that really we might have loved on?



The Anchor Pub, Cambridge

Upstairs at the Anchor, young Eddie,

distracted whilst pulling a pint, loses

his eyes in the brass of the taps.

Therein, staring back, he finds himself

giant-armed, flanked by his comrade

and haloed with scattered hangings:

a photograph of Al Capone, ladies

taking tea at The Orchard, rowers

lowering their tubs, heifers

grazing in the boggy dew

and a timely rescue from a waterlogged

steam-ship foundering in a storm.


Along the racks and shelves are jugs

and busts; Nelson skulking dusty beneath

a penny farthing; Mozart beside

a bedpan and clock; Beethoven

topping a broken barometer

pitching askew to a staggered deck


and ever on in, come the customers…


“This one,” says Tom, “she’s a delicate fawn

shot by a crossbow on a frosty morn

sublime in her sorrow, gorgeous, torn,

evanescent as she pales to lifelessness.”


“Here’s our moody porn star again –

overworked and glum as a college

porter, be-jowled by scratchings and lager,

he spat himself into sports casual.”


Eddie throws his eyes out the window.

Below, the river, splayed

and wet as a spent horse, shrieks

with unseen children, bellows

with drunken men

and, on the patio, as on the bridge

swarms a gaggle of lusty young beauties,

all here to taste the merry delights

of his beloved England.


And he, stuck behind the bar,

with a would-be poet, sore.



The Room of Kings, Barcelona

You arrived before me, tired from Buenos Aeries,

lean with a dancer’s strength,

and when I saw your bags beside the narrow beds

I’d booked from England, I apologised

for the humidity of this cupboard,

four flights above those human canals

of the old quarter, stained like a rectum.

“This is the room of kings!” you said.


“Ah yes.”

We shook moist hands

and went to the beach of rough and dirty

sand and sea

that frothed with warmth and garbage.

The afternoon was copper-hazed and stretched

towards a smog horizon; something in its

smoky glare spoke of a faded postcard.


The colours by night won us over;

soft umber pools between pitted arches,

olive fronds, sagging, pointed,

and fountains, seeping, margarine grey.

In Placa Real we sat drinking and listening

to ragged Dylan and Marley songs

while the super-strength lager

turned our stomachs, growling.


At midnight we fled the demanding

hookers, back to “la Sala de los Reyes”

though the streets still screamed with drunks.

From above, below, in an ugly show,

the cleaners hosed and shouted

and the rubbish men made karate sounds, tossing

bags and bins with evident hatred

for whoever dared to sleep.


Furiously a man called for Davide, his dog

and out the next-door window, an American

yelled back at the street then lit

a hashish joint which he dangled,

taunting passers by.

I rested my elbows

on our shared pane, and smoked shoulder

to shoulder, hoping for a knockout punch.


At four-thirty the delivery began;

the supermarket shutter below

banged like a wrecking ball of shivered tin.

I heard you groan, lying, wincing,

tortured by this thrash and bubble, sweating

this molten night through. The air

pressed close in a pillow smother

and through it  we squeezed laments.


“The room of kings indeed,” you breathed,




From PN Review,  176, July-August, 2007:


Soldier’s Cup  (On a visit to the Tunnel Museum in Sarajevo.)

Three thousand journeys daily through the slush,

but for the grunts and gasping, slupping hush.


Through water, knee deep, driving goats and sheep,

all tired of asking how long they must keep.


The moon haunts winter like an undead sun, snow falls on the ruins…


The tunnel ran eight hundred metres long.

Down Sniper Alley death was quick to come.


Out came food and blankets, weapons, life;

their fearful, angry hopes received a spike.


Water freezes, soil stiffens, fear stays ever warm…


The scenery had turned a deadly note.

as shells and rockets shouted from the slopes.


At this end, sandbags, trenches, ducking men;

the snipers culled, but could not find their den.


No trains come, trams and buses hide, the cars race round the pits…


In Leningrad they said the tears would freeze;

a war less total still affords no ease.


The food was scarce and soon the pipes ran dry

It was their solemn duty not to die.


Libraries burned, civilians fell, defenders had few guns…


Beneath the streets the rudiments hung on

the schools and kitchens, prayers and stirring songs.


The Sarajevans set their jaws and fought

against the cleansing of their every thought.


“We could not leave, why should we go? We could not let them win…”


With throat in check, his caveat is blunt;

his house and land once formed the battlefront.


He shows us footage of this longest siege

The silence hangs on us a while. We grieve.


Bent and pushing, wounded seeping, Atlas comes to each man’s heart…


Along the chilling tunnel breaths puff hot;

the trolleys cut their wake, the fodder coughs.


The bearded, grimy heroes lift and lug,

the women shoulder with them, no less strong.


“How could they let this happen here? We Muslims knew well why…”


We watch them coming up with fighting aid;

sleepless, ready, stone-set, frightened, brave.


A lady, proud and crooked, tips a quench

into a cup while waiting by the trench.


A soldier steps up, fraying like a rope.

She hands the haggard man a mother’s hope.




The roots are smooth as the stones

over which they coil into a backdrop of mist;

ringing this saintly hill suspended

above the fields of Sparta.


The sun hung radiance on the frosted edge

of this morning and vaselined the chalk white roads.

The orchards hummed with insects of cotton light;

particles in a filmy, smeared bliss.


Such spacious peace exists beneath

the monastery washed in a halo glare; walls

brushed by dipping reeds, gentle in the absent

breeze, blushing into windless silence.


There is a tuft of holiness spent in the huddled brick;

the miniature churches, baked and bleached,

are steeped in mysticism so sleepy in myth,

they evoke mere wistful dreaminess.


How war could find its way here is not plain

and yet, this ruin overlooks another:

buried Sparta with barely a monument,

fertile through the year with hardy grass.



Best left

She made me stress the honesty I’ve only sung in bursts.

I wish that I could long sustain the strength within my thirst.


There’s hope inside the fresh idea of every nascent love;

the goal of endless novelty exhausts the promised grove.


We met when I was everything for nothing yet was done;

as soon as I get settled in I’ll loath what I become.


Is she here now for all the things I promised on the way?

I spent the sunshine at the stalls that fed me til today.


She was a love, an energy that never courted guilt;

she came without the ruin field beneath what I had built.


I longed her til I knew that she must never let me near,

for Aristotle’s shapes are only flawless as ideas.



Photo of Venice

Maroon undulations, crests of copper, steel blue deeps

slicked with bronze and mercury blanched;

this might be an artist’s impression

of the gaseous oceans on a lurid sunset Titan.


Into these palazzo reflections juts the nose of a vaporetto

and below, large in the corner, rises

the crowned black S of a gondola moored, seemingly

to the lens. An old woman told me to take


this photo; a New Zealander who made me tea

while I hovered, locked in a towel for an hour

from my room, as the sunrise grew without.



From Westerly, 54.1, 2009:


First Harvest

I saw my first harvest today

– it was all dust and sunset.

On a byroad to Grantchester Village

in a leonine August, I halted

my bicycle. Wheels still, saddle-seated,

air like a malty basket;

in its belly plumes of chaff.

Lengthwise and widthways

the land spread, ruched, in low undulations.

On the one side, the grass green and trodden, full of cattle;

from the other blew a dry, oily meal wind

– the husk and raw of severed wheat.


Yellow sky, yellow field. A far off machine

– like a child’s plaything – rolled its scythe;

funnel pumped seed into the dump.

Closely huddled were the waiting fecund heads,

their fattening done. As the broken

stalk and stem-stump wake expanded,

I was minded of a rending imperfection.

How even the agents of ruin

are picturesque.

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