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
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.
I feed magpies on
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
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
I shall set traps
for the younger birds
who venture too near
Caught one the other day
and that’s just
From Sentinel Poetry Online, 48, November 2006:
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,
this parable of endurance beheld;
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.
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.
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:
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