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7957 Amsterdam 2

“A lost weekend in a hotel in Amsterdam…” – February 3, 2007

This is the seediest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. To make matters worse, I’ve stayed there on no less than three occasions. The first two times were excusable – travelling through Europe in 1996, arriving and exiting via Amsterdam, it was cheap and functional for a couple of budget backpackers and we made do with it just fine. Returning to Amsterdam in 2007 and being silly enough to take mushrooms at 0830 in the morning after a night of no sleep – before organising a hotel – I found myself walking through their doors once again in the hope of a quick solution.

That was a very long day and something of a strange one  – soaring highs and spirit-sapping lows. Originally planning to spend the night in Haarlem, on arrival in Amsterdam I ate some splendidly potent Venezuelan mushrooms and set off for the Van Gogh museum. The world before my eyes soon started its customary psilocybin dance and before long I was not only lost, but entirely unable to focus on my map nor read any of the street signs. Realising that I was significantly impaired, I made a snap decision to head straight for the central train station and take a train to Haarlem. I’d visited Van Gogh before and I figured that by the time I arrived in Haarlem I’d be sufficiently on top of things to find my way to the Frans Hals gallery. The late Renaissance and early Baroque was hardly a compromise, and the shrooms would offer enough in the way of impressionism.

Surprisingly, I was right, and had a wonderful afternoon wandering around Haarlem and looking at what seemed to be freshly painted Dutch Masters. The weather was stunning  – a few degrees above, sunshine and wide blue skies. It was crisp and refreshing and there were windmills – enough said. Finding a hotel, however, proved more complicated than expected and as the day drew to a close, I left sweet Haarlem and made my way back to Amsterdam, a mere twenty minutes away by train. Now only interested in a quick solution, I headed straight for this hotel, whose location I remembered all too well. When they showed me this really rather disgusting room, I resigned myself to taking it.

This photo can only hint at the true seediness of the place. Note the cigarette burns on the sink, the broken cabinet door and the general crappiness of the fittings. The room is also only as wide as the wall to the right side of frame and the other side of the single bed – out of frame. It was tiny, a cupboard, and depressingly ugly. Consequently, in the mirror, I have something of a desperate, hunted look about me – whilst being, admittedly, rather ripped from carrying a pack all day : )

It was a night to get through and not to remember, yet here I am remembering it. Indeed, after that trip around The Netherlands I wrote a poem, which was never finished, about the experience. I include it here below, perhaps the most appropriate home for it.

 

Wet Oils

They came on like a tepid pronouncement

on surrealism. In the freezing, clean

sun I saw the road-stones soften

to cactus skin; saw the house-fronts boxed

like pine-forests; saw the sky close on the upper

storeys, all about flattening

to a single plane.

I saw the cycles chained

along the bridges, curved and prodding

from the rounded rails; saw the countless

imperfections (blooms of moss and rust and

blackened chewing gums); saw locks and leaning

gables down the quaint and wobbly symmetry

of concentric, radial canals.

 

They came on like a weakened blessing

cowering behind its disguise; as a song

one decides one does not like, while remaining

tantalisingly inaudible. On the shifting

succulents I walked through the windows

of women. They smiled and showed a working

thigh, and, gathered up, their creamy breasts

cost nothing more than money. Banging

on the glass to lure me, banging harder still,

the old ones grimaced. I took a turn and came

upon a crowd of aspirating men

lined up for a beauty shining

sex like jiggling sunbeams.

 

They came on like a rainbow siege

across my sleepless battlement; eyes

grew cataracts of winter sun bled through

the iron channels, ice blue sky distilled

the bronzed canals to spirit essence.

I took a train to Haarlem, saw the flower

market blossoms, humble brick, the towering

rooves and lost myself in painted Delftware.

In the shifting oils

of masters newly wet, the mushrooms crept up

glistening whilst treading parquet gallery floors

in a stealthy, growing complexity.

That first day ended smokily

in a hotel that stank of suicide.

 

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe

windmills on fire across the Binnen Spaarn;

high-lit tassels of the proud Nightwatchman

glitter in the Rijksmuseum; skaters racing

through the lowland’s frozen veins, and the sunset

blaze on the weteringen, smashed in the Kinderdijk polders.

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Novice Wisdom

2850 Mussoorie

 

Novice Wisdom

1

An emotion one rarely knows

what to do with: beauty.

Once, reading Proust, being so overcome by the Vaseline

of his lyricism, (cornflower, umber,

hawthorn, yellows – few words remained, but the colours, Impression)

I wondered, after Morris, whether beauty should be

useful after all;

where else to deploy this ache, this disturbance?

 

My brother once helped an old lady

from a bus and was duly praised;

mother, father, driver, old lady. It struck home

in him and in me, from whence

he was saintly. I was

yet to show this

and sought old ladies.

 

“How old are you now, son?” my father asks.

Yes, I am ageing

and still not THERE.

 

2

I have a favoured myth that I uphold

(though it does me no immediate good

to instill, myself, the doubts in your appraisal)

that greater trust will come from honesty

about past indiscretions.

 

These are not the actions

of heroes, nor men

you’ll hope to love.

 

“Now your ships are burned…”

 

3

Yes, old friend, this line

will also lend to me subdued Athens;

long walls demolished, proud fleet scattered,

empire nipped and tucked. This line

will clang and scrape with the chairs

of room seventeen; the cold morning echo

of thin air, thinner, shriller sound,

and the meandering certitude

of Mr Jones. But earlier than that,

 

before then, when we started there and knew

but a little of each other and the world,

when we feared naively all the corrupting

we’d been warned to avoid, thinking we, as children,

had no say in it, then what was good

was obvious, uncomplicated. Or was it just

that our desires did not yet involve others?

 

Love was still to be conducted

honestly; ethics and morality were not

understood, they were known.

 

4

Twenty-one, balcony morning running

fast behind the night. Woke tired, wanting everything

but work. In the early hours we came out

to catch a glimpse

of Knowledge in the fanning light.

On a borrowed bicycle the bear

went over the mountain

to see what he could not see:

that as we expand, so the space expands.

Since growing was equated with knowing

so youth as a state of mind was fixed eternal.

“We’re learning,” you said

“and knowledge can only make us children. Hence Socrates,

wise and petulant.”

 

5

Took this naïve youth for a state of beauty,

off the main and down the slower

bronze and iron side streets

sat and smoked up pipes and durries

stared across the corrugations,

plaster, brick and concrete houses,

ached for women wanting nothing

more than a restless looking

for a place and mood alone

and not a thing.

 

Was that not better than knowing?

Was that not more pure than “purpose”?

A useful beauty?

 

Another all-night morning

off in the park with the chirping,

all-night affirmations primed a fancy,

going through the rising dew. That was love

most visceral, love like scent-stirred

recollections, only in it.

In it

in it.

 

In time it seemed she was merely there

to be broken.

 

6

“You have to be strong about things,” she

warned too late. “I ought to be a good thing,

like new bottles of shampoo, well-cooked

mushrooms and deep green fabric,

not the be all and end all. If you hold

something fragile too tightly…”

 

Perhaps it had been too hot, or we were too dizzy

after the ordeal of essays and exams

 

“It was two animals, scrapping, savaging each other”

 

Inside, the currency of our moments

remains unspent, for she never wronged me.

That our love was the Axis Mundi,

she did once know. Possessed by its dogma

I closed my grip; tightened

these smotherer’s hands.

 

She puts her hairbrush elsewhere now;

hangs her tartan scarves and leggy skirts,

her blouses, berets, bras – all likely

new and not the ones I’d sometimes choose –

I don’t know where.

 

7

Having lied and cheated, having done so again

how long must we wait to be trusted?

The prisoner serves sentence, the liar instead

depends on the mercy of friends, of himself.

Must we apologise for ourselves

to those we have

not yet wronged?

When can we again say we are good?

 

From tyranny to the rule of law

so Solon followed Draco

 

8

Yet still there came Peisistratus,

 

in the urgent days with another.

I’d refused the church

to join the lovers’ guild of thieves.

 

My brother shone like a silver lining;

through the storm he’d stuck it out

for a later, cleaner break.

 

“This dream girl must have been

quite a catch,” he said.

She was quite a wicket

 

for old butterfingers;

an ageing novice, surrounded

by the zip-lock bags

 

of shot-up beauty.

“Why must you always put beauty

up your arm – the highs are gone,

 

let beauty be

the active thing, and let yourself

be passive in its gaze. How like

 

those wild oil barons, those violent guzzlers,

how like a junkie you’ve sucked and sucked

(and wisdom may in time limit the range

 

of feeling, of enthusiastic hope –

experience lends a brevity to myth,

our passion for the novel loses heat)

 

Run with the beauty and be it,

run with it down to the river,

run with it up to the heavens, my sour old friend.”

 

5689 Cambridge

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Ruin Diary 1 – Poems

Some years ago I had the ambition of publishing a book called Ruin Diary. The idea was to put together a mix of short stories, poetry and photographs which would, in some way, reflect the theme of “ruin”. Ruin, of course, can be interpreted in a number of ways, but essentially it is the destruction of something, the remains thereof, or the process by which something comes to ruin. This is rather close to a dictionary definition wherein Ruin is described as:

The physical destruction or disintegration of something or the state of disintegrating or being destroyed.

I wanted to combine the physical and the metaphysical – the evocation of actual ruins, alongside the ruin of love, dreams and hopes etc. This might seem like a rather glum preoccupation, and I suppose in some ways it is, yet it is a natural offshoot of having an almost cripplingly nostalgic personality. It also comes from an overactive interest in history, which I indulged throughout my undergraduate degree, my honours year and, later, a PhD in late Roman / Early Medieval Italian history. I’ve spent almost half my life thinking about the fall of Rome and what it signifies – the first failure of a sort of proto-modernity. It’s a sad period, the onset of the so-called Dark Ages, but an absolutely fascinating one. The hangover of Roman civilization, the undercurrents of continuity, and, in the peoples of western Europe, the lingering, shadowing, saddening awareness that greatness was behind them, not in front of them. It’s a period full of nostalgics and studying it only seemed to fuel the emotions which often left me paralyzed in contemplation of the past.

In Ruin Diary I wanted to get this emotion across – in all of my preferred forms of expression: through photographs of actual ruins, modern or ancient, or poems and stories which touched on these places and the atmosphere and moods they generate; through stories and poems about the failure of love and relationships, the sense of loss itself, the effects of loss and failure. It was a naïve and overly ambitious idea, without an agent or publisher or real awareness of the market, but irrespective of that, it was a great spur to develop ideas based around this theme. Indeed, in the end, I accumulated more than enough material, some of which, particularly short stories and poems, have already been published on this blog.

Anyways, without further ado, the following poems are some of those I had in the Ruin Diary basket. I’ve never quite regarded them as complete and have continued working on them until recently. Some have been rejected by publishers several times, and possibly with good reason, others have never been let out of the stable. I find my style a little overblown in retrospect and have resolved not to work on these any longer, yet I still have a strong liking for the core elements of these poems, which, here and there, get it right. It is also the case that the publication of these poems is a nostalgic tribute to the spirit that first inspired them and to my slightly younger self.

I’ve also attached a badly stitched together panorama of one of my favourite ruin sites – Termessos, in southern Turkey. The shots were taken on a crappy film compact and later scanned. The quality is pretty appalling, but I think you’ll want to go there all the same after checking it out : )

Termessos, Southern Turkey

Termessos, Southern Turkey

Achilles Matures

Achilles, ripped and sanguine,

sure to have his way with mortal men

expects no less of softer flesh,

and, heavy with the trophies

of his speed and savage skill,

of having flung into the sand and waters

countless armed and gilded men,

he puts upon a sulky brow

the first onset of love.

Agamemnon’s grizzled manhood

lusts after elixirs, offers

“seven girls of Lesbos, plus

a bunch of even better ones”

and claims Achilles’ catch, Briseis

‘of the lovely cheeks’. Achilles,

sword sheathed, tent-bound, never

traded prize for compromise,

refuses thus to join the fray –

the ache that tore up man and beast

has settled on a girl.

 

“Fight, Achilles! Fight!” they cry.

Achilles likes to stay indoors

and guilty, fucks Diomeda,

who, also ‘of the lovely cheeks’

(how many lovely cheeks, Achilles?)

offers him a vessel for the sour

milk of glory.

How many men as well, Achilles

wonders in the sail-cloth light;

“for once the life of man has passed

the circle of his teeth, then nothing,

horses, gold, nor love

can call the lost life back.”

And now it seems, for love, Achilles

hides behind his teeth.

Achilles sat and sulked a while

beneath the horseflesh moon

and falling from him, slow and sure

the envy of the other men, became

for him, a counterpoint,

of what is true and why.

 

 

Were You Half So Cruel

Were you half so cruel

as the harm your cold and distant

care – you held my hand

to sympathise, and even let

me cry upon your shoulder –

wrought like any mockery,

(all that is scorned is made

foolish) brought to this tired self,

who, wrung out from surfing love

into an ancient cliff, inured

against erosion (some disparity

in the run of aeons –

you eternal, me

a fleeting suitor to your long-protected

chastity) – more wilted spinach

than man – fell upon his knees

to, quite literally, beg,

then, I might hate you.

 

I tried to shake you off on a thousand

dates, a hundred

beds, a hundred bodies pulsed

with throes I told not what the source

of energy, the tears I hid in pillows

bit and never brushed

by your hair, that straightened, elvish

waterfall, never matted with the subtle

violence of sex, the punitive, corporal affair

where love, for which, sparing rods

spoils chides of faithfulness

from altruistic hearts

and minds aligned

in book and thought (high ideals and pedestals

are well enough in orbit) expends

itself in fucking, sends its warriors

to the necessary resolution. Love,

it seems, must be punished,

let die, once

in a while, like the bee that stings

to save the hive.

 

 

l’amour, le vin et le tabac

 (After a visit to the Mucha museum in Prague)

They didn’t mention the women,

– though one photo was of

a “mistress” – of which

there must have been many:

the sleepy-eyed,

pursy Zodiac, (she’s a wet one

and a bonnie tickler)

pure tears and a prim, good heart

though not as good

a sport as the knowing Spring,

all vermicelli hair and blossoms,

languor and vigour both

in the smiling eyes, the curling

lips, the confidence and clip

of a coming bumper harvest.

 

Spring a woman, Summer

a woman and Winter

too, a woman. All these women

and, despite their vivid florescence,

none of them a cinch.

Sarah Bernhardt wanted something

quickly, something new, for

two weeks hence she strode

– Athenian and Florentine –

upon a footlit Parisian stage,

and came to you, a man

so steeped in women, prone

to idealise the softness

and the purity, threw out

the trim and trappings for a rustic

decadence, a fecund innocence,

that of a rural princess

lavish and mosaiced, a frond

in hand as if young Jesus

on a donkey comes, to bring

a message like to be misread.

 

Europe marvelled, eyes aflame

with this sudden wedding seen

upon the streets of Paris, took

the posters home to cherish,

hailed the dawning of some new

art, styled and curvy, bold

and feminine, soon to spread

to buildings, seats and lamp-posts

soon to travel far on soap-tins,

matchbooks, wine, tobacco,

scents and, indeed, anything

which a beautiful woman

might help sell. Innocence,

yet not naïve, with something

other than simplicity

in those invitations.

 

 

Epochs

Most of our epochs (and by this I mean

the parcels within which we group recollections)

are woven of lovers or houses

 

are mapped by the heart and the places

we dwell. And Rome, no stranger

to epochs, though I never foresaw

 

such meadows of learning, of love and of war,

wrapped, like a rubric, in four long

months, a lifetime of potent nostalgia.

 

For three years preceding, my fields

had run wild with some loves

overlapping the brinks of each other

 

so Rome promised, in word and in deed,

farewell to the wet newspaper days,

that left one so close and so permeable.

 

On those frozen-toed, sandalled, Campidoglio

dawns, we were taken to see such masterpieces,

some absolute heroism on a wall, or the pocked

 

boldness, standing victorious in stone

buildings (it was the Renaissance

after all) or frescoed in dim-lit churches half

 

propped with the spolia of past

ages when grandeur first – Roman

hardware, Greek software – crushed the West.

 

And well, that was winter, or January

anyway. How I slept and breathed, having bashed

up my organs in an English climax in parting

 

from an orgy of work. Through a slower,

February of keen archaeology;

drove to ruins in snow-smoothed Tuscan

 

hills; to a frosted, icicle-hung

amphitheatre; field-walked the Tiber Valley,

carried ladders into Herculaneum

 

to measure Roman houses, eyes fixed

firmly on a Manx redhead I hoped

to touch up in Ostia Antica,

 

bracing in sunlight against the February

wind. Soon March was upon us with war

leaning close and the neatness that hedged

 

in behind me the past, the warmer sun

set fresh shoots blooming and, feeling at last I

belonged here, I chirped from my hedgerow

 

a wholly new song. Going now,

to the Pantheon daily, finding

beneath the streets, things hard to believe. Such sights

 

and the bright holding tight to privilege

must have coloured my cheeks just enough

to be bedded by a famous man’s mistress

 

after three congenial dinners in a month

of monasteries: Farfa, Assisi, Subiaco,

Cassino, that ended with hopes pinned

 

to a guest list of girls’ names come for another

stirring course. And what girls, when they came

and were friendly. Tiber Island roared

 

with rains and thaws and on the first April

day, lit like the sun-side of Mercury, I fell

in love, wounded, having dived

 

into a hedge on the post-shrove Wednesday,

slashed and scabbed like Easter’s coming thorns.

She cut my hair with praise for the way

 

these hands kept to themselves, when later we

sat on a colosseum backdrop

slope. There, that milk-skinned kitten, that doe-eyed

 

soft pixie, Lottie of the grass heads, bloomed gorgeous,

legs tucked beneath her, sun streaming

down. I should have run to do her whims

 

– but to be apart from her! So I ran

faster still and she crowned me

with a makeshift laurel; her fingers

 

brushed my ear-tips as she placed

the very grass heads that made her like a flower

when she and I sang with Nils, full of pride

 

for the odd bond I’d knotted between now and then,

salvaged in a day of proclamations.

Unable to lean for a peck; to declare

 

with a cheek-kiss the birth of a new love

while Baghdad enthralled in the common room and April’s

new tone was a blossom of history to come.

 

It was a month that soared on to the winding

down of this heart-wrench of coming and going

and still never knowing which epoch the present

 

belonged in, whereon to prop and nurture

some constant in life and love.

 

 

La Pelosa, Stintino, Sardinia

Tomorrow’s feted high upon this stretch

of Caribbean tints. The sea and sky run through

in lissome strokes; azure and watered cobalt overwrite

a blazing, foreground palimpsest

of lemon essence light, tinctured soft with pearl.

 

Stripy market stalls arise

among the littered towels and humps

of footprints dug by posing youths,

while sagging older bathers prop, as wineskins

hung before a vision inked upon a rippling silk.

 

There is an invitation in the dunes to rest a while,

yet, cool and jewelled, the ocean lures; shallow

is the gradient of shore, invisible the water

lapping near, so creeping up the shins the coolness

comes; the body horizontal, starts its glide.

 

Across this smite of paradise a cannon tower calls

the swimmers on. They fetch up here

to sample lizard heat and squatting shrubs and view

this structure, rough and sharp; its jagged stone

makes weathered shelves for ample seagull nests.

 

History left this island half unmade as epics

gathered round Aegean shores and poets

slung their words to Sicily. Pirates sought

this empires’ afterthought and Spaniards, fearing them

erected towers such as this to guard their chiming ports.

 

Not all we build winds up to be for us alone

for time and seasons bring new dwellers in. So witness

in this structure not our strength in making lasting things

for to the rocks the purpose of our striving soon is lost

and by the weather, transience, is nurtured slow to dust.

 

 

Winter Morning, Campo dei Fiori

I’d been here before at night,

drunk and swearing through spittle;

with Italians singing songs

of bandits and hard-working

peasants; “bella ciao, bella

ciao” – drunk as well, but never

as drunk as a foreigner.

 

Back here I stand where they sang

beneath some martyr who burned

for I forget what. He is,

nonetheless, unforgotten

in a statue – (no hissing

gobbets at dawn in the drum-

fires of the slow-warming men).

 

So here I am hoping for

real scenes, but it’s so real that

I see no mystery, and point

my camera in vain at some

old men; popping off half-arsed

shots in this “field of flowers”

in the winter of the day.

 

Spring comes and flowers come too,

rolling on rusty carts; wheels

fat with weight, and stumpy men

pushing and pulling colour

to make the tents blossom. Blooms

erupt in the piazza

and the stalls wash with women.

 

Sun creeps down the palazzo

and falls in a canyon street.

Again I shoot the essence

as Romans sit on bollards

to thaw beside their mopeds,

and once again the “unique”

pales into quotidian.

 

I’ve drunk from springs all morning

to quench a colosseum

thirst, for I’ve been walking since

oily light infused across

the Apennines; angling low

through the burnished frost; rich clad

in the promise of warming.

 

Once home, my fragility

is paramount. Emotion

strikes, my hands begin to thaw;

the agony, as blood resumes

its course, jewels my eyes with tears,

and, by my Roman window

I cry, weak as a blossom,

but a blossom all the same.

 

 

Ancient Sky

The diesel warmth of the metro breathes

me onto the broken pavement:

Rome, bus station, dawn.

Aboard the bus I lose my eyes

in the smear of road lights;

sinking into holiday’s end,

sinking into thinness strung

across long sleepless nights

and wakeful days.

 

Then it hits me, here at last,

through fatigue and failing

hope, it comes,

the light, the sullen pink;

bloated fire dulled by frost,

fanning from the mountains so

at last I see things as they were

in the silhouette of peaks;

grey-brown, massive, graphed against

this nebula of dawn.

 

From here was marble dug,

the sources flowed, the Samnites poured,

the very spine that Pyrrhus hoped to break,

– the unchanged, ancient Apennines.

And above them, blooming slowly,

a sky as like to those of distant days

when Justinian’s vengeful murderers

shattered Italy to a ruin.

 

 

To Capo Caccia, Sardinia

Dry and rugged, the land about Fertilia;

sharp and rough, the rocks. Bristling

tinder, sparse forest, needles and ochre

yellow earth in suffocating heat.

Until I entered a darker coastal stretch

of deep green undergrowth coolly shaded,

sunk in a fecund gully.

 

This was once a land of pygmy elephants,

dwindled hippos, rhinos shrunk

on an island trapped in a basin of burning

salt; a landlocked sea that came and went

until the pillars of Hercules fell

bringing an Atlantic deluge

to flood the briny deltas

of the Rivers Rhone and Nile.

 

The first peoples left us no writing,

only tombs and bee-hives:

Nuraghi, the rounded citadels;

dusty and softly echoing

with stones like hardwood mushrooms;

iron rich and orange as the cork trees

peeled to an umber trunk and dotting

the tawny grass of the island’s hilly fields.

 

Concrete lattice rises, rusty, weed run;

clicking with insects and the rubbish tipped

in the many failed constructions,

and, just along the coast of these,

the beach resorts milking

sweeps of sand between volcanic

rocks to which the mastic

trees and hardy cistus cling.

 

I remained optimistic, when passing Palmavera,

of reaching the Grotto of Neptune,

beneath Capo Caccia, till from the cliffs

I spied a vast bay and saw how maps

can trick one. Back through the thorns

of briar-trapped forest, a long retreat

in forty-degree heat.

 

Was this because I had swum

and masturbated in a rocky shadow,

spilling my seed in the ancient God’s sea?

Blistered, dry-mouthed and miles from the cape,

I shuffled back to Alghero.

At dusk, the town welcomed me sore

and I took the first hotel to lick my wounds.

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Rugby League Poetry

For many years now my friend Gus and I have had a deep and abiding love for Rugby League. It seems anathema to many, and to some degree, out of character, yet as the sport which most captured my fancy as a teenager, I have remained attached to it. There is something of a current of rugby league in the family. When my grandmother emigrated to Sydney from New Caledonia in 1922, she began supporting the Eastern Suburbs Roosters because their symbol was the rooster and their colours, red white and blue, also those of France. Consequently, my mother has held a membership of the Eastern Suburbs Leagues club in Bondi Junction for her entire adult life.

My father, far more of a rugby union fan, played rugby league as a schoolboy and, no doubt with some element of nostalgia, used to take my brother and I to see games every so often when we were young. The only thing I remember is hearing some chap shout “rip his bloody heady off, Kevin,” and otherwise pulling up grassblades. There is a famous family moment when the Roosters were playing in the 1980 grand final, a game which they lost. My mother sat watching the game, gripped, holding Jason, the dachshund’s ears, one in each hand. At moments of real tension and suspense, she would pull on Jason’s ears, absentmindedly, not causing Jason any harm, but all the same, grabbing his attention. It became known as the time my mother almost pulled Jason’s ears off and, since then, the idea of “almost pulling Jason’s ears off” has been something of a byword for exciting entertainment.

And then, in 1987, it happened. I fell in love with rugby league. I could not begin to tell you quite why, but it all began when I watched the Roosters flog St George 44-2 in one of the opening games of the season. I came to love all aspects of the game, but most especially the boofhead players. There was something quite magnificent about these working class gladiators who would pit themselves against each other. Rugby league could be a very violent game, full of punch ups and heavy hits, and it had a raw brutality that was utterly captivating as a teenager. The incredible skill and finesse they displayed amidst such hardness was astonishing, and, to be honest, it still is.

So, loving the characters of rugby league, especially the truly working class blokes who could tackle all day and take a hundred hits without blinking, blokes with nicknames like “cement” and “blocker”, blokes who would play with a broken arm, we began to imagine alternative lives for them, after rugby league. It began with the first e-mail I ever sent. It was a little vignette about some of the personalities of rugby league from the 80s.

“I eat it by the truckload!” said Blocker, with a piping shrug.

Is about the only line I remember… Yet it began an exchange of e-mails over the following years, in which we would say things like. “Hey, I ran into Ian Schubert the other day, you remember, he played for Wests. He’s doing a PhD on logging in the Papua New Guinean highlands.”

It wasn’t long before the first ode to a rugby league player emerged, followed by poems allegedly written by rugby league players, almost invariably about the game. Anyways, without further ado, I present those poems I have so far managed to dig up, which are disappointingly few in number. There are others, however, which I shall dig out. I have also commissioned new works from some of the games greats, and will update this page accordingly.

R.I.P Artie Beetson. Long a by-word for bigger than Ben Hur.

 

THE COATHANGER

Out the gallows’ arm

Bane of dwarves and giants

winter on the sidelines

 

– Haiku, Trevor Gillmeister, 1989

 

MEN OF THE PLAINS

Thunder from the mountains
lightning o’er the plains
men of steel and paddock
hard as rock.
Big men defiant
-biff and stoush and hang ‘em
out to dry.
Don’t argue, says Achilles
stiff-arm sinners in the bin.

 

– Royce Simmons, 1994

 
CAMPBELLTOWN

A blue in 87

Campbelltown in winter

Schuey, he was there

 

– Haiku, Alan Fallah, 1999

 

DRY JULY

What’s dry July?
I think I qualify
for it’s been a while
since I looked
through the bottom
of a glass.

 

– Phil “Whatsapacketa” Sigsworth, 1985

 

Excerpts from correspondence:

Jean Desfosses definitely approves – he has started working on his own contributions at his Institut du Rugby League at the Sorbonne. Peter Spring is there on sabbatical.

 

Hey, what happened to the chooks? I might come back and see about coaching them myself. I’ve been talking to Peter Spring about it a bit over here (he’s still working on waste-disposal in the Bangladeshi river deltas) and he thinks it’s pure pshychology.

 

“There’s no dynasty better than a rugby league dynasty” – Simon Schama, 1997
“I ran into Peter Tunks the other day and he reckons it’ll come down to whichever team adheres most strictly to the sex ban the night before. “I’ve been studying testosterone levels in league players for years with the Ponds Institute,” he said, “and let me tell you, you blow your load, you blow the game.”

 

…the little read title “Harriet Wisecastle at the Blues Training
Camp” by Allan Fallah.

 

Good to hear Peter Spring is keeping busy. I have been doing some work with Jean Desfosses on his genealogy and turned up the following information which should interest Peter and Shoey:

Jean DESFOSSÉS
(1787-1854)
Né à Nicolet et baptisé dans la paroisse Saint-Jean-Baptiste, le 27 novembre 1787, fils de Joseph Desfossés et de Madeleine Boudreau.

 

I hear that Sam Backo has developed an online “lewdconverter” which translates lascivious material into aussie slang. He developed it as a political protest in conjunction with Kerry Hemsley.


					

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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:

 

Budapest

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

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

 

ii

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

 

iii

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

 

iv

When she left me

I stopped trapping mice

so no more

but after

maybe

I shall set traps

for the younger birds

who venture too near

too beautiful

 

v

Caught one the other day

and that’s just

the beginning…

______________________

 

From Sentinel Poetry Online, 48, November 2006:

 

Gaza drowning

i

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.

 

ii

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.

 

iii

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,

exasperated.

_________________________________

 

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.

 

 

Mistras

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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Oft Rejected Poems

These are poems I have no intention of shopping further to lit mags. I agree with those who rejected them that they are flawed, though let’s face it, there’s some pretty second-rate poetry out there which does get published. They do display a tendency towards a baroque melancholy and a somewhat self-indulgent, at times too exclamatory, melodramatic self-abnegation and analysis, but there you go. Sometimes you just have to hold forth in such a fashion. Oh, and yes, I really did see the Sistine Chapel on ecstasy…

 

To the Sistine Chapel on ecstasy with Beethoven

 

Joy, fair light of the Gods,

daughter of Elysium,

drunk on your fire, goddess,

we enter your shrine!

– Schiller, recitative, Beethoven’ s Symphony # 9 in D minor, Op. 125.

 

Three of us had come to see,

though two of us had taken E

and popped a second pill in case

the miracles were hard to trace.

I wondered if they knew the look,

yet who would ever think we’d dare

to reach such heights in Christ’s own lair?

Nervously, we shuffled into bliss.

 

I thought I had seen everything

in those museums; treasures

of Etruria, Egypt, Persia;

Rameses’ throne, the Lacoön,

a room of beasts in creamy stone,

a gallery of emperors struck

with frozen, clement gestures.

Helmets, tridents, golden spears,

torsos pecked by savage years,

such rooms, such rooms, so on it went

and all but an aperitif.

 

Through passages adorned with maps

of harbour, hill and river towns

from both sides of the Apennines,

we came upon a hundred yards

of tapestries to cheer us through

a high, overhanging loggia.

 

An allegory now caught my eyes

a ceiling, stark and glaring with

the aspect of an ancient chamber

(mosaic floor and marble bold)

where, on an anvil plinth, a strident cross

replaced the shattered breast

of ancient pride in bodies blest,

then Justin pressed a hand to mine

and said, “therein’s the paradigm.”

 

Before the Milvian Bridge I sat

upon a hard, historic bench

to drink the frescoed slaughter spiked

with hot and bloody battle’s sweep

with surging, stabbing man and beast

and in my kettle stomach felt

anew the rush of singing blood

leaping in all streams from out

my thumping summer heart.

 

My mouth was dry, my eyes were wide,

my pupils wider still!

my feet swam in my socks below

my groin’s delighted thrill!

We pressed ahead with gaping jaws;

geared for love and geared for war.

About us people thronged and gasped

and, as my comrades hands I clasped,

they pitched us down the corridor

straight through the Sistine Chapel’s door.

 

At first I saw the crowd alone,

not looking yet above my brows,

but then I turned behind to see

the Judgement that had made popes weep.

There, swollen in the cobalt blue,

the Eschaton before me grew

from instant recognition’s spark

into a rampant, blazing thing.

 

Christ loomed, well-muscled,

no more at the reckoning

was he the pain-wracked, horrid corpse hanging.

Enthroned, emboldened, granted

all the power of his sacrifice

he dished out fate with one hand raised,

and sent me down below.

 

Yuki squeezed my trembling hand

and Justin, seeing I was scared,

gave me music of a kind

to set my mood anew at once.

So, steering me away from Christ,

(Christ, that oh-so muscly Christ!)

they pointed to the heights and said

“Now this is what we came here for.”

 

Only then did I look to the ceiling above

to run like a fountain with waters of love:

first Cosmos, Creation, then Eden, then Adam,

then woman, then wisdom, then exile encumbered

with guilt that would taint all the centuries thereafter

– how pithy these myths and how bright were the colours!

 

I followed the panels, then reversed the order,

and went back and forth through the Testament hoping

to lend my belief to the love flushing through me,

to see something truthful beyond Michelangelo.

Beethoven urged me to fall deep within this,

to swim in the gaudiness blooming above me,

to drown in the firmament, give myself wholly,

as song sent me on into joy everlasting.

 

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,

Tochter aus Elysium

wir betreten feuertrunken

himmlische, dein Heiligthum!


And yet, still fearful of the Judge,

my eyes locked to the first idea,

through tears that sluiced my cheeks and blurred

creation spread pristine above,

I, but a seed that floated on

an ocean lapping shores untrod,

the current flooded me away

and, safe upon its gentle lull,

it beached me with a heart that sang

upon the birth of the world.

 

 

Dwindling

 

Since the accident I’ve not

been able to stay

on the one thing for long,

let alone two things, nor any

of the things that I did so well:

those lists of daily tasks

and chores and even now

I’m slipping into distraction.

Here, writing, first time

for days and not committed;

sloping somehow,

dwindling and forgetting

to believe and losing

the sharpness of a heart

once fuelled with passion.

So, rather,

it is as though

it is

as though that rogue, Fischerle,

false friend of a hunchback

were selling all my books.

 

 

Brothers of bluff

 

It was almost time for me to leave.

We flicked through channels

like letters of resignation; poised, defensive

with looks of expectation.

My brother, as always, with faraway precision

stocking supplies for divisions

drawn up against nurture.

By nature, the stoic one; he was dour tonight;

raised on as many squabbles as love,

shouting inside to be only the warmth,

fighting to shake off the need

of bravado and distance,

while being, with eyes ever elsewhere

halfway to the moon.

 

A storm would

have sorted us out that night,

yet we had instead to discharge the friction

ourselves in hardy love;

brothers of bluff, men unwilling

to admit to their obvious sadness.

I could not stay, did not want to stay,

but I did not want to go

unless to a limbo spread either side

of this present. I burned

for a once when my brother and I

lived in the same house, free to kill

time without remorse

for the steel press of adult life.

We drove to get some pizza and hire

a film we did not watch,

and I did not talk about Europe

because I was going and he was not.

 

 

The obsolescence of things

 

All things find their place within an age

and lend themselves into another soon;

so swiftly goes the passage of its use,

an object’s fellows dwindle out of view

until once common things are reckoned rare

and seen as quaint for tasks no longer there.

 

In photographs the “modern” distant grows;

the buildings, vehicles, businesses and clothes.

Where are those artefacts once starkly new?

Interred beneath the futures we accrue.

These worlds whose innovation caused a fuss

now seem just far-off habitats of dust.

 

 

The lake

 

Night portents

have silenced this sunset lake;

set loose the threads of lapping,

unfurled in the chiming moon.

 

 

Be with me…

 

Be with me now when you can,

you songs, you singers;

be with me now as I push

up this hill that won’t shy

in the glut of despair.

Be with me now, you words

you springs, you heroes;

be with me now as I fuel this journey

on which I’m ashamed again

to be lost.

Be with me now, you scourge,

you nine-tails, be with me now

as I face what dawns I have left,

one eye on the ones that I missed,

on those nights when my failure was urgent.

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