Tuesday, 26 June 2007
Twas a feral night that night it was
Storm forces, cyclonic
Cromarty came into town on a black horse snorting
A salted shadow steaming
Isolated dry eyes under flattened black hat
Like beacons in a bile sea
Looking past a raven's beak
Back at Forth from hell and
Slowly tracking Fastnet
On a wind cursed trail
The maritime violence on his own coat tails
Had followed him
The only lights in the vicious night were those of the Plymouth Taps
The door shuddered, burst
Shannon, Wight-boy Humber looked up
Beacons flit around the bar
Cracked black leather on a dead pine floor
Utsire, Utsire, Utsire, Utsire
Cromarty had pierced poor Shannon’s wet eyes
Cracked a sepia mouth and spat
Her own ripe lips parted, dropped, she’d glanced at Wight-boy
And he’d stalled too
“Thames?” he’d made
Cromarty had lifted off the heavy hat slowly, frowned
“Fastnet Thames been in tonight, boy?” a sulpherous growl
“Aah..o..he’s off at Portland Fair, heh?”
Breathed the lad in the hollow air
Tic, nervous action Shannon
Utsire, Utsire, Utsire
Cromarty had thrown his hat on the bench
And taken his flooding tarpaulin cape off
Hung it over a chair
Sparkling orbs of all colours and more
Singing machines and dancing men with striped trousers
And straw hats, rosy cheeked ladies and
Spun sugar, fruit punch and Harlequines Slippers;
Lundy threw well at the shy with a muscular action
Not missed for a moment by Viking’s daughter Malin
Laughing, brightly in the growing showers
Incandescent prints in their curt book of hours
Fastnet and Tyne ran over drunk and happy
Tyne shouldered Lundy as he squared
Lundy slipped, they wrestled, Fastnet said
“Soo, Miss Malin my darlin’ shall we be departin’?”
And he’d offered an opportunist's arm
“Why thank you Master Fast but you’d be the last
Sole a nice girl’d be seen with after dark”
And she’d set her clear alabaster high,
And Lundy’d risen to be by her side,
Their fine boned noses had cut the sky
Led the way
To dry stabled horses
As they pulled up outside the Plymouth Taps the wind dropped
Gutters dripped and stopped
A thick silence seeped down through the still damp street
Tyne had said goodnight
'Twas not a good forecast
Lundy had swung in with the door
To the sullen bar
With Malin, laughing cut
By the dense air there
A shadow; Cromarty!
Lundy: “Fastnet run!”
A scuffle, a shout and a shudder
And Fastnet Thames is brought kicking inside
By two big old boys, long and tried
“Dogger, Forth, careful now
He’s to be brought back in one piece”
“So’s they cun stretch hus neck proper, harr!”
“Harrr!” says Dogger, fetid void, raw fish
Malin screams “Noo..” and is swept to the wall...
And Cromarty rises slowly
Going for his cloak
Wight-boy winks Lundy thinks fast
Wight-boy brings up a gun
Wight-boy slings it Lundy turns on
The slow old man in black
Dogger slumps a bit
Fastnet twists out and down to his boot for a knife
Forth fires first and floors him, faces Lundy facing him and knows
So he presses and
As does Lundy
All echoes and smoke in the small room
Malin fell to Lundy shaking
Trying to push him back together
That she couldn’t
Forth gurgled and fell silent
And the slow old man reached into his pocket
For a stubby pencil, line through Thames, F.
Absorbed in the next
“Just doin’ me job lady” he said as he nodded
To Dogger to go now
Malin, caught in the undertow
Breaking all over the dead shore
Porcelain fingers on gunmetal
Cromarty, his hat on carefully
Left the ashes to fall
And back out in the storm
He’d heard the shotgun roar,
He’d set his lids a beat, that’s all and
Got back on his horse
Into a dark and feral night his sight
And Lundy, Malin, Forth and Fastnet
Followed Finisterre forever
By the lights of the Plymouth Taps
Off the edge of the world of maps.
Sunday, 24 June 2007
Why care for the travails of men at sea?
We don't mostly
I thought the Shipping Forecast was
Of names and weather
It did not apply
I came then to live with families
Of the sea
The southern names are still poetic
Finisterre of course no more
Now Fitzroy in honour
Of the man who made the rules
Biscay, Sole, Fastnet and Shannon
Places I do not know
Here Hebrides, Fair Isle and Cromarty
Are all we need to know
Fathers and sons lost
Husbands and lovers too
The women of the north
Know how to fear
The Shipping Forecast
Plymouth, Portland, Wight, Dover:
a south coast child, I lie awake listening to the wind howl
New bungalows are built behind the sea wall, where no-one ever builds,
and then the sea
- south westerly severe gale force 9 gusting to storm force 10, visibility poor -
picks up the shingle beach
and throws it
at the little houses
and later in the calm we go to look
- light to moderate, south easterly veering south, visibility good -
at dolls’ house bungalows, their front walls broken down, the open rooms
and the furniture still there under the shingle.
Bleak names, Fisher, German Bight, Iceland
Lowlands, Lowlands away my John
Viking and Cromarty
Forties, Dogger, Humber, Thames:
nineteen fifty-three, two thousand lives lost: a spring tide
and wild winds
- storm force 11, north-westerly backing north, visibility moderate -
form a storm surge far in the north that thrusts down through the whole North Sea
a tsunami with no earthquake,
and the water
to where there is no storm, sweeps over and sweeps away
the lowland villages and homes
- Severe weather warning: too late -
a boy of ten gets off the bus, back from shopping, and his house has gone
his family inside…
Shanty names, Trafalgar, Biscay
There we lay till next day in the bay of Biscay oh
Malin and the Hebrides
Sole, Fastnet, Lundy, Irish Sea:
the crushed Armada limping northwards round Ireland into the open ocean,
- storm force 10, north-westerly, visibility poor -
along the coast
from Antrim to Kerry.
Not knowing his longitude, the admirably named Sir Cloudesley Shovell
the finest ships of the English fleet on the dragons’ teeth of Scilly
- gale force 8 gusting force 9, westerly, visibility: fog.
and the sea
before and since has taken vessels of all sizes, galleons, yachts, trawlers,
sailors, fishermen, travellers, captains
or driven onto sandbanks,
coughing their last lungs full of brine and weed
The salt seaweed was in his hair, my Lowlands away
Round these small islands a monster roams
strong beyond belief
hardly restrained by walls and levees
letting us play when in placid mood
- southerly, light, visibility good -
strengthened yet further by the warming globe.
We need to know what it’s doing
at all times.
Thursday, 21 June 2007
Bucko and I were like Laurel and Hardy. I bent my lanky scrawny frame around my bike, low for less wind resistance. I tried to keep up with him as he pedalled upright; knotted long white hair bobbing and flashing with its nest of wind-filtered debris. Grinning like the mad dog he was.
My father, god rest his beautiful gentle soul, was cash poor but rich in finer things. He was unable to buy me the bike I so desperately wanted (and a guitar and a saxophone), but he took me aside by the firelight one night; alone with him in the old creaking wooden living room with its thick motheaten colonial carpets, and he brushed the scraps of dinner from the front of my pyjamas.
“I have something for you” he said in a soft, and I felt then, proud voice. It wasn’t christmas or a birthday but I felt the excitement swelling behind the warm spot where he had finished brushing my belly with an affectionate rub like a football trainer massaging the wounded star. He went to the special locked sideboard and my heart sank. What could fit in there?
Bucko swerved in front of me, first into the green Jackass dam riparian approaches and then bursting through the skinny wattles; all charge and yahoo, then right into the muddy water up to his knees. I skidded on the bank and slid to the water edge amongst yabbies and rotten leaves. We were exhausted and laughing.
That’s when we spotted him. Across the dam in the forest shadows; a black figure flickering and gone. We stopped mid scraw and held a glance as if to assure each other. Bucko dragged his bike back out of the mud. He had no brakes as was the fashion of the brave; he pushed a sandshoe against the tyre if slowing down was ever a necessary course of action. Now we were both stopped in our tracks. We left our bikes against trees and scrambled off around the muddy edge and up over Tysons mound and through the barbed wire fence into the forest, after the ghost.
The big wooden drawer squeaked and grunted as it opened and I could smell paraffin oil and dust. Dad carefully lifted a leather folder and held it in the suspense of his memory for ever. I waited. Then he turned and brought it to me.
I had never asked him about the war because mum said not to. He didn’t want to talk. He let us look through all the back volumes of Khaki & Green with their endless jokes about ‘Pull your head in mate” and paintings of heroic soldiers lugging cannons through the tropical mud forests of New Guinea, and shouldering bandaged comrades through swamps, but he never talked about it. Now he handled this big leather folder like an explosive, and brought it to lie on the carpet in front of me.
Three weeks later in mathematics, when, for the first time ever I drew some praise from Mr Hughes for my attempts to make the slide rule and compass produce an isometric description of a transparent tetrahedron, I was interrupted, because of Dad’s folder I guess. Taken to the headmaster and given the cuts. Mr Mac, towering six foot six with his leather barber strap. My tentative hand out, forced out into the air, and the big wind-up and down it came. Crack! And my hand went red. Again and Again. “I’m sorry young Doc but somebody has to teach you a lesson.” The sweat clattering off his face onto the gleaming leather weapon. Crack! Each blow forcing the secrets deeper and deeper inside me, and knowing my guilt, accepting my fate. Only not knowing which particular misdemeanour was being heralded and exorcised.
Bucko’s shirt had torn on the barbed wire fence we had piled through, and he wiped the blood from his side with the back of his hand. Then rubbed it against his nose as the unstoppable river of Bucko snot always demanded. He looked like a wild eyed warrior idiot as he crept ahead of me, scouting for a trail. I laughed every time he peered back over his shoulder.
I had never been this far off the back of Jackass dam. It was forbidden. Even collecting birds’ eggs we didn’t come this far. They said old man Tyson would shoot on sight. We went deeper and deeper and the tree trunks became thicker. Great Turpentines and Angophoras watching us from their towering white branches. Then we spotted a clearing. You could see the gold aura ahead where sunlight flooded into a space in the forest, and it seemed that a big earth hill rose out of the ground in the middle. Curling grey smoke dissipated from its peak. We huddled at the edge of the clearing. Bucko’s wet trousers smelt of the dam and my shirt was wet and muddy still. We were like two sperm hovering in the undergrowth, contemplating the approach, contemplating the egg.
The fire smelt raw and warm as my dad carefully opened his gift. Page after page after page of stamps. The full collection. The full set. The stamps of Papua New Guinea and New Britain from 1938 to 1942. Cassowaries, thatched huts, outriggers. I watched as this gentle and amazing man gently touched one image or another behind clear tissue paper, the images calling my eyes from their wandering thoughts, diving now into the thick black-page mountings that cradled imagery. Some pages also had mounted pen and ink sketches which he and his friends from the regiment had done. I asked stupid questions but he only smiled and kept turning the pages for me. Suddenly my father had turned heroic and for an instant he let me lean up against his being. “It’s for you” he said simply, then he stood leaving me with the folder, went back and locked the sideboard drawer again, and left the room.
Bucko decided to let me go ahead. I stood, and strode brilliantly for a couple of paces, right into the clearing, right through the cracked long dry grass. Right up to the giant earthmound. Then a sound. I froze. A sound. What was it. A cough. I looked back at Bucko uncertain. If I ran for it I was certain to shit myself. Then silence. I turned back toward the mound and another cough. “Hello?” I pleaded softly, ready for my fate, not worse than having to wash poop out of one’s shorts most likely but certainly unknown.
He touched me from the other side. The side I was not looking toward. His great bony hand on my shoulder like the claw of the eagle reaching from the book of Kells to grab the innocent lamb. Involuntary squirts came from every orifice though I was too frightened to actually cry. I dared to look up toward his hooded face, way up there. From amongst the height of the tallest leaves his voice came down at me: “Would you like some raisins?”
He’s going to poison me but what can I do? I am a lamb to the slaughter. I glanced toward the empty space at the edge of the clearing where the feckless Bucko had once been, and then gave myself up; allowed myself to be guided step by step around the great mound to the doorway of hessian sacks and beaten out tin cans. Into the mound; and into the cave of the inventor.
He coughed a lot and smoked incessantly. His face was a molten rubber mask of folds and lines. In the smokey light of his fireplace I could make out glitters in the mask where his eyes would surely be, and his very thick lips were pasted wide across his face and seemed wet.
We talked and talked and I ate his raisins and drank tea with him. Everything smelled and tasted of damp burned eucalyptus. I had to participate as I was his prisoner but I thawed in awe. He seemed as frail as transparent paper. He told me about the planets and how they were all in balance because they had pockets of protection and that they bumped softly against each other in a relative way. He told me that the Egyptians had built their pyramids by lifting them with little pyramids stuffed with prisms. “It breaks down the pressure of light you see” he said, as long as it doesn’t escape it can lift anything. “Mirrors and prisms and angles” he said. And he told me that the great wall of China was glued together with rice flour and his ant mound in which he lived was made of rice-flour and eggs and water and ant hills crushed up and not even the strongest bulldozer could break it.
He told me that the planet earth had been originally populated by strange creatures half snake half bull and all sorts of other combinations and that the planet had been seeded by a tree which contained all of the genetic material of the world. “They are still up there,” he said, “and that’s why they need worship, to stay alive”.
I walked away from the anthill, out of the clearing into the forest. It took me a long time to find the Jackass dam again and by the time I reached it Bucko was lying next to the bikes with his clothes drying on a branch and two soggy cigarettes drying on a rock. “You ok?” eyebrows up a little but careless too as if it had been expected.
“He’s crazy but he didn’t try and hurt me, and he’s got this hut full of pictures that he cut out of library books” I said.
From the great height the last blow reigned down. Six on each hand had been my serve. I gritted as hard as I could and would not cry though the last couple had cut against the bones of my fingers. I think old Mac admired me for that. He put the strap back into his wooden bureau drawer pushed me down into his chair with his big meaty paws. “Wait here for five minutes and then you can go back to class” he said, and “I hope you have learned a lesson”. His enormous frame filled the opening as he left and when he closed the door behind him it felt like the credits rolling after Doc Holliday had cleaned them all up at the OK Corral.
I had been hiding my bike down in the reeds next to the trotting track and each day we went back after school and tried to find the clearing again.
On the weekend we cut Sunday school and spent our collection money at Rechters café where the paraphernalia of rock and roll and cigars and billiard queues and juke box selectors in booths was akin to a rococo cathedral. Bucko shared some extra cash he had collected from milk bottles left out by householders and we beat the older kids to the best music for that glorious day. We planned to visit Mr Peterson again and take him some food.
Winter arrived suddenly and Bucko was away from school, sick. Alone I went back and, after several searches, found the clearing again. Old Mr Peterson’s coat was on his hessian sack bed, just a bedraggled mess, with a sack of bones inside. I was shocked and ran and got lost for hours.
A week later I went back and found it again but empty, though the billy still hovered above the cold fireplace, and the boxes of raisins nestled amongst the tobacco tins on his shelves. The earth floor was so cold it was moist. I hauled all his things out into the clearing and set fire to them, all his papers and bedding and everything I could move. I don’t know why.
The fire got away a bit, into the forest, and I fled.
I remembered Bucko as I ran. As we had ridden back along the track from Jackass dam, he had been kicking my bike a few times to try and knock me off. We stopped and I adjusted my brakes. “Where’d you get it?” he asked.
“I traded it for some stamps,” I said.
Now Bucko was gone and I never saw him again, and I supposed all the blame must have been mine.
Tuesday, 19 June 2007
At 17 I lost them both
My virginity and my friend
There was nothing for us
To make us think
We were not immortal.
We had fine times
We ruled our times
Bikes, cars, everywhere we went
We were the crew
We had summers of love
And swimming late at night
In the river
We took the boat out
Again and again in those hot nights
We lit bonfires and raged in passion
Nothing, ever would spoil our future
The phone rang
I heard, he's dead
In an instant
My world crashed
My life and love smashed like the Honda
Broken and crushed in the hedge
Sunday, 17 June 2007
- I am watching an unknown blond,
over the top of my diary -
I am watching the blond strangling the life out of
some distinctly working class jeans,
here in this ponderous dry-lino soap-valley public washhouse
-still using laundromats after 20 years –
haven’t come very far,
although I owned a washing machine or two along the way,
and now in my distant modern laundry I watch the branches of the great
moreton bay fig
dangerously near me… I am looking over the photographs
I cannot bear to see,
and my paper remnants with their embroidered holes made by
cockroaches and slaters through time’s hunger for dead wood
and taking me back – my old notes -
- The blond is creating sexual tension for me, secretly -
lacy underwear spilling through fingers and out of the basket;
those little deaths
those suggested unions of skin and fabric and skin and sweat and
shuddering unions stretching limbs and necks and craning and entwining and creating
the smell of secrecy for me as they are unfolded…
-what hairy blond arms –
I had noted next in my hungry textbook of days.
(and a sketched tattoo “Luke 15.7” with an eagle)
Hairy blond arms handling sheets into the machine they
remind me of
Cliffy Stewart who played on the wing under Barassi;
Cliffy the wingman moving across the gravel playground
like a footballer
and a poet;
Cliff the dancer who ran up against
the inevitable cliff-face of brutality-on-the-field;
about face Cliff.
My stuff has gone onto SPIN without warning
and the three machines start to shudder and whine
as though being lowered into a grave still alive.
I find that my next note reads:
-Bill White the reluctant conscript –
So this must be 1966.
The shadows of the giant fig rattle in the wind and the scraps of paper try
to move away…
but I read:
- 1966 and Harry Holt the disappearing PM has already
beaten off Artie Calwell (the last of the old unguarded guard),
and Holster-Holt has accepted the yankee manufactured
shotgun marriage to the big salary in Canberra; at the palace,
but I am living in a dingy single room in Brunswick, Melbourne;
one dingy window over a dismal sink
where a second-hand electric frypan perches in its grease,
threatening me with electrocution; -
sentenced to death by attempting to conjure up another
magnificent spread of curried mashed potato on
that was all I could cook;
I had no interest.
sitting on a soggy bed (ex-army folding job),
with a prickly greywool blanket
reading ‘the Monsters of the Moors’ in the half-light.
I had a fascination.
half of the light is obscured by the huge shadow of Pentridge gaol down the road.
-Ronald Ryan was here in Brunswick as a little kid.
now he’s back again –
-Working at the Melbourne Uni bookshop I sell books
to students for their education through the day
and try to flog them for myself in the evenings -
for the hunger and the fascination.
- I am a salesman and a thief -
-Valley of the Dolls
Crime and Punishment –
there I was trying to learn the Penguin lists off by heart
under Michael Cannon
and trying to figure out what’s happened to Ronald Ryan
under the death sentence
- The blond has left;
the basket of panties sits unguarded against
on the floor -
I am amused by the dangerous link between
soiled underwear and electric machinery;
I think I must prefer something more physically direct
strong blond arms or a rope
to twist the fluid out of something.
I used to spend a lot of my time back there in Brunswick,
when the light had gored itself away to almost nothing,
poring through photographic essays of women in
French underwear, with a candle flickering for the
crucial human weakspots
and flickering myself into the sheets.
It was all secret jotting at work;
in the tea breaks
and overhearing the exciting political secrets to myself
-bookshop people seem to know their politics –
that was another note, although, looking back, and around,
it may be that
it’s not all on the same side of the fence.
I was hopelessly in love with Juliet however,
I believed her feigned suicide;
that she was secretly in love with another compometry clerk
in the National Bank, and
this led me to decide that there was no point in joining
one political party or another
since trust had to be a basis for political fellowship
and that had been executed;
at least I believed that then.
In spite of that I joined in some of the great vigil which is to come,
and I’ll tell you about that in a moment.
- I am a protester -
First let me tell you about Juliet;
she used to wear French underwear;
the stuff that has lace around the thighs
and is slightly loose to allow the loving passage of garters,
and the fabric of which
absorbs yet smears depending upon the fluid it concedes contact with,
receives, pulses with and rejects, ultimately;
I used to live on curried mashed potato and
my love of Juliet’s sex;
of course that wasn’t all but it’s all I remember.
Morning noon and night it was
curried mashed potato.
I used to tear at her stocking tops
and bite her thighs in desperation
and reckless risks of a pregnancy that never happened;
(thankful, cruel, dimwitted, hungry – I must make a note of these words)
- I am a risk taker -
I make a note of these words:
-Ronald Ryan was a Catholic altar boy –
There is no conincidence, not there;
Such as being in Brunswick as a child and ending up back there, except perhaps
That father Brosnan was Catholic,
Ryan made his break from ‘the go’, same spot
where Kevin Joiner had been gunned down years before;
I wonder if Joiner was armed
And if his killer had a necksnapping end.
the state ripped Ryan from Brunswick and now
the state has brought him back.
the police called Ryan ‘the homing pigeon’
because he loves his family,
that’s how they caught him;
steel-bar irony perhaps more than
the co-incidence of blood.
Why has the pile of dirty underwear
been left on the floor in front of me?
I used to wash all of my clothes in the shower
behind a gritty fungus stained curtain of privacy
I think the prospect of all those Sharpies and Rockers
Knifing each other out at Elwood beach
made me want to keep my clothes washed;
what if I got mistaken for one and was picked up
with a bag of deals for the Uni bookshop on me;
I might end up somewhere awful;
go directly to ‘the go’ do not collect $200
do not get caught. Catch 22 I was learning
was the American psyche’s dirty washing, and Ronald Ryan,
was top hat landing on Mayfair, and General Dreedle owned the hotels.
-Ronald Reagan has just been named Governer of California –
another note, this one marked ‘humorous’ for some future joke.
I have a couple more marked coincidence
that I would like to read to you but
bear in mind that I have never been clear on the distinction
between wicked coincidence and
an irony (assuming there is a difference).
while I wait for the blond to come back and
start sorting the basket of underwear
I’ll list you a couple and call them ‘coincidence’:
1) Ron Barassi went from Melbourne to Carlton and took them from bottom to premiership (near bottom anyway).
Then he went to North Melbourne and did the same for them.
At last he went home to his precious Melbourne club and failed.
2) William White’s father attended his son’s conscientious objection
army trial (after William had been force-goose-marched to
the cliff-face by the army) wearing his returned serviceman decorations.
3) Ronald Ryan was sentenced to hang on 31 January 1967.
31 January is the date of celebration for St John of Bosco
who founded the Silesian Order which taught Ryan his schooling.
4) Harold Holt imported Air Vice Marshall Ky
(the American-made puppet dictator of South Vietnam)
for a propaganda tour.
While Ky was here the two were photographed in a navy craft
cruising the beach at Portsea, the very spot
from which Harry scuba-dived his disappearance from history.
The big blond and the woman who takes the role
in my imagination
of his lover,
and most probably the occupant of that underwear
from time to time,
come into the laundromat.
They commence an argument over the basket, ignoring me and
I am especially embarrassed because
my spinning cycle has ended and I have to get between them
to take my stuff to the dryer. I think about
the great vigil and how we celebrated
at the bookshop
the morning the reprieve came through at the eleventh hour,
nine hours before post time, rope time, neck tie for Ronald.
They step apart and let me through.
I was depressed by the news that Juliet meant,
when she said she never wanted to see me again,
that in fact
she couldn’t stand the gangly fleshless awkward and finally
sight of me.
my only compensations that morning had been
that I didn’t have a mirror in the flat
and that Peter Hudson was going to play for Hawthorn.
when I arrived at work there was champagne
laid out over the anti-hanging edition of Farrago. There
was so much excitement around, and so little work,
that I was able to pilfer ‘The Idiot’ and ‘The Trial’
without anyone, I thought, noticing.
there were sick jokes that Dorothy would marry Ronald again
since the man with whom she had subsequently united
had died of a heart attack.
hell broke out once more:
Hobart was being burned to the ground,
Holt was off fiddling in New Zeakland with Holyoake,
the South Africans had banned D’Olivera on the basis
of his skin colour and were giving our cricketers a thrashing to boot,
our young men were getting blasted to pieces in Phuc Tuoy,
the pieces of Grissom, White, and Chaffey were
disintegrating in space alongside the Apollo debris,
and the affidavits of Ryan’s new-evidence-witnesses were
what’s more I was freaked out by
eviction from my cupboard
and the finality of
Juliet’s rejection of me:
a lesbian lover and I knew conclusively
as I slunk home from my dissolving bookshop job
with another stolen title hidden in my coat
that I had caused myself to be stripped
of any power
in any direction.
-I have had my head in the dryer –
that is another note
explaining to my future self just why
that woman with her basket of wet underwear
is giving me such a strange look.
I put some more money in the dryer
to finish the sheets and pyjamas.
She puts her stuff into the dryer next to me
I can smell her skin in the dry powdery dust and
through the hungry dampness of wet fabric
we watch it begin to tumble and mix
I sat outside the Carlton cemetery reading the paper
on the hot morning of 3 February 1967
when Ryan got his neck snapped by the rope;
it was like a hot summer day back in Bendigo
when he was on one side of the fence
studying for his matriculation
which he got
and I was on the other side
studying for my matriculation
which I got,
though we were years apart in getting them.
He loved his sisters
I loved mine.
I know who arrested Ronald Ryan:
Inspector Ray Kelly;
like one Irishman arrests another for the murder of
George Henry Hodgson (an Englishman?)
I wrote a letter to Juliet about
the chance that Ryan would hang in spite of three sworn statements
and one unsworn statement,
which may have merited some attention.
- I am a person who likes letters -
The letter I wrote was about the rush to judgement
but I did not send it so great was my own guilt.
instead I sent a letter to Michael Cannon concerning
Sydney and the rum trade in heroin;
still singing the same song…
and confessed to stealing books from his shop and
congratulated him on his excellent historical works…
if only I could understand if it means anything
that hanging warrants are signed, it seems, on Thursdays
which is the same day on which Picasso used to sign
I’m sure it means nothing.
My fetish for lacy underwear survived but I gave up
I gave up Brunswick and Carlton but I still love Melbourne
because I go there every now and then if I have a chance
like the pigeon that I am,
always hoping for a glimpse of Juliet’s thigh in a dream,
or the sound of the gallows finally burning down,
or maybe another Jonny Famechon
or a Peter Hudson…
I don’t know if Michael Cannon ever got my letter,
Or if the blond and his lover are going to split up
over the washing, because
my basket is full of warm dry clothes and cotton sheets
like a Bendigo summer day in your face and
the smell of the free wattle and the dry clay earth
as it rushes promises at you.
I leave the laundromat and scurry to the car
with my dogs
and search my memory for Ronald Ryan’s words
which he penned to his mother
after learning of his destiny as determined by
the State Executive Council:
- I was able to accept it with equanimity
my concern was for its effects on you –
- thus spake Zarathustra, secretly
and Ronald Ryan privately -
-I am cooking dinner tonight –
another note to myself from some years later and
the Irish in me ensures there will be potatoes
somewhere in the menu.
- by the time I have eaten –
the later note continues
- Barlow and Chambers will have been hung in a foreign land
down the spout for drugs -
The car won’t start in the rain and so that gives me time
the Penguin Book of Australian Short Stories
for laundromat reading in case I’m stuck
(with nobody interesting to watch)
The first story still niggles me’
with its essay on the Australian colonial hanging psyche.
I wonder whose graves they would spit on…. Barlow and Chambers,
perhaps Barlow and Chambers knew too much
or else just a couple of convicts getting it
in the neck.
- through the rain on the car windows I secretly watch
the blond and the lover
load their washing into their small asian car –
my final notes from that day describe
their final act…
- her white legs with little hairs that
seemed to stand erect against the static charge of the laundromat,
her long fingers twirling the end of a plait into the
curl of her melting collarbone,
his thick tattooed arms that touch her briefly…. -
and they were suddenly gone with their scents and
their rustling hands of arousal and their innocently offered exchange
for my diary…..
and they’re gone
- like Cliffy Stewart; just a constructed memory
without right or wrong,
but most certainly a reality to someone else,
with right and wrong imposed –
I crumple the notes back into the
elegant scented envelope from my old amnesty cellmate,
with the photographs of Hussein and his brother;
head and body separated like washing spilled on a
I hear the laughter of my children behind me
reflecting life out of the misty rain
like wet leaves on the great fig tree
they do not need to see this letter and its crumbling
I light my fire and determine not to reply this time.
Friday, 15 June 2007
the miner's finch
never a single flinch
nor note of song
believes in destiny as much
as those whose dynamite replaces
hammer and tap
and stretches against the natural grain
for one more chance to signify
at the beginning and end of the mortal chain,
or waiting forever against the supervisor's wall,
or in an abandoned lunchroom
midst the gritty wrappers of last week's fare
for one more chance at least
the worth of her captivity
Saturday, 9 June 2007
Brad Said -- by File
You’ll be fixing that dripping tap right about now
You’ll have laid out your screwdriver, hammer and saw
On a torn-off piece of old linen, on the washboard
You’ll have changed into blue denim dungarees
And then you’ll have stopped
Looked at the problem
Felt the glossy metal tap head
Followed the pipe under, had a look up and in
Thought about it all over a tradesman’s cup of tea
I can almost see the crease I tease
I can smell the tea sigh that escapes you
Then you’ll suck it back in with salt
You’ll address the cold steel
With cold intention
Stiff threads, wet hands
You’ll brace yourself and strain and do it again
Then you’ll pass an arm over your brow
To your chin
“What set’s us apart from the animals?
Tools!” and you’ll finger the circuit tester with interest
But your eminently practical nature will mean that
You’ll favour the hammer
And you’ll set your self carefully before you raise back to swing
And then you’ll pause,
Cover the tap with another piece of linen
And you’ll set yourself again and coil and
The word ‘cock’ will flash through your mind in the instant before the high pressure mains supply hits the ceiling
And you’ll be surprised at your own strength
But you’ll be too busy trying to stem it with your moisturized hands
Until you slip
I know, ‘cos we’ve laughed about it,
That you’d sink rather than call me
Picking through yellow leaves
Flicking through the P’s; painter, plasterer, plumber
Smiling, as the bell rings
And I’m keening and ready
“Oh, you’ve done it! Well done!”
Friday, 8 June 2007
Fabritius' Goldfinch -- by Zephirine
Set in a heavy frame of carved black wood,
it’s not a very big picture.
A goldfinch on a perch, against a sunlit,
pale, somewhat weathered wall.
The perch curves round a grey wood box for food,
And then you see
the fine chain holding the bird captive.
The genius who painted this died young,
in a famous disaster.
A gunpowder store exploded, wrecked the city;
a hundred people killed.
He died in the same year he painted this,
simple and unforgettable,
just the bird
and the fine chain holding it captive.
It would have been a pet, kept for its song
and its bright colours.
Nobody would have thought of that as cruel -
life was short and tough
for people and their creatures - they might feel
a small bird would appreciate
food and shelter
and not mind the chain holding it captive.
This bird seems living, solid, really feathered,
it’s painted so skilfully -
bright eyes looking out at you, and scarlet head,
perky beak and poised body
and folded gold wings that would spring to fly
if not for the obstacle,
the fine chain holding it captive.
But goldfinches carried meaning in those days:
birds of thorns and thistles,
recalling Jesus’ crown of thorns and even
splashed with his blood.
Fabritius would have been well aware his bird
signified the pure soul -
the dauntless spirit…
And the fine chain holding it captive?