Poetry




ARDENT

Each day as light rises I
Climb into harness and open 
The internet’s dark door


POETS: C. P. CAVAFY


Cavafy!  Half your melancholy,
your desire, would sink a trireme.

And if I never hear again

of langorous young limbs in sordid beds, it will be soon enough.


But who else travelled

so lovingly, so limpidly, through time?

No man sings

like the Egyptian singer.




LOT’S WIFE


As we fled the ashen city

I too looked back.

No photogenic plume, no rain of fire,

only a formless grey with death inside.


I don’t believe an angry god

besalted her.

I think she looked around,

saw the end of the living world,

and in compassion stood.

We are not told her name.


From time to time I see a narrow pass

climbing among the rocks.

There is a way.

Compassionate woman, there is a way.



ELEGY, CITY PARK


5:30 winter after rain:

Women with dogs are walking by the harbour,

weary traffic bunches on the bridge;

With dark ripples, U-boats looking for the convoy,

two single sculls glide past, almost in silence;

Two mighty trees look on.

Why am I still hearing

a crashing Beau, and seeing a pale technician

slumped by a bank of screens?  The war is over now...




A REGISTER OF GIFTS


For fear my memory starts to fade,

I sought the fine traditional aid

Of backs of envelopes to write

An unofficial list, that might

Help, should recollection stall,

The gift and giver to recall.

A happy thought: away I went

With scarves, books, necklaces and scent,

With Christmases and birthdays past

Tumbling together, till at last,

Memory

came

to the summer when the giving stopped.

Now I have a second register,

the gifts not given.


ON THE WESTERN FRONT


The young ghosts move towards the hillside, row after row in grey across the grey, all quiet now, glorious dead.  One looks back.


The film stops. We’ve been taught how to leave the darkness, stepping poem to poem: bells, rat, poppy.


But are we, blinking in the light, heading out or in?  This war in our eyes, isn’t it running still?  Stand to in the dawn, listen!  to those trucks roar down the road to Passchendaele.




WITH THE PEOPLE (from Letter to my Daughter)

The long march has landed somewhere we did not want to be -

perhaps the map was wrong, perhaps the institutions

have stronger acids than we thought.

The markets grind, the nations rage furiously together.

Death glitters in the eyes of the generals, and the presidents

with orthodontic smiles look on the concrete and call it good.

But the people,

the people are still there.

Irritating: not exactly with the program,

not quite trusting the newsreaders,

not strict optimizers.  In fact, every now and again,

some of them break out laughing.

The kids giggle together on their way to school,

jokes fly back and forth across the table,

I have no idea what about, and neither has the CIA.

I remember in Boston, a woman in a summer dress

holding hands with her mother and laughing on the subway platform;

today I met a man walking up Annandale Street

playing castanets on a stick.

The people are always more than they are supposed to be.

They are not airbrushed.

They are angular, wrinkled, bruised and sometimes short of breath.

A lot are shockingly poor.

Many ask questions.  I remember a meeting in Oldenburg where the young people fell silent

while an old working man, through the fog between two languages, talked about women and men

and justice, and wondered had he spent a lifetime doing wrong.

The people are not united,

but they are not a sack of potatoes.

At the very worst, in the palace of the torturers,

there are whispers of love.

And at the best, there is mighty music

as the people keep on dancing

and laughter echoes/ through the forest of hopes.


ON THE BEAUTY OF THE WORLD

(From Letter to my Daughter)

Consider the lilies of the field,

the grey sunflower at sunset,

the red waves at dawn, drawing their signs on the sand.

Consider the great gestures of the trees,

the haze that lingers all day on those hills,

the dust blowing on a back road, dust that has no fear,

consider the rain and the cold wind.

Consider the screech of lorrikeets between the branches,

the sway of medusas,

the scurrying of crabs across the mud.

Consider the ones we cannot see with bare eyes:

the tiny ones, the round ones, the wriggling ones.

Consider the blazing darkness we can see

when our eyes get free of the city, turning night after night

towards the stars.

Consider the spaces in between the stars.


If I could roll them all in a bundle of words,

embroider them on a cloth, I would do so,

I would do so.

But a gift of naming and marking is at best an introduction,

a hand at the door, the first sketch of a map

that has to make itself, over long years,

as you walk among the hills.  The intuition that counts

is to know the reality in a passing shower,

a dust devil, a grasshopper,

a wave running back down the sand.

These too are stars.



POETRY IS, I WAS TAUGHT


Poetry is, I was taught, a concentrate of language.

It’s strange I should want to read again

a whole book of this stuff.

Surely a page would do.  Take at most

five minutes of the poet’s time.

Preferably a second or two.

Not these years

skinned, pulsing.



FAITH, HOPE


Broken Bay

It’s not the yellow cliff that catches your breath,

It’s not the bright shadows nor the sharp smell of the bush –

Rather it’s the way space leans over the water,

Jewel paths to imagined homes.


And the greatest of these

A long time ago we came upon the place

Our migrant hearts shuddered for.

Why has the sun gone in?  For time

is love.


Career breaks

Anna plural builder, falling,

I’ve spilled books across the years.

A lumpy flood of laughter too,

And frightened by the sound of motors.


Open door

The metaphors are exhausted at the end of the day.

What can the poets do?

Quietly, fiercely, they should tiptoe away

To the world.



CYCLONE WARNING


Streaming inland

the great rafts of cloud press on us

their gift of fear.


Waves will smash on the reef,

rain will weigh on the trees.


O my love,

why was the sky clear

before your call?



MARGARET’S KITCHEN

My mother's house, 2008


This room she planned herself. It flowed

Into the breakfast room,

Which was also the sewing room,

And the room for writing letters,

Paying bills, giving cups of tea,

And keeping toys for children on a visit.

This was the destination of the house.

It smelt of bread, detergent, roasting lamb.

It made me think of a vicarage

In a country town: things centred here.

But here, too, she kept a Russian carving,

A Chinese sketch, a Danish paper heart.

This kitchen connected to the world.



VOLCANO NEWS  Mt Merapi, November 2010


In the night, it might be distant thunder.

The morning city’s grey with ash and rumours.

The men talk tensely, the women hand out masks,

each motorcycle trails a cloud.


News seeps in:

two villages - a hundred souls

safe in their homes -

gone under searing gas.


Witness escaping on the coast road, look back

to view God’s wrath, and see a nothing

- might be cloud, might be smoke, ash, steam -

vast across the sky.


Refugee for a couple of days, sick as a dog, I’m delivered

to the capital, to the airlines, to the world,

and travel on.  But opening my passport find it

stamped with volcano news.



REFUTATION OF NERUDA

Nació

la palabra en la sangre,

creció en el cuerpo oscuro, palpitando,

y voló con los labios y la boca.


[The word

was born in the blood,

grew in the dark body, beating,

and flew through the lips and the mouth.]


No,

not that red milk-train chugging through the hills,

taking the eggs to market and garbage to the tip.

Wrong metaphor entirely.


Words are born

from the break of the stupendous ocean

on the dawn beach, where she walked past the headland

towards me.


Words are born

from silicon and metal as we users

grope, hopeful,

across the net.


Words are born

in the immeasurable space between

the Messenger

and the Angel.




DRY SEASON, KIMBERLEY


A hawk drifts across the hill face

watching the white trees, the red rock,

the brittle grass.

Nothing else moves.


This is the quiet season

in country you could love,

where the hard hill and the sparse trees

grip on the skyline.


Another time, they say,

the rain comes, the wind and lightning,

in a torrent of blood-red mud

the land is changed.

There, you can see the scars below the cliff.


Yes, that sounds familiar.  When she died I felt

the land change underneath my feet,

the rock melt.


What does remain

- something always remains -

in the dry season

are the trees gripping the hard hill,

the hill gripping the sparse trees,

the hawk drifting down the wind.

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