Thursday, April 17, 2008


A Dozen Poems by Australian Poets

"The Night-ride"

Gas flaring on the yellow platform; voices running up and down;
Milk-tins in cold dented silver; half-awake I stare,
Pull up the blind, blink out -- all sounds are drugged;
The slow blowing of passengers asleep;
Engines yawning; water in heavy drips;
Black, sinister travellers, lumbering up the station,
One moment in the window, hooked over bags;
Hurrying, unknown faces -- boxes with strange labels --
All groping clumsily to mysterious ends,
Out of the gaslight, dragged by private Fates.
Their echoes die.  The dark train shakes and plunges;
Bells cry out; the night-ride starts again.
Soon I shall look out into nothing but blackness,
Pale, windy fields.  The old roar and knock of the rails
Melts in dull fury.  Pull down the blind.  Sleep.  Sleep.
Nothing but grey, rushing rivers of bush outside.
Gaslight and milk-cans.  Of Rapptown I recall nothing else.

-- Kenneth Slessor

* * *

"The Return of Persephone"

Gliding through the still air, he made no sound;
Wing-shod and deft, dropped almost at her feet,
And searched the ghostly regiments and found
The living eyes, the tremor of breath, the beat
Of blood in all that bodiless underground.

She left her majesty; she loosed the zone
Of darkness and put by the rod of dread.
Standing, she turned her back upon the throne
Where, well she knew, the Ruler of the Dead,
Lord of her body and being, sat like stone;

Stared with his ravenous eyes to see her shake
The midnight drifting from her loosened hair,
The girl once more in all her actions wake,
The blush of colour in her cheeks appear
Lost with her flowers that day beside the lake.

The summer flowers scattering, the shout,
The black manes plunging down to the black pit --
Memory or dream?  She stood awhile in doubt,
Then touched the Traveller God's brown arm and met
His cool, bright glance and heard his words ring out:

'Queen of the Dead and Mistress of the Year!'
-- His voice was the ripe ripple of the corn;
The touch of dew, the rush of morning air --
'Remember now the world where you were born;
The month of your return at last is here.'

And still she did not speak, but turned again
Looking for answer, for anger, for command:
The eyes of dis were shut upon their pain;
Calm as his marble brow, the marble hand
Slept on his knee.  Insuperable disdain

Foreknowing all bounds of passion, of power, of art,
Mastered but could not mask his deep despair.
Even as she turned with Hermes to depart,
Looking her last on her grim ravisher
For the first time she loved him from her heart.

-- A. D. Hope

* * *

"Little Red Riding Hood"

I always had such a good time, good time, good time girl.  Each and
every day from morning to night.  Each and every twenty-four hours
I wanted to wake up, wake up, I was so lively, so livewire tense, such
a highly pitched little.  I was red, so red so red.  I was a tomato.   I was
on the lookout for the wolf.  Want some sweeties, mister?  I bought a
red dress myself.  I bought the wolf.  want some sweeties, mister?  I
bought a red dress for myself.  I bought a hood for myself.  Get me a
hood.  I bought a knife.

-- Ania Walwicz

* * *

"The Assimilation of Background"

Driving on that wide jute-coloured country
we came at last to the station,
its homestead with lawn and steel awnings
like a fortress against the sun.
And when we knocked, no people answered;
only a black dog came politely
and accompanied us round the verandahs
as we peered into rooms and called brightly,
Anyone home?  The billiard room,
shadowed dining room, gauze-tabled kitchen
gave no answer.  Cricket bats, ancient
steamer trunks, the chugging coolroom engine
disregarded us.  Only the dog's very patient
claws ticked with us out of the gloom
to the grounds' muffling dust, to the machine shed
black with oil and bolts, with the welder
mantis-like on its cylinder of clocks
and then to the stallion's enclosure.
The great bay horse came up to the wire,
gold flares shifting on his muscles, and stood
as one ungelded in a thousand
of his race, but imprisoned for his sex,
a gene-transmitting engine, looking at us
gravely as a spirit, out between
his brain's potent programmes.  Then a heifer,
Durham-roan, but with Brahman hump and rings
around her eyes, came and stood among us
and a dressy goat in sable and brushed fawn
ogled us for offerings beyond
the news all had swiftly gathered from us
in silence, and could, it seemed, accept.
 We had been received, and no one grew impatient
but only the dog, host-like, walked with us
back to our car.  The lawn-watering sprays
ticked over, and over.  And we saw
that out on that bare, crusted country
background and foreground had merged;
nothing that existed there was background.

-- Les Murray

* * *

"Care and Feeding of a Small Poem"

Allow enough sunlight.  Ignore
that traffic, it's going nowhere.
Wear something nice.  when I smile,

smile.  Write an entry in your diary
that will display, to future generations
of grieving fans, your fastidious manners.

Don't let on how you grovelled
and sobbed when you were ten.
Stay away from violent or distressing movies.

A special recipe would go well here:
the baked eel you fondly imagine
everyone likes.  and a watercolour,

or, failing the talent for that, a photograph
of a child on an empty, rain-soaked beach.
Write about how you live life to the full,

despite the migraine and the panic attacks.
Now secure all this in a locked box
and throw away the key.

-- John Tranter

* * *

for Derek Peat

Since Thursday last the bare living-room
of my flat's been occupied
by a stranger from the streets, a light-limbed traveller.

Pine-needle-spokes, bright rims, the savage downward
curve like polished horns
of its handlebars denote

some forest deity, or deity of highway
and sky has incognito set up residence, the godhead
invoked in a machine.

To the other inmates of the room, a bookcase,
two chairs, its  horizontals speak
of distance, traveling light.  Only the mirror

remains unruffled, holding
its storm of light unbroken, calmly accepting
all traffic through its gaze.  Appease!  Appease!  Even

this tall metallic insect,
this angel of two geometries
and speed.  So much for mirrors.  as for myself

I hardly dare look in.  What should I offer
a bicycle?  Absurd
to lay before its savage iridescence --

grease-drop's miraculous resin,
the misty Pleiades --
my saucer of sweat.

Now time yawns and its messengers appear.
Like huge stick-insects, wingless, spoked with stars,
they wheel through the dusk towards us,

the shock-wave of collision still lifting
their locks, who bear our future
sealed at their lips like urgent telegrams.

-- David Malouf

* * *

"Sex and the Over Forties"

It's too good for them,
they look so unattractive undressed --
let them read paperbacks!

A few things to keep in readiness --
a flensing knife, a ceiling mirror,
a cassette of The Broken Heart.

More luncheons than lust,
more meetings on Northern Line stations,
more discussions of children's careers.

A postcard from years back --
I'm twenty-one, in Italy and in love!
Wagner wrote Tristan at forty-four.

Trying it with noises and strange positions,
trying it with the young themselves,
trying to keep it up with the Joneses!

All words and no play,
all animals fleeing a forest fire,
all Apollo's grafters running.

Back to the dream in the garden,
back to the pictures in the drawer,
back to back, tonight and every night.

--Peter Porter

* * *

"Forever the Snake"

Awkward on a hillock of grass
feet falling forward over the edge
cramped close to the children
away from the snake.

And in that patch of long reed it is waiting.

You pick up a spade.
Eyes pace out the ground.
Your left hand is clenched on itself
nails bite into your skin.

A heavy grey rock lies in the reeds.
With one move you upend it.
The children edge closer on the hilly rise
they stand on my feet.

I see you consider and bend
you probe with the spade.

And then it is here.

Snake. Flashing its back
arrowing through grass
black missile with small guiding head
firing off reflexes, straight into attack.

And the spade.  Lifeless and foreign
under your hand raised in the air.

this black speeding nerve is cutting through space.

Somewhere forever your hand is raised
in far-off space fields the snake is racing.

Now the thick spade crashes down from above
snapping the nerve that even in death sends it messages.

We inch about on our hillock of earth.
The back of the snake is still thrashing.
You stand with its head under your spade
you are locked to its spine.

Far-out in space the snake is still speeding
rushing through grass to attack.

Closer in space the spade has been raised.

Here on the grass the black nerve is broken.

Yet always the snake is now striking
in the quiet, in the space beyond time.

-- Jennifer Rankin

* * *


By six he's started.  I wake to a wince and arrh,
the animal portests of my neighbor's iron roof.
Behind a cypress-dark, the February sky

is blue as gin.  The house is nineteen twenties;
he moves along its apex, removing it,
and at this hour he's higher than the sun,

flexing a torso of cinnamon brown, his singlet
dangling whitely from his belt.  Slav
or Italian, perhaps, he applies that rigid serpent,

the pinch-bar, to open unconsidered caches
of darkness.  His work is wholly restoration --
he is recovering horizons, and

with the long arm of Archimedes, bringing
sunlight to gulf the spiders' vertical suburbs,
dense as hairballs in their sudden light.

So ridge-cap, gutter, sheet iron are grimaced free
from battens; sheets of fibro drop-shatter,
mails, clenched in the pinch-bar's single knuckle,

come out with a sigh.  By lunchtime the house
is a birdcage of timbers; by evening it's gone,
and the man sits, gleaming like resin,

rolling cigarettes, drinking water,
looking through a gap at new hills,
peering down the shaft he's made in sixty years.

-- Alan Gould

* * *

"The Dusk"

A kangaroo is standing up, and dwindling like a plant
with a single bud.
Fur combed into a line
in the middle of its chest,
a bow-wave
under slanted light, out on the harbour.

And its fine unlined face is held out in the cool air;
a face in which you feel
the small thrust-forward teeth lying in the lower jaw,
grass-stained and sharp.

Standing beyond a wire fence, in weeds,
against the bush that is like a wandering smoke.

and its white chest, the underside of a growing mushroom,
in the last daylight.

The tail is trailing heavily as a lizard lying concealed.

It turns its head like a mannequin
toward the fibro shack,
and holds the forepaws
as though offering to have them bound.

An old man stands on a dirt path in his vegetable garden,
where a cabbage moth puppet-leaps and jiggles wildly
in the cooling sunbeams,
the bucket still swinging in his hand.

And the knagaroo settled down, pronged,
then lifts itself
carefully, like a package passed over with both hands --

The now curved-up tail is rocking gently counterweight behind
as it flits hunched
amongst the stumps and scrub, into the dusk.

-- Robert Gray

* * *


The seared flesh of wood, cut
to a polish, deceives:  the rip and tear
of the chain, its rapid cycling
a covering up of raw savagery.
It is not just machine. In the blur
of its action, its guttural roar,
it hids the malice of organics.
Cybernetic, empirical, absolutist.
The separation of Church and state,
conspiracies against the environmental
lobby, enforcement of fear, are at the core
of its modus operandi.  The cut of softwood
is deceptive, hardwood dramatic:  just
before dark on a chill evening
the sparks rains out -- dirty wood,
hollowed by termintes, their digested
sand deposits, capillaried highways
imploded:  the chainsaw effect.
It is not subtle,  It is not ambient.
Ti is trans nothing.  A clogged airfilter
has it sucking up more juice --
it gargles, floods, chokes
into silence.  Sawdust dresses boots,
jeans, the field.  Gradually
the paddock is cleared, the wood
stacked in cords along the lounge-room wall.
A darkness kicks back and the curout
bar jerks into place, a distant chainsaw
dissipates.  Further on, some seconds later,
another does the same.  They follow
the onset of darkness, a relay of severing,
a ragged harmonics stretching back
to its beginning -- gung-ho,
blazon, overconfident.  Hubristic
to the final cut, last drop of fuel.

-- John Kinsella

* * *

"Seasonal Flocking"

Last week outside my window
the tree grew red rosellas,
berry-bright fruits, the young ones
brocaded with juvenile green.
I said, the autumn's ending.
They have come out of the mountains
and the snowcloud shadows.

This week, on the road to town,
in the red-hung hawthorns,
eleven of the Twelve Apostles,
eight black cockatoos, their tails
fanned to show yellow panes,
uncounted magpies and currawongs
greasily fat from the dump and the butcher's throwouts --
that breeding-ground of maggots.

All of them flocked together,
crying aloud, knowing
the end of autumn.
Sharp-edged welcome-swallows
gathered and circled upwards.

Frost soon, and the last warmth passes.
Seed-stems rot on wet grasses.

At the end of autumn
I too -- I want you near me,
all you who scatter
into far places or are hidden under
summer-forgotten gravestones.

-- Judith Wright


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