Poems

ST KILDA IMPROV #2

A first-night impersonator with a wrong stage-name
feeding you the line "to get from X first
you need to go to Y" working backwards through
tour schedules black with cancellation
to the point blank of arrival being no-one
in this city or less than
scratching the dumb end of winter mute on the
down note a rent-suit dollar brand shoeblack
on worn-out lapel and yelloweyed street-preacher-look
telling it over in brokendown tenor saxophone
E-flat the man with the whiskey sours and
hair-of-the-dog snout riding the elevated line over
bearing case percussionism beating time
while underfoot the green and white taxi cabs prove and
counterprove an intricate gridlock geometry.

 

PAYSAGE MORALISÉ, LAVENDER BAY

Awake beside the old railroad tracks and disused jetty,
listening for the last of the cicadas. A commuter train
from Milson's Point flashes its Morse in the bridge's dark
undercarriage. Who was there to witness our subterfuge?
The white line of a seagull or the slow and fastidious
ferry from garden island transepting the bay,
adjusting us to the artist's necessary fiction. Unaware
that the true critic is within: the letter in the drawer,
the nude shamming dead upon the divan. After the life
has gone out of the picture, in some way its reference,
thinking them or it real: black on the canvas, silence
on the screen, an empty sheet of white paper. Each
singles out its opponent. Yet why should it seem necessary,
to make the assumption, or pass the judgement?

 

ELEGY FOR A PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL

It is an illness of the mind, groping to convey its stark register.
To possess and incarnate a force in concentration
beyond the single strained attitude of thought constantly
interrupted, broken, twisted into nothing ...
To know the beauty of what cannot be made to cohere
and the ghost haunting us with its old ghost's anachronisms,
having its mouth removed so that it will not speak ...
Peace, you have grown old and dumb as stone and weighty as
monuments. Tamed now by the inscriptions others have
left there. Perhaps there was method in your reason
not to set down words without stirring a whole language into
hostility. Nor the trivial conceit that restores the actor
and the occasion to amuse an audience grown restless
for ornamental flourish ...
What difference if there is a God who creates the universe
out of nothing, or an urban renewal project? Or a
mechanical bird carping in iambic monotony--telling us
that we must love one another or die? We'll die anyway--
knowing, if nothing else, that no language is complete,
no sentiment wholly physical or metaphysical, no word
or gesture that can fill up the world.

 

GROUP PORTRAIT, WITH NATIVITY, MYALL CREEK

1. No one can speak for this. The morning
after the pleading and evidence
and the ghost supposedly laid to rest.
A lid draws down over the supervising eye
lulled by the amorousness of accusation.
Such are the unenjoyed fruits of a constant
labour, whose thoughts are stolen thoughts,
steeled and honed to murderousness.
What you did not know you chose not to know.

2. The shadow under its slipped mask, or a
furnished room with soiled bed sheets and
plastic bouquet. Framed against that
chiaroscuro of yellowed wallpaper and
nicotine stains, ambiguous forms accuse
and are accused in turn--an ungainly light
shaking over them, guided by senile force.
Its witness is as insubstantial as air--
unbalanced by the weight of self-blame.

3. That having once been born you must again
be praised or punished for it? For love of
humility or of humiliation, or some other,
inadmissible idea--the failed realism of a
nativity scene in which the miraculous and
inexplicable play no part. Only the
accidental effect of the portraitist's touch
renders those lives in all their facelessness.
That we may see in them who we wish to see.

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