Poems

Swooped

(after Todd Turner’s Fieldwork)

In Spring the cycling forums fill
with talk of magpies -
there are pictures of helmet spikes
and videos of swoopings.
Key attack sites are noted
by cross street and individual bombers
are rated on a sliding scale,
with light-weight clickers
at one end, heavy-hitters,
lid-riders and berserkers at the other.

I found a strange lump under my
                         skin

to the left of my sternum, creeping
                         out

from under my
                      ribcage.

Some claim that it helps to stick
eyes on the back of the helmet,
or to turn the head continuously
from side to side, so the bird can see
that you know it is coming. It doesn’t.
Others say there is nothing else to do
but duck when the shadow falls
and pedal as fast as you can.

After I found it, I forgot it, then later
                    found it again

in the shower. I could see it
                    there.

Water coursed over it like a
                    stone.

The funny thing is my family lives
with a horde of magpies all around,
our lawns are doll-haired by beaks
forever digging for worms, and
in plain sight. This extended family
nests in the tight perimeter of pine
around the house, lighting daily
on the smaller trees and clipped lawn.
Spring here is just like Autumn
and there are no helmets anywhere.

 

 

Notes (Three Character Sketches)

 

1. The man in his thirties

took a call from his father bemoaning
the cold at a Southern Highlands party,
asking after the weather at home.
He was really calling to pass on the obligation
that comes with a new but distant death.
                              It had been raining
for two days. Illness had flooded his household,
claiming his children’s little bodies for one day
and two nights, so he could only muster
the obligation that was being passed to him.
His daughters, like nothing he had seen,
no comparisons, no figures for their heat
or tenor. His son, already burdened
with the weight of his failure to question
the methods of others, was caught
in a long helix of pressure and shame.
                              The dead woman
had been so very lively until recently,
had defied time, keeping at the surface
the dancer she had been, so others
could see lithe glimmers in her face,
so meeting her until a month ago
was to walk into a wedding reception
by a river, where guests danced
in the reeds.
                              After he took the call
he took a shower and considered
the family response. He fell upon
a condolence card, then rolled
into the hot stream. She was due and
it was time; no more energy need be spent.
In the cloud of steam he thought of his brother
and his fear of death. He had dated his life
to be as long as Christ’s had been,
and he figured that miracles aligned
with promotions and a good woman
falling for him early on, the only thing left
to account for was the potency of sacrifice.
And the man almost called out from the shower -
I will claim it! Though you did nothing
but be kind to me when I was young;
did nothing but make small concessions 
when I was there at your shoulder asking.
I will testify. You did give something of yourself
with me in mind, and I am trying hard
                              to pass that on.

 

2. The boy in the whitewash

considers the last half hour of life,
how his father asked him to look up
through the canopy of leaves to see
and know filtered light.
                    I don’t have a clue
about Terrence Mallick or the films
you’re referencing here,
is what he could never have said.
And besides, the green glow was good,

though nothing like the froth and swell
of the churning, popping water.

3. The Last Woman

has suddenly lost her love of murder
mysteries. She has no desire for
denouement now her whole family
is gone. A detective would not take
The Case of the Shrinking World, and
she would not ask a figure so bound
by relevance to pour over her things.
What would Dupin make of her
blown glass elephants?
Her pedestal clock and photo frames?
There is no longer a closed circle of suspects
and the crime is nothing more than waking.

The summer is coming to this new room,
and she is looking forward to the sun
falling across the small balcony.
She has a chair ready and a table.
Even so, she will not return to cosy school.
There, in the time now ascribed to outliving,
she will do the honourable thing
and cast off into an Aegean.
First, a train to Petersburg and Anna,
to deathly steeplechases, to parlours
with brown warmth thin as snake’s eggs,
to French doors twelve feet tall and open
to Autumn fields, early frost and failing crops.
Then on to Humbert Humbert and tea;
peacock feathers in the dusk.
Then on to ice sheets and moors,
to the bottom of a well in a Japanese prefecture.
The rattle of a kettle will serve
as sounding furrows and the whistle
of the boiling water will draw her on.

 

 

The Bear

One day I will
wake up dead
and walking.

I will move
in a closed circuit
in a city
I once lived in,
but never knew,
like Edinburgh.

Everything will be
concrete,
so the odd
tree will explode
into the air
as I pass,
and sudden buses
will startle the light
of shopfronts
and Bjork will
be there
throat-singing
and a homeless man
will stand
like a bear
on a corner.

He’ll be like a bear
in the sun,
not because of me,
but because of the chill
in the air,
because even in
a dead man’s dream
it can take several layers
to stave off the cold.

When I am dead
and walking
it will be hard
to appreciate the pain
of standing on a corner
in an old part
of the city;
it’ll be all about
the fact that I’m dead.

So the layers that hide
the suffering man
will become the skin
of a bear, and
the bear will turn
his benevolent bear eyes
into my dead soul.
His claws will hang
like black piano keys and -
let’s make him talk -
before I leave
for the next place
he will ask me
for a hug.

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