Fatherlands (2004 thesis edit)

Contents

 

1. Green Heart, Red Neck

Father Neptune

Wilhelmine Schluter at Fourteen

Griefswald, Germany, 1935

The Condamine

Sometimes He…

The Natural Order of Things

He had an Artistry

My Father, the Tomcat, the Razorblade

Domino Effect

He Created High Art

Of Earth & Wheat

Cockatrice

Green Heart, Red Neck

Full Bloom

Black Tadpoles

Gone Shooting Ken & I home Later Warren

Last Words, 1978

The Funeral Service of Warren Neil Dionysius

Some Thoughts on the Absence of Mourning

Instamatic

The Enormous Nature of Things

 

2. Fatherlands

Fatherlands

Earthing

Ghost Limb

Monoculture

Almost Sixteen Months

Of Fear & Fathers

Crossing

Fossils

Wasp Factory

Wasp Factory 2

Easter

Of Wolves & Children

My Daughter & I at the End of the Century

Of Lies & Nursing Homes

 

3. In a Forest of V2 Rockets

 In a Forest of V2 Rockets

The Man is History

Atomic Shadow

The Wheels Turn Slowly

His Father’s Grave

My Father, the King

These are the Days

Not to be a Poet

The Day the Earth Ate Him

The Cold Work of Stones

Black Snag

Stars in His Pockets like Grains of Sand

Pink Crocus Flowers

Stung


 

 

1. Green Heart, Red Neck

 

 

Father Neptune

 

The sea called my brother and I.

My father having fought the ocean

with the herring fleets off Iceland

was pleased; said the rope-work

would make men of us.

 

My mother, the only true

figurehead in our young lives

stood, silent as a forest of oak;

this carved mermaid, dipping

her long hair into a basin of tears.

Yes, the water was our element.

 

We soon found out what it was

to be a man riding on the shoulders

of Father Neptune, as the rigging

burnt the flesh from our fingers;

our bodies blackened like the pitch

& the tar we used to seal the cracks

in out little wooden ark.

 

Once, in a gale we lost

a colony of Singapore monkeys

to Father Neptune’s zoo.

I lost two fingers.

 

The land called my brother and I.

We left the sea our father, began

to furrow in the earth’s hot skin

as Poseidon sent his frozen spear

through the hull of the Titanic.

Fifteen hundred souls he ploughed

to their secret rest beneath the artic

as the sweat trickled into my eyes

& blinded me like sea-spray.

 

Fifteen hundred trees or more

my sons & I cut down each month

for four years with the cross-cut

saw & teeth of our youth.

A son & a daughter I gave

as sacrifice so that I could stay.

A wizened, German dryad still

nicking gums into my fiftieth year.

 

Yes, the water was our element

never the land, never the land.

 

Once, the sea filled my lungs

with the salt of the air.

Now, there is no escaping

the long dry spell

of the earth.

 

 

Wilhelmine Schluter at Fourteen

 

This is how I first saw him.

There was my father, Claus,

stripped to his waist, perched

on the back of the wagon shouting

orders like he was a ship’s captain.

His left foot rested on a pumpkin;

its skin gnarled & knotted like his brow

as he shouted at his eldest son & the three

new workmen, Jack, Carl & Harry.

They were Germans, straight off the ship

& newly arrived to Sandy Creek.

Kabin boys my father called them.

Always getting into trouble.

 

Hannah squeezed my hand as we approached

with the mutton sandwiches. The men saw us;

their teeth flashed from beneath

wide-brimmed hats as they dropped

pumpkins where they stood.

 

My father yelled at Harry because his pumpkin split.

Its pulpy, orange meat licked his boots.

It was so funny, I thought my throat

would catch fire with laughter.

 

I noticed Hannah’s cheeks flush

deeper when she handed Jack his lunch.

The men sat with their backs’

against the wagon’s rear wheel. Claus would

not let Harry eat until he’d scooped up

every last pumpkin seed into his hat.

When he finished he came & offered

the seeds to me; a gift from which

something giant would grow.


 

Griefswald, Germany, 1935

 

When I left the Unification

was barely a decade old.

Now, Mein Fuhrer has stitched

together a fairytale kingdom.

In the main street I see no

Hansels begging for crumbs,

no Grethels selling their bodies

for oven-warmth. The tongues

of cobblestones lick my rawhide

boots like dogs estranged

from their master.

 

I have missed this squall of memory.

It soaks hungrily into my parched

top-soil skin. I have forgotten

the gait of these stones, polished

smooth by the sea-legs

of my forefathers.

 

Griefswald.

Village of my youth.

The Baltic still churns my blood.

Salt crystals sing to me;

dissolve on my cheeks, powder

burn the wounds of my thought.

A Roman eagle nests in the hearts

of my sea-folk; tears at the gills

of their days; guts their future

in mid-air.

 

 

The Condamine

 

The river was dry but once.

It had always been a grit-chasm;

a deep canyon of broken river

red gums & silica that dusted

our feet as we played hide & seek

on its twisted, coliseum floor.

It ran through the property

of our lives; this foreshore

unaffected by the moon’s pull,

condemning the stick-scratch

imprints of crow, magpie & goanna

to lunatic interpretation.

 

After Picnic at Hanging Rock,

none of us could go down by ourselves;

our stalk-hair bristled like galahs

or barley teased by the southerlies.

Time was a dozy copperhead

that hid under the dead bole

of an ironbark in winter

& shed its season/skin;

leaving this flayed totem

as a flood warning.

 

On the riverbank, no moles

or rats wrestled with weasels.

Only butcherbirds were busy,

as they stitched house sparrows

into their intricate lacework

of barbed wire.

Beads of dried blood sewn

into the shawl of afternoon.

 

When the waters came they washed

the river clean of its dead things;

flushed snakes, spiders, centipedes

& the occasional cow, down

the hollow fence-line of its throat.

We plunged in regardless.

The foam, dirty snow we threw at each other

marveling at the Condamine’s gift;

our baptism in this mud-brown

fountain of youth.

 

 

Sometimes He…

Sometimes he would line the four

of them up on the lawn like empties

after a party & crack his stock-whip

at their toes. The small, white slugs

tried to bury themselves, but the ground

was too hard for little toes to grip.

 

Sometimes his calculations would be out

a fraction & the rawhide connected with

ankle bone. He would laugh, covering up

his mistake, sharing his big joke with them;

‘That couldn’t possibly have hurt?’

 

At the clothesline their mother unpegged

some fresh skins & neatly folded them

into the linen basket (its cane skeleton

beginning to come apart at the seams).

Behind her, the thwack thwack thwack

continued; a swell of blood in her ear.

 

Her lion-tamer husband killing another

afternoon with his own brand of fun.

Poking & prodding his cubs, keeping

them in line for his next circus act.

The big finale, no-one knew was coming.

 

At his funeral,

bronze-maned daffodils

leapt onto his coffin,

green tails lashing

from side to side.

 

 

The Natural Order of Things

 

It was not the gunshot

or the grey clawed body

falling out of the dead tree

that shocked me the most.

It was my mother usually a silent

woman who would transform

into a harpy, whenever her hens

or eggs were threatened.

 

It was her boss, Mrs Marney

with her .22 & her good eye

who would shoot them down.

My mother would wade in then

& finish them off with the hoe,

as if she were digging out

dead geraniums.

 

To me this was the natural

order of things; fleas

clustered on the chooks’ heads;

dogs collapsing from cattle-ticks;

corpses of cockatoos strung on the fence;

my father melded to the Ford

tractor, firing his shotgun

into a well full of black snakes .

 

This I learnt at an early age;

the blood of the goanna was red

like mine & all things that entered

my mother’s chicken coop

had to die.

 

 

He had an Artistry…

 

He had an artistry of death & language

about him. His .243 was his paintbrush

the Brigalow & scrub country his palette.

 

Grey kangaroos & wallabies were his subject

matter; his studies in body & motion.

He worked mostly at night in his universal

studio under the stars.

 

The walls of his thought blacked out.

A post modern Da Vinci; ignored by the world

his mind excommunicated from his emotions.

 

He had an eye for detail though. Nothing

escaped his minute artistic attention.

Mostly he dealt with the landscape.

In the nuances of distance & velocity;

 

of wind & calibre. His materials were

all natural. Wood, steel, brass, lead,

nitric acid, sulphur cordite.

His large burnt hands were kept busy

most weekends. Though, he never earned

enough from his art so that he could

give up his day job.

 

His art saw him through the bad patches.

His language; music to the ear. War-raw

obscenities fell from the tip of his tongue

 

like ice from the opaque louvres. He was

an artist who loved to publicly exhibit

his paintings; stretching his thick skins

over the uneven canvas of the world.

 

His pictures feeding a family of six.

 

 

My Father, the Tomcat, the Razorblade

 

I did not know it but she was there.

Not standing beside me, but she was there

watching my father trap the tomcat’s head

between two prongs of the garden fork

& thrust them into the ground.

 

She was there as he sliced

the razorblade between its hind legs

& squeezed with his fingers;

popping the testicles out

onto the pigweed like corks.

 

She was there as the tomcat tried

to shimmy its way out of the stocks

crushing its skull into the morning dew.

Its eyes bulged like sacks of grain.

Its spit vomited like seed.

 

She was there watching, as it

clawed into the heavy, black soil

just as my father tore strips

out of the earth himself at night

with his steel-coated hands.

 

She was there as my father

with one mighty wrench tore

this Excalibur from out of its stone;

the cat squealing & squealing as

if he’d de-sexed its soul.

 

And she could remember him

standing there; red sprinkled forearm

grinning at a job well done. And the cat

as it fled into the bush leaving a trail

of bloody breadcrumbs for [Me] Hansel

& [She] Grethel

 

to follow home. To follow home.

I know it now that she was there.

Not standing beside me, but she was there

watching as I watched my father,

the tomcat, the razorblade.

 

 

Domino Effect

 

All this the child spoke inside me, so I wrote it down.

As if his closing grave were the smile of the earth.

 

Derek Walcott, For Adrian

 

The child toppled like a domino; slid

across the backseat of the Holden as it

ploughed through Darling Downs brigalow.

 

In the front, his father sought a path,

one hand on the wheel, one on the radio;

as he steered between clumps of coolibah.

 

A thunderstorm converted the road to mud.

The sedan pitched like an inflatable raft;

as the Condamine broke its banks in flood.

 

It was all over in a matter of nanoseconds;

They sat in silence, cheeks high with blood.

Even his father learned a valuable lesson.

 

Nothing did they hit, nobody was injured.

Out they drove through the rain depression.

Out; their high-beam blinded a night-bird.

 

This memory sprang out now; a cuckoo clock

triggered by a couple of lines overheard,

as one day the child listened to Walcott.

 

Later, the earth smiled; its open maw

a cosmic joke his father entered into.

A domino effect the child never saw.

 

 

He Created High Art

 

He created high art.

Installations of brass & fur & skin.

He achieved his futurist dream;

the metallisation of his body.

His corrugated mind bent light

in strange ways like the spent

shells he left on the side

of the Warrego highway.

At night, I fell asleep watching

him fit percussion caps onto

his stubs of charcoal.

I was there at the height

of his creative powers.

 

I never slept more soundly.

Never felt safer in my life

as when he cleaned & oiled

his thick, black brushes.

 

In the hot, December mornings

I would help him stretch out

the skins from his previous

night’s work. Nail them

to the floor of the earth.

 

Later, I would watch the blood

stain like shellac on the light

wood of the afternoon, while

the meat ants tore apart

his gaudy exhibition

canvas by canvas.

 


Of Earth and Wheat

 

He is dying in here & outside

everything is still living.

On the edge of town a breeze

crawls through the infant wheat;

teases the black, powdery soil.

Cracks have opened up in the body

of the earth. Even the sunlight

will not penetrate. He senses

that things are beginning to go

rotten beneath his feet.

 

Do you know where the man is going?

He is travelling through the wheat

& into the black soil that has sustained him.

He is slipping down the cracks;

he is going deep, deep underground.

 

Do you know where the man has been?

He has been sowing

the wheat seed inside of his head.

 

He has been turning the black soil

over & over & over

with the shovel of his hands.

He has been watching it sift

into the cracks in the body

of his earth.

 

He has begun to rot.

 

 

Cockatrice

 

When the earth took him by surprise

it spewed black beetles the size

of his father’s clenched fists

out of a crack near the garden fence,

where the geraniums pushed

their faces into the wire,

as if they were prisoners of war

staring through the plump

red bulbs of their eyes.

 

When the earth took him by surprise

it spewed black beetles into his father’s body.

He could do nothing but clench his fists

near the front garden fence,

where the geraniums pushed

their faces into the wire,

where the red bulbs of their eyes

strained to see what was happening.

 

When the earth took him by surprise

he smashed the black beetles to pieces.

Their ebony skulls he split with a stick

invoking thick, milky liquid to erupt,

staining the pig-weed with insect-shit.

He rejoiced as the beetlejuice congealed

around the cracks near the fence,

like the white powder he shovelled

into the mouths of meat-ant colonies.

A mass murderer by the age of eight.

 

When the earth took him by surprise

his small world exploded like a can

of mortein thrown onto a bonfire.

Near the front garden, near the geraniums

that craned their necks for a better look,

the remains of rhinoceros beetles

lay scattered in the dirt at his feet

like the darkest of marbles.

 

Later on, when collecting eggs

from the chook house he noticed

a canetoad, clucky as any hen,

sitting on a nest licking eggs

with the strip of leather that hung

from the rafter of its mouth.

 

In this way his father

gave birth to a son.

A fair-haired cockatrice

who would never be taken

by surprise again.

 

 

Green Heart, Red Neck

 

The veins in his temples pulsed

red like the inside of a lava lamp

every time the earth angered him

or a breakdown got in his way.

Sometimes, his arms & legs

& face were stained black when

he came in off the tractor.

Hands clenched into fists

at the kitchen table as if he

still gripped the steering wheel

or tried to bend spoons with his mind.

 

I had no comprehension

of this man who communed with

nature day in day out from inside

his air-conditioned cab.

What did he think about to pass

the dark hours of his pilgrimage?

This cyborg, whose spotlights

would rake the side of the house

late at night like a beast whenever

he turned to cut a new coal mine

out of the deep pit of his eyes.

 

The False Southern Cross shone

faintly like the windows of a farmhouse;

pointed him in some other direction

to the one he wanted to travel.

Falling stars rained on the night

of his world like the bogong moths

that crowdsurfed on his headlights.

 

All I knew was that sometime

during the long haul of his ploughing

he made his peace with the earth

& kept it right until the very end.

 

Right up until the moment

his green, deciduous heart

dropped its dead leaves,

& his red neck slowly

faded out of sight & mind

like a sunset.


 

Full Bloom

 

On the first day of spring

his fern-fists pounded the limp

bodies of wheat sacks,

releasing barbed seeds that spun

like swivels on the hard wooden

floor of the grain shed.

 

Later, rats thick as housebricks

slunk out from beneath the silos

& accepted his small offerings.

Their blind, pink rat babies

praised his name in their secret

incisor language. The baling twine

of their tails flicked out like the

tongues of black snakes tasting

the air for rain & rodents.

 

When the rains came the bud

of his brain refused to leave its

glossy shell. He arrived at spring

too late. The weeds were clever;

stiched his fingers & toes into the

dark tapestry of soil whenever he

touched the spindle of earth

with his bare flesh.

 

Beneath his King Gee overalls

his trellis-body temed with new

shoots that competed for the little

space left in the garden of his dreams.

Their thin, green ropes clung to him,

tight & sharp as a new born kitten.

 

I sat there stripping the heads

off geraniums; leaving a trail of blood

for him to follow under our house –

but he never did. He was too busy

bending the world to his will. Telling

the sorghum to stand up straight.

Hanging snake-stones on the cattle

to charm away taipans. Cutting into

the blue of the horizon

with his silver blades.

 

I even think

he was too busy to notice

who came in & brushed aside

the shrunken petals of his days;

when his full bloom began

to wither & turn brown

like grass in winter.


Black Tadpoles

 

His tree frog heart

leapt out of his chest.

He didn’t want to turn & look.

Couldn’t tear his eyes from the forest

that bull-whipped his face with strings

of barbed wire as he fled.

 

Or avoid the sharp, cigarette burn

of leeches, skinny as shoelaces

that clung to his legs as he crashed

into a stagnant pool of rainwater.

 

Crickets sizzled with the heat of the day

as he morris danced down the gravel road

his shirt trailing like a loose muffler

his pondweed hair, flat against his head.

His brothers & sisters

hazy as a mirage.

 

Mountains of red meat ants

swarmed over his toes, arms, belly,

as he crouched in the centre of the track

& screamed, his face cradled

in his sticky hands, webbed

with pine cones.

 

Then someone brushed away

the ants & flies; dark crescents

of fingernail lifted him up

into the blue sky by the scruff

of his kitten-neck & a great voice

bellowed, silencing even the brigalow.

 

Beneath his feet, black tadpoles

bellyflopped in archipelagoes of mud

left over from the flash flood.

The thin lips of dying amphibians

opened & closed like cattle-gates.

 

 

Gone Shooting Ken and I Home Later Warren

 

(i)

Mr Warren Dionysius your appointment at the x-ray department is on Friday 27/8/76 at 12.00pm

sorry you’re sick it must be a strange new feeling for you lying there in bed…by yourself! with lots of love & best wishes for a speedy recovery from rosemary and gordon get well soon

 

(ii)

BARIUM SWALLOW AND MEAL have nothing to eat or drink after the previous evening meal if the examination is to be carried out in the afternoon, nothing to eat or drink for six (6) hours prior to the examination.

get well soon “the eternal god is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” deuteronomy 33:27 a prayer for your recovery god bless you with his gracious love, his heavenly gifts increase; and in his tender loving care, may you find strength and peace; may god’s dear prescence guide you, keep you ever strong, and grant the gifts that comfort & bless to cheer you all life long to dear warren big god bless lots of love mum and dad xxxxx

 

(iii)

GALL BLADDER dose of agarol (1 tablespoon), or 2 “durolax” tablets, two nights before the day of the examination all tablets to be taken according to direction at 6 p.m. the evening before the examination no food to be taken after the tablets, but water can be drunk freely examination will be carried out at 8 a.m. all tablets to be taken after the 6 p.m. meal on_______________________

a get well push to help you get your health in tow…’till your motor’s revved up and your gear’s in go! dear warren, hurry up and get well love from joy and wayne xxxx

 

(iv)

INTRAVENOUS PYELOGRAM *non-residue diet as far as possible two days before the examination two tablets of “durolax” to be taken with the evening meal on the day before the examination this should produce two or more bowel actions the following morning a suppository should be inserted into the rectum one to two hours before the examination this should produce one or two bowel actions

dear warren just wondering how your doing and hope you can say that you are really feeling more like yourself today and then, before you know it, may you be pleased to find you’re happily enjoying health of the very best kind many many good wishes! our thoughts are with you every day and hoping you are feeling a little better each day mildred and vic

no fluid is to be taken for eight (8) hours beforehand a light dry meal may be taken four (4) hours beforehand, if desired only the bladder is to be emptied immediately prior to the examination walk around as much as possible beforehand

especially for you light thoughts bright thoughts gladden your day thoughts …sun thoughts, fun thoughts, coming your way thoughts! Hope you’re feeling better from jack and mavis

 

(v)

INTRAVENOUS CHOLANGIOGRAM *non-residue diet as far as possible two days before the examination two tablets of “durolax” to be taken with the evening meal on the day before the examination this should produce two or more bowel actions the following morning a suppository should be inserted into the rectum one or two hours before the examination this should produce one or two bowel actions fast on the day of the examination walk around as much as possible for 2 hours before the examination

hope you’re feeling better certainly hope you’re feeling just a whole lot better today, and hope you know you’re thought of in the very warmest way to dear warren, thinking of you all the time and hoping you will soon be home all my love, fay, jack, and family xxxxx

 

(vi)

* “NON-RESIDUE DIET” should exclude all rough and stringy vegetables and fruit and breakfast preparations containing bran etc. fruit juices, milk meat and bread may be taken

get well real soon thinking of you a lot these days and sincerely hoping too that things are going smoothly and will keep improving for you pat budd

IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO KEEP THIS APPOINTMENT, PLEASE NOTIFY THE X-RAY DEPARTMENT, ROYAL BRISBANE HOSPITAL, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE TELPHONE 52011 APPOINTMENTS CLERK EXT 591

 

(vii)

Gone shooting Ken and I home later Warren.


 

Last Words, 1978

 

The last words with

his father had nothing

to do with art or history

or culture or poetry.

They had nothing to do

with the big issues of

the time; Malcolm Fraser

or Skylab or Afghanistan

or Elvis.

 

They went something like this,

‘You look after yourself, tiger.’

‘Yes, Dad.’

‘You be a good boy.’

‘Yes, Dad.’

‘See you when you get back’.

‘Yes, Dad.’

 

Then his father waved once

& dissolved into the wire-mesh

pixels of the front screen door.

And the next night his small

world flipped on its axis & all

things mechanical revolted

in his face, when he learnt

the king had finally lost

his linoleum crown.


 

The Funeral Service of Warren Neil Dionysius (A New Translation)

 

(i)

Pastor:          We are all born weak and helpless. All

                       lead the same, short, troubled life. We

                      grow and wither as quickly as flowers;

                      We disappear like shadows. Will you even

                      look at me, God, or put me on trial and

                      judge me? Nothing clean can ever come

                      from anything as unclean as man. The

                      length of his life is decided beforehand –

                      the number of months he will live. You

                      have settled it, and it can’t be changed.

                      In the name of the Father and of the Son

                      and of the Holy Spirit.

Cong:           Amen.

Poet:              No. I reject this narrative.

Pastor:          Lord have mercy.

Cong:            Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy,

Lord, have mercy.

Poet:   havemercyhavemercyhavemercyhavemercyhavemercyhavemercyonmetoo

 

(ii)

Psalm 90:     Of God and Man

 

O Lord, you have always been our home.

(My home was a small wooden cottage)

Before you created the hills

(Beside the Condamine river, Western Qld)

or brought the world into being,

(There I had my first sense of being)

you were eternally God,

(He was eternally there)

and will be God forever.

(Blocking out the sun

                 with his raised fist)

You tell man to return to what he was;

                (No one could tell him anything!)

you change him back to dust.

(He was already turning to dust)

A thousand years to you are like one day;

(When he was gone shooting

I had a thousand-yard stare)

they are like yesterday, already gone,

(The past was a dried up dam

                 its yellow days; dead carp)

like a short hour in the night.

(Sometimes there was crying

in the short hours of the night)

You carry us away like a flood;

(Sometimes the Condamine flooded;

I once saw a turtle swept away)

we last no longer than a dream.

                 (In my dreams it was a small boy instead)

We are like weeds that sprout in the morning,

(I can only remember geraniums

& bloodworms longer than my arm)

that grow and burst into bloom,

                 (that crawled out of the ground after rain)

then dry up and die in the evening.

(I killed these blind creatures;

pretended they were snakes)

We are destroyed by your anger;

(We were destroyed by his anger)

we are terrified by your fury.

                 (We were terrified by his fury)

You place our sins before you.

(I placed my hands before him)

our secret sins where you can see them.

(I lost his Australian Army Badge

playing war down by the riverbank)

Our life is cut short by your anger;

               (I never told anyone about it;

carried the medal-guilt on my chest

His life was cut short by anger)

it fades away like a whisper.

                 (The walls of the cottage whispered)

Seventy years is all we have-

eighty years, if we are strong;

(His grandfather got ninety one

                 His father got eighty one

He was strong, but only got forty-five)

                  yet all they bring us is trouble and sorrow;

life is soon over, and we are gone.

                 (The cottage is gone, the river still there)

Who has felt the full power of your anger?

(His anger was a small, blue sun;

                 a supernova that burned in his temples)

       Who knows what fear your fury can bring?

                 (I knew the sun was unstable)

Teach us how short our life is,

(He was a Sun-King of course

                 who could only reign for seven years)

so that we may become wise.

                 (I am still dumb with his death)

How much longer will your anger last?

(I do not know, he was my model you see)

Have pity, O Lord, on your servants!

(Did I pity him? Do I even care?)

Fill us each morning with your constant love,

(In the mornings the giant sat at the table

                 his catapult arms thundering; LOVE & HATE

                 etched in the skin of his knuckles)

so that we may sing and be glad all our life.

                 (I was always glad to leave the table)

Give us now as much happiness as the sadness

                 (Tears dried quickly in the dry heat)

you gave us during all our years of misery.

                 (Was I a good son? Did he think so? Say so?)

Let us, your servants, see your mighty deeds;

(Once I saw him lift two wheat bags over his head)

let our ancestors see your glorious might.

                 (What will his fathers think of me?

                 Now that the wheat seeds sprout inside my head?)

LORD our God, may your blessing be with us.

                 (Did I even say I loved him? On that last day?)

Give us success in all we do!

(Did he call for me when I was not there

                 Did his lips trace my name before he imploded

                 Before his body burned like a magnesium flare?)

Pastor:          Glory to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Cong:            As it was in the beginning is now, and shall be forever more.

Amen. (Congregation sits)

Poet:              No glory. No father. No son. No Holy Spirit. No beginning.          

No forever more. No Amen. (narrative can never sit still)


 

Some Thoughts on the Absence of Mourning

Picture this.

A small, mousy blonde boy of seven

taken aside by his friend’s mother

one summer night on a farm,

halfway between Tara & Dalby.

Being told that his father

died an hour ago.

 

Waking up the next morning,

the springs of a strange bed

digging into his cricket ball

skull wound tight with memory.

Dust motes hung with suspense.

These tiny angel of mercy mobiles

in orbit around his head.

Cartoon stars exploding in

his face with tunguska force.

His small world leveled like

a permafrost pine forest.

 

Can you picture him?

Staring into a bowl of uneaten

Fruit Loops, dissolving molecule

by molecule into pink milk.

 

Or sitting in the car, coaxing

the landscape to jump & snarl

at the window; crude sling-shots

trained on him by semi-trailers.

Riding with the Premier’s inertia

as it avoided shreds of kangaroo

studded on the thick, blue belt

of the Warrego highway.

 

Magnetic specks of meat

attaching to the hubcaps

like iron-flesh filings.

 

Can you picture his house in mourning?

Blood relatives who got there first.

His mother ironed into the grieving press.

Her pain transferred into speechlessness.

 

Him, staring at his parent’s wedding photo

on top of the chipped glory-chest;

its lacquered tongue wagging all

over the small country town.

 

Him, searching the house from end to end;

checking under beds, in the downstairs

laundry, outside toilet, garden shed

& finally beneath the house.

Wishing the blue sky could

burst into tiny shards.

 

Can you picture him?

Hugging a rough, hardwood stump.

Ignorant of the redbacks eavesdropping

on his private world; whispering

their petty hatreds in their

faint, clicking speech.

 

Him, too afraid to go to the toilet;

fear dribbling down his leg into

the split, black soil where they

would soon pour his father, covering

him with a quilt of dead lawn.

Wishing the world could

be wound back like a clock.

 

Can you picture it?

The ant lion of time sitting

patiently in its house of sand;

waiting for the next boy to wander in

& never get out.

 


Instamatic

 

There he was.

One hand holding the reins

the other patting the cheek

of the palomino; its pink nose

quivered like a hare’s.

 

There he was in the saddle.

Joined to the mother-mare by

a thick slice of leather &

the blood-brother bond

of man & beast.

 

They shared the same circulation

of sweat & destiny. If one got sick

they both fell ill. If one tripped on a stone

they both stumbled. If one was called by name

they both pricked up their ears.

 

There I was. The only one in the photo

left alive. The mare, already half brown,

slipped into sepia first. My father, mostly white

took a little longer to succumb to the polaroid

decay of the seventies.

 

But, by the end of the decade

it had stamped him too.

 

 

The Enormous Nature of Things

 

When he was seven his father

dissipated into the steam of time

right before his seam opal eyes.

 

His flesh evaporated from his bones

like a pot of water boiling dry on

the electric stove hissing with defeat.

 

Sometimes after a thunderstorm his

siblings placed him on top of a mud

castle & left him there to harden.

 

At two, he was the Lord of Muck.

From the photographs it seemed

that his father too, was buried

 

under a scalp of earth.

At seven, he learnt about

the enormous nature of things.

 

Of how his kittens could never

be returned once his mother bashed

their skulls against the house stumps.

 

Of how his father was never coming back

no matter how much he tugged & tugged

at the time capsule to release him.

 

 

 

2. Fatherlands

 

 

Fatherlands

for Raymond Carver

 

What was it about him?

Was it the way he scraped

his boots, home from work

guts full of horse-fly bites,

fingernails blunt as butter knives?

Or slivers of dried mud curled

into a fist on the wash-house floor,

his leather belt singing the same

old hymn? Dry lips drawn apart;

blood atoms stealing

into a blue-grey dusk?

 

Was it solar flares that leapt

from his eyes & burnt holes

in your heart’s cheap furniture?

Or his creosote hands sealing

your mother’s softwood throat

as he fell down the front steps?

A metal colander arcing through

the space where his head had been;

a motherland sputnik seized by

its small window of opportunity.

 

What was it about him?

The way the rabbit felt hat

cast a rain-shadow over his eyes

as he belted his brother-in-law;

his shoulders heavy as a plough?

Or the way he held his daughter

on Suzy the mare until she screamed?

Or the way he raised a flagon

of white sherry to his lips:

a conch shell heralding the future?

 

Was it the way his famous strength

capitulated against the chrome

rails of the mechanical cot-bed?

Or the way his children looked out

the window, unaware of the hospital’s

slow decay into infinite sepia?

What was it about him?

Was it the way the polaroids

only ever captured

half the picture?

 

 

Earthing

 

The thunder echoed clear across

the plain like a child jumping on

the top of an empty rainwater tank.

The boy, familiar with the short

fuse of summer storms raced out

of the small, weatherboard house

to rescue his mother’s washing.

As he started uprooting pegs

the sky erupted like a chromakeyed

backdrop & smothered him

with blue fire.

 

When he opened his eyes he found

himself lying on his back, elbows

barnacled with black dirt. He saw

his grey school shirts hanging limp

& defeated & he found the Hills Hoist,

incandescent as a xmas tree, rotating

back & forth like the confused

needle of a compass.

 

Bolting back to the house,

he made it just as hail rained down;

little, dirty comets earthing themselves

where the impact of the boy

still quivered in the red

memory of clover.


 

Ghost Limb

 

The chicken was still warm

when his mother found it by

the front gate. Its head

torn clean off like a hand

rinsed through an auger.

Blood flecked the grass;

grains of sorghum spilt

at feeding time.

 

Before he had even sat

down to breakfast his mother

spied the fox from her kitchen

window. His step-father grabbed

the old .22 from where it hid

in a corner; a walnut bloodhound

straining on its links of memory.

The fox riddled with the mange

did not seem to notice the bullets

screaming over its head; a flock

of harpies fitted with spurs.

 

After five shots his step-father

handed him the relay baton in this

new competition to see who could

kill the fox first. He took aim

eager to end the mid-morning blood

lust & return to his breakfast.

His bullet kicked into the wheat

stubble with the velocity

of a startled hare.

 

Eventually his step-father

punched a hole through its hip bone.

The fox jack-knifed into the ground.

Its tongue lolled as it dragged itself

over the cultivation on its front paws.

Then his step-father placed the barrel

behind its right ear & squeezed

the metal fingernail moon.

 

They left the body of the fox

in a drainage ditch for the crows.

His eyes usually steel-grey

clouded over with blood & blue sky.

As they cut through the dead grass

his trigger finger itched

like a ghost limb.


 

Monoculture

 

(i)

He imagined his deep, blue blood

soaking into the black ox heart

 

of the Darling Downs. He thought

of him feeding the great artesian

 

anima of Queensland. He watched

as his manliness was peeled away

 

like leaves from a head of corn.

He was not there when they drove

 

him to the hospital. He did not

know when they lowered him into

 

his fertile tomb. He did not see

thin ribbons of guests wind their

 

way back to the parking lot. He

did not hear the rotary-hoe start.

 

He never witnessed the water-level.

Never noticed them plant their high

 

yield, bumper harvest around him. He

avoided their plasma stained sorghum

 

& white-celled wheat. He could never

fathom his father’s winter-crop rotation.

 

(ii)

He did witness his daughter’s birth.

Her emergence; blue skinned seedling

 

blood freckles on her face, his father

in her veins. Once, he was not allowed

 

to watch his father die & eventually

colour photos were passed his way;

 

polaroid heirlooms that kept falling

out of his head-album or kept being put

 

back in the wrong order & getting mixed up.

Bamboo thin memories that he pressed under

 

the fingernails of his mind’s eye; drawing

down the rains to wash away his monoculture.


 

Almost Sixteen Months

 

My daughter

Almost sixteen months

Drowns her plastic dolly

In a tub of lukewarm water.

A flotilla of ducks

Surround her like the Seventh Fleet.

She has risen out of the depths

Of our subconscious,

This Godzilla girl-child

Smashing lives in her wake.

 

At almost sixteen months

My daughter has already

Learnt the basics of her race.

That her hands can crush

Butterflies into a cloud of fairy dust

And that her brain is the best

Weapon of all when it comes

To laying whole cities to waste.


 

Of Fear & Fathers

 

He’s so afraid of his daughter.

Of her blue & red handprints

that smear their blood message

across the face of his world.

He’s afraid of when her genes

start to kick in, of when each

memory canvas, each illumination

is discarded as if they were a

cicada shell; still fearsome.

 

He’s afraid of the things he plants,

that take root each season; but are

slaughtered, like children caught in

a gymnasium by a bogeyman with a pair

of 45’s. Their small bodies, heavy

as medicine balls. He is afraid of time;

How many football fields of memories

are cleared each day from her mind?

How many thoughts are planted?

 

He is so afraid of history. His

photographs make a mockery of the

events. His family album is thick

with dead men & women who did not

know him, who will never understand.

He can feel a bloody revolution

waiting to break out inside her.

 

He must topple the lichen stained

statues of his fathers; sell them

on his black market soul.

 

He can feel the glacier of his fears

begin to crack wide open & sink into

her bitter sea. The waters rise more

as their noontide rushes to engulf.

He must not let his daughter drown

in the sorrows that eroded his skin

& bone coastline. He must keep her

head above the chrome ocean of fate

that claimed his fathers.

 

He noticed his daughter has

the blue-grey eyes of his mother.

She is the alpha & the omega.

She is the first & last

of his fathers.

 

 

Crossing

 

He was surprised at how much it didn’t hurt.

Punching the smooth cup of the pedestrian button

hard as he could with the side of his left fist.

Three times his flesh smote the steel; he, the

ogre who would crumple his daughter’s iron spirit

(as if it were paper). Sticking his paw out for her,

he grasped thin air instead. He looked at her then,

his blue slitted eyes burning with St Elmo’s fire.

“I don’t hold the hands of grumpy people!”

she declared coolly, fingering the pink, plastic

ring on her right hand, trying to use up one

of her three wishes. “It’s alright. I’m not angry

at you, I’m only angry at the bus”, he growled

feeling his wrist start to throb with poison.

They stood there hand in hand, waiting

for the little red man to turn green.

 

 

Fossils

for Rhiannon

 

(i)

Once, on a small hill-top

that stood out like a bruised thumb

on the flat palm of the Darling Downs,

I found my one & only treasure.

The fossil of a leaf. Its diamond shape

impregnated like Manson’s swastika

into the forehead of silurian rock.

Its veins collapsed into thin coal.

 

(ii)

I carried the fossil for weeks

wrapped in his school jumper –

an injured magpie fragile as knowledge.

My science teacher though, doubted

the validity of my find,

said it was nothing more

than cement with scratches,

& heaved it out of the classroom

like a housebrick.

 

(iii)

My step-father, a rock collector

himself told me that once, he

& his brother-in-law unearthed

a fossilised tree some 30 feet long,

& not knowing what to do with it

ploughed it back into the paddock.

My thylacine jawbone

unhinged in shock.

 

(iv)

In a sandpit at the Queensland

Museum my daughter dug up her

own fossil. A fragment of a two

hundred million year old ammonite.

Curled her fist around it like a

Jurassic lollipop. On the footpath

outside she pointed to the imprint

 

of a leaf etched into some new cement

by mistake & asked,

“Is this a fossil too, Daddy?”

 

(v)

“Absolutely”, I replied,

shading her from the glare,

my petrified trunk rooted

to her eternity.

 

 

Wasp factory

 

The wasps hovered about the clothesline

like thin wisps of cigar smoke, drifting

for hours on tobacco leaf wings,

long after their nest had been napalmed

by an old copy of the Sunday Mail

& a platoon of red head matches.

 

Cocooned in their honeycombed big-top

the albino wasp larvae withered like

beeswax candles before a flamethrower.

When the scorched nest was knocked

to the ground, worker ants tried to tug

the unborn out of their hexagonal cells

like circus clowns out of cannons.

White death masks covered

their young, insect faces.

 

That afternoon, everything ran its course.

Green ants snapped their bull-whip

mandibles & began strutting up long

blades of grass like psychopathic

acrobats. Dragonflies dipped their red

ladle-long abdomens into the algae souped

up pond. Smaller ants flensed two beached

guppies, opening their rib cages like cans

of tuna. Empty cicada shells clawed

the callistemon, decorated the backyard

with Easter Island statues.

 

Later, the washing dried

in its own good time & the paperwasps

fled like a squadron of Huey Cobras;

their mission aborted for now,

their black & yellow bodywork flaking.

The neon sting of their defeat buzzing

around their ears like tracer.

 

 

Wasp Factory 2

 

I tell my daughter as I tuck her in

‘The wasps are back under the steps again.’

This, their third incursion in two months.

She is scared of the things outside.

Not the dark itself.

Just the things that are in it.

Dracula. Frankenstein. The Black Prince.

Wants to know as I press my lips

against the silk wires of her head.

‘What are the bad things

adults dream of?’

 

What can I tell her

when fifteen minutes ago

I saw a kidnapped boy-soldier,

forced to fight for the rebels

in Sierra Leone, naked & squealing

as he was hog-tied to the back

of a Toyota landcruiser by

two Nigerian ‘peacekeepers’.

This small hive of a boy

disoriented as a dying bee.

 

When I don’t answer

she changes the subject;

suggests that in the morning

we can burn a newspaper,

trap the wasps in her bug-catcher

& make them fly into the flames one by one.

They stung her once, you see.

On the ankle as she was standing

at the bottom of the back steps

just observing.

 

As I kiss her goodnight

it occurs to me that she

may have been captured too.

Forced to think like an adult.

As I turn to leave, I notice

her tropical fish eyeing the algae

blooming inside their tank.

Their mouths, wide with panic.

 

In the pond-black darkness

of the hallway I stumble;

cannot get a grip on the fear

alighting on my heart’s dim bulb

in a small flurry of wings.

 

 

Easter

 

The red panacum sweats

inside my step-father’s silo.

As I help him lift the auger

my fingers rub some congealed grease

& stiffen, as if they’ve tasted blood.

Out of the corner of my eye

I notice the rats, plump with time,

begin to outflank us.

 

All afternoon he pumps seed into

a truck, parked beneath his father’s

grain shed they put up together in ‘66.

The dust mushrooms under our slow dance.

Over the corrugated tin roof, a sonic

April sky booms. Later, in the

bathroom the solvol soap grinds away

my skin’s dying universe.

 

It is Easter.

I have not been back for a year.

My step-father’s thinning hair

is turning the colour of his shed.

At lunch, my mother points her finger

out the kitchen window to the dirt

I once played in, now replaced

by a new couch lawn.

 

Things are greener than

they were last time, she says.

 

That night my daughter stuffs

the hay she collected into two

baskets for the Easter Bilby.

Places them gently beside her bed

like twin basins of holy water.

In the toilet she pokes a tree

frog which squats on the cistern;

its skin fragile as silver wrapping.

Outside, a rain-ring orbits the moon.

 

Next morning, over breakfast

I eavesdrop on her telling

my parents of her discovery.

Of how he squeezed in through

a rip in the fly-screen.

I watch her spit out the words

like splinters of painted egg-shell

caught beneath her tongue.


 

Of Wolves & Children

 

Some days I stare at my daughter

with the eyes of a maddened wolf.

I am the rogue dog, who has been

expelled from the pack & left to

fend for myself in the desolate

tundra of the mind.

 

See me plundering the garbage bins

of your subconscious for scraps of

thought, for shelter from my animal

instincts. When I walk into the room

I want you to cry wolf.

 

I do not know how I came to hunt

alone. All I know is that now I prey

on the weak & the sick & the young.

I use my wits to avoid the steel traps,

my strength to run down the innocent.

 

I am protected from the bitter cold

of my canine exile by the fire in my

blood. But it will not last long.

See me wander off to die of starvation.

Watch the snow & ice cover my miserable

flesh with the cool pelt of winter.

 

In the spring see my daughter

poke around in the floe & uncover

the conspiracy of bones & teeth.

See her lip curl into a snarl.

 

 

My Daughter & I at the End of the Century

 

(i)

I war upon myself.

My daughter is a bystander

her eyes cameras recording

every image, every sound I make.

I know she is memorising my crimes.

I have declared civil war upon myself.

My daughter is an innocent caught

in the cross-fire of my heart.

I cut her down with the

friendly fire of my soul.

 

(ii)

I think I am not so much a

warrior as a prisoner of war,

of my own private bloodshed.

My father failed to complete

his training in the acts of killing.

I was his little blond, Spartan boy

who kept a collection of 303 shells

in a shoebox under his bed.

I used to fall asleep underneath

the goose-feather eiderdown

as my father fashioned bullets

out of the thin alluvial air.

 

(iii)

What is it that makes little

boys into little soldiers?

It is the steer shot in the head.

It is the goanna punched out of the tree.

The chicken anointing the chopping block.

The lamb with its throat slit open.

The kangaroo stuffed on a grid-

post on the way to St George.

It is the zebra finch that

crumpled into the pineapples

on my Uncle’s farm.

 

(iv)

At the end of the century

I will tell my daughter these two things:

that once when I was a boy

I buried my box of shells so deep

I could never find them again,

and that unlike my father

I will never be able to fashion

bullets for her out of thin air.


 

Of Lies & Nursing Homes

for Nan

 

My grandmother is losing her way

in the Redcliffe Nursing Home at

the end of the twentieth century.

 

She is trapped between the summers

of 1922 & 1952; a xmas beetle caught

inside the screen & sliding doors

 

of her memory. Her brain has been

flipped onto its glossy carapace

by the small child within her;

 

she hisses with stories, unable to

extend her wings, fragile as thought.

On the bedside table a bunch of wilting

 

paper daisies from an impossibly long

dead friend flower-press the white-stucco

walls of her room with their dying scent.

 

The statues of Lenin & King George

raised in her youth are now bearded

with the market economy of lichen;

 

the nationalism of moss. In the glass-blue

sapphires of her eyes I sometimes see her

dancing the Charleston over & over

 

in the great depression of her mind.

Under the bedsheets, the bulge of her legs;

frozen by a bout of polio that plagued

 

her childhood like a lost puppy she

once took home & kept tripping her up.

Her children, old & worn themselves

 

weave in & out of her memory’s stupor,

have nothing now to say to their mother

keeping warm under the crocheted quilt

 

of her decline. My Uncle on a private

visit to the Home shouts his second born anger;

stills fights with his mother to upset her.

 

In the eucalypt fresh ward grey nurses whisper

to each other & nudge on. Nan tells us that her

handsome, eldest boy (my long dead father)

 

visits her in dreams. Hands outstretched he glides

through the chrome & bleach of the Home; I’m over here

Son, she calls out to him, but my father does not hear

 

& walks through the ward without saying anything.

No one can tell her that the sorghum & wheat last

drained through her son’s thresher-fingers twenty

 

years ago, leaving nothing but a cancerous wind

to disperse his husk. The dark, fertile plains

of the Darling Downs having repossessed his ribs

 

& his black tongue. Nan’s statements of;

I’m going home tomorrow! are softly ignored

like Majorie Somebody? nesting in her own shit

 

a metre away. I take hold of her hands wrinkled

in the fashion of her 1920’s flapper hairstyle.

Cold as the rings of Saturn, her wedding bands

 

circumnavigate an intricate galaxy of blue veins

& bed sores. I try to drain my youth into them

like an intravenous drip, but the universe

 

of her cells is silent in their rejection of me.

On the foot of her bed, my three year old daughter

fidgets with her toys & Wiggles books;

 

does not understand who her great-grandmother

is & asks, Why is she lying there? In the next

bed Majorie mutters like an untuned radio

 

& drowns out my answer. Nan clasps her

small, grubby hands & pats them like a kitten;

says how much my daughter looks her father.

 

I think of my father & of how I shot up

around his legs like the buckwheat & ryegrass

that eventually smothered him. On the way

 

out my daughter blows her a ghost-kiss

& asks, Is Nana May coming home with us?

In the corridor, I notice a blank-faced

 

Sony television poised like a gargoyle

waiting to administer the last rites

of this plastic millennium to her.

 

Outside the Nursing home the air

begins to stink with salt & down

on Sutton’s Beach we find a used

 

syringe & the maggoty corpse

of a dead seagull. My lies continue

all the way back to Brisbane.


 

 

3. In a Forest of V2 Rockets

 

In a Forest of V2 Rockets

 

(i)

There is a coolness here

that you cannot get out; mixes

with your liquid oxygen heart

fueling arteries & engines.

Forests are efficient factories;

young stems reach for the sky

& aerial roots rain down

on Europe’s great cities.

 

Beneath the green canopy

our glow-worm veins pulse

like ignition keys.

 

(ii)

In the forest of V2 rockets

a clarinet of log reclines;

the deep notes of its decay

imperceptible to the ear.

Over the sea of leaves

Glenn Miller reaches

for a Lucky Strike as

our fingers play along

buttons of brass

coloured fungi.

 

(iii)

Suddenly, we cannot

see the mountains

for vapour trails.

 

(iv)

In a glade we notice

a wedding finger of trunk

banded by an infinity of vines.

A mushroom smell sautés our skin.

Here, the doodle-bugs shed

their iron casings; drop

to the forest floor & die

in their hundreds.

 

(v)

Guidance fins draped

with Grandfather’s Beard;

buttressed to the ground

by the sheer weight of staghorns.

Up ahead, a slender Oppenheimer

picks his teeth with a blade of grass.

If you listen carefully,

the air ticks with

water-cooled metal.

 

(vi)

Over the campsite

the moon wraps itself

in a black & white

skin of explosive.

 

(vii)

When we finally trek through

nothing remains but the skeletons

of leaves, fragile as bird skulls.

Antlers of moss challenge us

at the gates.

There is writing

beside the cobwebs of wire.

Overhead, the last sub-sonic

cry falls silent as lichen.

 

(viii)

As we leave the camp,

a Prince Albert lyrebird rakes

over its continuum of leaf litter;

scratches at the surface

of stories, buried deep

in bunkers of humus.

 

(ix)

A blue tattoo of mildew

on a wrist of Antarctic beech

stains the late afternoon,

a dark, stagnant hue.

 

 

The Man is History

 

Man is a history making creature who

can neither repeat his past nor leave it behind.

W.H. Auden

 

Back.

Even if he wanted to. He left him & cannot go

back.

 

The burnt out, tram-shell of him accelerated

to the edge of the universe where he waited;

as the world festered beneath his fingernails.

 

Every flicker of the Astor television channel

surfed images/thoughts/memories/fantasies of him.

Every frame murdered him with a conspiracy plot.

 

On US farms, secret government biological tests

& the presence of windrift caused cancer in him

twenty years later; barrels & barrels of the stuff

 

dumped into his body, black cells multiplying;

disgust with what was happening to his operations,

powerlessness at his foreign, top level betrayal.

 

He saw things in black & white. Fences had to be

put up; kangaroos brought down; the blonde tips of

children raised with the love of cereal cash crops.

 

On occasions though, he was caught in the whirlpool

of his bloodline. Neurotic as Nemo; he looked down

upon his son; intent hidden in the eye of his crow.

 

There was the slow decline of his bones to contend

with. He was the captain of his fate. He, the land

locked siren whose voice was broken; a falcon, its

 

cheap leather hood hiding the plaited, trademark

violence. He returned from the hunt; little bits of

meat clung to the sides of his mouth like lampreys.

 

His memory was a drowned empire; ironbarks sat

with their backs to the brick wall, trying to

hold in their guts as his Atlantis sank into

 

sap. Was it a sudden quake that got him? Before

he could rise out of himself; throw off the covers

of his masculinity. Was his body ringed with fire?

 

Did he even know what hit him? The white pointer

pain nudged at the bloodwaters of his oceanscream;

its blunt nose smelled aratarataratarataratarat.

 

His great but mean-spirited civilisation rained

down around his ears like motherlode words flung

into the metallurgical core of his granite being.

 

His mould cracked for good. Used farm equipment

surrounded his final resting place; his ceremonial

guard glinted with the chrome teeth of New Holland.

 

Roots now held his world together. Boulder-tears

shed with the Titans, in the long defeat of livers.

His, now a history of subtle vibrations.

 

Back.

Even if he wanted to. He left him & cannot go

back, until the man is history.


 

Atomic Shadow

 

His was the great & secret show

of hero & anti-hero. Of magenta

thin fathers & cyan thick sons.

His was the way of the coward,

not the warrior. Of stock-whip

& alpha spirit. A bushidõ-man

whose divine wind smashed

his wolfpack to pieces?.

 

The son had a recurring night-

mare of being sucked through an

hourglass over & over again; being

swamped by waves of death-nausea.

Particles of him were dying too.

He was the seppuku of memory the

son cut open as a child; crocodile

tears salted their blood.

 

Sometimes, the cracks widened

in the walls of the son’s psyche

& he crawled softly through.

His tongue, snaked from the son’s

mouth; a velvet gecko snapping

at things smaller than itself

in a monoculture of light

& ground zero violence.

 

He is something of a 70’s

hologram now; a 3-D whisper

of a train steaming out of

its tunnel; a ghost-face cut

through with a laser, mouthing

off; an atomic shadow ashing

the rubble of his days with

its faint, powdery outline.

 

* Seppuku or hara-kiri was the traditional Samurai practice of ritual suicide through disembowelment.

* Bushidõ or the way of the bushi (an alternate term for samurai) was the belief that the samurai owed absolute devotion to their feudal overlord.

 

 

The Wheels Turn Slowly

 

He tries to piece him together

with the other jigsaw bits lost

between the floorboards of memory.

Word-puzzles are released years

later by the Department of Defence.

He studies his CMF/National Service

records; model airplane eyes glued

for detail. He looptheloops the

information; strings a thought-stuka

from the ceiling of his mind.

 

‘The wheels turn slowly’ whispers

his uncle. On Armistice Day 1995

they attend the rededication of

an Anglican church to the men who

waited for a war that never came.

They wander around Wacol Barracks

where he & his brother shouldered

303’s like wheat bags or new calves,

sunk into the hips of the earth.

 

His Uncle passes down his earliest

recollection, a young Heracles bitten

by a brown snake in the crib of the

South Burnett. His nephew can only

remember the colostomy bags opaque

scales; specialists milking bronze

venom from his father’s body.

His jaw hooked into the side

of a disposable plastic cup.

The steady drip of time,

swallowing its own tail.


 

His Father’s Grave

‘A man who would not love his father’s grave is worse than an animal’.

Chief Joseph

 

Metal does not welcome strangers

but ushers them on past the duckpond

blanketed by hubcaps of lilypads

& ironbarks petrifying in the heat

of a midday sun cast in bronze.

 

Metal enjoys the sprinklers &

the plastic flowers which project

their perfect blooms all year round.

Metal is sown beside the Ag college’s

harvest & the seasons that dull

its lustre. They can do nothing

to prevent this black cultivation.

 

Metal is tended by lawn grubs & by

green ant civilisations that compete

with the living. Near the 1970’s

brick gate, ebony angels crow

with delight. Metal is the seal

of finality, the very last trophy

displayed in the earth’s cabinet.

Metal is the heavy, black coin

wedged between the front teeth

of the ferryman.

 

Metal waits patiently for you

to shave its beard of kikuyu,

to graft new leaf stained vases,

to run your fingers over

its oven-warm hieroglyph.

 

I suppose its true then, metal.

A man who would not love

his father’s grave

is worse than an animal.


 

My Father, the King

Father, I cannot remember when you spat

acid into my face at the kitchen table,

 

or when your fists drummed on my brothers

& sisters; a rhythmic beating like the blood

 

of the steers you crash-tackled & slaughtered.

Mother absorbed most of your mortal frustration.

 

You were only a young god then, newly arrived

at your power. You were our god of the hunt.

 

Your lycanthropic tongue; a pack of wolves

that ripped your family to pieces when there

 

was nothing else left. Father. King man.

Did we sacrifice you too soon to the old ones?

 

When we pulled your heart out of your chest why

were you smiling at us; your incisors bared?

 

We were without you, long before you died. Your

mind left for dead in the solicitor’s office.

 

After a while it seemed your body was only

going through the motions of fatherhood.

 

Father. You would not let me nail your

skins to the skull-cap of our backyard.

 

Only when they had dried & the ants

scissored the last stringy flesh away

 

would you let me try to pull the four-inch

nails free with your pliers. You drooled

 

as they fell to the ground like spent

cartridges. The roos fed us for a month.

 

Why so silent now Father? Have the worms

got your canine tongue? Did the battery

 

acid of your words dissolve your throat?

Did the strength in your hands erode away

 

grain by grain like a riverbank? Father,

you were my sun-god. Your star was bright

 

in my heaven for eight years. You were my

wicker-man. The earth demanded your life

 

so that we could live. So that I could

drive home the nails myself. Father.

 

King man. I am so sorry that I buried

you alive. I am so sorry that I only

 

split the wood of your memory. I am

so sorry that I had to skin you.


 

These Are the Days

 

These are the days of self-destruction.

When he followed his father’s King Gees’

through punji-stick paddocks of wheat

stubble. When he stumbled on bright

clods of black hearted earth. When

the wheels of civilisation fell off

at the cast iron foot of his father’s

deathbed.

 

These are the seeds of self-destruction.

When the temperature of the brain reaches

boiling point. When his blood thickened

& curdled inside of his skull. When the

membrane of his childhood was stretched

thin across the years as a cobweb across

his face.

 

These are the remains of self-destruction.

A mummified, middle-aged man preserved by

Kodak. A dozen photos sinking irreversibly

into sepia. A silver, Sekio watch that

stopped in 1978. Some soft porn novels

locked away in a suitcase. One moth-eaten

maroon bathrobe. One 1950’s, National Service

overcoat stained with discipline. One

bronze plaque ringed by kikuyu.

These are the days.


 

Not to be a Poet

 

Father, let me rewrite our story.

The summer of 1978 never happened.

I helped you down from the rock,

a sore & shaken Prometheus.

Given a second chance, you

stopped smoking & drinking.

Your cloud thin anger vanished.

You taught me how to drive.

How to pump grain into a silo

& string a barbed-wire fence.

You initiated me into the secret

men’s business of spanners & scopes;

Showed me how to fix my dragster

thread a hook through a worm

& shoot a .22, .243 & .303.

You lips cracked open when I blew

the head clean off my first kangaroo.

You taught me how to skin a carcass

delicately as tearing a mintie

wrapper into one fly-sweet strip.

 

Eventually our family scraped enough

together to buy our own bit of land.

On your 50th birthday we all drove

to your favourite spot on Frazer

& caught fish by the moonfull.

 

Father, in this story

you have not been dead

for the last twenty years.

In this story, we fought

too as much as we talked

& you lent me the extra cash

I needed to buy my first set of wheels.

A black, EH Holden sedan I wrapped

around a power-pole three weeks

after my 18th birthday.

 

Father, in this story

you gave me all the confidence

in the world, not to be a poet.

 


The Day the Earth Ate Him

 

I should have murdered this, that murders me.

Sylvia Plath

 

(i)

I was hiding inside of myself

The day the earth ate him. Devoured him.

I was hiding in the smallest

Blackest little hole in my head

The day the earth ate him. Drank him.

The pores of the earth opened up

& swallowed him the day I was

Hiding inside of my head. Choked him.

They poured black earth down his throat

& I was hiding from him in the hole in my head.

Poisoned him. They blindfolded & led him

Into the pit of night & I was left to fend off

The demons that came for him.

That were hunting him.

 

(ii)

Only by hiding could I defeat them. Murder them.

& every night after that I hid, tried to forget

Him as the earth gnawed on the bones of his memory

& sent emissaries through his eye sockets

again&again&again&again.

Sleep would not come to the dead.

 

(iii)

I mapped his slow digestion

On the chart inside of my head.

The parasites that took him apart

Grew&grew&grew&grew.

 

(iv)

I think I murdered his memory.

His voice was the first to go.

A bad echo the died shortly

After it had begun. Blinded him.

The incubi grew fat off my fears

While the earth separated him further

& further from the living. Hung him.

I was hiding inside of myself

The day the earth ate him. Gutted him.

I was hiding in the smallest, blackest little hole

In my head the day the earth ate him. Castrated him.

I hid as the black dust settled over him.

 

(v)

I should have murdered this, that murders me.

The day the earth ate him.

 

 

The Cold Work of Stones

 

Now father cut me down with tears

Plant me far in my mother’s image

To do the cold work of books and stones.

                                                John Ashbery, Eclogue

 

We skimmed only the flattest rocks

across the face of the freshwater lake

deftly as the steel-grey hubcaps

we frisbeed into the deep

blue belly of night.

We often wondered what he saw when

he turned the new moons of his eyes

toward the ripples that licked his boots

in anticipation of the next stoning.

 

We thought that maybe he was divining

for some secret purpose to his life.

Something beyond the black, blue & blonde

triad that left him transparent

as an ice sculpture.

 

He did not even make a splash

when the white-water of his century

pummelled him into the crab infested

beach-head littered with the flotsam

& jetsam of his dreams.

 

He sank completely out of sight.

The weight of the world dragging him

down to the tea-stained bottom

where the cold work of stones

filed away his pebble teeth

& his mossy tongue.

 

His ripples ending

as quickly as they

had begun.

 

 

Black Snag

 

(i)

I have kept you frozen within me

beside the flathead & whiting

you caught on your trips to Fraser

& kept in the bottom of the freezer.

My thoughts of you are only now

beginning to thaw. Your best

surf rod hung for years from

the ceiling of our garden shed.

Fishing line wormed around its

artificial limb; sometimes

I skewered my fingers

through your hooks.

 

(ii)

I used to enter this hot, tin box;

this galvanised tomb to your memory.

Your prawn lures sat there feeding

on filaments of dust/plankton

trapped by the meniscus of sunlight

& salt encrusted stories.

 

(iii)

Their passionfruit seed/eyes

stared dead blank into oblivion.

They were always anxious for your

return & their next chance to

use their rabbit-trap mouths.

The sandworms you lured away

with rotting fish-heads have

avenged themselves on your bones

& will lend you their sinewy tissue,

their ribbed throats.

 

(iv)

I have still not made it to Double Island

Point to search for your footprints.

My lips blister when I taste you

in the salt air; I feel you

in every grain of sand the wind

deposits into my face.

 

(v)

It is time to throw back the past

that died choking at my feet.

You were my Man from Atlantis;

a Jules Verne, luminescence hid

the coral dagger of your tongue.

Later, I saw you try to dodge

the harpoons that hunted your whale-meat.

One day, a grenade-tipped spear pinned

you to a Brisbane hospital bed.

All I could do was watch the flensing

knives strip the blubber from you;

On the street below, taxis bleated

like dying dolphins.

 

(vi)

I know now, you would have released

these things given half the chance,

but the sea swallowed your pink

fish-gill face, as your body

dissolved with soldier-crab cancer;

your hopes taken by a grey undertow.

 

Now your face has the distorted

edge of a fish-eye lens.

Your hooks rusted away.

Your lead sinkers

we substituted for marbles

at school & lost.

 

(vii)

Once, when I held your scaling knife

in the smooth, shark skin of my palm

I tried to grind away your memory-scales,

but there was always something

that stopped me from gutting you;

some unfathomable, mystery.

 

(viii)

I am frozen now

in your black snag.

 

 

Stars in His Pockets Like Grains of Sand

 

That night her face was framed by stars.

Her right shoulder nudged the Hunter, Orion,

into action. Withdrew a barbed rib or two

from the ice-quiver of his constellation.

On her left, the Southern Cross relaxed

in the milk white, sand-trap of her clavicle.

 

A few red giants could not contain

themselves though, & fell of their own accord.

Others he brushed absent-mindedly

from the raw singularity

of his skinned knee.

 

At midnight, when enough merlot

had flowed down the wormholes

of their throats he asked the question.

He wasn’t sure, but he thought

something flared from her mouth,

just before the reply came.

A wavelength perhaps, that white-watered

on the acceleration of her breath.

In the morning, as he fumbled

in the tent for his wristwatch

he found stars in his pockets

like grains of sand.

He didn’t tell her about them.

Hid them beneath his firework tongue

when she was taking a shower.

As they left the caravan park

he reached over & placed

a lapis-lazuli dwarf star

on her lips.


 

Pink Crocus Flowers

for Melissa

 

When you were not here

the crocus flowers erupted

in the backyard (again);

a metamorphosis of pink, streaming

into the blue heart of our December.

It was not their fault. I did it.

 

It was Tuesday.

I was emptying Rhiannon’s pool

& opened the plugholes at either end.

I stood, watching the water

drain out rhythmically when I thought:

This is not how we are at all.

 

In a fit of gusto I upended it

sending a tidal wave of butts

& twist-tops (from the Xmas party)

over the blue couch lawn, cratered

where I had begun to dig out nut-grass

(construction halted by your order)

swamping the dormant flower beds

still confused by the coldest

November on record.

 

The next morning they were there.

Petals, soft as neck feathers.

Their shade tender as new sunburn.

Their stance, elegant as a heron’s.

And what did I think when I saw them?

Of how, when you got home I would

resume my life’s work mapping

the new constellations of freckles

across your face;

 

& how I would take you down

to look at our crocus flowers;

heavy with the pink heat of love.

 

 

Stung

 

Now I am milkweed silk, the bees will not notice.

They will not smell my fear, my fear, my fear.

Sylvia Plath, The Bee Meeting

 

When he was a young man

& the flower of his mind

opened wide as a birth canal,

a single bumblebee, pregnant

with pollen landed a quick

kiss on his cheek, laced

with a fine golden down

sticky as honey.

 

When he was a bit older

a second bumblebee descended

onto the stem of his thorn

sharp nose, locked feelers

with the first bee & began

an elegant waltz. His legs

moved like an insect’s.

 

When he was older still

a third bumblebee alighted

on his forehead, crawled down

the cleft of his eye & joined

its two brethren, pirouetting

along his jaw-line.

 

When he was older still again

a flotilla of bees covered

his chin like a living veil.

Their wings interlocked;

a phalanx of shields

protecting him from the wasps

that fled their nests of mud

& were out to get him.

 

When he was in his prime

a honeybee, blown far off course

set down on the hive of his heart.

She never flew away. Just gave

order to the bees that streamed

down his throat like a black

& yellow waterfall.

 

When he was an old man,

a thick beard of drones

hung down to his knees.

He tucked them into the

belt serpenting his waist,

constricting time into nectar.

Not a single bee ever stung him.

 

When eventually he died

a hundred thousand bees danced

alongside the funeral procession.

All the way to the gravesite, where

they flung themselves like dervishes

in after his Baltic amber coffin.

 

When he was honeycombed with mud

tiny pairs of frosted glass wings

littered the grave’s edge. When dusk

fell they twinkled like mirrored

wall-tiles, illuminating

the blood red roses that died

with the light of the day.

 

 

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