Interruptions to Reading Poetry
1. In the Middle of David Malouf's Wild Lemons
I put down the poetry book and walk out
the front door. On the brick path, like a visitor
hesitating before broaching the house steps:
a small, slate-black rat.
It is shivering, poisoned, not-quite
dead. Its pointed ears
pick up my footsteps, but
barely. Its coat rises round it like a fur
around the neck of an opera-goer stepping out
into silence, each glittering dark fibre
still electric, still charged,
deep to every nerve. It is in the middle
of my path to anywhere — as precisely final
as a print from Dürer, perfect in every tiny
detail of ear point, bony paw, fishing line-fine
in an elegant, still nose. It is in the middle
of what I am carrying out of the house from my book —
wild lemons, a place in Tuscany, the body receiving
transfigured text …
Under a sky of singing blue
it is in the middle of its death
and will not
be transfigured. The flat world of a shovel
is what I bring it. Banged head. Final act.
When it rolls on the bricks it has the profile,
soft torso and premature paws
of an ultrasound embryo.
At this moment when it should be
hard as stone, flung out of the world, instead it is so limp
and the day is stiffening around it.
I balance it on my spade
towards a last rest, a quick
under hydrangeas' already bowed
and the noisy miner birds
which all day have been rehearsing
hold their breath.
Under the hot rattle
of loquat leaves, their silence follows me
like the weight
of a just-closed book.
2. Somewhere in Charles Wright's A Short History of the Shadow
That petulant bird, the phone, warbles in another room.
Where I am sitting, sun has just sparked —
even though the sky outside is sulking.
Dark ranges at the edge of my view
are lugubrious dinosaurs, waiting to gobble what's left
of last night's moon —
and now here's this chain of song, its couplings tossed towards me.
I go like a dog to be collared.
Some dark man with his thumb on my name
wants to offer me pest control, as if he knows there are rats
slinking along the branches of my trees at night,
sly shadows whose teeth gnaw holes in everything at 3 a.m.
He hangs up even before I do …
My voice in its glove of politeness
must hold a bait of slowed time, some dangerous sweetness
I caught in my last moments alone in the poem —
but which poem?
and where in the book can I find it now? The black matt cover,
its edges scuffed, its sleek centre streaked,
has collapsed. Like an unpolished shoe
it shows no sign of the white foot
which lived in it two minutes ago.
The downward sloping leaves
of pittosporums and loquats shiver
like the ears of sleeping dogs an arm's length from my chair —
sun ruffles the morning's dreaming fur …
and the book,
no matter where I open it —
slides out of its fretful slipper —
it walks out into the dawn again
its ankles and its insteps so painfully white, its black
lines like veins
rising knobbled and tender toward
'the music of things'
while a gnawed moon
slides into grey mountains to grow again.
I couldn't help but agree with the blurb by Paul Summers on the inside
front cover of the hour of silvered mullet – that Jean Kent's poetry was
like 'an argument with the air'. It is a slippery, silvery sort of book. I
was at a loss, as I read, as to how to put my finger on its qualities. But
then, as its qualities invaded me, I minded less about pinning things
down, and began to let my mind float about here and there, in a most
particular intimacy with the drift and lift of its musicality.