Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tuesday Poem - Come again? by Vincent O'Sullivan

Come again?

I've watched again a movie I saw when I was seven.
The same trees thrashed, the same moon
glinted far too brightly, the wrong people kissed,
a fat nurse with a nice voice turned out to be German.

I sat in an Auckland theatre, I think the St James.
I chewed a hole in a white silk scarf in special
wartime terror. There were wry British jokes that went
over my head. I think I remembered the bit

about the postman, but forgot two doctors thumping
each other because a nurse couldn't quite decide.
The hole in the gnawed scarf is the taste frightening
my mouth. When the trees pelt because that

is what studios knew scared everyone awfully,
especially ladies starting to run back home in the dark,
and the moon glitters so everything is knife-edge,
I am there in the dark as well, I am still not sure

who is really bad when everyone seems nice.
I watch the eyes slide above surgical masks.
I remember the balloon that goes limp when someone's dead.
All this time the detective's been looking after my scarf.

Vincent O'Sullivan's new book - Us, then - put out by Victoria University
Press is quite something. It is one of the most enthralling and enlivening
books I have read in a long long time. There are no bum notes, no longeurs
- the reader can relax and enjoy. This is a poet who knows what he is doing.

Vincent is NZ's incumbent Poet Laureate 2013-2015.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tuesday Poem - Christmas by Giuseppe Ungaretti


I have no wish
to plunge
into a web
of streets

On my shoulders
I feel
such weariness

Leave me like this
like a
laid down
in a
and forgotten

one feels
but the good warmth

I stay
with the four
of smoke
from the stove

         Naples, December 26th 1916

The Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti (1880 – 1970) lived through interesting times
and introduced the idea of Ermetismo (Hermeticism) which was influenced by
Symbolism and Futurism. Perhaps he is most known for this very short poem -

(I illuminate (myself)
with immensity)

I always feel the translation of this poem to be more like – I am illuminated
with immensity.

If you want to read more Tuesday Poems click on the quill icon above.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Tuesday Poem - Blokes by Christopher Kelen


Blokes are always coming over.
Arrive in droves or in their ones.
Wear thongs in summer, boots
for weather. Won't be tied, won't
be predicted. No one says mind
my clean floor love.

Arriving in their utes and vans
they're always round here, day and
night, courting our Penelope.
Know what's next, what's what, when
why. Blokes know what to do and
what you need and even if you
can't decide. Blokes'll sort your
trouble out. If it aint broke it's
easy fixed. Take care but not
responsible. They're always late
and rude and wet. Blokes like to
be outside the best. They dare
the ozone at their backs. Sleep with
someone else. They say things you
wouldn't. Feel less, do more. You've
got to love them though. Hide in their
frothy beards to weep. You feel for
them. The camera shies. Cuddle
them and know they're bad. Take
them all for granted.

Don't like to be told. Won't take
hints. They slink away to shed when
dark. Grow blacker under moody trees,
shed their lacks among the fauna.
They won't be caught. They get away.
Get down to pub and dab and dab.
Until they're almost in the clink.
They tell their temporary comrades.
Blokes tell the truth and when they don't
they've got the story all worked out.

Blokes all know the pecking order,
how to fit, not rock the boat. They
make a play for the affections. Trust
the passing moment, loathe permanence
of plans. Won't stand still in all that distance
unless it's advertising beer. They have
terrific urgency. Already yes they've climbed
your tree, know what you've lost before it's gone.
What's down that pipe, what ails your pet.

Blokes give each other pointers. They
stand off when strain requires. Keep their
level on the job, the issue well in hand. And
prime themselves with jests, digress.

Blokes are slaves of circumstance. It's
not their fault, the way they are. Was
done to them as blokelings. They can't help
being rough with stuff. Have to give it all
a test. See if it's well made or not.

Blokes are mates or so they say.
Won't let a bastard down. The blokiest
are your best mates. Your mates are blokes
if you're a bloke. Women can be mates
or ladies. Can't be blokes. Mate with them
to make new playmates. Blokes or no. If
you're a bloke you mustn't mate with other
blokes. It doesn't work. A dreadful thing.
Unblokemanlike. Besides - how could
you tell your mates?

Some things are better left unsaid.
And out of earshot of the nagging
blokes won't need your looking after.
Dinners tabled, washing done.
Blokes go lean in filth and glue
their rotting jeans together.
Blokes know it's bad luck to speak
when gesturing would do the trick.

As insects lead the faster life
they've lost a leg before you've
finished telling them precautions.
Enemies of labour saving, scoff
at ingenuity. They do a thing
the hardest way. Heaviest, most
arduous, most danger to their backs,
their hearts. They use their tools
with no protection. Clog noses
and their ears fall off. Eyes are
full of filings. It shows what
blokey blokes they are. Drown
in beer to build a gut. They suffer
beef to have the dripping. Sneak
from the ward at last for fags and
curse their curtailed freedom.
That's with their last breath.

Bloody this and bloody that is what
your bloke ghost says at last. And
when the dirt's dug and well sifted
where are those blokey souls all fled?
They've gone to blokeland. Hellish
spot. Celestial shed. And dim or bright
to their deservings.

There's always more after that.
There never was a drought of blokes
- not since the war. Blokelings grow
to blokehood's full bloom. Blokes
abound, they pull their weight. Just
ring for blokes, they will appear.
Show some leg, offer beer. When
all else fails you needn't fear.
Just stir him up.
Your bloke is here.

'Blokes' was the winner of Westerly's 2007 Patricia Hackett Prize.  

Christopher (Kit) Kelen is a well known Australian poet, scholar and visual artist, sometime 
poet-in-his-own-residence at Markwell via Bulahdelah, and a Professor at the University of 
Macau, where he has taught Literature and Creative Writing for the last thirteen years. 
The most recent of Kelen's dozen English language poetry books are China Years – New and 
Selected Poems and a pocket kit. His next volume Scavengers Season is being published by 
Puncher and Wattman in 2014. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tuesday Poem - Breast Imaging By Susan Fealy

Breast Imaging

I see the bird first,
her head snuggled down
into the green of herself.
Her tail is a handle.
A handle to hold a bird.
A handle to tether a breast.
This is a breast made of stone.


A pyramid
of apples, untouched,
and a woman,
calm and complete
as a dinner plate,
her face floats
just below the black glass.


I bivouac near the window
far away from the man.
Beside him
a frail statue,
her two small breasts.
I gift him the dark woman,
her two blind breasts.


Are you here for review?
There is always a talker.
My companion is clean-limbed
and bronze-skinned,
folds her vowels like a venetian blind,
her bones are strong
as handrails.


She navigates, close as a lover,
captures black bubbles,
maps echoes,
locates a white button
like a core in the dark.
She wipes clear gel
off my skin.


The orchids are rising
from the river of black glass.
I can feel the heartbeat
of the ceiling. The talker’s beside me
in a wheelchair. The orderly
kindles the lift.
We descend.

Breast Imaging is the pick of the poems for me in the new issue
of Australian Poetry Journal. Susan Fealy is a Melbourne-based
poet and clinical psychologist (to quote from her biography) who
began writing regularly in 2007. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Tuesday Poem - The Owl Book by Judy Johnson

The Owl Book 


Though all she need do to hook his attention is dangle
the feathered lure of an open page, the cover distresses him.

Like a subversive librarian, she keeps re-sticking brown paper
as it begins to peel away. What is hidden is a trick of photoshop.

Six solitary owls forced into a ridiculous parliament. They stand
side by side, their adjustable claws gripping a gleaming branch.

Like Shakespearean Fools, their tufted breeches blowsy on legs
too thin. Old men who, in the tethers of their slippers, might half-shuffle,

half hop. Might wear their belts too high, like tourniquets
                             to stem the slow leak of their hearts.

If these birds spoke they would babble in archaic English riddles.

The cover is his palimpsest. If she didn’t keep it under wraps, what is
almost, not quite erased, might show through with a careless rub of chalk.

They would both rather remember the owls at the height of their powers.
In the middle of each sulphured pupil, a cigarette lighter, aflame.

Their bodies swinging from high circus-bar to bar through the snug
cirrus of the sky’s abdomen, led by the satellite dishes of their heads

that catch sounds and guide them to one ear or the other,
which rest in different places either side of their skulls.

The Alzheimer’s bird has flown into their house.

And soon, regardless of her brown-paper bandaids, the invisible writing
will show through. Emotion will linger when language is gone.

And that is when she will wish for the mismatched ears of the owls,
one opening high on the right side of her skull, one lower on the left.

She could then absorb every vibration that bounces off
the expressions on his face. And by timing when and where

those messages ricochet in the tunnels of bone,
beneath what feels like open wounds, she could pinpoint
                                 the exact location of his pain.


He’s not old, just middle aged. And from the outside, seemingly
balanced. She will write a book herself one day, the title:
You’ll know who your true friends are in your body,
                                  by which of them abandons you first.
His mind is intent on moving out, daily. Backing up
the noisy reversing beep of the truck. Then, one by one, the careless

removalist takes the boxes, ignoring their labels: fragile, do not bend,
                                 please leave this memory till last.

She draws the curtains on their privacy. Dresses him neatly.
Shirt tucked in with hospital corners. Dark mirrors on his polished shoes.

Strangers who see them here on the park bench
might perceive his perplexed expression as measured pondering.

They’d wonder more at the buttons of her cardigan not matching
their holes. And what, in her haste this morning, she pulled

from the intestinal basket of single socks: one beige, one brown.

The autumn sun is scaled, milk-seeds of light not quite freed
from the caul of their husks. The view: pastry, with variations.

In the foreground, filo trunks of paperbarks, under the worm
calligraphy like piped caramel icing. In the background, down

near the harbour, the wriggling light thrown off the water
from the masts of moored boats, wrapping up a young girl

and a couple wandering the shoreline. Reminding her
of a dish she ate once in a seafood restaurant: prawns shrouded

in a coat of shredded greek pastry, Kataifi, then fried to golden straw.

She reaches for his arm. ‘What colour is the breeze, today?’
He gives her ‘Grass’. This synesthesia, for as long as it lasts,

is a device to keep them talking. At breakfast he insists
on toast-loud kisses. The cold bathroom floor is sharp pine-o-clean.

What is the taste of grief ? she wonders. That deep-tissue masseur
                    who keeps hand-chopping her chest.

Rocky road, perhaps, but not made of chocolate. A long ride
in a jeep with no suspension, over uneven terrain.

He points to the expanse of lawn that forms the shimmering littoral.
This is where ‘grass’ belongs. The nomenclature

has taken tenacious root under the thing it signifies,
despite the onshore gusts, the dune’s erosions.
                               Instead he says: ‘Masked owl.’

And though the price of salt is cheap in this seaside town,
as Lot’s wife turned thousand-time offender, she should know better

( it is his brain, not hers, turning to pillars of crystals)

still it comes out as the banter it once was. ‘Don’t you mean “grass”?
                                  You said it yourself just a minute ago.’

Grass. Fuck!’ He pulls at clumps of his hair. ‘Round eggs from Africa.’

With clenched fists in air, he caricatures the shape of a bowl.

There is no help in his gaze.
It’s Escher’s ‘Three Worlds’. Below. Between. Above.
A triumvirate. Sky in the water. Leaves floating on it.

Real leaves. And their distorted reflections.
The carp tickling the branching tips of black trees.

But then she remembers enough to see
his words and actions as a pictograph.

The sign on the road indicating, not masked owls up ahead,
                                                but far behind.

They saw the birds in the great sandy desert, thirty years ago.
He drove her there in his rickety ute.

They crept up on the nesting pair, hidden in a round alcove
inside a cave. Two gnomic faces like cut-open

custard apples oxidized to rust. Shiny black seeds for eyes
in the gloom. They fluffed up their feathers in a bluff display,

then made the warning sounds
of a cat’s mewling drawn down the length of a metal grater.

She’s sentimental now. ‘Do you remember we first met
                                in the Botanical Gardens?’

He draws his collar around his throat. Sits straighter on
the bench. He’s getting ready for the bluff.

And, determined to please him this time,
she turns a blind tongue as he counts the eggs

of his words and, coming up short,
raids the nest of her own, still warm.

Botanical Gardens. You and me.’
                Then, less sure of himself. ‘Don’t you remember?’

She wants to say:
Grass fuck. Masked owl. Round eggs from Africa.

She wants to make the shape of a bowl with her hands
                                 to hold him safe inside.

Thanks for reminding me.’ She reaches for his fingers.

Good girl.’ Her renunciation has made them sweethearts again.

He brings his other hand to rest on top of their two
joined ones. She puts the last piece of the puzzle of them

in place on the summit, to finish the game.
Between them they have made a hundred-year-old

book of palms, the spine of knuckles
topsy turvy but holding.

Good girl,’ he says again. His eyes are soft water.


He’s fallen asleep in the chair, with an aniseed ball
still nestled in his cheek. She imagines the soft pink flesh

turning black. Wonders if it’s a choking hazard.

Those two thrown-out-of-orbit, odd-shaped moons of his lungs
                              orchestrate their indecisive tides.

Push out his breath, think better of it, pull it back through
the damp cave between his lips, now lined with spittle.
The book is open on his lap at that saddest-looking bird of all.
The barn owl, that roosts in the breathless, dust-mote attics

of children’s story books. With a face like an abandoned
craft project. One heart-shaped piece

of dirty-white felt, stitched around the outline in
burnt-orange thread. Then the whole pocket

turned inside out. Reversed dark buttons
for eyes. And for a beak, the curved tip

of an upholstery needle, still poking through the material.

His fingertips tap at the armrests as though pushing
the rubber buttons that flip the paddles, that send the balls

to the flash-clang targets. At eighteen, his mates called him
Tommy, though he never wore the platform shoes.

Their dates were always at the pinball parlour. He’d ignore
her for hours while he, tit-for-tat, shook his favourite

Earthshaker machine side to side, panning for a golden score.

She always had a headache at the end of the night.
The transfixing lights that wouldn’t stop flashing. The aluminium

carnival music, like a cheap import of hell. And could never sleep
afterwards. In her ears, the Sturm und Drang stretched melodies

of youth. Behind her eyes, a carousel with brittle painted horses
impaled on poles, their M√ľnch-mouths shrieking.

Earlier, she’d brought out the daily shoe-box of photographs.
Once, in peace-time, they’d hung undisturbed in frames

on the wall. But now, rectangles of paler paint line up
straight as the ghosts of soldiers, the memories themselves
                 taken down and drafted into this complicated war.

The holiday snaps don’t interest him. The two of them propping up
the Eiffel tower. And years earlier, standing apart, their damp backs

to the railing at Victoria Falls. In the photograph, they look like
coloured bobby pins fastened either side of a tremendous gush of hair.

She knows he loves her still. When she brings out the pictures
of their wedding day, the bells clang, the scores rack up.

He relaxes, as though flying over a curve in a muddy bend of
stirred-up river, to come upon, suddenly, a pool of clear, where

for a few bright moments, he can see all the way to the bottom.


Tomorrow they’ll visit the doctor who has no desk calendar
so those with appointments can’t cheat when asked

the day of the week. Unsure, he will turn to her. Constantly.
And constantly she’ll smile. She’s become so good

at reassurance, he won’t peer anxiously for the messy threads
on the underside of her eyes. Her seamstress work so fine

the two internal stitches either side, hitching up the corners of her lips
will be almost invisible.

He’s gone to bed now. But not to rest. Sundowning
they call it: agitation, unease. Paranoia in the dark.

He’ll dream of graveyards and flying, while the owl goes
about its bloody business in his head.

The strangeness of the sky will fold in to accommodate
the accordion of his wings. Then his striped pyjamas

will sprout feathers. He’ll lose the shame of a bladder
he cannot always control and piss, triumphant,

marking his territory. The adjustable claws of the devil
unpicking his brain, will be tucked up and hidden.

It won’t be long before he swoops to take her, unerringly
into his mouth. She is made of the stuff of prey, eaten alive.

She is small parcels of their mutual past,
                 kept warm for the raptor.
When a mouse is taken by an owl, before that last swallow,
its tiny, liquorice tail, still alive and dangling from the beak

will try to turn, as though to crank-start the motor
                  of that bone-crunching jalopy of death.

As though impatient for what is now
an inevitable journey, to be over.

She’s thinking of Charlie Chaplin. The ill-fitting suit,
his mute waddling. How his tricks were a plasticine face

and the vaudeville stick of happiness, sadness,
swinging to the tempo of all that he needed to say.

Grass fuck. Masked owl. Round eggs from Africa.

In this quiet, in the eye of the storm, before the call
of the screech owl comes curdling from the bedroom,

she knows that the time is coming
when words will fail to keep them safe.

And what then will be the vessel to hold them?

Outside the kitchen window, thick fingers
of night mist are rising from the cooling ground.

She imagines the big hands of silence
in Marcel Marceau gloves

trying to make the shape of a bowl.

Here is a wonderful poem by that wonderful poet Judy Johnson that was
short-listed for the Newcastle Poetry Prize 2013.