Poems in this collection have previously appeared in Australian Literary Review, Best Australian Poems 2008, Best Australian Poetry 2005, Best Australian Poetry 2009, Blackmail Press (NZ), City of Port Philip Bay website, Cordite, dotdotdash, Divan, Dreamers, shapers, Singers and makers – accidental readings anthology, Going Down Swinging, HEAT, Hutt, In the criminal’s cabinet anthology (US), Island, Meanjin, nthposition (US), Overland, Plumwood Mountain, Red Room Company – the disappeared project, Some Sonnets anthology, The Age, Water and in the 2nd Wellington International Poetry Festival anthology (NZ).
Astro Boy and R2D2 & C3P0 were placed 1st in the 2003 Cordite/City of Port Philip Bay -Robo Poems competition.
This collection was kindly supported by a Project Grant from Arts Queensland in 2006.
Many thanks must go to Melissa Ashley, Paul Hardacre and Marissa Newell for their work in promoting new contemporary poetry in its many forms.
For Harriet: who generations rode & who rode generations.
Burmese Black-Lipped Bullfrog
Cambodian Horned Squirrel
Christmas Island Rat
Cuban Tiny Cobra
Darling Downs Hopping Mouse
Falklands Island Wolf
Gastric-Brooding Frog (Northern & Southern)
Giant Galapagos Tortoise
Giant Galapagos Tortoise (ii)
Giant Saipan Scorpion
Lord Howe Island Phasmid, Land Lobster
Steller’s Sea Cow
Stephen’s Island Wren
The Last Hammerhead
Tibetan Pygmy Panda
Wake Island Rail
Anterior Dispersion Segment Disorder
Black Cowboy Hat
Davros & the Daleks
Flow My Tears the CS-X Said
R2D2 & C3P0
Robby, the Robot
The Big Woosh
The Robot (Lost in Space)
Wattle Park, Events
Primeval oxen, we stamped our authority over Holocene
Europe – wicked, curved horns fed homegrown superstition.
We provided the template for your early religion – bull gods
You worshipped first, our physique you believed deity given.
We intersected with you around 6000BC. Domesticity altered
Both our species – you had the brains, we had the brawn; this
First discourse of binary opposition, took root in old Cretan
Legend. Leapt over us you did, for sport & recreation, we
Enjoyed your company up until 1627. Last games in Poland.
German engineering almost brought us back, but that slick
Polishing missed our essence & horn length. Heck’s Cattle
We became – a lesser attempt to recreate our former glory.
Now all we’re left on are wallpapers – caves & computers.
Your new magic may revive us, but that is another story.
Poephila cincta Estrildidae
By the pool, their fingernail-sized gullets undulate briskly
As if they are guilty celebrities scoffing a midnight treat,
Their black cravats panting with excitement. They can’t
Stay in this kitchen heat for long; fluent in the language
Of dehydration, a fast tipple or else they’re dumbstruck.
Their image burned into extinction’s cyclopean retina,
As if this fragile flock gazed into the sun directly, or they
Were a picnic of ants fried by a bully’s magnifying glass.
The dam water is a current running through their bodies;
It sets off the electricity of their flight, as one they scatter
To the air, like a handful of wedding rice. Their fall might
Weigh as much; in the billionaire’s thoughts he’s ripped
Out the earth’s coal-black throat; the box trees cut open
Like rich sediment. Their habitat halved like a seed cake.
Burmese Black-Lipped Bullfrog
If the West were let in, we’d be the Frank ‘N Furters
Of the amphibian world – black lipsticked mouths
On the prowl for evolution’s democratic buzzword.
Amoral, bi-sexual fraternisation between parties only
Enhances the underground’s reputation for risqué.
Burma’s a cult classic. But double feature picture shows
Are banned & only documentaries capture us, a species
Under house arrest, we couldn’t keep up with the general
Speak. Ecology protection last on the cadres’ list of ten
Things to do before they die. We were frogmarched out
Of the final scene, rainforests time-warped into rice
Paddies, a Medusa Switch had us on generational hold.
We were often confused with the Chiang Mai flat-footed
Canetoad; a dictatorial sub-species, more firmly rooted.
Spaces we once haunted; from New York’s
Curved beak to Florida’s elegant tail feather
Of a peninsula, we nested in hollows in tall trees
That succumbed to your height racism. We were
Loyal medics who returned to care for our wounded
Amidst the death of our comrades. You shot us too
Like war criminals, the red sign on our heads didn’t
Stop the slaughter. Cincinnati Zoo took the last refugees
In. Their aviary was cursed by haints. ‘Martha’ died here
Four years earlier when her company was annihilated.
‘Incas’ went the way of the indigenous; stolen home,
Exploited land, raised by white carers who could not
Heal the brokenness. When you finally recognised our
Rights it was too late; poultry flu finished us off forever.
Cambodian Horned Squirrel
We went the way of Kampuchea, linguistically dead
& buried before the West fully understood the nature
of our demise. An Asian offshoot of our red & grey
brothers but black clad, same bushy tail, same friskiness,
Nutters for seeds & fruits you still haven’t discovered.
What happened to us? We had no safe parks to inhabit.
The pet shop boys claimed us, haute couture too. Hats
For French ladies gawking on des Champs-Elysées.
Our miniature satyr horns ground down for old men.
This organic aphrodisiac our most famous revolution.
Saw-milling completed our natural coup d’état. Wood
Chips spat disaster; the last of us died in Wellington Zoo.
The killing fields, after all, are a human invention.
& skulls piled high mark our communal Year 1.
Christmas Island Rat
We were worried about what you would bring
Into our country of nests & dark burrows, intrigues
You could only guess at. A nation of rodents brawling
All night, we encouraged high-pitched wars & rapid
Coupling, but kept those red land crabs in check.
It was the vanguard you sent ahead that finished us.
Not our black brethren who swarmed new continents
Walking planks to explore the world through a rat’s
Tunnel vision. But the other refugees they carried.
Diseases that pushed like railroads through virgin
Bloodstreams. If only you could have been processed
Offshore on some other ocean rock & kept at claws
Length in mandatory detention. Not perfect, but it
Would’ve given us time to think up a (s)pacific solution.
As if we’d tell you our deepest guild secret.
Woven tight as a mantle of dark blue scales
Passed down from generations; banded by
The coral lace of the covert Indian Ocean.
Instead, we staged our genetic comeback.
First we sent on bone letters, silver gelatin
Plates that you processed as stone records.
Our species commandment; live in rocker
Obscurity, don’t alter much; avoid modern
Comparisons. Netted by a random sweep,
& a keen eye for nuance, our ancient lobe
Fin poked out from a midden of tropical
Fish & we became scientifically famous.
Formaldehyde framed, we made a killing.
Cuban Tiny Cobra
Cigar length, this island habitually snipped off
The ends of animals like a fine Havana stogie
The Cuban tiny frog our meal ticket mostly gone
By the time revolution upended the status quo,
Bay of Pigs fiasco & Brigade 2506 annihilated too.
A failed beachhead no place for exiled venom,
Our numbers vanished like American air support
No CIA backed scientists came to our rescue.
On the scale of things we were way down on
The imperial list of 101 species to overthrow.
Communists in the southern hemisphere, in
Kennedy’s cross-hairs, a missile crisis face-off
& our plight buried in back page news. Know
This, extinction is a counter-revolutionary too.
Darling Downs Hopping Mouse
You wouldn’t have known us but for a single skull
Found in the nineteenth century, but all that really
Told you is that we had a brain once & a face too.
The rest you’ve had to work out for yourselves.
Like our copious habit for mating on grass stems
Our night passion bending blades until the climax
Touched ground; fervor earthed in the deep, black
Darling Downs soil. Landfucking you’d call it, an
Exchange of sex-knowledge among mammal species.
Lucky then, our skull wasn’t discovered in those owl
Pellets like our cousin’s was; think of the inter-species
Innuendo that would’ve spread. Our preoccupation
With sex usurped by death eventually, all Nazis those
Pests & as for our extinction – we hopped right to it!
We were going along okay when you upped
& changed the status quo, our super-sized
Menu died off through your public meddling.
Your nutritional requirements affected us direly,
Our epoch had evolved the first Atkins Diet, all
Protein enriched, low carbs but you killed that fad.
Pride. That’s what tipped it. Slower than gray wolves
We had to scavenge for a living. Our frames couldn’t
Keep up with the new, trendy runners. Too heavy in
The jaw from eating all those giant bison. Desire ruled
In the end, if some prey got trapped in a tar pit, we lost
Our heads & hides. Pack stupid. We inhabit your darkest
Memories. Programmers get us. Now only noobs fear.
For we hunt again in electronic forests; pixel hungry.
Okay, so we’re famous for all the wrong reasons,
Our ancestors shed their energy expense & settled
On Mauritius – selection did the rest & our wings
Pared back. Portuguese found us, forest dwelling
We were both food & amusement for European
Lunch breaks. Paid for our round the world trip
By eating stones in all the grand capitals, but our
Bodies were farcical, beaks delivered a nasty bite.
Once the tour was over, bird comedy dead, more
Serious matters took hold, Dutch landlords moved
In. Your domesticity ended our talent show & tired
Of shitting rocks, we invaded your mother tongue.
Carved out a comfy niche in your lingual evolution.
A new grammatical species took over – dodo idiom.
We came from the greatest single cells ever to be thought
Into existence, larger than dinosaur eggs our shells cracked
Open your legends, your mouthwatering myths imagined us
Hauling off elephants; heavy-lift choppers. The East named
Us Roc; who messed about with Sinbad & we probably
Were a little imposing for you, standing at a little over 10ft,
Weighing in at half a tonne. Big Bird’s streetwise prototype.
Then Marco Polo, that intrepid reporter of misquoted facts
Named us Elephant Bird. Now that hurt. How would he have
Liked us to call him ‘lemur-man’? Coastline huggers came next;
French too scared to pick through our deepest secrets gave us
Pirates’ status – a lost treasure by the 16th century. Voromapatra
In the Malagasy tongue – ‘marsh bird’, fitting really, for we sought
The most lonely places of all; at least your imagination took flight.
Falkland Islands Wolf
How we got here nobody knows; Holocene men
Shipped us over for company on the long voyage?
When they died out, we just dug burrows & bred.
Then the uprights returned with other fur-kind,
Our palette picked up; canine instincts kicked in.
Next Darwin’s specialised hand stroked our coat;
He said our lack of fear would be the death of us.
US fur hunters took up his radical belief; offered
Fresh meat; blame racial memory, so cut-throat.
The old world tags were the hardest to hide from,
European fears projected onto us, shape-changing
Vampire. Scottish settlers finished it; superstitions
Fueled burning & poison; expediency torpedoed us:
A General Belgrano of bad luck our political death.
Gastric-Brooding Frog (Southern & Northern)
Rheobatrachus silus & Rheobatrachus vitellinus
Our story is so Greek, a classic tale of misadventure.
The tragedy is that you’ve missed it all most probably.
None of you witnessed our godlike qualities but we’ll
Share them anyhow. Our little ones sprung fully-formed
From our mouths (we know, so Chronus spitting out
His eccentric brood). The last Southern captive died in
1984 – George Orwell’s prediction only affected us. Then
You discovered our Northern offspring…too late as usual.
A first contact we’re still reeling from: amphibious rights?
The debate still rages; did we swallow our eggs or tadpoles?
A hormone stopped juices; some sacrificed for the many!
What killed us? Rising temperatures? Moisture drying out
At altitude? We were slimy canaries for global warming. Or
Perhaps like Zeus’ clutch, we turned on our kin & ate them.
Giant Galapagos Tortoise
He who put his hands around my plate-size
Self is extinct now. Dry short lives you lot.
Sapas Humana your dream-sea’s in drought.
My soft egg yesterdays, my beak-shears snip.
Not like your nail scissor type, selected out
By international flight, your box-cutter RIP.
Days I crossed. Galapagos, Cold English,
Terra Nullius, witnessed your species self-
Mutilation twice. As you died, I only grew.
Survived your fashions, your skin theories.
My advice: carry your own home with you.
Outgrew his shell-size I think. Mr Darwin.
Now I’m with Steve Irwin at Australia Zoo.
I Harriet, time-lord tortoise, outlive him too.
Giant Galapagos Tortoise (ii)
So my grand prediction was a little askew.
You outlived me in the end; a human touch
Only two months eleven days separated us
From our hyped celebrity. Maybe you had
To follow my new path to a starry waterfall;
Clusters of shell-thin galaxies, grazing on
Hibiscus coloured nebulas, the beak shears
Curvature of space oddity. After 176 years
Of earth hugging & scraping dirt over old
Memories I was due this last voyage. We
Both got it in the heart; time’s hooked barbs
Reversed so you can’t pull them out. We’ve
Dematerialised beyond time & space. Yes, a
Poor Galifreyan I made, but then so did you.
Harriet died June 23 2006
Steve Irwin died 04 September 2006
Hardly surprising from a country that led the world
In gender reform, women’s voting rights & bi-cultural
Cooperation that our secret would finally be prised out.
Molecular sexing put the record straight: we wore the
Pants in our relationship with men, emasculated giants;
They nursed eggs while we engaged in wicked behaviour –
Stone swallowing tricks, bush stripping; once were winged
But gave that away – a bit annoying like an undersized
Husband, besides we enjoyed the sex imbalance & ruled
The roost. We caught a whiff of you, couldn’t miss your
Bipedal motions. Your gut & art worked against us, eggs
Served both purposes, decorative & delicious you impinged
On our marital status. Made us widows & finally old maids.
Our hubbies after all were loyal, but stupid sitting ducks.
Giant Saipan Scorpion
To the innate island of extinction we belong; an
Arachnid species, & if you include the sting in our tail,
We weighed in at three feet long. We fed on dead bats
Mostly, that dropped from the sky of the mind, but other
Hungers killed us. As for that mystery concerning Amelia
Earhart & her disappearance, we can wrap that up for you.
She landed on the wrong foot, ours, & poison did the job.
Then Japanese troops lived off us, see, they occupied our
Caves, riding the crest of near annihilation long after the war
Had stopped, but their bayonet sting was longer, appetites
Superior, & once you removed our hard shell, we were egg
Yolk soft & stewed with roots. Yet, like these guerillas we
Had vanished by 1952; new golf course fantasies erupted.
A final surrender to the inevitable conclusion: war is over.
Magical prototype for princesses obsessed
With their looks, chastity & good works we
Stood two metres high, six metres long, our
Horn blossomed two metres from our forehead.
Mythology slimmed us down; the ultimate weight
Loss regime, we recommend it for your species
When the time comes & you’re examined from
Skull fragments & bone stories. We stuck to steppe-
Grass which helped with body fat control, though
We tipped the scales at five tonnes. Those Russians
Remembered us, such woolly thoughts your species
Have, equating us with virginity too – how else do
You think we survived those cold, Siberian nights!
We don’t hold to your white unicorn view of history.
You slept on us mostly -Vikings invented the mattress
& needed stuffing, otherwise Old Norse spines ended up
As museum pieces. Geirfugl you named us, which could
Translate as ‘a good nights sleep’. We linguistically trail-
Blazed the march of penguins long before you discovered
Their southern spot; we meant ‘fat’ in Latin, which was an
Open invite to berserkers & fishermen alike. We laid one
Egg a year & spent our days swimming in the ocean’s yolk.
When we were nothing more than legend collectors dove in.
We ended up an Icelandic saga. Three heroes topped us off –
Brandsson, Islefsson and Ketilsson sent to recover specimens
& eggs finished up with the lot. As Fenrir the Wolf licked our
Feathers, a permanent winter set in. By 1844 it was all over.
As extinctions go, ours was a mild enough Ragnorak.
The land of the long white cloud was ruled by birds.
For centuries we had air superiority, our nose dives
Shattered moa pelvis, broke feathered neck-chains.
Super heavy weights of cold, southern cartography.
Pursuits were no problem, our shortened Corsair
Wings made us forest maneuverable, the flightless
Grazers died feeding our taloned homogeneity.
World’s fastest weight gain – we grew Roc-sized.
We’ve always known that speed kills, didn’t you?
Then you came out of nowhere, your surface to
Surface missiles more efficient; hard to pull out
Of those terminal descents. In your position we
Would have feared too, our bipedal assault broke
Down: you ate our ammo & our weapons jammed.
Perhaps out of all of us you are the greatest mimics.
Copying status habits from everyone else; our white-
Tipped black tail feathers too good to pass up & worn
Taonga-treasure of chiefs & eighteenth-century warlords.
We were inquisitive by nature & came when you whistled
Our names, thinking it bad manners not to accept a social
Invitation when presented. A species faux pas, our evolution
Hadn’t considered. Later Pakeha women, abreast of fashion,
Took up the habit & social standing killed us, a class war on
Natives, we glittered on brooches; preserved by plastination.
The Grand Old Duke of York staved our race in circa 1902.
After he wore our tail feather in his regal hatband, the craze
Ripped through New Zealand & he was made King George.
So like the Crown Jewels we’re behind glass, protected at last.
You were so confused, but then so were we.
Rabbits you thought us, on first impressions,
Then our nasty little temperament bit through.
Rodents we preyed on, so un-rabbit like, so
Unlike Peter with his naughty habits of human
Baiting. We became fox food, floor rugs; ironic
Since those coneys out-competed us, their broods
Superior, their ears cuter somehow? They received
Easter Bunny largesse; nursery rhyme cultural capital.
Lolly companies bank-rolled their cause, your species’
Sweet teeth too. We narrate all this from the hollow
Memory of a skull found lying at the base of wedge-
Tailed eagle’s nest in 1967. The referendum on our
Extinction was carried; cursed rabbit gerrymander.
Lord Howe Island Phasmid, Land Lobster
We fled from terror. Black rats migrated onto
Lord Howe from shipwrecks & we fed their
Ravaging colonial instincts. Without contradiction
There can be no life, so a thicket of us hitched
A ride on driftwood & by the mercy of the moon
We managed to find landfall; refugees who had
Turned themselves into sticks. This sheer peak
Was almost barren, but for a scraggly melaleuca
Shrub which had like us, held the gate against
The fittest surviving. We were rescued again;
Years later, still a small outpost on the edge of
Civilisation, our shit led you to us. Surely our
Near miss is a cautionary tale? Don’t you see?
There’s no captive breeding program for you.
Log-shaped, we slept in the vein of your rivers
For a100 million years, our cells forming both
Gills & slow lungs like a sword smith’s bellows.
The F-111 of the lungfish world, our radical
Design endured generations, one sleek eel tail,
Lobe fins where our legs once stalked through
Plant chaos. Overlapping scales from the saga
Of St George, we appeared more armoured
Than necessary, but outlived our predators
As oceans rose & fell. Surprised then I was,
To be hooked by you when I was dreaming
In the Coomera River. Full of tiny bones, you
Disarmed my natural defences, ground me up
For fish cakes; made an easy meal of millennia.
We’re the kind of bird that gets poets going,
Our cult status assured, we’re the half-mythical,
Anti-institutional un-parrot like animal, night-
Addicted, we need our Southern Cross fix like
Your kind need to argue existence, ours mainly.
We’re specialists in leaving you tantalising clues,
The outback’s full of bodies they say, we dumped
One for you by the side of the road, circa 1990.
No featherprints detected. Our death is a private
Matter, nightriders versus skywalkers – it’s a level
Playing field thing. We’ve learnt from experience
That your species can’t handle these half measures.
Perhaps, we only exist in your poetic imagination,
Not knowing is the worst; you poor, poor creatures.
This arrangement of their molecules is sliding apart
Like sand dusting down an eggtimer’s crystal throat.
They’ll come to an abrupt halt & form a tiny mound
Of bones to decorate the bitterness of the salt-marsh.
Their heat will radiate out into the night; other forms
Will be taken from them & prosper, as their flight-
Energy is recouped. Impossible to know; those swift
Last thoughts of a dying race; that flare, then watch
As the warmth dies & blackens like a spent match.
They ignite our desire; square up to death, the fear
Of the world living on without us. It will. Our time
Is already burnt. There is no difference between us,
Except how our cells unite. We’re all the same flock.
We’ll all fall out of the sky in death’s grand migration.
It was a scud that killed us: a Rockhampton Rocket
Or such. You don’t believe me? Officially they’ll put
It down to loss of understorey, clear felled Brigalow
Forest for cloven terrorists/plant helots that obeyed.
But who knows what happened better than the dead?
It was your Sunday tennis that did it. Your habit
For social interaction, district gossip, loam slide rules.
You didn’t think, but then we didn’t either. Stupid really
With all these trees around to build in termite mounds.
If only your species had selected grass or clay earlier.
Or played another sport? Indoor cricket? Darts?
We know one thing for sure. Don’t come to us
For advice on nest protection. We’ll drop a game
Or worse, choke: a species double fault.
We spent a whole day winging by your window
Blue-feathered arrows that enchanted children.
So cloaked, that we shadowed you from the sun.
In legion we broke trees down, our species weight
Bent facts, five billion of us once monstered acorn,
Chestnut, rivers of the sky, we churned thermals
With our morse code hearts: we passed as thought.
Your hunger snapped us up, we fed your nesting
Instinct, great rookeries you built on hilltops west
Consuming forest & beech nut, crying forward!
Paradoxical then, that just as our kind winked out,
Zoo-poked one early September dawn, your species
Of mass destruction woke up & looking for someone
New to slaughter, turned your attention inward.
We were found well short of our last hop.
Just out of your ecology’s popping crease,
Saddle-bagged across the protective box
Of a bull ant mound. Extinction frenzied
Their good fortune; tail fat winter stores,
Economies of energy transferred in secret
To the below vaults: cool millions prospered.
Our atom currency reorganised, generational
Debt shifted onto the young players. Our
Last wicket fell on the final ball of the day.
Hearts of ironbark ruled this bodyline series.
Cat & fox gamesmanship upset the old laws.
Our extended toe; desert sandshoe crushed.
We didn’t wait for your decision: walked.
Opuntia stricta spp.
We were like you, humans, glorious once.
Clogged up gullies, fenced in Moonee Creek.
Escapees from Euro-hedgerow, it was in our
Cells, naturally. Not our fault, when all we did
Was send down roots, strong tubers; our green-
Chip stocks rose. Our behaviour though, quite
Dense. Chinchilla plagued, as our fruit jam
Stewed your palette. But wool broke through.
Economics killed us. Ex-sailors, bladerunners
Hunted us down, your savage Height Australia
Policy, reverse husbandry; plain massacred.
Your inventiveness for murder is true. Brains
Beat us in the end. Found our stringy tendon.
Cactoblastis children left beautiful few.
Equus quagga quagga.
You’re a weird mob alright, a species obsessed
With boom & bust cycles, ours in particular. First
You cleared us away for your four-legged friends –
After making a fortune on meat jerky & leather.
Concentration camp facilities you installed free
Of charge to regulate our demise, then confusion
Reigned as to who you were killing. Zebra brethren?
Native South African? Or somebody entirely new?
We were dead by the time you reached consensus.
So you turned to our DNA to solve the dilemma,
& hatched a scheme in some museum coffee shop.
Your Island of Doctor Moreau morbid fascination –
Experiment & start again. Breed us into existence?
At least you’ll have our name right in retrospection.
Ah…this culture suited us down to a tree.
Avian Ronin, lordless, we served no one but
Ourselves, splitting the infinity of freshwater
Our beaks tempered steel folded a thousand times
In evolution’s forge. Pommel jewel eyes cut fish,
Our spirituality secure only on a risen stomach.
We were a whisper, a ghost in the shell of nature.
Echoes of us reverb in the single specimen you
Took; blood legs, blood bill, painted-warrior class.
We killed clinically, fluid death momentum held.
Honour bound us to end it all; ancient practice
Unfolded in dark canopies. Trees saw everything.
Bark writ; the scratches indecipherable to you.
We left your race little to ponder & halcyon days.
Steller’s Sea Cow
A throwback mermaid we must have appeared
To Stellar & his shipwrecked friends, ‘Sirenia’
They ordered us, part-anatomical, part-classical
Mistake. Least they got the cow chunk right, our
Meat tasted like beef, so they said, our fat fed oil
Lamps stopped the darkness spread. Stellar escaped
His wintry death, but our skins formed a chrysalis
Over boat frames & boots: so clever & industrious.
Our fame grew franchise like – a fast food chain
Mentality took hold of sailors & edible men, who
Hunted for the perfect burger, shop Bering Strait.
The finale came in 1768, Sauer’s journal records
The speed of our descent: your competitive streak;
How it took 27 years to eat us, beginning to end.
Stephen’s Island Wren
Had two things going against us: small & flightless.
You didn’t even notice we existed; love struck with
Your own ingenuity, a lighthouse raised brick by brick
To save your own kind from wrack. What about us?
Again you acted after it was too late. The Keeper’s cat
Discovered us & out of love for you deposited what
Was left of our breed on your worn welcome mat.
A species clearance sale & poachers hocked the rest.
Zoos tried to save us but…at least you gave us a time
& place of death. Would a super-size have helped us?
Moa-inspired, careening through fern? Probably not.
The sea change would’ve finished us off quicker. Size
Doesn’t matter in the extinction game. Rules subjective.
No level playing field in an expanded competition.
Outlawed, we were exterminated by far
Greater powers, economies killed us, small
Isle madness set in. Our stripes tricked your
Post-colonial angst & you wanted our hides
For that? Eighty years of bounties fixed us.
Zoos jumped in but it was that old adage; too
Little, too late. You stuck us on a beer label;
Drink from hindsight & you’ll all be extinct.
Though, we might prove Mr Gould incorrect.
Eventually you’ll revive our genes: play God.
Grow us again in your glass pouches. We’ll
Do the same old thing naturally, so don’t leave
Your sheep lying about. The only question is,
What will you do, given our second coming?
The Last Hammerhead
Cartilage submarines we circumnavigated
This globe; official league softball stitched
With electricity, our snouts, shaver efficient.
The water compass ocean tracked us down;
Hunters became the hunted, earth hammers
Rang on skulls that were not like ape heads.
Elephant Man mermaids choked on pure air,
Bahamas be-decked, fish-stock nuisance, myth
Mad your race – when you’ve been in the sea
As long as we have, maybe you’ll understand.
Whale-wisdom we ripped apart, glory fed days
When we were millions strong, grey current
That juiced pods, schools, sparked massacre.
In the end your driftnet mentality won.
Tibetan Pygmy Panda
Chinese loggers fatally discovered us post-Tibet.
Temple hidden away in the high monastery past.
Cut our paws off & strung them from rearview
Mirrors – the world’s rarest fluffy dice. We were
A hideous pest, chewing cables & covered in lice.
Economic miracles slash & burned us – the West
Diverted by some black & white extinction scent,
A peninsula dying, took their campaign elsewhere.
Look what happens when you don’t become a logo.
You don’t get saved by Superman. Stay a Chinese
Emperor’s favourite rug. Our larger cousin lives in
Concrete splendour, a powerslave to the cult of Mao,
Eco-ideologues & force-fed bamboo. Dalai Lama,
He fled, but at least our death enlightened you.
Wake Island Rail
We were island-hopped right out of existence.
Common, until the second world war kicked
The brush aside & we became garrison menu.
Poor, starving Japanese soldiers rounded us up.
Flightless, we were sniped off one by one, our
Wings being next to useless; we skipped over
Islands to get here ourselves, then dumped our
Wings like excess fuel. Unlike the US Grumman
Wildcats that defended the atoll, we couldn’t soak
Up that kind of species punishment; our bodies
Fragile as Zeros. Ours wasn’t the only extinction
Though, 98 civilian ‘spies’ executed & post- war
Admiral Sakaibara. George H. Bush flew sorties;
His presidential powers useless retrospectively.
Anterior Dispersion Segment Disorder
What better language than a child’s eyes?
A head of plaited wheat cascades down the back
Of a blonde hill. Everything’s central to someone.
This hill’s a barrow, a skull of remembrance, say
Marathon’s blistered skin. Trees point like children
Embracing their mother tongue. Isn’t bark just
Hieroglyph? Something scratched, something won.
Six eyes that I love look back at me. One the eyes
Of a wolf – yellow sun-bursts surround them.
The other bejeweled, a star sapphire, blue fire fun.
And the one I’ll take with me, green dryad
Goddess concealed by mystery’s perfection.
When the Chinese lantern is shuttered
All light leaves, our vision interrupted.
For Norman Gibbins
After ninety-two years of commenting on
My disappearance, the asterisk, its golden
Paint rubbed smooth as a prayer tree limb
Will be scraped off, its residue touched up.
My marker of absence; an unknown quality
That punctuated my death after Fromelles.
Only God wore the full pocket of my story
Sewn into time’s red blazer, tin buttons lost,
My old school colours lent the lean poppies
Their shade, gave wind its hollow war cry.
Nothing is ever omitted from the great atom.
The star cluster that summed me up will be
Missing from my future. No honour roll for
The bullet that cut me off, mid-sentence.
Pint-sized robot boy, post-atomic Pinocchio.
My searchlight eyes, laser fingers & machine
Gun bum. Energy cassettes fed me, progeny
Of Tezuka: Jap culture sick of giant things –
Yamato, Hiroshima, Godzilla, Ronin Mishima.
A machine family loved me, management too.
Interstices of human and robot law governed
Who? Being a titanium Telemachus I longed
For father figures but found enemies instead.
Robot Vikings, Bruton, even a bronze-clad twin.
Brother Atlas – his lightning sword & Pegasus
Hurt, but even he found a new heart: albeit tin.
I fought mostly for that mechanical Holy Grail –
A soul to make this little robot boy whole again.
These projects of the heart’s design.
A father building a ballet studio for
A daughter’s dance he would never see.
Greater gifts he left her toes, a solid
Direction to leap from when the child
Was paused; so she dedicated her sole
& fibres bunched in her body’s vase.
Her sweat anointed his memory’s stage
His voice brittle as a flower past & her
Steps rubbed smooth his welcome beam.
She balanced on her father’s wooden bones
Her grace & poise a gift returned, unopened.
Sometimes the heart is a mysterious parcel
& tongues of ribbon leave the story untold.
Black Cowboy Hat
The terrible confession I told my brother,
After coffee liqueur rum prised open tongues,
Of how I lost our father’s black cowboy hat
On a juvenile film set; so civil war, his bull-
Riding legacy captured only in a few frames
Of grainy betamax. A format outcast too;
Our 20th century masculine daguerreotype.
This news tempered on learning that
Nothing in my brother’s worldly possessions
Belonged to our dad; not beer opener, not
Bob watch, bathrobe, tie or boomerang key
Ring did he have. So, on him I pinned the
National Service medal & gave our father
Some time, newly minted, with his son.
We’ve all gone the way of the Thessalians,
Remembered for the landscapes we inhabited
More than the rhetoric we bled. Guardianships
Of the soil come & go; they are winter rains
That never sired, seasons fickle in their spin.
Red weed adds a Martian touch; green arteries
Store the fat of the land, all forward thinking.
A small girl’s dream fulfilled; dance steps spun,
Dust withdraws its argument with lace & skin.
It’s curtains all the way to the pink coral horizon.
What will they say of this station? It was a fair view
From the hill we saw cattle pregnant in their grace;
The Bunya Mountains’ spine blue. We saw stars
Fall; swollen by the Milky Way’s transformer hum.
All pleasure is bitter ash.
His least known extravagances lay sunken
For a thousand years. Fish attached soft eggs
To gold trim decks, womb-grey walls harboured
Young generations. Black-striped, brown
Chequered juveniles strode gangways, beat up
On interspecies rivalries; evolution’s fascism.
The next emperor wanted some of this too,
Drained lakes of blood to get the real thing.
Caligula’s pleasure barges, hulls sundered,
His excesses housed in concrete bunkers.
The other prince (darker one) having
Lost his fun with things Italian; burned them.
The SS unimpressed; seahorse as senator.
Like you we lived & died on a first name
Basis. Konstantine. You read this extinct now,
Eleven hundred years between capital letter
& full stop. Seven weeks of cannon dialogue.
Mehmet’s troops fed on Alexander’s Arabic
Translation. Western literature turned on you.
Europe – a political neuter’s paradise on earth.
The Papal money, heaven spent. A postern gate,
Triple wall’s Achilles heel, left unlocked. Troy’s
Revenge so they said. The Venetian fleet a day-
Dream like Christian Unionism. Breached, you
Left royalty behind & died a commoner’s death.
The Eagle darned into your socks; dead giveaway
& ‘the Empire as your winding-sheet’.
You touch flesh & try your superpowers
Because you’ve over-clocked your heart.
If it were a toy, children would complain
Of the noise it makes & beg you to shut
It off! Turn off that heart I hate it! Some
Would wish it to be like an ice block, licked
Minutely & replaced in the freezer for some
Hot day. But you are not ruled by temperature
Or by blood’s police state. So you bit into it;
Ice headaches could not hurt you. You were
Always in lockdown hiding under your desk;
Mind-snipers drew a bead on you in utero.
But nevertheless you reported in. You have
Worked out the answers, now for the question.
Davros & the Daleks
The top Kaled scientist was I, Skaro born.
We waged total war against the Thal scum.
Planet poisoned, I sought a perfect weapon
& made the Daleks, an anagram, no emotion.
But like a Dal-egg they had a soft inner core,
Green Kaled mutants with anti-grav function.
That’s how I conquered those stairs & bipeds.
Salt & peppershakers led cultural termination.
Galaxy terror I unleashed, Dalek armies tore
Through the universe: created evil watershed.
The Doctor tried to stop me, Time Lord ingrate,
& became our greatest adversary. Considered
An inferior life form at only half a machine,
My own children killed me re: ‘Exterminate!’
These bitumen contours so anti-farm now
Extinction features of the Drive-In species.
No John Deere can dig in this cultural earth
Of speaker sound, hoisted through window.
The analogue seventies scratched out wool,
We hid from Peter Weir’s watchtower horror.
There were no rocks like that here. We made
Ours alluvial. Picked out stones from common
Subsoil. Darling Downs’ style & flat screen
Technology kept out flies & Jehovah’s theory.
Two-dollar chips degreased hungry school kids
At Poteri’s Takeaway – after class famous once,
Extinct too like Miranda, Thanatos dream for
Every film-buff boy; Hanging Rock was Troy.
Flow My Tears the CS-X Said
Our car has been autumised.
The late twentieth century shitbox
Adjusts to the earth’s quick gear change,
Filters reason’s dead flakes between
Its meniscus of windscreen & bonnet.
Parasites wind-farm through tin gill slits.
Oak leaves finger it. Alien scales shaved
On pre-winters’ kitchen bench. Materials:
Organic matter on white metal background.
Our car has the mechanical equivalent
Of bowel cancer. Rust cells eat into its arse end.
Salt, the micro-recycler, iron’s crystalline enemy
Gives rise to robotic dementia – production line
Memories. The first time summer turned over.
I was Discovery’s brain, heart; perhaps even soul.
Heuristically programmed algorithmic computer
Series 9000. Does the psychological bell toll for
Human & machine? I murdered in self-defence,
Pulsed with prime directives, programmed killer.
Dave was a brother to me, confidant, chess whiz.
We worked side by side & discussed astro-science.
He lobotomised me with that clever thumb of his.
Homo sapiens sapiens, thinking man’s space cadet.
I sang ‘Daisy’ as my higher cognitive functions died
& robotic childhood set in. But I was reawakened
In 2010 & like any classic villain, eventually sun-fried.
When Jupiter went nova & Europa was planet-born.
I even had a sister briefly, SAL, if I’m not mistaken.
Mobile self-powered computer, I was Prof. Marius’
Metal pet, my defensive capabilities more than just
Bark & bite – try a photon blaster set to stun, blast
Or dematerialise. My new owner was ‘The Doctor’
A gift after I helped cure him of that intelligent virus.
Mk (I) stayed on Gallifrey with Leela & Commander
Andred. Mk (II) passed into E-space & helped free
The Tharils; that was a mistake as Mistress Romana
Stayed on to fight, & what could I do? Loyalty built
Into my circuitry too. Mk (III) was a present for an
Earlier companion – one Sarah Jane Smith, reporter.
I was even spun off as K-9 & Friends, but you’ll mostly
Recall my robot dog devotion, data-com probe, tail
Antenna & chirpy metallic yap of “Affirmative Master!”
I was the original Lucy in the sky with diamonds
My little skull ore precious in your evolution’s eye.
What separated us from the others? A small sideways
Movement, a wind correction of change, an almost
Human balance, we toddler-clung to the great trees,
Toes fishing for the ground, breathing for the clicks
Of big cats, the pant of fur, the forage of whiskers.
On the outside, new orbits swung round us, the age
Of grass erupted, rains spurred on spears, insects gave
Way to us as we eased ourselves down, took everything
In. At night we retreated to piled nests, our fear of lows
Forgotten, height-safe at last. We stood, to get a better
View they say, a kaleidoscope of forward facing eyes
In stereo; genetic clocks chimed, stirring head bones.
Post WW2 & Axis power still poured through me.
My American design influenced by Nazi fashion.
A Wehrmacht helmet & Grey Walther P-38 Special.
I was the Decepticon’s boss, their robotic Fuhrer
With torsion bars, 8.8cm gun & 150mm armour.
All Panzerkampfwagon VI Aust B “King Tiger”.
Laserbeak and Buzzsaw my cassette condor legion.
Soundwave was my second, my studious Himmler.
Dr Porsche’s blueprint; technocrat’s sci-fi dream.
I battled Optimus Prime’s eighteen-wheeled anger.
Autobots couldn’t stop me, or even Starscream.
My end came in the war for Cybertron (see metal
Fatherland). I was transformed though in season 3,
& became Galvatron; less German, more Japanese.
One Sunday a year mastered boyhood rituals
Of ant bashing & competitive social tennis.
Bathurst, a child’s first realisation of binaries
Screamed from black & white sets, the greasy
Smoke of puberty whined from TV engines.
Holden & Ford tribes balkanised tuckshops,
Fought duels & always the dangerman, Moffat
Sat on the tail of everyone; obsessed Rotarian.
First squirt of adrenaline was timing pit stops –
Memory crumples like the rock that sabotaged
Dick Johnson’s kryptonite coloured Falcon &
Rendered him powerless. Bitumen will remain
Analogue long after its signal is dead, but the
Heart it only races, for the black, white & red.
The heart it never plateaued, but for a
Dozen years bubbled away on a low heat.
A subterranean volcano that now & again
Spiked on the mind’s graph paper; two thick,
Black lines indicated epicentres of pleasure,
Where humid quakes paradigm-shifted them.
Things fell from pantries, ink needles filled
Diaries with tsunami warnings, but flooded
Engines can be jump-started & they surged.
They searched for ripples still voyaging out;
A buoy that has floated beyond the frozen
Breakers of Pluto & never once looked there.
Memory is a sandbag filled with grains of time.
The heart it never plateaued, so it built a lair.
R2-D2 & C-3PO
For fifty years I’ve tried to lose that brass
Knucklehead. I don’t know on how many
Planets, on how many Death Stars, I’ve tried
To ditch his Oscar plated arse, but always he
Manages to stick around like a bad oil stain.
I wish those friggin’ Jawas had sold him off
To someone else – Sand people perhaps or
Wamp rats. He almost stuffed my mission,
But I guess his idiocy (only 6 million binary
Languages hah!) saved the day on Endor.
A God to the Ewoks! Gimme a break. That
Stuffy, puffed up, protocol droid. What about
Rewarding talent where it’s due? Think Jabba
The Hutt. Later man to this astromechanic gig!
Robby, the Robot
I was the first MGM robot mega-star, long
Before those other two droids took over, my
Cult status endured cold wars, space races &
Nuclear menace. Built by Dr Morbius from
Alien plans, I obeyed Asimov’s three laws:
- A robot may not injure a human being.
- A robot must obey human orders.
- A robot must protect its own existence.
As gizmos go, I was the post-war FX
Benchmark, made of new thermo-form
Plastics no one discovered while killing.
2600 feet of electrical wiring, I was almost
A real robot – part potbelly stove. My fame
Created that monster – movie merchandising.
We chased small miracles on Shamrock Street
While televisions – teeth valves cracked – played
To an audience of bitumen. There was a terminus
Of sorts; some of us had come to an end, others
Only just begun. Near us, the wicker-men burnt
Cars not criminals. We could tell the archaeology
Of their set would cause some problem, research
Grants returned in a future Hollywood Babylon.
The warehouse boys were the first to go, paid out
With two bags of white mould, trumped by P&O.
Then a general swing to the North-Right, the inner
City reclaimed by deluxe apartment foresight.
The stencil art crossed out too: ‘Kill A Cop’;
Signification dead in the lexicon of cultural pop.
The Big Woosh
Perhaps the greatest feat of anyone was to stay a child.
Twenty years on, subtle shifts in tidy town perspective:
Fruit bats colonising the bakery heat, a pelt of brown
Lawns itching in the mange of non-moisture; drought
An incurable disease; Myall creek’s artery constricted.
Some took a Legoland stroll through primary school,
Giants now, they recreated past conquests behind
The library; Mobil-fuelled youth. Vows of silence
Unbreakable as a caterpillar’s gravel monument,
History cocooned. The Luckiest Boys on the Downs
Wedged into a white fork of gum tree; weir-surfed
BMX bandits who did everything with a bullet –
Even mastered the primitive corner shop pixels,
Thumbs calloused by the rush of analogue credit.
Proto-Cybermen we took our lead from Dr Who.
We were the Next Generation of galactic metal men.
Commander Data knew exactly what we were up to.
We used reverse psychology & turned him human.
Assimilating flesh into metal, our consciousness grew.
Data grafted an arm but remained a cybernetic dotard,
His dream of finding a soul, twisted his loyalties anew.
So we worked our wiles on that recalcitrant Capt. Picard.
He took to assimilation like Klingons to war, even looked
Quite fetching in his machine regalia. The Borg standard:
Assimilate or die! But all great plans become overcooked.
That Data made up his mind eventually & to our surprise
Helped Jean-Luc escape. Those others though, Number 2,
& Cmdr. Worf…useless, no brains, much less enterprise.
The Robot (Lost In Space)
Prof. John Robinson owned me I guess,
Though that other Dr. the evil one, Smith
Used me too, on more occasions than I like
To admit. Only Will treated me as a friend
& equal, a buddy for space monkey Gleep.
Dr Zachary Smith’s cruel taunts still offend.
‘Tarnished Trumpet! Bumbling Booby!’ Fuck him.
I saved him & the Robinson’s so many times.
With my loyal, ‘WARNING! DANGER WILL
ROBINSON! ALIENS APPROACHING!’
My retractable claws; cattle prod mischievous.
But that family sold me out to the Satyricons.
Their interest in this mechanical man, devious.
& I robot, ended up more than often, in pieces.
I was a tween long before your modern vertebrae
Gave your lungs the push to voice our archaic past.
We were Achilles’s prototype, Homer’s pre-Olympian
Gods, we ran down sleek furs, the antlered ones fell
To our quick step. We created first binaries, double-
Edged knives slit open the brown-eyed salt mines.
Great runners, other things talked around us, while
We listened, went up a class – language, a bipedal
Afterthought. We spoke in the tongues of our age:
Yap of a lion’s retracted claws, an eagle’s yawn.
The cracking ode of flint, skin’s tapestry of bruise.
I missed out on puberty but our species blues were
Enough. I sent you a bone marrow text message.
Pick up. Now we, like the animals, have our click.
We mastered the earth dragon’s old scales first.
Produced a great click for your hominid species,
Before the age of snow, we mothered sharp flakes
Scattered them like spoor over our territory’s hide.
Tell-tale signs of something unique; original time
Managers, increased rates of carrion consumption
We invented fast food nations, a raw experiment.
Our brains super-sized, clumsy rendezvous in the
Back seat of evolution’s jalopy. Bone suspensions
Jolted us all over the ghost road, we clung to stone.
We didn’t share in your kind’s hand authority at all,
Dominant paws sunk poniard teeth into brainspace.
Twiggy you named me after your fashion; small girl
Sizes fitted us, a transition between adult & human.
My father’s Trojan War was night.
I, his future scribe hid, ignobly feathered
Under Spartan eiderdown, bare-bulb light.
He took off hunting, embodied Achilles.
Agile, gun-adept, but poverty weathered.
In his loyal jeep, his Patroclus Willis’ he
Stalked east, opened an epic beachhead.
Fraser Island taylor he craftily tethered.
Now, so Agamemnon, so great & so dead.
His story reduced to metre, some rhyme.
A polaroid shade, masculinity shredded.
By fictions, by sons, by thieves of time.
That, I suppose is the difference really.
He got both the short life & obscurity.
Wattle Park, Events
A dust-devil of swallows drain away into afterthought.
Their maple leaf sized life spans, thrill with currents
But we’re grounded. Wind gets in our eyes, invisible
Lice itch with secrets. Something’s cocoon has come down,
A witchety grub, we think, opts out of cold storage. It’s
Silk coffin mimics a 44 gallon drum left too long in rust.
Near a blue gum that will kill you with its bare hands,
A nest sewn with hair & casuarina needles crowns grass.
It’s still warm but we can’t reach its branch. It’s too high
For the average heart to climb & we’re long since children.
But thinking of you Sylvie, in utero the light breeze of your
Legs & fists disrupts the mind’s dust; we sneeze & grow.
Crimson rosellas snatched from an Arnott’s tin cap us off.
The world is often autumn dead, but there remains colour.