The Surface of Last Scattering (2022, Unpublished)


Acknowledgments

Poems in this collection were previously published in; Antithesis, Australian Poetry Journal, Australian Poetry Anthology, Bareknuckle Poets Anthology, Bareknuckle Poets Magazine, Best Australian Poems 2017, Bimblebox Art project website, Cordite, 2015 Grieve anthology, 2018 Grieve anthology, foam:e, fourW, Idiom 23, Ipswich City Council- Ipswich Poetry Feast website, Island, Meanjin, 2013 Montreal International Poetry Prize Longlist e-anthology & Global Poetry anthology, Pastel magazine, Plumwood Mountain, Now You Shall Know: 2013 Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology, Connective Tissue: 2015 Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology, 2013 Queensland Poetry Festival anthology: Spoken in One Strange Word, Rabbit, Remington Review (US), Southerly, Sotto, Social Alternatives, StylusLit, The Age, Underneath: The University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s Poetry Prize 2015 anthology, Tremble: The University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s Poetry Prize 2016 anthology, The Weekend Australian, Westerly and Writ Poetry Review.

‘Bomb’ was highly commended in the 2013 Ipswich Poetry Feast – Rosewood Green Award, Open Age Local Poetry.

‘Unicorns Cross Here’ was shortlisted in the 2013 Newcastle Poetry Prize.

‘Kennethland’ was shortlisted in the 2013 Montreal International Poetry Prize.

‘Tomato Picking, Bowen’ won the inaugural 2013 457 Prize for Poetry.

Golden Bowerbird’ was shortlisted in the 2014 Manning Clark House National Cultural Awards — Axel Clark Memorial Prize for Poetry.

‘Soldier Parrots’ was longlisted in the 2014 Ron Pretty Poetry Prize.

‘American Love Poem’ was placed second in the 2014 Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Prize

“Forty-Five’was placed second in the 2014 Arts Queensland Val Vallis Award for Unpublished Poetry.

‘Eel-tailed catfish’ was longlisted in the 2015 University of Canberra’s Vice Chancellor Award for Poetry.

‘Counter-pastoral at 140kph’ was shortlisted in the 2015 Newcastle Poetry Prize.

‘Stargardt’s Syndrome’ was runner up in the 2015 Grieve Writing Competition– National Association of Grief and Loss Award.

‘Goblin Valley, Utah’ was commended in the 2016 Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Competition.

‘Das Kapital” was commended in the 2016 Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Competition.

“Grindle Road’ won the 2016 Ipswich Poetry Feast, Rosewood Green Award – Open Age Local Poets.

‘The Surface of Last Scattering” was co-runner up in the 2016 Arts Queensland Val Vallis Award for Unpublished Poetry.

“Barnacle’ was shortlisted in the 2016 University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize.

“Easter Sunday” was shortlisted in the 2016 Grieve Writing Competition.

 “War on Terror’ was highly commended in the 2017 Ipswich Poetry Feast, Rosewood Green Award – Open Age Local Poets.

“Night Parrots” was commended in the 2017 Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Competition.

“Guadalcanal’ was shortlisted in the 2017 Montreal International Poetry Prize.

“A Japanese Airman Forewarns His Wife’ was a finalist in the 2018 Grieve Writing Competition.

Contents

1. Unicorns Cross Here

2. The Big Bang

3. Kennethland

4. Promise You Won’t Leave Me

5. American Love Poem

6. Zebra Finch

7. Golden Bowerbird

8. Freckled Ducks

9. The Resurrection

10. Mundagatta (Bunyip)

11. Powerful Owl

12. Orange-bellied Parrot

13. Dhaka

14. Bomb

15. Eel-tailed catfish

16. The Shadow Gallery

17. Shoulder-charged by Seamus Heaney

18. Brigalow: an extinct pastoral

19. Asbestos Manor, Hervey Bay

20. Tomato Picking, Bowen

21. Goblin Valley, Utah

22. Great Barrier Reef

23. Review

24. Angstcination

25. Forty-Five

26. Counter-pastoral at 140kph

27. Das Kapital

28. Scarlet-Shouldered Parrot

29. Soldier Parrots

30. Stargardt’s Syndrome

31. Wacol Station Road

32. Grief is a Small Animal That Needs a Home

33. Ornamental Snake

34. Travelling

35. Maureen Cooper’s Quilt (Bimblebox Nature Reserve)

36. Southern Boobook Owls

37. Night Parrots

38. Guadalcanal

39. Chinchilla

40. The Surface of Last Scattering

41. At Play with Grey-Crowned Babblers

42. Brown Booby

43. The Forest in Me

44. Lord Howe Island Phasmid, Land Lobster

45. Grindle Road

46. Stopped the Boats

47. Easter Sunday

48. Bee Fleeting

49. Barnacle

50. Ace

51. Fighting Girlfriend

52. On Not Having Encountered Snow, Aged 46

53. Juvy

54. A Japanese Airman Forewarns His Wife

55. The Shoes

56. The Night Witches

57. War on Terror

58. Snow Geese

Unicorns Cross Here

(i)

There is true north; there is the far north; then there’s

The deep north. Cook, possibly bemused by this tropic

Irony, his twenty-foot fibreglass effigy fully decked out

In his eighteenth century finest; red coat, white Captain’s

Hair wig & pallid stockings, blue fleet commanders’ hat

Advertising the Tradie’s Bar. Towering over Cairns like

Some erect Gulliver at attention, hands folded behind

Him like a small boy in an expensive gift shop, his crab-

Hard skeleton ridged with finger length spines, as if after

Two centuries his legacy is at last coming to reflect his

Environment. Like the spiky stem of a giant rainforest

Palm, his prickly countenance expansive as his working

Class thirst; ambition slaked by exploration, his origins

Foreign as this new continent of hot & muggy dreams.

(ii)

Exiting Cairns, the white possession’s semantic legacy

Thrives in the historical names of rivers & creeks, as though

The bloody transition of the victor’s language is a fecund badge

Of municipal honour to be worn on the sleeve of the state’s

Cracked bitumen highways. The ancient bureaucracy somehow

Blameless in its generational absence: racist discourse clocked

Off & down at the pub; Chinaman Creek, Blackfellow Creek, quirky

Throwback titles to some ambiguous sense of place; perhaps

Named in honour of their once upon a time cultural presence

Along these mangrovy waterways, now disappeared, the lack

Of context unsettling, as reports of Deep Creek’s beheaded croc.

A contemporary settler payback for a family pet taken, a terrier

That stopped to drink one too many times from a sacred spot.

A gruesome totem to appease the mud-caked, Lord of the Flies.

(iii)

Through the silk thin mist, sugarcane fields stand as Roman armies

At the end of empire. Forlorn, thirsty, they occupy the flat ground,

Blades held stiff as they form up, row upon green row in perfect

Drilled unison. A thousand years of domesticating iron has tamed

The wilderness. Axes bite deeper than words, saw teeth whisper in

Death’s white noise. On the hills behind them, the rainforest seethes

In undisciplined chaos; disordered ranks thrown back in confusion.

Strangler vines criss-cross cedar chests like bandoliers of rope ready

To scale the camp’s irrigation ditches & red earthen walls. By mid-

Morning civilisation’s haze has been burnt off by the sun’s kerosene

Lighter. Magpie geese guard the paddock edges. The crests of Great

Egrets rise like centurions’ horsehair plumes, as they take flight to

Encircle the square formations. In the pitched mêlée between nature

& progress, the battlefield scavengers always wind up the fattest.

(iv)

Naïve warning! The crystal caves of Atherton are not real caverns

Of unique crystalline formations home-grown over a millennia of drip

Drying minerals hung from their hills hoist sediment; filled with black

Crevices where microbats huddle together like a Scotsman’s sporran

Or a witch’s pouch bulging with fangs & wings. Nor is it a proper

Natural landmark on which Dutch tourists can climb up to take

A better photo & perish in their ironic attempts at immortality.

It is a tourist simulacrum of the glittering caves; amethyst crystals

Large as dragon eggs imported from conquered lands like Aztec

Gold adorning a plunging Spanish neckline. Next door they’ve

Opened up a fossil shop fast tracking a new Moroccan industry;

Where Devonian sea floors are spaded up like squares of fine

Grass from a turf farm & polished until they gleam; modern

Vanities that were pre-ordered, half a million years ago.

(v)

Port Douglas’s stinger net is aptly named; for it is tourists who are stung.

A council security smokescreen; box jellyfish hang like toolies on the edges

Of Four Mile Beach’s swimming enclosure, threatening postures barred, their

See-through chests stretch like aerodrome windsocks inflated in a cyclone.

They pulse fear, but are merely the venom vanguard of the holiday season

As nature cracks this problem & employs its latest nano technology; irikanji

To infiltrate the nets, a bio weapon smuggled into summer’s secure terminal.

Orange-footed Scrubfowl scratch up the sand like children, unperturbed by

Their killer reputation, while in palm trees, rainbow lorikeets speak in their

Language of smashed stones. They grate out the story of a woman who,

One day while swimming in the enclosure, went to fish out a log that she

Noticed bobbing inside the net. As she swam over, the trunk submerged.

The locals, smug in their survival knowledge don’t swim here; in these man-

Made aquariums, where scooping out estuarine crocodiles is a weekly menu.

(vi)

The Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher drags its long, white tail feathers

Through Julatten’s sluggish ring of air like a prize-fighter trailing spittle

After a knockout punch. Its twin struts belong to some other era

Of wartime aerodynamic experimentation; a P-38 Lockheed Lightning

On its ground attack run, finishing off Japanese airfields, diving through

The jungle’s camouflage net to avoid detection. It’s a skywriter; the plumes

Of its continuous white dash, a game of hangman across the forest’s page,

As males spell out their need for love. Perched, its tail flick is a courtship

Gear stick shift into fifth; evolution’s smooth mechanism rolls on, oiled

& preened to perfection like military dress. Its red-orange bill bursts like

New Year’s Eve fireworks, as white streamers shoot out over the creek’s

Cobblestone alley, a V- Day celebration for the end of seasonal conflict.

Contrails that split the azure sky in their flypast salute. Bandleaders;

They twirl their feathery batons as spring’s victory parade marches on.

(vii)

Crocodile paranoia inundates the wet tropics every rainy season,

Fogging the tourist mind. It all started in the 80s, one New Year’s Eve.

Thirty years of population recovery. A midnight swim in the Daintree,

Toes brushing against something rocky under the black water; the fleeting

Touch providing little warning. The cool water relieving night’s stickiness,

Caressing her body like falling into freshly washed sheets. Then the violent

Waist grab, the drugged brain trying to justify the burning sensation. First

Thoughts of a male friend’s poorly timed practical joke, his sex-charged

Fingers too eager, pinching into her hip’s soft flesh. The wildfire spreading

Over her skin like the aftermath of an all-day tattoo. Her body flipped over;

The enormous strength pulling her under the dark tow; a father throwing

Their child around in a pool. The frantic half-breath never enough.

The searing of the lungs more painful; the syphoning away of last air

Mocking the agony in her side. Her first & last drink of the new year.

(viii)

The wild horse crossing sign has been graffitied; its black ear extended

Into a unicorn’s horn by some witty local. Neither, do the speed hump

Signs fare any better, the dark half-moons transformed into smiley faces,

Black holes, flying saucers & peace symbols, as though having to slow down

Is somehow made more bearable if changed into the fantastical; like giving

The finger to an impatient P plater barking from behind you on a hundred

Year old, one lane, wooden bridge. The imagined world is shifting; it’s easier

To spot a Southern cassowary behind a wire fence at a jungle zoo, though

The crowds are drawn to reptilian danger & ignore this megapode at their

Peril; the disembowelling clawed toe like a cocked gun at extinction’s head.

Above 850 metres, Golden bowerbirds build stick skyscrapers; the largest

Penthouses in the rainforest. This pattern is recognisably human; to carve

Out territory for yourself & to pass on phoenix genes to your children.

This we all cross: in the true, far, deep north, all life is selfish by nature.

The Big Bang

You wake up in your bedroom or wherever you slept.

In the time it takes for you to focus your drowsy eyes,

& register morning’s heat, the universe has been created.

Your eyelids flutter; tiny quantum fluctuations that hone

All matter like a beam of sunlight under a kid’s magnifying

Glass & give the room its shape. You discern the curvature

Of mushroom coloured curtains at the far edge of space.

On the heavy fabric, the early twentieth century stained-

Glass window projects a pattern; a stylised molecule from

A superhero’s chest or a film’s freeze frame of the erratic

Orbits of young suns around the Milky Way’s galactic core.

In the deep corners of time, up in the pressed tin ceiling,

Just past the strands of a spider’s dusty nebula, a sparky

Has drilled a small black hole. Your atoms begin to stretch.

Kennethland

This is all his now. The front row’s four desks,

habitually rearranged like a swastika throughout

history. They have been annexed for the founding

of Kennethland. He has a pilgrim’s first thrill on

sighting landfall. His anxiety rises from his head

like a tall black hat. Inside its boundaries he raises

a flag of outlandish design legitimising his mind’s

false invasion. He blames others for his border

intrusions. His actions are a grand conspiracy,

dressing up conformity’s corpse in irrationality’s

dun-coloured uniform & dumping it over his

checkpoint. He is fluent in visual propaganda.

He shoots a history of his new world order

in grainy super eight. The assault was sudden.

He keeps a guarded airspace over his meticulous

kingdom. He has measured every perimeter’s inch.

He keeps equal distances apart. There is no other

landscape like this, so worth protecting. He writes

his inaugural constitution in red crayon pictures.

His weapons are literal, his thoughts fire rapidly

like a gun-mounted camera. They hurt. Any breach

to his sovereignty is dealt with fiercely. His left fist

hangs in the air like a bulbous-headed drone. His

neck is rigid undercarriage when he makes a decision.

He draws computer game screenshots to prophesise

what exactly will happen. Like a robot, he doesn’t mix

his words but acts by instruction. Missile-pens launch

from his fingers’ slim silos buried in the cornfields

of his jean pockets & stab at their flesh’s no fly zone.

He is steeped in Armageddon’s instantaneous results.

This land is lost. He has already begun to print his own

currency. The denominations don’t make sense, but

they are as nostalgic as soil & well worth collecting.

He doesn’t want them to open his nation’s tidy box.

There are some inner workings they don’t get to see.

He craves the sensation of a cattle crush pinning him,

but without the iron touch. He patrols. Outside his wire

enclosure everyone has been reclassified as an enemy

combatant. He keeps just one true prisoner of war.

He has no plans to exchange him for the present.

Promise You Won’t Leave Me

I’m some small snippet in a local paper; a fellow dying medium.

The fresh ink of my identity smeared across the world’s face for

just one brief flowering. Like some meat-rotten bud that opens

once every forty-two years, I was last smelt in 1970 & suddenly

petals of interest fall open in offices & cafes: in cool bedrooms.

I’m the off-the-cut news grab some husband wants to share

with his wife, a curio he’s pulled up from his day, but he hesitates,

too schooled in glasshouse reticence, too rooted to his denial.

I could graft on him such muteness. Let the bung of disease gag

his bottle-mouth, like I was stoppered up. Preserved you could

say, a girl-cork at sixteen, when youth should have spilled out.

I could teach him the language of the inner self, the timeless

agony of the inaudible will. A radio with its volume turned low.

White noise is just the stars whispering to each other secretly

like schoolgirls at the back of a class. Curse-struck teenager,

all I could do was postpone; impotent with grace. I rested;

the potency of a Venus flytrap that could not close its jaws

on anything. No electric snap. Fly-time crawled over me;

its minute hairs tickled my face, but it triggered no response

& I could not brush it away. Silence is white as a maggot.

It eats out the brain. The itch was hideous. Something

the body must surrender to one day, when we throw up

our arms & resign ourselves to being entropy’s hostage.

But for a long while, my own consciousness was a coffin;

no need to nail one about me when I’m gone. That’d be

like hitching a golden frame around Guernica, or singing

disco around Morrison’s French tomb. My casket certainly

wasn’t crystal; there was no wine glass whine for my ears

to crack, but my long stasis did become semi-mythical.

They called me something predictable; ‘sleeping snow white’.

I guess I fit their ancient archetype; the girl-child waiting

to be rescued with hair that continues to grow. The wronged

princess who tongueless, weaves her woe into a tapestry

for all the King’s court to see; the aberrant daughter who

is wont to transgress. But cooped up in my mother’s Miami

abode, my domestic Disney existence was hardly the grist

of fairytale. More than any other, I understood forever after

all too well. So, my mother learnt about love’s terrible call.

Promise you won’t leave me, I urged from the hospital bed.

I can imagine your pity; the swell of salt that pools from

The tube of your eyes for the years I never spent, the men

I never had, the children I never smacked. The lost girl I am.

But don’t waste it on me; there are those who talk more who

need your sympathy. Besides, I’ve worked out your milieu.

When I was young, being famous was hard work & it made

you into someone. Now fame is just another product to be

consumed by everyone. Being celebrated for doing nothing,

well, I’m an expert at that. I haven’t moved in four decades

& strangers still come to roll me over like they were rubbing

some prayer limb. Bedsores after all, are a type of stigmata.

Did I hear them? The billions of words poured like water

into a bath. You sponged me down with them; novels, classics

poems, words to walk by; it wasn’t what was said, so much

the act of saying them that was the point. I had the world’s

best litanies read to me, not many can stake a claim to that.

& I wasn’t even dead. No, not even close. Then, where

was I all that time you might ask? If I wasn’t listening,

I was practising my performance skit, Girl on Bed.

Warhol should have put his camera on me & I would’ve

given him decades of a masterpiece; his comatose muse.

Or did you think I was with God? If the white totality

of an eclipse is God in extreme close up, then…yes.

But then, neither of us said anything, like it was our

first date. I was comfortable in our silence; my body,

my non-miraculous figure was already laid out

like a washed saint. Perhaps, I came to mean more

to him than he ever knew; perhaps I showed him a thing

or two about love; coming as it was over forty years,

to know more about suffering, than even his own son.

Finally, there are those of you who would have switched

me off at the wall: she’s technically dead! Tubes feed her,

machines breath for her. Funnily enough, death woke me.

Or rather, broke my eternal stillness at the end. I never

roused, no Prince burst in at the last second. My body

collapsed like a neutron star & the pulse of me poured

through the universe like the contents of a spilled cup.

& for all the strength of the elements that spew forth

from dying red suns, for one second every century &

forge a commonality. For all that mind-boggling guff;

to me, there is nothing stronger than a promise kept.

Edwarda O’Bara (March 27, 1953 – November 21, 2012) was an American woman who spent 42 years

in a diabetic coma starting in January 1970 after contracting pneumonia in December 1969. The last words she said to her mother before she slipped into her coma were, ‘Promise you won’t leave me’.

American Love Poem

You saw your first cardinal, iconic American bird.

Maybe you’d just stepped out the front door of your

1930s depression era bungalow & its redness caught

your eye as you slammed the blue door shut & double

checked the lock, your fingers chirping from the cold.

A discordant winter colour, as if a laser sight ranged

over the dun landscape hunting for a kill & alighted on

that scarecrow’s bleak arm. In that instant, you were

Elizabeth, the pleasure of your breath’s intake loud

as a gunshot in a suburban street or a stuck water pipe

groaning from its heavy winter coat. I can picture her

pausing, stocking up on the bird’s palette, mixing oils

in her head to do the blushing passerine justice.

Coercing her colourists to shade its chromakey jizz

just right. Dawn’s rosy crest as it wings over the horizon.

But that was not hers, but Audubon’s treat, capturing

a mated pair of cardinal grosbeaks in Birds of America.

You would have stood predator still, the house key

dangling from your fingers like a brown grasshopper

from a bill. It would have noticed you too, perhaps

marvelling at your own flaming nest of hair, a birder’s

Mexican stand-off, there would’ve been no retreat.

I know, it would have defaulted first, eager for breakfast

or to hop on with its job of establishing a seed fund

up & down your burnished Lawrence street. Or perhaps

you saw the female & so did Elizabeth; a much tougher

role in the wild – unseen heroines of species’ molecular

distribution. Maybe, you thought about how the past

is preened to make only some glow with satisfaction,

how males are usually displayed in primary positions,

perched at the top of their branches. You still would’ve

seen the red badges pinned to each shoulder of her wing,

as if true courage is facing down historical determinism.

You would’ve watched the cardinal’s departure flight;

noting her unique love affair with gravity’s weakness.

Perhaps, she gifted you standing there on the pavement

with a brief song, a few notes to take down with your

birder’s head. Your heart eventually would’ve glided

to a stop. After all, isn’t this what all lovers want?

To be checked off on somebody else’s life list.

Zebra Finch

He was watching the Watchmen; the scene when they bury

The Comedian to the sounds of the Sounds of Silence, when

The tempo of their birds’ emergency calls fast forwarded.

Pausing; the cage was half-twisted like a hospital tea trolley

Wrenched by a famished patient. The white-socked feline

Slid under the gate & down his wooden stairs like a grey

Silk runner, wearing a zebra finch mask. Its superpowers

Folded its wallet-body in half, as it slipped through the art

Deco iron gate & into night’s back pocket, the passerine

Hanging like a ticket stub from its mouth. Next morning

He tampered with the crime scene; bashed away the tiny

Breast feathers that lay like cigarette ash ground into his

Welcome mat & concocted his children’s cover story.

How their pet curlicued through its cage like smoke.

Golden Bowerbird

For ‘Chook’ Crawford

When the male golden bowerbird finally alighted

On a lichened giant, one thousand metres above sea

Level; he was tricked. He’d responded instinctively,

As though protecting his two metre tall wicker bower

From rivals, was just a rapid eye blink of sexual angst.

‘Chook’ had called him in; bearded like Odin, he held

Loki’s device, an iPod that overflowed with birdsong

Like a chatty Mt Lewis spring. Rigged to the palm-sized

Aviary by its sinuous tongue was a magic amplifier that

Grated out its territorial challenge. When he accepted

The trial, it was if all the sun’s warmth had magnified

Into a single yellow beam that wove through the forest’s

Dark crown, to rest, feather light on the branch’s head.

They witnessed a star’s birth under the canopy of space.

Freckled Ducks

The forty odd freckled ducks lived & died on water.

Like plain country folk dressed in blue-checked shirts

& dark moleskins, they were raised in the same town

& buried too, within its familiar, territorial limits. Or

Like a housewife knifed by a stranger in her kitchen,

Their deaths: some brutal transgression of the home;

A sticky, bloodshot lagoon silted up after three good

Seasons. Their weir consolidated its life-giving asset,

As if it was a colonial outpost counting out its last

Rounds; their reed camouflaged pond transformed

Into an unstable ammo dump. Their billabong; some

Balkan village about to be liquidated. Lead pellets fell

Through their skins’ crust; like how a coin-sized piece

Of neutron star would slip straight through the earth.

The Resurrection

When he leaves, the maggots pore over the wheelie bin

Like a reader’s eyes crawling across a favourite passage.

They are the length of a typed word & dust the green

Industrial fabric with arched precision, as though they

Are white stitches pulled tight by their hunger’s needle.

Where the river curves like a sunbather’s tanned elbow,

Mullet spring from the brown water; whether in festivity

Or to escape the Bremer’s failed health report he cannot

Judge. Animals are scatty. A channel-billed cuckoo tears

Over the river as if pursued; he looks, but only the bird’s

Shadow on the coffee still surface keeps pace like some

Skulking doppelganger. Returning, the seal of the bin’s

Cave yawns open. The maggots are gone; picked clean

As lint from a pair of jeans, or dew burnt off by the sun.

Mundagatta (Bunyip)

(i)

The two-metre bull shark bunts its way up the Bremer river

With the incoming tide, as though it is a paper & paddle pop

Stick boat pushed by gravity down a rain swollen gutter. Like

Some aquatic & hairless Rottweiler, the shark snuffles along

The slimy bottom, its eyes useless in the watercourse’s twilight

Zone as it bounds through a thunderstorm of effluent run-off

& agricultural pesticide. Truly a river monster; it has adapted

To both salt and freshwater systems; at ease in this estuarine

DMZ. In its myopic habitat, the shark relies on its sixth sense

To zero in on catfish & turtles, electrical signals dance across

Its snout like sherbet fizzing on a tongue. Fishermen routinely

Pluck pups out of the brown water & bash their heads against

The nearest rock; euthanasing against the future where serrated

Teeth line up like ranks of dominoes waiting to fall into place.

(ii)

The Ugarapul people won’t tell you their true names, but refer

To three types of Mundagatta skulking in the Bremer. One eats

Flesh. One nibbles water lilies. The last is twenty metres long

& hypnotises its victims like Kaa from The Jungle Book. Near-

Fatalities swear that it has a glowing red eye that mesmerises

Like an angler fish’s luminescent worm. They won’t swim in

The river. The Three Mile swim race they knew was suicide.

An inverted Styx. No parent holds their child by the ankle

& dips them into its waters for magical protection. There is

Only mythological deviation. In crossing over to death this is

The kind of river where a ferryman perishes if he falls into it;

Mundagatta capsize boats, no souls of the damned drag these

Captains down, nor is it spiritual intoxication which smothers.

Many are the bunyips that lurk in the billabong of the heart.

(iii)

Here’s a clue then, to how the Broderick sisters, Lawson’s original

Babies of Walloon were doomed. In the lagoon, the plant-eating

Mundagatta gripped the lilies’ roots & gently tugged the greasy

Tendrils, so the green plates moved; a steam train’s cogs gathering

Speed. Their funnel-stems swayed as a tree buffeted by a westerly,

Their lilac blooms flared out like a shuttlecock’s girth.  Entranced,

Even hypnotised, by the biggest flowers they’d ever wanted to pick,

The girls entered the coal black water, never noticing how the plants

Were not dancing to a breeze. The bubbles erupting in a long chain

Of breath they thought belonged to turtles; in the nineteenth century

Science back burnt superstitious fear. There was no rationale for the

Jabberwocky of Celtic Britannia, no Scottish red caps slavering after

Children. The Ugarapul didn’t even camp by the water’s edge; told

Their young’uns to avoid lilies or suffer Ophelia’s garlanded fate.

Powerful Owl

The pair of grey butcherbirds assaulting the open flak

Jacket of the paperbark’s fleshy trunk, alerted them to

Blackburn Lake’s violent undercurrent. Their hooked

Beaks flung a warning, woomera-like, extending their

Fear’s range; a hopeless sonic weapon they directed at

The Powerful owl’s seismic hearing. It was unmoved,

As though rendered immobile by the sun’s paralysing

Spell or instinct’s polite etiquette. The owl perched,

Its head rotating like a lighthouse beacon, it’s yellow

Eyes radiating out a beam of destruction. Its body

Fuelling like a rocket on a launch pad. It only waited

For night to cloak it, an executioner’s hood to break

The ennui of its daylight evolutionary prison. In tree

Hollows, night animals assumed the brace position.

Orange-bellied parrot

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.

Dhaka

On the tables, sewing machines bunch like rows

Of blackened molars; the thrum of five thousand

Dentists’ drills, crowns girls’ gossip into thought. 

They romanticise the nineteenth century’s future.

Steampunk’s generic shame; they never describe

The proletariat who stitch their Victorian leather

& fix brass telescopes. Or thread their baby sisters

Through the factory’s needle-thin galvanised door.

Blocked exits spread a bob of panic like an Adam’s

Apple when it swallows. Weakened at its pouring,

A bitter potion of hand-mixed profits is skimmed

From the foundation’s rich slurry. A poor dilution

Of reason’s atomic structure. Over the decades a

Pattern is cut. Concrete decays like a human tooth. 

Bomb

(i)

He hands it to me.

His fingers, a pale spider,

the ball, its bloated egg sac.

His hairs brush mine,

vibrations are sent from

the world wide web.

Between our two trunks

string begins to resonate.

Smooth as a river stone,

polished by eons of licks

to the face, dog-nose cold

the ball is dimpled as though

struck by meteors of hate.

My very own genesis rock.

(ii)

My vice puts friction’s

strong law on the golf ball.

My industrial popping candy.

The drill wheedles its way

twirling through hard, white

layers like some seismic rig

breaking through the Arctic’s

frozen crust. Scoops of white

plastic fall like nail clippings

onto the workshop floor.

The drill chews the icing down

to the quick of its rubber core.

Black strings reverse like smoke

up the drill’s steel chimney.

(iii)

He hands me a backpack.

It is asteroid heavy. He says

there are butterflies inside it

& that if I pull the rip cord

it’ll free them; blue & green

wings will fold like hands

at the end of loud applause.

The great sound of god

is in the seashell I hold to

my ear as I climb the fence.

I tip-toe so as not to shake

up my delicate cargo. I don’t

want to kill the insects; he says

the Americans will like me.

(iv)

My very own genesis rock.

He says there’s white powder

inside that will trigger dreams.

I draw the cigarette from behind

my ear like a hunting dart from

my neck’s soft quiver & he grasps

it in one of his pale mandibles.

As he transports it to his mouth

a fang jumps out onto his lip

like a white shark beaching

itself on the red sand of his lips.

As he slides back into the liquid

light, the tooth snags its prey.

He lights it like a fuse.

(v)

Up the drill’s steel chimney

my fingers scour like a huntsman

& flick the last wisps of the golf

ball’s black innards away. I pack

the bearings inside the hollowed

out shell, like a wasp depositing

its eggs into a caterpillar’s gut;

a time bomb’s interminable pause.

I shoot up the baby cannonball

with my violent mixture; an egg

timer fills with soot. Time runs

black. I cap the improvised device

with old chewing gum, like a coin

that seals a dead man’s fate.

(vi)

The Americans will like me &

maybe even decorate my chest

with chocolate when I release

my gift. Whose heart wouldn’t

expand at the thought; the velvet

texture, the eyelash thin antennae

that curl at the ends like a question

mark? The see-through wings that

shift your vision like a kaleidoscope.

I marvel, at how something so small

can bring laughter like a magician’s

trick. As I reach the soldiers, statue

still, their faces lit like new bronze,

I feather the cord & a dog barks.

(vii)

He lights it like a fuse.

The ball is shiny as volcanic glass;

the fused harmony of molecules

melted in the sun surface heat

of a violent pyroclastic eruption.

I up-end it to shake out the white

powder like a salt shaker that has

become damp. Nothing gives.

I bash it on my hand’s dinner table.

He rounds the garage & ducks low

like a demolitions expert. There is

a noise like lightning hitting a power

line. The skin frays from my fingers

like an umbrella that rips in a cyclone.

(viii)

That seals a dead man’s tongue?

What about who takes him down?

The blast is about twenty aerosol cans

of laughter lit up by a fire-eater’s belch.

I lose my balance momentarily like the

bottom step missed when dead drunk.

There’s a whimpering that’s not quite dog.

I sneak a look. He is witchetty-grub bent,

a white blob grounded, curled into himself

like a kick to the balls in a footy scrum.

My smile breaks open like a picked sore.

The inky ghost cordite, possesses my nose.

I’ll never run out of weapons; the internet

is my ammunition dump; I, its cyberpunk.

(ix)

I feather the cord & a dog barks.

I ask him for a grown up cigarette.

He takes one from his shirt pocket.

It slides out like a white torpedo

from its silver tube. He looks

into the face of his afterthought.

Beneath his helmet, his eyes are

half-lit, in shadow’s smudged kohl,

as if they’ve gone behind a cloud.

As I open the backpack’s cocoon,

bright wings flick out like a serpent’s

tongue & the butterflies are gone.

In the sheet lightning sky, helicopters

glow like black kites caught in the sun.

Eel-tailed catfish

for Mitchell Michael

The catfish is a slimy basilisk that evolution has

stitched together from fragments of eel & cat.

Its stone-age arrow shaped tail is laced with spiny

curtains as if a spectacle is always about to open.

Its fine bones are kitten’s claws retracted into its

belly or fingernail clippings found in a bread roll.

The catfish is not aware that it swims in water, like

we don’t rate the experience of walking through air.

Thumbnail-sized eyes opaque as an unpolished lens

glow orange in torchlight. They don’t love full moons.

The two sets of night lights make them cautious, their

bulbous black bodies lie tethered as mines to their fear.

The catfish swims against charged particles that fizz

along its flanks like sherbet erupting on a wet tongue.

Water tries to dampen its movement. It has no scales

to hamper water’s momentum across its eely skin.

The catfish understands that the river’s soft current is

the lining of a birth canal, and just as strong-muscled.

Its eyes should really be on the end of its chin whiskers

like a snail’s; its eight barbels feel around with electricity.

The beach berry seeds that drop in the water are black

as the eye-stalks of crayfish and are eaten mistakenly.

They’ve learnt to react to riverbank erosion. So humans

throw in dirt: where there’s a fallen tree, there’s worms.

They stash themselves under the river’s rooty embankment

in their shadow-skins; bodies that don’t want to be found.

In flood they’ll try to push up creeks to the mountain’s heart

to release their eggs. In this way their young will wash down.

At night the catfish scramble at the water’s edge; the periscope

feelers of crayfish submerge with their vessel as they’re eaten.

There are many catfish that have never felt a human’s electrically

charged heart; we touch them & our fingers snap with static’s kiss.

The Shadow Gallery

for Nathan Shepherdson

It starts with a sun. A cutlass of light

slashes at your head & runs your shadow

up your body’s length; a pirate’s black flag.

When embracing your lover, your shadows

fall in love again & meld into each other

like droplets of dark water pooling.

Shadows are where the old gods took refuge

hiding in plain sight. They are immortal so

long as there is a body of faith. You are not.

Your shadow sticks to you like a pilot fish

or a lamprey. You sustain it & take it for

a ride. Your shadow cannot carry you.

Gravity does not affect your shadow. It is

not a thing as we know it. It does not have

molecules, only the shadows of molecules.

The fundamental laws that govern

the universe, do not govern it. You are

the event horizon to your own black hole.

When you look up at the night sky

the dark bits you see between the

pinpricks of stars are not shadows.

Shadows are not dark matter.

Shadows are not dark energy.

Shadows are their own quanta.

Your shadow is shackled to you by

leg-irons of light. At night your shadow

escapes only to be caught by dawn.

At dawn your shadow lies around

you like the negative of the chalked

outline of a freshly murdered body.

Often other people’s shadows will fall

across yours. There are no sparks as in

the flesh. Only a dark meshing of gears.

Your shadow can walk up walls & cliff-

faces. They are like beetles; electrons are

powerless to keep them from climbing.

In the late afternoon your shadow mutates.

They are dark furred lycanthropes that grow

three times your size & stalk behind you.

Shadows fear total eclipses of the sun;

totality is their version of Armageddon.

They are often black-bagged by the moon.

The sun’s atmosphere, its pink corona

is your shadow’s idea of God. It’s gaseous

core is a searing translation of heaven.

Clouds trick shadows by making them vanish

into the earth’s top hat. Who’s to say where

the magician’s cape ends & its shadow begins?

Your shadow has limbs, a head, a trunk

but no tongue. It is noiseless like Charon’s

black sail that propels him across the river Styx.

Your shadow likes to pose with you in photos.

In old age your shadow will even try to prop you up.

In death, your shadow folds around you like a dark wing.

Shoulder-charged by Seamus Heaney

He had me at those early deaths; croppies

Brother, frogspawn. I was reading his poems

Before I could even breathe. The matchbox

Coffins I buried stuffed full of dead guppies.

When I was about four, I too was liable to fear

The farm’s pot-holed windpipe of broken track.

After thunderstorms, swamps of darkest foam

Globbed the gutters like frothy heads of beer.

The tree frogs were quick-thinking & they bred

As eagerly as my father’s hand flensed my back.

But the hot-plate sun soaked up the black ponds

& the buds of tadpoles choked on air, until dead.

It was a small boy thing, trying to save them all.

The tiny stranded whales were the first to fall.

Brigalow: an extinct pastoral

Acacia harpophylla

It was shaving a giant’s hairy body to reduce friction

& speed things up. Each fracture of a Brigalow trunk,

the taut string of a Jarowair songline snapping; ancient

wires curled into a foetal position as the D9s chewed

through acacias like witchetty grubs weakening a tree’s

hardwood core. Local councils paid up bounties to clear

‘scrub’ into the 80s. They strung a necklace of iron pearls

between two dozers; manacled violence, like nineteenth

century convicts kept under guard. The machines clawed

through six million acres, rubbing against bark, leaving

a scent trail of oil & diesel, as though they were some

type of ancient megafauna revisited; extinct, buttery-

furred Thylacoleo, carnivorous in their vast appetite.

Then their kitchen knife shiny blades scratched out

the jagged stumps that leaked blood-amber & later

hardened into ruby stalactites & froze to the broken

lip of the forest’s open mouth. The rich, alluvial soil

ruptured like a freshly dug mass grave, as the tree-

pushers tossed black wattle bodies into loose piles

& burnt them. Genocide’s sleight of hand perfected

on nature first. Trees as numbers. Dozer drivers

saw straight through their bee-yellow badges, their

earmuffs silenced the forest’s death rattle, made

the weary farmers bomber-pilot resilient to raining

down destruction. The ovens were crude fire pits

that melted down acacia sap like looted gold, so that

it pooled tawny in this open furnace’s charcoal bed.

These chains of being breaking coffee-stained teeth

of white ant hills that housed avian clay diamonds.

The Paradise Parrot, a smashed green, red, & blue

panel in the Darling Downs stained glass window.

The termite mounds rose like a child’s best castle

or miniature gothic cathedrals built of sand & grass,

masticated & stored in the climate-controlled fridge

interior. These insects stowing carbon before there

was a price put on the planet’s bushranger head.

The shotgun entry-wound sized nest holes blasted

into mounds by the birds, as though evolution had

manufactured the perfect cavity for humans to

dynamite these architectural wonders of the insect

world. The cool pyramids sawn off at their bases;

cut down like pseudo-trees or scooped up in the rough

hands of front-end loaders & rolled into tennis courts.

The ignorant paddocks of youth where natural beauty

was witnessed in the solitary survivors of cultivation.

Coolabah trees surrounded by seas of grass, trunks

twisted like the wrenched skin of a ‘Chinese burn’ or

New Holland nymphs caught in a transformative act;

god-frozen as punishment for their greenest pride.

Half of them ringbarked by pink-flared galahs, their

stringy layers hanging off their limbs like a child’s

Band-Aid half picked off an arm or leg, undecided

about its ability to help heal the body’s dying flesh.

The understory broken by iron & fire like a rebellion.

Exotic grasses chewed down to their stubs by sheep

& cattle until even these conquerors were themselves

usurped by cereal crops & water-boarded cotton.

Hoofed animals who sacked the land’s fragile temple,

magnifying a historic benefit to the monocultural god.

Agriculture’s sublime gerrymander; the fascist knowhow

of combines & seed strains & harrows that clear-felled

the Brigalow belt. Soldier settlers of the 40s carrying on

the good fight to the Qld frontier, carving order out

of the dual forces of chaos; heat & drought. Trobuk

tanned, or Kokoda lithe, digging into their prickle farms

like a cattle tick into its host, head down, immovable.

Not the weather, not the banks, not the rising water

table that pulled salt skyward like a crystalline sunrise,

or the earthen heave of an underground atomic test.

Humans pushed the envelope of entropy: remnant

vegetation ensconced on Oakey Creek’s banks,

where wind & animal erosion dusted off eons

of silt from the fossilised skulls of diprotodons.

Fist-sized eye sockets stoppered with black mud.

Brigalow, now quarantined to rocky slopes like

the survivors of a flood catastrophe, or reduced

from its diverse wealth to begging beside highways.

North to Townsville, south to Narrabri, west to Bourke

& Blackall, the silvery-leafed acacias retreated meekly

into history’s hothouse. Their decline & fall predictable

as any overstretched empire’s, barbarians shutting

the gates on revegetation; reserves & hillsides

the last refuge of the disappeared.  Ninety-five

percent of the black-trunked forest anchor-chained;

a billion victims of Bjelke-Petersen’s Frankenstein

invention, his iron umbilical bolt that connected

ex-war surplus gun carriers & enfiladed the land.

The Mallee’s murdered twin brother buried west

of the Great Dividing Range & never seen again.

The countless bodies gone missing in the gidgee;

Darling Downs Hopping-mouse, White-footed

Rabbit-rat, Brush-tailed Bettong, Long-nosed

Bandicoot, Greater Bilby, Bridled Nailtail Wallaby,

Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat & Eastern Quoll.  

These protein gradients dropping away without

a sound, as though they were regrowth suckers

poisoned by 24D. An extinct pastoral still being

energised as a red-hot column whence fly the sparks.

Black wattle burning on a six million acre farm.

Asbestos Manor, Hervey Bay

They are punishing the neighbourhood with colour.

The 70s seaside villa has been burnished a canary

Yellow; radiant it glows brighter than each sunrise

Over Urangan. The beach house wears a reflector

Vest, it stands out for the tourists as unimaginable

Public art. Perhaps they bought it without a builder

Giving it the once over; now the walls contain a

Reactive poison embedded as a fibre within a lung.

Even the driveway has been sprayed with sunshine.

The rays of frustration radiate out from its living-

Room like the sun in a corner of a child’s picture.

It would have even stopped Warhol on his morning

Walk. It is part protest, part warning, all a mistake.

Yet no one enters the house made of yellowcake.

Tomato Picking, Bowen

On the concrete-grey mounds the tomatoes rose

up symmetrically like stop signs on a median strip.

They were told to pick them greenish-red; as gas

would ripen them more efficiently than the sun.

They were paid $1.80 for a 10 litre bucket of egg-

sized fruit. The tomato’s spiky scent repatriated

their skulls to where peaches & apricots ripened

on bright kilims in their burnt-off youth. The heat

didn’t bother; but humidity desiccated their skin.

The backpackers were lazy, the bikies had a routine.

They defended their sacred rows from the Danes too.

No one back-picked their lanes; there was no meeting

in the middle & clasping hands. Each branch kept to

their own variety. At day’s end, they were chased off

by the crop-duster which misted pesticide over their

red membrane. They left work, just as their itch grew.

Goblin Valley, Utah

Here’s Glen pregnant-sized,a man-mountain

grunting as if in childbirth. Wiggle it just a little bit.

He is a bored Atlas straying from his ancient script.

We have modified goblin valley. For 200 million years

the rain & wind have failed to finish the kneecap

job, now a new goblin valley exists in the scout leaders’

minds with this boulder down here. An exercise in risk

minimalisation like defoliating a rainforest to rob

your enemy of cover. Muscles over here pushed it off.

When the rock topples to the floor they cheer

as if they’ve just watched an explosion take out

some bad guys. That’s crazy…it was held up just by

that little bit of dirt. Their awestruck fingers trace

the plinth where the stone used to rest, as though

they’re fingering bullet holes in a sedan’s door.

Some little kid was about to walk down here and die!

The three men are moved by a greater weight.

Glen saved his life by getting the boulder out of the way.

He is channelling his ‘Smokey Bear’ childhood,

teaching his young charges to put out potential

fires. So, it’s all about saving lives here at goblin valley.

They are an extinction event for Triassic geology.

Saving lives that’s what we’re about they confess as

the death threats solidify into a sediment of hate.

Great Barrier Reef

(i)

They say it’s the length of Japan, if that group

Of home islands was stretched out beside the

Queensland coastline; a great lung of Poseidon’s

Branching from the continent’s spine of white

Beach, exhaling microscopic spores into the sea’s

Vast cavity. Atlantean sunk beneath the Pacific

Ocean’s mythic blue abyss, the living tissue is

Larger than Cook’s England, as legendary as

Arthur’s Albion & as treacherous as Lyonesse.

After all, it conspired to hole the Endeavour.

(ii)

Along the brain-corrugated reef, light harpoons

Into water translucent & smooth as Murano glass.

Photons lobotomise; calm waters protect volcanic

Nibs of mountains we call islands. The reef is a

Front gate; white picket fence that keeps out sharks.

You can make out clam bunkers shut fast against

Riptides that blow subterranean wind in their faces. 

Here, the wet metamorphosis of garden caterpillars;

Black & yellow striped nudibranchs, inch over polyps

That house migrants in their hundreds of thousands.

(iii)

It is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon ultramarine.

A billion generations have crowned its hard teeth

Before we came down from the trees. Here, time

Is measured in the millennia that green turtles have

Spent heaving their way up beaches to deposit their

Golf ball-sized capsules. Or how barnacles cling for

The length of the British Empire’s reign upon a rock.

Such perspectives diminish our enterprise; as bulk oil

Carriers slide carefully around the razor-edged reefs;

Like a sapper probing for mines in the Afghan sand.

(iv)

The rich organ now wears Asian funeral white. Its

Cancer the antithesis of black Western mourning.

The technicolour algae depart from their luxury posts

Like passengers on a stricken liner, leaving ghosts in

The shell. The sea is on a slow boil. The coral is dying

Its emphysemic death as parts of the great lung collapse.

It is falling into the shade of bleached whale bones as

Pieces of brain wash up on the beach; a tidal keepsake.

No need for a glass-bottomed boat to sail the future.

It is a scab on the ocean’s leg that is best left to heal.

Review

All suicides know the truth of it. There is no doubt.

They try out the theory first; the universe’s heat death

For themselves. We think of the cosmos as docile &

Urbanised, like a city & can never imagine all the lights

Going out. This is our frailty; we believe that blackouts

Will always come back on. As though God was some

Kind of pot-bellied electrician who always turns up

To reset the safety switch. We misjudge the solemnity

Of death all the time. We find a gecko’s dismembered

Head & think of dying as a cat; its playfulness always

At the very edge of its capacity. Life is a simile that distracts

You. Finally the stars of their eyes burn out. All fuel

Is spent. Their pupil’s core contracts into a dense ball

Of black matter. Even this full stop will break down.

Angstcination

for Nathan Shepherdson

(i)

from below

their white belly

merges with light,

falling electric snow.

penetration slowed

down; a fast bullet

enters & exits a pane

of glass falling with

honey’s spoon grace.

a snowflake melds

with its blizzard

until indivisible from

the surface it melts;

water’s countershade.

(ii)

all quiet under ocean.

sound trapped, insect

in amber. ears useless,

ground down tiny over

millennia, gills not slitting

into bones until a noise’s

speed no longer makes

distance in the blue world.

salt water is not ocean

as is tasted. a fluid

battery sends electrical

pulses. charges fish

until solar panel scales

spark with energy.

(iii)

they can detect auras.

smell the diffused signals

borne by water molecules

that spread, a tarot deck

of hunger sliding across

the sea’s dinner table;

conjure up a red future.

one drop of blood

in a million parts of

water, they will come

if the wet wind blows

in the right direction.

they can find a clear

contact lens on a glacier.

(iv)

their snouts are Franklin’s

perpetual kite experiment.

blows from a cobbler’s

hammer have dented

their heads, they hunt

by electricity, they detect

tiny ball lightning in

a fishes’ berry-sized

muscles. the ocean

a liquefied grid, a

field of nippy particles.

lorenzini’s ampullae;

an apex predator’s

lightning rod. 

(v)

industrial strength

candle-coloured bags,

thin bakelite purses

that clutch to the sides

of reefs & shoals; amber

necklaces that decorate

a current’s sinewy neck.

membranous births,

embryonic fluid ruptures

spills into a greater sac.

longlines’ jagged teeth

hook young, a by-catch.

fin’s reverse fontanelle,

the flesh doesn’t heal.

(vi)

times past skin wore teeth

& dorsal fins radar shaped.

devolution; toothed frames

shrink to denticles that spray

on skin, rough plaster walls

disrupt borders between shark

& ocean. they grasp seawater

glove-fast & torpedo bodies

slip through tension breaks.

blademasters skills honed

by sticky shark grips & fine

cut leather boots.  ‘shagreen’ 

sandpaper from dog-fish

polished ships’ best wood.

(vii)

bicycle reflector jammed behind

retina boosts night vision. military

goggles worn by elite frogmen see

colour at depths where none exists.

ten times light collects on apertures;

pollen clings to a bee’s leg. ghosts

rise from midnight zone’s dusky

graveyard. sharks descend coffin

straight; spiracles pump salty water

direct injection into eyes & brain.

oxygen thins in reverse atmosphere.

black space weightlessness, bodies

equalised with gravity share joint

stuff. five gill slits blow curtains.

(viii)

lateral lines sweep seas;

mine detectors beep

when objects grow denser.

surfboard seal cut-outs

mimic flippers & fibreglass

duende. submerge, caudal fins

flex, a giant’s fist pump &

cartilage tuning forks vibrate

through shafts as taste buds

tricked. first bite for info.

next bite for keeps. jaws

realise mistakes, head bang

& tear at war music. third

eyelid shuts in mute defence.

(ix)

abundant blood, dining

room prey,  erratic finger

movement wags in their face

during pelagic mealtime.

they take it personally &

mouth opens in warning.

cave stalactites’ cusps, sharp,

pointed; muscles rise to

the threat & predators

face off, frenzied speech

no participant remembers.

brains overload on slight.

flesh liquefaction, then

whirlwind unwinds its passion.

(x)

the roof goes. convertible

fins sheared, corrugated sheds

in cyclone. farmer marked,

long queues slide into salty dip,

tails fall into bloody bucket.

a torp’s dead weight when

engines stall. steerage gone,

sleek fuselage dips, downed

sydney minisubs & pacific

planes sink into an abyss.

production lines hook a

dark future; their broods

human length; kursk sailors

clench rusted wrenches.

(xi)

forty somethings’ fear

spawned seventies celluloid 

gore fantasies. knee-high,

parents don’t swim further,

their children human shields

for angstcination. in breakers,

still water, unlucky death roils.

spearfisher, snorkeler, sponge

-diver, pearl-grabber, surfer-dude,

bather. tire-tread scars run over

backs, sand depressions don’t

blow away. nets & baited hooks

map annually the kill count war.

one hundred million jaws close.

Forty-Five

The earth did its best to swallow him as a child once.

In his backyard things went from green to dead; grass

runners petered out like burnt fuses or a satellite map’s

x-ray of dry river beds. A scarred country with veins

of straw-coloured gold that decayed & only made

Dalby’s black soil wealthier. It was a town coming

apart at the seams, as the drought dug in & enfiladed

the farmers with relentless fire. The Barley Board’s

empty concrete silos steamed like a nuclear plant.

Bored boys climbed this highest point & surveyed

their uniform world or played chicken & shot arrows

up into space & waited to see who would run. He

couldn’t be warned. He played with no shirt on.

No hat. In a lab, someone was inventing sun cream

& cells dug out of a nostril bullied weaker ones in

their agar dish. There were gashes in his mother’s lawn, 

a carnosaur’s claw print across its prey’s armoured hide;

parallel cuts ran in the same direction, as all moisture

fled the ground. A mass migration of water molecules

that were detained high up in the atmosphere by pressure’s

chokehold. The gaps looked to him like a poison victim’s

plum-stained lips & felt like a mouth’s taut skin stretched

over a rotting skull. The splits yawned black & fit half

of his hand, sucked in by the abyssal jaw, when he was

game enough to play finger-chicken, quell his trapdoor

spider fear & push his arm into the topsoil’s maw;

a lion tamer backing his skill. This is where all of his

working knowledge of the future stopped, as the laws

of physics broke down into particles of shadow.

There were thin fault lines within his father too.

His skin became drum-taut over his cheekbones;

a landmass picked up by a continental plate &

roughed-up into mountains. Corals’ sedimentary

graveyard that over millennia, metastasised into

limestone & matched his father’s chalky face.

Then, not even one second of geological time,

at forty-five he was pixelated behind his home’s

screen door, fragmented into a hundred thousand

tiny squares; the receptor cells of a praying mantis’s

compound eye, as this last scene crawled around

in his son’s head & stalked him. His father was

disembodied as he jumped into his friend’s car;

a loose wire that didn’t connect anymore, memory

losing power over distance, as his sleepover began.

Or, if time was a set of stairs, than his father fell on

the top step. He was diffuse, beekeeper anonymous

behind the door’s muslin veil as his son drove away.

This follicle-thin barrier, its bottom torn, where cats

had tried to force their entrance; sharpened claws

extending like broken shinbone through a foot.

Their flash of separation was only fly-screen thick,

the breadth of a silicon chip. Out in the backyard

the ground refused to shut its trap, where generations

of buried pets pushed through to the other side.

The screen was irreparable, as was his father’s body,

that burned itself out like a giant exhausting its gas.

The coal-dust of his cells creating a new nebula.

Counter-pastoral at 140kph

Moree

The Nankeen kestrel’s wings fold upwards like a

space-conscious clothesline, or a russet umbrella

that surrenders to the westerlies, as it falls onto

the marsupial mouse’s light-weight chassis. The

raptor’s talons blur like a highway mirage & sink

into the paddock’s earth, rending flesh & dirt; an

excavator’s claw that overcorrects on a worksite.

White wheat stubble could be a field of low mist,

but there’s no moisture in a drought-blonde winter.

The Brigalow says The Lord is Near in stencilled letters.

The burnt wreck of a commodore is nearer, at a rest

area just short of Moree. Meteorite-coloured, a legend

would have the bird of prey brush its rusting hulk.

Fire-unique; this oxygen-rich planet is out to kill.

Dubbo

The young white rhino tests its Pliocene

strength against the slope of its mother’s

granite-boulder neck. They are grey lichen

on the evolutionary spur. Long in the horn,

somehow the large beasts survived our Rift

Valley outpouring, the rivulets of flesh-lava

which burnt jungle into blocks of savannah.

Now, the silver-flecked Venetian masks of

Apostlebirds, chatter underfoot, as they sift

through the African mammals’ straw; they

are rock solid. Theirs is the larger test. The

long, species ice-age melts in a poacher’s

microscopic breath. Colour of moon regolith,

the struggle ends in one animal’s dusty retreat.

Waikerie

The broken cliffs bare their fossilised teeth.

An ancient ocean bed dried out, time’s rehab.

Sand particles caught in a molecule snapshot

fused into something stronger with the texture

of a raptor’s bone-encrusted scat. Seashells,

brachiopods, the shallow sea denizens stick out

of the sandstone butte, rows of canines where

locals cut themselves. Way too much fun in Waikerie.

The enduro drivers party until 2am on the bitumen

carpark’s floor. Shirts off, they confront the danger

as one school. Their violence won’t be remembered,

only their form. Beer cartons lopsided as a continental

fault line & wine glass fragmented as mussel shell.

The sound of tyres on wet sand like breakers crashing.

Broken Hill

The wild hops will live out their natural lives.

The hoarhound waits patiently for its next bender.

Nightshade misses the pupil’s full moon dilation.

Obsolescent belladonna slips into a vegetative

fossil state; history is foretold by the weeds left

behind. Salvation Jane is someone’s Patterson’s Curse.

Little men brought these seeds to the saltbush plains,

chasing the silver lodestar that pierced the ridge’s

thumb like a splinter. When the veins ran dry

they drowned in their own blood sitting upright;

they were stone age those Cornish, myah myahs

were pre-fab burial mounds with wattle & daub lids.

We only ever get to see ten percent of the mind’s

workings; the earth remembers every ounce.

Mildura

It took two years for the world’s largest crude

oil tractor to shunt its way into the Mallee scrub,

moving at lava’s cooling black pace; its wheels

shod with broad iron snowshoes so it wouldn’t

sink under its own dinosaur weight. Forty football

fields a day were scythed down for the soldier

settlements around Red Cliffs, by four steel cables

thick as a man’s wrist that bled out from the machine’s

head like the lacquered plaits of a giantess. Hooks

grappled stumps as the metal wire shaved Malleefowls’

heaped mounds neatly, like cream skimmed off raw

milk by hand. ‘Big Lizzie’ was gutted too; her engine

bastardised into a rock crusher’s belly when she

outlived her destructiveness. The birds just withdrew.

Silverton

The stone hamlet hangs by a celluloid thread.

Thirty-five monochrome ghosts are all that are left

of Silverton’s rush; commons bound to their land,

the ethereal tape of local government has frayed

like old wedding lace under the sun. The freemasons

are gone; their superhero costumes adorn frozen

manikins, their powers restrained behind a glass

force-field. There are deeper powers at work here.

Horses share the bar with people, the Greek myths

are close to the surface like an ore-rich lode. The

Mad Max kitsch is rusting. The Feral Kid is a jeweller

in Sydney. The village is a touched up photo – one

of Stalin’s best. Buildings & citizens have been edited

out of the present. Low entropy is sterile as a film lab.

Lake Menindee

The speed of colour is a new parrot species

spied for two seconds out the car window,

but then diminishes like an escaped balloon

from a child’s hand. Without a good look at

its jizz, the little nuances in beak & cere, it goes

unchecked on the life list. Or a grey grasswren

that blurs across the sedan’s bonnet, escaping

death like a stalled vehicle’s engine that sparks

into riotous life on a level crossing. Or the tan

checkerboard of a square-tailed kite’s breast,

lost in the overexposure of its bullish cousins.

Or the strange pied bird that doesn’t fly in dips

like a black honeyeater, but Stuka plummets into

the saltbush & belah; the desert’s pace is red.

Cobar

The earth is crowned with a space-junk diadem.

Every so often, a pearl-bright satellite breaks

from the cluster & falls, shining like a seam

of silver ore in night’s mine. The atmosphere’s

a forge that heats up the super-adventurous alloy.

The planet raises an eyebrow as gravity grabs

the pliable body by its throat. Meteorites

curve downward like a cocktail dress that slips

to the bedroom floor. A sonic boom is speed’s

audible orgasm as pressure waves build then collapse.

Everyone watches the video that night, as dishes

mushroom in the dark farm of the trailer park.

No celestial union is secret anymore, no husbandry

is safe, as the town bathes in this fiery afterglow.  

Wilcannia

Ravens judge the distance between oncoming

traffic & road kill with advanced avian math.

Wing & beak calculate lift as the corvids hopscotch

out of death’s way with a child’s grace. The mulga

bears shoe-fruit, every eviscerated roo is UFO evidence;

a hills hoist in the middle of nowhere is a jerry-rigged

emergency beacon. Feral goats are the only witnesses

to close encounters. Bible-old, they instinctively move

to higher ground when objects threaten to pull over.

In Wilcannia everything is locked down, bar children

who play chicken with Winnebagos on the A32,

cutting the national artery’s living tissue. They catch

rides on a campervan’s spare wheel; scooters political.

Horns scatter sparrows; not kids of the third kind.

Brewarrina

The fish traps make Jericho’s pale walls seem

freshly rendered. Two thousand generations

of hands have whispered the stones into river

crop circles. Aliens marvel on the Darling’s banks

at the persistence of mythical endeavour. Sisyphus’s

labour personified in the rock pools sunken at odd

levels to catch flood-prone yellow belly, whatever

the river’s mood. Children crouch & play imaginary

games on the oldest human invention. White-necked

herons patrol the weir’s battlement. The blocked off

Barwon is a springe, as pelicans scoop up fingerlings

in their bills’ pink windsocks. Brewarrina’s shops are

dammed with plywood. Time keeps a tight budget.

Fish were a currency once, scales glinting like coins.

Walgett

It’s an impasse. A cultural stalemate.

The highway’s gutters littered with empties;

an artillery barrage’s spent shell cases or

a no man’s land where glassy-eyed bodies

lie tossed by death’s drunken rage. Liquid

pride is a distant mirage that dries before

you can ever reach it; some Min Min light

that keeps exact pace with your car.  Shire

Councils too poor, too bothered by water

politics. A seventy-five kilometre roadside

installation, authentic outback experience.

It’s all your perspective. Not rubbish, but

in a hundred years, part of an antique bottle

display in an octogenarian’s dim fibro-cave.

Lightning Ridge

There’s an invisible margin between a mine

& a tomb. They drill into the earth’s giant

bone to extract bluish-green & blood-red

marrow, existence’s wet & succulent sheen.

Chalk-white middens dot a moon landscape. 

There is terraforming; notes from the underground

as jackhammers vibrate with a tuning fork’s rage.

They carve out oubliettes to imprison dreams.

Practice for a lunar existence; first they live in

the ships that brought them here from distant

worlds, then they return to Cro-Magnon fears,

living in craters to keep warm. They follow

ossified water that eons ago took on a new form.

When the seam runs out, the habit stays strong.

Das Kapital

for Thomas Connelly 

(17/09/1960 – 13/10/2014)

One day in the nineties, in West End

you gave me a thick blue leather copy

of Marx’s Das Kapital from your personal

collection & said “read it”. A spontaneous

gift of ideology when I was green & had none;

having bludged on the farm I hadn’t considered

myself a worker then. The dole check I lined up

to hand over the counter every fortnight,

was no real strain on the intellect.

I still have your book, & twenty years later

have got no further than feeling its plump skin

cover; the vinyl pinch of an old Holden’s backseat.

The tome sits on the bottom shelf because of

its size I guess, not out of any real insignificance;

the books I admire occupying a higher rung.

Ironic then, that I’ve slotted it into an artificial

hierarchy without even getting to know it.

A value judgment on its relative wealth.

But if my fingers could read psychically & soak

up its famous argument, it would be your Rhode

Island accent that I would hear in my head, a drawl

that once said you’d never been mugged in New York,

only in Brisbane. That was when you lived in Torbreck

the Sunshine State capital’s first high rise apartment.

Built in the fifties, but now the suburb was sloughing

off its low-rent accommodation to make way for

the rise of the new inner-city aristocracy.

Your hair was black, rakishly long, though white caps

had begun to break over your brow’s dark sea chop.

Your broad-rimmed glasses are fashionable now;

there was a longish John Lennon cast to your face.

You were into historical war gaming; said Australians

were WW2’s finest shock troops; all volunteers,

we were feared the most. Some deep conviction

dragged you over here; when we met, you were

thriving in the dead letter office of Australia Post.

So many gone now from Café Bohemia’s set.

First Mira who owned our means of production,

now you. Fifty-four years is a philosophers’ burst

of Greek fire; so volatile. You underlined phrases

from chapter one’s first two pages in black biro,

but for this one you used blue; To discover the various

uses of things is the work of history. You ended up looking

like Marx’s embossed portrait on the book’s cover;

your full white beard defending our future value.

Scarlet-Shouldered Parrot

Extinction is a kind of bizarre stocktake.

Units low in number are not reordered,

but with doomsday quickness hoarders

buy up, until the very last items sell out.

Every species has its shelf life. The bird’s

use by date was 1927; it has been expired

for eighty-seven years, a rotten end to a

popular product. Collectors kept the empty

bottles, stuffed them with sawdust & tied

them all up like sticks of dynamite rigged

to a rail bridge. Taxidermy is a 3D photo

of the dead. They’ll perch for eternity; wear

beads for eyes, medal ribbon on their chest

& on their shoulder, a scarlet epaulette.

Soldier Parrots

Science lessons spied on them for eighty years

without actually seeing them. Classes of short-

lived students studied biology under immoveable

beaks. Sixteen birds in a square Victorian case;

walled up behind old-style glass, globed with air

pockets like insects trapped in an amber dome.

The vanguard of the forces of mass extinction;

a light cavalry brigade’s reckless charge against

a Russian position, or captured weapons laid

at a dead King’s feet. Twelve are common as

disciples. Four are holy relics of biodiversity’s

religious heights. Two breeding pairs, bonded

to the box’s midriff on branches of tied green

wire. An ornithological trellis, where gentry

adorned their curious wealth, or a Christmas tree

decorated with baubles of gaudy parrot-life.

A steampunk trophy when taxidermy was popular

as scrapbooking, the birds eternity persevered

in real-life poses. Snap-frozen by a romantic age

that hastened an island feathered apocalypse.

The graziers knew them as Soldier parrots, these

war veterans who took in their military jizz,

perched atop dozers that snapped off Brigalow

at the ankles. Sentries stood to attention on termite

mounds guarding eggs mined into ant nest hearts.

They mimicked parade ground drills, chests out, they

puffed & swaggered their way into oblivion. Farmers

were bullies – kids kicking over sandcastles, not

realising their strength hurt others. Palaeontologists

guffaw; 99.9% of all known species have gone dead.

Stargardt’s Syndrome

for Sylvie

She says where our faces used to be

is a great skein of sparkles, as though

the Milky Way’s white wisp of cloud

is a rubbing taken from a country night

sky & stencilled onto our lined features.

As though a black hole has formed

where her future used to rest in the

dream job of her distracted globe.

It’s as if a wad of fairy floss passes

constantly over her eyes, a childish

prank from which she’ll never escape.

She grieves for her driver’s licence.

We say that when she is old enough

to drive, that cars will drive themselves

by voice control; we’ll all be passengers

of technology then. The young & old

will be one diminished machine, the

analogue tape of our lives will spool

out over the wind-up trees. But for

now, she no longer reads books, they

have blurred into artefacts from some

lost culture, Atlantean perhaps, their

words in a tense pictogram that she can’t

decipher. Her bookshelf; an ossuary

for printed matter, her full stops jumbled

together like skulls in a dim crypt. If only

tears could heal the eyes; if only her saboteur

could be flushed from her cells like a speck

of dust, the genes that betrayed her, washed

out. She walks on fault lines, every step

is a miscommunication between her feet

& her brain. New places are haunted houses.

She is only comfortable with routine spaces,

& reacts as though possessed or spell cast.

If ancient Greek, she would have been an

Oracle, the future clouded for all but her.

Wacol Station Road

His son said animals have emotions. That elephants

mourn for their dead like we do. Each morning they’d

survey for roadkill; a counting game of dead eastern greys

& swamp wallabies that overnight crashed to the ground

like rotten branches downed by a thunderstorm. Often,

they’d be sprayed with a single, pink, paint stripe; some

cartoon mammal, marsupial-skunks, their wedge-shaped

snouts caught in a cup of stillness. As though death

was a graffiti artist who needed to reaffirm their existence

by tagging the dead’s unadorned carriage. Brightening

the boomers’ grey faces for the carnival of decay.

Or mortality as a kind of male penal shaming, sporting

this genteel colour to emasculate those imprisoned

in the underworld. At times, in the fog-blinkered

mornings their dozy eyes would betray them; a dirt

mound mistaken for a body would leap out, a trap

to capture their imaginations; middens left by Fire Ant

patrols bent on their own miniscule extermination.

By then it would be too late, the real carcasses would

be gone; a miraculous ascension missed by all. Evidence

of an even closer surveillance than the job they’d been

contracted for. Some black bagger at the very top of their

secret game. Where one day there’d been a furred lump,

airbed bloated, now they passed only teams of crows

in their immaculate dark suits who searched the ground

for clues, tweezer breaks probing the long grass for

bloodstains, crying in frustration over the lack of stink,

tampered evidence & a lead gone cold. & one morning

in front of them, two skippies bounded down a dewy

easement, paws slipping on the bitumen, claws frantic

for purchase, until gravity spilled the roos across the dark

blue tarmac, their black nails obsidian bright. An obstacle

evolution hadn’t thought through yet.

All of this drama occurred along Wacol Station Road.

On one side, ‘Pooh Corner’ a 140 hectare red gum forest

fit for a philosophising bear, celebrating a decade of near

obliteration by developers who wanted to clear fell & erect

more concrete hangers. A small army of activists opposed

the state government; making a stand against corporate

warfare & won. A rear-guard action, buying time for

these last inner-city habitats in the great western corridor

clearance sale of woodland for industry. This forest, one

of the last remnant eucalypt biomes in Brisbane, ex-DOD

land, that once saw a million US servicemen call its paperbarks

home. ‘Camp Columbia’ that stockpiled boys from the mid-west,

Brooklyn, all corners of that wide brown land. Triple the war-time

population of Brisbane, GIs put down sewer roots; water

treatment plants more advanced than the carts of nightsoil

that local residents still lugged away. A war-brokered

modernism, that spread as a great convulsion throughout

the Pacific, like a series of depth charges bucketing the sea

out of their explosive blow-holes. A spawning of new tech

that secretly housed ‘Colossus’, a Turing machine in Qld’s

capital, when you could count all the computers in the world

on one hand; which broke Japanese naval & army codes, folding

billions of numbers over & over to spit out a true sentence,

like a samurai sword bent a thousand times in a forge to give

it the power to cut a human hair in two, the first thinking

machine only conceptualised positions & troop strength;

sending countless men to their deaths in the tropics,

where crab feasts went on for weeks, months, years.

Who’d have thought he & his son would live in an age

where robots killed people remotely. When he was his

son’s age it had only been prophesised in books about

the future. Now ‘Christopher’s’ great grandchildren had

all grown wings & learnt to fly for hundreds of kilometres,

their blunt heads loaded with combat computers, cameras

that moved in unison with the rapid flick of human eyes.

Undetected, for twenty-four hours at a time, a new kind

of whispering death where joysticks & triggers guided

missiles to the everyman’s manure-daubed compound.

& on the roads’ other side, Wacol prison, its razor-wire

strands twisted like oversized DNA molecules, blades

alternating along the filaments like chains of protein cells.

The buildings stretching an aircraft carrier’s length, everything

dull-steel, dour as a wartime-painted ship, grey as the fur

of the roos, that belly flopped on the jail’s crewcut grass.

Grey besser block outbuildings, triangular aluminium roofs,

so no one could land a chopper, a monotone of colour,

a depressed cohort of prisoners kept on a perpetual war

footing, nerves shot, numbed to the Alsatian’s guttural bark.

Here, the eucalypts cleared around the institution’s immediate

vicinity, a killing ground’s clear sight where wardens might

enfilade a mass breakout, trees providing no cover.

His son asking why the people in the row of 1970s double

-story fibro orange houses, would live so close to the jail.

& why the a large fence around them & the ‘Keep Out’

signs. Was this to keep the prisoners out? How could he

explain these half-way houses for released paedophiles

easing them back into the community, like a swimmer

dipping one foot into freezing water to test their conviction.

These men who slouched up Wacol Station Road to the 7-11

to buy their ordinary treats. These ordinary looking men,

who you couldn’t pick, unremarkable, living with their own

mob, behind 10ft fences, penned in by fear, the trees partly

obscuring their presence from the road, a camouflaged life.

His son’s emotional commentary from the front seat.

His futile effort to respond to unanswerable questions.

His foot tensed to hit the brakes at a hint of greyness.

His fear of hitting something on this short-cut street.

Grief is a Small Animal That Needs a Home

Grief finds him again after thirty years

like a lost dog tracking its way back home.

It’s a miraculous story of a pet abandoned

by its owners or accidentally trapped inside

a truck, stalking their scent; the automatic

pull of being that leads the beast headlong.

Thousands of miles are crossed. Seasons

pass, but still the small animal scavenges.

When it reappears after so long, he is not

ready. It has grown, though the journey

has wasted its hindquarters. It can hardly

walk on its back legs anymore, which drag

along the ground like the keel of a land-

locked boat. Its ribs stick out like oars.

With its last bit of strength it jumps

the fence, for this, this was its territory.

Its nose is wet as tears. The holes of its

nostrils blow warm air onto his fingers.

His is the right scent. There is recognition

in the eyes. There is a breeze of whimper.

It nestles on his chest, pawing at his skin

trying to dig up the hard bone heart that

let it go. Its ears are flat to its skull as

if it cringes from an expectant blow.

There is a low growl. Grief starts in its

throat, it is a machine with a throttle.

He got it when he was a child. His mother

kept half tame half feral cats around the place

but they were always cautious of children.

He chased them, but could never pet them.

One grey & white thing he chased under the

stumps of the house until it wet itself in fear.

Once in a one in a century flood, they locked

grief inside the house, where it shat on the lino.

Another time, grief took on a black snake

hopping sideways with each leather belt strike.

He remembers why he let it go years before.

It had once belonged to his father, a familiar

that followed his dad until it was handed down.

An unwanted thing that found a new friend.

He’d grown up trying to catch the wild things,

Bearded dragons & Apostlebirds, he picked

up their chatter, once a lousy jack got caught

in a cage; its noisy family never left its side.

When grief visited the small animals, he put

their bodies inside matchboxes or shoeboxes

with tissues for shrouds & buried them in the

black loam. He was curious then & afterwards

dug them back up to look at their deceased state.

Grief was all mucous & the smell of Myall Creek.

This time, his daughters take up the tiny beast.

It lies in bed with them, curled up, soaking up

their warmth as a green shoot stretches for sun.

For many years it had no name, the girls even hid

it from him. He thought that grief was an old thing,

that no one wanted, but sorrow attracts the young.

They are growing up with it. Getting used

to its new routines, the constant demands.

Often it trips them up. The leash snagging

their feet; the trick is getting them to feed it.

At night the youngest daughter will pluck it

from the top of the couch & take it to her

room. Next morning he will come in & find

them asleep together, their breathing synced.

When they walk to the park it follows them,

& has to be scared back home. Throwing his

arms up into the air is a sign that he doesn’t

want grief to follow them anymore. But,

even after all these years of abandonment,

the small animal remains so terribly loyal.

Ornamental Snake

Denisonia maculata

They have carved up the Brigalow forest, etched

out strange designs in the dark leather of its belt.

We sense in the burnt bottom of the pan; gidgee

scrub encircled by roads, railways & stock routes

that pick off mobs of trees like a shooter’s quota

of roos. At night, giant mines blend with the sky

into one wide, black ocean. We emerge in the cool

as the young frogs bubble up from groundwater;

toads we bite, turn the armoured hulks into sacks

of fluid, but the froglets hop into our jaws & rest.

We taste your red. Your engines radiate in waves

of heat, but our fangs do not hurt them. So we hide

by day in the tunnels of deep soil cracks, under the

tip trays of fallen logs. We slither out of your holes.

Travelling

(i)

He sees concrete pylons set like giants’ bones

in Wagners’ yard as the train glides forward.

These carboniferous fossils will be transplanted

into flyovers and urban bypasses, strengthening

the new body’s industrial backbone. Perhaps a

coal port terminal to cough up the country’s lungs.

Peeling paint bulges, green cysts dot sound

barriers where teenage identity has been deleted.

Where there should be striped marsh frogs

are megafauna effigies of striped marsh frogs

clinging to a bus shelter’s wet mass. The tips

of their fingers magnified as defibrillator pads.

Orangemen repair railway bridges, their hands

explain how this is done in a secret sign language

reserved for the hard hat tribe. Flattened,

nineteenth century brickwork is smothered

by cement’s grey butter. Iron will outlive most

of us. Stenciled honeyeaters perch on a rock cutting.

(ii)

At Central, there is a jungle growing all

over a twentysomething man. The sinuous

vines have circumnavigated his muscular

calves, thighs, arms and neck. For a brief

moment it looks like he is losing the battle

as the lianas strangle his flesh.

He is on his mobile calling the experts. A skin

gardener, he has trained the stalks, tied them off

with twists of sap-ink. His bark has healed.

Strange animals are trapped his artwork’s amber.

Ossified for only his eternity. If his skin was rolled

into a globe, it would form its own landmasses.

New continents rising up from his body’s seabed.

He watches until a train obliterates his vision.

(iii)

He did not eat this morning. His hunger is

a belly’s tunnel that echoes with boiler noise.

The train seats stink like the after smell

of a wheelie bin’s breath. Grime is entropy’s

artistic genius, the floor carpet is dotted

with age spots like Bishop’s poor old fish.

There are frayed whiskers too, where the cushions

have been bearded by vandalism. Out the window,

Steve McQueen is still selling watches thirty years

after his death. Advertising’s golem doesn’t rest.

His engine has cooled,

his racing strip hangs in a car museum.

(iv)

He is recognized and asked what is happening

in Newcastle’s revival. He doesn’t give it away.

The memoirist cum poet is flying to Melbourne

for Writers’ Week. She has a parallelogram

of blue hair, relives Marge Simpson’s punk days.

Her poetry has angles of grieving. In a week

she’ll be stark naked reading verse, her body

of work on display. He can’t decide between

joining her or hissing

the portly poet-billionaire.

(v)

There is a mole on the neck of the stewardess,

an arctic hare caught out by winter’s quick change.

She is stuck in her promethean performance.

The life vest’s liver-coloured rubber weighs

her down with repetition. He looks at her

out of respect for her ritual. The safety demo

is a strange custom that will be debated about in

a thousand years, its meaning quaint like fossil fuel.

This plane is an act of creation; yet he only

believes in engineers’ intelligent design.

(vi)

The blonde traveler’s face is tight as a greyhound’s.

The wrinkles parenthesizing her eyes, racing rails

that guide middle age to its inglorious finish line.

She muzzles her fear of flying, checking Facebook.

Her last post? His phone is turned off. If anything

happens there will be no ghostly messages left.

The pilot chats casually about ‘bumps’ on descent;

the take-off is delayed by a storm front that agitates

landings. He loves the rush of engines, fatherly inertia

that pins him like a nuisance child, but overthinks their

ascent. As a boy he read that the greatest airline disaster

happened on the ground; two 747’s in the Canary Islands

that clashed shells on the tarmac like giant tortoises mating,

that most accidents occur in the first minutes after take-off.

An O-ring or bolt shearing from a production fault missed

ten years earlier, thin metal tearing at a million parts per plane.

(vii)

Once in 1986 his mother woke him from a wet dream

when Challenger became the world’s greatest firework.

The giant plumes of white smoke like a jester’s three

cornered hat. Bells of flame jangling on their ends

in the sky’s royal blue court. There were schoolyard

rumours of blackened gloves found with hands still

in them, soft white meat in a cooked crab shell.

She woke him because she knew that he loved space.

He’d watched Columbia five years earlier, sit like a

giant alabaster idol on her launch pad altar, adored

by millions, until the worship of firegods fell into

routine, so TV sets switched channels. He marveled

at the shuttles’ genesis, using the oldest, fire resistant,

baked clay tiles that absorbed reentry’s nuclear heat.

Those pilots who only had one shot at landing

on the dry lakebed of Edwards Airforce Base,

parachutes opening like sunflower heads

tracking the long, white, salty strip’s heat.

(viii)

The passenger’s nails are blood red like the warning

pinstripe sprayed on the SR-71 Blackbird’s fuselage,

that commanded where mechanics could place their

masked feet when walking on the delicate American

spy plane’s black anti-radar paint. Her rings titanium,

like 85% of the supersonic jet that could outrun any

Soviet missile; strong, lightweight like metallic

keratin, the manicured surface unassailable.

(ix)

Runway taxiing is akin to speeding in a golf cart

over sand traps, driven by a drunk. He only fears

tyre blowouts on landing. He finds in middle age

his paranoia has also moved on to mental instability

in pilots, the human error that no one can control.

Suicide pacts formed from broken families and

Outstanding gambling debts. He remembers with

some relief that the copilot sounded chirpy enough.

He looks at her pre-takeoff habits. The fidget of

those ready to run. He only exists in her peripheral

vision, a blur of predator, a supernatural spectre

that sits in someone else’s backseat. Death has a

punishing g force when it strikes. The need for new

speed; he rides in an ad for New Balance sports gear.

His belly is soft dough rolled out. Fifty million lives

sacrificed so he could have these two engines cupped

like silver eggs under the jetliner’s fat abdomen.

War music roars out in a fiery tempest; the screams

of all the war dead collected in a single black note.

The plane razors through layers of cumulous cloud.

There are drops of rain on the portholes like quavers

on a music sheet. He cannot read the weather’s

discordant sound, that forces the jet to drop octaves

from its steady voice. The pilot no longer conducts,

engines whine through the wild symphony;

champagne glasses rubbed by a goliath’s fingers.

(x)

She must be a psychologist, he thinks as he spies

on her reports from the University of Newcastle.

So calm. Do you have an inkling of how you will die?

he wants to ask her. A question that breeds intimacy

between strangers, that can make the vulnerable fall

in love with you in less than fifteen minutes it is said.

He doesn’t have an answer either. Just hopes it’ll be

candle-quick, a flame’s hiss, then silent smoke plume.

He has still not eaten. The food trolley is pushed

with reverence up the cattle-crush aisle like a war

veteran leaving hospital. He is winged in the shoulder

by a curved hip that knocks his arm off course;

a satellite bouncing across the planet’s thin atmosphere.

His mind misses reentry. He is burnt up by self-doubt.

The miniature milk spurts out of its little blue

pail like venom from a brightly lit poison frog.

It paralyses the white coffee in his paper cup as the jet

bucks with a dodgem car’s impact on its descent.

(xi)

The whitecaps breaking along the coastline are

neurons spreading throughout the beach’s brain.

The jet is about to make a new connection with

the earth. He is not worried. The more they drop

to ground the safer he feels. If a tyre blows, he

imagines enjoying the terrible skid, the grinding

of stainless steel as it dies on bitumen. The pop and

hiss of the children’s yellow inflatable castle slide.

He fantasizes about saving lives, this sacrifice is

all in his head. He will not turn on his phone yet.

He’s left it to sleep, a fear of breaking radio contact,

or shorting out a wire, creating an aneurism in the

plane’s instrument-packed head. Touchdown is

slamming his son down on the bed, mock wrestling

that ends with a kick to the groin. The airbrakes

expose the jet’s tendons that humans have built.

The tyres big as colossal squid eyes, hold. Some

company has done its job. He lets her get off before

him. There is no question between them to be answered.

Their vulnerability cools down. Stepping onto the tarmac

he’s ecstatic as Armstrong’s first footprint; there’s

a crumpled flag planted on the surface of his face.

He drags his feet towards the terminal through

the tricky regolith of his travelling space.

Maureen Cooper’s Quilt (Bimblebox Nature Reserve)

The coal temple’s curtain has been ripped asunder.

A deposit the size of Germany lies dormant, a fallow

dragon that on awakening will fire up its hot breath,

its stench wilting barbed wire grass like an incendiary

bomb melting the stalks of men’s eyes on the Western

front. Embroidered birds & marsupials are a truce flag.

A royal sigil, as if the nature reserve had a divine right

to exist. A pennant that signals either advance or retreat.

A blanket to wrap the wounded in, a hoisted sail that

catches the nearest drift, if favourable winds pick up.

In Mackay the quilt is taken down like a crushed enemy’s

insignia; a toppled golden eagle in a black & white film.

Machines dig, machines stitch too; humans appliqué

tininess to the bigger picture. The future wins a raffle.

Southern Boobook Owls

His book book cry was so close it could

have pealed inside our kitchen; as if some

poltergeist had tapped twice beside our ears

on an enamel mug, or a doomed sailor struck

his wrench on a bulkhead. Torch-lit, I bungled

the kids onto the back lawn, where we shone

our dull yellow beams up into the fig tree’s

submarine darkness, first picking out the male,

then a metre along the branch, his female lead.

He repeated his deep notes, a lusty bugler whose

clarion call was greeted with a growl of approval.

He moved then at the speed of night, the flurry

of wings more a scuffle, than a feathered union.

Extinguished, the owls fled from our light.

Night Parrots

The ecologist’s hands seal firmly like an elevator’s doors

as he grips the night parrot in his fleshy clamp. His fingers,

twigs woven into a brown screen, a tight spinifex bunch

where the bird is insubstantial as trying to hold water.

Two of his digits form a tiny ox collar as they ring

the bird’s cotton ball head, another grips its belly

like a weight belt. For a hundred years the parrot has

drained out between extinction’s fist, an unstoppable

slow leak. He clutches it gingerly, a live grenade, or

how a fast bowler splits a cricket ball’s seam, the leather

of the bird’s claws resting lightly on his fingertips.

Sport for poachers, its location is another lost body

in the desert. He fixes a tracking device. For twenty-

one hours the signal chatters in night’s lone flock.

Guadalcanal

(i)

Neat as an Olympic diver, the moustached kingfisher

splits the brackish water, feathers luminescent tracer.

Akira watches the bird resurface, a fingerling in

its beak, long & silver as a newly crafted sword.

On a branch overhanging the creek, it is devoured

in two quick moves like a rifle bolt being cocked.

The bird scrapes both sides of its bill on tree bark;

a soldier cleaning his bayonet on a bit of canvas.

His splash is small too. Like Mbarikuku, he is holed

up in the mountains, forced ever upwards by the jungle

& the Americans who swarm over the island, killing,

overrunning Henderson airfield like an invasive species.

Akira digs in, an endangered species, conceals

his pillbox to look like a fallen tree trunk or nest.

(ii)

The Corsairs make matchwood out of his gun pit.

He alone survives the bombardment. There is no

fire. The rainforest smothers any flame with its wet

blanket. Bones split like the trunks of downed canopy

giants that have collapsed under their dead weight.

Greasy sunlight patterns over him like camouflage.

Akira cannot hear the kingfisher’s call. His god

is ringing a Shinto bell in his head. It rains.

Purple berries rest by shell casings.

The bird’s perch is a charred hand.

The only blue streak he sees

is the red dawn surrendering to day.

The marines are coming for him.

Akira lets the leeches drink their fill.

(iii)

At two thousand feet above sea level

the zoologist stumbles over a mystery.

He estimates that it is coffin deep,

tooled by human hands. At the bottom

are bits of rusting metal brittle as feather

bones. The trench is a good observation

post to look for the bird. On a stump

overhanging a creek, he spies a male

preening his molten medal head,

blue wings like a Pacific island ad.

The kingfisher has telescopic sight,

but the mist net floats like gun smoke.

He thinks of DDT & thin eggshells as

he hears; ko-ko-ko-kokokokokokokoko-kiew.

Chinchilla

For George Bender

(i)

You will only ever own the top six inches,

if you can call it ownership; to some it’s more

a stewardship, a steering of all the elements that

you need to get right; the weather, enough rain

to plant or grow grass for cattle, bores that won’t

run dry when the season does, firebreaks that will

halt a bushfire like a brick under a wheel, soil that

is rotated to perfection, salinity that can take its time

choking a paddock with its briny hands. Silage pits

that double as emergency funds, molasses and straw

mass graves that keep underground for years

like an inverse cicada, waiting for the poorest

conditions, drought-death, to be reborn as feed.

Mice and locusts that plague the rare fat seasons.

(ii)

Chinchilla gets the geographical kudos, but this is

more Wandoan, a little more north, a little less known.

A sacred six inches, something knife-blade deep that

barricades a grazier’s mind into a Eureka Stockade

of bullish resistance. Six inches that make a farmer

refuse to leave the land and die there; than break

like a joint in a rock along the thin sandstone coast.

The earth is a tenement block; you own the top unit,

the government rents out the flats beneath. Bad risks,

they destroy the furniture, put holes in  plaster walls,

and leave in the middle of the night. They even strip

out copper wire, such is their addiction. Leftovers by

the bin swell and stink like cattle carcasses in a dam.

You can light the kitchen water up like an oxy torch.

The Surface of Last Scattering

(i) Spacetime

The rate of decay of his cells was a clock.

A sub-atomic timepiece that measured his

lifespan & how fast his body was dying. People

are so many small mechanisms all ticking away.

His heart was a carriage clock & had the loudest

chime. His thoughts were Roman numerals that

gave time its logic. His tongue was a pendulum

that beat out the rhythm of his hours. A tumour

grew on his father’s bowel & accelerated his cells

past his body’s limit, slowing the aging process by

entropy. Death was a grandfather clock that fell

over & could not climb back up. In that moment,

the light-clock he carried in his head stopped.

In dying he travelled faster than light.

(ii) Subtopia

If she feared for his future, she didn’t show it.

She spoke in platitudes when she heard the news

of his separation; what will happen will happen. Their

relationship stalled by cliché’s ubiquitous codex.

His mother had become fatalistic in her old age,

as the ten year old curtains shredded in the washing

machine. She blamed the sun. Her coastal woodland

was being chopped back, but she didn’t comment on

the loss of the delicate balance. Palm trees used their

physicality to intimidate. There wasn’t a weed anywhere.

That night, the front door’s automatic light triggered.

Dogs? Roos? Only his mother checking the locks again.

As he pulled up, a fresh lace drape fell back into place.

Oddly she said to him, her door was always open.

(iii) Subtopia 2

The dogs disturbed the early morning air molecules

with their fear. A muzzle combed under a wooden

fence sensing him for threats; a mirror under a car.

The American Staffordshire kept on looking back

as if he was out of place here. His owners had spray-

painted a gothic crypt scene on their shed wall; a

Vampira to frighten off the self-funded retirees.

Coiled dragons guarded their front steps. Street

names mocked the demolished bush. On Heathland

Avenue a concrete slab, Dead Sea flat, waited to be

raised. It was Christmas. Cicadas simmered on frayed

tea-trees as the sun’s pan heated up. They wanted sex

before their paperbark bordello was torn down. The

staffy licked its crotch; indicated it would be alright.

(iv) Cosmic Speed Limit

It’s a waste of time, the middle-aged man bawled

squeezing water particles over his parched lawn.

There’s a natural poetry to mathematics. He was

ruled by equations he would never solve. Choice,

theoretical until he experimented with it. Weeds

relative to the distance from his grass. He saw an

absolute universe of green matter beset by chaos.

A teacher orbited his daughter with a blow up Earth.

Four seasons were punctuated by raised arms, every

calendar month radiated from a classmate’s mouth.

Then her teacher spun the planet on a fingertip like

a basketball trick, turning night into day; the future

fast forwarded like pages in a mutoscope. After school,

she cartwheeled across her father’s dying turf.

(v) Higgs Boson

There was a particle so small that it was

unaware of its own existence. It was a sleeper

cell in his marriage’s back country. It awaited

activation. Its awakening needed an equation

that would give it instructions, then disappear.

It had a cold war operation that required the

passports of several powerful emotions. It was

a parasitic wasp’s egg that hatches in a tarantula’s

back & devours the body of scientific knowledge.

His flesh was its exoskeleton. It was the cause of

his fall, insubstantial in its substance. It was born

nanoseconds after the Big Bang, erupting like snot

thrown out from a sneeze. It didn’t have a name

until he came along. It succeeded in its mission.

(vi) Hydrogen Cell

She revealed she created one in her spare time,

this female variant of Tesla, in her garage, in

a titanium case filled with water, inside another

titanium case filled with sand. EBay is great for

resources she said. All of her friends had built

their own using CNC machines; she didn’t want

to be left out. She wanted to be off the grid. To

be self-sufficient in her needs, no longer rely on

any man. This was just her hobby after all. She

dealt with cells that no longer supplied energy to

their bodies. These she eased gently into the sand

inside their wooden boxes, to be the fuel for new

revenant colonies. It’s so simple she texted:

Energy goes in, energy goes out & we are between.

(vii) The Surface of Last Scattering

She was a beautiful theory that had to be discounted.

What was translucent had returned to being opaque.

The signals in their faces were too strong for the receiver.

Now she was coming in faint, a pulse from a far galaxy.

He strained to detect what was left of their violent birth.

As the gases cooled, their cheeks grew hot with plasma.

There was an old light in their background that radiated.

There was no darkness between their points, only haze.

They were subject to new feelings of forgotten gravity.

One of them would slow, the other would bounce along.

He failed to think in four dimensions, that much was true.

And he only acted in two. He was pierced by time’s arrow.

After years of looking, they were their greatest discovery.

Yet distances were too far from the surface of last scattering.

At Play with Grey-Crowned Babblers

The grey-crowned babblers pry secrets from the trees.

Their scimitar beaks carve grooves in the scaly bark’s

trunk, like finger holes in a wooden instrument. They

tap out a note & listen as white grubs vibrate in their

dark cases. The crescendo is a larvae drawn out of its

wings to raucous applause. Nature has thought it best

not to make them empty nesters; keeping the kids close

to home rather than cutting them free, cooperation is

survival’s tenor. Around the Titan shed, the eight birds

play follow the leader, chasing the maggot that squirms

in a parent’s bill. It is a jovial community, one that you

could be lost in; but you dare not look or turn around,

for fear your movement will end it. The chirrups that 

crawl up your back & infest your head like happiness.

Brown Booby

For the Brown Booby, wind is solid as ground.

Fast air molecules hold them in place; an invisible

plinth rewards the seabirds with an advantageous

vista of high tide. They are juvenile delinquents

testing gravity’s authority. They want to steal.

These hunters are sailors’ souls cruising Urangan’s

wooden pier, coveting the bream that bend light

like lipstick mirrors of a morning. The shorebirds

wear a yellow gloss around their bills. Undersides

are mottled cream & brown like a light fixture

where moths have died & form a shadowy base.

One folds its wings back like an umbrella closing

& punctures the sea in a neat dive. They conquer

the ocean too; scaling this liquid mountain.

The Forest in Me

for Agafia Lykova

The snow was firm as my father’s hand

when he pulled me up the mountains; he

said it wasn’t him, but God doing the heavy

lifting. I saw my first star move at seventeen,

this glow worm that shimmied across night’s

cave. We fled Stalin & never saw him again.

I buried all those Old Believers: father, mother,

brothers, sister. I am the last custodian of river,

cedar trees, space junk & Russia’s most private

cemetery. We ran away from hatred; I should

have never re-entered this poisonous atmosphere.

There was a big war once; they said things were

in ruin, but it ended in victory. I met modernity.

I ask you, who will light the pine cones in winter?

Lord Howe Island Phasmid, Land Lobster

Dryococelus australis

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.

Grindle Road

A bull bar is a ute’s clenched fist. There

is no prestige left in its silver colour. There

is no classic style to death. The killing floor

was outside, late at night between the men’s

& women’s prisons. He could imagine the

inmates asleep in their cots, whimpering as

he drove off the road & into the grassy gutter

blasting into the radiant mob like a steel bolt

into a cow’s forehead. The force felt inside

the cab was equivalent to smacking a face.

The high humidity suspended particles of

roo, clotting night’s air with smell of fresh

blood, like a stained tinted window. Death

was not instant. Seventeen times he floored it.

Stopped the Boats

The Persians rose in their millions. What’s an empire to do hereafter?

Shield & sword would not hold, but a wooden wall stopped the boats.

There was only one good book that the righteous read; its author

Employed a simple fisherman, who, sold his nets & stopped the boats.

There was a dandy bowling, when up sailed the Spanish armada.

For his Queen he would lose his head, but first he stopped the boats.

In his dream the ship was called the ‘Titan’. It was the largest ever.

It was full speed ahead as ice had never before stopped the boats.

A liner was bounced around the oceans looking for a safe harbour.

The passengers were David’s People, but bigotry stopped the boats.

The common people heeded the Admiralty’s call and sailed over.

Even the Luftwaffe’s dive bombing might, never stopped the boats.

There were images on the news, after a tsunami smashed Fukashima.

Freighters picked up like toys & thrown; as Nature stopped the boats.

The Great Pacific garbage patch, or Pacific trash vortex, is a gyre

Of human rubbish that if left, will, in the future, have stopped the boats.

Oil slicks are spreading; crown of thorns starfish inch over this wonder.

For thousands of years the Great Barrier Reef has stopped the boats.

There was a wet leader of a desert country, who had a drier interior.

He threw a curtain over the media’s empire, as he stopped the boats.

Dionysius took a ferry to Crete. On another, the crew watched soccer.

The rock launched itself like a world cup goalie & stopped the boats.

Easter Sunday

The sun’s orange fingertips still pawed the horizon

as day clung to night’s precipice; it was a race, but the

darkness beat them both & they let go. The light fell

into a deep crevasse as he gunned through the town’s

industrial outskirts where childhood clusters of trees

stood taller but were charcoal outlines on dusk’s wall.

He passed the hospital, nursing home, but missed the

triumvirate’s turnoff; the lawn cemetery where his father

was watered by time’s droplets. He’d driven two hours

on impulse; his only plan to lie down next to his father’s

bronze square. He didn’t succeed. In the dark he used his

phone’s sad blue face to search, but startled the embossed

names of other fallen. Stretched on their wet chains, the

automatic sprinklers chased him away like guard dogs.

Bee Fleeting

the pain has remained constant

when everything else has diminished

honey mailboxes sat out in wooded paddocks

little stuccoed apartments or mental institutions

where crazy dancing was welcomed

men in white suits & fencing facemask mesh

carried lamps that spewed out smoky magic

visible grey carbon cast spells of calmness on

legions of erratic antennae. insect dopamine

receptors blocked by the elemental drug

dying bees watched by tomorrow’s scientists

grounded flight crew crawled in undignified gait

the opposite imagined for us; soul if it exists

whisked up into the air, some gas released from

a yellowed body mimicking a bee’s end

they are absconding from the planet’s giant hive

one day the lazy buzz in the tops of eucalypts will

only be heard on recordings; children will imitate

their noise like they do for dinosaurs, not really

knowing what made that sound, sound so real

the bee yards are going the way of their ship cousins

numbers are down, no more virgin queens are ready

for the role of royal abdomens elongated as the English

coast. a province the insect empire loses to barbarity

the workers have closed in & are balling her

the afterswarm of onlookers at the playground

where a bee sting choked the life out of some poor

kid. there was always one story of this happening

growing up. we saw more dead bees than children

they are as gifted & as dangerous as cells.

a beard of humanity hangs from the earth’s

face; the hive is heating up. there is a dearth

of sweet stuff, so robbing frenzies wrack

the third world, steal all their honey stores;

weren’t we all africanised before

if there is brood in us we will not leave

native bees outnumber them but do not sting

fly-size & black, they were here before the

european bees were introduced, domestic stock

bought over to cut songline chemical trails 

an exoskeleton of greed grows over some

their faces are made of chitin; they are drones

they use drones to control the queens, mating

with hornets; crossbreeding raiders that pillage

mandibles snipping worker’s wages in half.

when you kiss someone your lips are a bee-space

apart in the frame of your entwined combs

first comes the nectar, then comes the honey

then comes regent hand fed on royal jelly

even humans like insects, started small

there is the great pacific slumgum, the

galilee basin slumgum, hiroshima slumgum

nagasaki slumgum, chernobyl slumgum,

fukashima slumgum, ok tedi slumgum

bophal slumgum, great barrier reef

bees were the first flash mob, washboarding

out the front of their homes spontaneously

& in unison, the choreography of a hundred

million years of cryptic insect line dancing

 a ritual of the home all creatures praise

everything should be queenright, but it is not

they are never satisfied in their mind’s colony

they swarm over the new years’ sales like guard-

bees over an intruder who doesn’t smell right

sheer weight of numbers cooks the wasp

when the bees leave, we shall also go

only our fossilised forms will remain

dead grey cities, the pressures of our

own swarm will turn our sappy lives

into history’s unbreakable amber

pollengoing

pollengoing

pollengoing

pollengoing

pollengone

Barnacle

I cut myself on a four hundred

year old barnacle. It was my fault.

I strayed into its seaside territory

by mistake. The ocean ambushed

me in the beach’s narrowed alley.

Cursed in a language before blue.

Its wine-dark, shoulder-charge

knocked me onto its cobblestoned

street; my hand parachuted open,

launching like a grappling hook, but

gravity hid behind my legs & pulled.

Its edge opened up my palm neat

as a pay envelope’s promise. It

was part of a razor gang after all,

its cutthroat mates flashed shivs too.

Hard to imagine their cave hideout,

a distant cousin to the Himalayas was

once a mass of lifeless sea creatures;

fishbones, bleached coral, mother

of pearl, shell, grit rasped into smooth

particles by the tide’s kinetic sawmill

& risen as mountainous tomb.

Darwin studied them. Rubbed his

stiff fingers over their stars, old as an

Elizabethan dirk. He knew an organism

that lived so long, must know something

about morphology, longevity. Measured

their jagged coastlines, counted bubbles

that escaped from their miniature craters.

He cut himself too, proffering his own

blood for science’s spell. His revelation.

The simplest live longest, the complex

die sooner from too many moving parts.

Anyhow, my hand opened its red smile,

& rebirthed its salt back into the mother

country’s briny womb. My blood oozed

in hot waves, as the flap of skin undulated

like a polyp helpless in a strong undersea

current. This stigmata; blessed ultramarine

pain as though light itself filleted my flesh,

each beam a butcher’s knife. That was then.

The scar is bone white as the string of dead

coral & cuttlefish backbone left by a high tide.

My children’s children’s children, will see it die.

Ace

for Kurt Knispel

Kurt, I doubt that anyone

has ever written a poem about you

because of your best record

in the world’s shittiest comp.

I wonder how you recorded your wins?

A bayonet’s scratch on the paintwork

inside your commander’s cupola?

Or precise pencil lines in a calfskin notepad;

a clichéd prisoner counting off the days

left in their iron cell confinement.

You were humble for a killer.

You let others stake their claim for trophies.

Not interested in numbers or disputes

you used your kinaesthetic intelligence

to smash enemies’ turrets, to finish

off the fresh factory models that still

glinted with newness, like glass baubles

on a dying Christmas tree.

You were not strictly German, but German

speaking Czech. Sudetenland raised, your

voice was annexed, your father’s love

of engines won you a production line job.

But the long hours of fixing nuts onto

bolts bored you, you could never stand

still for long & enlisted in tanks, having

passed your initiation with diesels, you

had an insider’s track.

I bet you were a pain in the ass

for your clean-shaven superiors

their skin, shiny as a freshly won Iron Cross.

You remind me of Donald Sutherland’s

character – ‘Oddball’ from Kelly’s Heroes.

who established a hippy commune

after D-Day, chilling behind the front.

His Shermans’ turrets turned into clotheslines.

Your promotions were slow

compared to your victories.

Nothing beyond a sergeant’s stripes.

Bearded, long hair, neck tattoo,

you were an oddity even for

your polished high command.

Regulations were the antithesis

of your being; so long as you

could load & aim & shoot T-34’s

from 3000 metres away; you

refused to shoot at civilians.

Orders were burned for fuel

in winter’s machine.

One Captain’s long, black, leather

coat you screwed up like tarpaulin

caught in a tank track; broke his gun

when he belted some poor soviet boy,

busy pissing in his pants.

Life & death was a fluke.

You learnt this early on, your

strange code manifested itself

in your reluctance to leave anyone

stranded on a battlefield.

You fought on all fronts

Eastern, Western, Human your

King Tiger took twenty-fours hits

in one battle, a heavyweight feigning

on the ropes, absorbing punishment

before he let loose.

Your punches totalled 168 confirmed

body blows, unconfirmed, the figure rises

to 195. That’s at least 672 souls you

ended, your high explosive rounds

burning men to death like crustaceans

boiled alive in metal drums.

You never left anyone in a situation.

A jockey on his iron mount, you rode

into the hairiest stuff, fouled on the rails

of combat, others took advantage of your

honour and fled the scene in panic.

You didn’t die in a glorious battle.

You survived Kursk and Caen,

the worst the war could throw at you,

only to be felled in the middle

of nowhere, in a meaningless entangle

some 100 miles from home. No honourable

duel to the death, you were not the poster

boy for the Nazis like Wittman was,

so the Knight’s Cross alluded you like

the love of a woman, or a hot meal

in Stalingrad’s frozen heart.

You weren’t made into an impromptu

street sign after death, but were honoured

with an unmarked grave, itself an oddity late

in the war of attrition, where bodies were left

to lie where they fell like empty shell cases,

their purpose done. Ten days later the war

ended for your comrades too.

You were interred beside a church wall,

the tired labour of digging your resting

place was done by volunteers, some crew

who wondered when they’d be next?

Your dog tags confirmed your presence

in death’s roll of honour. You’d slumbered

for sixty-eight years, in those dreams that

came & called you home. A niche hero,

not many know your score, or care, the

wars these days fought on video screen.

You’re a war historian’s secret affair;

I doubt there’s a statue even; we can’t

celebrate what’s not deemed right anymore.

Your goals are somehow illegitimate,

as though you’d taken growth hormone

to win at some grotesque Olympics.

You would’ve heard the bullet or shell

that killed you, some microseconds before

it landed its counter; its whistle distinctive

as a coach’s blow up, a language of violence

that you were fluent in for five short years.

Fighting Girlfriend

 for Mariya Oktyabrskaya

the blue-black news

stains your fingers

with death’s ink

two years later.

tears, a spring thaw

for your husband

dead as machinery

shut down in

a kiev factory.

you convert grief

to anger, siberia

is warmed by your

winter fury.

you sell everything.

raise strange capital

to buy a tank off

the motherland.

you pen your widow’s

plea to stalin, nazis

you shit of a thing.

he is moved by your

eloquently worded rage.

he signs off on

a t-34 that glistens

like a new kettle.

you are done with

the domestic.

you train harder

than young men

half your age,

who have lost

nothing.

you are thirty-eight.

you name your tank

‘fighting girlfriend’

decorating its turret

in messy cyrillic letters;

revenge’s scrawl.

men think you’re

a joke, a publicity

stunt who should

be on a poster not

in the driver’s seat.

they lose their swagger

after your first battle.

your tank is the

child you never had

together. every german

you kill you mouth

your husband’s name

repeating your

wedding vow.

you get out under fire

to fix a broken track.

the steel tread limp

& heavy in your arms

as your husband

after he has come.

they make you a sergeant

for honouring your love.

two more times you risk

everything to repair

your wife’s wrath

that artillery shreds

from Girlfriend’s wheels.

shrapnel takes you

in the head like a slap.

stalin reads of your

two month tryst

with death & signs

off on your loyalty.

you keep your oath

& join your husband

throwing yourself on

war’s funeral pyre.

On Not Having Encountered Snow, Aged 46

for Sylvie

She will see it before him, in Canberra; then it’ll fade.

Her vision falling into a gloomy afternoon that won’t

let up; curtains drawn to salute more war time dead.

Quicker now, as the disorder heats up; a snowflake

that lands on a warm hand & rolls like a coin down

a drain. She’ll taste those crystalline satellites, each

unique as a daughter’s face; that sense growing in

power as her other skates away on thin ice. Thirty-

five years younger, having encountered snow at 11.

He is on hate’s payroll. He would melt Antarctica if

it would mean stealing it back. A super-villain, he is

hit with pepper spray & snow blindness takes him.

They will grow back someday when crystals freeze;

& visualise their spring melt, their anger’s thaw.

Juvy

We were so busy looking at other children:

rags of bodies, antique Persian dolls missing

glass eyes, faded paint on their torn clothes,

torsos chipped & cracked, one shoe gone,

that we let ours fall; a besser block from

a highway overpass smashing a windscreen.

Sealed bags leak air, water seeps in under

the steel door, gas keeps low as a fire drill.

A letter escapes. They can’t help themselves

& film it. Point of view pornographers who

ad lib their tired dialogue, who think more

about framing their sickness & how many

mates will think it sick as. It is torture they

produce; barbarous as a national dream.

A Japanese Airman Forewarns His Wife

for Tetsuo & Asako Tanifuji

Do you desire earnestly/wish/do not wish

to be involved in kamikaze attacks?

We are the last divine wind exhaled

from the Emperor’s bleeding mouth.

Human instrumentality; my wife perches

behind me in the cockpit, her hair in a bun.

The engine whines like a dog that’s missed

its master for some months, lost then found.

Aluminium coffined; we are together again.

I bring my mother no joy; we married young.

The clubs are finished bruising my face. I

have my fighting spirit, Asako has my back.

There are ten of the squadron left; we took

an oath under orders that there will be none.

Asako’s voice gibbers like a ghost, she is scared.

I tell her how proud she makes her husband, 22.

In the event of poor weather conditions when

you cannot locate the target, or under other adverse

circumstances, you may decide to return to base.

Don’t be discouraged. Do not waste your life lightly.

The T-34s are factory fresh & glint in

the bloodshot light. They stretch for eons.

Our pledge is stronger than a star’s gravity,

just one piece would fall through the centre

of the earth. It is time to dive. The sun &

my wife urge me on.  We all bank as one.

We lived by a few days to see the atomic dawn.

Nothing we do is futile, everything has an end.

Our plane is obsolete. The tank rises like a steel glove.

Asako’s chin rests on my neck, as we burn with love.

The Shoes

for Wayne Allston

I was fatherless, but so I think were you.

If I could somehow lace the past back up,

I would have let you keep my black school

shoes you flogged in PE. I didn’t realise you

were wintering barefoot, trudging to school

for you daily dose of being frozen out. Pencils

borrowed never returned. Pigsey told me this.

How I resisted my meekness & tackled you,

stripping my shoes off your feet as though your

clothes were burning. Only shame ignites now,

thirty-four years later, the heat you must have felt

when I ripped them off. My nikoed name fading.

In Turvey’s system we were equally maths dumb.

Out of all the class, we were always left standing.

The Night Witches

Flimsy as broomsticks, we climbed aboard

for one last superstitious sortie. Night Witches

the Germans named us – canvas stretched

over our wooden frames, dried like caribou

hides on an antler rack. Biplanes, obsolete

as witch hunts; as ever night was our only

protection. Winter wind sharp as a propeller

blade cut through our leather cloaks, the open

coffins of our canopies where our bodies were

already bestowed. Flak bit at our craft like guard

dogs gunning for prisoners. We dropped our

bombs & lighter than barrage balloons limped

home, horses gone lame. We gave our planes

their noses as Arctic gales garrotted our words.

War on Terror

They have lived through America’s longest war.

We analyse Wilfred Owen. Obscene as cancer they

mumble checking Facebook. Aleppo is on their

feed, a dead mother sitting upright holding her

dead baby next to her dead toddler: all dusted in

concrete flour. Grey ash faces as if in mourning.

They do not cry at the end of Gallipoli anymore.

They do not understand that rape is a war crime.

Teaching English is mostly just teaching history.

The Vietnam War is as abstract as disease before

vaccinations. They lack context like some bones

lack calcium. They form opinions haphazardly.

Acne breaks out like a bitter conflict over oil.

The Muslim students pray quietly out of sight.

Snow Geese

The snow geese are landing as lightly as flakes.

Their pink webbed feet dissolve perfectly as jelly

crystals into Butte Lake’s reddish bowl. Their legs

drive down like cocktail stirrers energising atoms.

The water tingles as ten thousand tired birds swirl

from the snowstorm’s playful wrestle. The point

bird is the first to quench; the long white glove of

its neck bends like a Queen’s wave as its rosy bill

scoops up Berkeley Pit’s unique terroir of arsenic,

cadmium, cobalt, copper, iron & zinc; enough zest

to liquefy steel. Death is not instantaneous like lethal

injection. The flock’s punishment is a liquid lunch of

burnt throats & festering gizzards, graphic as Owen.

White bodies float like foam on top of a hot drink.