When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their ántique pen would have expressed
Ev’n such a beauty as you master now.
Neither gods nor nature suffer our insolence to be unrestrained.
And, so, they made a plan to humble our pride
and improve our manners. To diminish our strength
they cut us in two, and gave us, each, a neck that could be turned
to contemplate the part of ourselves that was lost.
Through this we were to learn humility.
—the fable of Aristophanes
(This contents table differs from the PDF version because poetry on the website is sometimes linked to the date of publication of the book in which it first appeared rather than the date or year of writing.)
Poems in this book have been published previously in Family Ties: Australian poems of the family, Melbourne Chronicle, Out of the Box: Contemporary Australian Gay and Lesbian Poets, Overland, HIV Here and Now and TheBody.com, The Oxford Book of Australian Love Poems, Perseverance Poets’ Collection 1991–92, Walking the Dogs: the Pariah Press Anthology, and on ‘A First Hearing’, ABC Radio.
There lies Peter Clutterbuck now
still fourteen, on Phillip Island
where he was sent, and where he died
in 1935 parentless and poor
to the Newhaven Homes for Problem Boys.
His sister could not move him from this grave
since with him is another child
named Victor Hardy, still eleven.
Years ago, when I was reading the philosophical works of Schopenhauer I heard a sudden eruption of laughter on the street. I looked up to see what the cause of this laughter was. Across the road, an old man extraordinarily obese, was heaving his immense body along the footpath. He used a cane to help balance himself as he walked and to relieve the strain on his back caused by the great bag of fat hanging from his stomach. It required considerable effort for him to walk only a short distance. I felt revulsion at the sight of this man. There were feelings of pity, too. I knew immediately there are no counter-motives to humiliation. We live by climbing over each other struggle to keep our heads above despair and try not to think of harm that’s done. I lowered the book and listened to the sounds of birds a howling dog, a small child in the street asking something of her parents — every voice repeating the inner nature of the world and I knew what trouble and pain was
still to come.
Joe—who was the chef in the restaurant he owned with my mother—whispers in my ear: “I know something I wish I did not know. A disgraceful thing. Obscene. I think I know who did it.” And he looks at me, continuing to talk this way until he finally pulls a drawing out of his coat and unfolds it to show the image of a ‘crab-woman’, a beautiful woman who happens to have lots of claws coming out of her, like something from a painting by Peter Booth except that this was clearly drawn by a child or an idiot. Joe looks at my reaction and concludes I did not make the image. So he puts his arms around my shoulders as though we were comrades and leads me into a bar or a café, somewhere it always appears to be night and it is difficult to get a table. We navigate our way through the closely set tables trying to find one that is empty. There are few customers down at the rear of this place, where we finally sit down and I order an espresso in my best-sounding Italian. Right down at the end of the room an indigo wall has an unfinished, half-head portrait (lower half) of Samuel Beckett painted on it: the brain, everything above the bridge of the nose, is missing. I notice two poets I used to know, elderly women now both dead, have taken seats at a table not far from us. Someone emerges from a bunch of architect-lecturers to give a slide show presentation now being projected high up on the wall near me. I look up and see the words “alles, was vor dem sex-maschine… alles, was beim sex-maschine… alles, was nach dem sex-maschine” intercut with images, far more disturbing than the childish drawing Joe showed me. I did not understand the message of this presentation, though everyone seemed to find the language entertaining. Among some papers that have been strewn on the table by the presenter there is a newsletter that I made many years ago for a group of writers. The papers are being handed around the group. One of the architects dismisses the design I made. Asked who I am I can only say I am a poet. The dismissive architect asks me if a company with a very exotic and impressive name has published me. I tell him, No. I offer the names of a few places that have published me, and places I have worked, and things I’ve done, and say “… It’s not an opera house, though you can sometimes hear poetry even there. Poetry is a small house, if it is a house at all. It may be just a shelter.”
Published as ‘Four events while sleeping’, incorporating ‘Poetry is a small house’, ‘Religion is the art of belief’, ‘Martial art, sans art’ and ‘The program’, FIVE:2:ONE print edition, August 2017.
Under cover of the arches of what appears to be a large shopping complex a musician is blowing his trumpet unmusically and another performer, a dancer, is limbering up for his performance. The dancer looks over at me and nods in a way that makes me think it is a signal of some sort. When his performance begins, he grabs me and lulls me into a kind of sleepy relaxation so that I lie down right there in front of everyone. I close my eyes and I wonder for a moment whether he is going to help me up or I am just going to fall asleep right there on the ground. When I open my eyes, however, the sky above me is dark and I am cold and wet, lying in the middle of a field. As I stand up I notice a man, dressed in a rubber wet suit, crawling up out of a hole in the ground, and breathing apparatus and oxygen tank still attached to his head and back. A woman is lying, drenched, on the ground a few metres away from me. The frogman hands me an envelope that has money in it—a couple of hundred dollars—which seems to be payment for the inconvenience of having been disappeared against my will. I look back across the field towards the shopping complex and notice that there is a fountain underneath the arches. The woman and I have somehow been lowered into the fountain and dragged underwater by a frogman for more than a hundred metres through an underground lake. We wander off, going in separate directions. I come to a road. There is a commotion ahead. Council workers are struggling with a giant creature, like an eel but sixty or more feet in length, which has a head with whiskers like a catfish. It snarls and gulps for air, flaps about like a fish out of water, which it is, while the council workers inject it with poison.