Mario Giacomelli’s Scanno

It’s 1962. Signor Giacomelli goes out with his camera,
His ‘avocation’. (Probably he had it with him by chance:
Who would want to take pictures at this hour?)

The sun half up, he uses flash, for contrast
And to brighten faces, but it’s no good.
Two noses and four down cast eyes only faintly appear.

What the matter? Are the women crying?
Has someone died? No. I think they’re always this unhappy.
After early mass somewhere in the Abruzzi district,

Traditional black coats eclipse the frame
Then wander dimly off.
You’ve probably not seen this photograph though

It’s very famous. The title is either something innocent
Or implies a sacrifice. And it’s strange
That when you stare into the puzzle for a long time

The little boy in long trousers
With his hands in his pockets, hair neatly combed,
And a face that shines specially,

Head cocked slightly right on top a crisp, white shirt,
Descends so nonchalantly on his own
Light pathway into this misery.

What is he
Here for?
What will he do?

Mario Giacomelli's 'Scanno'.
Mario Giacomelli’s ‘Scanno’ (1957).

The K-Tel instant love poem and cigarette machine

You say you __________ me
but your __________ smile
says otherwise.
And waiting like __________
in the __________ ,
photographs of our __________
become obscene __________ ,
that tug at my __________ ,
and __________ and __________ ,
when solitude draws
lines clinical and pale
as the __________ of a __________
in the __________ .

You pester me about
the way I leave my poems
__________ , so they are
open to __________ .
Like our __________ love,
never __________ , always
__________ , in the dark.
When I __________ ,
it feels like __________ .
Do you remember us
in Egypt, on the back
of that camel?

Is sex important?

it sometimes happens
we’re discussing the new wave
order of things
in one of those great
fashionable left-bank
cafés, imported all the way
from the paris end
of collins street

while reminiscing zürich
the homes of modern masters
the travels of ulysses
and the thousand unrelated
explosions at the end
of world war one

when james my friend
orders a toasted roll
in the hay, corned beef
and a size 38D bust with
tomato sauce, and i tell
the waitress that a plain
ham on rye with no pickle
will do for me wonders

after Invocation

we re off to see some movies/a double
feature at the uni sex college of prolonged
education/with its jeans jumpers t shirts
medium length hair & macho moustaches/
& there s this guy on the screen who s
wrapping hashish in silver foil like
cadbury chocolate/& smuggling it across
the border until he gets caught because
the authorities in turkey are really
into catching chocolate smugglers/there s
a moral here/& it s in the next movie/
where rae desmond is the new jesus
christ/grown 2000 yrs old of donkeys
& philistines/steps off his fat 500cc
BMW/& with all the christian love of
a man about to prove a point/commences
to bash the shit out of a bondi surfie/
who said his pomes weren t punk enough!
—pour it on rae/pour it on!

Ode to John Tranter

This morning a soggy newspaper on your doorstep announces that all Australia has become a suburb of Melbourne, Sydney is just a dream and Queensland a form of neurosis which will go away if you try hard enough. And you think it’s going to be one of those days. The Labor government you elected is somewhere to the right of Ezra Pound, the only Liberal you know has started to wear pink t-shirts and that operation Peacock had was really a sex change. But it’s not just the politics— only 9am, and already the next generation of new poets is bleeding loudly on the airwaves and a little voice inside your head tells you, “Les Murray can’t walk on water. You must believe me!” and you know it’s true but what waves it would cause if he tried! You realise suddenly that it must be an Overland day! because you can’t see any women in your kitchen except one on the back of a packet of corn-flakes, and even she’s only a token, but no, perhaps it’s a Quadrant day? after all it is their government that’s in power and Barry Humphries still looks good in a dress. Under the shower you try to forget everything that’s gone wrong, to wash away your unemployment like indelible ink or freckles. So it may be just another boring day, a Hansard day, or an Age Monthly Review day and you could sit in front of the bar-heater smoking pages of the Times Literary Supplement one by one and learning to write by osmosis or spontaneous combustion, because you don’t give a damn about cancer or mixed metaphors or your neighbour’s dangling participles— you just want to be a famous artist and have the government (any government) proclaim you a living national treasure so you won’t have to beg for food from the Australia Council Soup Kitchen, so the Literature Board will send you a leather jacket and every Monday a carton of tailor-mades and a six-pack of Coke will arrive by certified mail and you could do John Forbes or Gig Ryan rip-offs, in public, and no-one will know you’re faking it! In fact it may be a Scripsi day because only one hour after you thought it was an Overland day there still aren’t any women in your life and you always wanted to travel by proxy, except that you couldn’t tell the difference between Michel/e Tournier and Butor if it hit you over the head with a bi-lingual dictionary and no-one you know would dare speak Swedish in polite conversation. No, it’s definitely not a Scripsi day but it could be a Meanjin day! because you’ve always wanted to go fifteen rounds with an editor who thought (s)he could make the lame see and the blind talk and you know if you submit a poem to anyone from Melbourne University there’s always a good chance the empty gin bottle will stop spinning at your name, and that bonsai-epic verse about the forces of light and darkness you sent will be read by every socialist household in Moonee Ponds. Then it hits you! a kind of existential panic only West Australians are really familiar with— it might not be any kind of day at all, it might be a Going Down Swinging day when nothing happens and years pass you by like artistic brain-damage or Sisyphus in a Maserati. No, no— it feels like one of those days, a day for writing odes to John Tranter when all the most beautiful and irrelevant words in the world sing with one voice in praise of poetry and their own impotence, a day when Jacques Derrida is a brand of ice-cream or any drug that melts in the mouths of poets, when not being yourself is a pleasant change, a day for cleaning the sky of static and all those bleeding hearts, and you step out on the world singing: Heaven is my woman’s love, That’s the place I want to be. Heaven is my woman’s love, That’s the only place for me.
Originally published in Meanjin in 1984. Then, in Ashbery Mode, edited by Michael Farrell, Tinfish Press, 2019.


perform allegro con brio

when i fell its got to stop its because im afraid of what it might do to me if it does stop and im not ready to feel its got to stop because i might be pulling myself silly and the time when its got to stop might never come

when i feel its got to stop i take long walks under the sky under the words i left hanging in the air

when i feel its got to stop i eat bran and read logic so my conversation wont feel like an early mornings constipated pushing and groaning in the toilet

when i feel its got to stop im too polite and ask if i can interject your logorrhoea like rubber suppositories or cigarette butts in the kitchen sink

when i feel its got to stop i tell you i dont love you any more and mean it for at least as long as it takes me to say it and when you do think i mean it i want to die

when i feel its got to stop i call you at three in the morning and ask for a fuck and you give me the address of a friend whos out of the country and wont be back till next year

when i feel its got to stop i wont come at to your parties because i dont like talking philosophically about the aristotelian origins of wittgenstein and i dont understand how the tractatus can teach me to say i love you without farting

when i feel its got to stop its because i still love you enough not to want you to know that i feel its got to stop because when i feel its got to stop

when i feel its got to stop its because the six doughnuts of our love affair werent enough and after checking the contents of my box one last time you guiltlessly replace my sweaty body on the supermarket shelf between the baked beans and the chicken noodle soup

when i feel its got to stop i get lost in the city mapping the tedious plan of streets waiting for the place where the pain and sorrow of our last argument will fall out of the night and tear my guts apart leaving me to survive till morning by licking the remains of our last sensuous rain out of the gutter

when i feel it got to stop its because im afraid of what it might do to you if it does stop and youre not ready to feel that its got to stop because you think that the time when its got to stop should never come

This poem was published originally in Overland (1980) and then in The Oxford Book of Australian Love Poems (1993).

The possibilities of language

… They’re perhaps not suited to our kind of publication, with its emphasis on exploring the possibilities of language.

A rejection slip sent to a young writer

He explores the possibilities. Regularly. In this regard, at least, he is very regular. Someone said once that nobody ever had a really good idea while writing in a large room — so he is exploring the possibilities of proving this theory correct while seated in the smallest room of his house. There are many ways of approaching the problem. He thinks. Should he at any time in the near future begin to have a large idea, what then should he do with it? If it is a specially large idea, it may demand taking to a slightly larger room, to give it space to develop and mature. This is interesting. He thinks about John Milton. If John Milton were with him the room would not be big enough for both of them. John Milton was not a big man, but he had big ideas. John Milton wrote about god. There is no way anyone could fit John Milton and God in the same, small room. He decided to start with something smaller and see how far the thing will grow before he has to move to a larger room. He thinks about Babel, because he is thinking about language. He thinks about God, but only for a moment. Ideas like that are difficult to sustain. He thinks about bananas, because the room he is in reminds him of bananas. It is a purple room. He thinks about Babel again, and then he thinks about bananas, because they sound good together. Like peaches and cream. Suddenly, a scenario evolves in his head. There is a man. The man is in a car. It is a small car. No. He starts again. The man is in a banana. The man is in a large banana, eating a car. It is still a small car. The man is munching away on his ripe, yellow car and quite happily enjoying the scenery. John Milton knocks on the window of the man’s four-wheel-drive banana and says, “Ah … hello. My name’s John Milton. I was wondering if you’d like to spend some time discussing the possibilities of language with me?” The man thinks for a while, takes another bite off his car, and says, “John, I’d really like that, but I don’t think this banana is big enough for both of us.” “Well,” says John, realising that this is a valid problem, “I have a large peach parked across the road. I’m sure that it would be large enough to accommodate our ideas, at least to begin with.” The man says, “OK,” and gets out of his banana. He looks across the road and sees the peach. It’s enormous. An American peach with mag wheels and GT stripes along the side. Even more incredible is the fruit which it is towing. The man stops, amazed, and stares. “It’s so big!?” he says. “Oh, yes,” says John, “peaches are just fine for love poetry, but for God I need a watermelon.” The man and John enter the peach. They talk about love. They talk about peaches. They talk about love, again. Which leads them to politics. Which leads them to Marx. Yes, they even talk about Marx, and they are still quite comfortable in the peach. The peach is large. Marx is not large enough. Marx was a big man, but his ideas were smaller than a peach. Their conversation comes to a natural pause, which is what often happens to conversations about Marx, and John looks at the man, and the man looks at John, and John looks back at the man and asks, “By the way, my good man, what is your name?” The man begins to panic. He thinks way back to his childhood. There is nothing there. “I don’t know,” he says. “For as long as I can remember I have always been called The Man.” “But if you are The Man,” says John, “then you must be the Son of God!” The peach seems altogether far too small. They are standing at the door of the watermelon. John opens the door. Inside the watermelon is red and juicy. John looks in through the door and says, “It is sad, isn’t it? I have been eating this watermelon for 300 years and it is still not finished. I sometimes think that I will be eating it forever. Almost every afternoon I come in here to eat and let the juice run down my neck. I work at it very hard. Whenever I find a pip I write an epic poem and I think about God when I spit it out.” John reaches inside the door of the watermelon and pulls out a box. It is full of pips. “What I really want to know is, will you help me eat the watermelon? I think that it is nearly half eaten, so that if we work very hard we could be finished in a hundred years. By that time we will have written a thousand epic poems and there will be enough space in here to consider the universe. What do you say?” The Man looks into the watermelon and He is hungry, so they start to eat. They eat for a hundred years or so. The juice runs down their necks. The juice is everywhere. They write epic poems and consider the possibilities of God. They spit the pips into the box. When they have finally finished eating the watermelon, they consider the universe. And they think it is sad. But determined that 400 years of writing epic poems and thinking about God will not go to waste, they bundle the pips into the back of the peach and drive to Milton’s farm in the country where they plant the pips in the ground and grow watermelons. But John and the Man have had their fill of the red, juicy universe, so they decide to eat nuts instead. They sell the watermelons to other people who wish, against their best advice, to explore the possibilities of infinite things.

This work was first published by Writers’ Radio, 5UV (Adelaide), in 1984.