Poems from psychoanalysis

I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

1  The Breach

Hide and seek is the game
we play, alternating
parts, clinging to walls
just beyond reach.
Who can live with me?
he says, mocking.
Come out. Come out.
Scar says hands on head,
to your knees. Scar says
shout, then says die.
Scar gives the lie to
harmless thoughts,
then settles down
in the dark house,
corrupt little animal
gnawing at the heart
and baring teeth
that cut up memory.
Sleeping and dreaming
he’s more alive,
feeds on each hurting
image, gorged and lying
safe beyond the breach.

2  Self and Space

Science probes the atom
revealing matter
mostly emptiness.

Congregations of memory
clutter darkness
at the heart of things.

Going deeper you and I
search the self and fall
through infinite space.

3  The Lesson of Eumenides


“My father’s mother
loved her child’s only son
demonstrated the fact
holding the grandson’s head
against her wrinkled
milkless breast.

“My father’s father
loved his child’s only son
demonstrated the fact
when he died bequeathing
fifty cent scraps
of each fortnight’s pension
to a trust of his grandson’s name.

“My father’s parents
neither loved each each other
nor loved their son
demonstrated the fact
letting him grow fat
on careless marriage,
double portions, his and theirs.

“My life repairs mistakes in others’ past
blood fighting for the line’s success in life.
It ends with me
hate’s puzzle knotting all that should make sense
and useless with anger.”


Ghost and Furies inhabit the temple
demanding justice
for horrors beyond speech.

Orestes, the son,
runs a whole year
body dispirited by effort and fear.

I promise protection
and equal judgment releases him.
—Athena left to placate Furies’

unearthly rage, revenge-hot blood:
“My new city has difficult gods who
strike its people down with no warning.

“Will you be the city’s warders?
turn your strength
to good works?”

They accept
and in their dark world
tie death’s agents down;

while in Argos, safe
and crowned with light,
a murderer is king.

4  Confessional

Lonely are the gifts
I took with me
into this death
like absurd too many chairs
I can sit on only one of them
at a time.

I have drawers and chests
hundreds of places
to stow parts of myself away
but you find them
a pick in your hand
and in my head
the case opens.

Your father angers you
like a doctor
I have books
which I open sometimes
and do not understand
why the lock of my cell
is so difficult to open.

In the cell is a horrible creature
with two heads
both of them ugly
both of them screaming.

Your mother loves you
like a priest
I have words in my head
I never use
and places I
have never seen
gifts that were brought
I want to refuse.

Gifts of rope and knives
dressed in striped boxes
and coloured ribbons.

They expect me to answer
fulfil expectations
they speak to me in a language
I never learned
they never taught me
full of private symbols
drawn on my forehead
and on my back
everywhere I cannot see.

5  Egg

Something about them
is difficult to touch
with their bloody insides
awesome and fragile

treat lovers delicately

their skin is strong
but thin
as they move from room to room
with their soft soft edges
like shadows
and internal affairs of eggs

that at the slightest jolt
display their dark insides
rich with confusion

6  The King of Hate

Years the beast spends
dining on his own flesh,
inexhaustible passions
coming from who knows where
beyond the breach.
My arms outstretched
find a way through
glowing darkness back
to where the hate began
a life of forgetting,
bandaged head, a mask.
Come in. Come in.
He says, this dark house
is larger than love,
your heart unwired
will warm to knowledge
of superb pain,
will grow to fill
its infinite rooms.
He crowns me king
of beasts, winds me
in red fields and war,
promises all the void
will sing my name;
if only I would stay.


The poetry of Wallace Stevens

for Joyce Lee

A voice is a solid thing
One hears as though it were built
Entirely of air. It is substantial

Yet it carves out song from nothing.
A voice is a real thing
We cannot move through, that lives

Separately, and uniquely sings
The air on which it moves.
A voice reminds us of our distance.

A bad voice is all voice.
The good voice glows and lights
The air on which it throws out song

And bites. electrically, the space
In which we stand to hear: it alone
Is real, and clearly moves between us.

The perfect voice is in the mind
And never sings what can be heard;
It has a life its own that brings

The sounds the mind has learned
To the moment of the keenest singing:
Its song is pure imagining.

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.
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