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.

Love

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 buts 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 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 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.
He says hands on head,
to your knees. He says
shout, then says die.
He 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.

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