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.
the dear departed
lovers that have gone
angels that once terrified us
threatening to bring death
so near as love
these lost loves,
whose provenance and history
is harder than a coin
passing hand to hand
through all the dull business
of the commonwealth,
arrive at our aching arms
the strange gifts of a stranger,
a once familiar mind.
thoughts that tasted like water,
answering an ancient need.
we may go down to the shore
and take a boat to be more
completely under a sky we knew
at a happier time,
like one who is newly blind remembers color,
listen to our bodies sing
their old pain.
our untasted souls,
we hoped would feed another life
to propagate our own,
make, at any spot we stop to feel,
the feast of questions
Originally published in Out of the Box: Contemporary Gay and Lesbian Poets, edited by Michael Farrell and Jill Jones, Puncher & Wattmann Poetry, 2009