Night Poem XXI

Night of the open heart,
I strive against my tightening song,
against the sad and familiar
crust of my human days.

New, new again beside
your blue dangers,
I fear death,
and life shivers in my blood.

To be new is to be merciless.
On your plain swept of regret and love,
I place an orange, round and alone.
As I peel it, it forms a hurt the shape of a moon.

And because I am empty
and pained by the passing
of everything I’ve been,
its juice afflicts me with a new love.

Night of the open heart,
to ache is to ripen,
to know the bitterness of new growth,
and the possibility of catastrophes.

But to the clenched darkness
and to the hollowed peel of my old heart,
I reply with the wounded orange’s flesh,
raw and sweet and undefeated.

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Night Poem XVI

Who hurt you, night?
Who was it that gave you your melancholic gait?
The suffering of the void became too much for you, didn’t it?
And so you came down here and entered me,
and all the others like me.
Then you could bear the weight of your own heart again.

Now the night dwells in me
like a duke alone in his chateau.
And he wanders from room to room,
speaking gruffly to himself,
and stands at windows,
and turns away with an involuntary smile.

And he fills me with the primordial memories
of ruined love,
of all the love that came and went long before me,
the love that became the night’s blue hurt.
Night, my tenant,
I listen to your afflictions with an ear pressed inward,
and what I translate becomes my strength.

Night Poem XV

I turn my back and laugh
at the corpse of the day
with a knife in his back,
a smile on his face.
Around him,

the eunuchs of my memory
slumped and lifeless;
they tried to pin the deed on me.
I have no time for these stragglers,

their parrot-like recriminations
that keep me here
in the sun’s dead temples.
There are thunderstorms,

horizon devouring winds,
that will forgive me this violence;
they ready me for a pure and
uncompromising shore.

It was necessary to become
the self’s inexorable assassin,
to put these enemies of my purpose to rest.
On the other side,

I will be essential dust
in no man’s night.

Night Poem XIII

You, my most terrifying friend,
I have needed you before all others.
When the women in my life
pained me with a broken shard of perfume,
I sought you in the moonlit streets,
and we would converse
in wide arcs of anger and solitude.
Being a morose man, I needed your dark humour.
And when the world took its too solid forms,
as if to spite me,
and the day threatened me with
a well laid plan,
I would come to you,
my oldest, most terrible friend,
wine bottle tucked under my sleeve,
ready to erase the edges of what I was becoming,
and you would remind me of what is essential;
the absurdity of the moon,
the chaos in my heart.

The Visionaries (For the Children of the Documentary, Born into Brothels)

Sometimes things force us to see
this life’s intolerable enchantment,
and how far we still fall short
of its primordial command
to be everything,
to be all things.

I’ve seen something that
opened me,
like a blade of sun
slicing the unready fruit,
that glistened in its pain anyway.

I’ve seen children, in the ferocity of their small lives,
clutching at cheap cameras,
showing us how much we could still be,
how young time is, even in us.

I mean the children of the ghettos of Calcutta,
of the sunless streets that
narrow the heart,
and the dead ends like so many short lives.

I mean how, against the defeated wind,
they too find a brief time to bloom
in an explosion of arrogant youth.
Suddenly this trepidation,
the ancient, anticipated song,
the shutter that falls before a fearless eye.

Each one will show us something new.
Each with their camera, their lens,
and the rudiments of vision,
goes out into their broken world
to find its unsought beauty.

And there in their images,
the depth of poverty’s heart,
the dignity of each sudden colour,
unearthed by its children.

How we feel shaken
by these brutal eyes of hope,
how we feel like all things,
like everything in their lens.

When My Father Was A Fisherman

In the lean years,
there wasn’t much work to be got on land,
so my father took work on one of the trawlers
that fished up and down the mouth
of the Tasman Bay.

When he came ashore,
he was like something out of a
romantic sea tale,
tattered woolen hat and gumboots,

the reek of fish scales,
sleeves rolled up,
sunburnt tattoos of skulls and flames,
salt in the creases of his smile.

I thought of his fierce arms
hauling up schools of mackerel and orange roughy,
and the angry sea spittle
lashing at his leathery face.

My mother wore her fear
in the strained, tired lines of her eyes,
this is the last time, she said,
after this, you’ll get a job in
the tobacco season,

promise me.
But she was a fisherman’s wife,
and he was proud of the living
he snatched from the teeth of a
capricious sea.

The captain was a real sea dog,
a missing tooth, a glass eye,
an anchor tattoo on his fist.
He was rolling drunk most of the time
and there was a sharpening in my mother’s voice
when he came round to drink with dad.

On good days he led his boat to
Eldorado,
but on bad ones he floundered
in used up hunting grounds,
where the big boats had greedily fed.

On good days
we were down the fish and chip shop,
dad hanging his tattoos out the car window,
on display,
thumping the door to ZZ Tops,
like local bogan royalty.
But too many bad days

and mum was at the neighbour’s
begging bread and sugar,
my sister and I would go off to the school bus
in mended crutches and mended knees,
skipping the cracks in our world.

And then the day came
when the Salvation Army people
pulled up at our house.
They handed mum and dad
brown paper bags,

a bounteous and bitter charity
of cans, bread, sugar and biscuits.
My little brother snatched up the ice cream,
bare-bum, ran out back with his catch,
my sister emptied a box of raisins in her mouth,
and whistled through it like a flute.

Mum was crying and wouldn’t look
the delivery man in the face
as she pushed a choked thank you from her lips.
Dad just stood there, fists clenched,
lips tight as wires,
and I shrank back inside,
cause I knew what he was thinking.

These were the lean years,
the nineties,
when the safety net was hauled up for good,
when my family got fed
if we could catch a break from the sea.

The Insects

I

Without a heart, they cannot break as we do.
And without dreams, they love the way that soil loves,
lacking enemies.
They are the warmth of movement in our decay.
But we are burdened by a thought and an image
that expires in a sad flame.
We are what they diligently tear and scatter
in an undergrowth of dead years,
our years,
awaiting the mouths of their relentless love.

II

I gather about me a moss of need,
sentiment, dream and craving.
Like the rock of afflicted mollusks,
I am a burden of sea, a salt trailed by wounds.
The clay of accumulated sorrow spoils my form.
But they are nature’s perfected coil,
the smooth and frightening form of life without remorse.
Everything else is unrequired.

III

I do not want a bone of song.
I no longer desire a midday loaded with light.
Beneath a country of moist leaves,
I seek transformation, like you,
to outlive the skeleton of my death,
to be a raw and glistening nerve under the moon.

IV

On a bitter leaf, I struggled from
a chrysalis of memory.
Everywhere, wings were blooming.