Monday, November 28, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Silence by Carol Millner


Last Sunday morning our house was silent.

Even the fork on top of two plates on top of a bowl
on top of the stainless steel bench couldn't stop it.

It was silent at our house.

Two Daddy-long-legs waved their limbs at each other
across the vast white ceiling of our bedroom and tried to speak
but they couldn't bring themselves to do it.

Even the baby was silent.

I curled myself around her, and you curled yourself around me
and you two slept on curving together in the bed like
the perfect interlocutions of the baby's ear.

Only I was so excited that I wanted to shout out loud -

It's silent at our house!

Carol Millner was born in New Zealand but now lives in Perth. I met her there while I was over in WA for the poetry festival, and found we had quite a bit in common. Both born in NZ, both with a background in theatre. I like the 'domestic sublime' of this poem.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Fire With Fire by John Foulcher

(January 1994)

After the fires, a wind
dripping cinders
drew me back to Sydney,

where I was born.
At the city's shrivelled edges
houses and hills

were faint watercolours,
drained, diffuse.
That rich, fermented smell

of things that had been burned
rolling across the roads
to my brother's house in Ryde. Here

the bushfires had sent letters:
he showed me a bowl
of leaves plucked from the lawn,

each the exact shape
that had hung coloured
and lithe, now blackened to an artform,

dry and eternal.
And the soot, everywhere, as if churned
from factories. In the dusk

we sat outside
while the kids tugged fun
from the television. And we watched

with a few beers
the tired, safe world. That night
I slept in the room

that had been my parents'
when, close on a decade,
I was told

of my father's death.
All so different,
in a different bed. I dreamed I was caught

in some grim country town.
I gathered the kids
and waded quiet streets

to a rotting house
rimmed with stillness. In the dark
two men shaved

by a dead light,
the dark one below
speaking as softly

as a touch of wind
on your hands. Please, I said,
let me make a phone-call. This man

who was talking,
who was in charge,
leaned into the stain of lamplight

and said, pointing
to the other, His mouth burns
and heals, when he kisses

me. Then I saw his friend,
pocked, fat, staring
at me, his withered mouth

barely closed, barely open. Please,
I said again. Yes -
the word scuttled

from his lips -
Yes, but let me have
the children. I tell you I was shocked

and would have left,
but agreed. It was for their sake,
the children, curled and feline

at my feet. I woke
then, and the bedroom
became nothing

I knew, again. Outside, the wind
herding clouds
rubbed against the sky,

a few smudges
of leftover smoke. Crisp January leaves,
whetted on the glass.

Going back to Canberra,
I trailed along roads
burning with traffic

under a sky scoured
raw. I had to make
one stop more:

the national park,
clumped at the edge
of Maianbar, where I'd decided

about marriage and family.
But there was nothing
to remember here, nothing

green any more. Time
had been razed. The orange flesh
of the angophoras, their paper

leaves clattering in the wind,
their branches cracking
canvas ridges. Black-fingered banksias

along the scorched road.
A thin black stream
beneath a bridge,

glistening like an eel
among the grey rocks. And the roadsigns,
melted, Dali,

twisted, limp.
When I stopped the car and got out
the ground pouted

ash. Sounds evaporated
in the birdless air.
It was all strange,

this known land
hidden by growth
in the familiar years, in the time

I'd grown, not knowing
contours, undulations.
I felt like a man

who sees an old friend
drunk, and turns away
in embarrassment. In the end

I left, on a road
as cool as the earth,
a highway slung

through pasture and forest,
a land still to burn.
Home held its perfect rooms, its bed

and clean sheets,
all night. Tonight,
though, my daughter is sick:

she shivers on the lounge
in a leak of light,
twitching and vomiting,

throws back her head
simmering with sweat,
her hair lined

with saliva. Sleep
comes in bursts.
Again, the spasms of the body,

all thought of friends
or toys gone,
as she knows

in her blood and bowels
that her dreams don't matter,
that the only thing

is to wake
the next morning, and forget
all that has happened in the night.

John Foulcher used to live in Canberra but he has recently shifted to Melbourne and he is a very welcome addition to the scene. This poem is from his book – What On Earth Possessed You published by Halstead Press in 2008.

I like the way this poem takes its own subtle time and roams here and there. It's a road poem for sure, and it ends up at home.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Avalanche by Vivienne Plumb


There was a war on TV,
the snow, the people lying on plastic
in the snow, death arriving
with his suitcase full of tools,
the delivery out of this world
offers such a dazzling
variety, and the snow, forever this
white tableau becomes forged
with the recollections of your last
oncology visit
and the people lying on the plastic
in the snow.

At the doctor's I sat with
my tiny hands held in my lap the way
I've been taught, two lovebirds,
but the flesh was as cold as sheet ice
I was up to my elbows
in frostbite and snow.

There were stories on the news
each day and in the morning paper,
death can happen overnight, may
be in your house if you don't move
fast enough, in a trench, or
the dreadful football-stadium one,
under the trees in a dark
wood, against a hedge, or even lying
on plastic in the snow.

Such soft subdued footfalls,
but a goodly advance
over a long stretch of time.

Others shift their seats away from me
leaving a pencil
thin cavity, a subtle margin,
but you and I are crouched
together in the snow reading the
avalanche instructions;
they are torn and dirty, tacked to
the cobwebbed wall of some
wild and woody mountain hut:
Construct earthen fortifications
behind your village. In the case
of serious exposure it is
best to wait for rescue dogs.
We must read the instructions
we must read the instructions
but there are no instructions.
I believe there are no instructions.

This poem is from Vivienne's book Scarab, published in a hand bound edition of 250 by Seraph Press. I lucked out at Unity Books in Wellington and got copy 211. It is the first time I have cried reading a book of poetry since I read High Windows by Larkin. Scarab is a very powerful and poignant read. The cumulative effect of poem after poem about her son Willy's progress towards death knocks you about a bit. But Vivienne is a consummate artist and her strength is her light touch, her wit, her wry angles, so one can just about take it.

Vivienne has a couple of new books out from Seraph Press, Crumple and The Cheese and Onion Sanwich and Other New Zealand Icons, so check them out.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tuesday Poem - Songs for Paul by Ian McBryde

Songs for Paul

Beware the fury of a patient man.
John Dryden


Handsome as Adam in your car mirror,
leaves from the clearing still stuck
to the back of your jacket.


That got your nose open didn’t it?
Her scratches on your back. The sweet
rank pussy smell on you as you swagger
into the café, looking around, head held high.


You dream of nipples, music. What is it she likes,
Mozart, Beethoven? Something like that.


The highway. All those radio songs written
too late to help you. Illinois, Virginia,
the Carolinas. That skinny blonde
who stole your wallet afterwards.


Late May.
Guess she’s had the kid by now.
Little bastard.


Whiskey helps. Another bottle helps even more.


Onscreen at the drive-in there’s always some girl
who falls and twists her ankle. She’ll be scared, pausing
on unlit stairs as your new date wipes her mouth and
zips you up. The car reeks of popcorn, beer, semen.


You dream of an empty theatre, you alone in the seats
waiting for you to come onstage.


The boys at the factory will love it. You can tell them
you were at it all night, and how she wept when you left.


One day you will stare into another cheap motel mirror
at the face of an out-of-breath, fat stranger.


She never did come back.


It is already too late for the magic you once laughed at.


No cheating now. Spell rescue. Don’t look.
Spell ruin. Spell empty well. Spell memory.

This poem comes from Ian McBryde's recent book The Adoption Order published by 5 Islands Press.
I love Ian's work and he is such a powerful performer. He's from Canada but he has adopted Melbourne and Melbourne has adopted him.