Monday, March 31, 2014

Tuesday Poem - Wedding Weather by Melinda Smith

Wedding Weather

Invisible, a freak storm cell gathers.
Bright sun warms the bride as she climbs the steps.
The blessing: 'And now you will feel no rain,
for you will take shelter in each other'.

Bright sun warms the bride going down the steps,
but huge clouds bloom purple and multiply.
' … hey, we will take shelter in each other',
she jokes. 'See you lot at the reception'.

The huge clouds bloom purple and multiply;
pebbles of ice begin to pelt windscreens.
She jokes, walking off to the reception,
'Where's a white umbrella when you need one?'

As chunks of ice threaten to smash windscreens
the hill in Chinatown turns cataract.
Where's a white umbrella when you need one?
A lake forms in front of the Casino.

The hill in Chinatown is a cataract.
The only way through is underwater.
The lake spreads in front of the Casino;
stranded travellers beach themselves inside.

The only way through is underwater.
She pauses to ask herself a question.
Stranded travellers beach themselves inside.
Brave taxis stall, submerged to the windows.

She continues to ask herself the question.
The train station platforms are all drowning.
Brave taxis stall, submerged to the windows.
How deep is too deep? How late is too late?

The train station platforms are all drowning
but the clouds have almost emptied themselves.
How deep is too deep? How late is too late?
Emergency vehicles light up the dusk.

When the clouds have almost emptied themselves
she limps in late, bearing her wet bouquet.
Emergency vehicles light up the dusk.
She wonders who will care to catch this luck.

She limps in late, bearing her wet bouquet.
The news says: 'Three months' rain in three hours'.
She wonders who would care to catch this luck,
but everyone is clapping and laughing.

The news says: 'Three months' rain in three hours'.
The blessing: 'And now you will feel no rain'.
While everyone is clapping and laughing,
invisible, a freak storm cell gathers.

From Canberra poet Melinda Smith's book 'Drag Down To Lock Or Place
An Emergency Call', published by Pitt Street Poetry.
I chose this one from the book, from among all the other poems I would have 
liked to choose, because I remember that freak storm cell, my heavens, that
was some kind of deluge.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Tuesday Poem - A cycle for Milla by Geoff Page

A cycle for Milla

I've got the photo, not the name.
At one day old you're looking pensive,
hands arranged in thought.
Have you made the right decision,
propped there on the edge of chance?
Just hours ago you slipped out from
the broken amniotic
to greet the universe
although you've yet to see its stars.
A nipple is the first
of all your consolations;
your mother's mother hovers,
knowing what she knows.
Three more of us are weeks off yet,
working on our diaries.
Your acolytes, those stunned beginners,
survive as if they're on a wave,
inventing every minute.

Two months — and still your name escapes them.
'Baby Girl' will not quite do —
for all their cooed endearments.
They've tossed some tags about already,
knowing they won't stick.
One with five grand syllables
reducible to two
runs in front of all the rest
but can't quite win the race.
A name, these days, is no small gift:
a gingham dress or stone-washed jeans,
clothes to be grown into.
Some countries mandate saints or heroes;
others number off from 'One'.
The Registrar of Births and Deaths
(and Marriages) declares
a bureaucratic interest;
his patience lasts for two months only.
Already you are eloquent
concerning small discomforts,
that milky world of irritation
all babies must be heir to
and yet you've still to speak your name,
a word or words you can't give back,
a force to shape you, this way, that —
expectations, fencings in.
The playground, too, will have its part;
the verbal ingenuities,
its rings of nastiness.
Your elders stand about, admire —
and are disturbingly alert
to every connotation.
Meanwhile I, your father's father,
await your name's arrival.
I have my own for you already,
personally bestowed and spelt,
two syllables. I know too well
the word your parents will discover
must be the first of all
your life's small braveries
and lovely contradictions.

The distances, how strict they are,
those arguments of time and space!
I follow you in six-month leaps;
each time you'll be a little taller,
with gravity to match.
Email photos down the wire
are simulacra only.
Your eyes and ears each time will be
that half-year cleverer.
Right now your voice is magpie song
waiting for its words.
I hear it on the phone.
Your jumpsuits will be, month by month,
a Goldilocks Effect,
too big, just right and then discarded;
your shoes each time a little less
absurdly miniature.
Your temperament, I know, is taking
shape from day to day.
I see it mainly in its stages,
bequeathed to you from family trees
that ramify like Moreton Bays.
You are their double culmination;
all those accidents that brought you,
chance by chance by chance.
Slowly you will come, I hope,
to know me, trip by trip,
across the years allowed to us,
extra hands to push the swing
or walk you to the shop,
an incidental figure first
and slightly out of focus.
I'll use a name you've yet to say
and add a layer to your life,
intensify its complications,
a voice remembered on the phone,
a person who will now and then
contrive to feature in your smile,
relieving you for just a while
of all the loving and the long
intensity of parents.

Four months old, you're all alertness
glancing sideways at the lens,
mouth an O of cool surprise.
Perched there on your father's midriff,
you're following your mother's camera.
No doubt, your father's talking too.
For a moment, you are split between them:
his voice, her voice, that way, this.
The language they employ is strange
although it does contain a name.
Your jumpsuit is resplendent pink;
not a word you know as yet.
You're in a slant of morning light.
Down south, I check your sidelong smile.
Is that O a reprimand
or does it sue for explanation?
Four months old and four months new,
you're at the centre of creation.

Six months now, a second visit;
the digipix are turning real.
You're filling up all four dimensions
with a light and airy squeal.
Words are just there out of reach;
there's almost traction on the floor.
Your personality's arrived;
your sense of what the world is for.
You cry, of course, to get your way
but no more than you'll need in life.
I sense a moderation too;
a drawing back from shallow strife.
Your bath may not be Cleopatra's
but you are equally at ease
putting on a stylish levee
for your pair of devotees.
Hand-and-eye coordination
may need a year or two as yet
before you're up and playing doubles,
volleying across the net.
And, yes, it's true you're nappie-bound;
one shouldn't rush too far ahead.
You're mixing solids with your milk;
your legs are looking quite well-fed.
Mere images no longer serve;
true life will always outdo art.
Your breezy squeals run on before me;
already you've a half-year start.

At seven months and on the phone
you're still not more than birdsong really,
a sort of strutting on the lawn,
relishing with each new dawn
the first ascension of the worms.
Already I can hear some English
but what you have is fine for now.
Poetry, said Mallarmé,
should always reach for music.
You're all feeling, unalloyed;
a birdlike recklessness of song.
What is it you're discussing now?
Dependability of nipples?
The scary joys of novel fruits?
I try to walk a straighter line
eschewing baby talk —
we drift to a convergence.
Week by week and call by call
I hear the grammar of the tribe.
You find a trader's raw patois
for dealing with the world.

Well up on your
two feet now,
oh mistress of the
pots and pans,
flicker on-and-
off of switches,
devotee of
Yes I Can,
you've got there with
your dozen words.
Today, June 9,
declares you're one.
How could my
two hundred lines
describe your circuit
round the sun?

From Geoff Page's new book 'improving the news' published by Pitt Street Poetry.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Tuesday Poem - Tears At The Merry Muse by Alan Gould

Tears At The Merry Muse

For two loud hours one Sunday night I cried
fathoms deep among the liquid-eyed.

Charlie, Ashton, Rita, Steve and Cath,
our faces ached on seismic lines of mirth,

as brilliance streamed from us like lava flow
in manners very close to human woe.

Four stand-up comic acts, one Brit, three Oz
were this Easter evening's quick and cause,

and all they had was routine synergy
to beam us into our hilarity.

Mulled claret helped us slip our self-controls,
beakers gingered to non-verbal roles.

Reader, now, for your self conscious humour
I can't redeem one gag from all that clamour

to raise in you a thin committee smile.
Why is the cusp of laughter so erstwhile?

And yet the stars of Easter saw disperse
two hours of joy into the universe

from folk whose cheeks were starred with sorrow's reef,
who wept like children held in wildest grief,

intent beneath the star called Funny Bone
where no one was alone.

I was in Canberra recently to do two gigs. But the dates for one got into a muddle,
and then the venue for the other, the Phoenix Bar, was involved in a fire! (That
was okay in the end, we moved to the Transit Bar, and it looked set fair that the
Phonenix would rise from the ashes, as it always does.)
But I made good use of my time there by arranging a meet and a chat and a
coffee with three local poets – Alan Gould, Geoff Page and Melinda Smith.
(And of course our cafe was across the road from the beautiful art deco
building housing the Phoenix where the fire had been. It looked pretty grim,
but repairable. Not lost.)
Anyway, poets being what poets are, out came the books and we all swapped
books. “Revenue neutral” - as Geoff Page said. Good score, Jen!
First up in the Tuesday Poem blog is a little ripper from Folk Tunes (Salt
Publishing) by Alan Gould.

It was hard to pick just one poem from a solid wodge of deft and crafterly
expertise, but after Canberra I travelled on to Sydney to visit my son, and he
showed me a short doco of some American basketballers visiting North Korea.
There was the solemn rent-a-crowd waiting for the game courtside, every face
set the same, every body dressed the same. I couldn't get any sense of their
humanity. But then the Harlem Globetrotters started fooling around, like they do,
and the crowd's funny bone was tickled – and oh dear, they couldn't help it, they
had to laugh. Waves of terrified, gulping, eye-streaming laughter overtook them,
they writhed. And I could see who they were. They revealed themselves. I said
to my son, “You can't fake a laugh.”
So that's why I chose this sharp-sided, poignant poem out of all of the others. I
was in the mood to laugh along.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Tuesday Poem - Life Support Machine by Amy Brown

6 Life Support Machine
   (Dr Matthew Nicholas examines Jason Sidney
   for signs of miraculous intervention by Jeff

Jason Sidney became my patient when he fell
in front of my car at the traffic lights outside
the Bikram yoga studio where he had been treating

his anxiety for the last few months. I pronounced him
dead at the scene, after attempting resuscitation,
slamming the heels of my palms on his wet chest

(blond hair and clothing still drenched in sweat)
breaking his breastbone as best I could to get at his heart.
I lost him in front of a crowd of yoga-goers and latenight

shoppers, on the yellow-lit pavement outside an expensive
supermarket. The sombre mood was ruined by a phonecall;
the answerer apologised for interrupting (as if

she were in a theatre) yet her ringtone became a form of life
supportprovoked what we are now calling a miracle.

Jason Sidney came back to life. His myocardium regained
strength. The octopus trap of his bulging left ventricular apex
(I only knew this after the ECG taken later at the hospital)

shrank as the song seemed to abate the rush of
catecholamine in his system. His eyes opened
and he said Jeff Mangum. I mean Neutral Milk Hotel.

These names were new to me but I was used to patients'
cryptic speech. No, I don't understand the aetiology of
his illness or recovery. My guess is that a microvascular

vasospasm caused by the physical stress of his recent
exercise combined with emotional trauma to quite literally break
Jason Sidney's heart. The then twenty-seven-year-old journalist

had suffered from depression and anxiety since his younger
brother's suicide the previous year. He dealt with the family
tragedy alone, preferring to work than grieve. Stoicism was

not sustainable, he told me, so he took up yoga. Two
hours in 105 degrees Fahrenheit, feet burning at the heat
vent, head light, yellow bile rising, he found himself

distracted. While his body was trained, the gun in his mind,
the mouth in his mind, the brother in his mind, the gun
in the mouth of the brother in his mind, was blown away

with deep breathing. It worked, he told me. He was free
to sleep for eight hours without nightmares before
the effect began to wear off. Twice or three times

a week in the studio that smelt like a sauna would not do.
He had to return dailyinquired about becoming a teacher.
Whenever his body was not stewing and stretching

anxiety would reappear. We agreed he must have overdone it.
The gripping pain kicked in as he walked down the stairs, held
the glass door for a pretty girl, then collapsed on the sidewalk.

Weary from a twelve-hour shift in General Med, but recalling
the oath I'd taken, I parked my Astra and pushed through
the crowd of yoga enthusiasts, the endorphin bliss rudely

shocked. I am a doctor (something I don't much like to say).
This brings us back to the music. If the phone hadn't been deep
in the girl's handbag, its volume increasing with each ring, if

she'd answered instantly, Jason Sidney would have died.
Neutral Milk Hotel was his brother's favourite band.
The ringtone song had seeped through the Sidney house

for weeks before the suicide. The music affected his adrenaline.
Takotsubo, the octopus trap, receded. Jason breathed. There was
    a beat
below the breastbone I'd broken. He survived. He is still alive.

This is the central poem (for me) in Amy Brown's disturbing and
enlivening book – The Odour Of Sanctity. Because I had never
heard of Jeff Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel I wondered if
perhaps she was 'making it all up.' I wondered if she was using
the lives of saints and the making of saints and the work of saints
(puzzling and intriguing manifestations of the human imagination)
to showcase a modern equivalent that could make sense of it all,
for me, at least. Just one of her readers. Not raised in the faith, but
cognisant of the phenomenon. But no, I googled, and there it all is.

I was interested to read that Jeff Mangum played a gig at the Kings
Arms Hotel in Auckland, New Zealand, and, as Amy is from New
Zealand, I wondered if perhaps she had gone along. I wondered if
that was the night the idea for this book manifested. It is a very trippy
book, it makes one wonder all sorts of things.