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Poetry Readings

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Article Index
Selected Poetry
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Blue Swimmers

In the periphery
of your sight
I let the light play
dappled tunes of green
over my bare skin.
There is
a scent of moss,
and mountain water
falling, gathering
rainbows in its wake.
I dive in
past its pounding
to the deep
silent infusion of rainforest
to the union of
two blue
swimmer crayfish
at the bottom of the pool

remembering you
standing at the edge

rippling in waves
of water and sunlight

bending down to feel
how cool moist is

and I call your name

Crossing the River

"In the end we called the padre over across the river and received his goods. He brought machetes and clothes and sweets. We tried to sow the sweets like seeds but of course they never grew.’" -Tarzan, an Amazonian Harakmbut elder.

He is crossing the dark whispering
river, dividing it like Moses
with the hem of his irritating

woollen robes, dispossessed
and dank as the forest
that God commands, let light

in. To their shadow box hearts, promise
paradise. Undo the vines
they weave, pluck out their demonised

ways, give them mirrors and iron
rooves and powdered milk,
rake their jungle paths into straight lines.

Give the bare breasted women silk.
Woo them from the moon
with bangles and baubles and plastic bags filled

to the brim with white flour, sugar and spoons.
Build a church. Let their hymns drown
out the wild. Let them learn the value of rooms.

Mosquito clouds taunt his sweat soaked brow
as he reaches the other shore
and with the sign of a cross he marks their feather crowns.

They took the cellophane wrapped sweets in awe.
He felt their loss of innocence like a noose
around his neck, the light in their eyes drawing

him in. Light as the chlorophylled air. He loosened
the cord around his waist. Followed them. Their forest 
a New World flecked with a parrot’s turquoise wings, a portent

held in the sleepy gaze of a sloth. Beside the place a leopard rested
he left barefoot prints and where a snake shed its skin
he also left his.

In the Morning

"What has befallen you?" Abu’l Ashhab Sa’ih asked the lamenting woman, "the grief that fills your voice prevents me from hearing the pilgrims chanting as they circle the Black Stone." "I have lost the heart I once had," she replied, "for He is a tree whose planting is bitter, but whose fruit is sweet."

How many?
Only four stairs.
I fell in a tangle
of two metre scarf

they go with roses
through alleys of pilgrims
to the dargah
whose lights play flick
at the window 
of the little room
where I stay
with an elevated ankle
swelling
the hum of mosquitoes
thrumming my sleep
till

she comes
again,
in the morning
sifting
lime over
sewer streets

while at the water’s
edge on shining rock
a dhobi beats my
clothes.

Crows flap black shadows
over the smoked air
that clings to bleached bones
and the shriveled skins of dogs
while I breakfast on
boiled eggs and white toast
to the cook’s slap
of chapatti dough,
a baby’s cry
and creaks of the haveli door.

The Qwali musicians return
from a night’s ghazals
with pocketfuls of alms
and parched throats.
They smoke bidis and strip to their dhotis,
pull water from the courtyard well.

Between each inhale of cloved smoke
a trace of you, Ya Sheikh, distills my breath
- in the middle of my plate
I resurrect the shape of a nest
from eggshells -
as I wait
for your door
to open.

I know you are there 
the scent of rose absolute
petals the air whenever you press
drops between your palms and I know
you did not sleep.

In my dream you held a spoon to my lips,
said swallow this. I wanted to run.
You said no,
when you drink bitterness
you drink the crescent moon

Shengxiu’s Mirror Koan

I have dust on my mirror,
that’s what Shengxiu said,
the umber dust of mountains
the grit of gravel.

I see myself brown eyed, purse lipped
the small veins on hands that have gripped
for too long at the hidden meaning of things
the face of my mother, the shake of her head.
My face
before I was born.

I have painted my toe nails red
in defiance of  unknown rooms
where empty canvases lie,
the invisible ink of
age and sour breath.

My answer -
to paint the day
when my hands are marbled
with purple veins and shake,
even as they caress the body
I will no longer care to own.

Tears of Still Life

For Gustayo de Maeztuy Whitney’s Model

You left with your palette.

Beside the ash and wine spills
your crusted ultramarines and cool
yellows swirl into the pool
of your last brushstroke
that broke
the shadow of her hips.

Behind your easel
clouds gather
in a smokestack sky.                   
As I move, they move about
this small room of paint
and broken chairs,
pools of  turpentine.

There is no landscape
only the memory of your arm
moving,
tracing shapes of colour.
You made light and dark of me
as you finished
the face.

My painter, you
sipped from a clay cup
and dressed me
in a red fringed shawl
that fell like oil
across my breasts.

I was your muse.
But reclining there
on a canvas of Galician moss
is a stranger
who looks back at me
with dark eyes.

O Cebreiro

Where summer sun is liquid
enough
to pour into my cup.

Where cows curdle their milk
and low,
slathers of soft cheese
onto sourdough bread.

O Cebreiro

At the centre of a blue blue sky
I climb your rolling back,
crush yellow gorse
and mint.

I  inhale you

O Cebreiro

Harps, pipes and tin drums
wake up your Celtic ghosts.
In the darkness of your thatched hair
They’d slept.                  

Shepherds bring
sprigs of purple wild flower
for your lap, mud-caked shoes
they leave at the chapel door.

O Virgen del Milagro

In your blue cape and silver lace
one hundred candlelit offerings
glow on a widow’s wedding ring -
a gift too loose for you.

We fervently pray to you
- the priest eats the wafer -
for fields of ripe corn                          
and a litter of  piglets.                          

O Virgen

Quench me, when I turn
from your eyes,
with all the stars that shine
on your Milky Way.

Stumbling blind into the dawn
incline your head my way,
O Virgen, and stave winter’s snow
for my return.

O Cebreiro 

The mountain pass of O Cebreiro is  the gateway to Galicia in Northern Spain and has long given refuge to pilgrims on their journey to Santiago de Compostela. There is a 14th century legend here that tells of consecrated bread and wine turning into flesh and blood whereupon the statue of the Virgen del Milagro inclined her head to better view this miracle.


 

The Running of the Bulls

My beating heart                                              
is no help to yours
held firm
by a cobbled street
where tobacco and wine bottles
gather dust in a shop window.

Dappled morning
ashen shadow
an angel on the medic’s back
waits for a breath
as each pound in your chest
shakes heaven’s gates.

Again the medic presses
and again,
I watch
your smooth skin
turn from olive
to the shade of twilight.

Your shoes, soft oiled leather
take steps into the air
to the right and left, again
with each pulmonary assault
that insists, old man
you will live.

Your wife will be waking
and the bulls turning sand
to clouds, for they will run
madly through the streets
- where you lived -
swept with dreams.

Another season
of flowers. Buds spill
from windowboxes,
paint peels from shutters.
I don’t know your name
Old man

Still the angel
holds his breath.
and I take one,
it trembles in my lungs
I turn the way
morning comes.

Against a tide
of pilgrims, resolute
walking by
I can feel again the tight grasp
of my father’s hand
before he died.

Day spills light
into my moving
breaks my memory.
I tie my shoelaces
and join the path again
to the wineshop on the corner.

Where bloodstained prints
Tread crimson flowers

In the Garden of Martyrs, Esfahan

She licks the knife clean
of cherry jam,
dabs her lips with a tissue,
leaves an etching of 
unmouthed words.

She lifts the hem
of her chador
and taps
a wooden leg. ‘Sadaam,’
she knocks again
and pinches her nostrils.

‘Poison bomb
bomb’ she says
‘I was three.’

for eighteen years
her mourning strung
between skeletal walls
hard as adobe

the clay scent of a whole
village bleached
from her mind

that chemical mist falling
into desert air
raining still in her sleep

The sound of dust when it settles.
She fills my cup.
Stirs.
Flakes of coconut sugar
dissolve in my tea.
She offers me cardamon sweets,
Iran Iraq Iran Iraq.

Down each row of chiselled prayer
the stare of young sepia eyes.
We wait with them
for the washing
of tombs;
the scent of rosewater.

I step between marble shrines
onto small stones
only small stones are left
to be swept by mothers,
sisters, daughters, wives.

I step into
the echo of a dome,
that pours an earthen light
into the hollow notes
of her limp
until she is gone.

Crumble and Tea

I sit opposite my mother
on her velvet couch   
watching
the way
her chin disappears
into her neck and her neck
into heaving breasts, for air
and more of me.
Out, through a hatch of sliding
screen I glimpse the last
of a late winter sun;
bulrushes turned to burnt sienna
and a wood duck to amber green.

The fluorescent lamp
stutters
then hums. 
Mum rubs cream
into her rheumatic fingers.
For the third time today.
In her kitchen I rub outdated
margarine into oats and sugar
to crumble over
the hard flesh
of Bosch pears
and over ripe
strawberries.

pink steam shouts out
from her fan forced oven.

We eat on our laps.
I wipe whipped cream
from the corner of my mouth
and watch the crumbs
that drop from hers.
From tannin
ringed cups we
sip tea tainted by long-life milk
she says
is as good as the real thing;
as mother's milk? I want to say
but instead, ‘Mum, careful
don't burn yourself.’

I burn my tongue instead
I burn from the inside out
watching her rise to take
my plate. Her knees shake
at the weight of a world
reduced to this.

and I cannot rescue
her falling knife

War Baby

Shape of a wedding
gift teapot,
a silver spout flared
indent in their wall.

My mother
sponges the roses of their carpet;
wrings dry the towel,
picks up the pot
she threw, coos
to him as she pours
a fresh cup,
dries her bone china cheeks.

He hears, beneath
the slide of her
satin slip,
a wailing at the wharf and
an offshore wind rattling the cracked
window pane of their second floor room

tomorrow my father will go to sea

Her quivered breath
and eyes, lids like tea leaves floating,
colliding with him in the dark.
And he is slightly stirred
by the touch of her skin,
her string of smooth white pearls.
A beauty queen left high and dry
with an embryo.

tomorrow my father goes to sea

I swim with strange webbed limbs
while she sleeps. A continual collision.  
Her sleepwalking through silent
shipwrecked men, spears
me with question marks; birthmarks
corrugate my skin, catapult
me in to a neon lit world spilled
from thrown things.

tomorrow my father comes home

His whiskey breath
his stubbled chin,
the clean starched pleats of his officer shorts
the stethoscope around his neck
- he knows everything
he knows heartbeats -

and she wears Chanel no 5.
For the first time she coos
in my ear, then calls to him
from her emptied womb
night at the bottom of the stairs,
like a siren
singing from an ocean floor.

8 Summer Haiku

rain pool
in a curl of ironbark
circling ant

camphor leaves dipping
into muddied water
Chinese whispering

little tortoise
swimming upstream
going backwards

rainsoaked riverbank
the sound of the wind
a pillow for my head

empty lead tethered to
to a moulting paperbark
he wags his tail

shadows of crimson grass
falling on sandhills
black ants scurry home

oyster shells at low tide
on the river bank
seed pods burst open

blue sky ripples
in a rock pool
one star fish inches in

Evening Shift

When you were coastguard
I would visit you
with scones and tea

as the gates closed
and the beacon
poured out to sea
in slow circles

we would wind
our way
up the cool iron stairs
to first landing

dropping the anchors
of our day
we’d turn warm
upon the marble floor

we’d cast a net
of soft murmuring
out to the indigo deep
and catch the milk of stars

still and white
stood the lighthouse
as tall ships sailed
by the compass of our embrace

Belongil's Mouth

Shy birds come
to drink,
where I float
in the shade of tea trees.
Taste of salt

crystals dry translucent
in the tracks
little terns make
between the fence, my body
and a tidal world.