Rowan Hagen

12 Poems

The Witness

The ancient regime collapses,
tattered sackcloth, ashes
and timber beams splintering,
hollowed by years of white ants
and despair.

Explosives fold the stone walls,
they dissolve into an estate
of broken bricks and mortar,
dust rises like smoke
over the gray field that remains.

And I, Mona Lisa-like, sit,
my hands folded in my lap.

Shattered windows stare blindly
at decapitated buildings.
Stripped of their leaves
raw limbs shiver in the wind.

Pack rats have eyes for smaller beings
more easily managed, loot for fast money.

And I, Mona Lisa-like, sit,
my hands folded in my lap.

Gratefully the picture tube implodes,
releasing its prisoners from
the endless assault of images,
the onslaught of sound,
into quiet oblivion.

Soon a larger fish will consume its predecessor,
stronger doses will be needed to combat the disease.
As one wall is dismantled, another crumbles to rust,
News and Entertainment will record its demise.

While I, Mona Lisa-like, sit
my hands folded in my lap.

(November, 1991)

Ginsberg and Glass

at the centre of the universe
the navel of the world
it is quiet twilight
neighbours are rattling
pans in their kitchen
talking loudly out of windows
inside piano arpeggio
Glass on the stereo
Dylan on the floor
beside me looking up
to the window
slamming and shuffling
from next door
the chaos of the periphery
does not disturb
these tranquil notes
that still the air
here at the centre
of the universe
the face of a crazy
poet gazing out
from a book cover
and all is still
here at the navel
of the world
where thoughts are born
where they in time
into the purity
of piano notes
the crickets‘ song
the still air

(January 11th 1996)

Curriculum Vitae

my life has been a light a lie a distant whisper
disintegrating echoes of silent particles
another strand of DNA unraveling
the parts greater than the whole
undecided tentative hurled
from invisible heights
stranded on this archipelago of fragmented floes
blindly bumping their existence in this senseless ocean
described and defined and divided by words
obliterated by thought slain by superlatives
the axe of rationality when we breathe
we breath only sunlight all the rest
is verbiage all the rest overkill
Our lives are lights are lies are silent screams
distance and magnitude hold us in dismay
consume us the jaws of denial
that we (I) you (me) could be
reduced to oblivion
only distance and magnitude fill us
gently transport us through the
shadowplay of star fire and dark matter
galaxies of molecules releasing our passions
this theatre exists no more now
we are empty space we are
distance and magnitude
the words of reversal
the silence of light

(30th November 1995)


people come pouring out
of buildings pour out
over highways in cars
the broken hydrant
floods the footpath
washing away the traces
of their thunder

people come pouring
out of nowhere
clouds become rain
tears turn to mist
then suddenly it’s over

people come pouring out
of bottles cartons cans
come spilling out of plastic
containers strewn by roadsides
come rushing through storm
water channels over the edge
of a weary dam

the towering buildings and
banks have burst people
come pouring out on surfboards
clinging to the Styrofoam
boxes that held their lunch
treading water on asphalt
till the lights change and wash
away the shrouds and paper
wrappings of their grief

caskets come pouring down
the sewer’s tide where
the tunnel meets the ocean
and it’s over

(January 4th, 1996)

Kiss of the Spider Woman

She comes to take hold
and let go, emerging
from droplets on invisible threads
when the world becomes mist
and mist overtakes it.
And we two are left stranded
between disbelief and sleep
on this distant atoll.
Imprisoned by conviction
and fantasy, we merge stories,
the wind will disperse them.
Mothers lift bedcovers,
lower blinds, moonlight
a blue shadow on soft-breathing walls.
And the kiss of the Spider Woman
will take our last thoughts tonight,
until we wake to a pale sky
when the world becomes light
and light animates it.
These are moments
between prayer and forgetfulness,
the dawn hour grey with doubt.
Our waking breath evenly rises
from stillness to wind-stung water
where waves harsh with salt
roll fragments of sunlight
to a dune-shadowed shore.
Prayer-beads scatter on sand,
the relics of saints lie
obscured by broken shells
and strands of twisted seaweed.
Their faces blur behind wet glass
as the sun dissolves
their misted breath.


Beneath the morning sky
icons fade in gilded frames,
erased by veneration
like vanishing stars.

Even unsheeted mirrors
will not acknowledge them.

Bright air absorbs
their final traces,
let us forget.

Fine blades deftly
cut the thread, we flinch
from the bite of steel
as we shudder and dance
to the drum-roll of gunfire,
shadows in the haze
of grit, lust and terror
raised by target-bombing.

They flee before the shifting
red line of encroachment.

We who remain
hear helicopters,
black wing-beats
bring nightfall
to our eyes.

Let us forget.

Fingers gently
lift the head,
we wake to see our own eyes
gazing from the quiet face
concealed behind our
fragmentary lives.

She comes to take hold and let go,
one sharp intake of breath
and the pain is over.
The kiss of the Spider Woman
will erase the aching
the moments of terror
the mute fear of death.

Starlight her witness
in boundless space,
a timeless womb
where once-estranged lovers wait,
their lives and deaths a kiss
of recognition and parting.

And we too are left, alone
on this unknown atoll, a web
of light in a sea of viridian.
Our lips touch as the last scene fades
and fine threads will softly
embrace it


Ideas like comets come and go
and are lost for a lifetime.

Specks of dust that were stars
float in the sunlight before my window.

There are night-lights, twinkling in hills
thought to be uninhabited, glowing lianas
in jungles, frosted constellations
that glitter on the edges
of shapeless continents.

For whose benefit is
this breath-taking display?

Telescopes reveal only the slow undulations
of distant nebulae, the inner chamber
of soundless eternity.

Ideas like falling stars flare and plummet
and are gone before one can attract
the attention of bystanders.

They remain unaware
that someone close at hand now bears
one more glimmering fraction of light
on the mind’s invisible coastline.


I am the dark angel
with soft wings.
I invisibly land
on your shoulder.
My call is a high
lilting drone, making
stars glow as it weaves
its way round
the hollow stones
of space, the white noise
of quasars and sleeping giants.
sentinels at the gate
of my blind hinterland
that was once called
And I wait
on your shoulder,
your light
sable lover.

First published in Navigations Issue 3 Summer 1994


I am Nona,
There is no-one
at home.

Nona – me,
no name at all,
no-one to be
or become.

Anonymous, quite
beyond recognition.

The mass grave,
the final communion
between strangers.

When body language
is stilled.
in silent discourse
we intertwine,

slowly fall together
at last,
that intimacy
none can disturb.

Breathing in time,
inhaling earth
and darkness, we settle

through decades of sleep,
our bones relaxing
in unspoken trust

where no-one can find us,
no word to define us,
no name at all.

Anonymous, quite
beyond resurrection.


The past dissolves
into today, and I

stand at the window,
invisible eyes behind
framed glass.

The world perceives
only its own passing,
it’s busy, and I

am Nona,
there’s no place
to go and I
am alone.

(May 1, 1994)

Fields of Mars

So the angel consoled
the weeping charioteer:
„Out of your sorrows
distill a victory.“

„Out of the silent devastation,
do not linger to mourn
among the helmets of the fallen,
day and night will release them.
Only large, extinct creatures
have time-lapse perception of this.

„Once a bolt of blazing light
consumed a forest entire
in the eastern regions of a mighty land ,
while all the king’s horses and men
were fighting to contain its
fragmented and contending parts.
So swift, that only slow
and credulous peasants remember.

While the educated hordes
rushed into a century
as if a new emporium
had opened its doors.

Armies of new and old creeds
fired at each other through
the portals and the ramparts
of silent architecture.
Printed tracts infiltrated
the workplace, private screens
surveyed production lines
from hidden rooms.

Some faded like moths
into that dazzling eye,
others dissolved slowly
on racks of packaged goods
and rows of processed evils,
many dissolved in empty vats
of liquid dreams.


„Eventually we all dream
our last dream, undertake
to cross that field,
and then the contents
of the cauldron will cease
its restless churning.

The aeon will transmute it,
printed still of ancient engravings
give graphic descriptions of this.

„Go forth, Charioteer,
these images of anguish
are flickering shadows
on a back-drop of space,
like the grey clouds gathered
over the battlefield today.

As armies pour like lava
from the lead-walled cauldron,
each exploding shell
will release a galaxy.
Another generation of gods
will resonate chorus to this.

The angel vanished,
a fragrance of lilies strayed
through tear-gas, then
the lightning.

Death Road

Run over, left next
to a take-away bag
crumpled in the gutter.
Covered in soot
from exhaust fumes
antiques lie forgotten
in windows, squeezed
between the bumper bars
of the used-car sales yard.
and the hock shop front
hoarded over like a brothel.
Motor bikes gleam in formation
tied by chains to the kerb.
Stuffed backpacks dangle
over the doorway of the
disposal store, khaki coffins
spread over the pavement,
opened to display
their full capacity.

Weeping Mary carries
the body of her Son
across the busy road.
passers-by look away,

embarrassed, the shops
are closing in five minutes,
the kids are waiting at home
there are things to do.
And after all
this is not Via Dolorosa,
but Albany Highway.

The supermarket car-park stretches
like a desert for a whole block.
Its marked rows empty as
the sun sets, the last shoppers
emerge from swinging doors,
loading white body-bags
into open boots.

(Easter, 1992)
First published in The Broadsheet, June 1992

In the Grip of Death/Life/Love

Hands held violently
against words
that mean nothing.

The voice of the
common good
kills us

Slippery blood-
stained hands
strain to keep

from leaving
each other

for our lives
against words
that mean nothing.

(October 21st, 1995)

Remnants/ Revenants

This is then the lonely severance,
the last things packaged and left
in an empty hall; in the morning
couriers will take them away.

These are the things we take
the things we leave behind.

This is then the enforced dispersal,
when blood becomes history, and life
a flurry of images caught on film,
heartbeats moving like targets
across the moving screen,
over and over until the last
sight is mist moving over
the final mountain.

the things we take
and what we leave behind.

This is the in-breath
and the out-breath, taking
and giving that which knows
neither ownership or bestowal.
These are the packages of emptiness
left on the pavement for charity
or junkyard heaven where they know
the value of nothing and the price
of the ten thousand things

that we take
and leave behind
the final mountain.

(Tibetan New Year, 1996)


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