Stephen Oliver



Such forests strewn over Poland! wintry
sticks. And snow. These things I have not seen.
The indigene tells of this; those blackened
things caught between – like birch trunks, heavy
coated soldiers over drift – deepening loss.


Every night it is the same, greenly spun
in the iced-cube light of skyscrapers, the Master
Chef dreams he is pitched from the highest
viewing deck in all the world: Grollo Tower,
down through boiling mist into the river Yarra.


July is the coldest month; odours freeze
on the air, vowels solid as hail-stones can slip
centimetres off the tongue in the mouth’s
burrow. Somebody is pierced by silence as with a
bayonet, there! standing hard by the tumulus.


Snow bound, snow blind, the sleety night,
road signs indicate left or right are one breath.
Rocket mist settles over Lake Baikal –
the forecast promises another successful launch;
tomorrow, we extend our sight further yet.


Nostalgia killed her, my mother, for the
Ireland she’d never seen – that, and the harsh
realities of family; a catholic cocktail, why
it sheered off into a broken dream, drunkenness,
children become Priests of the Pragmatic.


Which way the thylacine: Tasmanian
tiger, Woodgate tiger, Ozenkadnook tiger, or
Cape Tribulation tiger? Whichever way, a
repeatedly brutish people; enthusiastic
practitioners of genocide and land degradation.


The origami enfolded flight of the
white dove in a high wind sheltered – say,
in a blue light downwardly, did not pass
over Luxor where 68 people lay slaughtered by
the imperishable Hatshepuscut Temple.


Like little planes to wing-tipped stars,
bladed lightning? Accordingly, whatever way
realities leak, over or under, quantum
computation theorists are by far too
obviously omniscient to see death as final.


You and me and sun on the roof caught
up in the stridulations of greengrocers, red-eyes,
black princes and double-drummers, from
suburban shires to watery reaches; tinder-dry
excitement before a bravura of bushfires.


A moon, bushfire red, debouches its
nightly flood over the slaughterhouse camps;
in Rwanda they kill, then kill some more
to call up the ghosts yet the ghosts won’t come
as they dance and dance by the machete light.


Childhood follows its lengthening path
from A to B by way of elongated incident –
down countryside measured between small towns:
sheep stuck to hills like balls of tallow,
cloch of river-stone under one-way bridges.


Those passing sad and long stories over
the geology of America, in time and out, from
state-to-state; family, the album and attic:
finally, on the road in pursuit of that dream,
away from the clapboard and back again.


Flat as a postage stamp? Weather shall
age her through sandstone, back through time
older than any dream-tale yet untold:
And rightly too claimed thus for all her mineral
worth, lest we forget, call her Brownland.


Southern Ocean at 60º south, 100º east;
ice-chambered blue, a deep radium allure.
Brash ice, weathered and glacial, herded by those
thousand-year, kilometred, tabular bergs:
(sérac) the busted teeth of Antarctic Peninsula.


This mountainous static heard at far
remove is tall sounding rain though conifer
soft (through time and space sifted) from
Mount Stromlo, by way of stars, in hands held
open and sensitive as a satellite dish.


[A number of the poems from Occupations first appeared in Time’s Collision With The Tongue / The Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology 2000.]

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