Take short views of life – never further than dinner or tea.
– Rev. Sydney Smith
Press on, through the delicate day of your ritual reality:
the flags on the line, the forks in the drawer, the filial clichés
calling from coat-hangers on the back of the laundry door.
The verdict is hung from every angle, every peg: the leg
in the pantry, the salt in the pig. You endeavour to weigh all
these things up correctly, to provide due process for produce
in season, but feel disconnected to the whole domestic realm.
The fax is frantic, the telephone calls, the stove bell tolls for
you alone, so fill your lungs with suburban air and press on.
Yes, guide your hands to your father’s piano, and give them
up gently to familiar chords: raise your eyes to the long light
ahead, and press on. Though the heart has atrophied and the
numberless moments you thought you possessed have gone:
through the catacombs of conscience, the dreamless dawn
and the unfinished night filled with silent guests, press on.
The poem is the boat, dictated by God, in strict
Old Testament terms. The ship-builder Noah
raises her pen, and copies by rote in the face of
the Flood its stern verse: Make thee a poem
of beautiful words, and rhymes shalt thou place
in the poem. Take to the poem every kind of
verb, and nouns and adjectives, line by line, and
make the poem short, and make the poem long
and make sure the poem can float. And create
thee a window in every page, for the reader to
look out on the world. And create thee a door
for the reader to open when the world does
not want her anymore. Thus it came to pass
Noah built her boat in the shape that God had
intended. She first sent the raven, and then sent
the dove, to test that the poem was filled with
love. And God was not angry, and the reader
not hungry, for the poem, at last, was complete.
How I spent the Night, in Twenty Lines or Less
for Debra Hewitt
I ran Rafter and Agassi fifth set seven times
and watched the ball fall on its face at the net.
I played Barenboim play Beethoven’s second
last sonata until the sounds parted into silence.
I burned incense hand made and blessed in
Tibet and breathed in the Holy One’s breath.
I read Rilke in particular at least thirteen times
the bit where he reckons No One Can Help.
I kicked quarters of valium down with a
vengeance and threw all my powers up hourly.
I ate herbs from the garden like a dog on my
knees and prayed to the thyme and to parsley.
I howled to the moon even though there was
not one and heard others like me howl also.
I fell through new doorways that weren’t there
before. I’m sure they weren’t there. I swear
with my hand on the Buddha’s bent back they
weren’t there before, they were walls. I never
slept once and I wasn’t ever missed and I didn’t
see Alien but I bet it went something like this.
Loving at the Ending of the World
for Ian McBryde
Love, the horizon is changing, and the surface
we stand on sinks slightly as the warm air rises.
A fog of silence surrounds the world, the odd
hole sucking the words right out of our mouths.
Love, we speak with our fingers, to protect the
language from mismanagement and overuse:
officially endangered, it will soon be forgotten
a species gone mute at its own pending extinction.
Love, we hold confessions, statements, admissions
promises, whole paragraphs close to our hearts.
Our minds wrap themselves around remaining
phrases as we whisper our pledge, never to forget.
Love, the dialogue weeps as it breaks into parts
sentence by sentence, clause by clause, right
down to the final letter. Entire volumes reduce
to soft ash which blows away on our breath.
Love, a poem loses its ink in the gutter, its life-
blood swirling in circles at our feet. The unread
script washes slowly somewhere, erased from all
memory: that poem will never be written again.
Love, the horizon lies on a very strange angle, and
millions have lost their tongues. The words I love
you cost more than we have, but we spend them
anyway, leaning, leaning, into the sun’s bright wind.
The Body Desires to Recover Its Soul
What, oh what would have to happen to me so that I may feel it?
– Rainer Maria Rilke
for Terry Jaensch
The body desires to recover its soul when
separated thus like a child from its mother
with miles and miles of silence between
it calls and it calls and then curdles its cry
to listen for a moment in case it’s been
heard, and starts up again when it knows
she will never return. The body desires to
recover its soul when split like a refugee
from her home country it walks and it walks
over barbed-wire acres with nothing but
memories and hope on its feet. The body
desires to recover its soul like the cup for
the saucer, like summer for heat, like a
dream for its dreamer all lost in the war
games of sleep. The body has tears and it
weeps and it weeps, for the soul has gone
missing, and it won’t be retracing its last
footfalls back: it will not be coming back.
From a new collection, The Fall, due out early next year. Previously published in print are: How I Spent the Night, in Twenty Lines or Less – Island, Jones Av. (Canada); Loving at the Ending of the World – Jones Av. (Canada); Press On – The Age.