Poems

ten minutes

I watched the fire die out this morning

and thought of those mornings of waking early

to clean the shoes for those who slept in the house

blowing on my fingers to warm the knuckles.

I walked out of the house into the sharp cold to watch a train

move slowly

along silver frozen tracks.

It moved like steam in the mists of snow,

slowly, slowly but unstoppable.

That night, years ago, when we went to hear him sing

and he sang so well.

I’m going back to hear him sing now,

with his tired, choked throat that can never be cleared.

Ten minutes!

she called

I turned partly, nodded and turned back.

Ten minutes, ten sixty second periods.

no time at all.

How many sixty second periods in a life?

No time at all.

 

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Visions of clay and dust

At 5:03am I have visions of 5:04,

The alarm clock shines out green in the night

And someone has broken the glass behind which the electronic numbers shine

The cracks like spiderwebs, glisten

As I wait for the numbers to change.

On the St. Kilda pier yesterday

I picked up a starfish that had been left to die on a bench by a fisherman

I peeled him off the cold wood and held his sticky body

And wondered if he were alive,

Then I dropped him over the side into the black water

And he sunk slowly

Like a dream disappearing into the clouds. 

I read in the newspaper of some fool

Who broke his leg in New York 

And boasted he could drink like Ernest Hemingway

And that he sat in a bar New York the night his leg snapped

Slumped over a drink opposite David Lowy

That airplane millionaire.

At 5:03, it makes me think of money

And investing.

An oil man stands in my mind

Telling me he has been broke 4 times and is now richer than ever

“Borrow money, put it in the share market” he roars “what could go wrong?

If you should bust, go again, who cares?”

It is still 5:03. 

A woman laughs about how clever she is

Her daughter writes of the pain of love

A man with a pencil thin beard and a ludicrously large baseball cap

Is nodding silently in a bar.

I can see him from my window. 

“Borrow that money and put it all on shares” the oil man yells

“Wait outside women’s toilets and ask them to go to bed with you…”

 

Still it is 5:03 and the world is crazy.

The world is always crazy at the end of a minute.

I picture 5:04 and the peace it will bring.  

Rushing fire

Pack it away with the toys and the books,

those days of dreaming.

The dark stain on the rug pushed under an old chair

that spews dust with every pat.

A scream from under the fridge,

milk running down the door and drying in a neat puddle.

A text from a friend saying ‘don’t worry about me’

Delete

an email for a sale on now.

Light a candle and fall asleep,

wait for another hand to snuff the flame,

a lover’s hand,

the candle burns to a nub and smoke drifts gently to the ceiling

a black mark.

Remember the handshake where he held your hand too tightly, for too long

And remember the dream where standing in your backyard,

your saw a mushroom cloud rising in the south

and you pray that it is far enough away that you are not killed

by the rushing fire.

 

Apartment building on 347 Favoux Street

The clerk working in the bank

Itching his legs under the desk and getting up to go the bathroom

For the third time this hour.

He walks home after work.

It has been raining and water pools on the footpath

And drips from the shop awnings.

 

At home, he stands in his kitchen and heats up

A packet of noodles.

Outside it begins to rain again and his little window mists over.

The water boils in the saucepan slowly,

Like a bath.

 

He has talked his neighbour into going out with him.

She is a small woman, with a friendly smile.

He meets her at her front door,

She is wearing a blue dress with blue buttons

He is wearing a brown polo shirt.

He takes her to the movies.

Afterwards, they walk along the pier

And eat spiralised potatoes.

 

She tells him about her last boyfriend,

And how he drank too much

He listens with a pretend interest,

Hiding his annoyance.

Back in her apartment

She puts a movie on Netflix

And they sit down to watch for a while,

Until yawning, she asks him to come into the bedroom

And they have sex.

He leaves at two am

Feeling the dampness that the night brings

And the dampness that this kind of love brings

And he sleeps a deep sleep

That only the numb can sleep.

In the morning he wakes late and has to rush to work.

She wakes late, and not having to start work until the afternoon

She takes a bath.

She makes it as hot as she can

And watches the clouds through the skylight

And wonders what the day will bring.

Calmly she thinks about last night;

As if youth lasted forever.

City sleep

Once, when I lived in that city,

I had gone up a street I’d never been up before.

There was a stone building that looked like an old stable.

A beautiful building; a date on the front said ‘1857’.

I looked inside the open door; there were piles of cloth, paper, and metal on the floor.

All scraps pulled from the rubbish and then sorted into piles.

The ceiling had partially fallen in, and dusty light streamed in

Revealing a mirror that hung on the water-stained walls.

On a pile of cloth, lay an old man

Dead.

His old-fashioned tweed cap firmly on his head,

But something had been eating him, and his shirt had been torn away

A yellow grease had come out of him and stained the cloth he lay on.

 

Later that night, I sat outside and watched the lights of the city.

One of the hottest nights I can remember.

The heat made it hard to breathe.

And the bricks and cement around me vibrated.

The neighbours’ bins stank

And I felt unwell.

Bleak ripples

Broken on the hard timber floor,

Like the moonlight,

The glass takes a different look when it’s broken.

It becomes cold and dangerous.

The wind through a broken window is so much colder.

He had been dead three months

When I dreamed he was sending me emails.

In them he asked, pleaded

That I send him food.

If the dead returned from the grave

They would head home,

And you would find them sitting in their chairs,

With the television on,

Tears pooling and dropping from their empty eyes.

The dead long for one more day.

So it was over just like that

And the lies that came were black, hollow lies,

Lies that keep you awake at night.

The disappointment feels like cold rocks

Under your bare feet

On a midnight walk.

I had not looked at the moon for a long time,

So tonight I spent a lot of time looking at her.

Theia’s daughter

Theia

Who lost her soul

When she fell in love and gave birth one hot night-

Then died.

In the morning the sheets are pulled back

And the window, with its new glass pane, is open.

The cold air fills the room

Like the sound of the ocean.

The anger rises at unexpected results

The money, the love, the happiness

That should have been, but is not.

Completely removed from faith,

Removed from hope.

It was a small thing,

The key that opened the letterbox stopped working,

The lock would not turn

But it was enough for him to take to his wife with fists.

At night, his rage filled the street,

Her voice chilled us.

The moon is still looking down on us,

Moving our tides and creating life.

That woman who could change everyone’s minds but one, said:

Without the moon, there would be no life on earth

The moon is moving away at 4 centimetres a year,

The sun too will explode.

After she left him

She built her house on the waterfront.

Her new house was three hours south of where I lived.

I would drive there every weekend and spend the time swimming

At night I would sleep on her lounge room floor

 But then I went less and less

 I can’t remember why I stopped going.

I hate the sound of footsteps in gravel

Especially when I am in bed at night, and I hear people walking about outside.

It reminds me of neighbours coming home drunk.

I fall into restless dreams from exhaustion;

Then dreams of the dead man come back

Asking for me to send him some food.

School book room

They took down the war memorial today.

It stood in the park near the river

And the workmen removed it stone by stone.

A few people stood on the bridge and watched it come down,

I watched too. I watched an old man come out of the library

And cross the road.
He spoke to a workman in a red
hard hat

Until the workman shook his head and walked away.

I wondered what the old man said.

He wouldn’t leave,

He stood in front of the memorial and watched.

Even as I went into the library and found a seat near the front window,

He just stood in the park watching.

It reminded me of the book room at my old high school.

I used to love going in there.

It had piles of books.

All Quiet on the Western Front, the Great Gatsby,

The Red Badge of Courage, Poetry of Robert Frost,

Poetry of Wordsworth. To Kill a Mockingbird.

The books filled the shelves.
The smell of paper, the look of different covers.

There was no racism, ignorance, fear or loneliness in that room,

Those feelings were for the playground.

I took a book once because the cover had come off and

I thought they would throw it away.

I wanted it, it was The Red Badge of Courage.

A year after I left that school, someone lit a fire in that room

And burned half the school down.

That someone could set fire to that room

Shocked me.

That room where God lived.

A few years later

The school closed down.

I could take you there and show you where it stood

If you would meet me in my home town.

 

She could fit a whole egg

She could fit a whole egg,

Shell and all, in her mouth.

She bent over, leaped, kicked and danced across the stage.

The red and green lights shone across her face

And her blonde hair danced in the smokey air.

The egg stayed in her mouth,

When she smiled, her red lips pulled back over that white strangeness.

The music was too loud, I was too close to the stage.

I watched as she danced and jerked, kicked her legs high.

My mind travelled away from this dark room

To the coast, on holiday when we spent the afternoon

Walking on the sand and watching the baby climb the stones.

A drunk bumps into me and wakes me up.

He swears at me and then spits on his own shoe.

The girl, dancing, held the egg in her mouth still.

I looked around at the strange crowd, men mostly, some drunk.  

An old man and a woman were dancing in the corner to the music

The woman looked like she could do better than here.

It was a room of rejects.

A midget stood by the cigarette machine,

He wore a rubber Donald Trump mask and smoked a cigarette.

I laughed.

The woman on stage climbed a metal pole and slipped,

The egg shot from her mouth

And bounced off the stage.

The egg was made of rubber. It rolled around the ground

And knocked against my boot.

No one seemed to notice.

A thin man, who smelled like sweat

Ran up to me and whispered

Where is the egg?

I pointed to the ground.

The thin man bent down, picked it up and threw it back to the woman,

Who put it back in her mouth.

I left that sad room and stood on the street,

The keen neon lights burned red like fires,

One neon light was the image of a naked woman

And the traffic shot along the road, in a city cold and without compassion for life.

washing day

Fabric softener destroys the machine,

The machine that spits out wet clothes, half clean.

 

The clothes that dry so quickly in summer,

Under that cancer giving sun

 

Hang soggy on the stretched line and grasp at the grass

That has turned a peculiar sickening brown.

 

Walking out on that winter day

To get away from the smell of clothes

 

I see a man come out of a café

With a face wrinkled so badly, that his eyes are invisible.

 

He looks at me as if he knows me,

I look at him, but look away.

 

It’s so cold, I step into a supermarket

And pick up a basket and walk the isles.

 

The old man with the brown folded face is there too,

He walks toward me, then steps aside at the last moment.

 

The bright shopping centre lights

The old hard bread; the pink deli meat makes me tired.

 

I walk home as the dark evening falls

And I know the clothes on the line will still be wet.

God in a bottle

 

Robert did not know much about God

But at 16 his father was shot in front of him.

Standing out the front of his house,

He watched the murderer,

A tall man,

Wipe his father’s blood from his face,

The sun shining from his black curly hair.

 

 

Robert sat in the carpark at 23

In the driver’s seat of his car

And thought about his father’s last breath.

His girlfriend climbed in beside him, and she smiled,

The white of her teeth and the warm sun from her eyes

Made him feel whole again.

 

He still did not know much about God at 31

But looking at the red neon

He thought he could see an angel

Moving about on the shopping centre’s cold steel roof,

And he dreamed of what his baby might be.

 

At 45, God was only a small thought in his mind,

As he sat in a bar and thought about Mary

Who danced there after 7 pm.

He looked at his watch and it was only 4 pm

And felt annoyed at how slow the days went.

 

At 60 Robert sat in the Church and prayed.

The Church was cold, but warmer than the street.

Last night, at 3 am, as he slept on the steps of a men’s clothing store,

Someone broke a bottle near his head.

As he opened two sore, sticky eyes

He watched the lights of the city twinkle in the crystal shards.