Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It's the last day of everything

It’s the last day of everything
Summer has crept out the back door
Words taste salty on my tongue

The baby has woken a song
His hands found the words hiding
in their shape like a diamond

In the sky light is fleeting shadows pass
Laundry flaps on the line the end
Of the world and nothing is dry

Now I think about it nothing
Ever dried not completely you
Can’t enter the sleeve for dampness

The time for drying is done
In this peeling wooden house at
The fierce edge of disappointment

Things that will not end well include
The unrisen cake the fridge left open
This mineral poem

Words taste salty on my tongue
It’s the last day of everything
I don’t know what memory is for

Monday, January 30, 2012

the silk of sisters

everything fragile
and the mirror is the world
this is the fairytale
I never told you
and it is coming true
the pride, the fall
the sideways sweep
see how it frames you?
your eyes haunt your face

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dromana Poems

Rickets Point Arthur Streeton, 1890

sea gull

glooming algae

storm carry


shimmer light
heat glaze
long shallow deep

ghost ship
making waves

look what
wash up

two daughter
one son

one man
far out

sun set pastiche
80s retro

late night

one house
up lit
late night
big shed
kid red

young man
out with friends
no ID

foreshore fireworks
city sky falling

us out
streets store
tomorrow’s heat

We had a night in Dromana at my sister-in-law's husband's family's holiday house. The painting above is actually Beaumaris, not Dromana, but looking out at the hazy heat this morning, Streeton's paintings were in my head.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The BFFs hit their late 30s

For Z
She lives on the island
of our shared childhood
Something is making her sad
She's been brained
By the gods of trouble

An ocean is not impossible
We could go for gold
In the telephone olympics

If days were dealt
Like hands of cards
I used to get
A royal flush of her

Now she draws
A two of kids (and me a three)
There's hearts and spades
(labour, love)
Not many diamonds between us

And now she's clubbed
Oh gods of chemical sadness
Watch out
My voice is in her head too

Friday, January 27, 2012


for Kelly Gardiner
A clutch of rhubarb, pale green, rose blush.
Heirloom: divided from her uncle’s crown
And dispersed among the family, now grown
In this garden plot, so green and lush.
The bush, the river. Summer’s fertile hush.
We drank coffee, talked of writing, and now
She cuts me several stalks to carry down
To where the car is parked. There is no rush.

The vegetable bouquet fills my front seat.
I take it home and cook it, soft and sweet,
In the cast iron pot that was my mum’s.
Perhaps the bub will have this as a treat
Or it could be a foil to fatty meat
Look how dark and deep the colour runs.

The evening holds the heat, I sweat and stir,
And think of the mild morning spent with her.

So, in the fourteenth century the seeds
Were worth far more than opium, it’s said,
Indeed a potent drug from what I’ve read
It cured fevers, plagues and serviced other needs.
In the early eighteen hundreds close to Leeds
An apothecary finally got ahead
By learning how to grow it in a shed
Now rhubarb grows as easily as weeds.

They used as you’d expect good horse manure
“Night soil” was also merde du jour.
Let’s move on! And turn to other art
Now sugar was more readily procured
A recipe from sources quite obscure
Says cook it as one would a gooseberry tart.

In my dad’s wartime town a household tried
To stew, like chard, the leaves. They sadly died.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Let them come: an Aussie "bush" ballad for Australia Day

Inspired by Firstdog

There's a small wooden boat that is barely afloat
On an ocean of sorrow and dreams.
While Australians vote, the PM clears her throat
And hope comes apart at the seams.

They will never arrive, neither dead nor alive,
If our politics bring them undone.
Let their dreaming survive, let their drowned one's revive,
Let them come, oh let them all come!

The borders aren't there, it's just water and air,
And land, water, air should be free.
There's plenty to share in this place "rich and rare",
And after all, we all came here by sea.

So let that boat reach us, let us learn what they'll teach us,
Let them come, oh please let them come.
And when they beseech us, let's not give them speeches,
Let us take them, let's take every one.

Yes we'll pack up the lies, let ourselves recognise
Our own selves in the depths of their faces.
In welcoming skies let a blue flag arise:
Shelter here, in our wide open spaces.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


It’s a city, it’s an island, this girl is looking for her cat.
She’s also being haunted, I should probably mention that.
A girl she knew in high school, but didn’t know that well
It’s all a kind of metaphor for some kinda sorta hell
I think she’s got a boyfriend, in fact they share a flat.
But mostly what she’s doing is she’s looking for her cat.

A poem by Una

On Your Own
A girl plays softly on the piano
Nobody’s around
And everybody’s out of harm
The light shines on to the painting
As you look at it and stare
The painting makes you feel calm
The sunlight shines in the painting
You can almost see it move
As you look at her
She’s concentrating
She doesn’t know she’s being painted
She plays as the birds fly around

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

the long-dead artist's widow

For Daphne
We’re here to take the children that your husband made of light,
Every brave and dancing dazzle a strike against the dark.
Here – a boy emerges from the shadows in the park,
And here a girl leans over, in lemon sun, to write.

These children have been pressed together, hidden out of sight,
We weigh them up and balance them, beauty strange and stark,
Every brave and dancing dazzle a strike against the dark,
We’re here to take the children that your husband made of light.

We’ll hang them in the lounge room, or the hallway where it’s bright,
They’ll live in our whole vision, every glimmer, every spark.
We’ll visit with our infant son your place of mud and bark
We’ll tap on glass, and peer inside: you’re sturdy, but you’re slight.
We’re here to take the children that your husband made of light.

Today Martin and I did a wonderful and strangely poignant thing, we went to visit his Great Aunt whose husband was a wonderful artist in the post-war years and came home with six paintings and two sketches after sorting through, oh, hundreds with all the sketches. It was amazing looking through the work, selecting which ones we wanted to keep - a once in a lifetime opportunity. I love that they are all of children of varying ages (the one in "lemon light" is a very young grown up), and they all suggest inner-reflection, a depth of experience that the artist respectfully observes from a distance, without intrusion. She lives in a mudbrick house in Wandin that her husband and his brother (also a painter) built soon after WW2. A magical place. It is some many years since David died, and Daphne recently decided she would rather give the paintings to family who know and care about the subjects in the painting (mostly their five children) than try and sell them.

Monday, January 23, 2012

We enter the green forests where treeferns

We enter the green forests where treeferns unfurl secret desire – long of tongue. Lichen scales a Mountain Ash like second skin.
Valleys plunge and mountains swell.
Cicadas scream: warn us that we will be lost.
We are lost, we are travelling into the past, a little faster than walking pace.
We are looking for ourselves waving at crossroads. We lean out, we wave, we are looking.
There’s someone at a back fence, their garden grows towards us, three grown ladies: a triptych of daughter, mother, grandmother.
They solemnly wave. Is that us, I wonder, waving frantically, is that us? Which one am I?
I am still waving, though the train’s long gone. I go inside with my mother, with my daughter and pour each of us a cup of amber tea, leaves drift below the surface.
The forest is still growing. I can hear it from my kitchen. The whispering of stringybark, the throaty husk of fernsong. I have forgotten to tell you about the birds.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Villanelle for an outer suburb

From outside there drifts the sound of hens,
The tv in the lounge room murmurs on,
And at the edge of things the light descends.

The next-door neighbours entertain their friends
In the late gold of January sun,
From outside there drifts the sound of hens.

And further down the street what’s broken mends
(a cup, an egg, a life, stuff come unspun)
And at the edge of things the light descends.

Across the road a marriage slowly ends,
At number twenty-four the worst is done,
From outside there drifts the sound of hens.

The road, you’ll see it narrows as it bends.
This is where the Wilsons lost a son.
And at the edge of things the light descends.

The shadow of each object looms, extends
The TV murmurs on and on and on
From outside there drifts the sound of hens
And at the edge of things the light descends.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

First Steps at Heide

Sunlight, grass, flowers; the world expands.
Stout with purpose he stands
Wobbles, steadies. Then without dramatic
Flair he takes a step. Two, three, four,

Observed not by me (I faced the other way).
He soon repeats the stunt, hands
Grasp air. These legs will bear him
all his life (god willing), through every door

Into the world of men, places
I will never follow [public toilets, his mates’ dark houses, his lovers’ houses of light, the apartment he rents for a month in France, the road flecked with butterflies that he drives down too fast on balmy nights, his honeymoon suite]
Anyway, it is done. Four erratic steps.
Unseen by me, but history made this note.

Friday, January 20, 2012


on closer inspection
I discover
an insect wing
stuck to your cheek
and I see you
for what you are

a surface
in this house of surfaces

the insect wing
is also a surface
webbed with dark veins
a mosaic
of tiny flecked surfaces

I pluck it from you
let it flutter

the floor
the final surface
which supports

Thursday, January 19, 2012

swimming lesson reprise: a sonnet


reach her
hold her
teach her

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

swimming lesson

that man
is teaching
my daughter
how to breathe

one two

scattering light,
her arms
seem too thin
to matter, but
she’s progressing

he scoops her body
suddenly sideways
against his large body
touches his cheek
to her cheek

I catch my breath
the surface of the pool
chlorine smells
like slow time

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lullaby for sad girls

Press your head and listen to the deeps
The burrowing of Beetle as it creeps
Deep inside the tunnel where it sleeps.
Lay your head down on the pillow dear.

Light has gone and everything is drear
Listen with the pressing of an ear
Something down there sings so soft and clear
Sorry for this child as she weeps.

It’s night time darling, everybody sleeps,
In the morning, I will still be here.

Monday, January 16, 2012


His working life began with cleaning bricks
He'd lift them one by one and scrape them down
With mostly migrants, old Italians, Greeks,
Their forearms as thick as Christmas hams.

At lunch: spaghetti poured out from a thermos,
The talk, not rough or kind, of adult men,
The feel of brick dust scouring epidermis,
The unrelenting ache of labouring.

He spreads his teacher's hands as he tells this,
Hands for music, hands that help him speak.
Embarrassed, laughs, "I didn't last a week."
His head goes back, I watch him reminisce.

It's that old tale of boys becoming men;
Quite simply put, it didn't happen then.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Park

I had a daughter once, a pretty thing, I took her to the park.
She built a wild, living house at the base of some trees
and became an angry thing, and refused to leave.

I still drive past that old park sometimes, hoping to catch a glimpse.
Everything’s fallen into disrepair.
The slides enter the deep earth, the swings have swung off their chains.

All the ladders go nowhere.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


That dog never gave us anything but despair
He snarled and bit. Every time the screen door opened,
He bolted. Once he got run over, and worse survived.
Something had gone wrong in the making of him, mum said.

Though frightened of gleaming tooth, I loved him.
He was a terrier, brown and silky with long blonde hairs
He could fit on a lap, he worshipped my mother,
He knew the words walk and cat. Shook hands.

Most of the time he was okay, as long as you kept
The door tight shut, and didn’t let him go a visitor.
He was unpredictable. I’ve loved men like him since,
Lying in front of the gas heater with one eye open.

They sent him to live on a farm. I can picture him, bolting
Across paddocks, no law, nothing, would catch him
Skimming the fences, taking off into the sky.
He could run that dog, though he never gave us anything but despair.

More Month of Poetry

The official blog, created and co-ordinated by Kat Apel can be found here. You have to have a password to read the daily poetry, but there's other stuff to look at there.

Anna Ryan Punch, an accomplished poet and fantastic being, is recording her poems at her blog: four hundred years ago, a baby went to sleep.

Amra Pajalic, a really interesting YA author and all round supergal, is recording hers at her blog

Camer0n is recording his at his blog: not unimportant. I particularly enjoyed his How to roast a chicken in a Sestina:
Enlist a poet to extol the extinguished life of your noble chicken.
Remember how it knew how to chicken and none of your guests know how.
Serve its memory best on the day with gravy and steaming hot.

I have decided that Sestinas are a kind of fabulous delirium. You have to be potty to keep repeating yourself like that.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Swollen tissue, bulging gum.
Sleepless you arch against
this old enemy, pain,
angry at the savage saw

as what lies hidden rises.
Child, this thing will come
and change you, sharpen you.
In time there will be more

through shining pulp, one by one,
then each lost, and grown again.
It is eternal, a gleaming truth
hidden in the puzzle of the jaw.

This is what the medicine is for
so drink it, the sleeping hours wane.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


A house that folds itself inside a house
A house within (and so within within)
The longing of the object for itself

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Word Made Flesh

The kiss that passes from your mouth to mine is a word
First learned. Such strange tenderness, in the full
Rose of your blushing mouth. This is a love song, though you
Are not my first. But I have known you since you were complicated:
All shadows and bones made of light, I have seen your sisters
Tug you into the world by the length of your limbs.

I am here you signal with your semaphore limbs
On daily waking, every morning a new bewildering word
Wielded in the drama of laundry and breakfast and sisters
You look out the window at landscapes stretched under a full
And golden sun, a dangerous kisser (it’s complicated),
Renewed everyday from the same ancient light source: you

Who are the centre of everything understands this, you
Who wears yourself out like clockwork, your mechanical limbs
Chugging along the floor towards anything complicated
So you might understand it with your fingers, speak its word
Fathom it with your emerging cerebrum to the full
In the same way you long to comprehend the intricate sisters.

For example you know that like your own hands, sisters
Come in twos, rolling around on the floor, they are like you
But so long, so complete in their power, so risen, so full.
They weave and dance they plait their limbs,
They speak with tangled tongues, and each comes with a word
That is the shape of their faces, their complicated

Selves which began in the shadow- and light-world and complicated
My body, split me into shards of matter, into sisters
And now brother of the tender kiss. You are the word
I couldn’t think of before I went to sleep, I couldn’t think of you
Until I felt the press of your burning skull and your limbs
Aslither from the tightness of me, an emptying of what was full.

I will never be that vessel again, I will never be so full,
I will never be so starving and cram packed, so complicated.
You are the last of them to arrive, the last package of limbs
The last precious gift of skull. No more brothers, no more sisters
For something was born that early afternoon, what was born was you,
What was born was the last, the final word.

I gathered you into my limbs and looked at your face full.
It took one word to make you complicated,
To give you to us and your sisters; I carved flesh to name you.

I was awed by Anna Ryan Punch's Sestina when she wrote it ages ago and reminded of it today when I saw her and Kat Apel, organised of Month of Poetry, chatting about it on Twitter, so I decided to give this puzzle like form a go. It took me a while to get my head around it, but I found writing it oddly hypnotic.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Display Home

This house is not to scale. The Sinatra has a powder room,

while the Columba has a water closet, he says, as if it means something.

I laugh. I am wearing my boots and a two hundred dollar dress

because we are pretending to be grown ups, but grown ups don’t laugh

and my handbag cost fifty cents and we don’t want a room

for our play-station. The man looks at us as if we come from

very far away, though it’s only twenty-five minutes up the road

and we do that every time we need to buy milk and bread and shoeshine.

Size is everything and the rule is you have to have three types of cladding.

Before we went in, we felt we were doing something dirty

like going to Club X, or contemplating swinging, or mixing our rubbish

with our recycling. At home our chickens have been cooped up

and one of them is getting pecked by the others, we call them the bitches.

We’ve built a new separate coop for Rosie who gets pecked and we made it

out of a wooden box and a stained glass window and she stays in there

all the time. She might die still, but at least she’ll spend her last days

in peace. I think about Rosie and the chickens and wonder what would happen

to them if we lived here. What would happen to us all? The backyard

is a sliver of green, with plants that were frightened into existence.

They manufacture the air you breathe because there’s not enough here

to sustain us, but that’s an extra, it will cost you.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Some nights

Some nights fall:
The chickens are fed,
The kids are in bed,
The dishes are done,
But the words don’t come.
Nothing at all.
The shadowy hall
The clock on the wall.
Nights fall. And some
Are like this one
The words don’t come.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Kinglake Sonnet

In the fire scarred, mist softened hills we stop
for hot milk and meat pies, shelter from rain.
A man considers the rolls that remain,
reflective bands on the sleeves of his top.
His uniform draws the attention
of my two girls. “Fireman? Police?” they ask.
“Paramedic,” I say, as he walks past.
The girls regard him with apprehension.

He cradles a large sized bottle of coke.
“Somebody crashed in the rain,” says Fred.
Una says, “Somebody’s dying, or dead.”
But girls, he’s mostly a normal bloke
getting lunch and a drink like us, just the same,
and the rain is the rain. Just the rain. Just the rain.

Saturday, January 07, 2012


You wake crying
in the early afternoon,
In a sunlit room
I lie down to feed you.
Your eyes gaze into mine,
Light enters and exits you,
And we are twice joined.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Wimmera by Sidney Nolan

I said to my love who is living
Dear we shall never be that verb
Perched on the sole Arabian tree
Ern Malley
a figure
the lost dark
reels from the open country
of himself

I was in Dimboola once
the landscape was not gone
though you took it with you
pressed between the pages of a book

the artist eliminates all traces
of looking
takes only himself
and not the frightened dust

Thursday, January 05, 2012

At One

Hello? You okay?
You gone go inna car?
You gone go?
You okay?
More? G'day. Hi. Yay.
Hey. Heeey.
Mumma. Dadda.
You okay? Okay?
Gone go?
Bye bye boowa.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Dreaming Sisters

each night
they sisters lie
side by side
on narrow beds

squabble fret
squirm protest
finally one
then the other

two girls
breathing out
ink black clouds
pin-prick stars

private constellations

they wake at light
and irritated
to see each other

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The manifestation of unnamed longing

Baby in the high chair
More? More? More?
We give him more
It ends up on the floor.

Monday, January 02, 2012


As if he can’t believe the heat either

a crow, glossy as an oil slick

staggers under the supermarket awning

with his beak hanging open.

I shop for things we might require:

Arnotts Assorted Creams, 40 fish fingers,

5 litres of milk, yoghurt by the bucket.

In the carpark my husband runs the air-conditioning

the baby lolls sideways in his seat

and the girls play animal vegetable or mineral.

Una is a letterbox

Fred is a potato cake

Una is a pancake in the shape of a dead guy.

At the cash register I run back for dishwashing liquid.

A woman says sternly into the telephone

hooked up to the loudspeaker:

there is a Nissan Patrol with a dog inside

and no windows open if you are in the store

please attend to your animal.

I walk out into the sweltering carpark of the late afternoon.

This human world is melting into the hills.

We drive into the glare.

I join the game. They ask me: Are you an animal?

No. Are you a vegetable? Yes.

What sort of vegetable? they shriek

Mum? What sort of a vegetable are you?

Una asks are you crumby?

Laughing I look back at their laughing faces.

We drive past cows in their fields.

I am an apple pie.

The long day grows hotter.

Something is terribly wrong.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Two Brothers

such wounded funny men such boys
such self-effacing broadfaced fathers
of dark-eyed sons such husbands such friends
with hands that dote that circled their aunts
that brush past at the sink with incidental touch
that hold each other aloft such men
such wounded funny Catholic boys
such tea-drinking on and off the wagon men
such country boys such eager grazers
of the night sky with one collective eye
such moon walkers hand talkers heart warmers
such tall talers such dream sailors
such brothers such boys such men

Month of poetry is on again and I am participating. I treasure the poems I wrote last year, capturing daily life with a six to ten week old baby as well as the older girls. The above was inspired by our company for New Year's Eve. We spend a lovely night in a rambling house in Drysdale in the company of very dear friends and some of their extended family. These brothers are two of five boys, and two of the genuinely kindest and most interesting people I have ever met - I am fascinated by their whole family. The kids had a ball, romping around in the gardens in a massive tribe with two dogs, even Avery had the company of four other babies. It was a wonderful night and a magical start to the New Year. The men got the big telescope out and we all lined up to look at the craters on the yellow edge of the moon and dream ourselves up into the timeless sky.