#199 First day of winter, sick of these grey days
She caught Bill as he walked past Barry’s gate,
‘He died’ she wept, and wiped her tears away.
For years he did not venture past this place
for fear Barry would bash him, or so he’d say.
He heard her children crying down the hall -
Barry’s cousins – with a hard sad lonely cry.
Bill walked unsteady homeward in the dusk
and fingered the small scar by his left eye,
where Barry hit him with his signet ring
when they were kids. This was completely wrong.
A harsh pale moon sailed clear above the ridge
then snagged the weeping willow in his yard.
A boiling anger raged about his heart.
God was mysterious, but that was no excuse.
1 June 2010
#200 Japanese woodcut
He would have bought it on the spot
but had to order it and wait;
and that’s the last he ever heard.
Years on still he called up that moon,
shining when he fought for sleep
tangled in its thorny cherry tree.
He hoped one day its lucid glow
would float free from the knotted twigs,
and calm would flood his jagged life.
He’d started better than he’d end;
all the worth in him was twisted
in the tawdry mess of getting by.
2 June 2010
The bikes hurtle through on an elegant swerve
flatten the bends, on the road down below -
you riding pillion half your lifetime ago.
Bright metal, black leather, flashing through green:
I see you race through, your arms round a boy,
your body absorbed; leaning into the curve.
It’s too rushed to speak, you don’t say a word,
Rest your head on his back; wind loud in your ears
rips into your eyes and whips up your tears
The bike throbs rough all the way up your spine.
You hold on for dear life your arms round the boy
And hope you’ll come through; leaning into the curve.
Each Sunday morning back then I would run
the loop from Fairfield to Kew and then back.
You should have been with me running that track,
your long sprinter’s legs keeping time with mine,
But you would snarl past, your arms round a boy -
where I’d plod unnoticed, leaning into the curve.
3 June 2010
Morning sky sown close in rows with comma-wisps of cloud;
like early rising pilots wrote in smoke but the message blew apart.
The peppercorn tree glows an impossible green bright -
light moves it, a wattle bird swings wildly head-down on its strands.
Air rushes in and trails out as sigh; the valley lies spread wide;
last night’s sliver-moon shines pale. Life need not be mean or cramped.
4 June 2010
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
An ochre orb burns on the ridge, clouds-bars stripe across its face -
Our other world: returns, recedes, in silence; grave with heavy light.
Brooding at dusk: not the swiftest swallow-dash escapes that gaze;
nor the brief peeping bat swinging cross swamps by moonlight bay.
Flounder might swarm to take this dazzling lure, flickering on waters,
brighter than all the fishermen’s pinprick lights taped to bamboo spears;
Life might be steadfast as this mount; might call forth fine urge, be bright
as our great companion, slung low above the land, our tawny satellite.
5 June 2010
The sea and its shore, that visible foothold, are completely sealed off by the enemy, helpless in the depths of the same thought, a mould made in equal measure of the rumour of despair and the certainty of resurrection.
René Char Fragment 192 Feuillets d’Hypnos
So as those young men die in summer waves
on the long dawn beaches of Normandy,
just as Russians had succumbed in droves
far off in the east since forty one,
here in the south we launch ourselves in joy
into the uplands because the time has come,
that we’ve awaited these four bitter years,
for liberty, for the rising of Provence.
It will not be long, the moment is at hand,
for the invasion of our southern shores,
when we, boy soldiers, unarmed, with bare hands
will drive the villains from our darkened lands.
D Day Tuesday 6 June 1944
When I was twenty we sent kids like me
to war without the surge of hope
that sent those French boys to the hills
with no gun, no training, without a chance.
Now if you set my foot upon the road
to revolution I would turn away
returning prudent to my mortgaged house,
without the guts or hope to go for change.
7 June 2010
This day, north of Ventoux, in forty four
at Valréas, tricolor on their arms,
some boys and former soldiers took the town,
freed it from the absent Occupant,
their only shots aimed at a German plane.
Paschke, the head of the Protestant Scouts,
said he didn’t mind to die himself,
because he was childless, but he regretted
the loss of the fathers which he foresaw,
the making of inevitable orphans.
Désabusé - not that ideal young man
his foot set on the path to revolution.
8 June 1944
Like young Jean-Pierre who, convalescing,
heard how Valréas outside was freed,
I see these grim events at second hand -
from bare Ventoux where I’ve been once,
northwards to Valréas where I’ve not been
(though piously I drink its Cotes du Rhône),
and Normandy which I stared towards
from the ancient pile of Mont St Michel
one wet wonderful Breton autumn day.
9 June 2010
#208 Seventeen dead at Vaison-la-Romaine
They were sure the invasion of Provence
would start today or if not then the next;
were told precisely - on the Cote d’Azur.
They captured Vaison and held it two days.
Some of them boys – les jeunes – some from Ventoux,
some of them airmen, from a nearby field;
some of them gendarmes who marched to the hills,
when the BBC sent the coded order.
They were strafed, machine-gunned, and bombarded,
their airborne reinforcements did not come -
Senegalese went the rumour, heartening
because they fought like lions in nineteen forty.
The maquis retreated and the Germans
told the town - there’ll be reprisals next time.
10 June 1944
It’s quiet, like the Resistance cut the lines.
You gods of wire and cable, twisted pairs,
who direct things at the telephone exchange,
O please conspire this day to keep it so.
Let us kick back, mute headsets round our necks
and smiling at this foretaste of the peace
we’ll attain with all pay problems sorted,
all questions answered and all fools slaughtered.
11 June 2010
#210 And fifty three killed at Valréas
An armoured column of SS move in,
kill Pashke and an old bloke on the way,
and now the liberators all are fled
they’ll show Valréas just who is the boss.
The maire is forced to go around his town
calling his people out into the streets,
and hostages are roped up at random,
marched to the monument to the Great War.
Jules Niel the maire pleads for their lives,
offers himself instead of them for death,
but they are shot, left to lie in heaps
and the town is forbad from moving them.
But the pompiers find a few who survive
and substitute some bodies from the morgue,
while sick Jean-Pierre, like us, is kept apart
innocent, unfeeling, distant, horrified.
12 June 1944
I’m iPodding a show from Radio France
about the Arcadians, cast out from their homes
around Nova Scotia and New Brunswick
by the British who couldn’t bear to trust them.
In Louisiana along the Gulf,
still loyal to a country they did not know,
they became Cajuns, but still sang in French,
like Clifton Chenier, the King of Zydeco.
I can’t fathom why their French moves me, though
we came from Guernsy a thousand years since
and thus the tongue was mine a while ago,
but now forgot; a swampland hid in mist.
13 June 2010
#212 René Char’s birthday
If we can take the word of the soil below the grass, where a couple of crickets sing this night, life before birth must be very sweet.
René Char Feuillets d’Hypnos Fragment 73
He was born by dashing Sorgue,
which wells from living rock,
streaming through mineral dark,
flows endlessly from limestone
and races greenly from Vaucluse
to René’s Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
The before-life must seem sweet
amongst war and harm and choice -
arising from the rooted earth,
that unconscious chirp of joy,
when a man’s lost innocence,
longs thoughtlessly to dream.
14 June 1907
Jolie blonde sang Clifton - si jolie, si jolie.
He could sing his waltz to blonde Cécile.
Seventeen, a tall girl, blonde Cécile, si jolie.
Barely old enough to make her own mistakes.
She had a meal with a man who hated Jews,
who sent them to the camps from southern France;
the Resistance took her with them to the hills;
and she unwilling passed the point of no return.
For two weeks she fetched provisions to the camps,
not trusted, not a captive, but not free.
Everything she learned would bring her death.
15 June 1944
I think of her as a hungry child
who took a meal wherever she found it,
didn’t give tuppence for politics,
and fell suspect just at the wrong time -
when Resistance boys were emboldened
by the far-off Norman invasion,
and snatched her up from Coustellet,
took her to their leader in the scrub.
He let her work and wander with them
doing euphemistic domestic tasks,
maybe frightened, maybe glad of the feed;
maybe careless of what she said to strangers.
Who knows now what Cécile was thinking?
All that she learned would be the death of her.
16 June 1944
Across the long stretch of this dismal year,
from November to November as I wheel
these poems out, my one per day, and head
for 700 stanzas on the run,
(I speak to you, you readers in the stalls)
I fear you’ll discern calamitous decay,
a waning of my force, my sharpness blunt,
which I can’t sense, but you see from outside -
the way Claude Monet’s slow-grown cataracts
muddied and darkened his palette and his sight
without him knowing it because he lived
always behind their distorting cloudy screen.
It’s harder to make sense, to feel things whole -
have I lost strength or has the world grown dark?
17 June 2010
My shepherd is the Lord, we used to sing -
with His corrective crook and sturdy staff
to lead, direct, to keep the wolves at bay.
I think of Him because my spirits droop.
So here’s to you dear readers who were there
for weekly Mass downstairs in the Old Arts;
a revelation to a boy from Mars
who’d never worshipped where he felt at home.
Forty six years ago we sang the psalms
in Gelineau’s settings, the mundane room
filled with young voices, not the pious shriek
of parish old ducks or the men’s dull drone.
I fear, now I’m a droning faithless drake,
that by restful waters He won’t lead me.
18 June 2010
My wife loves to buy our kids pyjamas.
It sends her to a peak of parenthood
to see them comfortable and warm to bed.
She had a handsome tartan flannelette
pair of men’s pyjamas when we met,
no doubt she’d filched them from some previous beau.
I took care not to question whose they were,
but also not to wear mine when she came.
I couldn’t have her steal my only pair.
She dreams one of her lands of heart’s desire –
a couple with young children takes her in
just briefly, but she’s too entranced to leave:
The couple show such love for one another
and she’s never been with three such lovely kids,
all clad in their Batman-themed pyjamas.
Exotic plants, some growing in mid-air;
how can I have invented them she says –
a fascination second only to pyjamas.
They won’t let her help with the household chores
so she lounges in the deep bay window
reading, looking, thinking and rejoicing.
And I rejoice; for she deserves this ease,
to be relieved of duty and from care,
to grow and blossom like her wondrous plants.
19 June 2010
My father would come in to Sunday roast
washing down with grease-removing soap
and talk through lunch about his rocker arms,
his tappets and the carborundum paste
he used to grind his cherished Holden’s valves;
assumed I’d know from birth how engines worked.
My oldest asks me things she should ask Dad.
Why are port-holes round? she emailed me from Spain.
Why do they carry gas in cylinders?
The same reason as they make a manhole round
I say – or the lids on a slow combustion stove -
there’s no angle at which they can fall through.
Which won’t explain the gas, but will suffice
till she’s back home with me for Sunday roast.
20 June 2010
My kid goes to work experience in town
and she looks stunning out of uniform -
tall and competent in her fitted coat.
You’d never guess how terrified she is.
Grave and indomitable, self-possessed:
what would her mother think of her this day?
If any should pretend that God is just,
just think – Susanne’s not here to see her child.
21 June 2010
The hero holds his whole life in awareness,
foresees his shocking death, and moves toward it.
He’s been heading for today since forty one -
when he parachuted in to France.
Today the Gestapo captured Jean Moulin
trapped him in Calluire a suburb of Lyon.
These next few days, whatever I may write,
the enemy are torturing him to death;
who had a year before slit his own throat
out of fear he’d capitulate to pain.
22 June 1944
#221 Deposing an Australian Prime Minister
Wish I was a larrikin like Ginger Meggs,
but ‘you’d do a lot’ my mum used to say
‘with a big stick and a basket of eggs’.
I don’t boast, I hide my light beneath a hedge
but mum could spot vainglory any day.
Wish I were a larrikin like Ginger Meggs.
Give me another shot the poor bloke begs
while they’re strong-arming comrades to vote nay
with a big stick and a basket of eggs.
Our leader hangs white-knuckled from the ledge
like the hero in a penny matinee,
or maybe a larrikin like Ginger Meggs.
My mum was right; greatness sprints in on legs
of brass but limps off on feet of clay
and a big stick and a basket of eggs.
My mum was right; my hope for grandeur’s fled
I didn’t improve the world in any way.
Wish I were a larrikin like Ginger Meggs
with a big stick and a basket of eggs.
23 June 2010
My two books from France arrive by mail.
A history of Moulin, so lately disappeared,
verse by René Char, resistant surrealist.
What’s wrong with a world gone globalized?
I could mount a carbon-free critique -
they’ve come by air, burnt aviation fuel;
but French printers still print, Amazon still flows,
and here and in Paris mail workers keep jobs.
I’m no Luddite, but I won’t like it as well
when these books come as downloads to my screen,
with almost no expense of greenhouse gas
mine only till the computer’s grabbed by thieves.
I want to hold my books as cellulose,
not electrons whizzing in a magic box.
24 June 2010
#223 Just one damned thing…
It’s end of term and all us workmates go for drinks at the Royal Mail, near where I used to live; its beer sign revolved in my bedroom window.
Joe runs the social club, which is something I hope I never do in my entire unsociable life. He’s off to Europe next term into house-swap heaven.
I envy him Greece most where I’ve never been and where I can’t read the words or whistle the tunes.
How come I know no Greek and must dumbly nod when Joe talks about rembetika? What the hell is that? It’s music, I get that much.
I have wasted my life – I have fucking wasted my life. I don’t know Greek, can’t read Dante, never stood up on a wave on a surf board.
In a loft in North Carlton my friend played Theodorakis over and over and a record of the classical ourd. I remembrance the beautiful woman he wed who called me Dave.
Joe, the big Irishman - he’s wasted his fucking life. He’s waiting till he retires or wins Tatts to get stuck into writing his novel. Which is a long ways off I could tell him; but then he’s spending a whole term in Europe and could teach me a thing or two.
Despite the beer and the despair, and finding my way from where I used to live, I get home sober with the Friday pizzas from Alex.
Then my Saints beat Geelong who beat them disastrously last year when we were in Turin, but I do not allow myself a single drop of elation.
Evil, like entropy, is never finally defeated; it will have to be done all over again.
Dust sifts on Irish and Greeks and Egyptian ourds. Dark falls on lottery-addicts and writers and wasters.
25 June 2010
In mid-morning he woke with a pang of nostalgia swelling in his chest. There was music of sweetest souvenir, of deepest memory, sounding through the house. It filled him with joy and made it difficult to breathe. Sandra was upstairs practicing the solo part from a Vivaldi flute concerto and half-waking he internally supplied the string accompaniment. Not perfectly, not well, but where the flute moved there moved he – or the music in his mind.
The music connected him to the foundling soloist Vivaldi wrote this concerto for, who must have played as well as his Sandra did, because how else could this music have been written for her? It was a moving idea – how well that foundling played and that she played as well as his kid. And then across those centuries, three hundred years and more, he felt linked to the priest who wrote this music out of tender regard for an abandoned girl.
Sandra faltered at a difficult run and played it again and again until it ran like silver light across his forehead. This too was a gift, to hear the mechanics of it being worked out by a serious musician, as she experimented with pace and the emphasis in a phrase, working it over till it ran right and whole for her.
Was anything more rewarding than this? To hear her intent and steadfast, to hear her meditate, to hear the meaning grasped and lifted from the speckled dots upon the page? He was almost tempted to say he envied her, but that’s not what he felt. There was no room for envy in his admiration of her. He got up to make her soup for lunch.
28 June 2010
#225 Three part invention
The girl who’s practising piano is my daughter.
She sets hands left and right to interlacing,
and gets the left hand singing, wordlessly.
I hear a structured clarity, rhythmic thought,
slow lines played under swiftness; hear delight.
The man she’s practising is long departed Bach;
he must be left-handed, that’s where he puts his tunes
and a bass, like me, whose words nobody hears,
because sopranos have comandeered attention.
It’s he who ordered and invented this invention.
I’m the man who overhears from the next room,
separate from them by my pretence at working;
connected to my daughter by my love of Bach;
connected to Bach by my love of her
as he renews himself in her, becomes her thought.
27 June 2010
Wouldn’t it be great to hike on West Head
with an SLR digital and a big lens
and thread through the bush to the sudden cliffs
overlooking drowned valleys, the fingers of sea
where trees descend all the way down the slope
to waters so deep they’re green-black in sun,
(but how could you get down that colour in words?) -
to seize a shot of an eagle scouring the ridge
or the yachtsman drifting in to grab a buoy,
who will plunge into water and float there,
entranced by the feel of all that water below,
avoiding thoughts of any life-form approaching,
then scrabble on deck to devour a cold beer,
and look up at the cameraman hot on the cliff.
26 June 2010
You’d reckon the lieutenant had no choice: She knew each one of the resistant camps She’d seen resistance people in the countryside Yet today the lieutenant let Cécile go But who would kill a girl of seventeen, 29 June 1944 #228 The lieutenant sent for his wife Paulette Cécile was hitchhiking when they picked her up - Late that night they dressed her in men’s clothes It doesn’t matter now what side she’s on, 30 June 1944
either kill the girl or keep her in the hills;
the last thing you’d do would be set her loose.
in the uplands outside of Saint Saturnin
and she had seen where they cached their arms.
like farmer Blanche Gaillard and her sons at Berre
where they hid the parachute-dropped supplies.
‘because she took too many risks’ he said,
gave her freedom with savage consequence.
even if she’s really on the Nazi’s side,
who shouldn’t be there, didn’t ask to come?
with his boy André, hidden outside Gordes,
to come to him in the uplands this night.
a young SS and someone who spoke French
who asked her questions and she spilled the beans.
and took her back to the Monts de Vaucluse
in a convoy of SS and milice.
she’s hauled off to play her required role,
terrorised or willing, or maybe both.
You’d reckon the lieutenant had no choice:
She knew each one of the resistant camps
She’d seen resistance people in the countryside
Yet today the lieutenant let Cécile go
But who would kill a girl of seventeen,
29 June 1944
The lieutenant sent for his wife Paulette
Cécile was hitchhiking when they picked her up -
Late that night they dressed her in men’s clothes
It doesn’t matter now what side she’s on,
30 June 1944