Aphasia, exile, outlawry
One of those nights. You and sleep playing
tag, though only one of you thinks it's a game.
I will rest, you say, I will go home:
Just let me find the words from the water garden.
So you haul them up from the well, but they smear like ink.
They belong to your real life that you abandoned —
there where the wattles bloom and corn and 'taters grow.
Eucalypsis, apocalypsis ...
Every night you make a run for home.
In exile language fades away, unused,
till the whole tree languishes.
Words are comfortless as bare boards;
you pace about forgetting what you came for,
unless some ancient knot or syllable
trips you up and thrills you to the quick.
You have to hope the long-sought words will come
like Bo-peep's proverbials safely grazing
a suburban garden full of virtual magpies:
All photos lie. But something's caught
in this one: faster than a speeding bullet,
a flying blur in tabard and trousers.
If you're caught, it's
waiting and preparing and serving;
left alone you
climb trees and run fast and sing,
pledge fealty to the forest and the life of an outlaw.
Peep peep peep cry all the little girls
from the West Indies, Americay and Spain.
We're nearly three and a whizz at words
on which we know the universe depends.
We repeat: we hear you loud and clear.
We're pretty sure you can't hear us at all.
Maid Marian's maids are we.
If you call, we are not at home.
We're dining very publicly
with the Sherriff of Nottingham.
The Sherriff has a fulsome set,
his words line up without a gap,
He'd sentence us without a second thought:
we hold our gaze and smile a mirror shield.
Peep peep peep, all the women cry
In Ireland and Australia and France.
It's just as well he cannot read our hearts:
Our voices are inviolate and clear.
This table's had hard use. The grain
is coming through in tiny elevations.
I run my fingers lightly up and down,
learning the long contours. And I know
something about how my life has gone.
This evening I've been marking papers
on the colonised and their oppressors,
their strategies my strategies,
fully theorised — and on my shelf,
lest I forget.
You know what happens to outlaws. Such is life.
So don that pencil skirt, sharpen your nose,
powder the old perruque. And remember,
you can never be lost, knowing
home is any place where poems are.
Spring in Melbourne with doves
Like parents we wait
while the season does its awkward flip,
heads bent in the gale driving cloud
shadows across the page
— as if we needed another prophecy.
Wind tires in the roof vents.
A cube of space forms round us, and comforting sounds.
Our crotchety dogs resume their dialogue
with distant quavers
Till a helicopter,
hummingbird from hell,
burrs all thought,
and ratchets up and away
leaving only doves' loud mad
New research shows city birds call louder.
Today they're the sole thing that doesn't
sound like something else you can't escape.
Ipse. Same. The selfsame birds
telling all their lives in that same sound,
as though condemned to the residue of speech.
Remember Robert Duncan —
how, when he learned of the stroke that killed the words
in H.D., beloved poet mentor,
he turned to the ur-language of doves, hearing
there the originary Word.
Something's a-flutter. Dog among the pigeons?
What you doin' with that metaphor?
Taboo, treif, two thousand years!
Who do you think you are? Paul Simon?
And on and on, patrolling the dream ground.
Jokes aside, I'd give a bucket of dreams
for a minute with the minstrel of all the world.
He's pulled out the knife that divides us
and mines for song in the site of the wound.
Hallelujah! Good for him!
So far, I feel compelled to leave it in.
It's not that you could undo understanding
a style of understanding. It's what you say.
As collared doves should not be here but are —
invaders, refugees or immigrants
or offspring of same,
conceived in St Petersburg, born in Bendigo.
Glad to be here. Bobbing their heads, side
by bright-eyed side, out there on the bricks,
despite their interminable double-cadenced cry,
there's every sign they're making sense of it all.
A French philosopher went up the Tower
to spurn the matchless view. In principle.
New York City sparkled at his feet.
How to convince them of their value down there:
the spontaneity of life on the street —
its chaos, brio, democratic lack
of vista ... While up here, perilously
near the far-sighted eyeball of God
(that insatiable, designing orb),
you could forget it all, and just hang
like a planet, while the lights went out ...
He looked at the moon. It wasn't having any;
never one for rancour, or anything much,
serene or lobotomised, presiding
over everything with an equal mind:
a vacant city sailing into the void ...
a French philosopher's last seminar ...
another crumpled Tower for the set ...
and another. Eyes fill with horror
at the moon-cold screen, compelled
by repetitions of the spectacle.
Now we're only given distance shots.
Jumping, screaming, drowning strictly forbidden,
all cities, all countries, unreal —
if we believed the footage. But we don't.
Our life and death as citizens depends
on peopling empty landscapes, seeing ghosts,
rebuilding dwellings, with gardens, pets, water
and food, in the teeth of the mindless grin of the moon.
The world's a jewel in space, but nobody's fooled.
Carolyn Masel is a Lecturer in Literature at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne.
Eyeball image from Shutterstock