The Word Museum
Where Samuel is the curator,
has been for a very long time.
First I see
a persistent, single-minded mollusc
with a rock for company
it’s a piddock
and it has a periwinkle
it’s wet and cold today
perfect for word-viewing,
it’s hard for Samuel
to keep up with it all.
Suddenly, peering I find him
he’s a hope-monger
singing songs he’s learned from magpies
on the way out
I saw pilliwinks
Just near a bottle-cell
Samuel stopped me
After he had finished scratching
'Just remember it’s what we do with words
That makes them. You see
that love is the central exhibit.'
(with gratitude to and admiration of David Gulpilil and Rolf de Heer)
I want to eat a piece of Charlie’s fish
Speared with a 'dangerous weapon' and coal-charred
In his country.
Charlie talked to the fish,
'What a good fish'. Covenant
Better than the white man’s supermarket stuff.
Breach of convenant. He digs early graves for us.
The story and the love we refuse to know
Is written in the Territory of his face’s landlines,
In the deep of the pith of his silence,
In the aetiology of the ineffable.
The wonder in the wordlessness, strong, true meaning.
Cross-legged before the altar of his fire
His eyes are talking with the stars,
A firmament of hope
They were out-of-bounds,
Beyond the boundary of the daily litany and liturgy,
Not within the kingdom’s demesne, and we all knew
What that meant. It was spiffing to know that there was
A mystery, some place where something spooky happened.
You could get there all right, the fences were down,
And you just had to get the measure of nesting magpies.
What was there sang, old stones, brambles, fallen walls
And dry thistles: you had to be careful for
Spitty ate small boys, threw the bones in the lagoon,
To be washed up in a tide or two on the shore,
With the muck and mulch of clotted seaweed.
The whiskers of the nostrils snickered at the stench of it all.
I do not know whether anyone’s written Spitty’s history,
It doesn’t matter much. It was good that he was there.
Storytellers and gossips needed something
To climb out of the lexicon of habits and drills
Which had been ground for their good.
'Crabbed Age and Youth'
Watching King Lear with Luke Patterson
The choughs were there alright,
And you wondered why they hadn’t been brought
Along with all the other colonial discards
That might make the gentlemen feel
It was a comfort, a warmth to know the brittle bones
Were at hand when this play was mounting
Its monstrous transgressions of the common joys,
Where bodies were just collections of toys
To be played with.
Tickle the sandpits
It is all so shake-splitting
And only Edgar has the truth to dangle his
Nakedness, like madness, is a striptease
Sponsored by a fool.
Oddball to oddball, eyeball to eyeball.
We do have to learn. Slowly sometimes,
That what we see is not what we get,
But we do know that the trees we see
Are really our skeletons calling us to be free.
The Stonemason and Chartres Cathedral
All those years later
You suddenly see –
Suddenness is a chronic addiction now –
That those stones
Are hand-written poems, repose on them,
And we learn
That poetry is laying and layering,
A trowelling to mounting heights, wrist-music,
Encompassing and enclosing the grace and the glory.
The stanza-making is awesome,
Ask the boy who stands in the nave,
And smiles with the gift of benediction.
Every now and then, more often than was,
It is best to forget the culture of the corny,
And look upward and inhale the light
That filters through the glazier’s prism,
The windows’ pointillism paves the pilgrims’ paths.
I think I could take in Mass here,
Just to watch what happens when the host
Is held high, wafer-light perhaps.
Strange as it is, it is no more strange
Than I am to myself.
Peter Gebhardt is a retired school principal and judge. His most recent book is Black and White Onyx: New and Selected Poems 1988–2011.
Image: From 'Charlie's Country' (2013), directed by Rolf de Heer.