the Poetry kit

Poems 1999

Peter Bakowski Jim Bennett Janet Buck Alice Keir Casey James Corbett Fred D'Aguiar Chris Emery Katherine Gallagher Coral Hull Larry Jaffe Jean Kent Anthony Lawrence Chris Major Peter Robinson

Jean Kent interviewed

Cheryl's a Bit Handicapped

. . . she says  --   she don't read too good
don't spell too hot neither
still she goes cap in hand to no one
lives all right
on her pension in her caravan
and cries now that Grandpop's
laid out like a slice of night
in his hospital cot.

By the lake with Grandpop
she sat on her hands on the scale-
silver jetty and watched him
hook the bait.
At sunset, fish would popgun
out of the waves.
The first time she almost
left her skin.  Later, she waited
and waited for the light to live again.

Cheryl's at Tech, learning to sew.
Tissue patterns fall on fabric
like moonlight on her bad dreams.
Why doesn't someone
seam the sun and cloak it over her?
Why isn't she a fish?

Stroked -- half-dumb, half-blind --
Grandpop's under the lake and bubbling.
Cheryl sits in the ripples
with a basket of cottons
and every line she feeds
is barbed.  The sun is setting
behind her mouth.  Night
in the white ward.  Cheryl waits,
and waits, reeling in the light.

The Garden Guru

Saffron-coated, surrounded by flowers,
in this garden I squat.
When I lift my arms, silver phrases float
-- holy water onto the faces
of my followers.

In the heat, how they worship me.
How their petals droop, soaking up
slippery consolation.

I cross my knees under calendulas and my love
circles them. Into spinning crystals
sacrificially I shudder --

every second I sizzle
a bright asterisk above a forehead.
Minutes peel and the young dreamers
unwrap their colours -- blind to me
laughing inside my Buddha belly,
my orange Ah-ness, Made in Taiwan . . .

They do not see my divinity is dependent
on an umbilical cord which snakes
under the feet of sky-drugged
cornflowers and wide-eyed phlox --

they do not see how in too clear sunlight
my prophecies might splinter, falling then
as sharp as syringes.

No.  Behind their backs I collaborate.
Something enormous plots their sacrifice.
I settle my saffron, hard-planted in her soil.
A sudden psalm -- a blessing of dampness,
a hiss of bliss . . .

I tremble and speak.  I shower the flowerchildren
with promises of life.  Twirling myself
into frenzies, I forget

the woman with her hand on my tap,
watching my budding flock --
preparing to reap them.

Garden Honey in Rue Geoffroy L'Asnier

Night.  A weakly brewed Paris sky.  Too few
sugar stars.  Behind ice windows
I am falling
back to where it is day -- day like an upturned
honey jar over my mother's garden.

It is the ripe time -- the family-hiving time --
so in Toowoomba, Australia, under the camphor laurel
so huge and darkly vaulted,
into white overalls preparing for the rite of robbing bees,
Ruth and Arthur disappear.  Through my sleep

mythical as moonwalkers they follow their smoker
as one street away from me under the stony sky
of St Gervais-St Protais,
now the nuns of the Order of Jerusalem
heavily cloaked like arum lilies

sway after bone-thin tapers as long as their hidden arms,
through a swamp fog of incense
toward midnight mass.
In one sunset-stained side-chapel today, did a sign
dim as a fallen constellation again promise prayers

(silent prayers) for the sick, the imprisoned --
and for foreigners?

As another year's sweetness is stacked,
tier on glimmering tier
into the station wagon faded as lichen
in the ancient tree's shade --

as my mother's kitchen with wide open windows
turns its gaze briefly away
from the spilling day

and closes instead round this ceremony
of strong tea pouring out
from a pot hiding its honey glow
under a cosy of hand-spun, hand-dyed, hand-knitted
sheep-in-a-paddock-patterned wool --

the closed vault of the church leaks none of its secret
singing.  The thought of it though, ruffles
like a breeze through wild lilies.
I recall the white
feet of the nuns, bony as plucked swallows swooping

over cold cobbles --
scalloping softness over hard stone
like the mottling of moonlight
over the trunk of a lemon-scented
gum tree:

that paradoxical pillow I always place my ear against
in this space between Christmas and New Year,
standing silent but offering to any stilled
listener, liquid
incantations of an inner life.

Its pale pillar under summer sky holds heat
in its branches and under its bark
a busy liturgy now
as the falling feathers of the chanting of the nuns
float up in a wind lifting over

white hives
                     and drifting

spacewalking through dreaming
constellations of leaves --

stirring up again from the bottom of the world,
            of hidden honey,
round all foreigners falling home.

Peter Bakowski interviewed

Some of us

blow our noses,
write letters,
we were more:

and organized.

we've got:

a sweet tooth,
a credit card
dysfunctional families.


tea towels,
airline tickets
and shotguns.


a good doctor, lawyer,
mechanic, priest
and accountant.


and loneliness

and promises

and cancer

the bandage
of statistics.

So we
at ants
and waterfalls,
worry about
our grammar
and lovemaking,
while humanly waiting
or the bus.

We are rarely out of the line of fire

A man asleep on the winter pavement
next to his bottle of rum.
A room full of antiques
where the hostess talks about
her third husband.

The moon is in the sky
gossip and despair.

owns more
than the rain and the lightning,
it toys with
our puppet-strings,
the teetering scales
of give and take.

For some
hope lights the fuse
of choice.
For some
choice explodes in their face.

Sadness and happiness?

I acrobat
between the two.

I've read more books
than I've had girlfriends.
is a stubborn fellow,
only wants
to point you
in the direction
of your coffin.

my self-esteem dresses in black,
travels third class in my thinking.
I sit on a park bench
and watch
the branches of trees
the morning light.

Each human being
caught between

Cross the continent
of a room
to say "Hello again"
to someone 
who'll be

Snail shell,

So you 
blindfold the days
with sleep.

not healing.

a mountain.

the mountain,
a knock.

A friend
with ear and heart.

You talk
a river.

The clock
a sliver
of laughter.

The mirror
asks you
yet one more

Self-portrait in a Paris studio, 13 February 1999

I sit
at cluttered desk,
in moonlight and doubt,
waiting for
the next line,
to give these hours
a rudder.

The stars
are not stars,
but questions
that I've asked myself.
fall from the sky,
enter poems.

I have this
reoccurring dream
of myself fishing
but all
I ever net
my own heart.

I only 
want to earn
my daily bread
of images.

I love the streets,
the teaching streets
shock and nourish.
I need no other academy.

I look at the people,
strolling and in errand.
Each a different chess piece
until God grows tired
and lifts them from the board.

Some days
we suffer
an undone shoelace,
some days
an undone dream.

I look out of the window,
watch the moon
take the pulse
of the river.
I sit at my desk,
wanting words
to take risks,
to free
all the blindfolded horses
in our thinking.

I sit at my desk,
trying to write poems
that even Time
will admire

Alice Keir Casey

Speak Into Mouth

Speak into mouth,
for I want to take you in.
Need time I haven't got to
bring you home.

        A smell of you, healthy
        enough for me.
        Taunts me
         is, isn't here.
   Here is where it should be.

Your solid body brushing past
as you speak
into mouth
I can feel hot joy against
my eyes and nose,
your voice rings true in
My mind:so speak
into mouth.

                   Breathe yourself into me.
Me is where my destiny reckons you
should be.
                 Close by , everneccessary.
Now you exclude me,
                        so speak into mouth.

Chris Emery interviewed

Poems from "Mephisto", a work in progress.
1 The Pendulum

Mephisto practised his incantations and eye contact,
wiggling in his bonds. His frock coat stained.
His top hat dented. Assistants fussed about the knot.
Then suddenly, pok! thwack! the trick came off.
The upturned udder of the stool lay in the mud.
A little bouncing around, not quite a jig,
but a dance I'd say, nonetheless � a shivery foot
the last thing to settle down, like a black tongue.
One brogue fell off, plonk. One eye looked a bit tired.
Tick, tock, the raggedy body rocked and pirouetted.
Folk shrugged shoulders, cupped hands
and lit up. No one scratched their arse
or scrubbed a hat to shift an awkward itch.
Mephisto took everything in. He'd studied
regimented goings on like these for donkey's years.
The white air cleared and stilled about his face.
His features went turnip coloured. Some awkward
gasps reminded him to get a bit of exercise now
and again. One engineer joked about a cold snap,
another, about making a clean break with it all.
The air smelled of cabbage stalks and diesel. All around,
the audience declined to comment or disperse.
It was depressingly banal. Moleskin coats,
berets and helmets, some neckerchiefs daintily tied
above the glinting imbroglio of eagles' wings
and chevrons, they tootled about in the halftoned,
moon-faced quackery of the sideshow. The cold street
turned whiter still, tank tracks glistened
beside the provost marshall. Some picked fluff from
pockets, bored apostles of the mesmerist,
and then checked out the knackered stool again.
The rope. The gibbet. His eyes. His prick.

3 The Levitation

"There's no shame in it, it's just a hefty contraption
of wires and boards, some snide magic from Eliphas Levi
and then, yessir!" Next thing, I dropped like a leather satchel
on the boards. Kerplonk! The whole fabric shifted
and shuddered and one hell of a kerfuffle ensued,
until dust settled on the footlights
and I realised I'd attained the seventh degree of concentration
(once again) or had my head stuck up my arse for a laugh.
"There's nothing to it," I said,
"a few tugs on the old poker and I'm as right as rain,
just give me a minute to set myself down."
Then some joker asked to see the whole thing over.
"I'm bored with the whole shebang. It's no use farming out
miracles if Jansenists like you don't appreciate the task.
Watch with Mother'd be all you could grasp
of magical invocations, no bleeding metaphysics for you."
I pulled my gut in, hoicked up my keks and took a few steps
towards the wings. "Bollocks to the lot of you", I said.
"Come what may, the puck of your tongue
and the flange of your head will keep you
amused for centuries. All's language to you, no guessing who
fabricated that, more zoo than rue, Count Ugo-fucking-lino."
Anyways, my tricks would have to wait a whiles,
the pulleys were squeaking and those folk back there
in the Theatre of Hate would have no truck
with the scenery of this sad lot.
The whole apparatus was hackneyed mock Egyptian,
and I guess it was then or thereabouts I realised
the moral fabric of society was a bit of a jamboree.
A fine misleading supper dance of gammy denigration;
and the soulless path I'd taken as my own
through all the sorry acts, was just a right song and dance
of ports and pubs and warehouse nights.
Take that time I'd risen like Horus over the gorgeous
chitterlings of a weathered crowd in Minsk.
I'd rogered the cunts senseless before the curtain dropped.
I was gazing back at my long impervious retinue of shadows,
of burning fields and books, of cobbled paths of muddy skulls,
the balsam of calm in some cell
where snapshots of biddies formed an abattoir of grief,
or that verdigris on kids in the bloated rivers,
when I began to itch once more.
Stiffened in sunlight, my words stuck in my craw
like a viaticum. It was all a load of self-serving
muck and ruin, my time had been and gone,
all that's left was a wincing at the vault's
impeccable maths, the bending goddess
spurned for string theory, no magic in the frippery
of these tired bowels. I lifted one foot up, then the other,
and swooped off for one more shot at
bending the ear of Amazing Stories
or shaking up some skanky waif
with my fists full of hair.

5 Mephisto Sleeps

All aches and pains, Mephisto slumps below
the fractured breeze-blocks. Necrosis waiting for
the chalk lines of the qartermaster. All night
the blam! blam! blam! of tiny sulphur potshots
with this gorgeous sniper: a Kalashnikov & messianic grin
& girlfriend in the country, "Two train rides, four stops
below the pines and vineyards and you're there.
The farm in giddy mud and pigs the size of horses."
Mephisto hears the monologue and dozes as
he understands the cousins there are wrapped (once more)
in hessian and sleep in clay beside the bloody well.

Mephisto sleeps, taped-up like pimpled poultry.
His body draped in polythene, mumbling incantations.
Four and six, pick up sticks. Three and eight, burn the gate.
His Y-fronts gaping. All porphyouria and plasmodium
beside the moaning gunman still. He rubs his eyes with grief
and shudders for some ointment and his old official papers.
Potsherds lie about the floor like tampered gods.
There's wax shapes too, of legs and bellies, hips
and heads with horns and discs between
and smiles like clinkers. Blots of tar
like tiny countries spattered on the lino.
What else, let's see: a BIC pen, Oreos and sputum dish.
Crampons. A bit of scag. Pretty soon the gunman leaves.
A candid shade still bleating on about the grapes
last year and winters that could freeze a man
if he stopped too long to light a fag or take an urgent slash.

Mephisto sleeps. His purple schnozz whistling in the dark.
A few of us observe him as the Magus of Attrition.
He's quite the regal penitent really. His lips
unfastening with cockroaches and lichen.
Outside the roof space is all aerials and washing lines.
A green moon sits on the mosque like an amoeba.
The mandalas of some choppers splutter by as each
casts a beam of light on lean-tos and lock-ups.
The city clicks with jasper neon as the rat-runs prosper.
Mephisto keeps on dreaming of gorgeous prefabs.
He dreams of wires and thorn-forests in the dank
emporium of his breath. He sees the soot filled mouths.

And then, those notes from church bells charge the air
with ineluctable longing. The roster of each note
a footfall of corpses dancing in the streets, calloo callay!
Mephisto tires easily of quadrilles and gavottes,
and all the moaning Minnies in the Theatre of Hate.
He's wiped out his entourage of shipwrights and chefs
with bowel cancer and Nembutals.
The room smells of Dettol and fish. Mephisto dreams
he's climbing into bed with Louise Brooks.
She's startlingly black & white and really quite lascivious.
All page boy haircut and cupid's bow lips.
His desire's all golems and cabinets, pianos and wicked,
wicked fingers, which climb towards some notes.

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