Tuesday, January 31, 2012

He had gone in person (Month of Poetry #31)

He woke into an unadorned morning,
nettled with unease, still unsure whether
the news had sunk deep into her.
He had gone to tell her in person,
was scolded for making the trip when
he could just have rung her up on ‘the blower’.
Will run on for thirty seconds at the mouth
about weather and the kids, then all
awkward lips and scattered breaths, say
the words about his brother, her youngest son.
Another graceful intention, another retarded action.
Adventure: side of beef roast wafted through
the floral suffocation of the room and caught her up
in the subject of lunch. “They overcook the beans.”
“Did you hear me, mum? About Robert?”
“I heard you. When you spoke, I turned around.”
Amid the acoustical preface, to Hotel California
he compared her retirement home. Assisted care:
you’ll be checked in any time your kids like.
She had been a looker in her day, legs like fish-hooks
to men’s eyes. She’d had a delightful way of being
able to stand, still in space but somehow out of time.
She was a prize, he thought. And so we beat,
- on boats against the current - each other to her love,
racing skiffs across the waves for her attention.
She had dulled swiftly in memory like wet silver,
still he had no joy to see her staunched in that drudge
of decrepit chats and daytime television. But she
had nestled, confirmed comfort, in her mismatched way:
“If life gives you lemons, you’ve got to crack a few eggs.”
He had gone in person, when the news had come.
And had told her, he reasoned. He should not find worry
with the peace of a paid debt. Of finished business
she knew nothing: each day fresh with unremembered
phrases the nurses would repeat in patience.
This is the hidden backdrop of our age destination:
parenting the parent, mourning the reversal of care.


Today's final poem for Month of Poetry 2012 is based on suggestions from eight people:

@marklawrence: "This is the hidden backdrop of our age" (Wade David, The Wayfinders)
@jayjaycee: "the news had sunk deep into her" (short story by Tiggy Johnson, Crossing, published in Escape, ed. Bronwyn Mehan)
@anthonyeaton: "and so we beat on, boats against the current" (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby)
@_camer0n: "Another retarded action adventure side of beef" (Kurt Cobain Journals)
@realnixwilliams: "The peace of a paid debt, of finished business" (B.R. Collins, Thyme's End)
@ernmalleyscat: "a delightful way of being able to stand still in space" (Frank Jordan, Create More Butterflies)
@timsterne: "I turned around amid the acoustical preface to 'Hotel California'" (Jon Cotner & Andy Fitch, Ten Walks/Two Talks)
@matchtrick: "The blower will run for thirty seconds" (Owner's Manual, LA Spas (Quest Series))

Monday, January 30, 2012

Who are not an excuse any more (Month of Poetry #30)

It is in many ways quite difficult to be everything
perhaps you should be. A fisherman, a poet, a chef
a priest, a politician of the sort you’ve watch Howard spin.
Block, prevaricate, sidestep your way into achieving
little more than shelter from the fallout.
Each of you freefall into the most important
decisions: children, jobs, which way the bed faces,
all these points of difference you gotta have.
Friendship and courage and whatever you’re going
to cook for tea – these choices mount up like newspapers.
I watched you all, but settled on a soul to crack open.
I had chosen him because in this house of his there was writing.
On every wall he played this paperchase, for each game
a fresh square is used. For drawing the Wog and the Dago
and other taunts from his childhood into the open,
he used a green pen. His mother had said they were jealous.
I watching him in winter as he snapped his icy fingers
around the words that blamed his life on each and
every other. I bricked in the quiet about his ears;
I did need six years to contruct and build the cone
of silent transference. When he had placed his
every dumb reasoning elsewhere, he felt that he was
alive again, forgiven for not struggling
against the undertow. Certainty is favourable;
unfortunately, massive overconfidence is not.
A survival trait learned from family who are not an excuse
any more. He wore his assurance as a false receipt,
for an advertisement in his pocket that sang his own
praises. The devil is not impressed by how fast
you can swim along with the current.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from ten people:
  • @jayjaycee1: "perhaps you should be a fisherman" (Natalie Babbitt, Jack Plank Tells Tales)
  • @slimejam: “He snapped his icy fingers” (Daisy Meadows, ‘Nicole the Beach Fairy - Rainbow Magic #78)
  • @jellyjellyfish: "You gotta have friendship and courage and whatever!" (Bryan Lee O'Malley, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life)
  • @ernmalleyscat: "In this house of his there was writing on every wall" (John Galsworthy, The Forsyte saga)
  • @matchtrick: "For each game a fresh square is used for drawing the Wog" (Joyce Thorpe, B.A., Successful Parties & Social Evenings)
  • @eglantinescake: "We've watched Howard spin, block, prevaricate, sidestep..." (David Marr, Quarterly Essay: His Master's Voice)
  • @mike_sh: "Unfortunately, massive overconfidence is not a survival trait" (Garth Nix, A Confusion of Princes)
  • @crazybrave: "a false receipt for an advertisement in his pocket" (Delia Falconer, Sydney)
  • @timsterne: "I did need six years to construct and to build the Cone" (Thomas Bernhard, Correction)
  • @marklawrence: "he felt that he was alive again, forgiven" (Peter Temple, The Broken Shore)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Twitnic 2012 (Month of Poetry #29)

Keeping seven kids in place at a park
proceeded not from the circumstances of
geography, but from sheer will of one man
plus balloons. The call came electric:
come to a picnic. Because we are no longer
willing to remain imaginary and avatared,
we brought cheese and children.
I arrived first with a boy pre-grubbed into
the shade of an aardwolf, the earth-wolf.
Of South Africa he knows nothing.
For fuck’s sake, of South Melbourne
he knows nothing. We shut and opened
the creak of rotunda gates and I thought
of people I would soon embrace.
This is how space begins: with words only
bright on a screen, with @ and # and
tentative DMs towards IRL. And then ---
They flew in with blankets and arms
and arrayed themselves into points:
this star, is very easy to assemble.
God doesn’t love you, but friends might;
I know which pair of arms I’d choose.
I have settled on this that life was:
weakness, strength. Was the exception
the maelstrom of people I have found?
I asked my boy this question, he answered
me with a handful of almonds. One thing more:
I have missed you today, missed your
quick straight-teeth smile that proclaims:
there was my librarian, stern and infallible.
And silent, your eyes for me across the grass
threading past plates of chicken and bread.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from eight people:
  • @timsterne: "proceeded not from the circumstances of geography but from sheer will" (Joan Didion, Sentimental Journeys)
  • @kirsty_l: "God doesn't love you" (Katharine Susannah Prichard, The Pioneers)
  • @matchtrick: "We are no longer willing to remain imaginary" (Alberto Manguel, Into the Looking Glass Wood)
  • @marklawrence: "Life was weakness, strength was the exception." (Peter Temple, The Broken Shore)
  • @jayjaycee1: "This star is very easy to assemble" (Frederique Gueret, Magical Window Stars)
  • @_esther: "This is how space begins, with words only" (Georges Perec, Species of Spaces)
  • @_camer0n: "there was my librarian, stern and infallible and silent" (Charles Bukowski, Ham On Rye)
  • @ernmalleyscat: "aardwolf, the earth-wolf of South Africa" (Arthur L Hayward, The Concise English Dictionary)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Decisions (Month of Poetry #28)

Fucking hell, I’m bones and then I eat a
sandwich and a woman appears from nowhere.
On Broadway, policeman vanishes with the call
of donuts. On Lygon Street, choice disappears
under a looped track of pasta. It’s a bit like starting
solids at 6 months: once I commence meals
I have to keep going. Three decisions a day was
the crucifix I had begun having nightmares about.
The reality of adult life: need to feed my child,
run butter across my dry muscles or I will
stagger dumb feet, crack knees on the foothpath
before I relieve him to daycare. Twenty kilograms
doesn’t lift any weights from this meaty decision.
Each frown is a case of balancing damage
and I will slap these words down blunt:
Dinner, then slam my head in the cupboard?
Skip it, then sob and shake for what counts as routine?
He slips and hits his knee; cries. I offer my arms
to him/you, and you ask for cheese. You behold
me in a horrible example. Of free thought I offer
a place in between these insignificant horrors:
my warm lap, a slice of comfort, a promise.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from three people:

@spikelynch: "Woman Appears From Nowhere On Broadway, Policeman Vanishes" (Joanna Russ, The Female Man)
@timsterne: "I had begun having nightmares about the reality of adult life" (David Foster Wallace, Oblivion)
@attentive: "You behold in me a horrible example of free thought" (James Joyce, Ulysses)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Light behaves like waves (Month of Poetry #27)

She was expected to wash up a mermaid
with knives in her feet. They said I’ll bet
you anything she’s a damsel in distress of
the bottom of her foot at the bottom of the sea.

They neglected to notice she had read the
fine print, that ocean of tiny words that stream
in a champagne bead to the surface. They
forgot that light behaves like waves, too.

She had thanked them all in vast fish: you ought
to return thanks. In a neat speech wrapped about
in fins and slime she flopped her appreciation
out in stench. The whole world had a new smell.

Small and unadorned, a chamber maid slit
one open. Gasping still, the flapper heaved
out hot guts and gleaming metal in the middle there.
Opens up a field of infinite opportunities: one gold ring.

A footman, arrested about his death journey
on to the conquest of another snivelling hypocrite
found a string of seaweed hanging from a oak.
He stood a second, missed the crushing wheels.

One man saw her like a flying fish, escaped across
the sky. Stars flickered like salt crystals. He
said: It can’t be the moon, it’s going too fast
and wasn’t that a tail? Under one gaze, she won.

This isn’t the story? Not Disney or Andersen? I saw
that slick red-head Ariel, I know how it feels.
To have to begin speculating ominously about
a woman fish: it is to find her, warm about the rocks.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from eight people:

@JayJayCee1: "they forgot that light behaves like waves, too" (Sam Kean, The Disappearing Spoon)
@jellyjellyfish: "I'll bet you anything she's a damsel in distress" (Rodman Philbrick, Freak The Mighty)
@marklawrence: "in the middle there opens up a field of infinite opportunities" (Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium)
@spikelynch: "It can't be the moon. It's going too fast" (Alasdair Gray, Lanark)
@matchtrick: "You ought to return thanks in a neat speech" (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass)
@ernmalleyscat: "the whole world had a strange new smell" (A S Byatt, Possession)
@attentive: "On to the conquest of another snivelling hypocrite" (Stendhal, Le Rouge Et Le Noir)
@timsterne: "I know how it feels to have to begin speculating ominously" (Joseph Heller, Something Happened)

I'm not sure why this combination of phrases prompted a Little Mermaid poem. Maybe each sequence of poems I write demands a Little Mermaid poem somewhere.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Every poem is children (Month of Poetry #26)

Every poem is children. I clapped words
together and every time: children.
These lines, they imitated
their basic shape and form, sprouted a
mimicked phrase, small-tooth grin,
never-ending mucus and poo.
Poetry is an abdomen, smooth with an
adolescent promise of everything
your belly will one day make.
A nice sheath for a sword, fine lines for
breaking. Nothing happens by chance,
to girls come pretty rhymes and words
all treacle shiny. Those glosses on
the human comedy of terrors, each one
a pentameter pretender, teasing out
pregnant stanzas: they got themselves up.
Killingly, those poems are untimely ripped
brought forth squalling. They scream
against the glare, straining umbilical against
the tethers of their tiny language.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from six people:

@_camer0n: "never-ending mucus and poo" (Robin Barker, The Mighty Toddler)
@pinknantucket: "They imitated their basic shape and form" (Ed. Robin Myers & Michael Harris, A Millenium of the Book [slightly edited])
@ernmalleyscat: "Your belly will one day make a nice sheath for a sword" )Honoré de Balzac, The Droll Stories_
@timsterne: "Those glosses on the human comedy" (Jan Didion, Sentimental Journeys)
@spikelynch: "Nothing happens by chance to girls" (Italo Calvino, Baron in the Trees)
@kirsty_l: "They got themselves up Killingly" (Edward Gorey, The Glorious Nosebleed)

Today's poem is neither Australian nor unAustralian. This reflects my general stance of approving of public holidays, but not approving of daycare centres being shut on public holidays.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Two (Month of Poetry #25)

(for L. and C.)

An extra pair of feet dash sparks across the carpet
and two bodies fling a whirl of hair and arms
onto the bed. Never I have seen the springs
(for all the winters this mattress has endured)
pressed down with such pretty squeals.
Snags and plain sangers are the
holiest of menus: Mary’s kitchen is suddenly
full of angels with Vegemite faces. Two:
one who doesn’t notice if it’s white,
one who would otherwise avail herself of any
opportunity. To burst into tears (either
of them or us) is acceptable and overtired.
As I write this, sitting in the kitchen sink are
the cast off dinner pleadings. I know
tofu can taste superb. “Yes, it really can
be eaten. No, it’s not kitchen sponge.”
Their adult-mirrored curl of lip calls me false.

At bed-time, they take arrangements without
a twitch of eyebrow or serrated silence.
This change of bedding expectation, it
must be a cultural thing. Says Mum:
“Kids adjust to anything. It’s adults
that have a crisis over cereal branding.”
Two: damp with play, slack with sleep.
we made them, one each, from our bodies.
They think us heroes, able to cut off Medusa’s
head without being turned into stone or
find our tenderness baked cold into mudbrick.
We smooth back hair, pull their softness
to us again and again to feel that we live near.
A tribe of bloodless white people we have been.
These two; small and primary, soon shock us awake
in the morning quarter-dark. Infuriating and loveborn,
their shouts defibrillate the day.


Today's post is based on suggestions from eight people:

  • @timsterne: "We live near a tribe of bloodless white people" (Lydia Davis, Samuel Johnson Is Indignant)
  • @marklawrence: "to cut off Medusa's head without being turned to stone" (Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium)
  • @ChanletB: "I have seen the springs, for all the winters" (Kay Jamison, An Unquiet Mind)
  • @realnixwilliams: "Tofu can taste superb - yes, it really can" (Rose Elliot, Fast, Fresh and Fabulous: Rose Elliot's New Vegetarian Cookbook)
  • @notcharming: "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" (Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle)
  • @matchtrick: '"It must be a cultural thing,'" says Mum.' (Shaun Tan, Eric)
  • @attentive: "who would otherwise avail herself of any opportunity to burst into tears" (WG Sebald, The Rings of Saturn)
  • @ernamalleyscat: "Mary's kitchen is suddenly full of angels" (Andrew Marlton, The Story of the Christmas Story)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Storm dogs (Month of Poetry #24)

At the turn of spring, the rain
pulls away from earth and out
of sight. Left behind, the space is
big where clouds once stuffed full the sky.
The silver ladder’s gone, lifted
back up into someone else’s season.
Bobble-headed birds sprout stubble
and this craze for flowers was also manifested.
In other facets of daily life, I noticed
a swathe of Lost posters peppering the
streets with missing pets. Unseasonable
storms had sprung them loose, backyards
emptied of dogs, garden chairs were
undepressed by cats. The thunder takes
them out of their heads, it is a truth universally.
Acknowledged the plight, I took the snips of
phone numbers in a show of aid,
just to let the people know there is
someone out there. Who reads the papers
for disappeared animals any more?
I looked for one particular hound,
and there he was. A funny old dog,
he liked strawberries thrown high
for the mouth-catch. On just the right
trajectory, you double him up
like a pocketknife mid-air and he spreads
his canine blades snap! across the
berry into slush. They would find him
in a week, bearing a jagged stick
in his maw like a trophy. I would
throw this new-foundling his summer fruit
and wonder if when the storm struck,
he had jack-knifed skywards and only
after seven days managed to drag
that piece of lightning down.


Today's poems is based on suggestions from seven people:

@timsterne: "just to let people know there is someone out there who reads the papers" (Don DeLillo, Libra)
@JayJayCee1: “The silver ladder's gone!” (Isabel Wyatt, The Seven Year Old Wonder Book)
@realnixwilliams: “This craze for flowers was also manifested in other facets of daily life” (Andrea Wulf, The Brother Gardeners)
@sulphura: "He was a funny old dog. He liked strawberries." (Margaret Wise Brown, Mr Dog)
@safzoro: "It is a truth universally acknowledged" (Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice)
@ernmalleyscat: "you double him up like a pocketknife" (Damon Runyon, On Broadway)
@LaceySnr: “Space is big” (Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

When I was a kid I read the 'lost' notices in the local paper, and then kept my eyes peeled for the pets. I still do it out of habit when I see posters up on power-poles.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Opposite ends of the job (Month of Poetry #23)

When that nest turns up empty
as a tureen after pouring the soup,
into the toilet go all thoughts of
fledgling-proofed freedom.
When it comes to being thicker
than water, we’re more of the blood.
Love and rhetoric school us
in opposite ends of the job:
devotion and addiction;
subjective and objectionable;
Mention the word ‘quality’
to some project managers
and you’ll hear an audible groan.
Mention the word ‘babyhood’
to some teenagers’ parents and
you’ll see the timeline has grown.
Children shoot up faster than
any deadline, while mothers and
fathers they simply trail behind,
grumbling that it goes too fast
leaning on the door-frame between
leaving home and a first smile.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from four people:

  • @realnixwilliams: "Mention the word 'quality' to some project managers and you'll hear an audible groan" (Barker & Cole, Brilliant Project Management)
  • @timsterne: "After pouring the soup into the toilet" (Lynne Tillmann, American Genius)
  • @ernmalleyscat: "they simply trail behind, grumbling that it goes too fast" (Mao Tse-tung, Selected Works Volume 1)
  • @matchtrick: "We're more of the blood, love and rhetoric school" (Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead)

This may well be the first time I've had to fit project management into a poem. The odds are it's probably the last, too.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Virginia bred presidents (Month of Poetry #22)

I expected maybe the Mormons.
Or the man trying to sell Foxtel
(to who my grandmother had once replied
“Oh no, we’re quite happy with Telstra, thanks”)
But it was him, shuffling and frayed
around the periphery, as if every edge
of him from hat to boot had split ends.
He asked if I would like to hear his theory.
Mindful of my looming tax return and
mountain of matched-up socks
I invited him in: “I’m extremely interested.”
In squalor steps he bird-footed down the hall
nestled himself on my couch and fluffed up
what he had forseen. It was a vision of
the Old Dominion. As the southern outpost
of a Middle Atlantic economy, he detailed,
we were in a prime position to capitalise
on the untapped assets of presidential births.
Eight politicians later, his hair frilled out
ecstatic and diamond beads of sweat etched
his face with trails of fanatic grime.
Virginia bred presidents, was the gist of
his words gone since. “I never talk to children:
I believe. In their artistic instinct lies a power
that, if harnessed, could make America’s
greatest leader since your great-grandpappy
was a twinkle.” A flash of brown-rimmed gum.
He smelled of mass-produced roast dinners
and overused mattress. A roll of papers
scruffled from his pocket, slashed with
arrows and flecked about with scrawl.
“I took it to the government on a number
of evenings. I tried every night to be as
unfunny as I could, and all I found was
their laughter.” He coiled his wire fingers
around my wrist, and stood. “I will trust you
with this. Keep it until I come to you again.”
A flash of saggy tweed and my front door
clicked shut, soft as an apology. When
I looked down I found the scroll of revolution
pressed between my palms.


This poem is based on suggestions from four people:

@ernmalleyscat: "I'm extremely interested in squalor." (J.D. Salinger, For Esmé – With Love and Squalor)
@facelikethunder: "it was a vision of the Old Dominion as the southern outpost of a Middle Atlantic economy" (Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency)
@timsterne: "Since I never talk to children, I believe in their artistic instinct” (Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet)
@matchtrick: “I tried each night to be as unfunny as I could” (Stewart Lee, The "If You Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One" EP)

The American state of Virginia is nicknamed “Old Dominion”, but also “Mother of Presidents”, as eight U.S. presidents were born there. That seemed as good a starting place as any for a poem.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Not made of anything so desperate (Month of Poetry #21)

When she was only seconds slicked forth
she stared at the midwives like their eyes
were the meanest eyes she had ever seen.
I narrowed mine too, when they told me to wake
her to feed. “I’m sorry to break your dreams,”
I whispered, and she blinked once, her
mouth open clean as Frieda Hughes.
Delirious with milk, my chest arched weightless
bobbed me across the ceiling, expressed
streams of mother manuals I should write.
The big-boob handbook is sopped with
fever, pierced with vacuum suction.

I brought her home, all furred pale arms
on the hottest day. The front door wavered,
and in the foreground, a black cat.
Sky pale green and shimmering raw with tiredness.
I made babies and journeys like artists are born,
and not made of anything so desperate as
a pull and a jumpstart for my own new existence.
I don’t give a damn for life. Is really an idiotic
business such as this worth plumping humans for?
I made her because there was a gap in her shape
a space cut out for like starfish hands, opening
and closing, silhouetted against February fires.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from six people:

@timsterne: "I don't give a damn, for life is really an idiotic business." (Blaise Cendrars, Moravagine)
@scooter_lass: 'journeys, like artists, are born and not made' (Laurence Durrell , Bitter Lemons)
@ernmalleyscat: "and in the foreground a black cat. Sky pale green." (Vincent van Gogh, The Letters. (last letter to Theo))
@marklawrence: "I'm sorry to break your dreams." (Dee Nolan, A Food Lover's Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela)
@pinknantucket: Their eyes were the meanest eyes she had ever seen. (Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh)
@lalscotton: 'I should write the big-boob handbook.' (How to leave twitter by grace dent)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dinner was Campbells (Month of Poetry #20)

I met you young, and then again at thirty.
It was me that in later life you married.
The mole on my cheek stayed non-cancerous
and the mole in that other place fascinated
years after we found those uncanny rings
on our shaking fingers. We chucked in sense
like a steaming massage towel, we threw
every waking hour against the dreaming drawbridge.

We took it upon ourselves to hurl our
caution money at gangster winds.
I would write, you would teach.
I announced the last of my grant in ominous tones:
“Germany has declared war on Russia.”
Swimming in the afternoon was cancelled when
the pool fees outstripped dinner and a
rare bottle of painstripper cabernet.

I knocked off writing, you finished teaching
and slipped a coin in the public phone
each evening at 5, affected snotty French tones
and enquired whether Madame would care
for cream of chicken or the beef and vegetable?
Dinner was Campbells. We exhausted the
Warhol jokes but stayed warm over the stove
even once the novelty of poverty wore off.

We ran our cards up in hot plastic slots.
For a few months there was less money,
then there was no money at all.
Was exactly what we had contained in a
voice from the end of the street?
Tapped along a wire we had no want
of reversing, running thin like soup
through the cables between our ears?


Today's poem is based on suggestions from three people (which is lucky, as I forgot to ask for suggestions last night but they came forth anyway!)

@timsterne: "Germany has declared war on Russia. Swimming in the afternoon" (Franz Kafka, Diaries)
@ernmalleyscat: "No money at all was exactly what we had" (George McRobie, Small is Possible)
@scooter_lass: "in later life you married the mole" (Martin Amis, The House of Meetings)

I remember reading somewhere about a writer couple (I think) who for a while could only afford a can of soup each night to share for dinner. Each evening he would ring her from the public phone at the end of the street, to see which flavour of soup she felt like that evening. The phone call probably cost half again what the can of soup did, but that gesture of his phone call has stayed with me, though I've long forgotten who the people actually were.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The sofa can't be blamed for this (Month of Poetry #19)

A simple and inexpensive way
to tune a poet’s strings?
Tell her that a verse a day’s
the easiest of things.

We poets had no full-time staff,
we had no secret agents,
worthy of note, worthy of chaff,
we star in our own pageants.

And so I too had fallen prey
to the mind warp oh so pretty,
rather than just write, I say:
I’ll call up half the city!

I’ll offer poems, freshly cut
from words placed in my hands.
The dragon does not beg, slut,
but places her demands.

Have you got as much guts
as you’ve got gall and phrases?
I will not give you ifs or buts,
just put them in their places.

I’m going to fail, I’m going to suck
I happily agree.
On ‘Hotel Buggiato’ I’m stuck
(you get this verse for free)

I’ll fudge a few bad ditties,
I’ll badly rhyme my lies,
there’s no need to get shitty,
it’s not the Nobel Prize.

So if my mother is a fish,
it’s bad metaphor: I know it.
The sofa can’t be blamed for this,
the fault lies in the poet.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from seven people:

@matchtrick: 'The dragon does not beg, slut' (George Martin, Game Of Thrones)
@scooter_lass: 'have you got as much guts as you've got gall?' (Hammett, Red Harvest)
@timsterne: ‘my mother is a fish’ (William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying)
@ernmalleyscat: ‘I too had fallen prey to the mind warp’ (Randall Lane, The Zeroes)
@lalscotton: ‘we had no secret agents worthy of note’ (Dennis Wheatley, The Deception Planners)
@dogpossum: 'simple and inexpensive way to tune' (Kalaukele pamphlet)
@ChanletB: ‘Hotel Buggiato’ (Lili Wilkinson, A Pocket Full of Eyes)

Er, my sincere apologies.

I'm very very tired and there's a three year old who's been screaming "I WANT TO SING A SONG! I WANT A STORY! I WANT A DRINK OF WATER! I WANT TO WAKE UP! I WANT TO WAKE UP!" from his cot for the past hour.

I think it did something to my brain.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

You still wrote me letters (Month of Poetry #18)

I said it softly. You asked me, did I say I loved you?
When a child asks you something, answer him.
For goodness sake: when a man asks you something,
answer him as if you'd care to hear it back.
I'd like to try and pose here, but my facade would
fall as flat as abandoned beer. I cared enough to
propose my hand across a pint glass, you took
my fingers and we marveled the reflections of the two.

Old women gazed, disapprovingly bubbled-wrapped
in a festival of ladies and letters. Written out of history,
we lived in a preoccupation as complete as that of a
dream-walk by the river and a missed last train.
We were off, racing hard against the last thirty years,
riding til the writing from our pens was slick with lather.

When 'to' and 'from' addressed the same, you still wrote me letters.
Those sealed-up thoughts, they were big, and the writing was tiny:
small letters, scritched with all the haste and mess of hope.
Time had sneaked up on us and we found it was months ago
not weeks, that we had said this bright new idea out loud.
Danger cats threatened teeth and snarls against us:
we stood and fixed our feet firm as the young mice
squeaked with alarm; pleaded scattering.

Some people seem to think it's exciting to deface things.
That we write among them is our talent, our saving brace.
Your lines drop a rope ladder, rawk up my skin in magic:
a spell is the right words. Delivered in the right way they stop
short the hunters. Let the tigers come with their claws:
you have caught me up out of reach. We are flung up high
these seats gonna be a nosebleed, but hey, we've got
plenty of years pumping blood ahead of our veins.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from eleven people (I obviously fail at my own intention cutting things off at eight phrases):

  • @msmisrule: "a spell is the right words delivered in the right way" (Diana Wynne Jones, The Magicians of Caprona)
  • @slimejam: “Time had sneaked up on us” (Magnus Mills, The Restraint Of Beasts)
  • @home_sewn: "when a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake" (Lee Harper, To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • @mike_sh: "We lived in a preoccupation as complete as that of a dream" (Marie & Pierre Curie, Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale Of Love And Fallout)
  • @scooter_lass: "Seats gonna be a nosebleed, but hey" (George Pelecanos, The Turnaround)
  • @matchtrick: 'Let the tigers come with their claws!' (Antoine De Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince)
  • @pinknantucket: "The young mice squeaked with alarm" (Jill Barklem, Brambly Hedge Summer Story)
  • @_camer0n: "I'd like to try and pose here" (Pierre Bourdieu, On Television)
  • @timsterne: "It's exciting to deface things that we live among" (David Shields, Reality Hunger)
  • @gretapunch: "the reflections of the two old women gazed, disapprovingly" (Neil Gaiman, Stardust)
  • @ernmalleyscat: "They were big and the writing was tiny" (Roddy Doyle, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Three years ago (Month of Poetry #17)

Three years ago he is heralded by
a tidal wave, breaking like something
in Hollywood they shoot. The white girl
first feeds him with all her insides and
he eats her up, smiling at her smiling.
Two years ago and she makes a prayer:
never may he have an accident.
Shaped like an umbrella with his arms
outstretched he learns all at once
to step the chasm between chairs.
Naps are mastered and performed:
routines are like a comfort blanket
for kids and parents alike. They mark
the beast of sleep, prop up the days.
One year ago she glances across at
the red light and almost doesn’t stop.
He says in his little voice: ‘You okay?’
She shakes her head and hands shake.
Later, she says ‘My God, I was a long
way down.’ Her tears run over his face
when she remembers almost leaving.
No years ago and we are all of us flesh
and blood and more entropy than
the second law of thermodynamics has.
A rather different status for time exists
when dealing with a three year old:
he finds extra moments in little corners.
Where someone else’s bid for immortality
goes unnoticed, he can pick up time
and tuck it away like a pocketful
of gumnuts. Every hour spent watching
a line of ants won back with a skipped
nap. Every minute spent experimenting
with your favourite seasonal fruits and a
plastic hammer leaves a new lifetime
of stains on the carpet. Every second
ticks back to three years ago when we
first taught each other to swim to the surface.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from eight people:

@_boobook_: “Routines are like a comfort blanket for kids” (Nicole Avery , Planning With Kids)
@matchtrick: 'They shoot the white girl first' (Toni Morrison, Paradise)
@_camer0n: "experimenting with your favourite seasonal fruits" (The CSIRO total wellbeing diet)
@spikelynch: "May he have an accident shaped like an umbrella" (Primo Levi, The Periodic Table)
@hannibal_: "The second law of thermodynamics has a rather different status" (Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time)
@ernmalleyscat: "little corners where someone's bid for immortality goes unnoticed" (Edmund White, The Flâneur)
@timsterne: "My God, I was a long way down" (Knut Hamsun, Hunger)
@gretapunch: "She glances across the red light" (Joe Dunthorne, Submarine)

Today is my wee boy Luka's third birthday. Happy three years, blondie :)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rang out sirens (Month of Poetry #16)

She had waited for a great-grandchild
long as we could remember. Instead,
substitute pets ring-barked the furniture
spread their reminders on the couch.
They were blessed with dubious monikers
and natural ends. She wrote to tell us:
“At the stroke of six, Ikey Snigglefritz
laid down. His goose was cooked.”
Ikey was a rottweiler. The pets ate well;
the goose may have not been figurative.
Two cats, three chickens, a Doberman,
miscellaneous flurries of guinea pigs and mice
(some free range). Added into the mix is Herman,
a cannabalistic plumber who roamed
the water pipes, dispatching fellow spiders
in an arachnid audition for Get Carter.

She refused all use of the telephone,
though kept it in the cupboard for emergencies.
The cord trailed to the wall like an unlit fuse.
To her mind, this was being flexible and sensible.
Instead of being rigid and brittle in her thoughts
she wrapped them up in logic until they
couldn’t breathe. So we weren’t sure how
to tell her, how to usurp all her pets with
this bright new thing of birth. Debates ranged
over the stop-start-stop of telegrams,
the photographic curlicues of calling cards
the dashing nature of Morse Code.
You suggested we tie a note to Herman
for when she next took a bath.
When her first great-grandchild burst into
the world, full of cottage cheese and
yodelling fury, I lifted the phone and
we simply called. Her joy rang out sirens
like the most brilliant emergency.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from four people:

@matchtrick: 'in the end we simply called her Joy' (David Almond, Skellig)
@marklawrence: "was being flexible and sensible instead of being rigid and brittle" (CS Forrester, Hornblower and the Hotspur)
@ernmalleyscat: "At the stroke of six Ikey Snigglefritz laid down his goose." (O. Henry, The Social Triangle)
@timsterne: "Added into the mix is Herman, a cannibalistic plumber." (Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film)

That line from Skellig is possibly my favourite last line of a book, ever. Although I haven't actually read 'Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film', so perhaps I shouldn't dismiss Herman the cannibalistic plumber out of hand.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Nice Town (Month of Poetry #15)

I was born here, in the front room. My mother

trilled ‘El Paso’ as she laboured, though as a rule

you do not whistle cowpuncher tunes on Sundays.

Would you like the little lady to get you a cup of tea?

We’re one of the old families, been here since

the church was built from trees they had pulled down.

The beams to make the cross were split by my

great-grandfather, singing away to glory with his

Gladly the Cross I’d Bear for Jesus. I always wondered

what Jesus had to do with a cross-eyed bear.

He went downhill after that, as did my father later.

Me, recently I’ve had another episode of coughing,

blood running a bit too thin these days and my heart

can’t get a grip. Often the menfolk seem to go that way.

Don’t expect you’ll have the ‘local trouble’, though.

You look healthy as a proverbial.

I wonder how that tea is getting on. No, don’t get up.

You’re really going to like it. Here it’s a nice town.

(with nice people you couldn’t have)

Made a better choice, had you really? Well.

Expect you could find someplace fancier,

(but we’ve all heard about your ‘spot of trouble’)

Ah, I expect you’ll be staying on a while yet.

(staying on here with us

til you find yourself withering

out each day by the fence

until the junk mail catalogues come)

Now. Where’s that tea?


Today's poem is based on suggestions from four people:

  • @ernamalleyscat: "You do not whistle cowpuncher tunes" (Reif Larsen, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet)
  • @timsterne: "I've had another episode of coughing blood" (Anton Chekhov, A Life in Letters)
  • @realnixwilliams: "You're really going to like it here! It's a nice town with nice people! You couldn't have made a better choice!" (Stepford Wives)
  • @matchtrick: “They had pulled down the beams to make the cross” (Jorge Luis Borges, The Gospel According to Mark)

Having had to look up what a 'cowpuncher tune' is, I've now had Marty Robbins singing El Paso on the brain for the past several hours. It's not unpleasant.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Gef (Month of Poetry #14)

He was completely dissatisfied with
conventional spellings. Unable to settle
upon Jeff or Geoff, he mixed the names his
mother offered him. On the day I met him,
Gef explained that he was quite unlike a normal.
Mongoose eyes and weasel nose, his rodent voice
pattered about with Dr Seuss, The Bible:
‘Your mountain is waiting. Eloi Eloi,
lama sabachthani. So get on your way.
There’s no nutter like a fellow nutter. Hello!’
Gef was stark raving, so we got along fine.
Both of us, we’ve never liked crossing roads.
We took the back way to everywhere, climbing
out from under the winter hedge with bits
of dry, brown grass and seed pods. Stuck to his
clothes were the trappings of lunacy,
I quickly pulled them on with pride. There’s a word
for it: hypomania, and we dashed from the woods
to the night to the day to the sea. Sand crusted
our bodies with the texture of bathers. On a
crowded beach is a diagram of human madness,
and he scraped it out wet with one shaking finger.
‘All of these people, they cannot see their pattern.
There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious,
fact-ridden surface of life. But if I draw a line here - ’
his bright eyes flashed hot, ‘we can see it how
it turns itself up the right way.’ I scoured his sandscape
eager jumpy glances. ‘It looks like a turtle.’
He nodded. ‘I knew you’d understand.’
One morning Gef was not waiting by the front gate.
I asked the nurse, but her interrogation of surnames
rattled my head like a seed pod and blew out
my thoughts like dry strips of grass.
Cross-legged under a tree, I took a stick
etched out a self-righting turtle in the dirt.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from six people:

@jellyjellyfish: “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact” (Arthur Conan Doyle, The Boscombe Valley Mystery)
@matchtrick: “Gef explained that he was quite unlike a normal mongoose” (Richard Wiseman, Paranormality)
@gingerandhoney: "climbing out from under the winter hedge with bits of dry, brown grass and seed pods stuck to his clothes"
@ernmalleyscat: "The texture of bathers on a crowded beach is a diagram." (Christopher Alexander, Notes on the Synthesis of Form)
@facelikethunder: "Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani" (Mark 15:34)
@timsterne: "We've never liked crossing roads." (Lars Iyer, Spurious)

Aramaic and an abnormal mongoose named Gef! What could be easier to work into a poem. Ahem.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Every fading February (Month of Poetry #13)

Summer left us and the trees dropped their skirts
to make a new carpet with their glowing.
Smoldering crimson or scarlet skins stirred
around your ankles, your feet peripherally
in the thick of things. You have glasses on
your nose and autumn in your heart,
skittering out your blood like leaves.
I hoped the memory of summer would
keep us warm, but you were razor-angry,
spitting tacks at people I’d never met:
‘He was a cockroach.’ With no muscles
anywhere, I bluffed light your fury, chanted
‘Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris,
sed in nomine diaboli’ and then regretted it so.
The tiger came into the kitchen with your reply:
‘I baptize you in the name of your own father.’
That March, we managed to say everything
that a problem would need. Very tall dogs
of war let slip over our back fence and sidled
into the house like arguments, nosed into
small corners of hurt that we had long papered
over or set to freeze around June.
Every fading February undid us a little further, that
new season a courier who gave you the message
in colours: red for frustration, purple for anger.
Brown for boredom, dulled flat under tired feet.
Like every year I wondered if we might not
crunch taut through another autumn.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from eight people:

@ernmalleyscat: "Problem - would need very tall dogs" (Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, The Goodies' Book of (Criminal) Records)
@timsterne: "He was a cockroach with no muscles anywhere." (Me, my Grade 6 yearbook)
@matchtrick: 'So the tiger came into the kitchen' (Judith Kerr, The Tiger Who Came to Tea)
@facelikethunder: “Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!” (Herman Melville, Moby Dick) ("I baptize you not in the name of the father, but in the name of the devil")
@spikelynch: "you have glasses on your nose and autumn in your heart" (Isaac Babel, How Things Were Done In Odessa)
@marklawrence: "With their glowing, smoldering crimson or scarlet skins" (Stephanie Alexander, 'Cherries', The Cook's Companion)
@_boobook_: 'Who gave you the message?' (Robert Graves, I Claudius)
@scooter_lass: 'Peripherally in the thick of things' (Peter Timms, In search of Hobart)

Even though I wrote it at 6am, it's a late posting, due to fun with friends and keeping my child up way beyond his bedtime. A good excuse for delayed poetry if ever I heard one.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Milking leeway (Month of Poetry #12)

Of course, the shot of white
drifted crossways to the bucket.
We were milking leeway:
that would eradicate itself into
the half-moon of a cow's foot.
Fresh from the beast, the bodywarmth
of it turned your stomach. It made
you think of curdled flesh, of the
pull and squeeze needed to unblock
the openings. Add to your troubles
a fine case of heartburn: you chewed
antacid and turned a faint green
at my suggestion of milk: like something
Schopenhauer might have had.
After a bad night where your head
lowed heavy with cattle and your
throat caught the branding iron
you took an enameled cupful, early
and warm as your own skin.
'Don't tell them I'm squeamish about
fucking milk, will you? Tell them
I am a knight.' Errant as you are,
I loved your mock-heroic stance,
metal cup aloft as Excalibur.
The cows chorused, dairy stink
filled my nose with everything alive
and I kissed your mouth surprised:
warm as blood or cream.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from four people:

@attentive: "tell them I am a knight-errant as they are" (Thomas Malory, Le Morte D'arthur)
@ernmalleyscat: "unblock the openings, Add to your troubles" (Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching)
@timsterne: "like something Schopenhauer might have had after a bad night" (PG Wodehouse, Hot Water)
@matchtrick: 'we were milking leeway that would eradicate itself' (China Miéville, The City and the City)

A concatenation of circumstances (mainly but not exclusively centering around my 3 year old) means I haven't had time to start today's poem until forty minutes ago. I don't write at night: I'm a morning person and when I looked at today's suggestions at 8:40pm with bleary eyes, I pretty much just sat here in blank despair for a further 10 minutes. Then I figured 'if you can't beat 'em, take 'em literally'. Hence: milking. I like the smell of dairies. Shit and milk and warm bodies. Smells like life.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rumpled (Month of Poetry #11)

All that glitters is not spun straw.
A foolish father he was. A withered
little lizard of a man, he boasted to a king
who took his words for daughters.
The doubtful king knew he could not lose:
‘They feed me lies; so I will eat them.’

In a box he shut her with a wheel and
(disregarding her hayfever) demanded
three nights of gossamer thread.
For a necklace, a ring and an unknown child
a little rattle stilt made the fodder shine.
The baby brought her wealth to dust and grief.

She guessed at Mat and Mark, Sam and Cam,
Tim and Tom and Chris, and finally at Alice.
His impish name danced away on fires
and all the promise of her sweet soft boy
seemed lost into his gnarled demands.
It was only luck that found his name.

Stamp! And stuff feet! And embroider toes
into the floor like the truth is stitched pretty.
The endings vary. He split the earth with a bang
like a headsman’s axe. He fell from a good height
and flew out the window on a ladle.
He took his own foot and ripped up the middle.

One mouth says he found in the centre of the garden
there was a well, one woman’s dark wet metaphor
and in his fury he plugged her up.
But all that mattered was the story potential.
In everything, word of mouth edits like the knife.
In debris, shield will cut excess swords down blunt.

In everything, names are shields and words can rip apart.
If you find your babes among the straw
perhaps that could be gold and truth enough for spinning.
Do not promise your first-born like a necklace or a ring
do not treat them like a rare gift of jewellery:
you will not always find his name to save them.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from nine people (yeah I know I said maximum of eight, but it's too hard just to leave out one):

@pinknantucket: "In the centre of the garden there was a well" (The Vanishing People, Katharine Briggs)
@_camer0n: "So I will eat them in a box." Dr.Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham
@markhwilliams: "All that mattered was the story potential in everything' - Supergods by Grant Morrison.
@marklawrence: "treat them like a rare gift." - Anh Do, The Happiest Refugee
@ernmalleyscat: "He was a withered little lizard of a man" Ian McEwan, Amsterdam
@attentive: 'with a bang like a headsman's axe' The Heroes, Joe Abercrombie
@dogpossum: 'stuff feet and embroider toes' - pg 51, 'Amigurumi' - LAN-Anh Bui & Josephine Wan.
@timsterne "fell from a good height, and flew" Jack Robinson, Days and Nights in W12
@matchtrick: 'The knife in debris shield will cut excess' —User Manual, Talon Petrol Line Trimmer (Model No. AT33550/AT33552)

Obviously, today's poem is about Rumpelstiltskin (which translates as 'little rattle stilt'). And it's true, the endings do vary - in the one I read as a kid he stamps his foot through the floor and gets stuck. In others, he stamps through the floor then grabs hold of his other foot and tears himself in half up the middle (gruesome), or flies out the window on a ladle, and somewhere I read a version where the queen stands above him and in his rage he flies at her and 'plugs her up'. Fairy tales, they're always about sex, aren't they?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Rising Sun (Month of Poetry #10)

He had brought it back from Japan, starched with tourism,
hung it from a post at back of the hen house
to scare away foxes. Harsh weather seasoned the fabric,
now the Rising Sun standard hung limp against the flagpole.
Like the toga of a Roman senator, we would sometimes find
a hysterical chicken rolled up in the red striped swathe.
‘Your mother thought the Japanese would stink of fish.’
He rarely spoke of travels. Confusion blushed my face.
‘Always kept a bit of her country racism. When the
Italians moved in up town, I bet she imagined their fingers
would smell of garlic and their hair of tomatoes.’

They were never meant to fly, but his chickens hassled
themselves up into the orchard trees, singles to companies.
At ripening, fruit caught their beady eyes
they peppered the fuzzy globes with sharp beaks.
‘Is it the shape of the peaches?’ I was all parts book-learned
and naïve. His caterpillar eyebrows drew together like lovers.
I blathered: ‘Chickens have, by nature, cannibalistic tendencies.
Maybe the peaches look like, little…heads…’
The eyebrows arched. ‘Reckon the chooks just like peaches.’

Weary whiskey and evening loosened his throat.
Leather-voiced confessions: he thought each summer
was his last, he prepared for a season from the back of the head
to the affront of his death. Perhaps each daybreak was final,
the sun would never rise again hot and fierce against his eyelids.
‘I feel relief every time I see another.’ Round, burning through the sky.
‘Each one, I imgaine, ups the odds of surviving another day.’
He pointed to the hen house, the tattered fabric.
‘Reckon that flag draws up the dawn to match it, red-hot for red-hot.’

Superstition was fleeting strange; he hardly ever spoke of magic
and when he did it was like a history lesson in obscure imagery.
‘I can’t shake that red circle from my chest, it is strange.
How this goes on: the struggle to get started. Terrible.’
‘It always happens.’ My voice was soft, afraid for him:
‘The sun comes up, the chickens need their breakfast.’
He placed his glass neatly back in its wet table circle.
‘It’s such a weight, such a big red weight on my heart.
Your mother understood, she kept an eye on the dawn.’
Last light pinked at the top of the hill; the flag on the
hen-house stirred in the wind. I turned to see his face
at that salute: his brief unshuttered dread.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from eight people:

@eglantinescake: “Chickens have, by nature, cannibalistic tendencies” (no author, Keeping Chickens)
@BespokeShespoke: “It is strange how this goes on. The struggle to get started. Terrible. It always happens.” (John Steinbeck, journals)
@ernmalleyscat: “Singles to companies at ripening fruit” (Graham Pizzey, Field Guide to the Birds of Australia – Wompoo Fruit Dove)
@liamvhogan: “I feel relief every time I see another round burning through the sky. Each one, I imagine, ups the odds of surviving” (Evan Wright, Generation Kill)
@lalscotton: “He hardly ever spoke of magic, and when he did it was like a history lesson” (Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell)
@timsterne: “a season from the back of the head” (Steve Aylett, Lint)
@ChanletB: “the Rising Sun standard hung limp against the flagpole like the toga of a Roman senator” (Murakami, Norwegian Wood)
@marklawrence: “she imagined their fingers would smell of garlic” (Catherine Bateson, The Vigilant Heart)

Today's poem was really hard - I struggled for a lot longer than usual to fit the lines in, and as I wrote along, it became quite a strange poem. When I finished, I scanned back over my stanzas and thought: "Yep. That's weird." But chickens are pretty damn weird, aren't they? All that brooding.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Children in an ancient world (Month of Poetry #9)

Sea full of lovely chaos and crusted zinc
a cacophony of children spray shouts
in a wet garble of sound: they are a TV
turned up too loud; an audience of cockatoos.
No voice cuts out of tune, they are harmonised.

Three boys gesture a game of thrones and swords
'Aye, my lord,' bows one, with all the regal
purpose of an ocean. A shell in one hand,
he kneels in the shallows, is knighted with
a strip of kelp. And dunked for good measure.

A mother's voice rings out like a flung quoit
sweeps an armful of triangle sandwiches
bright buttered pinwheels of Vegemite,
ham and pickle, egg and lettuce. The game halts
the knights slough their armour: there will be no conclusion.

They take. They eat. A jumble of towels drapes
along shivering shoulders. I distract downwards,
stirring the sand with my finger, dragging my eyes
to notice a welt, bulging against the grain.
I smooth it clean: a white disc of shell.

We used to call them 'back doors'. Sea snails
hold them tight against their soft jelly feet,
protection against sharp beaks and rough swells.
Younger-limbed, we'd duck our heads down
underwater, let it seal over us in silence.

Occasional stingrays wafted past. Like fainting spells
we sank down dimly, peeled open our eyes:
children in an ancient world. The weight of water felt quiet
and dying. Unnerved, we popped like champagne corks
roaring in relief back up to light and speeding time.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from six people:

@timsterne: "my finger dragging my eyes" (Penni Russon, Only Ever Always)
@KarenCollum: "stingrays wafted past like fainting spells" (Sonya Hartnett, The Ghost's Child)
@ernmalleyscat: "a TV turned up too loud" (MJ Hyland, How the Light Gets In)
@astarlia: "aye, my lord" (George R.R. Martin, Dance of Dragons)
@greenspace01: "They take. They eat." (John Ajvide Lindqvist, Little Star)
@matchtrick: "There will be no conclusion." (Peter Hoeg, Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow)

Being underwater in the ocean is always strange, like going suddenly deaf or stepping out of the world. And then you come up for air and it's all kids shouting and lunches and mothers, like no time has passed while you were under.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I'd seen airplanes up in the air (Month of Poetry #8)

Kept an eye on the eaves through a crack in the venetians
we knew the undersides should be golden before we
stripped up the shades to face the afternoon light.
We peered into that blinding slit of summer, white
as royal icing, white as the middle of the pink tablets
that mostly kept me from going crazy.
Crisped-up Christmas trees blew up the street
first abandoned singly, then wedded into pairs:
dry needles matted together like veins and syringes.

Across the street, we called it the 'lamp house':
bare bulbs swung on frayed cords but behind
one spat and grubby window bloomed a fringed
and tasselled shade, supported by a brassy naked woman.
When January fury warmed to dusk and the lamp house
(crack house) shouts of 'Fucking mother FUCKER!'
slowed to intermittent we knew (in the same way
you know microwave popcorn is ready) we could
let the dregs of daylight in our balcony door.

Last year in a charred and broken February,
fire broke out, skipped parole and pleasured
up our street like a tongue. It tickled our eaves
a different golden hue and slopped across the road
to slaver five houses flat. In the soggy morning after,
a bunch of regulars worried the footpath grey:
to their relief, the lamp house survived.
We didn't mind the daily swearing or sirens,
they never gave us any trouble (or any crack).

Summer pills made my head heavy with sanity.
It is easy to be crazy, full of glory and forget
and brilliant white wings of time. I wore out
three pairs of winter shoes in places I had never
put down rubber or my face in sleep before.
But no one trusts you if you never get tired,
and a back corner of your brain mistrusts yourself.
So milligram by milligram I weighed my thoughts in place
until I grew too jealous of the undrugged morning light.

You said to me at night: 'You're a funny one.'
I never wanted to be a comedian.
You'd think I'd never been outside after dawn in
all my life. I'd seen airplanes up in the air, new year
babies with slim legs lotus-pale against the glare.
In dread of another chemical day, I said to you:
'I will go to sleep.' In the sun, those prescription days
were overfocused and full of sharp edges.
I saw too much of everything. It hurt, I had to close my eyes.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from six people:

@_boobook_: "I will go to sleep in the sun" (Roald Dahl, Death of an Old Man)
@timsterne: "Fucking motherFUCKER!" (Tony O'Neill, Sick City)
@ernmalleyscat: "The undersides should be golden" (Jamie Oliver, 30 Minute Meals)
@eglantinescake: "To their relief, the lamp house survived" (H.O.U.S.E.: Habitable Objects Unique Spatial Extraordinary)
@gretapunch: "All my life I'd seen airplanes up in the air" (Justin Bieber, First Step 2 Forever)
@matchtrick: "I never wanted to be a comedian" (Stewart Lee, How I Escaped My Certain Fate: The Life and Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian)

What's a lamp house? I have no idea. So I made one up.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

An extra identity (Month of Poetry #7)

In the last weeks she would struggle with the vertical,
a catalogue of twinges I could neither appreciate
nor salve. She railed against pregnancy dogma:
'This slab of rules, it's to make me think I'm a prisoner,
frantic with corporeality: one bite of soft cheese
and one unpasteurised spoonful away from child abuse.'
The suggestion of heat-treated sugar saw me dissolved.
'I will get you honey,' I concluded against her eyebrows.

When she held him first, I burst with sweetness.
A calm baby and almond-eyed; a stately, plump buck.
'Mulligan' came from the stairhead of her ancestral home,
carved into wood like a suggestion. We placed it
in his middle, an extra identity in case of unseen futures.
This is a city of beggars and thieves and faces gone dark for
dark business: perhaps he would have need of an alias.

The second afternoon caught her wet-faced by surprise.
Uneased, I forced assurance that no single, individual moment
is in and of itself unendurable. Her anger snapped electric and shone
out like the dog star stood beneath the Judgement Seats.
And raged: 'Tell me that when you've been in fucking transition,
when your nipples have been ripped through a cheese grater.'
The tiny tyrant screeched instead against unstoppable historia:
he condemned the pyramids on principle,
damned the Incan temples and ripped forth his fury
at the unsought blinding chill of his and every birth.
The baby would not stop, would not stop screaming.

On the third sunrise he had been quiet for seven hours;
those monsters had gone back to their lairs.
In his unconscious slack-limbed state I peeled,
cleaned and re-wrapped him into a baby burrito.
His chest fluttered like the small brown sparrow
flies down again to snap up screen-stuck midges.
'He is still alive,' I remember whispering.
She kept her back and shoulders to us
and murmured back: 'Am I?'


Today's poem is based on suggestions from eleven (eek) people:

@_camer0n: "I will get you honey" (Stanley and Jan Berenstain, The Big Honey Hunt)
@scooter_lass: "this is a city of beggars and thieves" (Terry Pratchett, Stuff)
@_boobook_: "The small brown sparrow flies down again" (Anna Branford, Violet Mackerel's Natural Habitat)
@robcorr: "Dark for dark business" (JRR Tolkein, The Hobbit)
@facelikethunder: "Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead" (James Joyce, Ulysses)
@twitofalili: "The dog star stood beneath the Judgement Seats and raged" (Diana Wynne Jones, Dogsbody)
@anti_kate: "That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable" (David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest)
@Hannibal_: "it's to make me think I'm a prisoner, frantic with corporeality" (Samuel Beckett, Texts for Nothing #6)
@attentive: "those monsters had gone back to their lairs in his unconscious" (Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard)
@ernmalleyscat: "He is still alive, I remember whispering" (Patti Smith, Just Kids)
@timsterne: "he condemned the pyramids on principle" (Peter Conrad, Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life)

Disclaimer: I got up at 5:30am so I could write this in the hour before my 3 year old usually wakes up, except today he decided to wake up then too. So instead it was written over the next three hours, in between Rice Bubbles, poo, and him yelling "I'VE GOT A GIANT VACUUM CLEANER" over and over and over. So I might not have had the same levels of concentration as usual (or, you know, any level).

Eleven suggestions! Jaysus. Might have to cut things off at the first 8 from now on if I intend to live out the month.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ship Shapes (Month of Poetry #6)

I could tell he was in my wardrobe, from the shuffling noises.
Unsure of which end to open first – open it left or open it right?
As if Jonathan Creek would filter the scene and each panel I slid
back would prove him still invisible. And then there was the
glass eye of the mirrored doors, predicting my presence
and promising nothing of his. I chose the left.
‘I’m sailing a big ship, Ma! It’s full of aminals!’
Soft arms gripped the plastic chair helm,
fierce waves of my dresses crashed across the bow.
The animals were not pathetic two-by-two, but soldiers,
(‘might there be Ferrets among the crew?’ I asked
the gesture of reply was non-committal.)
The ship’s belly prodded at carpeted shores and
they took the city for their spoils, gloried in
the treasure of my dusty shoes. Soon the mighty ship
dropped anchor among the storage tubs
because it was time to go to the supermarket.

Each day spits salt into the evening’s furrowed dreams,
smashes a wave across our brains, holds us foetal and
floating in the amniotic sea of our earliest oblivion.
Thinking produces; suffering twists it into strange shapes.
That night I swept out across the bed, sweated visions
of dessicated animal skins fluttering like skirts,
high seas where lightening sent down its white spider legs
and bent coat-hanger wires to pierce my arms. A clothed
and dead Reepicheep tilted his wind-stripped skull
at my suitcases and when I would not understand
he took a mirror and sliced away my fingers.
When my eyes broke open to a song of toast and cuddles,
his wardrobe still gaped open-mouthed.
‘I dreamed about your ship’, I said.
He shook his dandelion head in half-asleep.
‘My ship’s gone to the other place,’ he murmured.
I slid the mirror shut to vanish clothes and shoes
and caught my fingernail between the door and wall.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from seven people:

@kirsty_l: “Thinking produces suffering” (Stendhal, The Red and the Black)
@erinmilne: “open it left or open it right” (Nick Sharratt, What’s in the Witch’s Kitchen)
@pinknantucket: “And then there was the glass eye” (Roald Dahl, The Twits)
@cathcrowley: “lightening sent down its white spider legs” (Karen Russell, Swamplandia)
@timsterne: “floating in the amniotic sea of our earliest oblivion” (Siri Hustvedt, The Summer without Men)
@robcorr: “they took the city for their spoils” (Hammett, Red Harvest)
@dogpossum: “might there be Ferrets among the crew?” (Tamora Pierce, Mastiff)

Luka's make-believe has a funny effect on my mind sometimes. And if you've never dreamed of a skeletal Reepicheep, be thankful.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A very ordinary form of madness (Month of Poetry #5)

Panic is in the details. I've lost all sense in
the thought of Rice Bubbles, toilet training
and squinting at the Panadol bottle at 2am.
Never mind that I am shaping a person,
about that fact my conceit, pomposity and
indignation grow in old age.
Like nostril hairs and earlobes, these small things
threaten storm clouds over the overtired.

When you ask the matter of it, I recalibrate my
words five times until certainly they beat me
speechless and you frustrated to sleep. I want to say:
'I am terrified by sandwiches and getting to daycare
on time and remembering to brush his teeth.'
What I mean is: 'I am frightened of being his mother.'
What I say is: 'μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος'
then I can't remember how to use my lungs.

This dissonance, the break between your concern
and my nonsense or silence of reply. While it
might be a very ordinary form of madness now,
if you pull it you had better not be bluffing.
I've taken too many swallows to find my throat;
the room has flattened into dumb sleep.
I will wake up into a parent again and wonder
why the question found me mute with tears.

I don't think that's the asking. I think
it's the breath I've lost trying to answer.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from six people:

@eglantinescake: "It might be a very ordinary form of madness" (Kenneth Gross, Puppet: An Essay on Uncannay Life)
@facelikethunder: "μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος" (which translates as "Rage -- Goddess, sing, the rage of Peleus' son Achilles" - Homer, The Iliad)
@lalscotton: "Pomposity and indignation grow in old age, like nostril hairs and earlobes" (Stephen Fry, The Fry Chronicles)
@attentive: "Certainly they beat me" (Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot)
@timsterne: "Now, if you pull it you had better not be bluffing" (Mark Brandon Read, Chopper 4)
@matchtrick: "I don't think that's the asking" (Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go)

Luka comes home to me today after over a week staying with his grandparents. It's possible I'm a little bit apprehensive at plunging back into parenthood again.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Flying Home (Month of Poetry #4)

Going home promised little more than the smell of chops and beans.
We draped like wet socks across the front of our bikes
she blew smoke across my handlebars from her bored mouth.
‘Mum’s flying home to visit this weekend.’
My mouth shaped an aeroplane and nylon stockings,
she breathed in a ripple of sparks and puffed out grey.
‘You be glad to see her?’ Lifted shoulders to her ears
and flopped them down. ‘Course.’
The shrug told much more than the word.

I spun pedals with hot bare feet and juggled words
silently around my lips and teeth.
Jas’ mother had cracked like ice fresh out of the tray
and run off up to the sky. The way Jas told it,
she had smiled her way into a job as the
Head of Concourse Relations at Bremen International Airport,
flying back a whirlwhind, bright hair and heels, hands spilling
out exotic delights: Herbes de Provence and parmesan cheese.
I didn’t know where Bremen or Provence were.

I knew Dad said Jas’ mum served large men small drinks
then snapped on the latex and cleaned their
mile-high shit streaks off dunnies on the plane.
That she was a slapper in company-issue nylons who took
the odd high-altitude appointment scribbled on an airline napkin.
‘Ssh, little pitchers,’ my mother would say.
At nights I struggled to piece the picture.
The note and that appointment seemed to hang together
in pointillism; I stood too close to make out the figures.

Jas’ family; blurred tiny circles pressed up against each other.
Somewhere in all those dots was where love, how love colour feels,
how it is where the Venn diagram of longing
and hate and allowances overlaps into a family, but only just.
Jas picked her nails into wet threads of blood.
‘Mum’s different now.’ I couldn’t find anywhere to look.
‘How?’ I flicked the bell on my bike, she rang hers.
‘Just different.’ Yearly in a haze of perfume and shine and
international accents was how the girl saw her.

Dad driving past in the ute straightened both our backs.
Early. ‘No TV for you tonight.’ The familiar joke unwound
the clamp on our hands and faces. ‘TV is just troubled people.’
‘Being booed these days, you’d think it was a bloody art form.’
‘Bunch of bloody monkeys yelling at sick people.’
For Dad, every show was a Jerry Springer audience.
‘Your TV still kicked in?’ Craning, Jas shaped a silent O
let a mouthful of smoke escape. Bleached faces upward
we scanned the endless sky for planes and came back empty.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from eight people:

@_boobook_ “The note and that appointment seemed to hang together” (Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca)
@timsterne: “TV is just troubled people being booed these days” (Jon Ronson, The Pyschopath Test)
@matchtrick: “where love how love colour feels how it is where” (John Ajvide Lindqvist, Little Star)
@slimejam: “She smiled her way into a job as the Head of Concourse Relations at Bremen International Airport” (Dan Rhodes, Little Hands Clapping)
@ernmalleyscat: “She blew smoke across my handlebars” (Tim Winton, Aquifer)
@KatApel: “The girl saw her dad driving past in the ute” (Kathryn Apel, This is the Mud!)
@Kirsty_I: “Herbes de Provence and parmesan cheese” (Delia Smith, Delia’s Frugal Food)
@marklawrence: “The shrug told much more than the word” (Hornblower and the Hotspur)

Holy crap, it was hard to fit all of today's phrases into a poem! @matchtrick's and @slimejam's suggestions are a case in point. Now I'm going to give my brain a little lie down.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The landscape is in the woman (Month of Poetry #3)

Nobody starves in a garret any more. Not even poets.
The comfort of cliché removed, I sulked
against my real state of graceless poverty
and mourned all the beautiful perturbations of the spirit.
Moping around like a real teen, I kicked a gurning bedpost
scattered tumbleweeds of lint and spiders of hair
fluffed up unromantic clouds of dust.

Through my half-lidded hangover it seemed she flew
in past the flakes paint and rotting wood,
hovered like night air and curled kittenish
on my stale sheets. She'd told me that some day
all the women will have wings. Hers were folded,
prayerlike, trailing in the crumbling floorboards.
I reached for my sketchbook and took her in.

A long breast, a cream valley of waist and
my pencil caught the mountains in her.
The landscape is in the woman, her arms were trees
forking fingers in my pillows: whorled, finely divided.
Lateral sterile branches barked her shins against
the bed-end and I sped to catch her pebbled toes.
'Ten seconds, please God,' I whispered to the unlistening.

The air creaked, broke my gaze, she flew apart
and my bed sagged with the weight of no women.
Each mouldy skirting corner stretched a little further
into my peripheral; the landscape shrunk to foul objects.
Brown curling paperbacks; wet-dog washing;
the hardened pizza crusts; the rat taking a piss.
In my coffee mug: memories of pencil shavings and beer.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from seven people:

@ernmalleyscat: "whorled, finely divided lateral sterile branches" (Penny Watsford, Plants of the Forest Floor)
@timsterne: "Moping around like a real teen" (Grace Krilanovich, The Orange Eats Creeps)
@attentive: "all the beautiful perturbations of the spirit" (Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise)
@sushipyjamas: "All the women will have wings" (Nights at the Circus)
@SeanMElliott: "The rat taking a piss in my coffee mug" (Warren Ellis, Crooked Little Vein)
@pinknantucket: "'Ten seconds, please God,' I whispered" (Wilbur Smith, Eye of the Tiger)
@scooter_lass: "the landscape is in the woman" (De Kooning exhibition)

Always a joy to have to work a rat taking a piss into a poem. Thanks Sean.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Third Death (Month of Poetry #2)

Let's sort out the facts, once and for all, of his
final unravelling, for it must be invoked by name.
He had been waiting for death, and had become
accustomed to its weight. People can get used to anything.
Except dying was his habit, he wore the noose in comfort
like a bridle; a cravat; a young child's arms.

This week he was to be named and crowned Rasputin.
The six men rode out in the democrat-wagon,
an old wagon sat by the shore for just such
pitchfork purpose. Each man longed for a torch to
flame righteous words along the horizon.
No matter that it would not warm her body.

The town rustled its skirts and pressed thrills against
the notion of his lacerated skin. They whispered:
'He was a wicked man, a bully,' and everyone was glad.
To see him die would wash the pretty poison from their
mouths, protect their stock and educate their children.
His wrung-out neck would set a hundred heads to nodding.

He waited inside for ropes and creaking wagon-men.
'Better be hanged at home than die like dogs.'
In Ireland he would have taken himself to them
and opened his veins to show them the dust.
Here instead he waited, winding them under toward him
with all the keel-haul of his deed.

Stilled in his chair at their rowdy entrance,
he kept his movements careful and they fumbled
as they dragged him. And became gentle.
The man who threw his rope across the branch
apologised the jerking of the noose against his skin.
'It is no matter,' he replied. They drew him up silent.

He had died twice before. Once at her mouth in movement,
once at her eyes in stillness. He had been waiting for this
third death, and had become accustomed to its weight.
Swinging heavily and dimmed, he saw her image
As if through mottled windows, fleeting in and out of the glass.
Her fair plaits hung forward like ropes, then tightened.


Today's poem is based on suggestions from eight people:

@robcorr: "The six men rode out in the democrat-wagon" (HP Lovecraft, The Color out of Space)
@_camer0n: "An old wagon sat by the shore" (Tyrone T. Thomas, 120 Walks in Victoria)
@gretapunch: "He was a wicked man, a bully. Everyone was glad to see him die" (South Pacific. Is that even a book, Gil? Whatever.)
@jellyjellyfish: "Better be hanged at home than die like dogs in Ireland" (1599: A Year in the Life of Shakespeare)
@_boobook_: "Her fair plaits hung forward like heavy ropes" (Christine Harris, Audrey of the Outback)
@ernmalleyscat: "fleeting in and out of the glass" (Kathleen Stewart, Under the Giant Clam Shell)
@attentive: "it must be invoked by name" (Michael Shea, A Quest for Simbilis)
@timsterne: "People can get used to anything, except dying" (Richard Beard, Lazarus is Dead)

It never ceases to amaze me how a bunch of random suggestions can suggest a theme. Today there was lots of death/hanging/ropes, and...err...wagons. So I made a story around them.

Also, it's 40 degrees today and I can't face venturing out to find free wifi, so I've typed this on my phone. I hate to think what blogger will do to the formatting once I post it. *shakes fist dramatically in advance*

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Month of Poetry 2012

This month I'm going to join in Month of Poetry 2012 that Kat Apel is coordinating. The idea is to write a poem a day for the month of January, which I'll post each day here (could be interesting as I don't have internet on at home yet).

So that I don't cheat and write ahead (I tend to cheat), I'm going to set myself a procedure a bit reminiscent of my #poemsbyrequest jaunt earlier last year. Each day I'm going to ask Twitter to provide me with a random phrase (5-6 words-ish) from a book, that I'll use to write a poem around. What could possibly go wrong?

Today's suggestions are:
@kirsty_l: "It was twenty minutes to ten" (From Jonathan Franzen's Freedom)
@ernmalleyscat: "Pretty mouth and green eyes" (From J.D. Salinger's Pretty Mouth & Green Eyes)
@dogpossum: "She wanted to make it rain" (From Penni Russon's Drift)
@timsterne: "It's a rotten thing to have a soapy neck" (From George Orwell's Coming Up For Air)

So! Here is poem #1. Happy New Year.


All week dragging clock hands behind me
minute hand in one, hours in the other.
When she let herself in it was twenty minutes to ten,
half past a wash and not quite conditioned to her hands
on the taps, sharpening the waterfall into pins
she wanted to make it rain.
Fingers smooth as a shell or a new fruit
she sloughed away the week's decay
it's a rotten thing to have.
A soapy neck slid under my mouth
I buried my face in her wet hair like treasure
shampoo breaths of clean Granny Smiths
pretty mouth and green eyes,
how you like them apples?