Words and Meanings
(To Brother Brian Cash)
The report of yet another committee of enquiry
has just incorporated within its pages
a summary of the lives of several hundred trees.
The morning peak hour rumble
of trucks and buses and assorted dream machines
has died away
and in the spaces thus created
within a desert silence
I hear a voice.
I have no answer still
nor can all my noise drown out
the word it speaks.
Conversations with Dead Poets
Are we yet again to hear
echoes of long-dead conversations,
reverberations of scarce recalled events,
coming to us like pirated songs,
on a malfunctioning iPod;
minute descriptions of family picnics,
whose crumbs were gathered by lost generations of ants.
Does the world need more significances,
resonating only with inward visions,
evoking only private harmonies,
among the exhibits
in museums filled with bric-a-brac,
and painstaking archaeologies of me.
As the sinuous line
bounds towards its final emptiness,
we live with intimate horrors
grasping after names for fugitive terrors
and lost opportunities.
The slow efflorescence of wild cells
has a certain objectivity,
undiminished by the lithe gymnastics
of a well-thumbed dictionary.
And I need
plainsong and polyphony,
psalmody and chant,
rebec, psaltery, harp
and diverse viols
to sing me through these passages.
Can any voice now touch
and be felt
in those regions
where we still unwillingly surprise ourselves
with anthropological certainties
like death and birth and all that,
as if we suddenly discovered
we’d been writing prose all the time,
disguising it from ourselves
in the usual way?
When it comes, you know,
it will be a complete surprise,
even if you stay up late
and watch the Open tennis,
waiting for it.
And all the poesy and all the songs
won’t take away the shock,
the intimate encounter,
like a glimpse of corridors and rooms,
through an open doorway,
or the eyes of a woman,
watching you from some disaster area.
The desert’s a crowded place
loud with the roar of the space
between earth and heaven and grace
but in it we see no face.
I’m confused by the ragged line
where the Mary-blue sky like a sign
stoops down to the gross and the fine
just sand and rocks, but mine.
My feet bleed my hope in the rough
tracks of my blind man’s buff
and I pray blood and hope are enough
in this game.
This is the way the world begins,
with megaliths asserting their forms
as the rushing light
fills all parts with its noise,
and the noon’s mad visions
mock their solidity.
This is the way the world ends,
when rock becomes water
but all the green things I plant
still contrive to die,
yet, with irony and indirection,
my stumbling course approaches
the sole oasis.
Stucke deines alten Name (Rilke)
A certain patience is necessary
when you are waiting for eternity.
Those vast deserts are not lightly entered
and, it is rumoured,
ill equipped adventurers
wander endlessly in those spaces,
bereft of comfort,
living off the country.
At the edge of such a place
the prudent traveller,
feeling the hot wind for just a moment,
gets back in the bus.
Too many enthusiasts have been seduced
by the clean line of the sky
and the way the rocks suck down the light.
some of the more fortunate souls,
who have been rescued,
and nursed back to life,
talk in their delirium of a kind of madness
which possessed them there
and seems to have been
very fine at the time.
Far from the clamour of concepts,
Logic’s deepest groaning
And the murmuring of canon lawyers,
Where the voice of Pharisees can’t carry,
In a desert place,
Where streams of certainty sink
Into wind-carved drifts,
Detritus of doctrines,
Dunes of failed declamations,
Leaving only a stillness to mark their bubbling passage,
Refugees from denunciation,
Survivors of the cruel Constative,,
Seek only the sweet subjunctive there
Each the other to sustain,
With mere possibility,
And the manna of unknowing.
The Launceston Train.(1970)
The train pursues the logic of a snake
Bursting in and out of cuttings
And startled crows, ungainly,
while red hawks
Smoothly wheel above,
Impatient for the flickering run
Panicked from their midday sleep
In hidden gold-grass nests
By the sudden roar of steel
and the vibrating earth.
In vino veritas (1960)
Why do the clouds lie so lazily,
sprawled across the evening sky?
Don’t they know the night wind holds their death,
flail to shred them, drive them all awry?
Why do dayflowers bloom in morning’s coolness,
when noon’s harsh heat will wither them away?
Why do we strive
to grow the sweet grapes of life
when life itself will one day crush them?
And will that yield a wine?
And, if so, who will drink it?
Campsite: Mount Hotham (1969)
Bright gold bleeds along the ridge.
Above it, a high, improbable blue
The only sound, now that insects sleep,
Is from the stream
Chewing the mountain’s granite bones
Down there below black angles
Of white trunked Sallee .
Now, firelight flutters ,
Bubbles and spills
Old sunshine into light,
While the fragile geometry of the world
The swelling silk of yellow grasses
And gold-white fields of wheat
Sweep down the ever steepening curves
To the flat belly of the land.
Gullies of grey-green bush
Split rounded limbs of worn out ridges,
Veined with blue hints of roads,
Windbreaks, and dark triangles of pines.
The great Dragon’s trail of basalt blisters,
Stipples the song line of her rising,
Swimming beneath the crust,
And diving again
Into the magma deep,
And in her weathered wake of loam
Satisfied farmers crumble the soil in their hands.
The cool breeze is only felt on brows that sweat
and colder spirits never feel its breath.
The knowing gaze is blind.
The doing and the wanting and the having of our lives,
But the light that can’t be seen is always shining on our striving.
It shone, of course, from Moses;
Descended from the mountain
And before him no doubt many others.
The companions tell of such a light,
In Inigo’s last days.
Little brother Schultz had quite a glow
As he neared his rest.
And Hauptmann Otto,
Far from the battle-roar,
in his Trinity of blaze-bright lights,
Merely kept the door.
Is it possible
that every cliché hides a truth?
The autumn forests of Germany
are just what you expected
with their photogenic, polychromatic
Replicas of some travel poster
you’ve already seen.
But in their presence,
they fix you with the power
of their nicely judged relations,
their perfect balance.
They make it easier to believe
in some divinity
indulging in just that degree of self revelation
she judges we could stand
if we should look too closely.
A star in the East
Not content to remain imprisoned
by rings of isobars
somewhere in the Tasman Sea,
swooped across the evening suburbs,
whirling the rotary hoists
in flapping wheels
of cotton interlocks and tattered lace.
Clumps of rain,
broke on the roof,
yet in the east I saw
one smog dimmed star.
I used to climb into my dreams
Of wealth, and power and fame.
Inside their glittering shell I found
Refuge from the pain.
But now I’ve come upon a desert land
The shadow days and darker nights of which
Know not the moon of love’s requiting
Nor even lesser lights of stars.
I cannot dull the ache of ancient wounds.
Rest from questing for an obscure Grail
Is not a grace I have received,
Nor have I caught forgiveness’ scent
On this dark air.
Or so it seems,
Until my lightless eyes
How long a passage I have made.
Wednesday Night and Nowhere
Commonplace forms of suffering pitch keenest;
one in four has a bad case
of fear, or loneliness,
clutching the cold companionship of the midweek movie,
while Betelgeuse and Procyon camp casually above.
We cannot hold together
all these conditions,
chronic or acute.
Things fall apart, becoming multiplicity,
mere points in the Omega geometry
of the Long Rim of the universe
above the clear skies
of the wilderness.
Where there is love, there is God.
A lot of people speak occasionally of God,
Some talk of God a lot,
Some say she’s here,
And some say there,
And scarcely hesitate
Her very nature.
But I would wish to hear
The claim she makes herself,
and tremble even to appear to want to draft God-governing laws.
Whose belly gripes for want of power,
(To make a better world, of course),
Omnipotence alone will fill.
Whose bleeding guilt
Condemns them to an endless thirst for righteousness,
Will have none but a perfect, distant God to slake it.
While those whose flesh is burned by the coals of rage,
Spilled on them undeserved, by indifferent lovers,
Clamour for the strictest justice in their God;
And the vanity of wisdom
Leaves her devotees relishing the rolling cadence
Of their second hand omniscience.
The actual occupant of the high, celestial throne
Is singularly reticent.
She who is…is alpha and omega,
Overflowing with a mother’s tender love,
Slow to anger and ready to forgive,
Herself saying nothing much
About an omni-this or omni-that.
And one of us
Has figured in this world.
Immanent in service,
In brightness and in darker ways
The living shape of Hesed.
As our times become more past than present,
As they do, eventually,
They become, also, more one.
How can we speak of the still centre
Of the ever turning wheel,
While talking our lives into the shapes of our wanting,
Through intonation, timbre, cadence
And all the voice’s eloquent vibrations,
Blindly gesturing at the flickering
Tied to the fleeting times and places of their uttering?
Fishermen, Calvinists, Talmudic scholars and French lawyers
Speak on and on with the self same tongues,
Endlessly conjuring paradoxes
From the inevitable becoming of what always was,
While not seeing that,
Halfway between Alpha and Omega,
Meaning never tarries.
Truth and Consequences.
If we were to choose a rule of life,
Through the veil of ignorance
Before our birth,
To govern all our days,
Would we make a Kantian choice,
And make it a golden one?
If we so chose,
(Unknowing of our life’s endowment),
The colour of our blood,
The height or depth at which we stood,
Or the goodness of our fortune,
Would we bet the same amount
On every runner?
Or is this question upside down?
Should we begin in the middle of things,
Knowing all our particular perversities,
And bent, bowed and stumbling lusts?
If we so chose,
Marred as we are at best
By the normal wounds and sores
Of everyday experience,
Still cringing as we do from scarce remembered blows,
What would move us to place our life’s wager
On winner takes all?
If we see ourselves as losing.
And universal malice
If we are sure we’ll win;
But if we are moved by love,
We’ll have a dollar on every runner
And come home, all, as one.
While the years, eventless, turn and turn.
But purpose past all power, held,
Am, was, will be, always.
Known and knowing,
Told and telling,
Suffering and rejoicing,
Desiring but not wanting,
Recently I saw,
out of the corner of my eye,
a chaos of Earth-forms
burst from beneath the nets
of our passionate rectilinearity.
For a moment this ancient land
Something I couldn’t quite see
escaped steel claws
that held soft things
against the precise touch of machine parts,
fondled by millimetres.
For a minuscule eternity
the virtuosity of evening light
erased the cold lust
of Newton’s sleep.
My path has been
Full of synchronicities.
Even quantum theorists of the Copenhagen school
Could not predict my ups and downs
My lefts and rights,
White Rabbit trails of hopes and fears,
Along the tunnels of my times.
I’ve pin-balled through a maze
Of deaths and loves and worse,
And heard the ‘bing!”
Always too late too late to follow
Chording the circles
Of this half-way hell.
What’s my score, I wonder?
The craftsmanlike ironies
of the desolate structures of circumstance
which grow about our desperate defence,
bespeak another authorship,
a far too intricate capacity
then we ourselves can claim.
The sly blows time deals us
describe a form of measure
far from the common time
of tunes with which we’d metronome our lives.
A metre is figured
at the edge of randomness.
The net of precedent and plan
bewebs our opportunities
and marks us with a veined resemblance
of youth’s ageing zeal,
and with the pale debris
of once passionate causes.
Someone Always Hears.
If you have no water to give to those who thirst
Take them by the hand and find water.
If your own wounds
Stop you from binding the wounds of others
To carry them to the inn,
Lie down beside them by the roadside.
If you cannot go to a prison,
To bring friendship and help to those inside,
Because you are in a prison of your own,
call out to them from afar.
There is in each of us enough strength
To see the stars.
To strike a spark that may grow into a fire.
Even in the wilderness,
A voice, crying,
is always heard by someone.
My childhood ways
ran along the great stone tops
until they fell,
in tumbling blocks and slabs,
down ragged sandstone steps,
to the water’s edge.
Grass trees swirled,
in steep rivers of scrub.
And thin pockets of eucalyptus mulch
were taloned to the rock
by hard-skinned, small-flowered bonsai plants.
My heart is in the sandstone country
the land of the Eora people:
the place of their clans,
the Gadigal, Wanegal, Cammeraygal,
and all the other sandstone clans,
and we late comers,
who also, now, belong
to the sandstone land.