Sunday, 2 September 2018



We pause for a quiet moment 
beside the weatherboard house
that she lived in as a girl.
She carries a small plastic bag.
We walk beside a narrow path
and descend on steps cut into a steep bank.
Mum used to maintain these, she says.
They were only dirt then.

At the bottom is a stony beach
and the Derwent, hundreds of metres wide.
I built a little safe pool out of rocks for Susan here.
She loved it so much.
She always cried when we left.
Mum could hear us returning.

A brief, complex blend of emotions suddenly rush in,
joy and love, a sense of pride that I know her,
that I have lived my adult life with her,
but loss too, a regretful sense of passing time.
I see her as a girl, slender, dark haired, 
carrying her baby sister home
up the steep bank to their waiting mother,
or playing on these rocks, naming them,
laughing with childish delight,
plunging into the cold water.

She points to two of the larger rocks.
That one is Biggie. That’s Flattie.
She takes off her shoes, walks to Flattie, 
kneels, undoes the plastic bag 
and empties a little into the water.
The wind catches the finer particles.
She pauses then empties the rest.
A cloud appears in the water and briefly spreads.
The waves come in again, slap on the rock and suck back.
The cloud spreads a little more then it is gone. 
This great earth, giver and nurturer of life,
absorbs the remains of one 
who lived so passionately,
loved so fiercely, 
whose beauty was a light,
who was uncompromisingly upright,
who like all who tread the earth
had strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and losses
but who loved and was loved in return.
Earth and wind and water now have her. 
She is at one with countless billions
whose life has been given and taken back.

We hug briefly. No need for words.
We climb the earthen steps.
At the top blackberries grow wild.
They carry both flowers and fruit.
Most of the fruit is red but some are black.
We pick a few and taste them.
They’re still a bit bitter, she says,
as we turn and walk slowly away.

First published at Blue Heron Review

Beneath the Myth.

Beneath the Myth.

Because the colonizers                    broke our world

The  colonizer’s justification 
is neither veil nor deliberate lie.
It is the myth created so conquerers
can sleep easily in their beds.

So the Australian myth grew
of a primitive nomadic people 
neither owning land 
nor engaging in agriculture.

But sometimes truth will out.
Sometimes someone digs
far beneath the myth to find truths
both extraordinary and disturbing.

I read the work of one such person
recounting how the explorer, Charles Sturt, 
exhausted, near the end, laboured 
with his men over one last sandhill.

There they met a large party 
of indigenous people who,
though they had never seen pale skin,
well understood human need.

They cared for all his party,
gave them a newly built dwelling,
nursed them to health,
feeding them roast duck and cake.

Cake! That meant grain 
cultivated, harvested and ground,
bound with ingredients now lost.
“Sweetest cake I’ve eaten”, said one.

I read of another explorer,
the diarist, Thomas Mitchell,
passing through organised towns
of more than a thousand.

Storehouses were filled with grain.
Women ground flour and baked.
Crops were sown in dry creek beds,
their roots seeking the hidden water.

Now I, whose heritage 
is long centuries of warfare,
dispossession and accumulation,
well up with strangely sorrowing awe.

I hear that their greatest achievement 
was a co-operative system of government
and a respect for tribal boundaries
that extended across the continent.

What have we “civilised” societies lost? 
We confuse power with “civilisation”.
Guilt and fear find comfortable excuses
in prejoratives like “primitive”.

Now “civilised” problems mount.
The seas fill with islands of plastic.
The poles melt. Species die.
The deeply contemptible win high office.

Too late to learn something from them?
Or will individualism and greed 
continue to ride a runaway train 
headlong into the future’s oblivion?

First Published at Around the Fire 6 (Praxis)

Three Stories, Three Songs.

Three Stories, Three Songs.

I have travelled through stories.
In this half of the story 
the dead walk beside me.
I sense my mother’s whispers,
hear my grandfather’s songs,
touch an emu gouged in stone,
see ancient paintings in a cave,
feel primordial shapes labour from the sea.
Stars move inside me.
Earth is a pulse beneath my feet.
I own nothing, am part of everything.
To all that is, has been, will be, I sing
“Mother, sister, father, brother,
I am earth and to earth I belong.”

Because I have travelled through stories.
I know the other half, 
the one where I am trapped in dislocation,
where my tongue in confusion splits
and my tears drop on stone.
Alien gods close their ears.
My name is mocked. 
My warrior forebears are ridiculed.
The land does not love me.
It slaughters my brothers.
There are no lovers to take me
From the edge of brokenness.
My father’s ancient songs are lost.
Into the emptiness I sing
Am I nothing more than just 
another consequence of conquest?

Because I have travelled through stories
I dream of songs new and old
where a different sense of belonging 
is forged in anguish 
and tempered in compassion. 
It embraces place, history and culture,
rejoices in difference,
celebrates shared humanity,
touches, palm to palm,
weeps for another’s sorrow,
shares in another’s joy.
Listen. Can you hear the music?
Voices in sweet harmony 
sing of new belonging,
a transcendent humanity,
and the chorus is this-
beauty is not found in 
temples and shrines but in the 
home of sinful men like us.

First Published at Around the Fire 6 (Praxis)

Willi Wagtail

Willy Wagtail.

Light, agile, acrobatic,
she dances on the fence post,
her gown of black and white
as sleek and smooth
as unruffled satin,
though she owns no other 
and wears it day and night.

She fans her little tail.
Her flight is flits and spins,
short jaunts and instant turns,
out, up, down, around,
then back to dance again
on post or strand
of rusting, sagging wire.

Listen to her song.
That is not complaint.
It is celebration.
Listen again.
Now she trills more musically, 
her chattering voice 
prettily rising and falling
as she pours out into the air only
pure, sweet, bright joy.

First published at Verse-Virtual

The Eagle.

The Eagle.

In high, wild wind 
I watch her ride corridors of air.
The wind is in her pinions,
in the effortless deftness
and minute calibrations
of her circling glide.
My blurred, distant world
is her sharp focus.
An easy surge corrects her path
and she veers rapidly away
on another current of air.

My voice is a thin whisper 
on the high mountainside.
“Queen of air, 
with dagger talons, 
scimitar beak,
gowned in barred brown
and robed in wings more glorious 
than garment of embroidered gold,
how you glide, dive and spiral
in majesty and mastery.
Fly close, fix on me
your clear and amber eye,
share with me,
you, who are so high and noble,
so fierce and wild,
so unshackled and free.”

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Koko and the Beast.

Koko and the Beast.

This week, two stories.
One beautiful, sad, heart-rending.
The other?
Make up your own mind.

In one story an inflated emptiness
struts and preens in hollow vanity, 
boasting of wealth and power
as his mirror audience
claps and cheers and chants 

whilst the world fills with tears
from children of the poor,
hiding under space blankets,
their crying for their mothers

rising high above the clamour,
the lies and self-justifications,
the heartless mis-use of law and Bible,
the faux “I’m a mother and a catholic” outrage.

In the other story Koko, 
the western lowland gorilla,
dies peacefully,
aged forty six.

Intelligent Koko,
who could sign 1000 words
and understand 2000.

Gentle Koko,
who, tired and near the end,
signed to her friend
“I’m getting old”.

Loving Koko,
who, though childless,
raised two kittens
and thought of them as hers.

Mourned Koko,
missed by Ndume,
who, arranging blankets around her body,
signed  “I know” and “Cry”.

let me also mourn for you.
Let me praise you too.
Strange consolation
to know of life such as yours,
intelligent, simple and pure,
utterly without vanity,
a light in the darkness
of all the coiffed, self-serving horror
now strutting the stage of the world
and beating at the hollow chest
of its own vast emptiness. 

First published at New Verse News.

In the Scree Slopes.

Dennis Kilgrin first appeared in my life when I was about twenty. He left me with a few forgettable ramblings and then he disappeared. Fifty years later, he appeared again in a storm on a mountain. “I’ve got much more to say now,” he said, asking me to follow him. This I have faithfully done, recording both his movement and musing. 

“Dennis,” I said, “Kilgrin is a strange name. Is it in any way significant?”

“Not at all,” he said. “I just liked the sound. Actually, I made it up when I was about twenty.”

With that he strode rapidly towards the scree slopes and I struggled behind, notebook in hand.

In the Scree Slopes.

Lost and confused, smaller 
than a floating fleck of dust
on the vast mountainside, 
Kilgrin clambered over 
the tangled grey scree slope.
In a little clearing fresh water 
oozed through embroidered moss.
Worn, he stopped and rested.
First he saw only the challenge
of the grey rock under domed sky.
Then he saw the delicacy 
of the patterned iridescence,
all emerald green and bright.
As he gazed his weary mind, 
observing the moss and following 
the water’s ooze and trickle,
drifted deep into the past.

A blue lake opened narrowly
through white dunes into the sea. 
The boy, slingshot at waist,
wandered along a foreshore
thick with lantana, teatree and gum,
air heavy with the scent of seaweed.
Little waves lapping the shore
played a melody in harmony 
to the wind’s soft casuarina swish..
Kilgrin saw him laugh with pure delight, 
load his slingshot, aim skywards
and watch the stone in curving flight
arc then plop into the sapphire water.

Then Kilgrin thought of the long road 
between blue lake and mountain.
He thought of different kinds of beauty.
He thought of the mind of the child,
its curiosity, freshness and wonder.
He thought of rich and complex older minds,
made rich not just by endurance 
but by gentleness, compassion and love.
He thought of varied responses 
to the the long road, how some 
surrender in bitter resentment.
He thought of minds as jewels
shaped and fashioned
by experience and adversity,
how their depth, strength and lustre
can be scratched and scoured 
so that their beauty of light 
is unrevealed, hidden, as if silt-covered
by lying too long beneath muddied water.

Kilgrin looked up from the moss,
past the scree slope’s massive boulders
and towards the cloud covered summit.
Mere endurance was not enough.
He had seen again the child’s joy.
He knew that in his pack he could carry 
joy as rich and a sense of beauty 
more permanent than a child’s,
secured as they were in adversity
and then strengthened by experience.
He stood and smiled a little to himself.
Was that a slingshot he could feel
hanging loosely from his waist?
He stepped across the water on stones,
careful to avoid damaging the moss.
There was a little gap between 
two of the great scree boulders.
He turned sideways and slid between.

First published in Verse-Virtual.