Sunday, 31 July 2016

The Nettle Truth.

"My dear boy," she said,
laughing a little,
patting him lightly on his cheek,
"the trick with grasping the nettle truth
is to not let its sting
embitter your untried heart."

A Walker's Prayer.

I pick up my pack and walk.
What else to do?
Dream of blue skies?
There are mountains to climb,
rivers to cross
and sometimes swamps
through which to wade a weary way.

I pick up my pack and walk,
opening my eyes to
flight of bird, slant of sun,
touch of hand
and if sometimes there are tears and grief
too deep to wash away,
let enduring them
increase strength day by day.

I pick up my pack and walk,
companions by my side.
If any disappoint or betray,
free me from bitterness or anger,
weights difficult to bear.
Grant a heart both soft and strong,
a melody sweet and sad,
a tenderly beautiful life-song.

I pick up my pack and walk,
seeing the fading glory in the west,
the stars, the moonlight on the water,
feeling the wrap of velvet night,
desiring two things to light this rutted track-
that this heart can dwell in love
and this mind find riches
in deep search for meaning.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

What d'ya Think?

"So what d'ya think of the West?"

He hadn't yet learned the right reply to that.
He was only thirteen.
Every day the unrelenting heat was a hammer blow.
The sandy land stretched to low hills.
The only water was the mirage
shimmering in the distant haze.

How could he say that 4000 kilometres away
on the east coast
the sea poured through a narrow entrance
to form a lake of islands and inlets,
rocky promontories, little cave-filled foreshores,
choppy water filled with striking tailor,
and his young life had been filled with
tree houses, forts and cubbies,
splashing and plunging in the cool water,
his eye feasting all day on the changing blue
that he had taken entirely for granted.

So he hesitated, looked down, said

"It's good."

"Right then. Welcome to this school.
We hope that you will enjoy your time in the West."

Too little, too late.
He'd seen the narrowing of eyes,
lips drawn just a little more tight,
the offence too quickly taken.
Months later, on a cold wintry morning,
he would pay for that hesitation,
the implication that where he came from
may have been better.

Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

On the fifth stroke the cane broke clean in half.
His hands grew purple welts.
He tucked them under his arm pits
To warm them and soften the pain.

He was unbowed.
Girls fluttered around him.
The welts were external badges of honour.
Internally he now knew about insecure parochialism
and the abuse of power

so three years later,
when on a windy, rain-swept day,
after another long move with his gypsy family,
he arrived in Melbourne
knowing what to say to the inevitable question-

"So, what d'ya think of Melbourne?"

Me, far left, not long before our move to Western Australia.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Kyle (Poetry Quarterly version)


Maybe his story was only half true
but he told it with such direct simple power
that momentarily the whole class went dead quiet
and through my mind washed
waves of sorrow and compassion,
a wish that over sad, complex, humanity
at least childhood could be simply joyous.

"I punched me Mum so I 'ad t' bolt.
I 'id all day in a tree. I could 'ear 'em callin' me.
No way I wuz comin' down.
Me step-dad 'ud bash me.
Then I got on a bus and come down 'ere,
to me Ma and Pa's.They're awright.
Better'n 'ome anyway."

He'd come from a long way,
big for his age, raw-boned,
a guileless, strange kind of innocent
always in conflict with older boys.
They'd veer to bump him in the corridors.
He'd mouth off at them, defiant.
He was only twelve.

Some years later I passed him in the street.
For a moment I didn't recognise him.
All that child's health had disappeared.
He was thin, very thin.
His head was studded and shaven.
His cheeks were drawn.
His eyes had that hollow, empty desolation
you sometimes see in those
who have seen too much
or known too much of human misery
and who have sought momentary respite
in a powerfully destructive vortex.
He was, I would guess, fifteen.

Finally, I read about him in the local paper.
A tide passed over me,
anguish for loss and waste,
for impotent helplessness,
for the misery of some children's lives,
for the blight that perpetuates abuse,
for those trapped in their individual torment.
He'd killed a man, a paedophile and his dealer.
Late one night he knocked on the door of a house
in a quiet sleeping street.
When the door opened he pulled the trigger
and fled into the night
whilst those in nearby houses slept peacefully on.
He was only eighteen.

I thought then of that quiet street,
of separate lives, of sleeping comfortably
in our separate houses and our separate beds
whilst young lives in agony of abandonment
flee headlong into the dark
and I heard the tolling of bells,
deep, sad notes ringing out
for every young and damaged life,
for every abused, abandoned and neglected child,
ringing out loss, waste, heartache, sorrow and pain,
bells echoing 
in desolate mournfulness 
all through this
and too often

Wednesday, 13 July 2016


First published at Silver Birch Press

Somewhere there are dark clouds.
Somewhere the oppressor grief adds his heavy weights.
Somewhere there is war, or struggle, or suffering.

But not here.

Here you can see the mild sun
shining in a cloudless sky.
The moving river seems perfectly still,
filled with floating reflections.
A man from long ago
reclines on the sand, a rod in his hand,
although he doesn't care if nothing bites,
and a little fair-haired boy, his youngest,
kneels near him laughing in pure childish delight.

Let me fill in some things you cannot see.
To the right is the boulder-made breakwater
where the river empties into the incessant sea.
To the left a little fleet of trawlers
sits quietly moored to a jetty.
Hidden too but fixed in memory
and fundamental to the scene
are his other children, playing in the sand,
laughing and splashing in the shallow water.

Hidden too is the woman, his wife,
who seeing the moment and capturing it, said:

Here. Take this gift and carry it with you.
See what joy is.
Know how it is made of small, inconsequential moments.
Cherish it. Always remember,
no matter what comes or what clouds descend,

this still blue day,
lying on this sand, rod in hand
while the children splash and play.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Summer with Jean.

Every summer I went to Jean's.
The dunes between her house and the sea
were wild and thick with banksia and honey eaters.
"Be careful of the death adders," was the constant warning.
To the right a kilometre away was the little fishing village-
breakwater, river, fleet of trawlers moored at the jetty,
Johnny's milk bar and pin ball machines.
To the left the crescent beach curved away uninterrupted
into the distant horizon,
just the waves and sand and the occasional fisherman
standing shin deep in the ebb and flow.

It was a miraculous place
but it was Jean herself who drew me back.
My mother's sister, widowed young,
her only child dead in infancy,
somehow she triumphed in generosity,
larger than life, full of good humour,
never anything else but interesting.
Impossible to separate in my mind
the place from the big-hearted woman.
She was the place and the place was her.

More than fifty summers came and went,
summers where I eventually took my own children
to the place of my young life,
saw them too grow to love Jean,
watched them delight in all my old joys.

But time was the tide
in which we were caught.
My children grew.
Jean grew old.
Then frail.
Then she died.

Impossible to ever return.
The village was the same.
The same waves still crashed on the same sand.
The same white sand stretched endlessly into the horizon.
Solitary fisherman still stood knee deep in the waves.
But it could never be the same again.

Except, in memory, perfect and retained,
I still see her in the garden,
sit with her in the cool of the afternoon
and hear, with her,
the eternal sound of the sea
thumping on the sand
and then,

its long

Tim and me, fishing in the Evans River, Evans Head, 1982.

Aunty Jean with Dan, Cathy, Tim and Ben, 1982.