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A new road, magic, over by the creek

One man one day just bulldozed through the bush

A gash of gravel, cool on curling toes;

We skittered then and yelled through tumbled trees

So easy now, but ... it came to us at once,

Our haunted house, the roofless shack up there

Sang dread and tempted, easy now, go on.

Volleyed rocks from space lie rolled and poised

Round Darlington, and some are high as roofs;

I jumped in Batman cape off one of these,

Ballooned a moment, gravity held off,

But dirt came cannoning to make its point

Against my knees in sudden red and brown,

A buckled sack of rags beside the road.

From school we used to pass a swathe of rocks

That strewed a moonscape flat across the hill;

Creviced bones cried sadly once at me,

This place, too, taboo. An evil boy

Would take the littler girls there if he could

For who knew what, our minds uncompassed flew

To galaxies of darkness far away.

One Christmas, eighty miles or so from there,

A boy my age strayed off into the bush;

Footprints shimmered in an oven wind

And tricked the thousand searchers and their dogs.

All week a sough of adult wireless talk.

I died with him this while until they found

The gulley, less than half a day too late;

Me, I sort of grew up in a rush, alive.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Westerly March 1983

then in Wordhord – contemporary Western Australian Poetry 1989


We were killing lizards with our slingshots

Fausto five, me four and Vito two

Splatter slivers of grey and green quicksilver

On the rockface among the prickly pears.

There’s a shout “Come on quick, a gang from town!”

And five small boys run up in full alarm.

“Nascondi la fionda,’ hide the slingshot,

Says Vito, “we’ll do better chucking rocks.”

They challenged, we choose weapons, which is easy

On a dirt road thick with powdered dust

Countless stones the size of children’s fists.

They have slope and numbers in their favour

Quickly force us back to the pinegrove park

And the first shots rain through flimsy cover

Gathered, hurled back up for both sides see

There are no rocks on the sand-and-needle floor.

“The churchyard!” then a fifty metre gallop

Down steps to a stucco barricade

Walling in a small and sullen chapel;

Soon heaven showers missiles to this sanctum,

One passes by my face as I peer upwards,

For the moment we’re quite safe, but well trapped.

Fausto, Vito, several of us jump down

Through the olive orchard hidden at the side,

Creep in the lee of retaining terrace walls

Up through the trees to the road by the pines.

They’ve seen us too soon! No, too late for them

Now they’re attacked from two directions,

One casualty each, thirty near misses;

But the end comes fast : “Curse you wretches!”

It’s Fausto’s father, “Rocks in my house!

Will you kill someone!” He chases the foe;

Like wind in the olives our gang melts away.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Westerly March 1983



Everyman dreams he’s extraordinary

Such analysis is proof enough.

Wheatfields of the mind extend

Ripe and yellow, end to end

Ear to ear, deadly flat.

In the mirror just awake

I rake the stubble with the back

Of a nailbit hand and think

Of peasants with their rightsize plots

Scything sheaves and heaving sighs

Backs cry quietly to ease the curve.

Only tractors and vast machinery

Track across my waving thoughts;

If I could squat against a stook

And chew a stalk and watch ants walk

Things less ordinary might .....

Might what? I shrug. Might germinate.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant September 1980


Weeds know it’s war

Mild-mannered gardeners hack wildly at weeds

Slipping singly between sentries

Or on spring nights overrunning

Duly furrowed beds neat

As camp lines

Man’s particular compulsion to

Decrease the random element

With mixed results. Take Paterson, pioneer,

In New South Wales who planted English

Purple bells of viper’s bugloss

Which spread like revolution

In panic grasses, knelling in wheat country.

Ill winds blow. But way out west

It hardly rains and ribby

Staring sheep survive on purple bells

We’ll call Salvation Jane.

Prickly pears have won big battles here

And hunnishly laid waste vast tracts;

In Europe bells and pears succumb

To slugging armies’ juggernauts,

Whole farms have died.

After wars weeds grow especially well.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Southerly March 1982


Madeleine reckoned I wallowed in gloom. But

Admit it, she flits like a bird in a swamp

Picking nit-things from hippobacks. Lumbering grey

Footballers misty on Saturdays witness her sometimes

Rugged up on touchlines, guess her ambiguous jeers.

Feminine ridicule trenchant at twenty; well

Take for example the library silences

Breast brushes elbow in sssh-sorry bookstacks;

And after the game she must smile at the captain

Wrinkle her nose at my white muddy knees

And be missing all evening. Have you seen Madeleine?

Flash in the courtyard, goading gold plumage,

Door shuts behind her. Then dark swirls despondent,

Moodiness, ooziness still I remember,

A dozen years later and still I slip under.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Southerly June 1982

then in Wordhord – contemporary Western Australian Poetry 1989


Speck of black on blue

Arcs slow, stops, drops perpendicular,

The y-line of its graph,

An eagle on a kitten.

Geometric goddish death

Like this should come to us

The to-be-smitten.

Dot is blown into a globe

So poets, preachers, artists generalise

Axis of each eye particular

Tangential wheeling

Souls in Paradise are skylark

Spirits pencilled curve suggests a

Bird of feeling.

Sower’s arm extends in seed

In falling dots to goodish ground;

Sparrow frailly turns its skull

To curving cat, and all of us are bitten.

Horror later fades: vernacular

Sermons, poems and equations draw out fate

The to-be-written.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant October 1982


It looks as if those tumbled hills were shaken

By some gods and then forgotten. And forsaken

High among them lies the carcass of a city

Picked very clean: time’s jackals had this pity.

A humbled giant left his frame in shattered

Colonnaded ribs, his spinal discs lie scattered

All along a central street of wheel-scarred paving;

The charnel grass that spreads beyond is dead but waving.

And now a minor armageddon’s stirring;

Archaeologists are slowly disinterring

Bits and pieces; tourists come in ever greater numbers.

Theatres, gouged gullets, twelve hundred years unsounding

Cough with shoes and chatter row by row rebounding;

Lizards slither; down below the forum slumbers.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant April 1982


North-south, black-white must separate

Are split with and or or

Subjects have their predicate

It’s never clear what for

Picoseconds calculate

Which switch is off or on

Then as our facts accelerate

Are they here or gone

Psychologists like yes-no tests

No answer is “correct”

But pattern-forming manifests

So selves can be cross-checked

And politicians opt in twos

Whole mandates we elect

By simple votes and people lose

When plebiscites reject

It’s we who seek polarity

No real reason why we should

For Deists, singularity

Encapsulates the All and Good

And nature says with clarity

There’s east and west and realms between

And space beyond : disparity

That artifices leave unseen

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant December 1982


Mid-late summer, flame trees now died to embers;

An avenue of embassies and grey once-gracious villas.

8 a.m. but down there on the corner squads of flies

Manoeuvre on the prickly pears. Beside

His handcart sleeps a shrouded figure, puzzled

Insects buzz to find a face. Two legs protrude,

Or rather one, bare, brown: the other just a

Cylinder of wood, rough as the barrow’s.

One city with a thousand limbless men

Patrol on after routine desert wars;

Bombs and hot-wind blasts and mines

Whump bodies, bits of them on prickly sand.

Well, yesterday, a few streets back,

Suburban wadi, cars dug in both sides,

An old soldier saluted to his turban when given way,

Trundled by his son - torso, arms, head,

Dignified, superb, sultan on a skateboard.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant January-February1983

then in Wordhord – contemporary Western Australian Poetry 1989


Newspapers flap on the 8: 15 platform

Commuters jerk birdheads

Crane at announcements

Movement of lips

Doors suck at cold air

Funnel feet, joggle bags, dished-up faces

Shun an old man slumped

Nodding mumbling. Then shudders

Run up vertebrae

Sun bursts in blackness

Big buildings accelerate

Lines criss-cross his window

As drab suburbs burble

Nothing is real unreal

Diffident peering

Through panels of glass.

This was escape from a gulped-coffee kitchen

Doll-eyed grandchildren

Respectfully making

Shapes with their mouths.

Parents move quickly

Hard monosyllables

Shrug codes none too secret

Questions are guessable

When to dispose of you - eightyish, seventies?

No comfort that people

See less than you hear.

He’s deaf you know.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Southerly June 1985


Black doodles score the phonebook

Graven nerves from June-July

Bad connections hum and garble

In each ear and hollow eye

Unplug me in the bathroom

Silver faces mouthing why

I should see you now

The new girl soothes like unguents

And I hallow her today

Her amber and her marble

But anachronisms play

Like hands. You used to flinch

At fingertouch. I pushed, you slipped away

But I feel you now.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant July 1985


Kidneys, liver, spinach made me scream

To eat, with shrill entreaties these were “Good

For You!” Such vileness fortified the blood,

Allegedly. A yell can let off steam

And that’s not bad. The odd horrific dream

Evens out in daytime as the flood

Of fantasies is dammed and understood

And channelled down some safe and conscious stream.

Children maybe need to feel real fear

To get things in perspective, to ignore

The routine dread; so bogeymen appear

In Grimm’s gross shapes - though nowadays they’re more

Boxed and processed, fast-food violence, near

As screens, blurbed urban gundeaths, ketchup gore.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant March 1985

then in Australian Poetry 1986


Our great-grandfathers dug like dogs

For gold or clearing scrub for farms and kept

The hours of sun till as their logs

Cadaverously strewn they slept

And crapped in dirt and open air

Then on verandahs pets and humans stared

Tongue-lollingly around at all they shared

The hanging heat, the flies and shaggy hair.

But now our dogs are hopelessly behind

We roar away in private cars, cocoon

Ourselves in gauzy comfort, find

New sciences to blow up life’s balloon

And if perchance we saw it disappear

In God-great powercuts or world disputes

Our pets would laugh at us, we sudden brutes

We’d yelp and snarl and sniff each other’s rear.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant December 1985


Wonderful things, machines,

Like those that manoeuvre in space

But every component must work

To grant all dimensions their grace

When a disc in the spine slips askew

It brings down the vegetable curse

And only the eyes can now move

In a never-you-touch universe

Soldier, this bullet’s for you

Astonished he falls to one knee

A small telescopic dark hole

Astronomers bow down to see

On elastic the stars race away

Will stretch and then stop and rebound

Like an echo, or snap and go on

Like a scream or a vanishing sound

When she left I sat on the steps

And strained all the powers of sight

Things hurtled and crashed in my mind

An aircraft blinked red in the night

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant September 1985


Culture shock is social intercourse gone bad abroad

Tourists gag on squalor, new cuisine and crowds

Bewildered troops misvalue foreign parts and rape and raze;

It goes both ways. In 1915 Aussies wrecked

Haret el Wazzir as pox and prices ran amok:

Egypt handles criss-cross armies, like the host

Of Louis IX, surrendering - so many so in fact

Hundreds were beheaded every day, until the King

Was ransomed, handsomely. Now dollar-laden tourists stroll

In Shagarat el Dor, just slightly ill at ease;

A semi-soldier, fists around two wooden blocks, accosts

Americans, who blanch and shuffle back, repelled.

Piastres, conscience-money, serve to keep the stumps at bay;

With doubling of its revenue the State might keep

Its war-torn heroes out of sight - as we do back at home.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant March 1985


Above the battle Marshal Someone scans

Uniforms swirling

In time to his plans

(Battalions’ shellburst individuals lose


No chance to choose

(Democracy makes choice its bugle note

The middle will hinge

On the marginal vote)

And those now led and leaders in cahoots

Echelonned advance

In praise of grass roots)

Beyond the bottle derelicts disperse

Out on the fringe;

Like those who read verse

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant June 1985


The weather has gone bad but is having some fun

Gales of laughter and doubled up palms

Gogo girls’ tresses, fiesta of spray

Breaks on promenade railings

Down the tap-dancing roadway

Grey facades clap; things are sort of contained.

Constraining is part of the picture: take work -

Steam engines, factories, nine-to-five grind;

Or Saturday sport when the clock-fearing train

On tracks to break records.

And the tightness of music:

If drumskins were slack or the strings loose who’d play?

“All power is delightful,” a satirist says

(A balloon from the mouth of Idi Amin -

In newspaper boxes our monsters are tamed)

“And absolute power is

Absolutely delightful;”

Breaking the rules in a zero-sum game.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Southerly June 1985


China is changing too much for your liking?

A modern Ming golf course in planned for the Tombs,

Look, cranes make great letters that litter the skyline,

Mush of Hilton and Sheraton rooms.

What do you think of the leaden lid lifting?

Forbidden things curve as eaves in the air;

Serge is outmoded, no longer loose-fitting,

You see shaped bums now in Tienanmen Square.

Oldstyle, white bloused girls at the Beijing Hotel

Guard a glass counter where foreigners buy

While utilitarian plush crimsons fade:

Silks, lacquer, strange roots, bottled non-ageing spell;

One hitches a stocking quite high on the thigh -

You surge, as light glancing on evergreen jade.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant September 1985


Sometimes dusk-killed colours rise again and flare

Briefly for the skyline’s passage into night,

A parable perhaps of gorgeous death with light

A miracle at last. It used to be that prayer

At bedtime guaranteed the journey on from there:

Hand to forehead, breast, in pious fright;

Then sleeping sicknesses and hazards out of sight

Like germs, like faith, like madness transited the air.

Eyes close. Red Sea waters in our minds divide

Historians interpreting remark the tide

Explanations blow along Great Bitter Lake;

In dreams the chronically irresolute decide

Bridge-burnt ventures thirty miles wide

Dunkirk’s still-staggered morning-after pilots wake.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant July 1985


Earth suspended like a coin mid-spin

Sleepy astronaut looks down and nods

An O, so flat, no wonder off was real

To ancient mariners; yet here I feel

The tiny outputs from five billion ids,

All man means, come cone-like up and on.

The Christmas pudding dome is dark

Eyes dart and wait each wedge mumchance

Warm bulgemouth tongue tip sneaking thick

Sifted silver

Threepenny pieces might be mine.

Machines created us and weaned

Us, weightless, watched us try a cube

On sphere just once, the switches flicked :

Playpen marvels!

Binary codes will work this out.

Henry the Navigator, dreamed

Up from nowhere, looms in sight

Of tribesmen, mainsails crucified,

Galleons curving

Good hopefully down, unblank the globe.

Some things, like faith, are out of date:

Old Euclid too, although his blueprints track

Misshapen space eternally towards

Jerusalem anew, all arcs and chords

And perpendiculars which intersect

Ungraspably; explorers land too late.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant July 1985


The green myth of faraway hills in Sunday school hymns

Fills the Middle Hunter,

Paddocks and vine-lined slopes,

Higgledy-neat Golf Club swathes and swards,

Prosperous groups move against the trees; forearms arc.

The town itself is camouflaged with dots of brown

Horses, rusting tin roofs and flat facades;

From the air you’d not spot

The beer bottles in the cemetery

(A four-iron slice, say, from the roadside tee)

Catholics and Protestants in back-to-back lots

Practically forgotten;

Some mad park planner responsible perhaps

For these few acres of dead-heart hinterland,

Grassless, graceless,

Plastered on the healthy Singleton skin.

Pioneering names and dates have rubbed away,

Later generations peer through the stones:

Four children under five serially side by side,

Lonely Irish ladies of great age,

Some puzzled Germans.

Broken glass, few feeble weeds, slab on slab,

A sudden shock of fresh-placed flowers

For a daughter drowned now thirty years ago,

These the single colours in the place.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant July 1985


In fact

Nothing occurred.

Night by night

I rehearsed, was word

Perfect, gestures right,

Schemed the best time

For this act,

For this mime!

When the chance came

It skipped in dumb dance;

But in daylight’s

Real dreams

Same things play

To a different script.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant April 1986


Official top-end disorientation

Reminiscent of a sheep-dip;

First up a pre-dawn landfall,

Woolshed-type terminal,

Wall-eyed new arrivals dressed

Down by bellying boy scout

Customs men in khaki shorts.

Carpark acres

Prop a toppling circus of stars,

Orion cartwheeling

Head over heels down under.

Noonday corrugated copperscapes

Gibber round Mt. Isa

Shimmering with fahrenheit;

Airconditioned waterhole,

Breezy tee-shirt voices, clumps of glasses.

Back on board an accidental miner

Lashed and screened from tourist class;

Mushroom nimbus,

Ansett lurches in hot pot-holes,

We nervously

Order scotch shock absorbers.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant April 1986


For me? A bath of red paint upended,

One dark swab swished thick with a

Hard yard broom. I see no sense.

Michelangelo dissects a tracery of sinews;

Behind pen-nib lens and fine wire nerve

Lies sight, however, washed in red veils,

Which alarm clocks rend yellow at daybreak;

Officeworkers unblinded at lunchtime,

Rubber drums rumble in Midtown,

Orchestras honk, screech and sink sounding;

Ears under water hum and guess voices.

Imagine a bath full of French perfume,

Outrageously spilled and the headrush depicted,

Abstracted chiaro in scent-swamped oscuro.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant April 1986


To a leaf near me

A butterfly floating

Down interrogative

Dies. I too wonder.

Might time’s brief beauty-filled

False cocaine high

Which colours and flatters

And fools us and fades

Have ever been otherwise?

Who so intended?

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Southerly September 1987


A standing joke - we still begrudge the cost

Of separate records bought before we went

Together. Then all manner of cement

Bound our budgets, lives; wires well and truly crossed.

We’re one coin, that’s what, two sides. If tossed

We both get dizzy, sure, if you were lent

They must lend me, spend you and I am spent:

They can’t lose you without my being lost.

And now, but now? Apart, this isn’t real -

I’m Ixion, splayed criss-cross on a wheel,

Abstrusely damned and strapped at wrists and knees

To luck’s dead disc. Then in this dream I feel

An obverse pressure soft against my heel,

Fingers backing onto mine thread round and squeeze.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant September 1988


Grotefend read the first writing for a bet

Made boozing with his mates in Gottingen

He said, I’ll tell that gibberish in cuneiform

Chiselled in the tablets of Persepolis;

Harsh German Ach-du-Lehrer! belly laughs.

Schoolmaster’s beer-bubbles disappear

To outer space where good thoughts drift

At edge of eye a sungleam winks

An unfound star must be - it is!

For the record, Flood and Ark were

Scooped in the first tale of Gilgamesh

And Hammurabi’s legal code predates

Israel’s plaint in Babylon.

He won his bet.

Wedge-shaped scalpels maybe cut between

Grotefend’s thunderdark ganglia

Let lightning in - king, son of king

Xerxes bursts from the insoluble.

Bubbles blip in sun, well, drink to this:

Our thoughts fill vast dull libraries

Not anyway decipherable.

But genius, two lines in tomes,

That’s all, one sip worth thirsting for.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant September 1988


Gruesome tortures, spikes and screws

Are gone for good. In olden days

Darkness ruled and towns killed Jews

And heretics in public gaze.

As recent holocausts accuse

This was not a passing phase;

We’ve multiplied, with longer queues

And criss and cross in lots more ways,

But may have peaked. We use

Machines which work, obey,

Detect minutely every clue:

Violent crime will scarcely pay.

Warlike major powers, too,

Dissuade each other, stash away

Their bombs for now without ado.

Zero growth, new worlds go gay;

Some brave dreams we guess come true.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant September 1988


He’d rid himself of underlings unconscionably -

This one displeases me, and this -

Not reckon orphaning and laying waste to dreams.

An hour or so from now a hall will graft

To his words, poise to applaud

Announcement of further usurpations.

Power redefines itself at altitude,

A common, queenly smile has hold of him,

Mocks all indulgences available.

He waits for her return, but schemes collapse,

Words fail. He is unmanned. Another smile:

Please do up your seatbelt, sir.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant October 1988


A year was the somnolence

Between the river’s floods.

Beneficent, like them, dynasties

Would swell and burst and wash away;

The fat-wet Nile slurped towards the sand

Which, detesting water, rolled repelled

Away out over Africa. It never rains.

In the stony dunes above the Nile

The scarab feeds on camel turd

Yet Ramses’ priests thought him divine:

Ramses who stood ten times life height,

In stone ten thousand times its weight,

Now lies in bits. A camel’s back bore

Too much straw, perhaps, a beetle

Nosed away three grains of sand,

Provoked the thunder of those mighty tons.

The earth in Egypt rarely quakes,

It must have trembled then

At history’s massive hiccup.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Westerly September 1988


1. This position will be held, and the section

will remain here until relieved.

Some crazed janissary might so command

To hold the untenable, but for what end?

What programme might he have in mind?

2. The enemy cannot be allowed to interfere with this programme.

3. If the section cannot remain here alive

it will remain here dead,

but in any case it will remain here.

Glow-eyed youths marvellously alive

Race stooping on the slope

And yaw in death; yesterday’s

Clawed figures on the wire.

Tomorrow pounces on the eye-blink now.

All the tenses stare together now.

4. Should any man, through shellshock or other cause,

attempt to surrender, he will remain here dead.

I surrender to my own command

The double jeopardy of every contradiction.

I am a local God. All few of us,

The living dead, grin at my, at our apotheosis.

5. Should all guns be blown out the section

will use Mills grenades and other novelties.

God of black winters

And presumably seasonal cycles of peace

Bring evolution, that time not so indecently be held.

6. Finally, the position as stated will be held.

* The six orders, written in pencil, are in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. The lieutenant who wrote them was a clergyman before the war. The position was held, until relieved.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Sydney Review December 1988


The bashed guard and broken-ankled teller

Missed most of it. There were moments of hilarity;

Jangling bells, swizzle of TV monitors, one

Father Christmas shot the tea machine

Hiccupping. Eleanor’s earring snags the carpet,

Sideways she watches striped socks,

A queue of creased suits stepped among.

Keyboard years reel giddily, venetian blinds,

Dead hands on keys, stale air, square screens,

Paper truths in bins strewn everywhere.

Things, God, cannot ever be the same

Or this high point looked back upon

For ever after gossiping;

Throats catch at fear and ribs are kicked,

Dignities like dropped pants

Stripped ludicrous,

Hey you.

Later the sergeant says

J’see that fat hostage smiling?

Like she had a good time.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant January-February 1989


She is gone in unreachable pain

Furrowed from him. In case

Of return he waits in this place:

Uselessness seethes from a train,

Gone generations of soot strangely linger, and black

Bowler hats bob on blank faces in jackpot cascades,

Strong current warnings that passengers can’t cross the track.

Pain in the other direction accelerates, fades

As some dense distant given-out star which is now taking back

Ambient light and identity. Louvres slice blades

Of sun through clouds in his brain,

Curve with hers, lane by lane race,

May meet by infinity’s grace?

The bow bends for gold after rain.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant January-February 1989


We fix fascist murderer searchlights

On the cabin, to interrogate curfew-breakers:

A silly image this, like the clodhopper

Stopped glass-eyed in our glare

Blasted, hacked with a sticky black axe

Hunks tossed in the truck for the station dogs;

We heave homeward over front paddock.

Before breakfast mein host has other pests

Telephoto magnified posing on hummocks,

A live flop-eared soft toy sniffing

One good jump ahead of the trigger;

Later plastic bottles on a post

Better my aim, show the sights do need adjusting,

So we’ll go back to that ghetto tomorrow.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant January-February 1989


There was this joke-teller

Who with wicked, slick,


Cameos misrepresented life

Recognisably, had us in creases:

You envied his repertoire,

Deftness in this most

Portable artform.

You know we’ve our gallery

Of memorable anecdotes

Sketched and resketched

Fixtures adorning the walls

Of our years.

You can embellish them,

Fuzz edges, shift colour -

Friends puzzle a little,

But words are like brushes

Dipped in impermanence,

Like everything naturally.

There’s something to be said

For such histories,


From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant June 1989


In Hamburg they manufacture

Precision simulators,

Tank turrets, bazookas etcetera,

Arms which judder, replicate

Flash, smoke, cacophany.

The Bundeswehr trains gracefully.

Only they can’t copy

Inkling terror,

Neurons to prickle napes,

Troops’ shitscared jittering.

The city booms,

Prospering for decades.

It had to be almost completely rebuilt.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant May 1990


Here they live elevated and apartmented

Dense ad libbed lives

And the sidewalks, blocks gridded

Are boxed like shows

Everybody’s cast

No wonder the dramas enacted

Under the street lights

Of 41st and Fifth

A quartet apart declaiming

Peakcapped labelled SULLIVAN;

Lady, do you mean that?

Driver, offended, goes into attack

Middleaged black man moves back

Bystander angry with shopping bags

Claims a main role

Theft, knockdown, badly parked?

Eyes hood in the halflight

Palms sweep unheard words

Roles seem to switch

Black man mocks

Bystander nods

Cop arms akimbo

She with the keys stands shocked

A one-man audience

I exit

Check my ticket

Beware of pickpockets

Must rush

To the real theatre

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Poetry Australia 129, Autumn 1991


Furred Chelsea lady, you dancing

At your age by parked cars, red letter box,

Or crippled, St. Vitus ...? Ah, no, rather

A soft shoe-shit shuffle, she stops now

Mid-pavement to scrape.

High wind in Hyde Park, pale sunshine,

A black-brollied matron diagonal

Billowed and tacking on tiptoe

Foot-lifted comes happily singing.

The dog-walkers dodge.

Office girls skip in the Underground.

Exploits near Leicester Square, fair sex

Cavorting, some decent; the dirty old

Buildings transvested in neons,

And all London dances.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant March 1991


We slip

Messages on silver trays

Smile through candles and flowers

The silent longitude of a rosewood dining table

Chandelier tinkles

Little to say.

Or yell

Red squabbled waddyameans

Above the kids while television

Blurbs the racing horses on a raining afternoon

Matrimony rankles

Welter of words.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Southerly Number Four,1991


I wish (I think I do, I hold

In hand a brassy wish-distorting telescope

Through which we see our climber-daughter bold

Cling to the cliff) I had her hope:

Despite the overhang she trusts the rope,

Swings, reels in, is up. And from our cold

Further reach we stare down the slope

And see her not come on to us, unfold

Instead Icarus-wings and launch

Unsteadily at first down then

In some gasp of God lift

Skyward, a lark, a swift

Borne careless singing

Out across the valley.

We had plans for greying on and old

Conventionally, drifting into soap

Opera characters. The sun glints gold

On her, a flash of heliotrope,

Purple scented,

Oiling our canvas,

Hilling our flatness,

Streaking our laughter

Out across the valley.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Westerly Autumn 1992


Kookaburras guffaw in clumps of gums

At me running to ward off middle age;

And she eighteen now slews and crumples

Off the road beyond that hill.

You can’t see it from this twisting track

Which meets town streets, the bush behind is

Continuity; the immediate distance hums.

The jog, shower, drive to work print themselves

Each day regular as newspaper,

Local stories, uncomplicated features fill the page.

She is held in unconsciousness.

Hospital announcements worse and worse

Until the last bulletin:

Tomorrow they will switch off the machine.

Birds and rocks in their own way wait to shout

At the flashed commercial: a mock-gold sun ascends;

Tubes and valves function in me like TV.

I watch serialised lives

Dotted with little dramas

To be one day declared redundant;

To be then written out.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Southerly Number Four,1992


The last white sheep stood stoic blackened by the smoke,

Mute monument to whims of God and acts of man endured -

Unbeaten track, drought, fire, overdraft insured,

With city salaries to stop us going broke.

We shot the philosophic ewe and neither spoke;

The house we built survived all right, it’s still unsewered,

And our orchard with its apricots not quite matured

Attracts sulphur-crested cockatoos. Next day we woke

To March flies’ drone; vague thoughts of bills obscured

The chores, the stocktake, sudden fencelessness, our charred

Marvelling horizons gazed back through hazy space.

That was three weeks ago. We have another place

Now which looks out over roofs, and has no yard.

Yes, we’re here for good. In our new flat. Totally secured.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Westerly Autumn 1993


Hundreds of years since Edgehill & Marston Moor

Charlie, and we’re still at it

Tromping around Worcestershire

Waiting to engage: kick-off due at 3pm.

Our musketeers are holed out in the pub

With their drummer-boy wives and girlfriends.

Caravans like baggage trains parked round the back

Disgorge the newly-changed in smock and breeches;

Cannon are unloaded from a hired truck

By yeomen bankers and real estate agents.

You and me, Charlie, officers and bookmakers,

Not spoiling for the fight as much as urged

Like them by the universal lust for dressing up.

I don’t know how pleased Oliver Cromwell

Would be at all this achieved egalitarianism.

At last a little after quarter to

The fifes and pennants form in line with

Cavalry from the local pony club

Plumed and snorting on the flank;

Over from Germany a troop of skirmishers

Just revelling in the reenactment,

And then it’s on. Clumps of rugbymen

With 16-foot pikes slowly mesh together

Like great mating hedgehogs in several scrums,

Leather heels pedalling in soggy grass.

There’s a clear risk of broken ribs and noses,

With mock or real gore on gorgeous silk.

Game, spectacle, film-set; an amplified voice

Elaborately directs levels of reality

For day-out families behind the barriers

Where knots of tourist camaramen aim and fire;

You could conclude we’re surfeiting with peace,

For nearly fifty years without a proper war

Is doing strange things to us, Charlie.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant March 1993


Do you recall years back

Crazy near Wonju high

On the steep deep-pile grass

Tumulus of King Sejong

Doing forward rolls?

First tight as a fist then

Pulled open by the slope

Stretched into looping dives

Rabbit-punching our vertebrae

Over and over. The king must

Have jerked his neck in his grave,

Demanded tribute; history

Somersaults, you never know

Come-uppance, scowl now

Under the gyrating catscanner,

At the subsequent cross-sections,

As lifesize stone courtiers

Did at the lèse-majesté.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant March 1993


I let this chum, this ordinary man,

Talk me with duller talents into joining him

And sundry Indians exploring - scarce a plan

So much in terrae incognitae as a whim;

And what I find beguiling was not that we

Survived all manner of ordeals in Yucatàn

Nor that, in the very place it ought to be,

We found the jungle-strangled city of Copàn

Which time, adored there once, had wholly spurned:

But that the curtain rose on us on that strange stage,

Drawn in off the street with lines unlearned,

Sudden mummers, and that you who scan this page

Of dry historic script have been yourselves turned

By it, tutored by the theatre of our age.

John Lloyd Stephens riding near the front

Ponders Keats, and Cortes who two centuries before

Escaped this way, imagines their surmise.

Unholy symphonies strike up, monkeys squeal,

Razor fronds, mosquitoes violinning on the skin,

Machetes whack the headhigh grasses, other sounds

Of slush and thud and English oaths bespeak

Catherwood and his mule flank-deep again in mud -

The draughtsman must bemoan moist cartridge paper,

Damn the canopy of palms and spread mahogany,

Their blotched penumbral subterfuges sucking colour,

Eyes already fever-raw cannot etch or frame

An underworld, an undersea, such edgeless swirls.

And then a yell, and there before them runs a wall.

Steps did rise. And I confess I blessed

The sight of proud rightangles, those first

Made-by-man miracles, and we both guessed

At reaching causeways, buttresses, palaces immersed

Occluded yonder; next hacked between trees,

Whose leaves pressed on frets and lattices, roots burst

Through flagstones, throttles of vines; a frieze

Freed from green at last had everything reversed:

For here entombed stones moved wondrously alive,

Here might snake-curled columns and intricate relief

Of heads of hosts of hook-nosed tongue-lolled men survive

Despite the rictuses and grin in joyous grief.

My plaint was only how could fluid planes connive

To thwart my mirroring, hence contemporary belief.

In a cleared plaza Stephens confronts the god,

Plumed, ophidian, and seemingly amused

By the antics of humans and tributes of war.

These captives have their beating hearts removed

By self-mutilating priests with thorns in tongue

And penis, all the faces hideous; a dark

Nation of masons who might be thought civilised

Did not the very stones protest their barbarism.

In Mexico and Guatemala hells

Were multiple and ever near at hand as when

In that Year of the Serpent crazed Spaniards came

And Montezuma erred in deeming them divine,

Dooming the Aztecs; but Copàn had long since gone

In weird, colossal demographic nemesis.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant October 1993


Jostling lab rats scoot today

Careless round their Nurburgring and

Free until the experimenting hand

Drops down selectively so that we may

In twos mesh our cogs unpenalised, gland

And hips interconnected connive

To surge the virus and drive

Like the clappers perhaps to expand

Commuter odds of nine to five

On the orbital, a steering pin gives way

And ambulances’ unmelodic sirens play

Luring spectators in yonderness meaning I’ve

Yet again proved quite conclusively

That it did not happen to me

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Westerly Spring 1994


Near-meticulous my love

Like a clock collector

Seconds tick correct

But inexactly synchronized

Very striking

Dustless place, particular

But cluttered bookcases


Smoke-choked ashtrays

Time for me unregulated

Sets in moons and moods

Alarms forget so

Daybreak cocks don’t doodle

Each watch unshowerproof

Shaving mirror mesmerized

Reflects a sprinting train

Ormolu love

We click we talk you

Save me time

And time again

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant January-February 1983


It is PROBABLE that this or that

It is PROBABLE another thing

It is PROBABLE the theories

Babble on. Our science teacher

Knows he drones so scribbles

Oratorically but I stop slabbed

Against the bolder print which

Blobs and blubs like all the tests

We ever did with gas in glass retorts;

Molybdenum and plumbic lead

Aren’t probable but do have poetry

In plosive liquid consonants.

Steele, are you here or somewhere else -

Perhaps you’ll tell the class ...

The droner interrupts and rubs

His board, my smile gone with

Chalk and all that alchemy;

Sudden problems sneer insoluble

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Westerly December 1983


Chess grandmasters beat machines: they chunk

Their thoughts in patterned strategies. The flank

Attacked at Austerlitz, a hilltop link

To feints at Ulm and infantrymen bank

Around. Corporals also, other ranks when drunk

May plan from heights like this, but shrink

Back sober into line. Loose ideas junk

Like jigsaw pieces, pawns, odd lead soldiers, sink

As scuffed survivors in a nursery trunk:

Where anyone might stoop, stare down and think.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant July 1983


It still seems odd sometimes

When shoe in hand I realise

My own enormousness,

How grown proportioned

Feet of me will fill these boats;

Shrink thinking back to infancy

Big brothers, teachers,

Kindergarten City!

Blockhouses, asphalt acres,

Hubbub in the street,

And all unedited. For then

A foot might individually

Step out ahead, a thought drift on

Beyond its foursquare edge.

Across this room

Still, small, full-size, you

Curl asleep as I get dressed

And add to me,

My oddest prize of adulthood.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant July1984


The ink could well be dry before I end the line

To contradict reporting in the present tense;

But it’s about the past and future that I write.

As tourists dulled by cobblestones these thoughts of mine

Protest the Palais de Justice’s dungeons, whence

Aristos are being led in groups of twelve, in white

Rough rags up dragging steps; and cocky warders shine

With actuality at vileness to commence,

At violence for change, for good. Drum, tambourine

Are dinning individual signals to each spine

That this must cut and end; the craning mobs can sense

The thrill of continuity in their machine.

By chance the Paris Marathon is on today.

Spectators congregate in Place de la Concorde;

In bunches thirteen thousand runners from the right

Appear, red poppy singlets blink against the grey.

Perversely dazed with Michelin Guide I make this horde

Come streaming through in `93, and out of sight.

The Romans may have had massed games right here and they

Were civilised, reformist, excellent; adored

Odd gods for whom grand public deaths were not obscene.

Benign we jog for human rights, and who’s to say

This leads to excellence? Democracy restored

But dawdling: excellence may race the guillotine.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant January-February 1984


The oculist slips lenses over me

To hone the outer rim of things I see

Oh yes dear me they’re grinning into view

Outstanding. Letters click and loom and through

Them now appears their grain

Stippled grey streaks of rain

Sharp blurring all behind.

Grain could be a requirement of the mind

For linkage. Sawn-off cedar logs have rings

Discrete but subtly joined. It seems all things

Are joined save words doubled up like tiles

Stacked or scattered files

In cabinets. Pulp words

From paper trees. Birds

Alone sing knots and gnarls and might aspire

To spell the screwed-up lines that fuel my fire.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant January-February1984


Plane hangs


Giotto flatout on a fresco

Yearns for perspective

Space layered, foreshortened

Palest sky plaster

Sungold disk sparkles

Flying halo

I grunt

Staccato disbelief;

Characters in novels converse oratorically,

Actors elocute rounded considerations

Better than real, straighter than lines,


Blurts disjunctions.

Boeing bounds down the tarmac

Heathaze shimmering dimensions.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant September 1984


Man standing

Dangle-hand Dad

Palm cupped up-

Side down buffs

Fair fuzzy

Feeling hair

Path sword on end

Cuts two lawns to

Yellow door

Stuck in bricks

Chimney puffs

Fluffy clouds

Mum at a window

Toe stub shoe stump

Door steps open

Jump a jump home

“Did you have a good time, eh?”

Smile for her

“Not yet”

Grownups stare sideways

Lean forward laughing

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant December 1984


Strings of

Bright coincidences

Link us like talking points

Among acquaintances - how did you two meet?

Oh, it started when he tore a ligament

And then in hospital

Thanks to this

Thanks to robbers

Hacking dark at crumbly wood

Linen bandages, broad beaded collars ripped


For diadems, gold, pectorals of lapis lazuli

Cheaper tributes strewn in sand

Along the dynasties

Not traced

Till Sunday

Head down pointblank scavenging

On all fours, bums up in the air

We scanned Sakkara’s desert floor that


Sifting a necropolis for tiny beads

Four thousand years old perhaps

Got thirtyeight

Creating starts

In darkness, mucking round with

Hieroglyphic thoughts at first and wonders

Subsequent revealed. Under the sun

There may be nothing new perhaps

So what

About these thoughts

They slip as sand between fingers

Timegrains in a pharaoh’s hourglass

Gembits picked out chuckling strung

On catgut roughly knotted

Poetry for you

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant May 1984


Thumbs drumming

Gashed wood desk top

Knife blades splay

He couldn’t count for nuts

Fractions were worst

Chopped up ugly numbers

Would use his fingers

Trace hearts, initials

Slice one in half why not

Properly for a

Tenth, one over nineteen

But he was finicky

Scour back a written page

For uncurled ells

Any ems missing legs

Fret about spots, buttons,

Fingernails, dandruff

Was this womanish?

She took her eyes off

Traffic for a fraction

Mirror-tamping a curl

Kids skid dinking whip

Lash headon windscreens

Vanity out of all proportion

Some things like wheels

And bodies absolutely

Have to be perfect

This he can understand

Reaches down fingering

Each wheel rim

Propelling him



From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant July 1984


“Soirée of avant-garde Japanese chamber music”

All manner of contradictions promised here

Open air with creaking wooden seats, floppy-

Shirted citizens, hot

Geraniums in flowerboxes

Tuning themselves.

Grand Yamaha pianoforte, doll-like pianist

Plunging on the extremities, and once or twice

Into the works;

Bamboo shakahaji sucked and blown

Puffed syllables exotically pronounced

A harp plucked, belled and beaten,

What’s going on?

We put two big rocks,

Japanese-style, in our yard

Deliberately; one mossed and bossy

Shapeless, like half-heard haikus

On a cramjam train, irregular

As nature; the other tall, a dolmen,

Contemplative, alphabetical,

January through December.

Tribute to a logical tradition.

Gravid rain ran down them both


I try things double-mindedly

Err maybe orientally

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant June 1984


Heads are like new-fangled boxes, stacked deliberately

With odds and ends - mirrors, tangled strings, and eyes -

Mine peer, detached, set back inside behind their frame

At angled collar, elbow, program-holding hand;

Impressions linger on the face, just out of sight,

Reflected in third party posturings. “What

Pollock meant ...” as though his head was on display revealing

Strands of anger, doubt, exuberance, securely tied;

Of course a real painter may have single themes,

Not be alarmingly detached like me. And proper critics

With their index fingers have no trouble tracing lines

While dinkum highwaymen might range the bush, quite witting

In the dramas they must act before they hang.

Masks are messages, messages and masks belong

In hollow halls. It’s closing time. I knot my tie

Vainly in revolving glass, and step outside.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant March 1984


They say that pig fat made the sepoys mutiny:

I say they say since victors smear the facts of history

Notoriously. Things set solid yesterday

Elasticate when told in court by witnesses;

Conviction hangs on tricks of advocates,

Not to mention simple jurymen’s credulity.

It’s how you come across - this politicoes,

Groomed for success with manicure and maquillage,

Know well. Words convey much less in interviews

Than body signs. Words do have power, though, for whispering,

In innuendo, rumour-form, out-shouts the gospel truth.

Well may you ask yourself what evidence

Is unequivocal.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant May 1984


Montaigne coming home would doff

His mayoral cloak and civic power

And, denuded, family-nagged, be off

To refuge in the chateau tower.

His hidebound book about himself,

Friends, cannibals and education,

Liars, smells etcetera on my shelf

Is private in its ostentation.

Boots and buckles on parade

The colonel’s swaggerstick inspection

In dress the point is smartly made

Ranked in scrutinised subjection.

Scruffy object in the dock

By wigs and gowns misrepresented

When clothed authority may mock

The Emperor is complimented.

Philosophers, Montaigne maintained,

Cannot avoid a mental spasm

Thoughts collywobble if constrained

To walk a plank across a chasm.

Terra firma’s lines are straight

But try for equal footfall spaces

Sages bend their mind and gait

Duffers step out perfect paces.

What then? Though covered by degrees

All reputations shall be dented

But “Dad, help me with my essay please”

(This artform M. of course invented).

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant July 1984


Little questions, schools, bills, holidays and health

Curl around me, weather-like

Mild, early morning fog, a chance of rain.

To be read about are droughts and floods

In other places massive pressure troughs

Extremes of mercury, God knows, monsoons

Flat surfaces with heaving under

Family dwellings fall. I wonder

What the storm’s eye can

And seeks to see.

At desolate out-stations one-man weather posts report

Their bitty data. Just before the evening news

A bulletin, computer-based on satellites, balloons

Soothing predictably.

They are often wrong.

I ask myself.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant November 1984


Down the green mats Mick’s little girl

Unravels her calligraphy, gentle arc,

Quick easy strokes, curl, flourished question mark;

Turns, still, and then a draft of arabesques whirl

Down and bound, rebound, resound exclaiming!

Mick’s not a talker, doesn’t read, papers naming

Her, hand-funnelled, tumble shoe-scuffed unfurl.

“Your little’un’s an acrobat, they say.” This remark,

Casual enough, would make Mick mad, he’d bark

“Bloody artist, you mean!” at his mate; and swirl

Of match struck in darkness, red leotard slurring

Flares his black mood,”See?” Blind nod concurring.

First round in January angry with gifts

Ungiven Mick and his mate hurl their grey truck

Grumbling past gardens, unlikely their luck

Will change now; but random shifts

Of garbage from loose lids set things stirring

In Mick’s mind, a first-thought, an outline recurring,

A wrapper trapped and flapping swells and lifts

Out free. And in well-ordered borders they chuck

A calculated quantity of household muck

Along the meanest street. In melaleucas drifts

Of trash; kerbs, driveway strips, fences all framing

A free man’s statement, nature-like, declaiming.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant January-February 1985


Cribs, cots, cradles rock like seas

Like hammocks crescented in C’s

Sinecures and fantasies

How here on in it starts to ease

At halfway-marking-time

Paces downhill stretch or shrink

To come to terms

But come oh darling come to bed

No compromise now in this word

Bad nightmares of the long long wed

Arguments too often heard

Bones on boards, stone steps ahead

Time concertinas, big jobs bid

On their own terms

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Westerly March 1985


Smoke, noise, no, I don’t remember these

But clearly see the heads or tails

In steelwheel minted pennies on the track

Below our house: we’d wait for trains

Chance madly down the bank and squealing back.

We moved that year to somewhere middler class

And with shifts in time improved on that address

In upward social spiralling. From here

I see my kids have never walked on rails

But out of sight they must have plunged in fear.

It’s giddy-making looking down from planes

Or highrise buildings at the mess

Of have-not mediocrity, delayed

By accident of time in shock which sees

Recurring dreams of Railway Parade.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Westerly March 1985


Then they were prosperous

Plus-foured and jodhpured

Posing in sepia

Groups, moustaches and parasols

News crepitated via

Clothfronted wirelesses

Grandchildren bowling hoops

Flatnosed at sweetstores

Airplanes were gimcracked

Loops looped quite silent

Crick-necked observers aahed

In slow motion

Free time now marketed

Incomes disposable

Plastics and gimmickry

Leisure in living rooms

Audio video

Kids with controls in hand

Stare at black windows

Printing out phosphorous

Data, looped programs

Space simulations

Quick-reflexed participants

Slip to the future, click

Instant replays

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Southerly June 1985


Bits of reminiscence

Chink like


Collectors’ pieces

The heads are girls’

Glimpsed scenes, afternoons

Silver minted or

Else fingered thin

Glint as I

Cup my palm

Pocket them

And grin

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant January-February1985


Hertfordshire papyrus reeds good for thatch

Ripple along the canal where mummies crouch

Swaddled, age-frozen, hoping for the touch

Of Ra to reel through their veins and rush

Them. A rooster practises against the hush.

From time to time the surface tension pops, fresh

Silver writhed parabolas whose fate is mesh

Basketry at waterlevel, for the catch.

When it’s time to go they’re all tossed back : I wish

I knew what for. An angler makes a speech

About life and continuity; look they splash

Off happily as anything. But don’t they mind the gash

That signals certain death? We peer at each

Other uncomprehendingly. You should ask the fish.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant December 1986


God teeters and freezes

Top tightrope walker

Unencumbered by gender or number

Balance is perfect

Earth spins serenely

Though weather turns turtle

And all else seems random

You hold your breath, wonder

Will I keel over?

Crave as a favour


I favour

Chewing left side

Sleeping left side

I write right

Am odd and distorted

People in the street

Eyes lined with the horizon

Twist and limp though it hurts

To keep even


Never mind minds

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant December 1986


Black cockaded stallions clop

Through cobbled backstreets

With their hearse behind bedecked

In arum lilies, arabesques and curling scrolls;

Family mourners sheepish trail

And pseudo-sombre raggle-taggle

Queues of curious swell the rear;

In Via Roma mocca coffee wafts with

Aromatic fumes of fuel and cooking

From flats above small shops;

The shoppers stop to see a funeral

Proceed and men salute with

Hand to head for grace of God

And genuflexive reverence.

Then crescendo thunder

Up the street illegally against the flow

Of metal drums and cymbals

Hammered mad, a

Huddled motorbike

That checks, rears, screeches

Off through pavement tables

Down a basket-selling alley

Ululates towards the port.

The mob soul-jolted sighs instinctive

“Agostin o pazz!” and many smile.

The madman kept at large like this for months

Till caught, locked up, and freed at last;

To star in films of Agostin. which roared

On screens in Pòrtici and Vòmero.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant April 1987 then in Australian Poetry 1988


In the Villa of Mysteries we slip-rope a door

Down an umbra of steps to a cellar below

Dark, forgotten; thin steles of sunlight won’t show

Where we huddle each other in dust on the floor.

Up there tourists pose with their cameras, restore

Form to the inchoate, snap status quo

Onto jumbles of ruins; but buses must go.

Ghosts take the stage then, alone, as before.

Performances, lines learned from guidebooks, rehearsed

Histories; thus passing years replenish

The carbons that flamed in full life then dispersed.

Go back? Oh, how might not these years diminish

That date ... unless, one red second could burst

Astonishing, fixing for ever, then vanish.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant May 1987


Eyewitnesses cross themselves and lie

Roundmouthed, photographed in the lit lunacy

Of judgement night, glazed red and cream by turns,

Sirens keening.

The mayor glimpsed amid milling villagers, cries

In the road, still things, made by God or man,

Lose meaning.

The driver, perhaps come round to Hell,

Backs from the shawls, the eyes, the law


An unscathed donkey bursts its lungs.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant May 1987


Come back with something duty-free

Aunt Mary said, the widow’s cruse

Runs out you know, except in parables.

Down there men can in hand

Have left their cars beside the road

To trudge for oil or something else

That is like them adaptable;

Lifelong forests, see, capitulate

In concrete fields, wilderness is dammed

Erosion’s duller coloured uniforms

Advance in dunes and factories

Towards the wen, ah, clouds shroud it all.

I don’t know if I will go back.

The cramped and yelling flat

Would probably adjust to this quite soon,

Quite well.

Things aren’t so durable

These days.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant July 1987


Remember how we will be children

Nursery years ahead;

The big printed books that taught us to read

Help us to unlearn instead

Continence, arrogance, freedom to speak

All you want. The weak

Watch where they tread.

Spring is snug in the black buds of winter,

Time’s grandparent tense,

But tomorrow for old men and babies

Makes little sense.

Good old days, simple times, hanker these back,

They were grim; and smack

Of mental defence.

Today in the full fledge of science

Those long in the tooth

Can with plastic and chips and new organs

Get back bits of youth;

Ordinary miracles, nothing too strange

Or impossible: now change

May synthesise truth.

In playgrounds first lessons in chaos,

Brutes sort of conform;

In a dark hall the seniors assemble,

Ephemeral fads then perform;

Sundown clouds clamber as night starts to fall;

Who wants to recall

The probable storm?

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Westerly June 1987


Harsh drawled bird call without consonants asks

What point there is, condemns all truth as trite,

As irony: experience comes too late.

Crap, claptrap, shrieks the infant king, see

The given world is rearrangeable, so might

Is wrong, may will, and winners hesitate.

Family of crows like black sheep baa

With pecked-out eyes, spare themselves the sight

Of drought ahead dead certainly laid down by fate.

Off with their heads! And four and twenty tasks

Are to be jumped to, bottles, clothes and pies await

The hopeful yells of short-fused gelignite.

Soft ground sets under me like quick cement, turns cold,

A car starts cursing, other sounds drown out debate.

The sun of a sudden comes up in the campsite.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Westerly June 1987


Into the first emptiness stuttered

Instructions, making

Order; apartness; beguiling;

Adam done and undone.

Arguments crackle

Like axed wood whacking

Ring swallowed in a doorway opening black.

Tom! Hey, darling, it’s Tom!

Moods flick like chinking glasses

And murmured voices fade

Into distance as the nameless music lilts

Andante ma non troppo

Gentle babel.

Here is the news.

In further violence today

Angry mobs roamed

Streets strewn with glass

Interrupt to bring martial music



In the garden knowing voices

No bigger than an apple in the hand

The radio speaks:

The lines are down, we can’t speak.

Sometimes I despair of getting through to you.

As for God, he might be the BBC,


From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Southerly June 1987


The final touch: the granite cladding

On the Great Parliament of Canberra, adding

Gloss and lustre to the pile. Dreamers build

This way since Chephren sheathed his middle

Pyramid of Giza, white limestone filled

The awkward steps, veneered the riddle.

So lace and frills bedeck a wedding

And veil the coming lust of bedding.

This is not just decoration

(See the armour on the back

Of tortoises whose coloration

Stands up well against attack);

Externals are a celebration

And sacrifice to what we lack.

The House is landscaped, chambers surging

Up from re-laid lawns submerging

Offices where light gleams dulled;

One role of Form is to befuddle,

Eyes are tricked and minds are gulled.

Later pharaohs also huddle

Underground and all their splurging

Is Form, is lost, eternal purging.

Let Content have a nobler notion,

Prefer, to brick, a rough-hewn rock,

Not require such self-promotion,

Beware of tendencies to mock,

Weigh the word and weigh the motion,

Never have to watch the clock.

The flag on giant flagpole flapping

Drowns the sound of cliché’d clapping,

Clashes of each different symbol.

Internaliszing one may mumble:

Had Ramses foresight he might tremble,

Anticipate the robbers’ scramble,

The stab and then the bandage ripping,

First and finest asset-stripping.

None escape from such dissection,

Values stood upon their head:

The critic has the last inspection,

No Content ever left for dead.

Form deemed sometimes near perfection

Is honoured in its life instead.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Southerly September 1989


Red paint soaks into brick’s

Sticky bed. Get that off.

Maddened powers grab some kid

Who, drubbed, must scrub with kerosene

And make a filthy mess of Ks

That kicked, Rs marching, double E

Now with broken teeth.

The writing, yes, was on the wall

The space still calls

For its message. You hear mumbling

In bus queues, the word is out. Odd:

If it needs to be said

It need not be said

And vice versa.

The writer knows they should also

Hate the space.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant May 1989


for Elizabeth

Light scatters evenly like passing time

But hemmed it tunnels undiscovered night,

Dark ages strew their nothing years around

Celled monks; yet long-charred stars shine bright.

We drive in shifts across flat slabs of map,

The windscreen films the back of New South Wales -

Yass, Gilgandra, Moree, on till Queensland shrugs

In setting sun, and then that distance pales.

The final petrol stop, and chance to phone;

Christ, God, she’s gone. Our meaningless dismay,

Our terms, frail terms of reference block the view,

And friends and priests and doctors turn away.

Black eyeless windows watch the street move by

Or looking in and lit the room reveal;

In glass you strangely see your printed self

On scenes beyond, believe intangible is real.

How much of us is us? We live outside

Ourselves in mirrors, children, anecdotes,

What other people think about these clothes,

The independent image of us floats.

34, but this is less than half a life.

Cells run no more berserk, sure, pain has gone.

But light persists on silver iodide,

And in our mind her photograph lives on.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in The West Australian 26 August 1989




Join the dots up.

Turn the fan on.

Whirr you here

I wish

Jogged once

Drought just broken

Got croaked at

Soggy grassclumps

Jump, hey, where you

Frog from?

I squat

Crossleg yogaman

Bake my mind

Dry as a creek bed

Less hot before breakfast

Stand on my head


Then you hop

Sun spotted emerald

Down on my lilypad

Membrane brain

Startling choruses

Chortling remember


I pour grog

Get a frog

In my throat sometimes

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant January-February 1990


I like a good murder

Splashed red in the newspaper

Some knotted family cut with a kitchen knife

Bits and pieces by Agatha Christie

Ask yourself why

Outrage, mind-fire

A type of desire

I, you, mathematically

Cubed and rooted in rooms

Social decimals

Behind bars like equal-signs

And the night thrills between.

Your honour, look at you

Drool at the details

You are my client

Some of this blood

Too, is yours.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant January-February 1990


Before embalming

Pharaoh’s brains were hooked on wire

Unbundled through the nose:

Choice thoughts twitch in the Egyptian section.

You turn and pull a face that’s

Held in glass cases;

In stale, tomby conditioning of air

One stone scarab bends so smoothly


Outside, red double-decker hubbub dubbed

On tapes that play, replay

For me the sounds and sights of us

Collected with a single mind and


From the hotdog stand

You come at me with verbs and vowels

As shooed pigeons


Against grey buildings

Peel stalely away;

You say exhaling, “ “,

Onion paragraph dabbed with


Alone and dozing different senses

Can be trundled through the head

And logged : not smell.

Their flat-stacked histories

Fill museums; but scent ungathered

Never might have been

Like mumbled words, quick kisses, idle thoughts,

Instead this is the here and now, the being


From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Southerly September 1990



I decypher broken-boned sigmas

Split spheres and known symbols

So walk by

Gastro, physio, ophthalmo something

All Greek to me

In the waiting room

Small traumas and dramas

Wheeled athletes, stoic mothers

Old men, hyped children

Through open windows eye-sized

Swabs of cotton wool

Buoyed in the oxygen

What is this?

The doctor shrugs


Nothing to worry about

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Southerly September 1990


A few friends telephoned today

Guessed me keening round the house

Yes, ironies of permanence are everywhere

Mementoes of Till Death Us Do

Arts that mimic fucking life

Obscenely, like the photographs

Snap-freezing grins assumed just then

Or acts illogical when framed

In dismal interruptuses

Just just outdated, slipped in time

Irony and vanity, slip me biblical

Beneath a temple toppled

Blindly by my strongman

But he walked out free

The children stand there stupidly

Columns that forgot to fall

But I am more or less in bits

These phonecalls advocate and indicate

We’re modular today, can put ourselves

Together differently, Hang in!

I hang in different ways, hang up.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Westerly Spring 1994


These two just-got fingertips

Of plastic have doubled

The optical miracle

So from here I see nimbuses

Omo-laundered merinos in

Millions cavorting below me

Jumbo droning half dreaming

Not one week since I saw you

There’s a fuzz to your silhouette

Mother then father now fading

Not affection nor incidents

But the retina’s photographs

I’m brought a gin cocktail

Which fights the myopia

Of gently lost contact

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Quadrant July-August 1994


From his rock, his Jebel, Tariq smote

The king’s army, helped by local treachery

Or incompetence, and contemplated Spain’s

Jagged sierras blocking off the north.

His raiding party down to nine or ten

Thousand men and his Arab master

Musa surely fretting back in Africa;

But glory powered Berber swords

And Allah’s storm proved irresistible –

Wind behind him, zeal in the ranks,

Tariq headlong into territory unknown

Took Toledo, and all Andalusia.

Next year Musa came and had his servant

Flogged for such egregious cheek

But granted him to keep command

And push the Arab empire on to France.

Gratitude is fickler than the wind:

Damascus summoned both its champions home

To pay for savouring their lavish victory,

Tariq reassigned to household servitude,

Musa to exile, poverty. With an afterthought,

A delivered gift from the Khalif,

The head of the son left in charge in Toledo.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Hobo September 1998


The last great Western martyrdom

was probably in Otranto

which the Ottomans besieged

and gave the 800 holders-out

the choice to change belief.

No deal: they stepped forward

to be decapitated one by one

on an August afternoon.

Showcased cluttering behind glass

in the duomo’s farthest reach

are all the massed skulls,

plus some ornamental bones.

I reflect, while mirrored eyes

waver in the sockets:

yes, zeal perhaps at first,

but for the queuing last

wouldn’t futility, pragmatism,

God’s presumed mercy

justify declining?

Modern heads nod:

too odd for words anybody

would opt for the axe.

Afterwards the executioner,

by such witnessed faith converted,

was also put to death.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant January-February 2000

[email protected]

Joe - this is a dead dull town down at the heel

of Italy, just a hop and a skip from Brindisi.

Streetsigns for your natal saint are pure cartoon - a smiling haloed catapulted apteryx in robes -

thither the stable where he was born, impeccable credentials. Seems St Joseph was a real dunce at school. Flukily, the exam for the seminary

set the only text he’d ever memorised.

But could he fly! He’d shoot up in ecstasy

(no innuendoes) to ceilings, to treetop height,

took friends along; all this is documented.

He flew at court, over crowds, sensationally.

Pope Urban the Eighth witnessed it, furious.

So what is weirder: that Joe defied every known law, or instead that we shrug the achievement off?

Ask your students: he’s their patron saint, after all.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant April 2000


It’s like old socks and sneakers peeking out to spoil

the fancy gown: those ads and petrol stations coil

along the plain, while grey-green olives gently curve

up to the gemmed and clustered turret-towns observing

safer from malaria and wars the undulating soil

whose crop transfuses under granite wheels to golden oil.

Convert a church - a museum that will take its place

unearths a chute of corpses tossed from grace

and sudden nineteenth century plague all preserved

miraculously with clothes, teeth, skin and hair,

a booted fusilier, a friar’s leathered face,

two little girls whose wrists are sheathed with lace.

If their eyes were now to flick awake they’d be appalled

to see steel beams, double glaze, the razor-cornered wall;

if they levered up on elbow, might meet some tourist’s stare;

and if they tottered to the door and gazed below despairing,

would shriek at factories, cement, the autostrada’s scrawl,

at Umbria sprayed, painted, pyloned, the ghastly sprawl.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Meanjin 2001 No. 1


Those were desperate pioneer days

in off-axis mule-arsed hills,

rank ti-trees gouged our faces,

logs and hollows toppled us backwards -

like fool pilgrims hour after hour

on our knees tracing the gold race

from the dead mine to the briared river.

We were human water-haulers then,

hewers of iron-hard rimy wood

as the sun rose, and when its heat burst

we faced flies big as boils.

But with defeat finally admitted

and nothing whatsoever accomplished

we abandoned Smith’s cottage

forded the bouldered shallows

breasted the evening ranges

whereupon we got out our mobile

phone to the unbelievers

for the only time that weekend.

From Obverse and Parallel Lines

First published in Meanjin 2001 No. 1


Trapezoidal roof and verandahs silhouetted

Against the sky suggest the head of a giraffe.

Instead it’s an elegant wood queenslander gazetted

To go - out of its place, the shapes here all

Rightangled perpendiculars, blocks of flats looming

On a knoll above Brisbane, ideas mushrooming,

Turning to concrete and glass developers’ tall

Stories, their pride in prices bound never to fall.

You can sense the machine of mad safari guns booming,

The knell of earthmovers in nestling gums dooming

Numberless old architectural creatures great and small.

Zoo-like compromises however might make you laugh:

This beauty can be moved somewhere nice, unregretted,

Unendangered, easy - it just gets first sawn in half.

From Academy of the Superfluous

First published in Quadrant January-February 2002