Monday, August 29, 2011


There is a story from Rome
in the sixteen hundreds
about the church of our lady
of fertility; 

a small parish church, where 

desperate women
who were advanced in age
and still without children
went to pray,
to the priest, 

Father Giacomo. 

They’d come furtively
to the confessional box
just before the closing
for Sext
at lunchtime. 

Father Giacomo 

heard their confessions
and when they told him
they were still
He asked them to wait 

in the sacristy. 

“My daughter
if you really want
a bambino, you will accept
the intercession 

of the Holy Mother Church.” 

The cowed, veiled women
shuffled in awe
into the priest’s

He showed them 

a chair by the table,
and poured them
a goblet of altar wine.
They refused, but Father Giacomo 


“Drink, my child.
I will be gone for a moment.
Please pray so that your family
will blessed 

with  a son 

or a daughter.
Do not be afraid. Remember
Saint Elizabeth. Pray to her.
And please drink. 

We needn’t tell anyone.” 

Father Giacomo
kissed their heads,
as they clumsily sipped
the wine: 

with tears in their eyes. 

And he left.
After a few fearful minutes the Lord
must have sent an angel
to comfort them 

because they all soon fell asleep. 

And dreamt a dream
that made them sing:
a beautiful cherub, with chocolate ringlets 

and sad, sad eyes 

flew into their arms
from out of the flowers
sown in the carpet.
A feeling 

like heaven. 

And when they finally awoke,
Father Giacomo would cup
their reddened cheeks
with his soft, 

warm hands. 

“My daughter, you have slept.
I told you to pray.
But never mind. May the Lord
grant your wish 

to become a whole woman. 

To be a mother”.
And he would lead them out
into the afternoon sun, always
crying and grateful that someone 

had touched them. 

Now, this had gone on
for over ten years.
Every so often,  the priest
was seen 

guiding a woman, 

blinded by the light
out into the piazza dell’annunciata.
Week after week, 

Year after year. 

And though you wouldn’t  call it
(as all births are miracles)
the women (but not everyone) soon 

fell pregnant. 

And the happy families
would take their carts
full of meat, fish and vegetables
as an offering 

to the church 

on the day of the birth.
They would sing, with their friends,
and dance in the piazza
around their little carts. 

The new fathers drunk, 

and the midwives
bloody-aproned and sweating
with a good job
well accomplished.
And Father Giacomo 

embarrassed but happy 

would insist that it had been the work
of divine intercession.
Of Saint Elizabeth. The Virgin Mary.
And that next week 

he would say a mass 

for thanksgiving.
That night there would be joy
and music in the households.
Men would admire 

the shy husband. 

Women would gather
at the bed
of the mother
and child: a boy or a girl 

with sad, sad eyes 

feasting at the breast:
a feeling like heaven.
The young girls
nodding off 

at the edge of the bed. 

Even the priest
would partake of some wine
with the blessed
and happy families 

before heading back 

to the presbytery.
to lock the church,
extinguish the candles,
and chase out the dogs. 

Before going to bed, 

He would take a few morsels
of pork
to the cellar, 

for his little friend, 

with the chocolate ringlets,
and too-big tongue,
and oriental eyes, 

“Grazie, padre. 

ho molto fame.”
“I know, Ugolino.
And perhaps tomorrow 

we will feast  again.” 

Father Giacomo finally died
and the church
burned down 

one Saint John’s eve, 

when some boys had been trying
to steal the wine.
A scuffle was heard; 

the cellar caught fire. 

But the little parish
the guilds were booming
and  the children 


more than the average.
They re-built the church
and it was consecrated
to Saint Elizabeth. 

The old , pregnant woman 

who bore John the Baptist.
Whose head was cut-off
and given to Salome. 

“These dark, chocolate ringlets.
These sad, sad eyes.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Our two countries are sleeping.
They are connected by a stone stairway
leading to the dawn
perched on your shoulder.  

The night is a guest
in this forest.
The mouth having drunk
relives your name.  

The mirror and the river are
calling each other
through the room. Two lights
caught in dark shelves.  

Our two centuries are sleeping.
The sound of birds in the fountain
is borne by the afternoon light. 

The night’s lamp discovers
a body
that sometimes moves
in its dream.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Love Song of an Afghan Prince c. 1530

Our two countries are sleeping.
They are connected by a stone stairway
leading to the dawn perched on your shoulder. 

The night is a guest in this forest.
The mouth having drunk
relives your name. 

The mirror and the flooding river are
calling each other through the room.
Two lights caught in dark shelves. 

Our two centuries are sleeping.
The sound of the birds in the fountain
are borne by the afternoon light.

The night’s lamp discovers
a body that sometimes
moves in its dream.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Evening Storm 

Rain becomes sight
and returns to sound, 

like your mother
in the bathroom

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Lark

The sky’s  last spark . The day’s first heat.
Crimped in the dawn, it sings a disturbed earth.
Bells in its breath and free on its way. 


Awestruck,  we kill it. 

René Char


at the stormy time of day
the ragged time of life
there are these scythes
swiping close to the hay 

suddenly everything cries  no higher
than hearing can climb 

Philippe Jaccottet

Thursday, May 12, 2011

In the Beginning 

From the KLM plane,
I watch the wind turbines in the polders
and come up with a simile:
‘kids waving to intercept an about-to-be-thrown-ball’,
but who’s throwing the ball?
I imagine the real (‘simile’) thing:
a bunch of kids doing jumping jacks,
trying to block the blockers.
That’s like a nuclear stand-off.
But I’m not sure about the mutually
assured destruction bit.
Perhaps the turbine farms
are like religions:
everyone flaying about to catch a ball
that’s never thrown.
God as pitcher.
Up here in the window seat
I feel like God.
Maybe God is like a passenger
flying above his creatures
on his way to Amsterdam.
Maybe God is the simile
for the world.
In this new Bible, we would read:
 ‘The wind turbines are like God
sitting in a KLM City Hopper
comparing  them  to ….’

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

By the Rivers of Babylon

The history of flight is
the history of crashes.
When the cleaning staff found
Bobby Farrell’s dead body,
in Saint Petersburg, in a hotel room,

they whispered

                    Boney M:
the first Western pop-group
to perform in the Soviet Union.

The stain on his pillow
was the hair dye
he never finished putting on…

His flight for Rome
left without him.
It slowly banked
over the Neva
on New Year’s Eve, minus
a backing vocal
that never was his.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Air Duct Day

Today’s not a bad day
for cleaning the air ducts.
We’ll wait for Jeanine
who’s been off her crutches
for a week and ready to help.
Sanjay will be late
but the rest of the team
is here, in the kitchen.
Last year we found a bird
in the filter. It’s leg hung down
between the metal grate.
Ken thought it was a twig
and pulled it, feeling resistance.
It didn’t stink. The wind
had dried it out. Ten months
since we last cleaned it. I hope
Nate didn’t forget the solvent.
Dirt’s not the main problem.
It’s the grease. The air’s lanolin.
The vent’s heat. The engine’s perspiration.
The fan slows for the first time this year
and stops. Jeanine’s arrived and opens
the windows, putting the flat
on bypass. She smiles and limps.
We climb into the ceiling
and start to clean,
padding on buckling metal sheets
in pitch black. Sanjay passes me
two mechanic’s lamps.
I hook them to the wall
and feel for the switch.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hangover 3

I saw you in the hallway mirror, the way
the sheets broke on your legs
as you swam across the bed.
Submerged in the airless bubble
of intoxication, you breathed noise
like a tern
searching for its mate on the beach.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Bull

You never die at night.
Here, the river has the sky’s ear.
The snake beneath the rocks
is the hyphen
between your fear and the light.

Rene Char


Plastic casings:
laptop and lunch box;
(clip-ons , cooling fan…)
stretch the carry bag GoreTex,
to a white dimpled ridge.

Monday, April 18, 2011


The lounge room,
an apple
a pot of chamomile.
tearing at
on the cardboard
box, puncture
and bead.

The Higher Tea

The gymnast twists
her ergonomic pen.
The redwood
cupboard sends
a message: recycled
rail sleepers. Paper knots
a dry image
in the pillows’
undergrowth. Picture books
stacked in a Ducati
slide, caterwaul
their Sunday habits: a heavy
thermos of white hot choc-
olate, raisin
toast and marshmallow
flints. A credo like substance
abuse, innate
as fingernails.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Two pickle
toothpick flags:
one Dutch; one American, planted
in a dog’s turd
on the Prinsengracht, claiming
like the moon or a slice
of the Arctic seabed.
Split empire
of shit. Dividing up
a new world.
Soft and scented
hardening in the sun.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Lark

The sky’s final ember and the day’s first heat,
It remains crimped in the dawn and sings about the agitated earth,
Carillion-master of its breath and free on its way.

Fascinating, we kill it filled with wonder.

René Char

Sunday, March 27, 2011


That wine was once a solid
reminds us the world is melting.
The CO2 gas puffing out of our blood
makes a smoke stack of the merest human.
This isn’t entropy, it is a journey
flapping its air quotes against a closed window.
The mushrooms at the tree-line are edible
evidence of a morning shadow, as we walk
into the field this afternoon. Grass everywhere
in beef and milk, staining your dress
when we kissed, leaving you with a white moustache.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Carbon Dating

I put a wood cinder in my mouth
and it tasted like shoe-polish meringue.
I tried to chew it and it felt
like my teeth had gone off-road
into a ditch of powdered glass.
The aroma of a gutted bedroom;
of paint chemical recycled
into the dangerously edible,
gave way to the thick air of the valley
from where the wood was harvested.
Fire had deforested the room
and loosened its black topsoil
revealing nails and copper wires.
What was in my mouth had become
some new type of mortar,
and when I spat it on the ground,
it bubbled and furred in the charred
floorboards, and crawled away
like a snail.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Previous Dogs

Higher-up at the vertical limit of sight;
caught on a flake of rusty guttering;
hidden in the leaves of a Californian walnut;
pressed in the middle of a waffling summer;
diphthonged at a flange in the upper-register;
flayed at a paint-crackled curl in the canvas;
alone in an attic like a cork in a gene pool,
who can see further than their next vacation,
past the landfall of mornings when you’ve awaken
out of the Valium of three am?
Derek and Brendan are laying the sprinklers
piling up the lawn down the side passage.
Professional gardeners
standing in the graves of my previous dogs.
Without my network of skills and debts
and capacious fridges that zip-lock air,
the afternoons would drag their marine-life
up an octave into slack-key,
pitched too high for humans.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Plums in Honey

What has become of the dating game? We’ll see.

Ernesto revels in his love-beads as Angela bakes her much treasured lemon-cake.

The entire den is subdued. Leo warns of his rising ire, but we’re not discussing Pompeii.

The Plimptons have consumed their third packet of Student Feed in this epoch of wasabi-coated peas.

Bernard slips out with Pat for a joint. Pat comes back showered in a Roman triumph of soap-stone cones.

Poetry is the object here, but are we really motivated?

Bernard lounges on the porch dreaming of a steak and beer night in the Ardennes, the two children asleep.

Leo names them in a cheap move to bring down the house.

This morning Eve saw a small group, cupping their hands at the edge of the pool. A fourth stood off playing a button accordion. He sang of perspiring empires and nights beneath the Mario Plaza.

We got jealous.

When you’ve nothing to say sing it, when you’ve nothing to think … … and so on. Plums in honey.

Otherwise, there’s shopping with the Bin Ladens in the Via Barbuino. At least we can tag along, unlike the no-show Pope.

I promised mum, with her crook knee and mean tortellini. Here she is.

The years only leave us with speculation. They are our touch judges. Our concreters. Filling the gaps where our bodies had been.

The olive oil skin, the acacias, the footprints on the beach like a Bolivian heiress.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Kidneys, lungs and teeth. A straw
standing in frozen cola. Corneas
ducts and valves. Headaches.
Tubes, split veins and butterflies.
Toenails caught in worn coverings.
Nail tracks on velvet cushions. Veal
furred with fat and jelly. Zip locked
sandwiches crushed in backpacks.
Bicycle locks and fruit bowls.

Lying on my side, I watched the monitor,
as Annalies showed me the wobbling ventricles;
and valves flaying like barnacles. She plotted
lines measuring the thickness of the walls
and added color to the sonar to detect
calcium plaque. She echoed my neck
to sound out my carotid for sclerosis.
Then she ripped the pads from my chest
leaving two bald spots above each nipple.

Friday, January 28, 2011


When I attained Nirvana
last Saturday,
it couldn’t have come
at a worst time.
It was about 7 am. I was slowly
waking up
in my transformed state,
when Debbie
flew into the bedroom
to ask if I could
take her to the airport.
Her Subaru wouldn’t start
and the flight
was scheduled within the hour.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Meeting John Forrester in the stairwell
takes me back to the weeks
we camped out
along the shoreline
of the Beresford Park Lake.
That’s when Stacey
met her match as an addict
of cream buns; the ones
with the stripe of strawberry jam
in the fold. (What was her name?
Jan? Jennifer?) What I remember
about her
is her shock
of sun bleached hair,
her multicoloured toenails, and the small
Pleiades of glitter
painted below her left eye. She drove up
each morning
fresh from town with the groceries,
and an empty box
of cream buns. ‘Toodle-Oo’,
she sang
taking the brown paper bags
out of the boot. I think
I was falling in love. I hadn’t the heart
to tell her
that ‘Toodle-Oo’
meant goodbye. So when
I met John Forrester in the stairwell
I told him ‘Toodle-Oo’.

‘Toodle-Oo. What was her name?
Jan? Jennifer?’

‘Something like that’

Poem sent to Bernard in Coogee

Bernard, you’re probably sitting at home in Coogee,
but you aren’t.
Not really. This isn’t Coogee. This is a poem
in Coogee.

A poem which you have been visiting
for years, when it was sunny, when it was raining,
when it was stormy. And here you are now:
standing (or sitting), reading this.

Yes, there you are … and you’ll go away again, shortly.
This is how it’s going to be between us. In fact,
I’m no longer here either.

after Rutger Kopland

Monday, January 24, 2011


I went on this yoga thing recently.
The instructor talked about
the difference
between being a healthy person on paper
and being a healthy person.
The other extreme was
legal as opposed to actual
You can’t explain it just by language.
Try sticking out your tongue
when you’re on the road
to hypothermia.
The instructor was at a loss
for case studies
so she white labeled her life.
Her brother was a financial director
who last March was hired
by a chemical & plastics company.
At the executive retreat
they fed him until
he sank beneath the ice.
To us it seems so obvious
we overlook the one thing
that distracts us

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Half Marathon

Like a worn gravel; a white
gravely dust, stretching
to where the grass begins
at the foot of the hill. The bank sweeps
down to a scribble of plants,
and it smells. That’s
what’s left of where
I need to run. I’m focussing
on my breath, and the pain
trail branching into my lungs;
a sharp strap edging along the hip.
I stop here and look back, and see
figures bobbing out of the mirage.
Sweat stings my eyes. There’s a promise
here somewhere, it’s waiting
in the distance. It’s shaped
like an oil stain and hides
beneath the dried clay.
I’m off again; I see people
appear, screaming left
and right, with banners
and cars out over
the incline. I know
it will soon quieten
down and there won’t
be much more to it: this
vague track that tastes
like cement. I feel it through
the hairs on my arms.

Second Life

Amanda is turning ghostly as a line
inscribed in that wordy book.

Wretched tracks. She offers a thinly veiled

And serenely trims the message.
Lowing on those downloaded hills.

Bent to parks. Standing before turtles, where the conical
washes blank. Outworn

Amanda. She peddles and spins.
Selecting the plump boils

on the song’s enterprise. Amanda
doesn’t hope to tack

from dim until dark. A rout
shows her home.

She seethes in browns. She has shone
to a dilating shore.

But Amanda stays. Given, dull memories
fester enjoyably, but

she balks. Who is Amanda
playing with and leading

up to bedtime? Amanda
declines while vanishing.

Dowdy as always.
Amanda. Merely formed.

Comes up to the knee. Changed
outward and sees. Building

Amanda. One to play.
One to buy. A penny’s worth,

A piping wreck. She’s
brushed, and pinned to Amanda.


The stolen vote sinks into footnotes.
How many canisters?
How many inky fingers?
When will Bluetooth courtships become a threat?
The lesson expels
an age’s worth
like a wadi song
whistled at the weekend.
Weren’t you asking
about Eveline? And that short
scarab bracelet,
she wore at Philae? The tension
builds to dehydration. Deftly, Eveline
rummages for a moist pad
to dab away
the surface veneer. A damask
curtain emerges, a hotel room at Aswan.
I wanted to ask Omar when the souk
was open. He had just landed
a bundled
month of magazines
in the stairwell.
The sketch artist whipped
the Kolinsky round
through dry ink. Is that it?
“Wait, effendi. Look.
It floats to the surface. Medium.
Light. Sweet.”


He committed suicide in seventy-two.
He left a note saying he was bored; wished us luck.
He'd been living in Spain for many years.
He was Lord Henry Wotton in Dorian Gray.
He was Mr. Freeze in Batman on TV too.
He married two sisters (Magda and Zsa Zsa).
He overdosed on barbiturates in a hotel room.
He left a note saying he’d lived long enough.
He left Majorca just days before.
He was the voice of Shere Khan in the Jungle Book
He checked into a hotel at Castelldefels.
He married Benita. She was looking for fun.
She died of bone cancer in sixty-seven.
He would kill himself one day, he told David Niven.
He called Catalonia “this sweet cesspool”.
He was born in Saint Petersburg. But he was British.
He was the Saint before Roger Moore.

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