Monday, August 31, 2009


Tonight at the Bharata Natyam Festival I saw two very different interpretations of the Draupadi story. I've included two photos of two artists. R. Rohini (the photo with pink tinge) is an actress; Shreelatha Vinod is a Bharata Natyam dancer.

Draupadi dp266

when dharma is mixed with revenge it’s a shame job
Draupadi born out of hatred is found on a mountain
her clothes in shreds her mind wandering
her mouth moves but the sounds are strangled
before they can form words

she had accepted fate when it delivered
the five-fingers-equals-one-hand marriage
she shared their ambitions and fears
she learnt archery and all about cows
and horses to encourage her sons

but she cannot forget that awful day
when her body was the crime
they dragged her to the assembly
she tried to cover herself they teased
and shame ran like blood

that five-fingered hand was deep in its pocket
it was not lifted instead it was fingering
the future with new gambles and she
was the booty her freedom lost
her dignity thrown out with the dice

Draupadi sits on that mountain the wind
running through her she sings a high lament
her pitch out of the range of speech
each time she tries to utter words the wind
snatches them from the edge of her lips

her god-brother comes to sit next to her
she argues through the wind-blown words
she says you gods are unfair my shame
cannot be spoken turn the world upside down
so the powerless can speak their truths

but the winds comes from all directions
the fill her mouth with air and whistle
into the god-brother’s ear and when he turns
to look at her to catch what she is saying
he can see only the silent moon against ice

Sunday, August 30, 2009


paksha dp175

moon wing floats overhead in the dark
of the lunar month
fish fin swims by beneath the water’s edge
in the moon’s bright tide
cow flank is a night feather against my shoulder
smelling of straw and chaff
party factions are armies’ phalanxes
still smoking in noisy backrooms
every proposition is an equation to be argued
by show-off peacocks spreading feathers
her hands articulate like wingbones
when she dances
an elephant will dance and cry when the moon’s
wings are clipped

Saturday, August 29, 2009


The story of Amba comes from the Mahabharata. This week in Chennai a dance festival is being held based on stories from this great epic. Pani Thee / Frozen Fire was written and directed by feminist playwright Mangai and danced in traditional village style called Koothu Isai Natakam by Usha Rani who is a folk artist. The performance was filled with great energy. The photos are of Usha Rani. The second image is from near the beginning where she is on the battlefield and she has just begun to discard the heavy battledress. The top image is of her when she has in a way regained her self.

amba’s revenge dp262

the gods and people dance
while the gods dance the world
in and out of existence
like bees creating and destroying a hive
the people dance stories of love and war
of dharma and betrayal
the dancer transforms
shifting body
changing the temper of the dance

this girl has set her mind to the future
she knows security when she sees it
and she’s here today to choose her future
but fate in the shape of blundering Bhishma
has set a different course
like a game of chance
her life is won in a throw of the die
but she’s no shrinker in the face of fate
she confronts him says not happy
I want the other one

Bhishma seems the proper gentleman
provides an escort sends her to the one she’s chosen
but men are fickle and Salva will not be her salvation
he says Bhishma beat me hands down and
you were the prize
back you go girlie
and so she does
but by now Bhishma’s got himself in a pickle
he’s vowed celibacy
Amba feels like she’s being pulled from pillar to post and back again
and her will just gets stronger and stronger

she retires to the forest
she has supporters but nothing helps
only obsessing day in day out about Bhishma’s future
it is clear she wants him dead
Bhishma’s mother Ganga
that great river
hears the rumours gets in early with her curse
being the mother of all rivers has its benefits
she curses Amba to be born with the woman river in one side of her
but the other would be a paltry forest river of rocks and sand and dried mud

Amba is set to see this revenge through several lifetimes
doing penance to help her reach her goal
one day she is granted a god-boon
clear as light she says
I want him dead and I want him dead by my hands
and a new course is set

Amba transformed in the fire of passion
gets a new body a new life
this girl grows up a tomboy
they encourage her in sports and games and archery
at which she excels
they call her Shikhandi
she out runs out smarts out strategises
this is an old life reborn with purpose

when war comes with Bhishma standing on enemy lines
Shikhandi dresses for battle
she wears her biggest shoulders
she puts on battledress
crowns her head with the tallest headdress
she shines like no other warrior on the field
Bhishma recognises her
scorns her says I’m not fighting a woman
just because she’s put on her brother’s battledress
and he lowers his guard
and his weapons

whereupon Shikhandi shoots arrow
after arrow
after arrow
and when she hears him say
as he lies pierced by her arrows
it was that man behind you who shot these arrows into me
not some girl in dress-ups
she strikes him again with furious arrows

it’s all a great play to you Bhishma the invincible
but you have met your match in me
so convinced were you that I was just a woman
no man has trained as hard
no man could pierce you with his eyes
no man could see your vulnerability
your over-weaning pride and belief in masculinity
your time is over now
I will discard these vestments of processioning power
this armour of splendour
I will discard the accoutrements of masculinity
and watch the waning power of men
a passing yuga
a mere transit

instead I will reclaim the simple life
wrap my body in a single length of cloth
take off to the forest with her by my side
the best part of this great charade

the gods and people dance
while the gods dance the world
in and out of existence
like bees creating and destroying a hive
the people dance stories of love and war
of dharma and betrayal
the dancer transforms
shifting body
changing the temper of the dance

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Cassowaries in far north Queensland are under threat from developers, increasing traffic and deforestation. I thought it time to put up this poem from my book, Earth's Breath. They are magnificent birds and this photo is of a father and his chick. Yes the fathers do the rearing. Maybe we need to begin evolution again!

Casuarius casuarius johnsonii

no wabu, no wuju, no gunduy
no forest, no food, no cassowary

―Djiru saying.

A girl goes into the forest
the forest is a rainforest
her guide is a cassowary
the cassowary knows her way through the forest
she knows all the fruits of the forest
she is mistress of the forest
the fruits are red blue orange green and yellow
the girl must collect the fruit

Along comes a big wind
a wind that lifts and
twists the trees round and round
so that their trunks are spiralled
the wind hauls trees out of the earth
and throws them every which way
the girl shelters under the heavy black feathers
of the cassowary which pin her to the ground

When the big wind has passed
the girl is disoriented
she no longer knows which way is up
she hardly knows which is east or west
which is sun which is moon
clouds scud across the sky
but they have lost their shapes
no longer are there stories in the clouds
just loss

The cassowary tries to comfort the girl
at first there is plenty of fruit
fallen fruit native plum lilly pilly quandong
the girl wanders behind disconsolately
from time to time she nibbles at the rotting flesh
but it soon sours
the bitter seed takes over from the soft flesh

As the days pass
the cassowary must wander further and further afield
she ventures into places she’s never been before
followed by the girl
soon the fruit is nowhere to be found
the two sit down to wait for windfall
quietly they drop into sleep
quietly they die

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gopi girls

gopi = female cowherd

So it’s a secret, gopi girl?
You who hide among the cows
who caress her quivering flanks
in secret places where only you
do not fear to go.

Do you too cover your face in
clay, white as the milky way?
You weave light as it bends,
curves along that infinite edge,
kissing eternity’s face.

When the gopi lock eyes
stars meld, collapse in a moment
of singularity. Don’t mess with
these girls, their curls
are like steel.

Sent to protect the cow at the
centre of the universe, gift giver,
vivifier, they dance to their own tune.
It’s a sham, this flute-playing

this boy who dances and flirts,
he has no interest in skirts or skirls.
Suniti got it right, and Gertrude too,
the cow leapt the moon for you and me,
for me and you.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sanskrit moth

In the Bhagavad Gita there is the line, Moths rushing full tilt to their ruin fly right into an inferno (11.29). Some moths are content simply to sit on Sanskrit dictionaries and absorb meanings by osmosis. Like this one who is meditating on the ramifications of gola: a widow's bastard. How many hatreds are woven into that meaning? A little further down, off the page as it were is the meaning: a woman's female friend. Astrologically it occurs when all the planets are in a single sign.

I began learning Sanskrit in 2007 and at first I found the task daunting. Now I expect it to challenge me and sometimes defeat me, all the same the climb is worth the view.


This rock wall is perpendicular–
she scrambles for a foothold
a tiny jutting of rock to grab onto.

The language is perpendicular–
the roots elude her, the gerunds
are thick with meaning and she slips

and falls crashing to the ground.
Picking herself up, she climbs
a conjugation, declines a declension

all the while, the endings are tangling.
Seven mountains she has crossed, each
one higher than the last. The participles

present not too much challenge, but
the passive is aggressive. Now and then
she has etymological epiphanies,

blinding insight and then finds
it was the wrong form, the wrong verb,
an unknown Vedic version.

She has taken to reading the dictionary
forwards, backwards, horizontally and
vertically, even then the sandhi–

internal and external–takes her on
another spin down the rock wall.
Falling is easy, she hopes she never lands.

This poem was performed as aerials and text on 4 May 2008 at Community of Selves, a collaboration between Suzanne Bellamy and Susan Hawthorne held in Northcote. It was later published in Sinister Wisdom.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Plundered poetry

I took this photo in Orvieto, Italy.

I've been reading Sarama and Her Children: The Dog in Indian Myth by Bibek Debroy and came upon the full version of Old Mother Hubbard which I had forgotten had more than one verse. I have unashamedly plundered this rhyme and turned it into one about a cow.

Old Mother Azure

Old Mother Azure
went to the pasture
to get her poor cow some straw
but when she got there
the ground was bare
and the poor cow wanted more

she went to the granary
to buy her some chaff
but when she came back
she was dealing with staff

she went to the farmer
to buy her some silage
but when she came back
she was flying on mileage

she went to the seamstress
to buy her a cloak
but when she came back
she was sniffing coke

she went to the milliners
to buy her a hat
but when she came back
she was chasing a gnat

she went to the snippers
to get her some colour
but when she came back
she was learning to holler

she went to the shoemaker
to buy her some crocs
but when she came back
she was wearing white socks

she went to the moon
to buy her some cheese
but when she came back
she was dancing with bees

she went to the sun
to buy her the world
but when she came back
it had all unfurled

Old Mother Azure
is now in the sky
while the cow jumped the moon
I don’t know why

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fire walkers

On Sunday evening I went for a walk. I could see that something was brewing because there were great scaffolds built across roads and women and men sitting on street corners making garlands. I wandered down to a temple nearby but nothing much happening, past another and I was invited in to see the the Kali in the middle of the building. I nearly went home and then thought I'd go to Kotturpuram bridge where there was a large shrine to Kali. There were crowds of people milling in the street. I stood at the back of the crowd that had formed a circle. A man beckoned me to come through into the circle after removing my shoes and he led me to a place to sit. It was a front row seat and I could see a pile of hot coals between legs. After a while two men began waving palm fronds over the coals, heating them up. And then everyone was standing, and me too, and calls for us all to sit down. No way, not when everyone else was standing. And then they came, men of every shape and size, some carrying babies on their shoulders. I couldn't see so I took photos with my camera held high.


in the night a monster a man spiked with metal rods walking trancing his way across the coals that monstrous heat but pain deterred in this place where the sacred and the jostling crowds meet the whole world begins to rock like a school of fish everyone moves at the same strange pace our faces scorched by heat eyes ablaze in wonder at this feat that should bring tormented cries as if a mountain were bleeding lava the blousy flowers of trees shrivelling the rain deferred while clouds gather at the horizon’s edge tomorrow will be wet

Friday, August 14, 2009


rohita = red, roha = rising, rohini –3 meanings: a red cow; the star Aldabaran in the constellation of Taurus; a young girl who has just begun to bleed

Rohini sees red

Rohini sees red
It’s not the bull ring and it’s
no matador dancing in the sand
Rohini’s red is of a different
order altogether – her eye
is a giant star glinting red
a galactic trill

I see red
as my car ploughs into
the roan flank – she leaps
onto the bonnet – shattering
glass splintering my lap
as the shards swirl in
galactic thrill

You see red
my friend as you ride
the wave surfing the edge
of yourself calling upon
Gertrude’s favourite
cow of all, a multiple
galactic spill

This poem was first published in Sinister Wisdom 76, Spring 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cow knowledge

This photo was taken from a moving vehicle, hence the blur. It's an image on the side of a truck in Varanasi.

I am reminded today of the difficulty of learning new languages. This afternoon I walked down to the local shops and market here in Kotturpuram, Chennai and bought a book for children learning to write in Tamil.

The following poem was written during the Sanskrit Summer School in Feb 2009.

Sanskrit cow dp63a

From the cow comes a method of learning,
four footed and sure.

Curled around the first foot is the teacher,
the knower, the one who will inspire you
to take that stretch, parse that sentence,
finish that translation, understand that construction.

On the second foot is the student, the driven one
who spends all afternoon finding the right ya
out of forty-seven uses, who drives friends
crazy with complexity.

With foot number three is a crowd of students,
the one you sang with on the beach, the one who
untangled a phrase with elegant simplicity,
the one who understood your linguistic clumsiness.

Cow foot four is the most uncertain. It’s the dragging
foot and the fast-paced foot, always behind,
forever ahead. There is never enough of it,
for time cannot be confined.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cows and Cyclones

The day before Cyclone Larry hit Mission Beach on 20 March 2006 the cattle who live in the middle of the town formed a barrier to the winds by standing in a circle with their rumps facing out. The following poem is reproduced from Earth's Breath.


The warning came four days ahead:
cyclone heading in―
but people have lives to live
and the dinner was not postponed
the celebration of season’s change
harvest of fruit from tree and vine.

The warning came three days ahead:
on screen the colours of infrared―
you talk of the curl on the sea’s edge
aware in a way of what’s in store
you know it’s not the same
for those who’ve been here before.

The warning came two days ahead:
the day itself no caveat―
calculate the weight of wind speed
all superlatives already stolen
by cyclone categories one and two
you cannot weigh any more.

The warning came a day ahead:
cattle standing in a ring
rump out, calves surrounded
wind churn will not move them.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Victorian bushfires

Six months ago bushfires raged through the hills outside Melbourne. Driving back down the Hume Highway a week later I was shocked by how far those fires had travelled. I then visited friends several months later whose house was saved by a wind change. Other friends were not so lucky. This poem is for them. It was published in The Age newspaper bushfire special today.

bushfire four months after dp179

headlights flash burnt tree trunks
standing like dead sentinels on a battlefield
the skyline is red the air is silent
no one sings here no bird flies overhead

between the blackened trees plain brown soil
as barren as a napalmed forest
my eyes are red my breath stilled
no animal feeds here where no plant grows


This is a north Queensland dairy cow taken at Mungali Dairy on the Atherton Tableland.

As a visual poet, I am very pleased that the first three people to sign up to my blog are artists. Thanks.

For the last nine months I've been writing a daily poem, here is today's

tongue dp242

these words are worn
utterable like the tongues of poems
there are no confessions
we make our own quilt of guilt
paranoia is hermetic
sealed as only a mind can be
unutterable like the tongues of poets

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


This photo was taken in Varanasi near the cow ghat on the Ganges River.

I've been writing about cows for a while. In 2005, I opened my collection The Butterfly Effect with this very short poem. This poem subsequently went into the Best Australian Poems, 2006 anthology edited by Dorothy Porter.

boustrophedon is a method or writing employed in Crete which was written back and forth across the writing surface without any spaces, imitating the way in which cattle are used to plough a field.

Strange tractors

It’s an ancient method of
ploughing– more ancient even than
boustrophedon– two cattle retracing
their steps in parallel lines

No, here there’s not a
straight line to be seen anywhere– chaos
in the shape of two vulval wings–
the butterfly effect

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I head to India next week. I thought I should post a poem before I go that is appropriate to this blog.

for Coleen

A ruminant has four stomachs
like the four directions, four winds.

One, the rumen, is for thinking, chewing it over
separating the layers – liquid from solid
creating the bolus that goes, not once,
but repeatedly – coming and going
regurgitated, meditated, the cud thoroughly chewed
until it is thoughtfully digested.

The reticulum is the dilly bag of the system
honeycombed, latticed like a fishing net,
the cow carries about her grazings
sifting, sieving the cow’s colander
the net covers the mouth between
stomachs like a doily on a milk jug
the caul of the intestine.

A cow reads with her stomach
the leaves of the omasum flip
like the folios of a book
this stomach folds around time
her pages scored with the acid etched
memory of enzymes finding passage
through the wall like ghosts.

Finally, the abomasum, the second book,
the one after the first, its contents
digested in all the usual ways
that we monogastrics are familiar with,
it is from here that we take
our departure from the stomach.