Sunday, November 29, 2009


These buffalo live just down the road from me. One day, early, I had such a surprise because eight of them were walking straight towards me. I didn't have my camera that day. But this week when I went out early, I went in search of them.

buffalo dp358

how days fall
this morning 5.30 too early for me but sleep was avoiding me
and pushed me out of bed

walk she said so I did
I walked to the river where the buffalo hang out– their horns
greeting the morning

I sit and watch
as a young steer gets pushy with the cow– old mothers who
humour him with heads

he’s leaning and shoving
and pushing with all his might and they just flick their heads
get bored and turn away

Thursday, November 26, 2009

aerial life

taurus dp 355

the tissu is hung
it wafts in the breeze
red like a great gash
it is soft and difficult
wrap yourself in it
roll it around your leg
fall into its arms
spin at the end
like a stellar top
the star Aldebaran
red Rohini
follow the sisters
in their flight
think yourself light
as helium float
your way to the top

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


My first weeks in Chennai were spent drawing Tamil letters. I managed to find a children's reading book with pictures. It was like learning to write all over again. Most days I had the book out working my way through. Like Sanskrit, when consonants and vowels combine the letters change shape. As well as that, to the untutored eye, some of the letters look exactly the same - and so I spent hours comparing and trying to remember. It's very strange how some letters take root immediately, while others keep on puzzling you. About five weeks after I arrived, one day it seemed to make sense. It wasn't every combination, but enough to get some words sounding in my brain. I realised on that day that the strange ear shaped design on the temples was Tamil for Om. The outer ear is the O sound the little inner ear is the mm. And the dot above the mm is a signal to end the word with the consonant. I don't know the precise meaning of the staff, but it is a sign of power.

Tamil dp302

how the letters land
might be an indicator

in Tamil
the letter on all the temples

is the same sound
aum om

in Tamil
it looks like

a giant ear
at the centre of the universe


to the music

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ancient dancers

This dancer is on a wall at Thanjavur, a world heritage listed site in Tamil Nadu. Here the names of dancers and poets and musicians are inscribed on the walls. In these days of fleeting online poetry and tiny print runs that sort of permanence is quite enticing.

dancers dp328

the dancers names are engraved in red stone
ancient as our dreams ancient like this language

of flowers seasons landscapes and mood
the woman dances and her girlfriend
asks who it is she is pining for
the girlfriend dances and the woman’s mother
tells her old stories of passion and heat
monsoon and desire rain and tears

the dancers names are engraved in stone
ancient as our dreams ancient like this language


I Anactoria dp350

when the herds are running the ground thrumming
sunlight scaling every beam of dust like a horde
on the move your finest poems are for me
that’s what I love best

when the sun strikes your coat roan with heat
we all stand dazzled by your beauty
and none of us will ever abandon you
you the brightest of us all

when the summer grass grows pale
and the longing strikes up again
I think of you standing always knowing
which way to go

your doubts are few your face dewy
in the morning light and your eyes
brown soft but your glance as sharp
as thorns

so Sappho let me follow you on this track
into that thicket by the river
let us stand flank by flank our love
our armour

Sunday, November 22, 2009


The cow in this carved rock at Mahabalipuram is so happy and sweet that I felt she needed a poem. Madhukara is a honey maker, a bee. So she brings sweetness to the world. But with a sting. Like the bittersweet taste of love that Sappho writes about.

I Madhukara dp349

has the bee stung your lip?
where love stings there the hurt lies

let the dance take me in its swarm
rise like the sun in spring
the vines embrace me
flowers nod a jig in the breeze

on your body lines of ash
like the pattern of the dance
a dalliance of girls swaying

somewhere beneath the horizon
comes the sounds of a raga
each pada of the song
in the rhythm of the herd
hear the beat of the hooves

the dancers approach
a cloud of bodies
raising gusts of wind
cow dust is on your coat
cow dust in my breath

I am the rasa
I am the lover in the dance
my footsteps in yours
touching like wind breath

the dancer bristles
grass trembles on the river’s edge

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mahabalipuram minotaur

Five years ago I visited Mahabalipuram and wrote about it in my long poem, India Sutra (which is in The Butterfly Effect). It's strange to revisit a place - the things you do and don't remember. I didn't recall having seen this rock, but when I asked, locals said it had always been there. I imagined that it was unearthed by the tsunami. It was just my memory failing me!

Mahabalipuram dp331

playing ocean and boat
the moon is full
behind a blanket of cloud

sea pounds the beach
waiting for the fishermen
to push off into the surf

the dogs as before
lounge on the sand
curled like coils of net

the same hotel spruced up
beach restaurants
with coloured lights

even the sari-selling woman
is here still plying her trade
five years older some new designs

not much has changed
but on the beach
an unremembered rock

a cow’s head carved
and human hands
minotaur unearthed

labyrinth caved in
no sacred string needed
to lead you out

A few days after posting this I saw a similar image in a book I've been reading called, Devi: The Mother Goddess by Devdutt Pettanaik which is captioned 'Durga attacking the buffalo demon'. This image I've called Minotaur is probably also the buffalo demon. That's not so far from the Cretan story since Theseus could not have killed the Minotaur without Ariadne's thread. Here in India thread is also sacred. It all connects!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Shadow cow

The photo by Spider Redgold was taken in Kathmandu just before Divalli. Ths poem was my response.

shadow cow dp314

a cow and her shadow
walk a street in Kathmandu

the cow is painted
the shadow is plain

both are black
as the night sky

the shadow says
how come you’re so pretty today?

because it’s good luck on cow day
so my friend painted mandalas

on my backside
said the cow
and what about the garland of flowers

who gave you those?

asked the miffed shadow

the same friend said the cow
feeling sorry for her undecorated friend

tell you what said the cow
you can have the garland now

and at the end of the day
you can have the mandala too

when the sun went down
the shadow cow was happy to see

the painted cow had kept her word
there on her shadow back

were the glittering lights
of Deepavalli

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I Gongyla dp348

when winter ices my coat
when it strikes
the heart
whatever can you do–

she has made it public
her longing for me
she wants me to sing
my heart pain

she says Aphrodite
is hard hearted
her love searing

but all I want
is want

Monday, November 16, 2009

Best Australian Poems 2009

This poem is included in this year's anthology Best Australian Poems 2009 edited by Robert Adamson. It's being launched today in Sydney. It has previously been published in Melbourne's Age newspaper and in my collection, Earth's Breath. The photo was taken as Cyclone Larry raged outside our window on 20 March 2006.

Climate change: yugantameghaha

At the end of every cosmic cycle
at the end of a generation―yuganta-
meghaha¬―clouds congregate
gathering souls for the next yuga

cloud breath, soul mist
rasping winds, rattling bones
here come the galloping horses
humans astride their flanks

here come the thundering clouds
breaking the world apart
the Hercules moth climbs every building
rising upwards through 110 floors

scaling the earth to find the moon
that light in the sky through which
he might escape earth’s pull
and melt into the inferno of light.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

dancers at Hampi

One of the great things about going to Hampi - a World Heritage Site - was to see the fabulous carvings. Of all the archeological sites I've visited (and there have been quite a few!) it most reminded me of Crete, of the images on sealstones in the Museum of Iraklion where I have wandered several days.

I Mura dp343

I’m the singer in the group my song
follows Radha follows as she walks
the forest paths she revels in her body
breasts swaying to the dance of the bees

she’s playful almost drunk with dancing
protected by the bangles she wears
on her arms I sing the rainbow of her body
light fractured shining through skin’s prism

I’m a gopi too our bellies are like snake pits
muscles writhe and flex throb and dance
our days are by turns languid and dynamic
it’s not enchantment simply friendship

the language of the goddess is on my lips
as each day I tend her with song my words
hers I can’t say I’m always fair some days
my lips are scorched with jealousy

as she pays attention to this gopi or that
the seamstress the fruit picker the bread maker
the veena player we all want her gaze
I walk away flick my tail like an irritable tiger

Friday, November 13, 2009


Gaur (Bos gaurus) are the biggest bovines on earth. These four live in Bandipur National Park in Karnataka where I was lucky enough to see them. It's dusk and they were far off. How fantastic is it to see such rare and huge creatures. Like the elephant they are led by the oldest female in the herd. The name I've given to her means mother of the cows.

gaur dp 339

ancient as diamonds
gaur are statues against green

ridge their backs

a saddle between
where water gathers in the wet

the female line
the sloped hillside

mother of the gaur
stands like a giant fortress
at the base
inverting the mountain

early risers
greet the day
moaning low

at night
a multitude
of sickle moons

long-sighted eyes
horns almost a circle
pale summer grass

rufous coats shining
under a full harvest moon

left alone
their only fight
is with time
bulls eyeline
their rivals
if out weighed
they walk away out
horns still
reaching for the sky

but be fearful of Matagavaam
who’ll whistle up her team
circle the youngsters
and gore
even one with tiger courage

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Atthis dp321

Atthis is in the temple
they have painted her limbs
her forehead is floral

she likes this temple
on a hilltop where she watches
as dawn scrambles into day

at dusk she faces the other direction
when day lowers itself into night
this is the best season

the dewy grass is lush
buttercups are plentiful
the air cool and clear

since she became a temple cow
life has been easier
each day sixteen girls

clamour around her in the meadow
they fuss over her
stroke and brush her flanks

but she misses her friend
the ever-shrewd and delightful
milky-faced Sappho–they were separated

one day for no reason
and the stories that go around
about Sappho are unbelievable

Sappho thrived in the herd
she loved to lead them
lowing her musical tunes

and soon the young heifers
were prancing along behind
moaning and shaking their heads in time

plucking at tree branches as they went–
but she is gone
and these girls are her solace

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


It never ceased to amaze me how huge the temples were. This one is the largest in Tamil Nadu.

five finger temple dp325

the temple of the Cholas
grows out of the plain
like five mountains
imitating the granite
rock that rises
on the horizon
the great rock is the
palm of earth’s hand
the gopuram its fingers

Monday, November 9, 2009

temple elephants

I saw this elephant in Hampi - and as we travelled around I saw many elephants in temples always with the same fiercely mixed reaction.

elephant dp335

the temple elephants’ trauma
is in their rocking
the shackles at their feet
clinking their captivity

but I rejoice seeing
painted elephants
mandalas on their
foreheads and trunks

and I am in despair
picking at my conscience
like an over ripe pimple
and at my own hypocrisy

Sunday, November 8, 2009


exile dp 316

there was a time when we were not exiles
a time when paradise was not some imagined garden
walled from our world
paradise was here and now

in that time and in that place
we long-horned four-footed ones
were honoured and rejected
just as often or rarely as anyone

our horns our feet our udders
were nothing special
but they were us

one day someone said
you lot – we looked around to see if we were that lot
yes said this person
you long-horned four-footed uddered ones
it is time for you to go
take with you your golden calves
for you are no longer welcome here

that was the day we were cast out exiled
from the place some now call paradise
the walls were high covered by thorns

soon after it got worse
not only were we no longer welcome
in spite of our usefulness
we were also spat upon
great gobs of spit spewed our way
landing if we were lucky at our feet
and if we were not the goo was in our hair and on our skin

then they sent the children out
from the garden behind the wall
to throw stones at us
you could see them looking with shining eyes
for the biggest missile
stones and rocks flung by young fingers

we tried to ignore it
walking on in silence
we lowed together
we tried to stop it
but one day one of us
in a fever of anger
lashed out gored him
the son of the most
important man
in the village

after that it was all out war
if we ventured through their village
took a short cut across their fields
if they saw our outline on the ridge
they came for us some of us were killed

some of us were captured
they tied us to the millstone
to the water wheel
and had us walking an eternity of circles
they yoked us to the cart
they whipped us
they took us to their battle fields
we hauled we carried we bled
we were abandoned when they fled

and then some of us escaped
we travelled in groups
some towards the rising sun
some towards the setting sun

you will find us in these places
at the edges of every known world
like it or not we are everywhere

Friday, November 6, 2009

Shore Temple Mahabalipuram

Have been travelling for nearly three weeks around Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. I was in Mahabalipuram (also known as Mamallapuram) nearly five years ago and had not remembered that the shore temple was full of cows. Imagine my surprise to find a whole herd of them waiting!

the herd dp332

at the temple a herd of cows
waiting for the sea to stop
its ceaseless waves
these cows sit stone-faced
crows leap from rump
to head and back again
the sea flows on
wave after wave

cow faces worn down
by seaspray smoothed
the angles no longer sharp
the temple is eroded
sand salt and water
these cows sit and wait
as eternity passes by
in the feathers of a crow