Sunday, October 18, 2009


stone dp312

who will throw
the first stone?
who will cheer
the stone throwers?

questions that resonate
through the ages

I have stoned
and been stoned
now I despise the throwers
of stones

I will not cheer
for another’s demise
it’s what
the manipulators rely on

those who think
they know better

to stand by
to watch a crucifixion
is to participate
in the crucifixion

hold the stone
raise it throw it
watch the blood come
watch the pain

bury your memory
become like all the rest

will you expect me to rescue
you next month next year
when the stone throwers
come for you?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Double dactyls and nonsense poetry

Several months before I came to Chennai (also called Madras) the Melbourne Poets Union put out a call for a double dactyl competition. I put this poem in and won the comp. Last week I visited the world headquarters of the Theosophical Society here in Chennai with its collection of ancient manuscripts and gardens full of ancient banyan trees. You feel like you are walking through a jungle of elephant legs. I went to Blavatsky Bungalow and it was like an architectural version of the banyan groves, all verandahs and pillars. I took a photo of Helena and so I felt it was time for this little poem to come out of hiding.

Double dactyl dp140
Horsical snorsical
Helena Blavatsky
Secret meetings

Held in Madras gardens
Her words in old Greek code
Our steeds fleeting

Saturday, October 10, 2009


In July I attended a Sanskrit Winter Refresher course in Canberra. During that week, in addition to classes we watched an animated film called Sita Sings the Blues made by Nina Paley. This film has Creative Commons, so if you can watch videos on your computer, you might want to look it up.

The photo has nothing to do with Sita, but it does hang in the Asian Studies Department at ANU. It's a Gujarati cow.

Sita dp220

Sita was no slouch just a woman in the tumult of emotion
she tried to help her man get a life – get out and about,
she said, why not follow that deer, dear. She needed time alone.

But it’s always been hard for women to get some solitude
and Sita was no different. Soon the rival king was coming round
asking for samosas with pickles and chutney and before she knew it

he had her tucked up in his flying chariot and was heading south.
She went just to see a bit of the country from the air, but Ravanna
had other ideas: he tried to woo her. But that wasn’t why she came.

A mountain from a molehill: before she knew it the scouts
were arriving on her doorstep, begging her to go home. But why
couldn’t he come and ask her himself? If she wasn’t important

enough for a visit, why bother? And so she stayed on at the
mountain resort with its beach views, elephants, peacocks,
evening dancing, temples and good intelligent conversation.

Ravanna too, didn’t get it. What was it with these men? Can’t they
tell the difference between great conversation and no desire for sex
(in the case of Ravanna) or great love, lust and passion but no wish

to give up on intellectual pursuits for housework, sitting pretty
and emotional deserts (in the case of Rama). All she wanted
was a balanced and fulfilling lifestyle. Was it really that hard?

And then came the war. It was unwarranted. Like Helen,
across the desert lands, there seemed no end to the bloodshed,
the fear, the escalating madness of war, hatred and destruction.

Once started, she was no longer relevant to the discussion. She
tried negotiating. Nothing happening. She tried the cold shoulder
only to inflame the passions of Ravanna. She retreated, kept

out of sight. One day a great conflagration arose and there was
a river of blood. The palace burnt to the ground and Ravanna
lost his head. There was Rama, standing before her, his eyes cold

his heart–she wondered where it had gone. But there was nothing
else for it, she had to go to the place she had once called home.
Nothing had changed, she was still irrelevant in Rama’s list of duties.

She sat alone like an exiled Penelope waiting for the man she thought
she knew to return. Before long she noticed the early signs, she knew
what was to come well before her belly swelled. This time he evicted

her, sent her into exile. She was not much more alone, and here she could
get her life back together and stop waiting for someone to notice her.
She started a school for the study of language, people came from the lands

all around. They told stories, recited day-long epic poems, played music,
danced and painted. Finally life was good. She became revered among
the people of the lands nearby for her intelligence, her wit, her sense

of justice and fun. They also thought her beautiful, but this was one among
many fine attributes. Sita stayed in her own country, her children
flourished knowing only a little of their mother’s trials and tribulations.

Of their father, they knew only that he had been most interested in his
reputation among men. They learned that there was little future
and, like so many throughout history, their father remained unknown.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


The cows in my head have taken to listening to music.

fugue dp223
for Lara

she runs for her life the music following
haunting every waking moment the voices
of those others weaving the gaps
like the woof and warp of a song

a song half forgotten half remembered
her life has turned contrapuntal
amnesic episodic amnesic again
days lost in fog clouds hanging over her head

wrapping it round swathed in a cloth of sound
she has always been the minor relative
never the major nor the dominant
black sheep can be a tonic but her story

her exposition is always chased away
for the refugee there is no chord
to hang her world on it is disappeared
like the girl with a fugue of memory

her identity lost her subject dissociated
a kind of shame that no one will quite grasp
it is social death clearly warped she will not
attend the event after all no final entry

instead she will be the eternal counterpoint
the free one whose coda is a single jubilant voice

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

if this is god

I wrote this poem a few weeks back when I visited a temple here in Chennai. The young woman standing next to me was the daughter of one of the people who worked there. Tulasi is the herb basil; darshan is a seeing. Please note I use lower case g for god.

if this is god dp289

she said
the young woman standing next to me
do you want to see god?
it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss
god available to see
is this a darshan?
does god see me too?

we walk through the heavy black columns
a forest of elephant legs
pass an old man walking in circles around one column
has god already spoken to him?
told him to do this?
in penance?
or for blessings?

she beckons for me to follow
we enter a small alcove
beaten gold walls
a priest inside
he wafts a flame
puts a garland around
is it god’s shoulders?
places fruit in a shallow bowl
scoops water into the hands of devotees
follows it with a spray of tulasi

we leave and go to another grander alcove
god here is bigger
seems to have company
but again
a flame
a garland of flowers
a gift of water in a shallow hand

I am satisfied
if this is god

Saturday, October 3, 2009

anatomy of a cow pat

Sadly, I can't set this out as I want, so I hope it still works.

anatomy of a cow pat dp298

where they drop and when
is all important
consider this:

on the savannahs of Africa
and in the deserts too
a special follower evolves
the dung beetle

watch this little body
work like a Trojan to roll

that corner of
that dung heap across
that road

like Sysiphus
or ordinary housework
this is an endless task
the job of dissolution is fast

in tropical regions
India northern Australia

and battalions of insects
ensure the dung
is dissolved in a day

to make use of it for fuel
she must be quick
follow the cow
pick it up
dry it out

on the dry plains
of the western slopes
where the nature of
soil and brick merge

the cow pat sits
and sits
and sits

waiting for the children
to walk past
on the way home from school

they pick them up
toss them like ancient Frisbees
watch the universe spin

Thursday, October 1, 2009

quaking earth and tsunami

This poem is for my niece Louise who is living in Samoa and for her partner Charlene and her family. I know that Lou and Charlene are fine, but the devastation is terrible. This week has also seen the terrible winds and rain in Philippines and across to Cambodia and Vietnam as well as another earthquake in Sumatra, Indonesia. These are difficult times.

earth bones dp296
for Lou and Charlene

earth bones creak
and we all fall off
souls seeking nirvana
flung far

down here it seems
so much more mundane
as walls fall rooves cave in
bodies bob

drenched by mud
women walk their children
home from school
in chest high water

in one ocean an elbow
in another a knee
and breath takes the wave