Saturday, December 18, 2010

the game

It's strange that you can spend a whole year writing poetry daily - and then a year in which you write almost nothing. Here is one of the few poems I wrote in 2010. The image is artwork from Mexico. It reminds me of Frida Kahlo.

the game

death is an exile in the world of the living

in a three-cornered hat
death is stalking this interview

mid-sentence I go down
the synapses and muscles
organising their re-entry
to earth’s orbit together

at one pole a giant snake
ready to pounce
kundalini curled at spine’s base

at the northern pole bears are drowning
ice floes diminish
the body in electrical short-out
earth fizzing in heat

death is an exile in the world of the living

death is dancing
her grin toothy
under a wide-brimmed hat
flowers fall across her forehead
her skeleton flails in the dust

May 5 a day to eat cakes
flaunt the fact of life

prove how the blood flows
expectorate and let the spittle fly
showing off
a bee dancing the flower’s stamen

death is an exile in the world of the living

he’s stumbling along the path
looks frail with that stick
but it’s all disguise

wanting to take you by surprise
as you bend to sniff the rose
your nostril hairs flare
you grab your arm in pain
feel something squeeze your ribcage

it’s too soon you say when they
come in the ambulance
the wall of its siren screaming
through the brittle mountain air

death is an exile in the world of the living

never feel sorry for death
she’s slippery he’s a fool
that’s death duty

death will drive
a tram straight for the target
toss grenades roll tractors
or simply lie down and smother

death is an exile in the world of the living

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I wrote this poem last year when I was caught in an ocean rip. I had never understood how a person could drown in a rip. We'd been warned before going in and before I knew it I was way out and thought I'd better go back. It was the first day of a two-week Sanskrit intensive and I had just met the woman standing next to me. She got back in first and turned to watch while I struggled and somehow made it. I felt the line of her gaze pulling me in. My muscles went to water. My breath was sucked out of me. I stumbled as I reached the edge, almost fell. That afternoon, I had also felt overwhelmed by my inability to understand any of the language spoken around me. I was also drowning in words.

rip dp 60
for Lucinda
She was drowning,
not waving in the
rip of language. Help,
she called breathless,
the cold of its logic
wrapping itself about
her limbs. Swim across
the rip, through the
decline, let the wave
and its rhythm carry
you in. When you are
ready you will stand
upon your own two
feet. Don’t stumble
into the deeps of other
tenses, keep a cool
head. Her feet are
falling out from under
her. Linguistic dizziness
has her in its thrall.
One step, two step.
One breath, next breath.
She has found the
shoreline, the continental
shelf of language, her
feet are solid on the sand.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Valence 12


you dream of flight with wings with claw some days
you sob because all the elegies for the dead all the strings
played with furious pathos will not stop the clot of war

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Valence 11


pharaohs haunt the tight tendon of night
it is dreaming that makes us human
footprints tracking their own unstoppable destiny
fighting homesickness you wing across the void the planet
hollowing on the verge of collapse while some human-made
god keeps on with his incessant dictation

is it the dead who keep you awake at night
a vision of a planet’s suicide attempt
limbs severed life hung in balance
what kind of shaming will it take to unpurse the future
in the moments before the noose tightens a gutful
of interglacial moments to ruminate on the planet’s past

a species whose collective search for jewels took the wrong
road in pursuit of furnaces and smelting of iron
instead of firelight and song the drying tips
of trees turned into barbs and missiles
overhead sky anvils crash and blast presaging the drop
of earth’s floor faster than a game of drop the hanky

Friday, May 28, 2010

Valence 10


you try to measure the valence of your feeling
runged like a ladder it is playing truant
these are the astonishments of life cunning as gravity’s spectrum
this morning someone spoke of the desire to be unlimbed
this evening you race to the vet on a false alarm for the dog
how to measure that strength of bond is it like helium or xenon

at the time of vespers a huge flock of lorikeets
sweeps along the street a wave with thousands
of particles like a symphony filled with quavers
bones splinter in earth’s chemicals accrue new geographies
anchor on thin strings of narrative built syllable
by syllable valences as permeable as love

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Valence 9


undoing hatred is a pilgrimage of hurt
power unwinds as much charge as a tangle of wire
we squirm in death’s footprint caught in private fogs of affliction
all that energy ebbing in acts of fury the dying swan stilled exhausted
its wings wired its fluttering mind caged and broken
these many-mouthed furies iron-tongued grind their teeth all night long

uncurl your limbs stretch your spine
walk as if the sky’s mantle is wrapped about your shoulders
when your breath evaporates look at the world with a split vision
imagine a hawk-eyed view of the oceans
from that height see the vast pastures of plankton
whalefood float with cuttlefish unoccupy your days

Valence 8


revolutions have a tendency to unwind become slippery
as a greasy pole of jittery climbers how to disentangle
the fissures of power those times when absolutes are abstracted
followed by a contagion of swelling theories based on nothing
but a dream of marble palaces endless cases of whiskey temples
and statues to the self an insect grown large thorax like a shingled roof

behind stand the glassy-eyed disciples trilling with praise
promising to sacrifice all retreat to the woods
for fourteen years eat rotting peaches if need be
post-revolution days turn heavy all the dreams bludgeoned
knives appear and serrated philosophies become the latest thing
the way to leave your very own mark

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Valence 7


you are writing hope in dust composing in a rapture
of fingertips by late afternoon ink stains make blotches
on your skin more patterns to unweave in memory of Penelope
your yarn unravelling night by night delaying that jury
of suitors choking on impatience the siren’s voice sounds
it’s you bound to the mast wanting to unmake those knots

the halflife of patience is short and betrayal follows in its wake
the hero sputters about the massacre the one he says
he didn’t want his lips framing the victor’s tale his face
telling another hands in pockets it’s an ambivalent stance as if ash
and chaos and harrowing cries were not stalking his memory
whether justice is ever done or undone is a matter of want and will

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Valence 6


in Sabra and Shatila only bodies are left
shadows of screams echoes of eyes
that have stopped seeing stopped recording
a nation’s memory will not unwrap when the chain
is nothing but missing links one by one
each memory becomes a wilderness

history is the mind of the patient
crumpled in the hallway after electric shock
fate is an uncut life sentence that fine stalk
of a body bent under the burden of guilt
a left handed idiom that itches beneath the skin
among the cedars of Lebanon gods once lived

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Valence 5


at the beginning of every year we ask whether
the killing spree is over for now all the soldiers
who heard earth’s tinnitus ringing on the frontline
fly home walk through the front gate
cannot explain what they have seen have heard
that there is no longer any grace in the world

in the houses where women keep time with days
over stoves where hunger is the taste of childhood
and thirst a close neighbour no one dares to speak
peace is a mirage a vision at the edge of thought
cities stagnate and are separated from the people
countries are divided like pieces of cake

few speak against revenge slit the veins open
let the blood run a long-fingered violinist
plays a spree of notes emergent gravity looping
as a new virus explodes crossing all the man-made
boundaries taking off on its very own killing spree
rampaging through the gutters into the glare of air

Valence 4


on the tv last night the dead of Rwanda remain
where they died in the school buildings their bodies
preserved displayed as if part of an art installation
hands grasping at air mouths gasping a vacuum
skulls and leg bones sorted by size like hats cloths and rags
skins slung from a fork is it ever enough you never know

in advance what life-dice you have thrown the one where
you get to decide between flat buttons or round ones
on your jacket where foxes minks and seals sacrifice
their lives for your pleasure will you be the one whose foliage
screens the pool’s liquid arabesque where cigarette smoke
wafts lazily in summer air not likely these chances are few

Valence 3


you study the index find grief sitting alongside greed
how dictionaries can turn destiny on a few letters
consider the difference between a water sprinkler
its afternoon sun of rainbows and laughter running
and a gas sprinkler its grey days of mud rag and bone
what a difference our meanings make of the world

you pick foxglove from the garden hoping for cure
there in the corner among the electric ferns is an old nude
green with moss her eyes crossed her forearms
broken at the wrist like a museum Venus her breath salty
you long for the nostalgia of flames foggy windowpanes
streets that cobble between old stone buildings

leaping shadows of gaslight in real-world film noir
galoshes keeping out the damp as you stroll the stream’s
bank your lungs filled with the effigy of cold air
your destination was the Sistine Chapel but Rome on a
Monday has no secrets to give up to naïve backpackers
with budget time and so you wait twenty years

to see that composition now engraved in your dreams
arriving in Cairo might never have happened had you
travelled a day later not the shock of machineguns in the street
but in the hijacked plane sour breath a blurred video death
you talk the half dead tree fern back to life gentle it out
when the time comes to write the word grief yet again

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Valence 2


that widowed ground has been filled with half-grown trees
almost impassable they are topped by yellow-crowned florets
along each side run sorrow pegs a means to navigate grief¬
against the fox-pelt cloud a woman stumbles tear-blinded
and half-demented her mind dismantling itself in a meltdown
so profound that buried poetry rises unbidden

the tiger’s tongue is red at the root like a meridian
dissecting the fearful symmetry of its body
melting in the delicious buttery light of late afternoon
you dream of Petra’s rock red caves imagine the bone dry
severed joints slumped like a ragdoll lumpy and disjoined
cranes settling above that old city in their precarious nests

no ladder long enough to reach them no florin
of pure gold to take you across that stream of air
you know you’d have to pay a bigger price for death
to mint that coinage sometimes you wish you’d learnt more
than just the Hebrew alphabet like raindrops in an eyelash
preciousness is nothingness against silk and stars

in your heart is a great hollow of pain like the chiselled
sound of a cello washing away the world’s grief
a pilgrim on that Spanish trek to Santiago
your world turns illegible with its multiplying echoes
all you can do is eclipse the scream stuck in your throat
like a sow at sacrifice roped to interminable silence


This is a 12-part poem that I am putting up section by section over the next 12 days.


all day long the gods have been screaming
their prevalent song of war and pre-emptive strike
war leaves you gobsmacked words slaughtered in the throat

Monday, May 10, 2010

Elephant cow

When I wrote this poem, I was thinking about the family of elephants - and this family is made up of the matriarch, aunties and a child. I visited South Africa in 2006 and saw this group of elephants in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve. The elephants have been here far longer than we have been and I expect they'll be here long after us - and having an elephantine memory - well you can see where this is headed. Mahadevi means the great goddess and in India she is very much alive.

Cellist Jami Sieber has composed some beautiful electric cello pieces which she plays in the presence of Thai elephants (I don't know if Thai elephants are any different from Indian elephants.) You can see her video at

what Queenie says about Mahadevi

Mahadevi elephant mother smelt
another being in the world
she said to her friends
it’s time for us to walk the world
and so they set off with Mahadevi
in the lead they walked across
the African veld

they walked
across the seas to the hot lands
they spread out all across
the tundras in the north
crossed land bridges and
waterways an isthmus or two
snow capped mountains
some of the time they carried
thick fur on their backs which they
shed in the desert lands
eons went by as they walked
seven times around die Welt

and one day Mahadevi said
it’s here where we started
now I know the common smell
those small four-limbed creatures
whom we’ve passed in the latest
circumabulation the hairless ones
there is something about them
that worries me

and as she said this
a group of these small wiry creatures
came over the hill and stared
they formed a circle around
the calves protecting them and sent
out a low call to others that rumbled
seven times around the world

Sunday, April 18, 2010

earth dragon

This is a NASA image.

I've been looking at images of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano and this image came up after I'd written the poem, it seemed to find me!! I might be being melodramatic, but why be a poet if you can't do that occasionally?

thin skin of the dragon

the thin skin of the dragon erupts
in pustules sending out plumes
feathers of air that trail the skies

the thin skin of the dragon rises
this sleeping giant moans
rolls over spilling earth’s blood

the thin skin of the dragon paints
the air green its breath as hot
as stinking sulphurous ash

the thin skin of the dragon sleeps
no more she keeps watch
at this wake for earth’s death

Saturday, April 17, 2010


A week after I took this photo in Chennai last year, I was running aerials workshops for actors. It was the day before my birthday when the three classes had come to an end. We went to the restaurant outside which is this small altar. In the time between arriving at the restaurant and lunch, a birthday cake had been organised and materialised on the table. It was luscious and we all licked our lips. After a fabulous four months, I left India the following week.

In February berni janssen ran a wonderful series of talks and performances and brainstorms about tongues. It was called the Tongue-atorium. Poets, musicians, artists of all kinds came together. Everyone brought along a contribution, left a poem, an image, a sound - or several. Musician and composer, Ros Bandt and I were on the same day and it was a great remeeting since we hadn't seen one another for more than a decade. This poem was one of my contributions to the day.

what she says about tongues

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

Published in Melbourne PEN Newsletter, April 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

More on cyclones

Litoria infrafrenata, the green tree frog you can hear on the recording.

Ex-tropical cyclone Paul is currently working its way out and bringing bucketing rain to Far North Queensland following on the heels of Cyclone Ului. Tonight the roar of rain was mixed with the screams of green tree frogs. I couldn't tell if they were screams of delight or of terror!

To listen to the sound of green tree frogs and cyclones, as well as poems about Category 5 Cyclone Larry (20 March 2006) you can listen to the podcast of Poetica based on my collection, Earth's Breath (2009).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

cows and myths about cows

The cow has many stories about her. The following picks up on some of these, but also incorporates stories about other animals including snakes and a tortoise. The stories in this poem come from India, Australia, Mesopotamia and greece. The photo is of a wooden tribal altar that I saw in Rajasthan.

what the mythmakers say

Queenie was afflicted with post-prandial drowsiness her four
stomachs all churning together Queenie is no fool she’s been
around for a while since the beginning of time who else spilled
the milky star road? who else set the galaxies spinning?
it’s Queenie who taught us how to make butter and ghee
the churn her very own invention take one stomach fill with milk
stir with a wooden stick until the cream separates move
to stomach number two turn churn spin and stir watch it clump
and cluster look a little longer until the buttermilk seeps out
in the third stomach knead and knuckle make it smooth and firm
the fourth stomach will heat the butter and turn it to ghee

in another time a later time when gods and demons had
forgotten how to be immortal they joined forces to create
a nectar of immortality these boys took their time they carried in
Mount Mandara turned it upside down placing it upon the back
of the tortoise demons one side gods the other each held the
world snake and twirled the mountain top for a thousand years
back forwards back forwards again and again and again
even then the best they could manage was deadly poison

in the great south land the snake laps up the cow’s spilt milk
this one swallows all the girls and women swallows the bleeding
girls the pregnant women swallows them and makes them dance
their insides begin to churn no one can hold anything down they
vomit they bleed and they are swallowed yet again by the snake
who suffers from indigestion the girls and women beat their fists
against the stomach walls when the next full moon comes round
the world snake regurgitates the tribe of women

in a garden between two great rivers a woman encounters
a snake she is impressed by the colour of its scales green
she prods it with a stick and the snake turns blue in rage
the snake is wily knows better than to broadcast its thoughts
pulling its head in the snake offers her fruit from the tree
this woman is nothing but naïve she takes it bites it with her
giant teeth scraping them along its flesh she’s not impressed
with the sour fruit tosses it over her shoulder and walks away

women tossing apples cause strife they distract contestants
in races incite discord among the in-crowd separate
the sheep from the goats and in innocent looking ways
begin wars beware women bearing ripe fruit

Sunday, March 14, 2010


If anyone has a dugong photo to share here that would be great. They are beautiful undersea cows who graze on seagrass. In Australian waters they are under threat - especially from developments like unnecessary marinas - plans for which are forever cropping up along the coast.

what Queenie says about the philosophy cow (1)

What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.
Ludwig Wittgenstein Tractatus Logico-philosphicus.

what is a cow?
an animal
a symbol
a statue
a vocalic
a smooth surface with all the hair going the same way?

an economy
a religion
a politics
a mysticism
an experiment: erste die Kuh, dann Du?

a love object
a lesbian motif
a good meal
a mother
a milkmaid’s best and only friend?

a danger
a lover
a droning sound
an ocean of milk for all?

a cloud
a constellation
a herd of stars
a word
a voice heard?

is the cow at the limits of my thinking?
what sort of cow am I seeking?
the native cow?
the underwater cow?
the marine cow?
the unseen cow?
the sea-grass eating dugong?
is the dugong a cow because of its shape and size?
or because it is a herbivore?
what happens to dugong dung?

what of intersecting worlds?
the moment when I see the centipede
pulling its hundred legs
over the rim of the wall above my line of sight
ein Blick of another world

the moment when I hear
unspoken histories
eliminations of the unwanted
every rewriting of history continues that erasure

Ludwig Wittgenstein. 1974. Tractatus Logico-philosophicus. Translated by D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuiness. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I wrote this poem early last year and stumbled across it again a week or so ago and I felt this little mushroom should get an airing.

mushroom dreaming dp31

when I was a mushroom
life was simple
the world was dark and warm
and very safe

around me were fungal rhizomes
sprinklings of spores
the odd hard rock and root
and pliable soil

but I was offered advancement
progress, they said
to human form, and now in the light
I feel lost in darkness

so many troubles, wars, torture
economic collapse
I long for regress, to slip back
into the silence of the mushroom

Monday, March 1, 2010

golden cows and non-sense

I couldn't help myself when I saw this golden cow in a hotel foyer in Jaipur. I don't know which book in the Bible it is, but I do remember the movie image from The Ten Commandments which I saw when I was about ten - Moses coming down the mountain and raging about graven images - and I recall a beautiful golden - calf - I think - a bit like this one. No one goes into rages about such things any more.

A nonsense is anything anyone says which you don't agree with and here Queenie is being ironic. If you've been following my blog and reading cow poems for months, it is beginning to come into shape and Queenie is one of the cow characters who has emerged. I'll say more in a later blog, but suffice for now to say that the word queen comes from the word cow!!

what nonsense Queenie says

seven cows came out of the river
heaven born and heaven sent
these cows headed into the storm
unafraid of anyone’s wrath
they set up camp by the next river

the wild storm passed and the cows
ate breakfast of dewy grass
they conjured up a golden calf
to carry all their wealth
seven cows went into the river

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


The photo is of a cemetery in Comillas in Spain; the poem about a night of poetry at The Gods in Canberra.

gods dp218

the gods we make of ourselves are a door
into the social psyche so many mourn the loss
of gods the goddess of dawn to greet the day
or god in a butterfly teaching metamorphosis
even Camus whose name sounds like a perfect
Sanskrit plural threw away that possibility
in the suburbs men worship the god of lawns
only on a Sunday others follow the dogs paws
while Eve rages against eternal damnation
and gives no gods pause no wings to words
instead psyche is let loose in the city with her
accomplice angel to grace the pages of poetry
books dwelling on death searching for the
ultimate definition of god whether by deception
or by grace only to find that the local gods
have changed their names to Tony and Judy

Sunday, February 14, 2010

cows and calves

I was in Udaipur a few weeks ago - a beautiful city - and this mother and daughter pair looked as though they were engaging in one of those deep conversations that happen between mothers and daughters. I grew up with cows and calves but in India I have seen a greater range of behaviours than I ever saw on the farm. I suspect it has to do with group behaviours. When I was a child, if I was with the cows then it was because we were moving them from one place to another. They didn't have the chance to sit around having deep and meaningfuls when we turned up.

what cows and calves say

thunder bolting at high speed
rolls across the corral
shaking it from root to roof
lightning takes off at even
greater speed and the rain comes
trundling after some calves
are fast like bullets others slow
like cycads watching waiting for
everything to pass them by
high speed or low we speak of memories
of the ways our mothers lived their
lives small garden-sized ambitions
revolving around not losing
what is in your mouth under the straw
or expansive ambitious sometimes
cruelly controlling the storm
is backing off just as our mothers
have and we rebellious youngsters
troublemakers unteachable bodytappers
make our own worlds achieving
well-beyond what was imagined we
sometimes whisper in that teenage tone
look what I’ve done

Monday, February 1, 2010

Delhi cows

When we arrived, the brown cow in this image was resting between the bicycles. It looked to me as though these three had had a day out on the town.

Queenie goes shopping

I woke this morning with a need
time for some shopping
I turned to my two best friends and said
come on girls let’s have an outing
the streets were full of fog
so full of fog we had to walk in single file
nose to tail nose to tail

when I walked into the supermarket
they couldn’t believe their luck
I could see it milk and butter on the hoof
it was a different story in the china shop
they wanted me to back out
but I needed to turn a full circle
a great panic all about nothing

and so we mooched about outdoors
we wandered behind the vegetable stalls
picked up some goodies on the way
I sat down near the bicycle rack
for a bit of a break
it would be a long walk home
between the jostling cars and tuktuks

Thursday, January 14, 2010


This strange photo seemed strange enough to go with this rather strange poem. I took the photo at the Meenakshee Temple in Madurai. She's a fish-eyed goddess and all the images of her are of a green-skinned woman.

A boanthrope is a person who thinks she is a cow. This page dedicated to shape-shifters!

What she says about boanthropy

if you stand in the path of a boanthrope
you are bound to get hurt
they are said to be dangerously
out of their minds

imagined horns are almost as sharp
as real ones especially since these ones
are convinced of the reality of their horns

eating grass doesn’t mean peace and love to all creatures
were-wolves and were-cows are travellers
whose appetites are great
bedeck them in garlands and they will follow you

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mild mannered cows

When I was growing up, I often overheard my farmer parents talking about particular rogue sheep or cows. I remember a particular cow who was considered a troublemaker. This poem came about when I was thinking about how blame is deflected (especially by humans onto animals).

I took the photo of this cow in Hampi. It is wandering about and at this moment is heading into the temple. Its colour reminds me of that other rogue cow.

What the Mayor says

The cow that strays helps itself to all it gets.
Salma, The Hour Past Midnight. p. 399 New Delhi: Zubaan

this cow is asking for trouble
bringing disaster upon her own head
if she strays across the paddock
into another world where the grass is green
it’s her fault if it’s too rich for her

this cow is a troublemaker
a leader of the pack
you can tell it from her eyes
the way she looks at you
raising and lowering her head ready to fight

this cow is a wanderer
follows her nose along the tracks
ambles off toward the river
before you know it she’ll be bellowing
for rescue from the mud

this cow is untrustworthy
watch how she scrapes her hoof
in the red earth
watch if you will as she stands high
her horns reaching for the sky

a herd of rabble-rousers
and agitators here they come
a social menace
what are we to do
how can we be rid of these firebrands?