Hugh Tolhurst, with Lines for a Poem
Scenery emerges from the picture like a train
just emerged Jilimont-way from the
tunnel system, Melbourne, 1966--in time
for jewels and binoculars hung from the head
of a mule--all the way to Port Phillip Bay.
Young mother pegging diapers on a line--
a black crow in its pulpit yawning the day's
sermon to conscripts ganging the platforms--
flashing backyard suburban jingoisms.
We look back through the poem and see
only the wisteria creeping under the windows,
a trellis, a flyscreen door and dead lawn
a million miles from Saigon. The train rattles on
from station to station, parsing the signals,
numbing the arses of generations to come
without ever upsetting the status quo.
Arriving one day at the end of the line
like a detail conscientiously ignored until it
punches you in the eye--imagining some
real estate genius struggling to find metaphors
that fit the marketplace: southerly prospects,
ocean views, all modcons. Grey ships ply
the dun-coloured textbook waters and turn
into history. It's cold and you shiver a little.
Out beyond the big picture the refinery lights
are coming on--the tide heaves towards its
Bethlehem. A hundred years and nothing
remotely imaginable, thinking why here and
not some other place, far away under monsoon--
agent orange sunsets making hell a scenery.
But the poem is only a way to dream without
having to suffer--and it dreams us too,
on the other side where time is forever
advancing like a threat. Night stabs a thorn
into the mind's eye--we end where we began,
riding the line until the words stop. The
silent machines take us back out of the picture.
A train's windows flash past like cinema:
Something groans. Something else gets born.
Melbourne, Night (Albert Tucker, 1974)
An almost silent car crash at the street intersection. Afternoon
rain drifts-in, westerly, and curtained apartment windows
between trees, telephone wires. Imagine the air full of radiostatic.
There are factors we do not understand, voices strung across poles
directing alien traffic. And is home any different from where
we are? Climbing the stairs two at a time, a note on the door,
the key under the mat. Open the mirror and enter a room.
Someone has vomited a mess of symbols on the floor.
Tomorrow is Friday, cleaning day. Scanning the newsreels
from outer-space. Oh, there are things we know awake, too.
We won't ever learn what they're about. Dreaming ofthat first false
air conditioned spring, lying between happiness and the promised
sex. On the eve of our farewell, the message is all that matters--
the secret rendezvous, the code, the indecipherable text.
Catching the words before spoken, why not throw
all caution to the wind, sail out mindless
into the lunge of night and die laughing? If you
are only a thing to the world, you are sublime
in this poem. But still there's rent to be paid,
mouths fed; passing bits of mind back and forth,
you find yourself in too many expired situations.
Screwing a lightbulb in and out, retrieve, set down.
A 5.50 a.m. hectoring city street voice, telling
that love rents cheaper by the hour, stiffed between
window panes like instant museum art. Though you
are too naked to be seen. Cockeyed, time runs back
towards its forever-uneventful prelude, to sleep
where skies sag under the brunt of not imagining.
East Side Alien Abduction & Horace Greeley
Man pushing a broom around a cafe opposite
the boarded-up public library. Pistrami
on whiskey, salt and black butter -- voyeur
of the uptown Harlem bus, a child asleep
head on knees being pushed along the street.
Five across and twelve down, the word for
solitaire. Water towers crowd the sky,
deaf-signing of failed revolution. Tehran,
rain and percentages. Overheat another coffee
then south on Broadway, dead feet of
sidewalk poetry, laundromat blues. Shapes
fill out but fail to animate, meaning to say
a shipwreck drowning in sunset,
in a litany of little choices. Overhead,
a counterpoint in miniature: dead poets with
neon hearts, or a girl in red shoes
reading the late edition beneath the Horace Greeley monument.
Words ball into fists, sent sailing with the first wind-gust --
quote change in the air unquote.
Another window waiting for another storm,
ear poised, coming awake to old observations.
Night begins at 14th street. Winding the gridlock cross-town
to a bar in the bowery. Envisage a city
abducted by aliens, bored with retail --
the hot stew of flesh at first light, a billboard in a sky of mirrored
glass and big discomposed eyes for no reason staring back.
This Fictitious Thing
The silence went unresponded to. We lay there
forming our hypotheses, colder at that time of year
than it should have been, awaiting correction,
thin as a film of sullied light. What looked
like a wall turns out to be an obituary, blank spaces
left to be filled-in by the next itinerant.
Something discarded us among strange cities.
Cried in the night for a sickness that couldn't be
reclaimed. Garibaldi in Washington Square,
a dwarf standing on a fountain, naked, holding a
balloon. People came and went, possessing
themselves for hours at a time, unconsciously.
Was that really you, at the Stonewall the night
Judy Garland died? You looked younger then.
Dancing the can-can in front of the riot squads.
Yesterday the bombing began. We still look
upon these rites as strangers do, although you
have become us, growing old ungracefully.
The lesson instructed us to oblige. Despite it
you still teach children to burn down cities, stay
safe from rain. And still we find ourselves amazed
at our stupidity. Not knowing who unwinds
the rope from the neck of adversity. Who deems.
Who expects. The children laughing at our error.
De Kooning, Fire Island (1946)
When it happens. Exiting the station / heat shimmer
dialing off flatlands. Here where myth becomes
irksome / sloping over ghost town parking lots --
radio towers and seismic TV static / Oversized furniture
in the used bookstore of the mind. We pretended
"in broad daylight," on a raft of erased de Koonings.
Because the air was so empty. And there was nothing
else to do / You would have had ... light grey eyes
I suppose, fixing the dead things in your hair. Golden-
mouthed you never laugh / But Elaine felt deeper.
You'll go to pieces one of these days -- shined and polished
and ready for duty.
And now my shoelace has gone and broken!
Elaine my dear. Eyes sprinkled in the soft warm air /
Little holes and stoppers. Getting drunk
on Fire Island -- you lubricate the options, taking
the bull by the proverbial, under the Virginia
creeper / The moment is just as replaceable
as a lost tooth. Where now? Yawning in the direction
of the denouement, the fuzzy lampshade dangles.