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Fiona Robyn

Warning

Our weeping fig has wept. She dropped her
waxy leaves at night, embarrassed.
When we bought her she had a full head
of beautiful green - now she is a witches' broom,
a mess of spindly branches dry as
the skin covering your elbow.
She stands on a girls' fat plait with the wood fusing in places.
We'll cut off her head with a hack-saw and
salvage the trunk - we'll hang it up on the door.


Ernest Slyman

Two Mad Aunts

A dance is a measured pace,
as a verse is a measured speech.
--- Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)

Far too many poets have stopped dancing,
but gracefully, fancifully writing
to their own inner music, which secretly
only they can hear. The words they apply
by this cryptic measure, a sort of whistling
in the soul, summon forth to the page
their spirits and haunt the reader
like an old clapboard house,
where someone's cooking cabbage,
and a spoiled child's off running through the rooms,
looking for two mad aunts
who've hid in the cupboard.


Remedy For Illness

New life may fall to the pale poem
when tucked into a deskdrawer
or beneath the bed.
The poem needs some time
on its own, preferably in the dark.
Dead silence come
before the ringing of its bells
clapping loudly the silver gong.
To burst out or break up or purify
and heal its wounds it must lie still
like a rock at the bottom of the sea.

Some remedy as well may come
with the momentary turning
the poem over, poking the back with a stick
as though to wake it, shouting
in its direction some line
from Chatterton or turning clockwise
the reverse side while looking away
may limber the lines.

To rumple the page, toss it over one's right
shoulder into the waste basket
requires a good aim and courage.

Pouring on the verse spring water
may invite the words to bloom.
Add two drops of lavender oil.
Spritz the words, or simply open the line
like a locked window and cry
as one might call for a lost dog.


Confession of a Poet


I dare not,
nor would I speak
a word
or make of the matter
anything in particular,
as I know I am peculiar.
And confessional poets
always blather on,
always blather on.

Often as not ending their lives
by their own hand.
My father was shot four times
in the chest
while sleeping.

Robert Lowell's voice can be heard
in any pub in Greenwich Village
a few minutes
past midnight;
and I hear my father's voice
in the dark poems.
I hear him say things.
That's why I write.

To hear him lying there.
That's why I write.
Last words, murmur, the lips quiver,
some frail motion of spirit,
like a bird's flutter across his brow
so faint and yet would move a ship
across an ocean.

That's why I write.

That he was murdered in bed,
all ache and pale ---
cold blooded that's the thing
that makes the poet.

My father's face
an empty page.
A poem a crooked coffin of words.

The baby in the crib
grew up to write sad verses
for a blithe modern age.
A cold century blew in,
no pity for him,
lying there. Newspaper headlines,
the trial in a small southern town,
my mother shot through the arm
and charged with murder,
my uncle an accessory.

The torn bedsheet,
rigid body, handgun perched
on his chest ---
and the pool of blood
he lay in that night
dried and caked over.

(The poet's voice
a baby crying in a crib.
The poet's voice
a baby crying in the courtroom.)

That night the detective
knocking on the door,
my elder brother came running
up from the depths,
Love's dirty time clenched in his eyes.
The overturned fortunes of three brothers,
night's mob of mad hearts thumping
up the stairs and down the walls,
as the tiny town quietly slipped away,
my pen catching on by accident.


Barry Spacks interviewed
 
Black Star Yearning
 
Black-star yearning, old heart grinder,
nothing to do but to sweat you out,
tear up the list of urgencies,
fold the long legs of the day.
 
Blossom and seed remember their sequence.
Stones stone; bugs bug; trees testify.
Though I blare ink-noise down a calm-faced page
silence rests in the cave of the drum.
 
Evening again. A school of starlings
swirls the sky like a dreamed explosion,
and wildflowers flare my speeding windshield
briefly, yes, but unspeakably blue.
 
The air provides; it feeds the breath.
There is no sun that lacks for light.
Blind blossoms can't see their colors glow.
In unwillable ways we are beautiful.
 
Star-meat! O, incarnate source,
shatter my iron parentheses!
In hopeful letters the spirit broods;
the precious details outfox mourning —
 
bowl holding seventeen champagne corks,
or my tacked up photo-postcard of "Jo,"
delirious girl-child riding a sow
in Nineteen Three, meant to signify
 
careless wisdom mastering flesh:
the moment dancing...rut and bliss.
Of course I stall – like the undropped shoe
I'm still held in my own friendly hands.
 
If surge of anger could leach away
I know I would join one fine sound forever.
I've been here all along, yet still
keep hoping to arrive!
 
Blessed are those whose work is presence:
dogs by the sea so joyful they're teachers;
donkeys who move like little mothers;
people so strong they risk being kind.
 
Despite the mindless, leveling wind
we cast our bread on each other's waters.
Motion transforms into body of light.
A seed of stillness ticks at the heart.
 

 
Ah la
 
I'm walking State Street when this bare-armed girl
comes fetching up beside me at a light,
a lovely Oriental-looking letter
tattoo'd on her fine arm below the shoulder.
 
. I asked her if the tattoo'd mark was Sanskrit --
"Arabic." (We're crossing) "It's for "Ah la!"
which brings a smile, until I hear her: "Allah."
"It's beautiful," I offer from the heart,
 
"Thank you" – there's a tremor to her voice --
"thank you…very much." Her tall young life
is filled with every grace, and yet it seems
she hasn't heard of beauty near enough.
 
I turn, I nod and smile and wave goodbye
letting the distance lengthen then between us
as one who'd chanced to pay a passing reverence,
and she uncertain, in her glory days.

 

Lama Sayings
 
Budding...fullness...end.
 
Can you tame a cloud?
 
*
 
We steep, making human tea.
 
Know this by thought alone,
your teabag has yet
to enter the cup.
 
*
 
For strivers...for those with great appetite...
let it settle.
 
*
 
Let it settle. Let it settle.
Water's still water, no matter the mud mixed in.
 
Sun's still there,
whatever the weather's been doing
 
*
 
Pride: a cup turned over.
 
Distraction: a cup with a crack.
 
Negativity: poison in the cup.
 
*
 
Our original cup?
 
Not so easy.
 
*
 
Out of the shadows of our confusion,
 
the form of Emptiness:
 
a dream that happens.
 
*
 
We're always either churning butter
or else the milk is going sour.
 
*
 
Sometimes, not always, there's gravy
with the potatoes.

 

John Tranter interviewed
 
A Jackeroo In Kensington
 
With a fistful of dollars in a knapsack
and a brutal turn of phrase, colonials
are crashing the party. Cette parade sauvage -
on the skyline you can see Rupert Murdoch
crawling over Fleet Street, a pygmy King Kong -
did they shrug off an empire for this?
Too right boss, that's what I want to hear,
the glib, slangy lingo of the tango dancers
steaming into Sydney Harbour in a sepia haze -
it's the bottom of the world,
say the blond sophisticates. Hang on;
wasn't "King Kong" invented in America?
The eyes that look into Australia
are European eyes
, Peter Porter said, but
my friends' kids holidayed in Hollywood,
and live in San Francisco. I'm
middle-aged, and England made me, cobber,
reading Maugham in the shower recess - though
what about Malraux? and Lao Tzu?
I'm going to be a Chinaman
next time around, speaking perfect English -
or Creole - who can choose between
the torrid charms of the one and the
cool, pragmatic bite of the other?
Can you say You fuckwit! in Italian?
No way, but if you play Wagner
loud enough you'll get rich quick - rich
in the Bloomsbury sense of the word -
 
a humus of culture, a knack for sleeping in,
these things adorn you like a froth
and the National Gallery opens its doors
for you, and you alone, at last.
 

The Un-American Women
 
One, they're spooking, two, they're opening letters,
three, there's a body at the bottom of the pool
labelled "Comrade X", and you've been asked to
speak up truthfully or not at all. It's like Einstein
lolling on the lawn - somebody gave him the telescope,
he wouldn't "buy" one - and our investigator has him
trapped in the viewfinder. Albert! Tell us everything!
We won't blame you for the Atom Bomb! After all,
you're dead! Four, cancel the code and burn the cipher.
It's no laughing matter when the shit hits the fan -
why are you grinning like that? Are you now
or have you ever been a woman? That's a tricky one,
I know you'd like a stiff rum and coke and ten minutes
alone on the patio to think it over, but
the G-Men in the back room are getting anxious;
the Mickey Finn's invented, the hand that
feeds you's quicker than the eye, and in a wink
the powder's in the drink! Our Leader's dozing
in a tank, and in his memory we labour mightily.
Are you a German Jew? We sympathise; do you?
The Memory Bank is sad tonight, it's asking
for your friends, they have a future there.
Let's share a pentothal and take a ride;
the garden's full of Government Employees
but I'll hold your hand. You make a movie,
I'll write the dialogue: One, we're laughing,
two, we're breaking rules - I'm finished, you're
dead, and as the cipher smoulders on the lawn
a cold glow rises from the bottom of the tank:
our Leader starts to speak, and so will you.
 

The Revolutionaries
 
Look in the mirror: everybody's gone,
the black limousine dwindles down the drive
and vanishes, leaving a twinkle in the bushes,
or was that a gun? Do you think we were
invented for a future that failed to happen?
The make-up fits us like a second skin.
Open the tequila, let's drink up and get dizzy!
We've just arrived and unpacked, and you're
smoking reefers, you were always too eager . . .
now you're measuring the drowning pool!
Let's use that ice-pick for a paperweight,
and bring him coffee on a tray . . . a white
stucco wall, cactus, a venetian blind,
a zebra coat of sunlight on the bed, and you
dolled up in orange lipstick and a new print dress!
But why are we here again? And why is the camera
staring at us with malignant eye? The hot lights
go suddenly blind and the blood-stains disappear -
we're back in the 1940s and the surly Mexicans
are crowding at the door, it's all over!
Why am I laughing? I'm watching my obituary
develop, like a stain across an army map -
now they're cheering, somewhere in the crowd
a news photographer loads his magazine, now
they stop, shocked by the gunshot; and then
the numbers flutter from the calendar . . . one last
dip in the pool, darling, and a quick drink -
tonight's the Premiere, and when our future
flickers into life we'll take a deep breath
and walk out into the sunlight, free at last.