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Katherine Gallagher
 
Passengers to the City
(From Passengers to the City, Hale & Iremonger, 1985)


This morning she is travelling
eyes steeled on her knitting,
while the man next to her
from time to time turns his head,
glances briefly at the fiery wool
then looks away.

He is silent as a guard, and she
never speaks. Are they together, some pair
perfectly joined by silence?
Or are they today's complete strangers?

I'll never know, left simply
to knit them together  -  characters in a story,
a middle-aged couple on a train
waiting for love's fable to happen 
to them, for their old lives to be
swept aside, changed, changed  -
as she keeps knitting, bumping him
occasionally, at which he shrugs,
turns his head quickly
not like a lover, but content.




Concerning the Fauna
(From Passengers to the City, Hale & Iremonger, 1985)


When I see kangaroos on the screen,
I take in the landscape
in one miraculous jump.

It's the same with koalas -
my stomach lifts,
I start climbing the nearest tree.

        I'm an old hand now.

Once I saw a famous politician
fill a meeting-hall:
his subject, 'Kangaroos and koalas -
our national identity.'

People listened rapt:
by the end of the evening
we were all either 
jumping or climbing.

Finally in the hullaballoo
the police were called -
only the fastest got away.




Ghosts
(From Fish-rings on Water, Forest Books, 1989)


Sometimes she studies sepia-dark photographs
from the 1940s -- her mother
and grandmother doing farm-chores.

Theirs was never the good life
but occasionally she envies them
their slow days.

Were they to catch her up,
she would feel their reproaches rising
over her, like steam on her dark glasses.




Plane-journey Momentums
(From Fish-rings on Water, Forest Books, 1989)


The danger of travelling is how
it takes you over, caught in
that today-dress you wear
not for frills but for comfort -
in the confines of an air-tunnel
marked by arrows on inflight-maps.

You read, pick up earphones,
settle to a book, tell yourself
that any disasters are swaying outside
this steady balloon
where you balance the day,
maybe humouring your child
who is flying for the first time.

So much for trying to forget
your innate strangeness to this absurd
transitory life you've taken on -
these dizzying heights, circuits of chat,
odd secrets laced with reserve
and everything blended for your newest
neighbour as though you'd been
living side by side for a lifetime.




Alone on the Beach
(From Fish-rings on Water, Forest Books, 1989)


Alone on a beach
in the company of lovers

you watch the afternoon
lift steady as the waves

one especially insistent
hitting rock        changing colour

disappearing        then
coming again

a hot tongue licking stone


Finding the Prince
(From Finding the Prince, Hearing Eye, 1993)


Where was the prince? To reach him
she would have to go back

to her old haunts, suburbs she had left.
How would she know when she had found him?

Would he announce himself with a glass slipper?
That was the catch. The parents

would have to organise a dance
as they'd done in the old days. There would be

waltzes, murmurings of touch.
It might be love at first sight

though this was not a necessity.
Godmothers would be there

to splash them with advice.
Their palace would be simple - a bungalow

at the end of a long road
with houses all looking much the same, 

and a kitchen ready for children's laughter,
table set as in an advert.

She would smile at her prince. They would kiss
and sit back, ready to be happy ever after.




The Ash Tree
(Published in Poetry, Special Australian Issue, October, 1996)


The woodman has the tree in his grip.
He talks to its heart: thirty per cent
of the crown must be cut - it will be denser,
go into itself, discover new shoots.

Surgeon, he sits back in the rope-saddle,
ear protectors shield him from the saw's rasp.
Slowly the limbs are looped, excised.

No breeze, nothing disturbs the leaves
but this interloper intent on his task.
Gradually he links himself to the tree,
swings on up, makes notches.

The tree is being bargained with;
he goes for the highest branches,
pulls ropes tighter, skids about.

This is a listed tree. Fifty years back,
it survived fire: scars blacken the trunk.

Today it lays a lean shadow over the lawn.
History crowds in - we cannot see
the heartwood, sapwood: the rings
carrying each year to the outer bark...

The woodman is coming to terms
with the tree; it will outlive him.




Janet Buck

Apple Grief


The bonsai of straddled death
was a crew of nurses
catering all three meals
by injection with 
glucose and morphine.
Both sugar, admittedly,
for fading sunlight.
I climbed a tree,
shook out angry apples
with seeds of cancer
by the hundreds--
steamed bitter into applesauce.
Took the bus 
from school to you.
Brought you wishful Tupperware
but nothing meaningful to say.

Fruitcake flesh brought
grunts and sighs like 
over-due library books that
no one wants to see or touch-- 
let alone take credit for.
That rickety fan blew 
humid scents of final days;
a musty draft one finds at church.
The dresser with bottles 
of perfume pills.
Stained-glass sorrow for my uncle;
pacing fevered cobblestones.
Hopeless wanted mercy booze
to help distribute helpless weight.
My applesauce, a joke (I know)
like feeding baby food to wolves.


Still Life


We discussed
a nursing home
with nervous speed
as if to offer
lumps of arsenic
to roaches
bound to multiply.
“They’re fine,” you
said, “for bodies
doubling as a tomb,
but not for still lives
crying out.”

I understood
your frame of mind
as if it were
a bathroom mirror.
I’d see myself
in old grey tweed
just begging
to escape a war.
You needed
wet geraniums
in pots upon a patio.
The last great smoke
of living life
just had to be
the kind you roll.



Strung Lights


The tumor led a quiet drain
of energy just vaporized.
I suspected something hideous
from pain diluted by your smiles.
You refused the coats in white
as age just claiming human rights.
I understood from distance clouds
why death would seem
like packages on patios--
temptation left to open up.
With Chemo on the grocery list,
you needed gin to wash it down.

Perfect sets of candlesticks
had lost original appeal.
You packed your silver carefully--
spread it out for youth to use.
Grief was just a set of lights
that couldn’t write a renaissance--
as blinking bulbs on dying trees
that take their place in forests shaved.
With teeth like prismed Waterford,
admitting where their lips are chipped,
you treasured every moment here
as if you knew no other love.


Craving Ice


My grief, absurd.
A gesture in futility
like running sprinklers
in heavy rain.
Hunting down
a single ant
when swarms
run busy up sap
stills of bleeding trees.
At ninety years
(a nice round number
to your flesh 
time transformed
to paddied rice
and jungle rot),
you saw the end
as apples getting
logical worms
from places they
had truly lived.

But to the lenses
of my tears,
your death was tumors 
(grapefruit size)
I squeezed to find
and save the seeds
that grew in 
undiluted juice.
Wine was
fancy bathtub gin:
I needed write
to ice you down.



James Corbett

Starlight


Most fortunate, perhaps, are those 
who early recognise 
their star and follow it 
no matter what. The light they see 
defines a road that cuts 
implacably: its aim their own. 

Up, under, over, down yet on
without diversion, rest,
regret or guilt they thrust 
as beckoned, undeterred by signs 
of bothersome delay 
along the straight and certain course. 

Gods fall, a charted comet fails 
to reappear, the rich, 
digesting words about 
a camel, weep: the incidents 
amaze though likelier 
than doubt upon the brilliant road. 



Italica*


The streets through which we dance at noon 
are paved with shadows trees define; 
and, either side, the fabricated gods 
decline in palaces of sun and air. 

A lizard flicks along the scree 
where, undercut, the hill reclaims 
a quarry mercilessly arched and tiered 
for games. Our feet accelerate the dust. 

Majestic drains conduct the wind 
to vent around the stumps which pose
as city gate, but oleander, fig 
and rose proclaim a citadel that lives. 

These yesterday the spade reveals, 
although conjecture sees them tower, 
remain the spoill of broken years. They pass
an hour. We celebrate a place a time. 

* Roman ruins near Seville



Sacraments


I
The candle flickered, lit at last, 
beside the bread and wine 
though yours, my love a steady flame, 
illuminated mine. 

Illuminated mine, my love, 
when we together lit 
another candle, twice as bright, 
and offered thanks for it . 

II 
The afternoon was never night, 
the night was never day 
until, my love, I shared my time: 
you threw the clock away. 

And now I never know the time 
or doubt that dark is light. 
All other clocks may disagree: 
the time we share in bright. 

III 
I said, 'Between the wax and flame, 
between the then and now, 
the root of the light is dark, my love; 
listen, I'll tell you how.'

'Listen to me, my love,' said you, 
'and praty we never part:
the root of the light that lights our bed 
is called the candle's heart.' 


Rage


Horns blare. A woman shouts 
as though enraged and, shouting louder, 
rages. Nothing stops. 
The noise continues. Houses quake. 

Murder  seems likely              
on the road: knuckles whiten, 
fingers suffocate the air, 
fury begs a second chance. 

For what? Regret, repentance, 
reformation? Chance to take 
another stab at getting even 
when the speed ia right? 

An echo in the mind 
recalls  the woman: did help 
arrive? Was help required? 
Nearby, someone sharpens knives. 


Gurs*


At either end memorial concrete 
blocks a length of line: the rails are bent, 
the sleepers cracked. Weeds grip the low, 
long, narrow platform. Here, 
beside the road, a relocated gate arrests. 

Dogs bark, washing dries and children play 
on lawns between the houses where 
a fence ripped air: the hedges turn, 
perhaps, their backs upon a past 
beneath a wood, beyond the graveyard wall. 

Not less than thirty-thousand trees, hand 
planted, push above the darkened ground 
which day alone or lamp kept lit 
when individual light went out. 
Today, leaves fall on fallen boughs. 

Row after row, one step apart,
the headstones as in roll-call
stand although the guards have gone. A wreath,
an immortelle, a posy trim
the graves.  Smoke from a distant chimney fades.


* A Second World War concentration camp in France




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