Thursday, March 26, 2015

Poetry you never lied to me

So where do you end up when your eyes are finally working
so well you can hardly see in front of you instead you look
inside out you feel the acid in your brain
working through to the page as pitiless as economists
adding up zeros you live in this world it opens its arms
exactly what you feared it is worse than your dreams
shutting your eyes to find the tortured boy printed
on your retina the hole in his cheek the slashed
arms bloodless now the cigarette burns how did they
and the big stupid money fracking the laws of mercy
all the connections obvious and obscene and still you dream
of linoleum in kitchens that years have demolished
into hygenic visions mothers in aprons squawking for decades
of migraines and butter or bending over shining ovens
in their Good Housekeeping skirts their hair in scarves
their perfectly polished children executive husbands televisions
you murdered them all you stood in high heels and vomited blood
better than madness your sister’s eyes turned in to policemen coming
to slash her to ribbons her visions of Lear her naked pain
poetry you never saved me but there was the rail
of words that promised a fake redemption you knew
it was fake but out of the dream stepped those ample summers
as real as the camellias opening outside your window
red as your fingers red as your newborn babies beautiful vaginas
speaking the possible here in this same world
where chemical hells scour the skin from children
o poetry who stepped down and clapped her manacles 
speaking her legislations knowing the sentence is life
its fluid chains its solitary rooms its knives of ice and blood
opening inside you like forgiveness you think
of your mother’s will where she ministers justice your sisters
and you laid out in columns neat and shy and obedient 
polish the skirtings weed the roses death will visit at last
and run his finger along the shelves and find us wanting
but he can go to hell him and his little brothers
all those feminine lessons I flung on the fire of my ego
refusing death although I invited him in with every word
every cigarette every failure poetry you never lied to me

Sunday, May 4, 2014


We were woken too early, before the moths had died in the streets,
when buds had barely hardened in the frost, when stars are hurtful
and famished. They took us through gardens and past the halls
where once we had lingered, past the houses and doused markets.
Our footsteps echoed back like iron. Of course we were frightened,
that was a given, of course we remembered photographs we had studied
that then had nothing to do with us. The empty light of morning
made anything seem possible, even freedom, even God. We stumbled
on familiar roads, and everything turned away from us,
lamp-posts, windows, signs. They weren’t ours any longer. Even the air
greeted us differently, pinching our skin to wake us from its dreams.


Words of course were beyond us. They were what killed us
to begin with. They were taken away from the mouths that loved them
and given to men who worked their sorceries in distant cities,
who said that difficult things were simple now and that simple things
no longer existed. It was hard to find our way, we understood
the tender magic of hands, we knew the magic of things not spoken,
but this was a trick we couldn’t grasp. It lifted the world in a clump of glass
and when everything came back down the streets had vanished.
In their places were shoes and clotting puddles and sparking wires
and holes and bricks and other things that words have no words for
and that silence swelling the noise until you can’t hear anything at all.


It’s said that the dead don’t dream, but I dream of flowers.
I could dream so many flowers – lilies like golden snow on water,
hyacinths the colours of summer evenings or those amaranths they call
love-lies-bleeding. I dream of none of those. I dream instead
of wind-blown roses that grew in our shabby yard, of daisies
glimpsed through the kitchen window, of marigolds that glowed
through nets of weed. But most of all, I dream of red anemones
that never grew in my garden. They rise on slender stalks,
their seven-petalled heads bobbing and weaving in the wind.
Wind-flowers, Pliny called them, because they open only in the wind,
and the wind scatters their petals over every waste in the world.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Small Things

I worry for the small things
 - Raising Arizona

those with teeth and thick skulls
need no advocates.
their fists are dumb machines
smashing the earth,
clumsy with the insolence
of wounded giants.
everyone knows
when the sly world plots
and slides a flat blade
through their shouting skins

and those with flexible tongues
they can look after themselves.
they use words like dangerous toys
spinning a beam of colours
into a white shield.
pain stares in its blank slant
and goes away empty handed.

but small things can't argue
their way into shelter
when the world explodes on them
implacably as stars.
they have only feathers
for the hurricanes
and thin leaves for the fires.
when bulldozers eat their houses
they squat on the edge of valleys
with nowhere to go.
The world is too mean for trust
but generous enough for murder.
It's getting worse.  I worry
for the small things.

From This Is The Stone, Penguin Books 1991

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why I Don't Like Being Photographed

For Nicholas Walton-Healey

the true fact is that I am invisible
            the light that bounces off my skin
through the aperture of a lens is quite
                        a different phenomenon and is possibly
a spectre who will walk around
            inside the shape my name is supposed to be
ordering books on the murderousness of opera 
            or secondhand Dior nighties 
or committing acts of production that wake me in terror at 2am
                        or conversing with unsavory strangers 
on the corners of the internet it is very confusing 
like invisible clouds that liquefy the tundra 
                        the phantoms won’t stop proliferating 
they keep sending me emails that I can’t read
                                     no matter how hard I squint they
are never about what they seem to be
            success love happiness no one seems to know
                        how to escape into another dimension 
stuck on our mundane sofas watching that movie
                        where the monster wriggles inside our own skin
and up in their mansions on the hill the dead-eyed madmen
            whisper it out and feed it every morning
it all ends in explosions that’s what it’s for
                                    and then we export the virus to another planet
            as if there had been a time when once we were
 more than data transmission in brutal economies 
                                                            yet still we go on imagining
                                    rainbows and other physical objects
hovering beautifully in the vapour of our breath

I am never quite sure who is thinking
            perhaps it is me or perhaps it is my photograph
who maybe went fishing which I have never liked
                                                            and is admiring how the light
                        ripples its endless changes over the same river

when I’m especially sad 
            I like to read Viktor Shklovsky who was 
the saddest critic of all time and who always began
                        his books with a description of a landscape
            those were optimistic days 
he said the nightingale doesn’t know
                        that it has been refuted
                                    he said a riddle always has two answers
one is literal and wrong and the other
                        renews meaning by rearranging things
I wonder if there are still crows in Yalta
                                                one day I would like to buy him coffee
                        and we could converse in cyrillics about fairytales
                                    and how art has its own laws  
and how a poem is a riddle of sorts and not like a photograph
            which may be another kind of riddle
but dissimilar
                        of course

Saturday, February 23, 2013

from Divinations

I listened for you in the throat of summer, in the fanfare
of trees I lingered and spelt their shadows

you rose out of my darkest soundings, inaudible fish
eyelessly twirling in warm currents

autumn cauled your arrival, tracking my veins with weariness
and floated you out on sad leaves of blood

down to the icy waters where my fingers
will never prise into life your voiceless promise

and my kisses will never spark your hair
joyously into brief unknowable beauty

nor will the eager petals of your skin
char to brutal seed

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Orpheus and Eurydice

The road wound white
Through the darkness
Running before me
Running behind me
A silver thread
Leading me home
Life before me
Death behind me

On either side
Cliffs of stone
Hung like clouds
Veined with blood
Lakes of tears
Glimmered softly
Huge and old
As human sorrow

And she walked behind me, her steps as light as rain
Her grave clothes crumbling around her
Stumbling on the path like a woman in a dream
And sometimes the blood waking in her bruised flesh
Hurt her, and she moaned, and I heard her

I fixed my gaze
Forward always
As my longing
Reached behind me
How I longed
To comfort her
How I longed
To hold her close

At last I saw
The dayworld light
Bright before me
Like a blessing
And in my joy
I turned to speak
In my joy
I looked behind me
For one moment I saw her face, her eyes as dark as rain
Her grave clothes crumbling around her
Standing on the path like a woman in a dream
And then the blood cooled in her bruised flesh
And I stood alone on the lip of the world

My song after that was a world of mourning
They said that the trees woke to listen
And that all living things ran to hear my voice
But I was playing only for the dead to hear me
And the dead were deaf, alone in their shadows, 
From Night Songs, a music theatre work commissioned by Bell Shakespeare's Mind's Eye.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


The lamp broods on the table
In its predatory circle of light
Dust rains down on an open book

The suburbs ebb into darkness
Hungry and desolate under antennae
Rats hunt in the weeds

You thought it was beauty
That shocked you to a husk
All your life a collusion with dying

Even the air tastes bitter
Her skeletal wings slice the walls
She lands and opens her eyes
Published in The Australian, July 1 2012