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All breathless insights



Selected poems




every day

sometimes twice

to the high bath

perches, hops

around the rim

snaps its gaze

side to side, up

down, behind

calls out, sharp

insistent, listens

tumble dives

into shining water

frolics a moment

leaps back to the rim

fans wings, shrugs

glances around again

pecks under one wing

somersaults in, flings

itself out, shakes

droplets from itself,

darts back to the trees

returns, dives, floats

a moment, mounts

the rim, preens, leaps

straight up, swoops

banks, disappears

beyond the trees

water dripping

from the bath

another call




What if

against all dice rolls,

all equations,

we’re it,


no fellow pioneers

of land, sea, sky

to relish and unravel

all breathless insights


of cradle, tower, tomb,

of splashy sunrise,

of moonrise sheen

above any horizon


in a Goldilocks zone

that nurtures life

beyond the microbe,

beyond the greedy gene


and its many lures,

beyond the rationale

of kill or be killed,

no fellow pioneers


to survey and ponder

ghost rust and dust,

our utter plunder

of this world,


of others we warp

with the footprints

of universe masters

hustling the future,


no fellow pioneers

to grieve the lack

of wonder in our vision,

the echoing of our absence?



Make, believe

Always the sure talent for abandon

the child pours sand into a bucket,

pats it down with hand, with spade,


heaves it slowly to waist level,

waits at the edge of a moat

scooped out just moments ago


for the diversion of the sea,

surveys the packed and patted walls,

keeps, turrets and other fancy shapes


only the child can know are places

for sleeping, for eating, for talking,

and all those halls of silence.


The child upturns the bucket,

taps it once, twice, with hand, with spade,

lifts it to sprinkle a filigree of grains,


pokes a window here, a doorway there,

scoops a deeper channel for the moat,

and continues to smile,


another tower built,

the bucket empty again,

the sea, the sand, and wet feet.



Suburban park creek

Years ago, joggers jumping

over the tiger snake

sun-baking on new concrete

near the lookout bridge.


Years before that, the lure

of jangling water,

of platypus stillness

beyond bramble-tied bush,

of bird flicker, of possum nestings,

and sometimes sharp jitters

of snake or lizard

through deep native grass.


Now, swaths of old carpets

wired down over banks

to encourage the clean lines

of tall gums, but not sprawling

scrubby spinifex and banksia,

plus wire fences and concrete

to lead us to recycled seats

overlooking glittering waters,

but not close enough

to drink its mountain chill,

watch dragonflies shimmer and dart,

feel the breeze feather the cheek,

such separation an insistence

that we and nature are not kin,

not a barter and bounty of vistas,

our own proud delving nature

splitting all into stone.



First Fable

First Wind cleared its throat,

laughed at First Mountain

buckling itself towards sky.


First Mountain cleared its throat,

laughed at First Wind

choking on fire and dust.


First Sky cleared its throat,

laughed as it winked out First Sun,

scattering children’s fears into stars.




No figure can be deemed trustworthy unless it expresses

through its acts, as far as possible, the passion of its soul.

Leonardo da Vinci


‘Tell me if anything was ever done.'

Tell me if it was all in vain — the trial

of blood through nerve and sinew, the brash sweep

of light and tinker wings, the grand designs.


‘Where is my Leda and the Swan?’ Still lost.

‘The model for my giant horse?’ Destroyed.

The Last Supper?’ Plaster-tempera fading.

‘Such is the blight of time and simple men.’


Not so. Men craft the air and undersea

praising those paper dreams left-handed on.

‘So, fame of grand failure is my prize now.’


And no one puzzles her missing eyebrows,

that surreal background — smile now, hers defies.

‘Always the dream, always our fragile wings.’




Earl LivingsEarl Livings has published poetry and fiction in Australia and overseas. He has a PhD in creative writing and his writing focuses on science, history, nature, mythology and the sacred. In December 2018, Ginninderra Press published his second poetry collection, Libation. Earl is currently finalising an historical fantasy novel set in 6th century Britain and working on his next poetry collection. More information is available on his website.

Main image: Robin perched on branch (Chris/Unsplash)

Topic tags: Earl Livings, poetry



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Existing comments

Bird: Good Friday remembers a place behind cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth where birds didn’t do this.

roy chen yee | 03 April 2021  

Such a cute photo. I wonder what he was looking at.

AO | 20 April 2021  

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