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Birthday ballot

  • 01 October 2018


Selected poems


Eye rings

The superb lyrebird flaunts its feathers,

bistre plumes, a gossamer fan.

Warbles his vibrato, mimics the magpie,

trills his keynote for a mate.


Observer pursues a quest for scientific knowledge,

longs to trumpet his exhilaration

from the colony to his distant colleagues.

Obsesses about taxonomy, binomial appellation.


Aims; the gunshot rings out, reverberates

across the gorge. The stench of smoke lingers.

Another specimen cut down

in the name of scholarly research.


Generates work for his team at the stuffing table.

Sharpened scalpels, forceps and bone cutters,

gleaming in the hands. Flax and straw

immersed, preserved in camphor and arsenic.

Viscous absorption; the chemical odour, the aftertaste

of gutting and passerine gravy.


Legs are bound together, trussed in surrender.

Painstaking care. Sensitivity with the eye rings,

luminous in the half-light.




Birthday ballot

My eyes grapple with the diffusion of headlights,

oscillation of wipers in the downpour

and I am immersed in the insistent chords

of a guitar laden with the lyrics of Don Walker.

The alchemy of 'Khe Sanh' spirits, commandeers

me back to the early seventies.


I am transported to the sappers.

In a pitch-dark deluge like this,

gun turrets and slush banish daydreams

of beaches and cobalt rockpools.


Recollections of the birthday ballot,

tremble of black and white TV in the corner.

My fingers drag a crested envelope from the letterbox,

the afternoon breeze brings ironic coo

of peaceful doves.


Mist of defoliant invades the recess

of my imagination; a persistent aftertaste

of the jungle, the tang of perspiration.


In my speeding cocoon I mouth a prayer

of thanks for the deferral,

the abolition of national service.

Staring into the dappled darkness

I touch the pain of a generation.



David Atkinson is a Sydney poet. His poems have been published widely in Australia and the USA. Favoured areas for poetic exploration include the human condition, nature and wildlife and also the rural life of the past. David's collection The Ablation of Time is available through Ginninderra Press.