Corroboree in the sky


Image of Coroboree c.1900
















A slow malagueña in some silent movie
where horsemen dismount at a white hacienda
and, doffing hats, kiss ladies’ hands: young when
I saw this, how could I know that those practiced routines—
a debonair glance or a knowing, raised eyebrow—
were purely façade? Glamorous people long dead
in framed portraits, and actors who played them:
older, I knew this was counterfeit style we call charm.
You and I know make-believe when we see love
as script, and both partners concerned with effect
they produce on each other. Who’d say ‘I kiss your hands’
now and not make people laugh? Better the first time
it hung in the air from the mouth of an actor now dead.
Better, in fact, I should take your hand now and be dumb.

It’s clear you dream. The stillness is profound.
Your eyelids lock down, keeping secret what you see.
Your body’s curled around what I will never know,
but we are close. I hear my heartbeat fill the room now,
and your breathing. What serenity’s beyond this?
Even trees are undisturbed, the birds unmoving
till their young become insistent. Traffic’s silent.
We are cocooned for this moment,
from the tragedies of others and ourselves.
This could be anywhere – the past, beyond
the stasis of a picture that does not breathe,
time-stopped motion of a statue that can not break
into life as you and I can into what the morning holds –
and this is how it is between us
in the silence of our worlds that hold us back
before the shadow of the dawn.
How could resist you:
love forsworn, the transformations,
gods repeating, ‘If you look on me, you die’,
a rose that haemorrhages,
a bullet that will never miss its mark,
the shepherds, clowns reciting poetry,
protesting that a fire will consume them;
forests tuned to deserts,
deserts turned to gardens, woods.
Your sorcery can make the world
seem possible to live in,
and it is, for those brief hours
until we return once more into the dark.
As Paul to Corinthians, mother to child,
as Lenin to Trotsky, as Laurel to Hardy,
I write to you now saying where is the cash
that you borrowed? Don’t fob me off
with irrelevant tales of your mother’s
bad heart, your goanna’s flat notes,
that your car wouldn’t start or your ship’s
coming in: but where are the rupiah, rubles,
the quids, the pesetas, the kuai
and the bucks? Time’s little fidget wheels
racket along, and the digital world’s going bung.
I’m only human (excuse my poor shape)
and the bottle-shop’s open, the barman’s awake
to my game. By all means possess all my furniture,
books, and my wife and my car and my clothes
but in passing send back what I gave you,
and prove that you’re liberal. Yours humbly.
P.S. I’ll tell all the world that your prose is sublime.

The town sits on the waterway
that rolls its eyes aloft, preferring sky.
Turtles wearing islands on their shells
glide in its head, and fibrils swirl
as eels carve runnels
in the talc-fine mud of shallows,
breaking surface, flicking
oil slick into prisms.
Carp hunt fingerlings in puddles,
and the creek recalls the tone
of men and women leaping in,
the slippery touch of children’s skin,
a mouse’s splash,
a kookaburra’s plummeting
to seize a frog,
the black snake’s supper
on the shoal, a gecko’s
footstep in the rushes
where a dragonfly’s life ends
in snap of beaks,
kingfisher’s flash
and sky that settles once again.

The bird that has no feather
Mocks my language
Runs and flaps its wings at me
But cannot fly,
Throws land-things at me
I fly all sides round the land-bird
Call to cousins over earth
‘Look at the land bird
that can’t fly’.
We laugh
Like water,
Make corroboree
In sky


Michael Sharkey headshot

Michael Sharkey lives in Armidale NSW, and his poems have been published in several collections and online at the Poetry Archive (UK), Perihelion (USA), Mascara, Snorkel, Cordite and elsewhere.

Topic tags: Michael Sharkey, modern Australian poems, literature



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Existing comments

As I kept reading these poems, my smile became wider and wider. I especially love bird poems - many thanks.
ps. If someone said 'I kiss your hands' I'd think 'what a line', not laugh.
Pam | 17 December 2013

Dear Michael,
Loved your poems. Last time I saw you was at Woolongong, years ago.
Jean Sietzema-Dickson | 20 December 2013


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