How poets encounter God

Complex Horizons
indentAt Varuna

Dawkins would say I am deluded
in collaborating with you on a book about God

two in cahoots
indentFrench: cahute, hut, cabin
in a world unhoused, split between

those who think they know everything

those who think they know there is nothing.

How, in this combative weather, are those who stumble
willingly on to navigate between

godlessness and overgodliness, beyond

preaching, blasphemy, debate

into conversation where two so different
voices might resolve
domination into cadence?

* * *

At the same time I'm wrestling with form

how to write my father's life seven years after his death
without the pen's brutal incisions
how to shape a narrative whose submarine-combat
climax peaked too early
how to list his too-many talents without listing
steer between hagiography and warts-and-all.

Is that why, since he died, I have been inflicted with warts

every poem stuck
in the doldrums

the marriage of form and content needing counselling?

* * *

I walk in a fog at Katoomba
pleased with myself
for not being disappointed
not to see sunrise on cliffs
for being able to perceive
shifts of water and light
how various and clear
sounds drip and splash
how rich the green-bice
and vermillion when
vision is quietened
by absence of sunlight

noticing how observant I am
of black-chinned
honeyeaters and limandra
I slip on the wet-metal steps
to the Three Sisters

wrench my shoulders
and the experience
into regular stanzas.

* * *

I'm looking over the rails at an idiot
on a ledge half-way down Katoomba Falls
looking over the drop

decide to rewrite a bad poem backwards
open a box you sent me
words clipped from newspapers

juxtapose at random
surprise yourself.

When I lose weigh
in my backwards journey
to convey how it feels
to exchange postcards
with a vision

four dark hands
saying what mattered
while Helmut and I
translated only the words
that were unnecessary
from the moment when
I and the Walpeyankere woman
stood in a breezeway in Alice Springs
and saw the tall German husband
with his cloud of angel hair
overshadowed by the six-foot-two
African dancer descending the stairs
with him to hook us with her smile

I sift words from the box
complex    horizons
but still beat
the lines into regularity.

Yet I tell you I got
nothing from juxtaposing
Buenos Aires and bread

You snort and suggest that if my sentences
all start the same, I should steal openings.

Should I pirate the Thieving Magpie
onto a disc for your birthday?

* * *

Next morning, I take a young journalist walking

she's been to a barbecue
in Libya, but never walked in the bush
she's intrepid in Baghdad
and Beirut, but her shoes
are white and soft
she says, Someone is lost
in the mountains

I say, This is a fire-trail
if you want to step off
and get lost, I suppose you could

shoulder my Tintin pack with the food
water, space blanket
we'd need if we did get lost.

She asks too many questions
I give far too many answers
including that my doctorate
was about how poets encounter God.

She asks if I am religious and I babble
but I never pray for anyone to be converted

am gobsmacked when she says, I do

turns out to be a sweet fundamentalist, shocked
by Islamic fundamentalism.

She gives me Popper's critique
of scientific positivism
to use in the God-Book

her jaw is stiff, her throat
from the strain
of her complex horizons.

* * *

Afterwards, stiff and scattered
from too many steps and words
I ring a healer at random

she says, If you can come right now
knees indicate problems with direction.

Energies realign     her hands feel like yours

I take the afternoon slowly
waiting to be directed
tinker at the edges of poems
fling seven years' worth onto the floor
trashing them would cut a limb
from my narrative

but the evidence is there on the carpet
form strangling content.

* * *

Happy to see the problem even if I can't
work out the answer
I ring — you sound so bleak
Twenty years' work, forcing myself through, I just want it off my desk.

In our different towns we light candles
ask the work what it wants
go for a walk, a swim
let what happens, happen

sweet, bright dreams
I let go the wing's strut
without a parachute
a bumpy, painless landing.

In the morning, something I've never done
a long bath
perfect shape, perfect heat

leaving the poems spreadeagled
on the floor until they call
eating breakfast in the sunny autumn garden
I remember my father
surprised me into stanzas
about the lacks and love in him

if he led me into form, he could
(despite his jibes at chopped up prose)
lead me out of it

* * *

Stepping across the garden, I'm stopped
at the door, so strong
his presence, so him, so changed
raised a spiritual body

that night I light a bonfire of lyrics
sacrifice form, rest content.

Charlotte ClutterbuckCharlotte Clutterbuck is a Sydney writer and teacher. She has studied religious art and literature for many years. This poem was written while on a fellowship at Varuna, the Writers' House in Katoomba. Her publications include Encounters with God in Medieval and Early Modern English Poetry, Sounding and the scripts for The Web animated shorts .

Topic tags: Charlotte Clutterbuck, new Australian poem, complex horizons, varuna, richard dawkings



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Existing comments

I'm not one for commenting, don't do it ... but what a lovely, lovely poem - thank you Poet.

brian davies | 24 March 2009  

Nice to see Walpeyangkere get a mention. I boast that I know where it is, and think 99% of Alice Springs people wouldn't.

Gavan | 24 March 2009  

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