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How they floated in the clouds



Selected poems


Ah, how they floated in the clouds


Ah, how they floated in the clouds,

back before the first world war,

those decent heady phrases,


the common good, the living wage

and how they came across the seas,

those writers and professors,


to study what we’d done down here.

And how they loved our metaphor —

society as a living creature


healthy only as its parts.

Not everything was there, of course —

non-whites need not apply.


Fourteen years was all we had;

a bit more if we add

what colonies had wrought thus far —


eight-hour shifts and votes for women.

The pistol shots in Sarajevo

confused our weather too.


The high words we had seen up there

among our swells of cumulus

took sixty years to find again


and still a few elude us.





I have never read a novel in full. Ever!

                            Bernard Salt


Not even in his final year at school

did Bernard Salt, the columnist, ever

read, he’s proud to say, a novel fully


While some faked one or two, he faked the lot.

Who cares, he says, what Mr Darcy thinks?

Our columnist prefers the world of facts:


dictionaries, thesauruses and street

directories, atlases, non-fiction.

Not for him those other worlds we carry


in our heads a week, a month, a life,

those solid phantoms whom we find we’ve come

to care about, whose inner thoughts beguile,


whose arbitrary fates delight or sadden.

Two women whom I once knew well would not

be caught in café, tram or bus without


a novel in their handbag. And who’s to say

that prim and distant aunt you haven’t seen

for thirty years has not somehow become


a character from Dickens? Directories,

we know, may lie, even when they stare

from space. And who’s to say that facts are facts?


Facts are what we make of them; they need

interpretation. Not all novels,

I’ll admit, are good or worth the sweat.


The real world, like its ghostly counterparts,

may not always be convincing. Its streets

sometimes may evanesce and be in turn


replaced by other facts. It’s true I read

less fiction than I did back in my twenties. A novel

needs a long breath and a deep commitment.


But even so, just every now and then, I find

I have to leave this milieu of the given

and, while attending still to texts and emails,


silently step sideways into streets

and minds that Mr Salt will not concede.

It seems I need to know what Darcy thinks.



General Sir Magnus Markham


General Sir Magnus Markham.

Why’s his wife so done with talk?


All those slow, ascending dinners,

strategies with knife and fork?


Was it all those far deployments?

Or too long standing on high heels?


Why’s her face become a rictus?

What explains the way she feels?


In certain places certain things

went on that won’t be spoken of.


Sometimes, still, he sweats in bed.

He’s been no easy man to love.


The kids they shared have been and gone.

He took an interest now and then 


but that’s no kind of consolation,

serving up his eggs again.


For years she helped him shin the pole —

and not been very much requited.


Leading trumps, she’ll smile: 'Ah, Mags.

So much bemedalled. And beknighted.'





Geoff PageGeoff Page is based in Canberra and has published 22 collections of poetry, two novels and five verse novels. His recent books include Gods and Uncles and PLEVNA: A Verse Biography.

Topic tags: Geoff Page, poetry



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Existing comments

"The high words we had seen up there among our swells of cumulus took sixty years to find again and still a few elude us." Let's hope we can find some of those lost words in recovery from pandemic.

Peter Albion | 26 May 2020  

Delightful! I care what Mr. Darcy thinks.

Pam | 26 May 2020  

Ah yes, real insight. Thankyou Geoff.

Ginger Meggs | 28 May 2020  

Bernard Salt may finish a novel on his deathbed. Or not. Did Darcy read much I wonder? We read, said C S Lewis, to know we are not alone. Alone with facts is a deep alone ness. Wonderful poem, Geoff Page.

Bill Wootton | 30 May 2020  

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