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In the margins of the Psalms

  • 21 January 2014















'No pen or paper in paradise'–Nawal Al Saadawi


Housed within its crystal grotto the giant plasmascreen creamily uncoils its mantra, one word chasinglanguidly upon another, 'Madness Is Pandemic',

and, 'In America You Can Get Everything You Want'over a background of hazed, Maya blue, fathomless.Chariots of one sort or another crowd the company

car park; Phrygian, Celtic, Illyrian, Thracian; theme parkor anteroom one might have thought, but being dead,one does not think, for the moment eternally dissolves one

into the other seamlessly; the dream of forever leaning,the fall, the long look back, the forced look down,and again, one thought chasing upon the tail of the next.


Written in the margins

Every distraction arrives complete, absorbsour adoration. This is it. Till again, boundariesblur distances, shuffle like ash. Another egoburn-off. The orchards of the soul might haveilluminated a monk's dream, his cell sweetenedby the honey of his God. The desert air blownso dry it crackles, like wind at the entrance to acave; open-mouthed, and silent as any cry offaith. His palms brush one against the other forloss and for love. He knows that in the dark,the stars will rage with light, that the margins ofthe Psalms will once again be transformedinto marble columns set aglow by his thought.


What angels throw

Panels of light and shadow I studied as a childbecame a sort of kit set built into my future — paths ofsunlight through blocks of dark — foundations tosomewhere not yet reached; a comforting aloneness;one private act of knowing I was only half aware of,mood shaded the colour of twilight I trusted, and as I didso, aloneness turned to lonely, and I knew I wason my way, headed toward uplands that lay years ahead.I wondered how to make sense of those patterns,that portcullis of light and shadow there before thebeginning, small corners of the world where angels dalliedbetween tasks, taking a break, to toss rings of lightonto lengthening poles of shadow from dawn to dusk.A game for them that can never end, maps of the worldrolled up from one season's end to the next endlessly.

Stephen Oliver is the author of 17 titles of poetry. He lived in Australia for 20 years. His new book Intercolonial is a long narrative poem that is as much about Australia as it is New Zealand.