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Selected poems




Webster was much possessed by death

                                                         T.S. Eliot


Filling up the Webster-pak’s

a weekly exercise

designed to keep me vertical

with sparkle in my eyes.


Fresh from Chemist Warehouse as

my tempo wanes and waxes

my pills dispel my latest ills —

if not quite death and taxes.


With some water, down they swirl

to start their clever dances.

Half a Somac might slow down

aesophageal cancers.


For too much bluster in the blood

I reach for Candesartan.

It’s statins for cholesterol

and, clearly, there’s an art in


thinning back the flow to reach

a true viscosity.

Vitamin D tossed down as well

may be a kind of key


to keep the music box in tune —

and help me still recall

the day when, just ten years ago,

I took no pills at all.






Surely I have written somewhere

about that first year out?

The high school west of Parramatta,


the uniforms and school assemblies

wilting in the sun,

the teachers with that cheery bombast


I had no talent for,

the first year class, still overawed,

offered as a boost,


the second year advanced delinquents

to show me what the world might be.

The wads they fired with rubber bands


were made from bobby pins.

They knew it was a zero sum,

their self-esteem for mine.


They tried to sell me crates of drinks,

fallen off a truck

but strangely still undamaged.


Why write about the trains

that rattled me through Granville,

the bus that grumbled up to school,


the Mini I contrived to buy

to half-regain an ego?

Why write about a room in Auburn


at three pound ten a week,

found on two days’ notice in

the Herald classifieds?


A room ironically supplied

with roomy double bed,

a doubleness for which all year


I failed to find a use.

Why write about that fellow boarder,

drunk and ruined by the war,


who passed out in the toilet?

One bathroom had to do for five.

Why write about the shirts I washed


and hung out in the soot?

It’s said that thirty tons of it

fell each year on Auburn.


But in that room without a desk,

I started writing stories

from what the day had left of me,


scything back the clichés

rising through the paper

like burrs on river flats back home;


Here, I read the twenties greats,

Scott and Ernest, William Faulkner,

relishing the sentences,


wondering how they did it —

the traction in the dialogue,


the narrative momentum.


And so the days went grinding by,

not all entirely unsuccessful.

My second year delinquents


continued with their japes,

winning by attrition,

not a word they used.


The senior classes that I clearly

didn’t yet deserve

were only five years younger.


An older colleague tried to cheer me,

saying it grew easier

as one’s hair turned grey


and always in the background like

a sour dream half-recalled

the Bond, that stark five hundred pounds


I’d signed for at the start

to guarantee I’d serve five years.

Later, things looked up a bit.


I managed thirty-eight.





I have never read a novel in full. Ever!

                                                                                    Bernard Salt


Who cares, he says, what Mr Darcy thinks?

Our columnist prefers the world of facts.

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 in Dickens? Not all novels, I’ll

concede, are good or worth the sweat. It’s true

I read less fiction than I did at twenty


but even so, just every now and then,

I need 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 admit.

It seems I need to know what Darcy thinks.





Geoff 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.

Main image: Pop art Medicine pill or tablet icon isolated on color background. (Getty Images) 

Topic tags: Geoff Page, poetry



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