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Not even with time travel



Selected poems


Family idyll

As I squeeze socks washed in a motel basin,

I remember my mother prodding with a long stick

the sheets boiling in the copper, while my father fixes

the car, one sister helping him, the others at play.


Mum jokes about fingers getting caught,

as we squeeze one corner of each leaden sheet

into the glistening join of the white rollers

that swing back and forth above the steam

and the concrete troughs. She lets me strain

against the handle with both my hands.


At the clothesline I clasp one set of corners

as she stretches each sheet across the wire

and pins it with pegs I give her. The line full,

I return to homework and chores and she returns

to the kitchen, to watch her family from the window

as she washes dishes and prepares the next meal.


Hours later she shows me more: take one end,

shake, pull tight, fold, turn over, fold again,

again, move together, give her my end, slide

my hands down the sun-drenched cloth

to the new end, move apart, shake, stretch,

move together, again — and my father again

yelling at me to weed the vegie garden:

'Your job, so get back to it. Or else.'

She shakes her head when I start to protest,

calls the girls to help. Lets me go.



If time travel existed

You would do the usual:

relish the best times — first glance

of lover, first thumb-grip by babe,

the glee in each achievement,

the dance of glistening motes.


Repair those blunders — the slap,

havoc words, the moral lack

of insight into others.


And peek around those corners

hiding reasons for our worst —

rage of parents, self-abuse

of lovers, seeds of disease,

why you swear you know what's right.


But you never will know all, not even

with time travel. You'd have to be

everywhere at once, be behind

and in every word and act,

flow with the charged breath

Of mote and light. To sum up:


You'd have to be God. Poor Thing.

For the one fact denied God

is the unforeseen. And you,

deep in the heart, thrive on awe

and laughter. Each new blossom.



The more things change

My grandfather's barometer rises ten points.

The cat annoys me for more diet food. Our ancestors

lived in Europe for at least 1.57 million years. My wife

kisses me as she leaves for work. I wash three days

of dishes and worry about a sore groin. The cat squashes

Double Pink Marguerite Daisies as she suns herself

in the flower box on the front porch. I recycle

unfranked stamps and read comics and poetry.

Trees stammer in the wind. Children laugh

in the jumping castle next door. I file bills,

newspaper clippings and letters. The cat chases away

its near-twin. Clouds hide the hints from distant stars.

Somebody hits the top ranking on a social network.

We wrap Christmas presents for my distant children.

Bats feed at the apricot tree out the back. Shall we go

to the Solstice party? Archaeologists discover a bunch

of meadowsweet blossoms in a Bronze Age grave.

I address a letter to my father. The barometer

doesn't shift. The cat kneads the arm of our couch.



Through dream

Seamus Heaney Reading, Sligo, 27 July 2009

You sleep continents away

while I attend to poetry,

that place where we dream

and think at the same time.


Heaney's images and rhythms

of gleam, black birds, kite-rope

shiver the heart and nape,

charge us with steadfast wonder.


And I also wonder

if you shiver now in dream,

drawing deeply

from that common vein


you and I quicken each day

with word, thought, thrill

of breath and reach, those sighs

when I fondle your neck.




Unkillable it is. Not

by drought. Not by pulling out.

Not by pots of hot water.

Not by slugs, snails, weed warfare.

And I've taken it from house

to house over eighteen years,

ever since tea made from it

healed a dog hit by a car —

broken hip, glazed eyes. After

weeks lapping it up, the dog

could romp around the yard, bark

at intruders and passing cars.


Even more unkillable —

the idea of healing herbs

grown in back gardens, against

the policies of governments

pandering to drug companies.

No threats of fines, jail, can dim

our common law freedoms won

from Magna Carta onwards:

a man's home is his castle,

right to free speech, free choice,

right to protest injustice.

Yet we are many. And we

will always be here — after

elections, after battles

against nature, nation, us

versus them — healing ourselves

and the land beneath our feet,

our womb, our nurture, our tomb.



Earl LivingsEarl Livings has published poetry and fiction in Australia, Britain, Canada, the USA, and Germany. He has a PhD in creative writing and taught professional writing and editing for 17 years.

Topic tags: Earl Livings, Poetry



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Existing comments

That was my mother washing, hanging out and folding the sheets - with my help!

john frawley | 03 December 2018  

"our womb, our nurture, our tomb" reminds me of "O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary".

Pam | 04 December 2018  

The place where we dream and think at the same time, poetry, yes, well put, Earl. Like also the notion that we are one up on God by having the unforeseeable available to us

Bill Wootton | 07 December 2018  

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