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Or else an eagle

  • 24 November 2020
Selected poems

Looking out from Kalorama

(for Bettye 1949-2011)

…upon the path there looms the barrier which no magic of words

can any longer help to circumvent, or to open up.

                                          Philippe Jaccottet, Beauregard

…the gesture remains: it measures the emptiness, sounds its limits.

                                          Eugenio Montale, Tempi di Bellosguardo


The tall mountain ash trees (Eucalyptus regnans)  

lean back a little from the breeze.

Their loose bark clattering like clapsticks

measures the creaking primordial calls of the currawongs

and black cockatoos shouldering off

the thickened air and light across the forest canopy.

Our last walk was down this track beside the dirt road

on Easter Sunday to stand there on The Hump

overlooking the Yarra Valley at dusk.

You had turned towards me then and said:

‘I see the black wall ahead, and I know I have to walk

right up to it, press against it, work

my body right into its cracks and crevices

until I find the way on through… 

I know, and you know, that you cannot come with me.

I feel alone now, and I am afraid.’

I’d tried to hold you, but was gently pushed away.

‘I am alone, more than you can know.’

And stood apart, in the night wind among those trees.

Six weeks later, it was accomplished…

You went elsewhere. It was hard, for you, for me.

I remained, and embraced that

absence as if it were your body lying by me every night.

I knew we’d never be in touch again.

It seems the kookaburras always have the last laugh.

Other viewpoints

On so many other nights I have gazed

from hills and heights at cities, at those winking

lights of settlement, unsettled by the way

that life inhabits space with all its tribulations

and its pleasures. The first time, maybe

aged eighteen, looking down at Christchurch

I had wondered what was being lived

there in the suburbs. Tragi-comic, despairing

existences that television programmes

claimed to know in versions we could recognise.

I had no faith in that kind of revelation.

I hoped there might be joys and deepenings.

And still it is a question, though now

informed by those further scripts and storylines

I’ve come to know, and all those ways

in which the passages of time are fulfilled

or just endured, made and otherwise

broken and repaired, or else prostrated before 

the flickering blue light of a domestic

god that exacts its tribute, even sacrifice.

These long nights of uttered anguish

after all the house lights had been switched off,

and my hand closed your ungazing eyes

as you departed, stage left, off into the wings.

An eagle or else…

Sometimes you simply want to end it all. Winding