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Or else an eagle



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 up from Montrose into the Dandenong Ranges National Park, the journey home is not so difficult. What is difficult is the way these roadside trees loom up in the dusk, leering at you, beckoning: Yes, yes, I’m waiting here for you, come. Night after night they stand about within their own shadows, sheathed in silvery green leaves flickering like dispersed chaff to fool your psychic radar.


These trees are sirens for so many men who end it here. Just last week, another one fetched up against the body — yes, of this one, here, just here — like a refugee child crumpled up against the impassive bulk of this messmate sentinel, whimpering before the darkness sets in.


You are tired, you are lonely, you are grieving… No one believes you when you say you want to end it. But it is not an easy road to take, this lining up of ways out of here.


This one. No, this… Or this…


You feel the shadow first before you see it. Suddenly the eagle is there, just above the bonnet of your car, its wide so wide wings spanning everything you know. The trees lean to see, crowding the road, but the eagle threads the eye of this needle, on and on around every bend. One hundred metres, perhaps a few hundred, several curves, and you are transfixed, steering your car but so captive to the bird’s powerful flight that you could readily follow it as it breaks away and lifts above the forest into the setting sun. 


Sometimes you do not want it to end. The eagle soars into the light. Away and up into the sky. And here is the corner, down towards the dirt road leading home. You are there.


The eagle is God’s avatar.


Or else an eagle.



Another point-of-view

She grips the felt-tip pen with that kind

of determination you’d never argue with,

hunched over the table and her drawing:


I’ve gotta finish the blue before we go!


It’s the only thing that’s being said here

in this waiting room where blue means

something else:

                         this feeling you have

for instance after getting the results of

your latest blood test;

                                   or the evident

anxiety of the young pregnant mother

in colourful headgear and a yellow-grey


           or the sadness of an older couple

bent and folded in towards each other

waiting between specialists, weighted by

the prospects;

                      or this grizzled old bloke

wheezing as he works a finger round

his gums, a sound more like punctured

tyres than a tune you’d ever recognise…


But the girl with the blue felt-tip pen

colours and hums, and her father hums

as she colours, and looks out the window

at dark clouds and their promise of rain:


Yep, he says, it’s always a blue sky day

even though all of the clouds are grey…


Yes, I say, we’ve got to finish the blue

before we go, out of the blue it comes,

then into the bright blue yonder we’ll go.


The girl glances up at us, and laughs:

You and my Daddy should make a song…

And she hums and doesn’t stop the blue,

yes, she hums and doesn’t stop the blue.




Beauregard, Bellosguardo…


For us, it was Kalorama where I lived with you

and your penetrating search into this world.

The names we loved, both for their sound and meaning…


There’s a Romanian word: vazduh

that realm enveloping us as inhabited air

place of arrivals and departures, angels and the dead:


these environs where thoughts have passage

between us, as fulfilled absence/embodied presence

where we will look for signs and wonders.


It’s what I once called ‘the stretched body of the air’…


Vazduh. You would have loved this word.

For a moment, it is here amongst us, like breath

like life and then it’s gone.


It’s gone.


Practise loss, it’s the only way to go…


All I need is a place to stand.


The texture of this evening air.




A fine view.





John AllisonJohn Allison was born in Blenheim, New Zealand. A volume of new and uncollected poems, 'A Place to Return to' was published by Cold Hub Press in 2019, and recently a chapbook 'Near Distance' came out from the same press.

Topic tags: John Allison, poetry



submit a comment

Existing comments

Beautifully visualised and understated, John. Thank you.

John RD | 24 November 2020  

Bunjil yet lives...

David tuke | 25 November 2020  

Beautiful stuff - coming out of the blue, returning home to the bright blue yonder...

James Frederick Orrock | 26 November 2020  

'Vazduh' is indeed a word worthy of a poem - thank you for unpacking its meaning with depth.

Angela Costi | 27 November 2020  

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