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Rioting on the equinox

  • 08 December 2022
 Selected poems  


Sing out for Ukraine

For Yuri Kerpatenko, Ukrainian orchestra conductor, murdered in the occupied city of Kherson over his refusal to participate in a concert put on by Russian authorities.

In October

the plane-tree buds

burst pale green while

along the creek the ranks

of yellow Iris stand guard

In Mary of the Angels

the black-clad choir sings siren songs

to seduce the hearts of tyrants

Do not mistake the organ’s trembling

groan for a missile’s deadly aria

or the sopranos’ high notes

for the widows’ ululations

So I will light a candle

against the sun                     quietly*

while all around me war

bullies                                    loudly

Fathers of Ukraine

as our foes press on from every side*

hold your children closer

so that they may live

Who else will carry flowers and prayers

to your own well-kept gravesites

*(Italicised lines quoted from lyrics of music at concert Sing Out for Ukraine at St Mary’s Basilica, Geelong on 16 October, 2022.)

Anthem for a Redeeming Youth

(After reading Anthem for a Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen.)

what clarion voice is this

that shimmers in the

stained-glass-window-ed Jesus

of St Paul’s, ‘imbued with grace

true and beautiful’ singing

do not fear to put

thy naked feet  into the river

sweet, a voice unloosening all

our hearts’ tight knots

in the ruins of her home

where missiles rain like

unanswered prayers

the violinist crafts her

elegies of love that promise

‘not a wave shall trouble thee’, so

oh all you young women

and men sing us your new songs,

that startle and disturb us

then stitch up again our

scattered selves

with hope’s fine threads for

only you the young

can withstand the rigors

of a duty such as this

Rioting on the Equinox

banners & placards shout Freedom

                        freedom to curse

the light for  

                        its casual revelations

                        freedom to roam

like sheep that

have gone astray

                        to piss

upon the dreams

of slaughtered men


                        shrines of remembering

so across this bridge of days

lurks a hollowed-out light

picking over the shattered

glass of streets

a day when sun

apportions out

this impartial

where the cut & paste

the haste

of swallows is knitting up

all the available light

  John Bartlett is a former Catholic priest who worked for 10 years in the Southern Philippines. He is the author of three novels, short stories and nonfiction, as well as four collections of poetry. His poetry has been widely published in Australian and overseas journals as well as being included in recent Australian anthologies including Poetry for the Planet and the Ros Spencer Poetry Contest Anthology. He was winner of the 2020 Ada Cambridge Poetry Prize and Highly Commended in the 2021 Mundaring Poetry Competition. He reviews and podcasts at beyondtheestuary.com