The coal trick



Selected poems



Abbot Point

This rough field of sudden war —

This and going down to the sea,

going down.

— L. Durrell, 'Near El Alamein'


One man, a suited clown

took into the House of Discourse,

a piece of coal, its darkness


not quite the diamond

it might become. It was his

talisman, part of his conjuring

trick, now you see it, now

you don't, and he tricked them,

made some of them guffaw,

slap their sides, tears streaming

down. Not unlike the wives

and the faithful in small cottages

near collieries as they prepared

their prone loved ones, who

somehow tricked the owners,

sucked in the precious mineral

dust, deep in the tunnels

of their lungs.


Not quite tears of laughter,

more of hopelessness, ignorance,

powerlessness, or tears of

resignation about bright dreams

clouded over by coal dust

and dark shadows.


Somewhere on the sub-continent,

the master, Maharajah of the clown

has visited, with his emissaries

and all due ceremonies, one of the

Nabobs, Gautam Adani, a miner

of the black diamonds, whose empire

has spread like a malignant organism

across princely states, salute states,

foreign lands across the waters.


Our Maharajah bears gifts, embossed

letters of recommendation, entreaties,

supplications, as he offers to smooth

the pathways of his own empire,

to weave and to lay long

strings of shining steel across fragile

lands, wastelands, so that black diamonds

may be trucked and railed to the

pristine ocean's edge for shipment.


He offers the future, a timeline that

will stretch past both their lives,

a cornucopia to please and appease

a Nabob whose only endearment is

his widening smile,

his open cut handshake

and eyes deeper than

any piece of dark carbon,

and harder.


We the untouchables who line

the roadway will build the railway

and tug our forelocks,

even our cocks if asked,

will disbelieve the stories

of a dying reef, and will surf

the bow waves of the big transport

ships that will steam across

what were pristine reefs,

their maritime line stretching across

the next decade and out of sight.



To kill

Three pesky parrots in the grass,

bright green caps, yellow scarf

of a stripe, hint of iridescence,

bobbing in the long green, just

returned from robbing the grove,

declared pests.


Surreptitiously I crept behind

bushes as a pair of them were

lined up like ducks at a fair,

found the angle. Two for the

price of one. The third went

into the high branches, curious,

still, frozen, but out of range,

more curious and down again

to its mates, still wondering at

their stillness?


One more successful shot.


Anzac Remembrance Day

today, uniforms, medals,

marches, flags and bunting,

conflict a century gone.


Arms presented across

the country to drum rolls.


Wars of black and white days,

There are still some being fought

today, so we are in the past,

in the present, the narrative

never ceases, just a change of

uniforms, livery, geo-political



I was never recruited, nor

conscripted, chance is a fine

thing, have never had to draw

a bead on a fellow human

being, but know I would have

the requisite skill for dispatch,

have no understanding of what

soldier I would be. Experience

suggests commando, survivor.


In Afghanistan, Syria and other

sandy areas in the Middle East,

they are like the parrots in the grass,

exposed targets for foreign supplied

ordinance and IUDs. Prime Ministers

and Foreign Ministers will exhort

and priests and chaplains will soak

up the excess fluids whilst

the remainder will play cricket, kick

balls in local World Cup soccer,

in the dusty sun or watch porn or

play war games on their laptops, in

the close confines of their tents.


They know full well that this time

could one day be their own when

they sometimes dream. All

these living soldiers want is to return

to still village wells, up well known

roads and to disappear as the long

shadows of an Autumn evening

stretch and engulf,

and like the guerillas they fought

they will slip into hiding

from the world they saved.



Tony LondonTony London has had poetry published in various literary journals and newspapers and broadcast on the ABC. He has worked for 12 years as a self-funded volunteer for Tibetans in India. His book on the Tibetan diaspora, High Hopes, was commissioned and published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, in Dharamsala, India, last year.

Topic tags: Tony London, poetry, coal



submit a comment

Existing comments

OF PRIME MINISTERS AND "FICTIONAL CLEAN COAL" MegaRich King Cole Is indeed a merry soul He has conned his way Into the weasle words Of a current Prime Minister Who walks His narrow path of survival Finely balanced By the many coal-blacked knives in his back Skilfully implanted by members Of his own Parliamentary Coalition Ahh jonno But there must be some diamonds In the coal? Well working on the way diamonds Come to be Thru intense heat and pressure Just give the current Prime Minister A feed of "Fictitious Clean Coal" And see what he produces!!! Cheers!!

John Cranmer | 21 November 2017  

So good

Peter Goers | 21 November 2017  

Similar Articles

Johnno vs the bloody banks

  • Brian Matthews
  • 28 November 2017

As a conversation opener, it wasn't that flash. I could have told Johnno that stories about the 'bloody banks' are so numerous and predictable that they're being used in sleep clinics. Still, one tries to do the right thing and so, steeling myself, I asked the crucial question. 'What's the story?'


Let love be law

  • Talitha Fraser
  • 27 November 2017

Did you see the news today? Law failed love. Let love be law.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up