Les Murray |
To go home and wear shorts forever
in the enormous paddocks, in that warm climate,
adding a sweater when winter soaks the grass,
to camp out along the river bends
for good, wearing shorts, with a pocketknife,
a fishing line and matches,
or there where the hills are all down, below the plain,
to sit around in shorts at evening
on the plank verandah -
If the cardinal points of costume
are Robes, Tat, Rig and Scunge,
where are shorts in this compass?
They are never Robes
as other bareleg outfits have been:
the toga, the kilt, the lava-lava
the Mahatma's cotton dhoti;
archbishops and field marshals
at their ceremonies never wear shorts.
The very word
means underpants in North America.
Shorts can be Tat,
Land-Rovering bush-environmental tat,
socio-political ripped-and-metal-stapled tat,
solidarity-with-the-Third World tat tvam asi,
likewise track-and-field shorts worn to parties
and the further humid, modelling negligee
of the Kingdom of Flaunt,
that unchallenged aristocracy.
More plainly climatic, shorts
are farmers' rig, leathery with salt and bonemeal;
are sailors' and branch bankers' rig,
the crisp golfing style
of our youngest male National Costume.
Most loosely, they are Scunge,
ancient Bengal bloomers or moth-eaten hot pants
worn with a former shirt,
feet, beach sand, hair
and a paucity of signals.
Scunge, which is real negligee
housework in a swimsuit, pyjamas worn all day,
is holiday, is freedom from ambition.
Scunge makes you invisible
to the world and yourself.
The entropy of costume,
scunge can get you conquered by more vigorous cultures
and help you notice it less.
To be or to become
is a serious question posed by a work-shorts counter
with its pressed stack, bulk khaki and blue,
reading Yakka or King Gee, crisp with steely warehouse odour.
Satisfied ambition, defeat, true unconcern,
the wish and the knack of self-forgetfulness
all fall within the scunge ambit
wearing board shorts of similar;
it is a kind of weightlessness.
Unlike public nakedness, which in Westerners
is deeply circumstantial, relaxed as exam time,
artless and equal as the corsetry of a hussar regiment,
shorts and their plain like
are an angelic nudity,
spirituality with pockets!
A double updraft as you drop from branch to pool!
Ideal for getting served last
in shops of the temperate zone
they are also ideal for going home, into space,
into time, to farm the mind's Sabine acres
for product and subsistence.
Now that everyone who yearned to wear long pants
has essentially achieved them,
long pants, which have themselves been underwear
repeatedly, and underground more than once,
it is time perhaps to cherish the culture of shorts,
to moderate grim vigour
with the knobble of bare knees,
to cool bareknuckle feet in inland water,
slapping flies with a book on solar wind
or a patient bare hand, beneath the cadjiput trees,
to be walking meditatively
among green timber, through the grassy forest
towards a calm sea
and looking across to more of that great island
and the further tropics.
Les Murray |
The word goes round Repins,
the murmur goes round Lorenzinis,
at Tattersalls, men look up from sheets of numbers,
the Stock Exchange scribblers forget the chalk in their hands
and men with bread in their pockets leave the Greek Club:
There's a fellow crying in Martin Place.
They can't stop him.
The traffic in George Street is banked up for half a mile
and drained of motion.
The crowds are edgy with talk
and more crowds come hurrying.
Many run in the back streets
which minutes ago were busy main streets, pointing:
There's a fellow weeping down there.
No one can stop him.
The man we surround, the man no one approaches
simply weeps, and does not cover it, weeps
not like a child, not like the wind, like a man
and does not declaim it, nor beat his breast, nor even
sob very loudly - yet the dignity of his weeping
holds us back from his space, the hollow he makes about him
in the midday light, in his pentagram of sorrow,
and uniforms back in the crowd who tried to seize him
stare out at him, and feel, with amazement, their minds
longing for tears as children for a rainbow.
Some will say, in the years to come, a halo
or force stood around him.
There is no such thing.
Some will say they were shocked and would have stopped him
but they will not have been there.
The fiercest manhood,
the toughest reserve, the slickest wit amongst us
trembles with silence, and burns with unexpected
judgements of peace.
Some in the concourse scream
who thought themselves happy.
Only the smallest children
and such as look out of Paradise come near him
and sit at his feet, with dogs and dusty pigeons.
Ridiculous, says a man near me, and stops
his mouth with his hands, as if it uttered vomit -
and I see a woman, shining, stretch her hand
and shake as she receives the gift of weeping;
as many as follow her also receive it
and many weep for sheer acceptance, and more
refuse to weep for fear of all acceptance,
but the weeping man, like the earth, requires nothing,
the man who weeps ignores us, and cries out
of his writhen face and ordinary body
not words, but grief, not messages, but sorrow,
hard as the earth, sheer, present as the sea -
and when he stops, he simply walks between us
mopping his face with the dignity of one
man who has wept, and now has finished weeping.
Evading believers, he hurries off down Pitt Street.
Les Murray |
We who travel between worlds
lose our muscle and bone.
I was wheeling a barrow of earth
when agony bayoneted me.
I could not sit, or lie down,
or stand, in Casualty.
Stomach-calming clay caked my lips,
I turned yellow as the moon
and slid inside a CAT-scan wheel
in a hospital where I met no one
so much was my liver now my dire
I was sped down a road.
of treetops and fishing-rod lightpoles
towards the three persons of God
and the three persons of John Hunter
Who said We might lose this one.
Twenty days or to the heat-death
of the Universe have the same duration:
vaguely half a hour.
giggling over a joke
about Paul Kruger in Johannesburg
and missed the white court stockings
I half remembered from my prone
still voyage beyond flesh and bone.
I asked my friend who got new lungs
How long were you crazy, coming back?
Five days, he said.
Violent and mad.
Fictive Afrikaner police were at him,
not unworldly Oom Paul Kruger.
Valerie, who had sat the twenty days
beside me, now gently told me tales
of my time-warp.
The operative canyon
stretched, stapled, with dry roseate walls
down my belly.
plugged views of my pluck and offal.
The only poet whose liver
damage hadn't been self-inflicted,
grinned my agent.
holed bowel had released flora
who live in us and will eat us
when we stop feeding them the earth.
I had, it did seem, rehearsed
the private office of the grave,
ceased excreting, made corpse gases
all while liana'd in tubes
and overseen by cockpit instruments
that beeped or struck up Beethoven's
Fifth at behests of fluid.
I also hear when I lay lipless
and far away I was anointed
first by a mild metaphoric church
then by the Church of no metaphors.
Now I said, signing a Dutch contract
in a hand I couldn't recognise,
let's go and eat Chinese soup
and drive to Lake Macquarie.
not renewed as we are in Heaven?
In fact I could hardly endure
Earth gravity, and stayed weak and cranky
till the soup came, squid and vegetables,
And was sane thereafter.
It seemed I'd also travelled
in a Spring-in-Winter love-barque of cards,
of flowers and phone calls and letters,
concern I'd never dreamed was there
when black kelp boiled in my head.
I'd awoken amid my State funeral,
nevermore to eat my liver
or feed it to the Black Dog, depression
which the three Johns Hunter seem
to have killed with their scalpels:
it hasn't found its way home,
where I now dodder and mend
in thanks for devotion, for the ambulance
this time, for the hospital fork lift,
for pethidine, and this face of deity:
not the foreknowledge of death
but the project of seeing conscious life
rescued from death defines and will
atone for the human.
Les Murray |
Religions are poems.
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture
into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing's said till it's dreamed out in words
and nothing's true that figures in words only.
A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier's one short marriage night
to die and live by.
But that is a small religion.
Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?
You can't pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn;
you can't poe one either.
It is the same mirror:
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,
fixed centrally, we call it a religion,
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned.
Caught as in a mirror
that he attracted, being in the world as poetry
is in the poem, a law against its closure.
There'll always be religion around while there is poetry
or a lack of it.
Both are given, and intermittent,
as the action of those birds - crested pigeon, rosella parrot -
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.
Les Murray |
In the World language, sometimes called
Airport Road, a thinks balloon with a gondola
under it is a symbol for speculation.
Thumbs down to ear and tongue:
World can be written and read, even painted
but not spoken.
People use their own words.
Latin letters are in it for names, for e.
OK and H2S O4, for musical notes,
but mostly it's diagrams: skirt-figure, trousered figure
have escaped their toilet doors.
I (that is, saya,
Ego, watashji wa) am two eyes without pupils;
those aren't seen when you look out through them.
You has both pupils, we has one, and one blank.
Good is thumbs up, thumb and finger zipping lips
Evil is three-cornered snake eyes.
The effort is always to make the symbols obvious:
the bolt of electricity, winged stethoscope of course
for flying doctor.
Prams under fire? Soviet film industry.
Pictographs also shouldn't be too culture-bound:
A heart circled and crossed out surely isn't.
For red, betel spit lost out to ace of diamonds.
Black is the ace of spades.
The kind of spades
reads Union boss, the two is feeble effort.
If is the shorthand Libra sing , the scales.
Spare literal pictures render most nouns and verbs
and computers can draw them faster than Pharaoh's scribes.
A bordello prospectus is as explicit as the action,
but everywhere there's sunflower talk, i.
metaphor, as we've seen.
A figure riding a skyhook
bearing food in one hand is the pictograph for grace,
two animals in a book read Nature, two books
Inside an animal, instinct.
Rice in bowl with chopsticks
Figure 1 lying prone equals other.
Most emotions are mini-faces, and the speech
balloon is ubiquitous.
A bull inside one is dialect
for placards inside one.
Sun and moon together
inside one is poetry.
Sun and moon over palette,
over shoes etc are all art forms — but above
a cracked heart and champagne glass? Riddle that
and you're starting to think in World, whose grammar
is Chinese-terse and fluid.
Who needs the square-
equals-diamond book, the dictionary,to know figures
led by strings to their genitals mean fashion?
just as a skirt beneath a circle meanas demure
or ao similar circle shouldering two arrows is macho.
All peoples are at times cat in water with this language
but it does promote international bird on shoulder.
This foretaste now lays its knife and fork parallel.
Les Murray |
I starred that night, I shone:
I was footwork and firework in one,
a rocket that wriggled up and shot
darkness with a parasol of brilliants
and a peewee descant on a flung bit;
I was blusters of glitter-bombs expanding
to mantle and aurora from a crown,
I was fouéttes, falls of blazing paint,
para-flares spot-welding cloudy heaven,
loose gold off fierce toeholds of white,
a finale red-tongued as a haka leap:
that too was a butt of all right!
As usual after any triumph, I was
of course, inconsolable.
Les Murray |
Once played to attentive faces
music has broken its frame
its bodice of always-weak laces
the entirely promiscuous art
pours out in public spaces
accompanying everything, the selections
of sex and war, the rejections.
To jeans-wearers in zipped sporrans
it transmits an ideal body
continuously as theirs age.
of plastic tiles and mesh throats
dispense this aural money
this sleek accountancy of notes
deep feeling adrift from its feelers
thought that means everything at once
like a shrugging of cream shoulders
like paintings hung on park mesh
sonore doom soneer illy chesh
they lost the off switch in my lifetime
the world reverberates with Muzak
As it doesn't with poe-zac
(I did meet a Miss Universe named Verstak).
Music to me is like days
I rarely catch who composed them
if one's sublime I think God
my life-signs suspend.
it's like both Stilton and cure
from one harpsichord-hum:
then I miss the Köchel number.
I scarcely know whose performance
of a limpid autumn noon is superior
I gather timbre outranks rhumba.
I often can't tell days apart
they are the consumers, not me
in my head collectables decay
I've half-heard every piece of music
the glorious big one with voice
the gleaming instrumental one, so choice
the hypnotic one like weed-smoke at a party
and the muscular one out of farty
cars that goes Whudda Whudda
Whudda like the compound oil heart
of a warrior not of this planet.
Les Murray |
In my aunt's house, the milk jug's beaded crochet cover
tickles the ear.
We've eaten boiled things with butter.
Pie spiced like islands, dissolving in cream, is now
dissolving in us.
We've reached the teapot of calm.
The table we sit at is fashioned of three immense
beech boards out of England.
The minute widths of the year
have been refined in the wood by daughters' daughters.
In the year of Nelson, I notice, the winter was mild.
But our talk is cattle and cricket.
My quiet uncle
has spent the whole forenoon sailing a stump-ridden field
of blady-grass and Pleistocene clay never ploughed
since the world's beginning.
The Georgic furrow lengthens
in ever more intimate country.
But we're talking bails,
stray cattle, brands.
In the village of Merchandise Creek
there's a post in a ruined blacksmith shop that bears
a charred-in black-letter script of iron characters,
hooks, bars, conjoined letters, a weird bush syllabary.
It is the language of property seared into skin
but descends beyond speech into the muscles of cattle,
the world of feed as it shimmers in cattle minds.
My uncle, nodding, identifies the owners
(I gather M-bar was mourned by thousands of head).
It has its roots in meadows deeper than Gaelic,
my uncle's knowledge.
Farmers longest in heaven
share slyly with him in my aunt's grave mischievous smile
that shines out of every object in my sight
in these loved timber rooms at the threshold of grass.
The depth in this marriage will heal the twentieth century.
Les Murray |
Us all on sore cement was we.
Not warmed then with glares.
Not glutting mush
under that pole the lightning's tied to.
No farrow-shit in milk to make us randy.
Us back in cool god-shit.
We ate crisp.
We nosed up good rank in the tunnelled bush.
Us all fuckers then.
And Big, huh? Tusked
the balls-biting dog and gutsed him wet.
Us shoved down the soft cement of rivers.
Us snored the earth hollow, filled farrow, grunted.
Never stopped growing.
We sloughed, we soughed
and balked no weird till the high ridgebacks was us
with weight-buried hooves.
Or bristly, with milk.
Us never knowed like slitting nor hose-biff then.
Nor the terrible sheet-cutting screams up ahead.
The burnt water kicking.
This gone-already feeling
here in no place with our heads on upside down.
Les Murray |
Everything except language
knows the meaning of existence.
Trees, planets, rivers, time
know nothing else.
They express it
moment by moment as the universe.
Even this fool of a body
lives it in part, and would
have full dignity within it
but for the ignorant freedom
of my talking mind.
Les Murray |
Back, in my fifties, fatter that I was then,
I step on the sand, belch down slight horror to walk
a wincing pit edge, waiting for the pistol shot
Long greening waves cash themselves, foam change
sliding into Ocean's pocket.
She turns: ridicule looks down,
strappy, with faces averted, or is glare and families.
The great hawk of the beach is outstretched, point to point,
quivering and hunting.
Cars are the stuff at its back.
You peer, at this age, but it's still there, ridicule,
the pistol that kills women, that gets them killed, crippling men
on the towel-spattered sand.
Equality is dressed, neatly,
with mouth still shut.
Bared body is not equal ever.
Some are smiled to each other.
Many surf, swim, play ball:
like that red boy, holding his wet T shirt off his breasts.
Les Murray |
From the metal poppy
this good blast of trance
arriving as shock, private cloudburst blazing down,
worst in a boarding-house greased tub, or a barrack with competitions,
best in a stall, this enveloping passion of Australians:
tropics that sweat for you, torrent that braces with its heat,
inflames you with its chill, action sauna, inverse bidet,
sleek vertical coruscating ghost of your inner river,
reminding all your fluids, streaming off your points, awakening
the tacky soap to blossom and ripe autumn, releasing the squeezed gardens,
smoky valet smoothing your impalpable overnight pyjamas off,
pillar you can step through, force-field absolving love's efforts,
nicest yard of the jogging track, speeding aeroplane minutely
steered with two controls, or trimmed with a knurled wheel.
Some people like to still this energy and lie in it,
stirring circles with their pleasure in it, but my delight's that toga
worn on either or both shoulders, fluted drapery, silk whispering to the tiles,
with its spiralling, frothy hem continuous round the gurgle-hole'
this ecstatic partner, dreamy to dance in slow embrace with
after factory-floor rock, or even to meet as Lot's abstracted
merciful wife on a rusty ship in dog latitudes,
sweetest dressing of the day in the dusty bush, this persistent,
time-capsule of unwinding, this nimble straight well-wisher.
Only in England is its name an unkind word;
only in Europe is it enjoyed by telephone.
Les Murray |
Sleeping-bagged in a duplex wing
with fleas, in rock-cleft or building
radar bats are darkness in miniature,
their whole face one tufty crinkled ear
with weak eyes, fine teeth bared to sing.
Few are vampires.
None flit through the mirror.
Where they flutter at evening's a queer
tonal hunting zone above highest C.
Insect prey at the peak of our hearing
drone re to their detailing tee:
ah, eyrie-ire; aero hour, eh?
O'er our ur-area (our era aye
ere your raw row) we air our array
err, yaw, row wry - aura our orrery,
our eerie ü our ray, our arrow.
A rare ear, our aery Yahweh.
Les Murray |
All the air conditioners now slacken
their hummed carrier wave.
we've served our three months with remissions
in the steam and dry iron of this seaboard.
In jellied glare, through the nettle-rash season
we've watched the sky's fermenting laundry
Some came, and steamed away,
and we were clutched back into the rancid
saline midnights of orifice weather,
to damp grittiness and wiping off the air.
Metaphors slump irritably together in
the muggy weeks.
Shark and jellyfish shallows
become suburbs where you breathe a fat towel;
babies burst like tomatoes with discomfort
in the cotton-wrapped pointing street markets;
the Lycra-bulging surf drips from non-swimmers
miles from shore, and somehow includes soil.
Skins, touching, soak each other.
any surface wets that and itself
in a kind of mutual digestion.
Throbbing heads grow lianas of nonsense.
It's our annual visit to the latitudes
of rice, kerosene and resignation,
an averted, temporary visit
unrelated, for most, to the attitudes
of festive northbound jets gaining height -
closer, for some few, to the memory
of ulcers scraped with a tin spoon
or sweated faces bowing before dry
where the flesh is worn inside out,
all the hunger-organs clutched in rank nylon,
by those for whom exhaustion is spirit:
an intrusive, heart-narrowing season
at this far southern foot of the monsoon.
As the kleenex flower, the hibiscus
drops its browning wads, we forget
annually, as one forgets a sickness.
The stifling days will never come again,
not now that we've seen the first sweater
tugged down on the beauties of division
and inside the rain's millions, a risen
loaf of cat on a cool night verandah.
Les Murray |
The paddocks shave black
with a foam of smoke that stays,
welling out of red-black wounds.
In the white of a drought
The hardcourt game.
Logs that fume are mostly cattle,
Tree stumps are kilns.
Walloped, wiped, hand-pumped,
even this day rolls over, slowly.
At dusk, a family drives sheep
out through the yellow
of the Aboriginal flag.