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Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

The Dream Of Wearing Shorts Forever

 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.
Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow

 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.
Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

Travels With John Hunter

 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 preoccupation.
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 Hospital.
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.
I awoke 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.
Seaweed gel plugged views of my pluck and offal.
The only poet whose liver damage hadn't been self-inflicted, grinned my agent.
A momentarily 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.
Was I 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, pure Yang.
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.
Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

Poetry And Religion

 Religions are poems.
They concert 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.
Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

The New Hieroglyphics

 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.
g.
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 is confidential.
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.
e.
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 denotes food.
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.
Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

Performance

 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.
Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

Music To Me Is Like Days

 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.
Warrens 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 and Prozac.
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.
I nod it's like both Stilton and cure from one harpsichord-hum: penicillium - 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.
Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

Towards The Imminent Days (Section 4)

 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.
Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

Pigs

 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.
Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

The Meaning Of Existence

 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.
Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

On Home Beaches

 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
laughter.
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.
Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

Shower

 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.
Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

Bats Ultrasound

 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.
Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

A Retrospect Of Humidity

 All the air conditioners now slacken
their hummed carrier wave.
Once again 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 portend downpours.
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.
Skin touching 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.
Written by Les Murray | Create an image from this poem

Late Summer Fires

 The paddocks shave black
with a foam of smoke that stays,
welling out of red-black wounds.
In the white of a drought this happens.
The hardcourt game.
Logs that fume are mostly cattle, inverted, stubby.
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.