Friday, April 30, 2010

Off the Cuff 29: And suddenly working & Autumn etc

  APAD 29    prompt: "And suddenly __________"

And suddenly working

One hour after I first press
the button to switch on power
my computer stops wheezing
and freezing and shutting
me out.

I've booted up
four times! That's like
four kicks up the butt,
but no sign of bruises. I sit here
hissing and snarling, sighing
and tutting until ...

I feel like kissing! As fingers
peck freely, and mouse clicks
skittishly, I put my catty paw
over the small silver mouse
begin to play with it.

Autumn (season), Bacchus Marsh (town)
Victoria (State) Australia (Country)

First mist of the season:
blurred views as I drive fast
homeward, nine in the evening.

A scatter of osage oranges
in Fisken Street, always inedible,
always a work of art, their falling.

Winter lettuces planted out
green and maroon in perfect
rows on several hectares.

The elms, which couldn't care less,
yellowing and stripping unwanted
summer attire. The subject

of complaints from those who
prefer traffic congestion through town
to redesigned roadways.

Inland, we've started keeping
the heating on until mid-evening.
Aeroplane lights white stars.

This is a photograph of one town
west of Melbourne where climate
is said to be "Mediterranean"

There's no sea. Our seasons
are agricultural, rural. But listen,
winter gales approach with stealth.

NaPoWriMo  29

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Off the Cuff 28: End of the Line & The Letter-Thieves

APAD 28    prompt: an 'end of the line' poem

End of the Line

It's the end of the line
for us. From here, it's car
or bus. The train continues
to other towns. And comes
from distant termini; we board
to gathering of personal items
and frowns. The times our train
stops at our station, I watch
with avid eye the transformation
from busy passenger container
to shunted overnight retainer.
I love the grey and red vans
parking very fast; I don't admire
the heavy reds that trundle past.
The Sprinters and the V-Line
Fast Trains leave me somewhat
breathless; for them to terminate
here would be feckless. But often
from the platform my avid eye
creates our country town
as Queen of the Termini.

The Letter-Thieves

Who are the letter-thieves?
Those reckless hands whose
existence shows up in
what's missing? Who takes
those L's and E's and R's
from innocent words
headline signs, the proprietary
nomenclature on truck doors?
"Bilinger" proclaimed
on back side of sixteen-wheeler
made into a cockney elision:
Bi inger on driver's door.
I saw it as I drove on traffic-
weighted bridge, and wondered:
who collects? to what use
are random letters put?

At work, my boyish colleagues
animate: "I used to steal the
street signs, I was seventeen,
it was FUN!"  "I shoplifted
one bandaid, once. And didn't
get away with it."  Perhaps

the thieves are masters of
deconstruction, proving language
is easily broken, disempowered.
Or are those letters jumping off
the walls and truck doors to which
they've been attached? Presented
with the idea of choice? Or realising,
their liaisons with other letters
are mismatched?

NaPoWriMo  28

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Off the Cuff 27: Here's Hoping and The Game

APAD 27     prompt: 2 for Tuesday - a hopeful poem or a hopeless poem

Here's Hoping

When will come the day
human beings do what they say?
Yes, know how to play it:
that to create is to say it.

A universal commitment
to honouring our word?
How absurd! But this game
is all we've got - it's the box,
the dice, the lot!

Imagine placing your word
on the board, have it heard,
and the time that you'll keep it
we'd just get a peep at

the power of trust, freedom, respect
and the rewards all of us collect.

The Game

How was your Games Day?
I ask my Mum. Good! she says
brightening. She says only Pat came
to play the Scrabble. I say, Great.

I don't ask: Did you win?
I say: Must dash off to work
(what a jerk!)
I add: Must go because I'm
leaving early today, for choir.

Her face perplexed.
My communication sets a standard
for osmotic thought she should
just ignore.

Better we stick to words
that interlock, or
better still, run side by side,
adding up to a Good Score.

NaPoWriMo 27

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Off the Cuff 26: More than five times & Have You Had a Good Life?

APAD 26     prompt: "more than 5 times"

More than five times

I am running with a china egg
on a silver dessertspoon
and I come second to my best friend
Anne whose long legs make
being an egg-and-spoon race
winner easier. Anyway, my egg
didn't fall off the spoon. I couldn't
do it now: holding the spoon
in my teeth rooted in calcium-poor
jaws - no. Keeping my chin up
and neck back like an ibis
or pelican in flight - no. Feeling
the weight of that solid china: oh!
But over the years I have re-run
that race like a movie on a reel
focussed on my style, in still
frames, practising and practising
way more than five times, giving
myself the olympian's role, swift
as a swallow, streaking ahead
of my best friend Anne.

Have You Had a Good Life?

(a question asked by a listener on Life Matters, 
ABC National, on a Tuesday evening, 
chatting about writing a book on it)

Have I had a good life?
I look at photos of trees
a forest on fire, flood-lines
above their knees, a sense
of uneasiness, utter aloneness.
I read many bush stories
collected pen pals overseas.

I look at family photos, of
wedding anniversaries, birthdays,
friends, and relatives from
the British Isles, visitors
and ceremonies. Sitting
as far away from Him as I can.

I re-read letters from myself
the traveller to them at home.
I survived storms at sea
being suspected of terrorism
flights where bits fell off planes
or petrol caps were forgotten

I survived living in a haven
for guerrilla fighters, disdain
for my skin colour, bombings,
being suspected of terrorism
cholera plague and syphilis
and being heartbroken.

I chose single parenting
over boredom and struggle
wrote poetry for a living
took the kids to foreign
countries, tours of Australia,
and moved house often.

Worked to make a difference
have people believe they could
be the agent of change, enable
community development,
engagement, clear the way
for the future generations.

Not easy! Distances and
discoveries, art and the art
of survival, always finding
new ways of living adventurously.
Yes, I've had a good life.
Who will I have to be tomorrow?

NaPoWriMo  26

Monday, April 26, 2010

Off the Cuff 25: We Are Marching & The Galahs

APAD 25     prompt: a poem inspired by a song

Song: Siyahamba (We are Marching) - a gospel tune, songwriter unknown

We are marching in the streets today
We are marching in the streets
We are marching, parching
We are touching yay!
We are marching in the streets today.

We are living unsustainably
We are living
We are living, giving
We are thieving, oh
We are living unsustainably.

We are moving without power or love
We are moving without power
or love
We are moving, grooving
We are striving, yeh
We are moving without power or love.

We are marching, living
We are moving, but
We are stuck in problem-answer mass
We are marching, living
We are moving,   AND
we are suffocating in our trash.

The Galahs

The two of them
with heads cocked

about to launch
off the roof

no doubt to grub
out the roots

in several chosen
back yards.

Or considering
another round

of powerline
swinging, an

opportunity just to
have fun, cackle.

NaPoWriMo  25

Off the Cuff 24: Driving East & Earthenware

APAD 24    prompt: an evening poem

Driving East

Sun behind us only
briefly dazzles in mirrors.
We have counted
four hawks hovering
and wonder whether
they're fixed on
mouse or lizard.

Now the sun retires -
through pastel light the birds -
magpies, black birds, galahs in pairs
swiftly, silently aim for shelter
in blackened bushes, trees.

We continue crossing
their paths, our eyes
fixed on town lights,
white lines, other vehicles
the future, the darkness
beyond headlights.


The more disguised you are
the more functional you become.
I pick you up, weigh the value
your fragility, capacity to bear
loads, temporary or long-term.

At thirty years old, you, clay pot
hold firm, still shining, still unchipped.
In you I placed the small statue
a cross-legged tobacco seller
whose brittle limbs broke off.

Protection: like a mind which draws
a curtain around experience, the pieces.
I make good use of mugs, bowls, pots
for plants, all made in China or by
craftspeople around this country.

Clay pots with obvious origin
in hands, from women gathering
at roadsides, sitting on one hip
on the ground in a group, holding out
their wares, are another species.

Made to earn money for education
they bear the future for all women
all families whose hunger rises
like steam on an outdoor wood fire
where there is nothing to eat.

When it rains here in my country
is that steam, evaporated, watering
my verdant garden, its herbs
growing from clay, mulched to
prevent  being baked hard, glazed?

NaPoWriMo  24

Off the Cuff 23: Exhausted & Earth's Problem

APAD 23     prompt: exhaustion

Exhausted just thinking about it.
Can Poetry Save the Planet?

Sparking a lively debate:
How many words will that take?
How many activists? How many
books can you not make? 

Exhausted talking it through.
What, after all, can we do
that hasn't been tried? How
many, in trying, have died?

Save the Planet for what?
And from whom? Are we
saying there's just not enough
room? Or something is wrong?

On the rapids we're carried along.
The Kiwi brings light to the gloom.
We agree there's no answer, happily.
Exhausted just being with doom.

We exit to find
the next chat-room.

Earth's Problem

I love the way you spit and sputter
no doubt if I listened
I'd hear you mutter

about being third from the Sun
and the only one
who has to put up with our clutter.

You grumble and spew -
yes, nothing is new -
it's all recycled matter.

You break rock down to soil
bring lava to the boil
but never get thinner or fatter.

In hail, snow, plain rain
you go green again - but
you don't care if parts of you

for unless there is news
or at least some more clues
you're still on your own, wet or dry.

NaPoWriMo  23

Off the Cuff 22: Earthly Concerns & The Massive Comb-Over

APAD 22    prompt: an Earth poem

Earthly Concerns

There are only three things
poets write about, he says:
love. death. landscape.

By day we drive back
saying, so this is what
it looks like: sandy, dead.

Late at night, on the way,
we were comet riders, burning
a hole in the blackness.

You play with my hair
as I drive; you say it's all good
whatever I decide. 

We are earthed in over eighteen
years of travelling together,
looking for Orion's belt again

exploring the contours of love
mother and daughter, earthbound
guessing the messages of the heavens.

The Massive Comb-Over

Cooing and patting.
What's the matter?
(I'm irritated)
Look in the mirror
Mum. Your hair!
(I see what
she means!)
Ruffling, she lets
my hair look
a little less

NaPoWriMo 22

Return of the Wanderer

People love maps. People admit to passions for maps, for hanging onto old maps beyond the repairable stage. "My maps always tear at the creases," says one. "I've still got maps of every Australian State in a drawer," says another. I myself belong to this mob: when Dad died, I clung to his map collection as if, of all his papers, these National Geographic lands of the Middle East or the USA, and the fragile roadmaps of Victoria, or the books of road maps of Europe, would guide him back to the world he'd left. In Goolwa at the weekend, an elderly woman took advantage of the extra visitors to town and kept her Op Shop open. I found an elderly map of  Queensland there for 50 cents, and just could not leave it on the shelf. Besides, everything was half-price for clearance; the woman told me she'd been unemployed so set up the Op Shop to give her something to do. The goods arrive in huge bales and friends gather to help her unpack them. Instantly I think of long vehicles, long straight roads;  a map appears in my mind with Goolwa as its centre ...

When I read from my maps of the Murray River, I made the comment that in order to make one of the maps I had to join one of South Australia to one of Victoria because I couldn't find a map of the two states together. The join is obvious; it's not a true fit. The audience laughed. There was a recognition of the political situation. What - States sharing representation on bits of paper!!! They can't even agree on what to do about theMurray-Darling River system. How could they map it as one entity???

My Map of Murray poems are written from conversations with people, of course. In Goolwa, I started to think about mapping the Murray as a fish or pelican. Are there words for that? I may have to make them up.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Off the Cuff 21: According to the weather report & Maps of the Murray

APAD 21   prompt: "According to __________"

According to the weather report
we are driving into storms and showers.
It is Autumn and warmer than we expect.
No complaints: Mikaela and I
pack for our trip, steadily, quietly,
peaceably. We will stop for meals,
sing along to Joni Mitchell. We can
weather any storm, drive west
with a car full of bedding, poems
and antique t-shirts, turning
our experience into wordless prose.

Maps of the Murray

It's like a swag, this red bag
the rolled up conversations
from nineteen years ago.

She wasn't born then, was
a blob of rapidly multiplying
cells. She was born into

travelling, being brave
in the face of humankind's
worst fear: talking to people.

I take her with me as a
talisman. The poems are older
than (her) time, the river ageless.

I travelled upstream then
stopped where peaches and cream
were cause for celebration.

This festival is to celebrate
conversation about conversation.
Timeless, age-old, renewable.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Off the Cuff 20: Night Driving & Storm

APAD 20    prompt: looking back, or not

Night Driving
1. Looking Back

Side-mirrors blind
as faster drivers
approach to pass.
I swivel the mirror
then can't see
to pass another myself.
Automatic, this
rear vision/side/ and
a quick glance back
through the window
just to make sure.
It's like skating, or

this dance of heavy trucks
small sedans, taxis
vans, motorcycles,
hot hoon models
and thundering off-road
vehicles on the roads &
the Westgate Bridge.
All of us looking back
peering forward
looking back
either in defence
or attack.

2. Looking Forward

From the top of the bridge
a landscape of coloured lights
a screen of dots, some
steady, some mobile.

From here, the peak hour rush
surges, tail-lights taking
the bends; the effect
is of blood, sluggish

in places, thinning and
quickening the further
we flow along this western
artery, this jugular vein.

The beautiful swerve of us!
The vibrant dashing of cells!
The rich blood-red we are!
Going home for dinner.


Same bridge, a different journey.
An umbrella of black cloud.
A war being fought, shells
exploding, flashes of -we hope-
friendly fire, white light not quite
the protective spirit we desire.

This bridge is a long, high arch
workmen in and under it often
make it slow going. Tonight, no
nonsense: this rain means business.
Drops like arrows attack windscreens
splatter into blots, clatter against metal.

We drive half-blind in the war
of worlds turned against us, united
in our intention to get through this
to get past the enemy, to survive
the onslaught. It's only rain! Rejoice!
But the racket deafens us.

NaPoWriMo 20

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Off the Cuff 19: Found Out & The Pinchy Boy

Found Out

Two small boys dash
along the pavement.
Off to school!
"Late!" my daughter says.
"They're early!"
"I mean the ones not
scooting to school.
I mean the waggers
in the skateboard park."

"That's one thing I never did,"
she says after that slight pause.
"Skateboarding? Scooting?"
"No, wagging."
"Yes," I say, "You did become a
conscientious attender."
(Smug mother)
"Yeah," she says, "When I was
a conscientious attender, I
never wagged. I just
pretended to be sick."

I laugh.
She looks a little peaky.

NaPoWriMo 19

The Pinchy Boy

Nameless other than that.
No wonder he pinched.
Made the girls cry. Little
misogynist. Or practical
tear-jerker addicted as
an arsonist, and boys
don't cry, won't cry.

Pinched my sister, not
me, unaware of other
victims. Perhaps she
asked for it? Her dress
too short, shorts too
tight, attitude to nudity
flagrantly punishable?

I wonder what became
of him, who he became?
After Kindergarten and
all that playtime, how
did he fare? I wonder, too
whether my own son was
ever named The Bitey Boy.

Will I one day read a poem
or short story in a feminist
collection, charging my boy
with politically incorrect
hungers? Or see a movie about
both: Skin Lovers Beware!?

APAD 19   prompt: name of person as title

Monday, April 19, 2010

Off the Cuff 18: The Brain's Workings & To the Moon

The Brain's Workings

Every time I butter toast in the morning I think of S.
She has nothing to do with toast, not even a toastmaster
club, and I don't know if butter would or wouldn't
melt in her mouth. She would eat grain bread, not white.

She is lodged there in my daily bread, my softened
butter spread. My knife slaps jam like paint, and
still I wonder how she is, what she's doing. In my mind
a blank canvas. She's not an artist either, or writer.

It was only recently I discovered this auto-habit
of thought. I stop thinking of her the moment my knife
falls into the sink and  I bear my toast to the table
after cutting it carefully in halves, licking the knife.

The thoughts vanish and next morning re-occur.
We shared a house in a landlocked country years ago.
We met at University. We cleaned a beach together.
What am I meant to do with these crumbs of memory?

NaPoWriMo  18

APAD 18   prompt: "To __________"

To the Moon

You golden crescent bright in the season
of hoe, secateur, sickle, you cheesy
Cheshire Cat grin, you bright reminder
of universal laws. Driving home, I watch you
pull up the doona on your bed of cloud,
leap out again as we all do, having forgotten
perhaps to set your alarm, get a glass of water.
Then sink again among the fashionably
black and white soft bedclothes, sleep
swinging, sweet chariot, yellow pendant
on a long long long long chain of gravity.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Off the Cuff 17: Crossing the Westgate Bridge & A lifetime of being in & out of love for Melbourne Ch 5

APAD 17    prompt: a science poem

Crossing the Westgate Bridge

Meteorology: low cloud, no rain,
still air, a tattered wind sock.

Climatology: the ponds below are still
and green, despite heavy rain, storms,
hail, anything the frantic Earth
can throw at us.

Seismology: there may be earthquakes
or tremors associated with tectonic plates.
Our vibrations are the impact of heavy traffic.

Engineering: impossible to imagine
the breakdown in synapses that leads to
suicide off this height, or filicide
by a man driving his own children
West to East.

Geomorphology: this asphalt road
must have come from somewhere
extinct and volcanic.

Urban Geography: pretend statistics
mean anything. Ahead, three and a half
million people. Go on, imagine it.
Then move to Mumbai and imagine that.

Biochemistry: somehow all
the competition for lanes
disappears. We drive
at the speed flashing lights
insist upon.

Historical Geography: at least twenty-seven workers
with families and possible futures died constructing
this link. No plaque in neon. No memorial day.
Instead the signs flash: Lane Closures.
Workers inside bridge. Progress.

Human Geography.

A Lifetime of being in or out of love for Melbourne

Chapter 5   2003  Oakleigh

One brief attempt
to embrace urban
benefits: a decent
school for daughter
regular visits by son.

The week we leave
involves landlord's
displeasure: we had
not cut grass, the
front and back yards

were as wild
as we felt, as
natural as life
in the suburbs
tries to be.

NaPoWriMo  17

Off the Cuff 16: Anzac Day Approaching & A lifetime of being in & out of love for Melbourne Ch 4

APAD 16    prompt: a death poem

Anzac Day Approaching

Of course we are grateful
for the difference they made
if only they would wake up
and hear us playing the Last
Post, over and over and over.
Responding to the call only
made them dead, not different
and not made a difference to.

One headline dares to speak:
War raged on in digger's head.
We call them diggers. This one
had to dig himself out of an
early grave from drinking
to drown out the replays.
No question of questioning
the battalions of death.

Let us create a First Post:
a bugle call to recognise no
difference between each of us
and this plant which has won
the competition for light
a duck in hunting season
that locust invasion.  Let us
celebrate real transformation.

A Lifetime of being in and out of love for Melbourne

Chapter 4   1991-99

Brought my girl and boy to Elsternwick
loved the child care and travelling without
car. Shared three houses with great people
before the kids demanded independence.
Into a secure flat, roomy, in South Yarra
with gourmet pizzas, Melbourne High School
and parks. After that era, every place we lived
was less wonderful.

Brought my girl and boy to Melbourne
after the Fringe Festival work in Broome.
Worked everywhere in Victoria the first
four years, on a leash, always returning
with relief. Then to South Melbourne
daily, close to home, the other relief of
regular income, short trips home at night
a balcony garden.

My boy played saxophone and cricket
said he wanted to live in a High Rise
apartment in the CBD when he grew up.
I said to myself , "I want to work overseas."
My girl said, "I want to come too."
(As they do.) Anzac Day 2000 we landed
in Wellington, New Zealand. The boy
stayed put, boarding.

NaPoWriMo  16

Off the Cuff 15: Deadline & A lifetime of being in & out of love for Melbourne Ch 3

APAD 15     prompt: a deadline poem

"Deadline" is a deadly phrase
inviting fear instead of praise.
Why not a "liveline"
or "Date By When"?
And as I say that, I think again.

I pause for thought, as I often do
which is why my work is overdue.
I'll procrastinate
as habit dictates
until I'm in the overload stew.

Then plans and schedules give me peace
While occasions for play
are a true release.
And there is nothing else to do
but take my time
exactly when it's due!

A Lifetime of being in and out of love for Melbourne

Chapter 3:  1979 - 82

Directionless whether in South Yarra,
Box Hill North or North Fitzroy,
it's a time for star gazing, learning
the language of refugee landings: I am
an island of empathy, someone
who now can't see why others say
"They all look the same". I react to
foreign impulses, all too familiar, and
become a mother, move to Dromana.

NaPoWriMo 15

Off the Cuff 14: On Revisiting Waiheke Island & A lifetime in & out of love for Melbourne Ch 2

APAD 14   prompt: "___________ Island"

On Revisiting Waiheke Island

At Onetangi, the shade is black
the shade as deep as sleep, the tree
I'm under makes deep and cool
black shade, the table and seat
an old tree smooth-edged, worn,
chiselled by restless teen hands
or men debating another drink
another woman / a different trouble.

Before I am caught by sleep
I leave the shade, retreat
to the beach-front cafe, and sweat.
Waves shove at island's pale rim
gather for half-hearted dumps
sparkling and glittering yet
speak of repetition rather than
of being wet, refreshing.

Six young men play football
take a second for distraction
as four minimally wrapped
young women - beers grasped
by the necks - saunter toward
the water, neither restless
nor soothing, yet  something
to aim for, somewhere to go.

Where I am, energy arises from
inexplicable laughter, the clatter
of trays, car doors slamming,
a startle of crockery being stacked.
I sit for an hour to see what changes
to sink into leather, to drink
Weeping Sands red, to wonder
about the islands like cardboard

beyond where the ocean makes
a dark blue line, ruling off a page.
I imagine the Pacific shrugging
and squirming, setting off tsunami.
Arrival of the island's bus reawakens
interest, but Oneroa by four pm is
deserted, shut down. I am ferried -
exhausted -  back to Auckland.

A Lifetime of being in and out of love for Melbourne

Chapter 2: 1965 - 74

Parkville, Clayton: places
of learning, yearning.
On the footy field, He
appears beside her; hormones
flood body, brain; they tryst
on homebound train. He alights
at Alphington so she loves
that name. No ideas of global
travel yet, all journeys
on the same rail and tram tracks.

Preston, Rosanna, Upwey -
Clayton, North Caulfield - Prahran
East Malvern - each suburb a superb
setting, and song, plenty of dramatic
tension there: in summer, glaring
pavements make eyes water;
trees and birds make well-controlled
appearances; the house in Christine Street
is the first in a new estate, a long walk
to the railway; leafier older places

smell of rancid cooking oil,
generations of slaving by women
you do the best you can to furnish
and decorate secondhand.
Across a party lounge, eyes lock.
They live together, marry
(Oh, the wantonness, the nonchalance:
six in a VW beetle, three pavlovas
for the wedding on knees, cigarettes
held carefully and high, windows open).

It's Cheltenham and Burwood for aunts
Rye for the grandmother, Syndal, Caulfield,
Malvern, Clematis for friends.
Kingsbury and Burwood Heights provide
work and colleagues. Holidays interstate
and out to country towns please.
But they part after she climbs a high peak
senses the secrets of long-distance views.
Now the urge to join a diaspora, to act
and live globally, becomes a driving need.

NaPoWriMo 14

To resume

Have you ever tried to find a road map of the Murray River region (or set of regions)?
I've been out to create maps of the Murray with poems I wrote back in 1991, for the
APC festival next weekend. Apparently we think in terms of state borders here, as if
we belong to different countries (perhaps we do!?) Regional maps are available, it seems,
if the region lies entirely within one state. My search has highlighted for me the mindset
behind the mess we've made of our lifeline river systems. When we stop thinking
"what I want now" and start saying "what can I give?" the rivers may well revive. Until
then, it's a valiant struggle for them to maintain their integrity as rivers.

Luckily my brother is Andimaps, so we've constructed two.

But I still wanted to display a real live roadmap with poems. Having failed in my search
at both Info Victoria (maps galore!!!) and the RACV, I took the one I'd originally tried
out the concept on, tarted it up a bit, and found a printer who would scan it to CD. (It's
bigger than A1 but not quite A0). How amazing is modern technology. On Monday I'll
simply take two CD's to Officeworks and come away with a bunch of publications.

Now to catch up with Off the Cuff.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


The prompt for APAD 14 is "___________ Island".
I haven't written mine yet, and the NaPoWriMo
poem about Melbourne is still cooking. As I drive
to and from Melbourne for work, I'm getting all
kinds of ideas. Once at work, especially if I start late
like today (4pm) I'm on the go full-on. So, I'll
catch up with myself tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Off the Cuff 13: Socks & A lifetime in & out of love for Melbourne Ch 1

APAD 13     prompt: a love poem


This became a morning joke:
she would ask both of us
if she could borrow a pair.
She washes them afterwards,
rolls them as she ought.

On Monday, while she was
at college, I selected the six
pairs she likes best. I put them
on her bed. From now on
they belong to her feet.

Driving to work this morning along the new bypass, I realised I have had a long-term love/dislike relationship to Melbourne, the City. So I've begun a series called A Lifetime In and Out of Love for Melbourne.

Chapter 1: 1950 - 1954

Luckily, when I was small,
I was everything and
everything was me, until

that day, the date never known,
when I became an entity, and
home showed up as a half-house

on a busy road in Ormond
where the number was 132
and I told Daddy it should be

123 (that's the right order).
He had made a number plate
for my wooden train, just

the same, and I was angry
at the inaccuracy. I was three,
at least. God, judge and separate

already. From this house
I learned to take my sister by
public bus to kindergarten.

I loved the black doll
in the pusher, pretending
I was Mum. My sister

refused to continue
because of The Pinchy Boy
but I still went, alone on the bus

several blocks, happy.
Kindergarten was in a church.
It still stands in Grange Road.

Daddy was a tally clerk,
then he studied teaching.
He had a set of printer's

blocks because before me
there was another life
making newspapers. I

loved to organise the blocks
alphabetically. Melbourne
for me then was dappled

light, Dad's knee, excited
conversations, folk music
and the Unions (which were-

like Daddy's cooking
and Mummy's ironing -
right and necessary).


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Off the Cuff 12: Living in the CBD, Melbourne & Singing in the Baptist Church

APAD 12       prompt: pick a city

Living in the CBD, Melbourne

My colleague lives on the corner
of Little Collins Street and Spencer Street
right across from Southern Cross Station
where all the trains from country towns
terminate, and the racket of metropolitan
trains can shake the teeth from your gums.

Today his lunch included roast pumpkin
from my garden, out there where country
trains are born, and I asked him, "Are you
growing herbs on a balcony where you live?"
"Ah, no," he said. "They'd get covered
in soot. As a matter of fact, I'm asthmatic."

As I chewed my home-grown cucumber
and spicy pumpkin dip on bread sold in
paper bags to enhance its image as healthy,
I pondered the gifts of the city: great views
of public sculptures, parklands pasted over
industrial wastelands, the vertical challenge

of journeying in lifts day in, day out, the risk
of needing a doctor at midnight, the lights
that are never turned off, glass walls that
provide myriad images of self and other
self and others, others, others, and self.
Dying with blackened lungs, for research.

Singing in the Baptist Church

It's been associated with women and seduction
the danger of sirens ringing through centuries of ears.
It's been the best way of being breath-taking
for those of us who, ex-smokers, now
enjoy oxygen in our advanced years.

We ain't no rock
and we are marching
freedom is coming
o La Lay!
That's our repertoire
in the A-Choired Taste
of Gospel, whether or not
we come here to pray.

My daughter's not old
her voice is pure
if anyone's a siren here
it's her and Lauren, sure.
But without them rocks
and miles from a shipping
our energy rises as
our voices dispute
the sinful nature of
singing out loud.
And it's the harmony
of team-voice
that really makes us proud.


Off the Cuff 11: The Last Thing & The Nurse's Last Stand

APAD 11    prompt: "The Last ___________" (fill in the blank)

The Last Thing

The last thing I want to do
is kill you off
but you have
crossed the boundaries I set
two years ago
once too often.

How dare you stand there, unmoving
beautiful, so alive!
while I fume, wanting
to cut you down, dreading the moment.

I have googled you:
read the rave reviews
the rapturous praise.
Too bad, I know the other side -
that relentless will to dominate
destroy, strangle
all possibility of competition.

Have I loved you?
Oh yes. Do I know you?
Yes! And the last thing I want to do
is kill you, but
as I said: once too often you have
broken my rules.
This murder must
happen soon, or
I'll be forever powerless against
your heartlessness,
your cruel fingers
couch grass.

The Nurse's Last Stand

We sat in a yellow and blue room
with a view. She completed
black page after black page
for her only son, soon to turn
twenty-one. Two albums as her
legacy, knowing there was
nothing to be done.

She took the treatments, both
mainstream and alternative,
calmly. Over the black pages
bright with primary colours
and family adventures, she said:
When the pain ... I will take
myself away.

And she did. Lying in
in a tropical apartment with
white sheets and white walls
the blue sea and yellow sands
she let the pain take her
through morphine heaven
to freedom.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Off the Cuff 10: The Hill & a Horror poem

The Hill

Earth movers trim its rim
the conical shape erased.
How long will it take to
move all this soil
to another place?

From the Prison between
my freeway, that ex-hill,
you can't see land at all.
Invisible you - ant
underground, bee
in closed hive, nucleus
in thick-walled cell - you
will emerge and wonder
if the Prison shifted.

Earth movers trim the rim
the ancient volcano is erased.
You will feel strange, ask
yourself what has changed.

People will tell you:
your unease, slight
or deep, is a natural
part of being freed.


APAD 10    prompt: horror

awake, scrambling for breath,
taste the acid thrown back,
swallow, swallow, throat
burning, add a pillow
avoid drowning

Off the Cuff 9 continued: Self-portrait

APAD 9    prompt: self-portrait

I exist only in the way
you see me. I make out
I am who you see me as,
as I guess what you see.

I would like to have a certain
immutable set of qualities,
characteristics, powers, and
I do: those you grant me.

What a variety of answers
when I ask: how do you see me?
From enthusiastic to intense,
bossy to adaptable. Short!

is nearest to a fact, but also
comparative. Picture this:
on holiday my daughter
snaps me with head thrown

back, laughing wildly at
a now forgotten absurdity,
myself. A portrait would show
sunglasses atop a throat and jaw.

I also have no idea
who you really are.
yet when I stand
in front of you and look
closely, I see nothing
to invent either way.

The way it has been,
is and always will be
behind the barriers
we erect as mere humanity.

I am someone mostly
and highly amused by life.
Cruel at times in my lack
of sympathy. Others agree.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Off the Cuff 9: 1964

Today's first poem comes from a conversation with Alice White and Kevin Brophy, in which we were discussing a TV program about the last indigenous people to come out into the world of Anglo Australia, after their wonderful reading at The Wheeler Centre.


The year the last of us
(whom we call 'them')
walked down from heaven
left the desert, the land

was the same year
my Fourth Form (we now
call 'Year Ten') Maths teacher
announced a treat

and someone we'd now
call 'a nerd' set up
a large piece of equipment
which played music

based on binary language
and called it 'computer'
(subtitle: the future)
We couldn't get over

how you could take
music out of human
hands and mouths like that,
and what kind of culture

spent time on this
obviously useless idea.


Off the Cuff 8: From the Platform & A Tool

From the Platform

one sparrow
one pigeon
one willy wagtail
four sparrows
the pigeon stalks left
willy wagtail dances
for balance
on metal fence -
is it hot to the feet?
worn smooth?
sparrows form a search party
a squad on the bluemetal
between rails
going forward in formation
pecking and jumping
the pigeon exits
sparrows flutter
train vibrates
their food platter


APAD 8   prompt: a tool

Gone, now, you
after a light easy lunch
and an energetic session
shearing the garden.

Thank you for the heavy
labour, the lifting and shifting
and the attack on all
vagrant vines.

The way you pruned
the fuchsia bush, I must say,
surprised me. But you've always been
a one hundred percent or nothing boy.

Gone, now, the purple hearts
in their pink skirts. No doubt the nub
of wood you left will re-shoot.
Lighten up! I tell myself daily.

There's more cutting and clearing
to be done, son. When will you
return? And btw, where are the shears?
The patio weeds really do need pruning.

Off the Cuff 7: White butterflies & Until When?

First, NaPoWriMo poem:

White butterflies flit
with pollen-printed feet
around rosemary's tangled purple
calendula's upright ripe gold
the white fluff on stringy wild rocket.
Fences, house lots, so many acres or hectares
mean nothing to them. We are nothing.
Our gardens are simply the world
to see the world in, to dance
among the noted denizens
& alight briefly upon.

Until when?

The sands hide facts.
You can build a cathedral
from theories.
He lays down sticks just so
no-one will see sacred remnants.
The wind co-operates.
You can build a past
from tiny fragments.
There is only now
with the sand, the sticks
the bones, his hands.
There is only now
and the truth shifting, shaping
centuries of concealment
and discovery ...

APAD 7    prompt: Begin with "Until ___________" and fill in the blank.

Off the Cuff Day 6: The Cloud

I had such a brief look at Robert Lee Brewer's instructions, I thought at first he was asking us to write about any painting. Dismay! I'm not somewhere where there is art. However, when I sat down in the kitchen at work, I faced a painting I've always loved.

The cloud

It's a shame about the bright fluorescent light rectangles
reflected in its glass and the clear images of blue water containers
(for emergencies such as earthquake, bushfire) on a shelf above
the staff's food cupboards, reflections foregrounded by lack of focus.
No matter where I stand, there's the reflection of a door
a doorway, two fridges, chipped cream walls, myself.

Behind those distracting elements, a moment in time -
one eternal moment in Australian time - draws me to change
focus. I've been here before: trotting head-down with the kelpies
behind a mob of unshorn bums, and bleats, perhaps swishing
a stick (dropped by one of these shaggy tired gums)
through the calf-high yellow grass, awake enough to step

around horse manure and fresh sheep pebbles, rabbit holes
and other fallen slim branches. I've been here before, but
not as the rider of a plump palomino, leading a second
of the same, into the crowded trees where a ghostly drift
white dust soft as silken powder always stops my eye and thought.
Annie, dead from cancer these two years, donated this, her father's

masterpiece, to an unworthy wall in a workplace kitchen.
I think of that dust as her shadow, her legacy, a spirit arising
from the sharp hooves of sheep and pursuit by a man, perhaps
her father, driving the sheep, the kelpies and himself towards her
bringing the second horse (though her death was a total
expression of her nursing skills) to bring her back.


Off the Cuff Continued: Pocahontas by Annie Leibovitz

 Two poems in response to Annie Liebovitz's painting: Pocahontas
APAD 6   prompt: an ekphrastic poem


I had such a swift sneak
preview, running to keep up
with event's momentum -
I counted on transfer
of emails to home computer
only to arrive home & discover
internet function is disabled.

I call upon you to run like
the wind, let no ravenous wolf
stay your step - run swift
as your spirit wills, deliver
this message to the future -
the useful life of a pair of shoes
outlasts that of a computer.


Fire! Fire! Flee the guns!
Leaves like flames leap from trees
fail to fill the dark the dying  light.

that is two crucifixes on the water

Doe and woman, flee
from this poisoned future, run!
And tree: shed your beauty,
look like death.

the axe is coming

Friday, April 9, 2010


As of 6 April (today being the 9th) I have discovered that my laptop is not invincible; the hardware for internet connection appears to be dead. I will be updating this blog from Saturday.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Off the Cuff 5: So Glad To Be Alive & Driving the Geelong-Bacchus Marsh Rd

APAD 5    prompt: "Too Much Information"

So Glad To Be Alive

He recovered from the bowel cancer.
Raising his kids alone.
Of course she had breast cancer
as well as the Hep C. A very stressed
liver! No, no chemo. Radiotherapy.
It wasn't what killed her, y'know
She had two breasts off. A bit
different from you. She wasn't
even fifty.
Yeah, him, he died young too.
Lung cancer? Or was it the intestine?
Can't remember.
It's never the breast cancer, it's
the secondaries. Those lymph glands
'n' things. It c'n go right through ya.
Oh, him? He's having two more
skin cancers off next week.
He reckons he's gonna cark it any day.
Well, he is sixty-five.


Driving The Geelong-Bacchus Marsh Road

Three eagles high on a thermal
would regard cars & the black tar
as natural.
(We are discussing the downsides
of industrialisation)

How do the You Yangs, Brisbane Ranges
and intermediate sand dunes appear
to three eagles high on a thermal?

(We discuss a well-organised horse farm
its white-fenced paddocks, the long
cream stables building, a few small trees:
nothing out of place)

Rough and tumble, the land still
an inland sea, but of grass, dry-washed.
The colours of dry country - how many?
tan beige cream pale gold rich gold
brown lemon: a patchwork pelt.

(We discuss the possibility of touring
the open cut coal mine on seeing
the brown [here's a tourist attraction] sign)

(We work out - for the engineers - exactly
how to alter the junction with Woolpack Rd
to accommodate trucks)

Dead scrub like chooks' claws and dead ti-tree
among living brethren give way to a fine
hedge's filigreed top edge.

The three eagles and the thermal
from which they scan the ground
our progress, the changes from
black tar to grassland to farm
are well behind yet I am absorbed
in their intense watch.

The long eras of shaping this earth
the short time it takes to revegetate
the brief fifty minutes we take
to cross the state between ocean
and Great Dividing Range - all these
present and unaccountable.

(We discuss when the car needs
a service. And as we cross the railway
debate the advantages of creating
a fourth car park there)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Off the Cuff 4: A History Poem & Community

  APAD 4:   Prompt: a history poem

"Here is always now. How can it be anything else?" Robert Dessaix

Let's say each brown crumbling fern frond
I've snipped off this morning (then)
is a chapter in my history and the fern's.
Let me announce publication of a book
starring dead leaves dumped on a garden bed,
the past informing the future of serial growth.
Continuance must and does matter.
I must wear long sleeves and gloves
since the cancer. To separate these two facts
would seem dishonest. I sweat freely
as I lift and dump and snip, and press down
on more weed than I have bins for.
Let's say (then, now) that my arms
enfold - embrace what was (there) then
is Here Now and only here. Now.



She sees them as she drives to shops:
tall, narrow, the girls short-skirted

the boys who swing hips, look down
at neighbourhood caucasian friends.

The mothers are swathed in gorgeous colour,
backs lacking babies snug in shawl or cloth.

She hears the community church
has offered help. She doesn't belong

but thought of knocking on their door
offering a casserole, afternoon tea

She is surprised at her timidity -
the street was hers before they came.

But isn't that true for any tenanted
houses with unmowed lawns?

She remembers how a different colour
can be a justification for advantage.

Remembers, too, the food offered
in welcome, too tough for her teeth.

Let the church marshall support.
She happily relinquishes guilt.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Off the Cuff 3: Partly cloudy & Live Production

Sunday April 4th

APAD 3    prompt: 'Partly _______"

Partly cloudy

Partly cloudy, completely still.
I know I should be spraying.
Couch grass leaps with joyful will
while I am wilfully delaying

the effort it takes to dress for the sport
of putting the grass in its place.
I can't help admiring its vigour and verve
its shining irrefutable grace.

I could blame the weather
but it's perfectly calm
and the sun has a generous glow.
It's my distaste for killing
and agents of harm
that has me reap what I sow:

a backyard to rival a walk through the woods
where crumbs would get lost in the growth.
A garden that does what it wants without help
and the knowledge of self as a sloth.


Live Production

the sound of one finger
raising the volume

the realm of magic
announced by spotlight

you stay hidden
dressed in black

Off the Cuff 2: A Water Poem & Flattening the State

April 2nd

APAD 2     prompt: a water poem

With all the rain, city floods, hailstones
causing roofs to cave in, it seems right
that reservoirs are refilling, resemble
dams again.

So as my daughter and I drive past
one of Lake Eildon's arms, we ask:
what's going on? where's the water?
the grass is green -

what happened here? Holiday homes
are perky, perched high above old
water level lines, banks cut away,
the floor covered

in grass and young gums, among
black skeletons of the ancestors.
Cars towing boats turn off as if
nothing's missing.

Oddly refreshing, these questions
after ten years' drought. Yet I am
nowhere near the source, for
easy answers.

Flattening the State

Driving along Hume Highway and
just before Curly Sedge Creek
we crane to see possible cover-up
criticise the cutaway half of a hill

mindful that Bacchus Marsh develops
in gaps between three quarries -
one for coal now abandoned; one
for sands, current site of realigning

freeway; and one still eating out
the lap of Lerderderg Gorge
accessed by a road called Pretty
Valley Lane. There's no valley now

because there's no hill. There's no
respite from dust in this town. We
are choking on our usefulness.
We are making money from dust.

New suburbs eat up the land
where land once produced food
flattening our vision of what is
possible as we cut and fill for progress.

Off the Cuff 1: A Lonely Poem & The Garden Runs

It's Poetry Month in the USA and time to write a Poem-A-Day. It's also NaPoWriMo time - in other words: a poem a day. That's TWO at a time. The Poetic Asides challenge is to write to a prompt. The NaPoWriMo game is to write a poem about anything.

April 1st

APAD 1     prompt: a lonely poem

i meant to squash it,
she says, now it's
somewhere ... there ...
the curtains remain immobile.

carefully, I imagine,
one young huntsman
secures a hide
and hopes there's no

alone but not lonely
such words not occurring
in a spider's dictionary.

The Garden Runs

Left it for only a few weeks
and look where it's got to:
we're trying to train vines
and they're running amok

slapping Mum in the face
clinging to rose bushes
and any other damn handy
thing. As for the pumpkin

vines - more like supreme
masters of our paths, our
physical universe swathed
in gold-studded arms.

We will gather them up
thank each tendril for its
work, fill the Tidy Bin, thus
pay for summer's rain.

Next year we'll do vertical.