Poetry

‘Memo to J.C.’

BBQ, Australia Jesus by Reg Mombassa

When you were down here JC and walked this earth,
You were a pretty decent sort of bloke,
Although you never owned nothing, but the clothes on your back,
And you were always walking round, broke.
But you could talk to people, and you didn’t have to judge,
You didn’t mind helping the down and out
But these fellows preaching now in your Holy name,
Just what are they on about?
Didn’t you tell these fellows to do other things,
Besides all that preaching and praying?
Well, listen, JC, there’s things ought to be said,
And I might as well get on with the saying.
Didn’t you tell them ‘don’t judge your fellow man’
And ‘love ye one another’
And ‘not put your faith in worldly goods’.
Well, you should see the goods that they got, brother!
They got great big buildings and works of art,
And millions of dollars in real estate,
They got no time to care about human beings,
They forgot what you told ‘em, mate;
Things like, ‘Whatever ye do to the least of my brothers,
This ye do also unto me’.
Yeah, well these people who are using your good name,
They’re abusing it, JC,
But there’s people still living the way you lived,
And still copping the hypocrisy, racism and hate,
Getting crucified by the fat cats, too,
But they don’t call us religious, mate.
Tho’ we got the same basic values that you lived by,
Sharin’ and carin’ about each other,
And the bread and the wine that you passed around,
Well, we’re still doing that, brother.
Yeah, we share our food and drink and shelter,
Our grief, our happiness, our hopes and plans,
But they don’t call us ‘Followers of Jesus’,
They call us black fellas, man.
But if you’re still offering your hand in forgiveness
To the one who’s done wrong, and is sorry,
I reckon we’ll meet up later on,
And I got no cause to worry.
Just don’t seem right somehow that all the good you did,
That people preach, not practise, what you said,
I wonder, if it all died with you, that day on the cross,
And if it just never got raised from the dead.

– Maureen Watson, ‘Memo to J.C.’, in The Oxford Book of Australian Religious Verse, ed. Kevin Hart (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1994), 223–23.

[Image: Reg Mombassa, ‘BBQ’, from the Australian Jesus series]

Jennifer Strauss, ‘The Anabaptist Cages, Münster’

Jan van Leyden1535
Jan van Leyden, Prisoner:

It is enough that God is with me;
I need no priest.

The Sentence:

And let the bodies of those condemned–
Krettech, Knipperdolling, Jan ‘the King’ –
Being brought from the place of execution
Be severally hung in iron cages
Wrought to that purpose.
And let the aforesaid cages hang
High on the steeple of St Lambert’s,
That being the place of first offending.
And let the people thus remember
What follows of misery and excess
When foolish men puffed up by wicked pride
Despise the just and natural laws
Of God and princes.

The Polygamous Wife:

Brag in the wind, old bones!
Preach in your stinking cage till the trumpets sound
To set to partners in that resurrection dance
Where there’ll be neither marriage nor giving in marriage.
Dreaming, we thought you promised with God’s voice
Our spirit’s freedom, but woke to find
You’d bound us harder than ever before
In marriage and childbed. A prisoner to his cell,
Battering at hateful walls, you entered my flesh.
Sisters in God? Did a brotherly hand
Slash off my friend’s head in the market-place
For ‘disobedience’? Did you not hear us all
Pray in our hearts with our first martyr
‘See to it heavenly Father – if you’re Almighty –
That I’m no more forced to mount this marriage-bed.’?
You could say that He answered. I say rather
Let them toll the cages, not the bells,
Let the cages cry to the Sunday city
‘Where is God now? Your God? Our God?
Where is God? Is God? Where?

The Priest of St Lambert’s:

God in my hands: shall I offer Him then
To a congregation with eyes glazed
By terror and something more – a terrible greed
Unsated by mere symbols of torn flesh?
The Bishop says that God is Love,
The Bishop says God is in the wafer,
The Bishop says the Church is in God:
I would set down God and Church together
For my hands’ bones ache with weight
Even as the beams of the church groan
With the spire’s burden. Last night
In the chancel I found another crack.
Every night I beg my God
That the great stones fall
And set me free, that the earth
Open, and swallow me whole.
But is it the same unanswering God
He cried to, breaking upon the wheel?
If I spoke my doubts they’d call me
At best possessed and hunt a witch to burn
At worst, corrupt with heresy.
I have seen exorcism, I have been
Shown the instruments of interrogation;
I am too afraid. In dreams the altar rails
Close round to cage me in.
If the Church be the instrument of God
Let Him use it and make an end.

The Girl:

Every night my heart knocks in its cage of ribs.
If it got out, how they’d startle
These grave masters, hitching their pants,
Laying down coins and solemn reflections
On fallen man. Thoughts are like stones.
My lover’s hands were gentle, to me at least.
Let them think they have him, rags of flesh,
Snared in their iron cage. I know
I can charm him out. Every night
Between midnight and dawn he sings in my thighs.
They’ll not burn me; by day
I creep about in the roots of the city,
By night I have my protectors.
What are beliefs? We might have had children.
In love he’d call me his mouse, his rabbit –
They crunched his bones in the teeth of their traps,
They flayed him living with red-hot tongs.
I vowed the day they set his corpse
To dangle on their ‘House of Love’
I’d never think of God again.

1982

The Tourist:

They seem so insignificant there on the steeple,
Quiet as a birdcage after the bird has flown;
Centuries of rain have rinsed the stones of anguish,
If they are crumbling it’s not from the workings of blood;
Terrible things are done, now as yesterday.
Leaving through sunlit woods, I watch a hawk
Sweep, hover and strike. Unheard on the wind
The thin wail of whatever small furred thing
Had blundered into the open, natural prey.
Leaving Europe, I pack away a Manichean postcard:
The world as God’s cage for heretics.

– Jennifer Strauss, ‘The Anabaptist Cages, Münster’, in The Oxford Book of Australian Religious Verse, ed. Kevin Hart (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1994), 208–10.

‘Mother Julian’

Rogier van der Weyden - Julian of NorwichMalcolm Guite has shared his beautiful sonnet about Julian of Norwich – ‘Mother Julian’. It’s worth sharing again:

Show me O anchoress, your anchor-hold
Deep in the love of God, and hold me fast,
Show me again in whose hands we are held,
Speak to me from your window in the past,
Tell me again the tale of Love’s compassion
For all of us who fall onto the mire,
How he is wounded with us, how his passion
Quickens the love that haunted our desire.
Show me again the wonder of at-one-ment
Of Christ-in-us distinct and yet the same,
Who makes, and loves, and keeps us in each moment,
And looks on us with pity not with blame.
Keep telling me, for all my faith may waver,
Love is his meaning, only love, forever.

– Malcolm Guite, ‘Mother Julian’, in The Singing Bowl (London: Canterbury Press, 2013), 82.

Prayers of a Secular World: a review

Prayers_FC_HR1Prayers of a Secular World. Edited by Jordie Albiston and Kevin Brophy; introduction by David Tacey. Carlton South: Inkerman & Blunt, 2015. 160pp, ISBN: 978-0-9875401-9-5.

Inkerman and Blunt recently published a new anthology of work, a relatively little book by an impressive range of some 80 mostly Antipodean poets, some very well known, others hardly at all. The collection, Prayers for a Secular World, was edited by Melbourne poets Jordie Albiston and Kevin Brophy, and is introduced, fittingly so, with a brief essay by David Tacey on the religious nature of secularism. The latter helps to orient the reader to some of the terrain they are about to enter.

In their call for submissions, the editors said that they were ‘looking for poems of wonder and celebration, poems that mark the cycle of the day – dawn, midday, evening, night – the seasons, the progression of planets, the evolution of weather; poems of becoming – first steps, first words, transitions, epiphanies and inspirations; poems of belief and of doubt, pleas for protection, poems of remembrance and blessing, of forgiveness and redemption, poems of gratitude’. Short of the sternest editorial policing, such an invitation almost guarantees, more than most edited collections I think, the kind of hotchpotch smorgasbord of aptitude evident in the volume’s final form. Still.

The book’s title – which echoes Donna Ward’s claim, in Australian Love Poems, that ‘poems are prayers of the secular world’ – appears, at first glance, to promote the somewhat late-Victorian idea that poets are the new priests. But the pages therein are marked by a welcome avoidance of such presumption, their words occupied with patterns of time and of place, of dying and of encountering the world anew, and with the sounds of landscapes mostly suburban, where the majority of its readers, no doubt, dwell and pass through. In a review published in The Australian, Geoff Page noted of the title: ‘They are certainly not be [sic] “prayers” in the intercessory sense but they are contemplative and very likely to widen and diversify the metaphysical sensibilities of all but the most hardened of fundamentalists ­– who, no doubt, already have their own (more limited) rewards in view’. This is a point worth repeating, especially perhaps for those uncomfortable, in Tacey’s words, with the notion that ‘the transcendent doesn’t happen elsewhere, apart from the world, but is a dimension of the world’. Still, the publisher’s description of the book as ‘a meditation on living in a post-religious world’ strikes me as very odd – odd not only as a sketch of the book’s content, but also odd in terms of its assessment of things. Observers of the cultural landscape of our day might well enquire what world exactly is being spoken of here.

There is, for many, the perennial temptation to will oneself into a kind of authenticity. Such efforts are an expression of a romanticism that either refuses or forgets to weave into the solidest realities a knowledge of its loss. The result is, as the poet Christian Wiman has observed, a ‘soft nostalgia’. There are here, happily, a good number of notable exceptions to what might otherwise be merely another unwelcome example of such, of groping disorientated by a handful of tamed Emersonian ghosts trying to iron out the highs and lows of life apparently naïve to the view that our being of dust does not equate to an uncritical defence of some pathetic form of natural theology. In this volume, poems by Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Andrew Lansdown, Fiona Wright, Robyn Rowland, Debi Hamilton, Ron Pretty, Anne Elvey, Michelle Cahill, and David Brooks, for example, serve this end particularly well. So do, I think, these two contributions:

‘Da Barri Barri Bullet Train’, by The Diwurruwurru Poetry Club with Mista Phillip

we bin get up with mista an habim gooda one feed
we bin jumpin da mudika
an millad bin go lunga bush
mimi an kukudi bin come too
an dey bin singim kujika
dey bin learnim us mob
for sing im kujika
we likim learn for sing us mob kujika
wen us mob bin lyin down in da darkes
darkest night I bin look da barri barri
e bin movin really really like da bullet train
I bin hold ma mimi really tight
da fire us mob bin make next ta millad mob
poking tongue like a big one king brown
an millad mob listen noise one side na water
must e bin da buffalo drinkin water
den us bin listen da croc bin snap da buffalo
da gnabia out there too
an he bin make us mob so frightn
but ma mimi bin sing out
hey you mob stop all da noise
ma mimi bin start to sing
da song na us mob country
sing in da old language
dem old people did sing
an make millad mob so shiny an strong
an I bin lyin da listen na mimi
I bin feel really really safe
den I musta bin go sleep

And

‘Eucalyptus Regnans’, by Meredi Ortega

for Brandi

that was some fiery trajectory you took, moving to Kinglake
to be among giants and clouds
I recall you dying once before
…….. .. run down at the crossing, going home for lunch

but you’re on Yea oval, among the nightied and discalceate
and you’re okay
road posts gone
all delineators and signs, the way forward and way back
…….. ..only black stags, ash deafening

one charred fence post
and your old weatherboard like a kind of gloating, it falls to you
…….. ..to be the lucky one
better to believe in regnans than luck, they have what it takes
martyrdom, lofty sentiments
…….. ..all crown and nimbus and resurrection

up on the mountain, no one knows if lyrebirds
are mimicking silence
…….. ..volunteers go into the wasteland, leave songs out
musk and fern and siltstone tunes

it rains and then some
…….. ..and the green is giddying
stags wash white, their millioned saplings serry
…….. ..knit roots, squeeze out the other then each other
ashes move up the escarpment and up
to the yellow-raddled cockatoo, yellow-eyed currawong, to the sun
and you are in the very dawn of things

‘Journey of the Magi’

Perry - Three Trees at Sunset. Fontainebleau Forest

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

– T. S. Eliot, ‘Journey of the Magi’, in Collected Poems, 1909–1962 (London: Faber and Faber, 1963), 109–10.

[Image: Robert Perry, ‘Three Trees at Sunset, Fontainebleau Forest’]

 

‘Epiphany Poem’, by George Mackay Brown

The Road Stops Here

The red king
Came to a great water. He said,
Here the journey ends.
No keel or skipper on this shore.

The yellow king
Halted under a hill. He said,
Turn the camels round.
Beyond, ice summits only.

The black king
Knocked on a city gate. He said,
All roads stop here.
These are gravestones, no inn.

The three kings
Met under a dry star.
There, at midnight,
The star began its singing.

The three kings
Suffered salt, snow, skulls.
They suffered the silence
Before the first word.

— George Mackay Brown

[Image: David Williamson]

‘The Christmas Meditation of Concrete Grady’

McCahon - NOUGHTS AND CROSSES, SERIES 2, NO. 2, 1976An old song of the music hall
I will sing, or none at all,
Though women lift their noses high
When I haul out to cool my throat
A bottle from my overcoat
And say a word to make their feathers fly.

On the hills above Kaitangata
A cord of old man manuka,
I cut it in a day.
Then I got my cheque and bummed a ride to town
For a pan of eels and a woman and a shakedown
And sold my traps for a bucket of White Lady.

Mad McAra, John O’Hara,
Swagger Joe and my dry father
In the marble orchard lie.
Their ghosts at daybreak in my room
Beckoning with a wicked thumb
Ask me for a bottle of White Lady.

When I was kneehigh to a gander
I learnt to fart against the thunder;
Big Mother Joseph broke her cane on me.
When the white Host rides in air
I bend my head and say a prayer
For that old harridan hot in Purgatory.

A burning orphan in the night
I took a wander by starlight
To where the Child in a loosebox lay –
‘Concrete Grady is my name
And I’ll be damned,’ I said to Him;
‘Then I’ll be damned Myself,’ said He to me.

– James K. Baxter

‘Chorus’, by Seamus Heaney

The Cure at TroyA word (for today), from Seamus Heaney:

Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.

– Seamus Heaney, ‘Chorus’, in The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991), 77–78.

The Kracken

KrackenI love learning. And this week I learnt about the kraken because my daughter undertook to write a school project on ‘a mythical or legendary creature’. She did a great job, and along the way we talked about leviathan and Job, about das Nichtige and Augustine and Moby Dick, about the sea-less new creation being good news for Jews and (if taken literally) bad news for me, and about Jesus doing some really cool things around boats and with wind and waves. And we discovered together the great Alfred Tennyson’s poem ‘The Kracken’.

Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

And it’s only Thursday …

‘Aitch-Two-Double O’: A poem by Geoffrey Bingham

Peroxide

In July 1994, I invited my father to hear someone who I considered to be one of Australia’s greatest theologians and preachers, Geoffrey Bingham. My father is someone who is always seeking redemption via the ‘new’ (like every human being, my father is ‘a believer’; he attends faithfully to the altars of the Enlightenment), and in 1994 the panacea of the day was hydrogen peroxide – the blessed H2O2! My father, with all of the enthusiasm of a new convert, shared this alternative ‘good news’ with Geoffrey who then went away and wrote this delightful little poem for him:

‘Oxygenate or perish!’ was his cry,
And I who heard it didn’t care to die;
I listened to his song of therapy
And thought, ‘Maybe he sings this all for me.’

We huff, we puff, we make intake
Of breath – our lungs enlarge to make
Sufficient air or wind or breeze
To give full life to arteries.

‘Alas!’ he said, ‘that air is not enough
To depollute the toxic stuff
That lies along our various veins
Infecting flesh and heart and brains.

‘You need to oxify the lot
To purify each tittle, and each jot
And all the flowing bright red stream
Until it’s fresh and new and clean.’

‘Enough!’ I cried, ‘Dear expert tell
How I can save me from this hell
Of inner sludge and darkest stains
And thus renew my hopeless veins

‘And purify my flesh and mind
Until my blood perfection find,
And I can breathe the wholesome air
When blood is pure and life is fair?’

‘Aitch two double O,’ he said,
‘Will like as raise you from the dead,
Its name is easy – “per-ox-ide”
That cleanses all your blood inside.

‘You put it in your drinks or food,
Or take in tablets – they are good –
Whatever means you use you gain
Fresh flow in artery or vein,

‘So oxygen will purify
And you will live until you die
And folk will cry ‘Until he died
His life was wholly per-ox-ide.’

Ah, blessed gas! Ah glorious mix
Of elements that quickly fix
The sluggish flow and give a wealth
Of glorious life and glowing health,
That we who might so soon have died
Live on through packaged per-ox-ide!

My father, who has a good sense of humour, seemed to appreciate the poem at the time. I hope he still does.

‘Gathering’

And so they gathered, threatening
to hasten ‘the kingdom’ and
to ‘discern’ god knows what.
And so they watched lots of TV
and politely endured

a repetitious sales pitch no one was
buying the first time. One or two braved
another word above the background
noise of marking small circles on
small bits of coloured paper.

And the wine had long run out
and the TV channel was stuck, and
amid brief fireworks in the fog
a choir hinted that it all

might be otherwise, and the strange
god who might know what, and which
wandered lost-like into the gathering, now
wandered hastily out past the loos into the night.

Jason Goroncy, 30 May 2015

‘Amish Economy’

Charles Warren Mundy, 'Raking The Fields', 2011.

The best thing about a lecture is always what gets left behind after class. Good teachers hope that what gets left behind keeps being discovered (and corrected and discarded and developed and etc.) for many decades yet, but today it just happened to be this poem, ‘Amish Economy’, from Wendell Berry’s This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems that got left behind:

We live by mercy if we live.
To that we have no fit reply
But working well and giving thanks,
Loving God, loving one another,
To keep Creation’s neighborhood.

And my friend David Kline told me,
“It falls strangely on Amish ears,
This talk of how you find yourself.
We Amish, after all, don’t try
To find ourselves. We try to lose
Ourselves” – and thus are lost within
The found world of sunlight and rain
Where fields are green and then are ripe,
And the people eat together by
The charity of God, who is kind
Even to those who give no thanks.

In morning light, men in dark clothes
Go out among the beasts and fields.
Lest the community be lost,
Each day they must work out the bond
Between goods and their price: the garden
Weeded by sweat is flowerbright;
The wheat shocked in shorn fields, clover
Is growing where wheat grew; the crib
ls golden with the gathered corn,

While in the world of the found selves,
Lost to the sunlit, rainy world,
The motor-driven cannot stop.
This is the world where value is
Abstract, and preys on things, and things
Are changed to thoughts that have a price.

Cost + greed – fear = price:
Maury Telleen thus laid it out.
The need to balance greed and fear
Affords no stopping place, no rest,
And need increases as we fail.

But now, in summer dusk, a man
Whose hair and beard curl like spring ferns
Sits under the yard trees, at rest,
His smallest daughter on his lap.
This is because he rose at dawn,
Cared for his own, helped his neighbors,
Worked much, spent little, kept his peace.

[Image: Charles Warren Mundy, ‘Raking The Fields’, 2011. Source]

‘The Muddy Trench’

In the dream, Clarrie Dunn
sits naked with many thousands
in the muddy trench. He is saying
The true god gives his flesh and blood.
Idols demand yours off you.

– Les Murray, ‘The Muddy Trench’, in Collected Poems (Melbourne: Black Inc., 2006), 554.

‘Assembly’: a little poem

The good crew over at Grouch have published another one of my little poems. This one’s called ‘Assembly’, and you can check it out here.

‘Return’: a poem

Return - Jennifer RookeThe latest edition of Grouch includes a wee poem by yours truly. You can read it here.

Its appearance today is timely; it’s my last ‘working’ day in New Zealand before I ‘return’ to Australia next week.

‘For all that has been – Thanks! To all that shall be – Yes!’

John Milne: some new choral work

Siegfried SassoonJohn Milne, who is no stranger to this blog, has recently produced two new choral pieces, both anti-war in theme.

The first, ‘Soldier Boy’, is based on a Siegfried Sassoon text ‘Suicide in the Trenches’, written during WWI. Sassoon penned a number of better-known anti-war poems, but this one’s quite unusual in that it deals with suicide among the ranks (a huge problem in Iraq and Afghanistan even today with about 20 US veterans committing suicide every day, about 20% of the overall suicides in the US while only 1% of Americans have served in the military) – a manifestation of the mindlessness of war and of the vain belief in the soteriological powers of violence’s stunning machinery.

Edith SitwellThe second piece is ‘Still Falls the Rain’. The text here is provided by Edith Sitwell, and cites scripture, ‘Faust’, and all sorts of arcana. Sitwell endured a night of the Blitz in London in 1940, and it is believed that she wrote the poem as the sun rose, bringing with it life’s announcement of perseverance and graced permanence (the Germans bombed exclusively at night). While nowadays we seem to accept with little protest the faceless and mechanised bombing of civilian populations as commonplace, the Blitz marked the first time it was ever done in earnest, and it must have seemed unspeakably vile. John Milne described the closing lines of the poem  as ‘as powerful an affirmation of God’s enduring love in the face of near-infinite human evil as I’ve ever encountered’. Those interested in reading further about the poem can read the exegesis provided by Robin Bates, a professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

‘War’, by Thomas W. Shapcott

Sidney Nolan, 'Gallipoli'

Sidney Nolan, ‘Gallipoli’

Remembrance Day. In school assemblies, talk
of manhood achieved in the trenches of World War One.
At seventeen, the boy my father ran from home
and enlisted, falsifying his age. Gallipoli had begun.
Proudly he sat for his photo in the glib slogan
of his army uniform, before he sailed.
The other side of war re-shaped that soldier,
and the later pictures stare bleakly, exiled.

Yet fifty years have silted over the scars;
impossible for me to recognize my father
in either photograph. Time’s habit of movement, event,
long before my birth, wove in him a tidy shelter
of reunion, committee, club, appeal and agenda.
The stories that I grew up with of battles, and “Winter
in ’16” were scraps and relics, toys in an old shoebox.
In the R.S.L. he became a Life Member.

But wars do not finish: it is not over. I speak
of more than personal discoveries.
Gallipoli that was a selfish blunder in high places,
a battle fought for nothing or for polluted seas
of sodden corpses, is other than a ribbon: the errors
are not the meaning, finally. My father woke
struggling, one night, an old man in warm pyjamas,
into the pillbox concussion of old darkness, and it broke

into his age and stranded him. He stumbled past us,
his grown sons, a strange dead boy choking him silent
and spitting stale blood in the safe rooms of our home,
blind for a terrible reckoning, demanding atonement.
And we, in the comfortable bedrooms
taken for granted always, innocent,
were forced among the spaces of his acts and words
to where his gains burned through like punishment.

– Thomas W. Shapcott, ‘War’, in Inwards to the Sun: Poems (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1969), 59.

‘You lie here’

You lie here

‘Thoughts on being The Registrar’, by Catherine van Dorp

SAMSUNGA hundred jobs half-done;
And half-remembered thoughts hover just beyond recall
Of things to do.
Scribbled names on
Scraps of paper
Remind of calls
That interrupted previous attempts
To beat the chaos.
Lists bring some order
And lend respite
From sense of failure.
Resolution to complete
At least one task
Becomes today’s compulsion.
I click my mouse
Open my spreadsheet
Gather my thoughts
to task at hand
and start again.

The phone rings …

– by Catherine van Dorp, 15 October 2014.

Happy birthday to Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson and James Boswell enjoying Edinburgh

Samuel Johnson and James Boswell enjoying Edinburgh

… about whom I once wrote a little poem.

By the way, did you hear the apocryphal story about when Johnson was asked by a Scot what he thought of Scotland (that land ‘where there is nothing to be got’ and there exists ‘a diffusion of learning’)?

His reply: ‘That it is a very vile country, to be sure, Sir’.

To which the young Scot rejoined, ‘Well, Sir! God made it’.

‘Certainly he did’, quipped Johnson, ‘but we must always remember that he made it for Scotchmen, and comparisons are odious, Mr. S——; but God made hell’.

Ouch! Of course, the Londoner had himself made a pleasant enough journey to Scotland once, in 1773 with James Boswell, very much enjoying the women and the ‘little Highland steed[s]’, but concluding from their three-month holiday (their twin accounts were subsequently published as The Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides) that ‘the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!’

Scottifying the Palate from ‘Picturesque Beauties of Boswell, Part the First’, etched by Thomas Rowlandson, 1786 (etching) Samuel Collings—Read

‘Scottifying the Palate’, from Picturesque Beauties of Boswell, Part the First. Etching by Thomas Rowlandson, 1786.