And who is my neighbour? Part 3

Being a neighbour is fraught at any time, but in a time when suburbs, states and families are being isolated from one another, it is even harder. As an Australian, being part of an island nation has much impact on how we view our own place in the world, and in this time of reminding myself continually that “no man is an island”, I have turned to this theme for the third and final installment in my video poem series, “And who is my neighbour?”

It’s been a delight to collaborate with Asher Graieg-Morrison who has supplied music for each of these films. Check out his rich and textured work here.

In Our Father’s House

I wrote this poem yesterday for the third installment in a series of videos about being a neighbour. As I wrote, I was contemplating the prospect of my Melbourne suburb being the next to go into lockdown. Little did I know that today the whole city would be put back into lockdown. So I’m posting the poem today, as my city prepares for six more weeks inside. I look forward to sharing the film with you when it’s finished. Stay safe.

Curtains are borders between me and the street.
Next door is an unseen checkpoint away;
Other postcodes have police blockades
And I count the days until my home is the same.

By the bay we watch
Numbers, statistics, localities named.
Quiet suburb whispers its fears.
No scapegoat to name, only

The innate mistrust of the island state
That says, "I choose who comes here."
How did this come here?
What conspiracy brings us cheek to cheek

With the airborne griefs that plague all humankind, 
save us? This happens
Only on TVs, never in 3d
Where it reaches out with power to grab.

And does it console to know that, 
Somewhere, over oceans, others suffer 
Far worse than us? Hardly.
I must view you up close to take comfort in your distance.

When I open curtains, my neighbour crosses street,
Crosses seas, to land at my doorstep, breathing,
"It's coming; you're next. The only place left
Is our father's house, and we must share."

Conversation with my son

At the sink he perches
atop his two-stepped seat to watch
a morning routine that's utter
prose for me, discovery for him:
how I wet
the shaving brush, lather soap,
then smooth the jawline
of my beard, and how
I brush my teeth without
protest, without needing
to eat the toothpaste with each brush.
And then how I open
the mirrored cabinet and take
my pill-cutter, split
Escitalopram in two, and scoop
water into my mouth to swallow.
"What will you swallow, Dad?"
How to answer?
"Medicine," I say, "to help
the chemicals in my brain."
"Maybe," he says, "when I am bigger,
I will take some medicine too."
Oh my love. "I hope not,"
is all I can say,
"because then you won't have
the sickness I have."
And as talk turns to other
two-year-old things,
my father heart churns
with the weight of this,
while pandemic and cabin fever
test the power of the pills, the rage
of being Dad drives the nerves
that splash water on my morning face.

Les Feuilles Mortes update

It’s been a big month here. The month started with the digital launch of Les Feuilles Mortes and since then I’ve been busy making videos based around the poems, including an exciting collaboration with musicians Young Weather and Asher Graieg-Morrison. You can see the two video collaborations here. And the latest is that the book is now available in paperback, which means a more affordable edition that sends a larger percentage of the price to TEAR Australia. If you’ve been meaning to buy a copy but haven’t had the chance, you now have three formats to choose from: digital, hardback and paperback. Check it out in the Lulu store, and if you like what you read, please consider writing a review at Lulu to help other people hear about it.

Werribee Dragonfruit

Strange to be flourishing so far afield;
its home is equatorial, tropical,
not here, among suburban paddocks,
with a straight line down to Antarctica.
Yet, while silver birch weeps
and quince decks boggy ground with its midwinter yellow,
this Malaysian friend greets me with
loud, audacious pink,
asserting its brilliant right to exist,
here, far from home:
fruitless, pointless,
its only purpose to be,
to glory,
and beautifully so.

Mary Martha

Can I sit
attentive to the voice of many waters
and yet
move, serve, respond?

Can I act,
responsive to a world of burning rubble
and yet
listen, stop and breathe?

Full of many things,
I forget
to choose the better part.
Caught in mindless bustle,
I catch
eternity in the friction that grinds
to a hault.
O bless the failure
that drives me kneeward.
Bless the gravel that stirs up
my knees to stretch and rise.

Free ebook and short film: “And who is my neighbour?”

If you have not yet read or bought your copy of Les Feuilles Mortes, you can get a taster of the collection in this free ebook, featuring some poems from Les Feuilles Mortes as well as some old poems and some brand new ones.

You can also check out the short film I made to accompany the book, a collage of poem readings from the booklaunch set to music from Asher Graieg-Morrison and Dustin Ragland’s Young Weather. Thanks to Ashlea Ephraums, Oliver Coleman and Kris Guilford for the poem readings. You can find each of these poems and a handful of others in the ebook.

And if you like what you find here, you can get a digital copy of Les Feuilles Mortes here for just $10, and a physical (hardback) copy here for $40. Paperback copies available soon, and all proceeds from any format going directly to TEAR Australia’s work with COVID-19.

Face-to-face: After Emmanuel Levinas

My brother's face is not my face;
His eyes see things mine do not see,
And when I try to take his place
I'm stuck in his alterity.

I do not know what he has known.
I do not think his thoughts with him.
His father is my father. Though
He is not me, he is my kin.

Each other face I daily see,
Each gaze that pierces into pride,
Each face is still a mystery,
A space I cannot climb inside.

And yet I must begin each day
Before my brother's other face,
And hear my unknown sister say,
"Thou shalt not kill" with silent gaze.

And I must stand before a One
Who is not seen, with unseen face,
And yet is like all-knowing Sun
And stands in hated Stranger's place.

Pruning

Against expectation, this
Spartan clipping makes spring flourish more,
this cutting back to bones,
to bare knobbly knuckles makes
growth more abundant when it comes.

And so we bear
the naked cruelty of these bare days,
knowing
against all experience,
trusting against
barren winter feeling,
enduring against
the buckling in our bones that wants to fall.