Bins at the curb, I pause
in a night of deep quiet
the thought that no-one else is here.
Sleepy suburban street rarely parties;
nights are seldom wild around here.
Yet silence catches with surprise:
no-one walking home from shops,
no night-time joggers,
no cars coming home.
No feet sharing this curb with mine.
And this weekly domestic act becomes
a moment of strange resistance,
a heartbeat-long yearning
to see other neighbours lugging their bins,
to duck down the street to No.16 and say,
"This package is yours. The postie
dropped it here by mistake."
But it's after 8 and I've no mask;
the edge of this block is the wall for my feet.
To love my neighbour tonight is to go
back inside and pray.
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.
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."
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.
Love, sensing Self flex muscles,
Circumvents the question, takes a detour
Along a Jericho road,
A thoroughfare often taken, seldom observed.
Love stretches the story out,
Beyond expectation, beyond our trust,
Defeats its stock of righteous men,
Then surprises with a foe.
Love befriends the enemy,
Gives face and heart to the hated one.
Love helps us up the donkey's back,
Carries us safe, far from home.
Love takes flexed muscles, unflexes them,
Unwinds Self's tautly wrought syntax.
Wrong question, Love says. True question is:
Whose neighbour am I?
At the shops and in the street,
We look at faces, look at feet,
Breathing quickly as we pass,
Lest the germs should get to us.
Seeking family on a screen,
Craving you and us and we.
What will each tomorrow bring?
(Can we handle one more thing?)
In this and each new instance,
Can we love, safe from a distance?
Hiding within my son's clothes,
it lay unseen until bedtime when
it scurried out from his sleeve, explaining
his tears through dinner and
the nick on his wrist spotted
only moments before.
It was not the night to visit Emergency.
Wind and rain buffeted the drive, as
unidentified spider in jar beside me,
I punctuated my frantic breaths with
comma prayers and apostrophe thoughts
of the worst that could happen
in a waiting room at night.
Arriving to warnings plastered on doors,
I tried not to gawk at the three who were kept
behind a sealed door, faces masked,
breathing an obvious chore.
And while we waited, my son
calm, no swelling, spider determined
to see out the night, I pondered
risking it and going home,
but stayed instead, and tried to love
my neighbour from a distance,
sharing smiles that said,
"We're in this together," while mind returned
again, again to the microbes that may,
may not circle the air, and tried not to fear
the pestilence stalking the night, or the day
that I may become one others fear.
Can anyone keep the law of God perfectly?
Since the fall, no mere human has been able to keep the law of God perfectly, but consistently breaks it in thought, word, and deed.
(New City Catechism)
All this being said –
the neighbour languishes
and Levites have left him.
The Samaritan shames
the priests, the sons of David.
Yet even his heart
turns the wrong way to worship.
The eyes of righteousness
scan all of earth’s children.
The straightest human heart
is too crooked to reach heaven.
Jericho’s road, ridden
with bumps and threats
takes the best among us
and casts us to its side.
But look: one comes
like a Son of Man.
He makes only level paths
and follows with ready feet…
What does God require in the ninth and tenth commandments?
Ninth, that we do not lie or deceive, but speak the truth in love. Tenth, that we are content, not envying anyone or resenting what God has given them or us.
(New City Catechism)
The one beside you in the field, who labours with hands just like yours, with soul and breath, desires like yours, the one who eats like you – the one who, born beneath the same sun and stars – he too requires the truth which holds you in its stead and says what is and how. The one who has a wife like you, husband, children, dreams like you, the one who sweats and sleeps like you and eats bread like you eat – the one who opens hopeful palms, expectant of his daily bread – must love and must be loved like you; his heart beats much like yours. These yearly, daily, hourly gifts of rain on just, unjust alike cut through your skin-deep, fence-post heart to veins that bleed like yours.