Redfern When


As a child, I only knew this as the place
where my grandfather was born, the name full
of bright, fiery growth like I saw near home,
our forests full of ferns both red and green.
In history class I learnt this was the scene
of old but living wars, fought, neither won
nor lost. The push of present crime, the pull
of family heritage, rendered this space
neutral. I neither sought it nor fled. Now
in morning light it is still. History stays
where we like it, asleep. Waking, it stings.
Can we find, beneath these sleeping things,
the Redfern when the speech was made? Those days
are passed. The past echoes anyhow.

Damascus Road: Paris Interlude


Now it happens
in places with names we know:
near streets we have walked,
in stadiums and concert halls,
in coffee shops,
where violence never breathed before,
where we were safe.

Now we look for signs of links
to Syria, to al-Assad,
ISIL, and cells which fire.
Nothing has prepared us, yet
to others this has brewed for long.
The boundaries ever shifting say
that nothing was ever safe.

When French Charlie can’t say his name
without all heads turning at once,
the times are only waving a sign.
Once, when peasants were offered cake,
no-one ate to celebrate
Today, remember: Damascus’ streets bustled before,
and in the days of Noah men ate and drank
and no-one saw the rain.

Rudd and Bonhoeffer: A Verse Comparison

A conversation with my girlfriend after the recent Australian election prompted her to suggest that I might write a poem about my disappointment with Kevin Rudd, a man who in the past has professed a Christian approach to politics that I have identified with. It isn’t exactly nuanced political commentary, but it was therapeutic to write!

Rudd and Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer died for his beliefs;
KRudd’s beliefs slowly died –
In good conscience, he said,
Though I don’t think he’s read
The books he should use as his guide.

For Bonhoeffer knew discipleship’s cost,
But Kevin 07 seems lost,
Taking selfies of shaving cuts
(We wish his mouth was shut) –
Not quite the cost of the Cross.

So all of this, then, is to say,
The Christian left has lost its way
If Rudd was our mascot.
I don’t think that we have got
Much of a cause to our name.

Of the People (After Marianne Moore’s “In Distrust of Merits”)

Well, having written a silly poem about the democratic process this morning I am now writing a serious one, in response to one of Marianne Moore’s most magnificent poems, “In Distrust of Merits“. A critique of war-mongering, it is easily one of the finest poems of the 20th century. I’m a little wary of putting my effort forward alongside it! Still, the election made me think, and here is what I thought, in my best attempt at an imitation of Moore’s style of verse.
Of the People (After “In Distrust of Merits”)
Line on line we wait; waiting for what?
            privilege congealed in minds worn out
by grumbling and fighting in the ranks?
            compulsory rights
dragging the democratic chain? Now where
are the dreams we dreamt in Athens? And where
            is Plato when you need him?
                        Sausage sizzles in school-grounds
            do not take the place of thrones;
                        but perhaps they appease
the stomach, the tired mind, grumbling
            and fighting in internal ranks. Lines
swerve down McCracken Street; paper flies
            from hand to apa-
thetic hand. “To Cyrus, whose right hand I
take”: the promised plan no clearer
                        in minds that wait now, where the
            one who seems the lesser wolf
                        will win our votes today.
A painter from Linz too won over hearts
            disaffected with these corridors
and their schemes and machinations; can we
            know what beast we here
invite? But trust the process; what goes up
            must come down, and he who bites
                        the hand that votes him in
            may find himself a wayward
                        stray in queuing streets like us.
Yet are we so wise? Where were we when
            Leviathan danced and the oceans
parted at one clear command? The truth is
            we have no clarity.
When pillars fall, assumptions melt, and we
are left without all axioms. Perhaps
            it does not hurt to lose
                        what we have held more closely
            than the truth; still, what have we
                        to replace those dreams? What now?
The same error is “bred in my bone”
as is in yours. Line on line we wait
while, fighting in internal ranks, we dream
            of better yesterdays
and fairer futures. Throw your ballot in
            the box; no blood is shed to-
                        day and there will be a man
            who Mathematics says has won
                        in Parliament tomorrow.
Yet of David’s line is one who wields
            a sceptre with the wisdom of years
spent in communion with the heavens,
            flinging stars in space
and playing with Leviathan. He knows,
being man himself, what man most needs, and
            will raise up what must be raised.
                        Now He gives and takes away,
           “and He will make it plain”.