…rediscovering, room by room, what it was that I first learned there about how high, how wide the world is, how one space opens into another…
(David Malouf, 12 Edmondstone Street)
How many of my dreams go to this place?
Always the same Queenslander balconies
where I wander over those drooping eaves
in search of silent, sleeping days of grace.
What do I find there? Memory’s faint trace,
nestled somewhere in the comfort of leaves,
world always higher than my gaze believes.
I must look up always to see Your face,
so dreams look up: to canopy, to farm
atop a hill, a volcanic red dome…
When I return here with my wife, we find
the colours that I know, the trilling sound
of butcherbird above our heads, yet mind
always says, “Climb up. This is still not the ground.”
Some wandered in deserts; I strayed
Among Antarctic beeches and Bunya pine,
Silver ferns and blood red soil, where I made
Kingdoms and mountains from my trampoline.
Some languished at sea; I saw an ocean
Outside my window when the Easter rains
Flooded the side path, and gazed at the scene
In raptured delight. I frittered hours
On the back garden wall; others wailed.
My haven-home moved with me; others lost
Home with house and place. Love never failed
My nomad days; yet love carries a cost.
It demands I reach out as I am held,
And make new home where the world has repelled.
However it hits us – with sudden strike
Or slow attrition – it hits all the same.
Movements may be slower, tentative, like
A creature not accustomed to the day;
Or, paralysed, you might see the sun and
Not know that it calls you to anything
But sleep. If so, sleep deep. Tomorrow’s hand
Is stayed for now. Times without mask can bring
The faces that we long for, and our feet
When broken trample less. Now you may know
The truth that says Liar! to the swift and fleet.
In all these days of infinite regress,
Blessed are the poor in spirit, it says.
Did you know that Melbourne has a Brooklyn?
Mostly factories, but behind the freeway
Nestled amidst houses there’s a church, in
Low-ecclesiastic cream brick. Today
On my way to work I saw it, vacant
Being Wednesday. But on Sunday there’s family.
And I smelt the Spotswood Vegemite plant
With its playful chimneys; a child might be
Filled with yeasty dreams to live there, growing
Up on that street where happiness ferments.
My first home was a tambourine, singing
Its jingling sounds in south Queensland silence.
So I’ll write here for these other unknown homes,
For everywhere that’s never had a poem.
If it would still be meaningful to say, There are an infinite number of universes – if their profound otherness did not embarrass even the language of Being itself…if something we could discern and recognise as intelligent life were to occur in certain of these other realities, might we not learn that our notions of intelligence were, so to speak, parochial?
(Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind)
You might think it would humble us to know
at the end of all our knowing that, for all
this knowing, we are immeasurably small.
You might think the sheer expanse, the sheer scope
of all that we name Universe might blow
our very sense of union. That we call
"known" what keeps evading scientific thrall
(after all our knowing) only goes to show
that, while we think we can admire stars,
they do not give a damn. We are in truth
the dots beneath their microscope.
What are we
that we are mindful of ourselves? By far
better than knowing is to be known,
beneath an ancient love we cannot see.
Within this mist we could be anywhere:
A grassy knoll sits where the freeway
Meets the the Bridge; the air is frozen today
And the smell of Vegemite hangs in the air.
Chimneys puff in protest or in vapour prayer;
The sky in its veil has nothing to say,
But my father’s taught me in his silent way
To see the spots where grace snaps through the snare –
And there are many. If my mind is still,
I can count in fingerprints of Light
These scattered signs that put the fear to flight.
Schedules muffle anguish. Let them stand until
The day declares: “Not you, not even you,
Can conquer us – we belong to the true.”
Today would have been the 95th birthday of my maternal grandfather who passed away nearly nine years ago: a man who influenced me and my writing more than one poem can express. Still, I couldn’t let the day pass without acknowledging it in some way, especially while I’m in the midst of writing about my family and childhood. So, for what it’s worth, here is something little to say that I love him still.
Love sets me writing like a Grandfather clock:
Love of him as much as anything else.
While his van is parked in our drive, I sit
With a cup of Twinings tea as he tells
Of Abel Magwitch, and Crusoe, and which
Works of Dickens’ he has never read.
I stuff words and stories wherever they fit,
Dreaming of graveyards and convicts. In bed
I compose my own Kidnapped, see pages
Like plates of delicacies, shelf-tables spread
As feast before me. I taste the ages
And grab pen to write: first of Samurais,
Then peace – whatever the mind engages –
In words like airboats breaking through the skies.