January 30, 2012
Depression is not
It is not a dark Baskervillean hound.
For me a black dog is a plump,
peaceful stealer of sandwiches.
Hardly an entrée to self-murder.
It is not a boiling cloud, conjuring
a thunderous storm, energetic
Frankenstein forks spearing brain.
That has a bright explosive tang.
The thoughts lie aborted, disjointed.
Synapses refuse to pass on interest.
Joy, love and pleasure ring no bells;
Esmeralda vanished, cathedral burned.
Taste dulled into pap, gagged by lack
of living buds; music rhythmless noise.
And touch a kind of necrophilia with
the living body corpsed. Visitation
of a mute frigid deafness. No dog’s wet
questing nose implicated, no sharp bite.
But every day a dullard rock to roll uphill,
and Penelope weaving holes, every night.
This is from my first poetry collection, The Glass Violin. One of the worst things about having been depressed is that is deprives you of the simple, snarly joy of being in a really bad mood. You begin to think you’re sliding back into depression, which is, in itself, quite depressing. If, however you start checking that you have enough pills to knock yourself off if you do slide back into depression, then you probably are going that way. If pain persists, please see your doctor.
If, on the other hand (and don’t we all have more hands than Kali?) people being ‘nice’ to you because they know you have had depression makes you want to say really, really inappropriate things to them, then you’re probably just in a foul mood. Enjoy it! Even normal people have moods. And they end, usually within a couple of days. Before you know it you’ll be finding things (such as the Indian cricket team’s recent performances, for example) amusing again.
For more Tuesday poems, some sadly bereft of helpful medical tips, click on the quill above the poem.
I realise for the past month or so, I’ve only been posting on Tuesdays, for the Tuesday poem. Must break out of summer slackness, and enter into an orgy of posting, now that the cricket and tennis are over. If only I could find something worth saying…
January 23, 2012
I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
Knowledge sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
Just “on spec.,” addressed as follows, “Clancy, of ‘The Overflow.’ ”
And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected
(Which I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar)
‘Twas his shearing-mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
“Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving, and we don’t know where he are.”
In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving “down the Cooper” where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.
And the bush hath friends to meet him and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.
I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the fœtid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all.
And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the tramways and the ‘busses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.
And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.
And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal—
But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy of “The Overflow”.
Yes, I’m going into fervent Australian mode as Thursday 26th January is Australia Day, or as some like to call it, Dags with Flags Day. Anyone who dabbles in this blog will now that criticism of aspects of Oz society is rampant to a positively un-Australian degree, so this classic 1889 verse from Banjo Paterson may raise me back to the golden realm of unadulterated, frolicking patriotism. (My shallow cynicism is in fact a cover for an embarrassingly gushy love for this country, but let’s pretend I’m not feeling that at all, shall we? Love is so much harder to write about than anything else, and I wouldn’t want to fall short.)
Actually, I love this poem too, particularly the ‘thumb-nail dipped in tar’. The longing for the pure realm of the bush that this poem exemplifies is something that still marks Australian poetry. Ask anyone where the best-known Australian poet lives today, and they’ll point to Bunyah and Les Murray, not to Sydney and…anyone in Sydney.
The suspicion of the urban environment, even in one of the most urbanised of economies, also lives on, I think. Real men are out there somewhere, with the kelpies and the sheep, in the ‘virginal’ bush, roaming as free as the public domain status of this poem. (Just don’t mention the previous ownership…I don’t mean the poem.)
A word about flags. The Australian flag is definitely seen much more than it was when I was a child. Not on public buildings so much; I remember having to recite something like ‘I love God and my country/ I will honour the flag/ and cheerfully obey my parents, teachers and the law’ at primary school. Boys actually saluted the flag during this, while girls preened and made scones. But today we do see more private display of the Australian flag. Is this:
(a) because we ape America in everything, even flag-waving, although it’s a different flag?;
(b) people have more money, because of our flogging huge amounts of iron ore and uranium (and other good stuff) overseas?; or
(c) flags are cheaper now, and we receive millions of plastic ones back from the countries we sell huge amounts of iron ore and uranium (and other good stuff) to, in an equitable and sensible exchange?
I really don’t know, but I find these public displays of private flags very strange indeed. I worry about how their display might be related to charming bumper stickers such as ‘I Grew Here You Flew Here’, and ruder variations thereof. Not that you see many of them in Canberra: you’re more likely to read ‘Refugees Welcome’ in the ACT. But as I hear constantly, Canberra is not Australia.
Enough. Screed is bordering on The Burning Slough of Rant.
If the cloying smell of cattle or the sticky feeling of the wool emanating from this piece is disturbing you (or perhaps the premature reek of a million sausages on a million barbies is getting up your nose?) please head over to the Tuesday Poem Site, where the vowels may be a little rounder and the patriotism seems slightly more occluded, at least from a distance. (Until the next rugby thing, anyway.)
January 16, 2012
I sit with friends outside the café, cup in hand, and fix the world’s problems. I am the cappuccino kid, frothing with anger. I am the peppermint tea with honey, busybeeing everywhere.
I start to collect china as others gather books. My coffee cups speak volumes. I have a small expresso cup, decorated with Aboriginal designs. Is this how I visualise Aboriginal issues? A storm in a coffee cup, a far-off cyclone in Darwin? A Town Called Redfern, where blood has stained the concrete, as there isn’t much wattle around? I sip, and cradle the fragile, storming cup, enjoying my bitter short black. My frown replicates the lines on the cup, as does my smile.
I have a larger, more solid cup which boasts a kangaroo and emu rampant, and the words “Commonwealth Parliament”, proud as any bumper sticker. This capacious cup and saucer was Made in England. It says so on the base. This is a cup for Indian tea, a cup for colonial sipping. I wear a long white dress, a hat to shade my skin and I practise swooning. The cup, however well made, seems to be cracking around the sides, and a small cleft runs from the word Made past the emu. Surely my firm cup will not break, my crest shatter? I delicately place the cup back on the saucer, and the fault-line is hidden.
I have an old cup which says “Buy Nicaraguan Coffee”. Now that things have changed again south of the biggest border, which coffee should I buy? Perhaps the one that tastes the best. A favourite cup of mine is the one that states “Freedom for Women: Women for Freedom”. The tea-lady pours her liquid into this cup, but somehow she doesn’t look particularly free. Her tea makes me insatiable, and the phrase “dry as a witch’s tit” is conjured up from the steam, cloyingly.
But who would smash a cup? They are useful. They are decorative. I stroke my china pets, these devices for drawing boundaries between air, liquid and table. My extrovert cups hold in our conversation, delineate the possible from the flowing surge of ideas. We sit, cups in hand, painting new worlds like flowers on porcelain. I put out my little finger to hook the fishy thoughts which fly from the cup, through the air, challenging our demarcations.
This work (prose-poem? creative non-fiction?) was written way back in the Old Days of 1993, and published in Blast magazine. This brings back so many memories, not least of one of the friends mentioned in the first paragraph, Lindsay Croft, a young Aboriginal man killed in a car accident in the United States while visiting Native American reservations, about a year after I wrote this piece. This gives the work a far more bitter taste, for me, than it would otherwise have.
For excellent poetry fixes, go to the Tuesday poem site. They’re be everything from expresso to latte, I can assure you.
January 9, 2012
Watching the tango
Legs cut the air; fleshy scissors open and close
and notes fall like syncopated snow.
There is heat here, and a buttoned coolness too,
as the bandoneon squeezes breeze into noise.
Chests press, heart reading heart,
but the pulse beats down below.
Balanced on an unseen rope,
coiling and uncoiling silken loops
the couple moves time backwards,
suspending gross disbelief on
such questing, yet assured, feet.
This poem won second prize in the inaugural Australian Tango Poetry Competition held in 2009, and was first published in Tango Australis. And no, I can’t dance, let alone tango. I thought it was an appropriate choice for an early Tuesday poem of 2012, as we’re now nearly a couple of weeks away from New Year’s Eve, when anything seemed momentarily possible, before the hang-over, when you woke up and could no longer speak English, let alone the other language you believed yourself to be fluent in last night. (You sometimes means me, you know.) Tango will always remain a foreign language to my two dumb feet, unable to translate themselves into anything so complex.
I recently heard that I won last year’s tango poetry competition, and I may post that poem here some time as well. Too much tango is barely enough.
For many more poems, go to the Tuesday Poem hub, and enjoy yourself immoderately. (It is on official hiatus, so there’ll be no new poem in the middle of the page, but many people are still posting. Check out the side-bar.)
This poem is included in The Cancellation of Clouds, order details in the first post above.
January 7, 2012
Warning: this post contains improper haiku.
mangoes and vodka
occasional longish walks
haiku in no time
This rare excursion into the dubious realm of ‘lifestyle’ is presented with apologies to all haijin (which is not a cocktail). I do know that counting syllables is the devil’s pastime, but sometimes it’s so much fun. Also with apologies to Japan, mangoes and vodka.