Faith took a holiday

He hitched down the Hume, or up;
he didn’t tell me. Faith has no fear
of murder, or everyday sleazes
and their boring imprecations.
It’s the ones left behind
who tend to fret. What if,
we say, and perhaps
as if perhaps isn’t Faith
flipped like a decisive coin,
standing on his head.
As if as if isn’t
closer to for sure
than some might like it to be.

Faith rang me from Melbourne,
(so it was down the Hume)
and said he wanted to look around
a bit longer; catch the trams.
He too remembers
the excellent days of conductors,
with their magical brown bags.
Even Faith feels regret
at the passing of old days;
the spinning of so much
towards the expansive sun
of interconnected drivel.
There is a grace
in not knowing too much,
he said, though Faith would say that,
I suppose. That’s his job.
A kind of conductor
unseen in any tram,
on any route, whatsoever.

Faith will return soon;
I can hear the jingling
just at the edge of thought
and the tune is one
I almost remember.
The brown bag of my
restless, overloaded brain
awaits his presence,
and will sling itself, eager,
over his patient arm.

P.S. Cottier


Like a lot of the world, I’m suffering the post-US election blues, and almost didn’t post this week.  The clever amongst you will have noticed that it is Wednesday, not Tuesday, and the weekly schedule has been disrupted.   But poetry is fairly unstoppable!

For my overseas readers, the Hume is the major highway linking Melbourne and Sydney. Canberra is just a wee drive from it.

I have no idea why Faith is male in the poem.  Perhaps it was some association with Christ? And my phone has just died, which has me longing for the ‘interconnected drivel’ which I decry in the poem, even if I’m avoiding news sites at the moment.

Heron’s formula

A lesson in trigonometry,
the white heron forms triangles
with legs as she inches forward
< obtuse, acute, obtuse >
and reeds write the shape’s third side,
grass and leg linked by my needy eye.

Each retraction from stillness
seems a matter of regret;
a fall from Greek statue
into hungry, stalking GIF.
Silent as a wish, she moves
towards the modest,
root-dwelling fish.

A split triangle
wedged into head axes down,
teaching the dumb water
a critical formula: working an equation
on softer bodies.

Heron swallows, then cries triumph,
and the noise is the croak
of a thirty-a-day frog
krarkkrarking imperfection —
a broken kaleidoscope of notes —
a pocket full of clashing change.

The breath of the eager teacher
who tried to show me the
dubious wonders of triangles,
to draw them on my brain,
swings into memory
with a scalene sharpness.
Sound conjures smell;
ear and nose separated only
by a stretched vinculum of years.

Angel microbes swarmed
in his every exhalation,
armed with gleeful mallets
for playing smell croquet —
sulphur tapped through nostrils —
blunt, yet sharp and jangling.
He could not know that
he was Alice with stink flamingos;
heroic feathers tickling
before, and after, each own goal.
How could I breathe and think
under such an unnumbered cloud?
A limp fish, I soon failed.

The elegance of herons
undercut by noise;
the perfection of mathematics
negated by disgust.

I paddle off, towards firm ground,
away from the sharp, white assassin,
and the chopped pools of recollection.

P.S. Cottier



This poem was just commended in the World Wetlands Day Poetry Prize, judged by Sarah Day, so I thought it would be nice for people to be able to read it.  The winning poems are posted at the link, and very good they are too.  The site itself is as cool as a rockpool and thrice as pretty.

This is an unusual poem for me in that it combines the natural world and memory and mathematics.  I am innumerate, so the maths is the most freaky part.  The poem recalls someone being turned off the so-called Queen of the Sciences for life.  Sometimes the division between authorial voice and real author is pretty swampy.

Heron’s formula has something clever to do with triangles, I think.  Personally, I am satisfied that the sail on the swanboat in the picture above is a most definite triangle.  I passed Shapes at kindergarten with flying colours.

Click this link to see which other poets are Tuesdaying.


Stronger than coffee,
the memory of the mandarin
segments the air with tang.
Smell is better than taste
(no pips to spit and
punctuate the saucer…)
Orange air flips a finger
as I sip staid warm brown.

P.S. Cottier


Perhaps I should write a book of poems entirely set in a café, called First World Beverages or somesuch. I just wrote a prose piece, soon to be published, about how annoyed I get with poetry that seems to reject all the world except for the poet and his or her feelings, as if feelings have no connection to the society in which they are felt. Mmm, I must order another coffee and have a think about that…That is my world, I suppose, but there is the occasional idea as well, floating around like the smell of mandarins. (They are healthier than madeleines, too.)

I do quite like the pips as ellipses though, and the hint of concrete poetry as the brackets form a saucer. Poésie porcèlaine sounds so much nicer than concrète, don’t you agree?

I must contact the Trademarks Office.

And just in case you haven’t yet had a coffee:

Read the works of the other Tuesday Poets around the world by pressing here.


Lastly, my pocket book Paths Into Inner Canberra (Ginninderra Press) is now being stocked by Book Lore in Wattle Street, Lyneham (that’s in Canberra). It is on the front counter, so go in and buy one for $4. Keep this deserving woman in coffee!

Book Lore is a fantastic second-hand bookstore, located between two cafés. In one of these establishments, a poem about mandarins and coffee was written, just today. The photo in the helmet was taken outside the second of these places, by a Mr G. Dunn, after wine was had, and is one of several in the wee pamphlet. The pocket book can also be ordered on the publisher’s site using Paypal. (I am number 3, she said, mysteriously.)

For one doesn’t live on coffee alone, and even mandarins may fade.

Tuesday Poem: Global Farms

December 2, 2014

Global farms

Stock cubes
are sent to sea, flavoursome squares
of mutton flesh and bone, seasoning,
woolly sardines.

Between pasture and knife
the blue stretches, and the yellow,
as rivers soak downwards,
contained in time.

No truck of guilt to turn from,
met on sudden road. Squalor
bleats over dollar’s equator,
safely unseen.

P.S. Cottier

That poem (published once before on this blog, in 2011, and written in 2008) about the horrors of the live export trade is a way of working through the feeling of surprise I had recently in re-reading something that I wrote twenty or so years ago.

I stumbled across an article by me that is seemingly in favour of fur coats. I am now tending more towards the vegan with every passing year.  (Not there yet, because….cheese.)  I wrote the article back in the early 90s to provoke the sort of person who decries self-expression through clothes. To quell any left over Old-Style Communist or inflexibly Green tendencies that renounced fancy endeavours such as hair dye and high heels. I recount some experiences with some fairly ugly types. (The article was published in the Australian Left Review, probably the last organ of the Communist Party of Australia. I used to have a column in it, mostly about food.)

Re-reading the article, I am struck by how far the central tenet seems to far be from what I think now, and, indeed, thought at all earlier times in my life. I first became vegetarian when I was eleven or twelve, although I have lapsed, sometimes just for days, sometimes for much longer. I can remember one of the first stickers I ever displayed was in favour of a ban on ivory.

Here’s the link to where you can go to read the article. The writing is quite good, in a few parts at least.  The article seems to have been a little unusual at the time in linking feminism and questions of personal appearance in this way. That has become far more familiar, now that it is fuelled by social media. (In the days I am talking about, we had the occasional etching and miniatures in lockets, which gave a little more time to think.  I think.)

But the fur thing? The article reeks of me being sarcastic, and I have never thought that fur was a desirable or ethical choice. Perhaps I should have included a sarcasm alert? Or a reminder, that would have unfolded twenty years in the future?  (‘Penelope, you always liked tickling a little too much.’)

On a trip to New Zealand last year, a Maori woman who was a guide at Te Papa (the museum in Wellington) explained that the use of the introduced possum to produce fur products was a positive development, in her opinion. The possum, introduced from Australia, causes damage in New Zealand, just as the fox, rabbit and cane toad do in Australia.  She obviously knew more about the environmental issues that I did. (It is also relevant to mention that Indigenous people have been utilising the meat and fur of Australian animals for tens of thousands of years did so in a way that caused no damage to the land.)

But can I see myself wearing a cane toad cape, to return to the feral? No, not really. Although I haven’t totally weaned myself from cow leather, so my position is totally hypocritical. And, if I had to choose a garment made from an invasive species, it seems hard to place a toad on the same level as a fox; the latter being only a leap from a pet dog. Farming animals for fur, is of course, a revolting practice.

So strange not to recognise oneself fully in a piece of one’s own writing. There are a couple of other things in the article that my position differs from now, but I remember the changes in my thinking for those.

Cutting wit has its limitations…I hope I remember that I was being sarcastic about one or two little stanzas that I wrote this year if I last another twenty years!  At least one attentive reader will know what I am talking about there.

Just as that person, and indeed other readers, will recognise that poetry knows no borders.  Here is a link to the poetic output of other Tuesday Poets.

Ghosts in slip

June 7, 2011

Further to my last post (now that sounds lawyerly!) here is another poem about cricket which was highly commended in the Adult Poetry section of the Kernewek Lowender Writers Event 2011.  That’s an event celebrating Cornish culture in South Australia.  I’m not Cornish, and I don’t know if cricket is popular in Cornwall, but here’s the poem, which actually rhymes.  It was a pleasure to try something different in form (and tone) from my usual palette (aka bag of tricks).  I wanted to try to write something almost like a ballad, and although it’s not perhaps my best work, there are images in it that I like.

Above the river-flats

That night I fell asleep after my customary ‘one or two’,

(which somehow numbered three, or four, or more than just a few)

and I awoke at half-past-nothing to the thump of ball on bat,

so I rolled over to watch the cricket ground, above the river-flats.

Cricketers wear whites, it’s true, but these glowed like a full moon,

and no-one had to run, for the players floated like balloons.

Above the grass they hovered like angels, or at least anaemic owls,

and something had muted their grunts and usual sporting growls.

‘Howzat?’ was quietly asked and somehow that old appeal,

sounded like Hamlet’s queries when he ponders if he’ll

be or end it all with a sudden bodkin that is bare,

and I wished I hadn’t laid my swag down, just exactly there.

The ghostly game played itself out, as all games must do,

and I lay and watched the players fade, and felt the showery dew.

Then I raised myself, and shook myself, like a dog come from a dam,

but knew that this attempt to forget was a feeble, wishful sham.

At the pub, later that day (and who wouldn’t need a beer

having watched ethereal cricketers for what seemed like a year?)

I raised the topic of the sports-ground, and what teams use that green,

all casual and circumspect with no mention of the scene.

‘There’s no teams play there no more’, my informant said.

‘All the young blokes have moved away, and the old ones are dead.

I was the greenkeeper, and I still keep it all mowed flat and nice,

but no-one uses it, ‘cept wombats.  And the bloody mice.’

The truth tingled on the edges of my beer-loosened tongue,

to tell that immortal cricketers still sent the ball down, and swung

an elegant bat in a strange, beautiful moon-lit ritual,

but such a tale would mark me as a liar quite habitual;

So I shut my mouth, then opened it, and swallowed down my tale,

with the comforting blanket of my pension-purchased ale.

But each night now, as the visions toss and smash and frolic,

they are applauded with enthusiasm not entirely alcoholic.

For a man remembers many things, though he may forget more,

and I recall my own lost days, as I keep the spirits’ score,

before I left my home and love, when I played a different game.

And the exercise of the ghost-team now warms my tired cold frame.

P.S. Cottier