In that little park beyond Westminster Palace
I saw but could not hear well from the fence
A little scarecrow man berate another
Larger deadbeat on a seat,
A singular yet archetypical
Peak-capped, jut-jawed dunce,
Who all at once had had enough,
And with an odd mechanical jerking gait,
His chin pumping,
Went to the little ranting man and shoved him
Along the path, and shoved him again, and shook him
I was much amused: one like a mechanical
Man, the other like an old rag doll
The small one now assumed the comical semblance
Of a fighting stance, then straight away,
The big one struck him ponderously on the jaw,
And then again with no great skill as he
Went down to meet the gravel.
Walking home this Sunday evening, through
A turmoil of plunging bells, I see now how
The steeple is like a witches hat and trees
Rise like wild hair still, on hills beyond
The suburbs, where the reverberations bound
O the night is still, the sky clear and fragile
As blue glass, but these bells dash down a wrangle
Of iron on our heads, and on our hearts falls fear,
A fear not specific, perhaps simply the stirring
Of the capacity to fear, through memory of the motion
Of a roller coaster: straining upward to fall
Horrifically, screams peeled off and left somewhere
Beyond the sudden boom of air – or something else,
Or something else.
Iron, iron, swings the iron, and after
Quavers the singing, supplicant, hopeful
Choose me, choose me.
Don’t damn me!
When I was a boy, I thought that away from the sea
You would dry up, wither, harden and exist
In the brittle reality of a grasshopper
Not those of Robin Hood green, but those
Of dull yellow in the dry grass, because
At Maroubra there was only the sea which
Held and reflected light, the rest
Was sand and scrub and ugly homes.
Or excuse perhaps. For a brief period in the 1960s I wrote poetry for the first time since I was a little boy. I was in my twenties and earning my living by then as a freelance journalist. The poems were an exercise at first, another discipline, but – pretending to myself that I did not care – I sent some out, and to my amazement some were published in poetry magazines and some were read on the ABC and the BBC (by that time my wife and I were living in London) and I had begun to have articles published there. Over the years I lost all the poetry magazines except for a copy of Poetry Australia where the third poem above appeared. Now I see I have lost that too, so I have tried to piece these poems together from fragments of memory. The end is missing from the first one – I tried to express the shock and the disgust that both victory and defeat hold, but it sort of works as it stands. Maybe. The memories were indeed fragments. The corner of one would stick out of the mist and I would drag it out and more would come that I had not at first seen. I am sure that some parts have been unconsciously rewritten. I can remember tracts of Eliot Shakespeare and the 19th century poet John Clare (no relation as far as I know) – and some others – but I find that I have rewritten bits over time. Sometimes I even think I have improved them! Not so implausible. It is easier to improve some detail than actually write the thing from the ground up. Thought you might be interested.