Advice for vegan fathers on the occasion of their daughter first catching a fish

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1.

When your father, the fisherman, teaches your
daughter how to catch a fish, understand
that he is teaching her his form of worship.

2.

As he threads the bloodworm on the hook
he will explain in plain terms that this,
with calloused hands is how a fisherman
performs a sacrament.

3.

As he talks to her of torsion
and how to harness it when casting,
know that this hurling of a line
across the autumn sky is how
he offers up his prayers to sea.

4.

Having guided her hands each turn
of the reel, steadying the line
as it coils across the spool, if he holds high
the fish she has sung in from sea,
life now spinning out of it as light
know that this is how he finds
and offers her his proof
of gods within the salt.

5.

When he asks you, steady as a reef,
if he should kill the fish in front of her,
honour the ritual- when he kills the fish
he will turn away from her, as he did
from you, and as he holds it tight against his ribs,
slides a blade into its gills
and pulls
she will come to know the sound
of food upon a plate
is the cutting of a throat,
a ritual of thankfulness.

6.

Honour those who wade into the waves
to find communion with their gods- do not, in hubris,
dare to think that as you don’t eat meat,
you’re somehow more enlightened
or less a friend to violence as you,
alone at last with thought go fishing
for your signifying gods, calling them to shore
and as you hurl your hands into the sea,
pull out some gasping memory,
hold it tight against your ribs,
slide a blade into its gills
and pull.

Love Songs to a Bomb: another fool project

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With my first collection now on sale and a draft verse novel now having a wee rest for a month or so, what better time to start another writey project thingy! And so here I am researching and writing a kind of poetic response to the nuclear weapons tests carried out in Australia by the British during the 1950s, a series of events that many know little about (if at all). The project began initially with the title Love Songs to a Bomb but as it develops, I’m finding the voice and tone switching in and out of the initially intended one. Either way, I’m finding myself drawn deeper and deeper into the murk of what is one of the most shameful chapters of Australia’s Cold War and colonial history. The piece below is the working draft of the first of a sequence of poems, each one responding to one of the test explosions. The first explosion – Operation Hurricane – was carried out in a lagoon in the Montebellos Islands in 1952. A second test was also inflicted on Montebellos in 1956 during Operation Mosaic. Ugly stuff but here’s to new projects!

Hurricane / Mosaic

Summon all your gods,
raze the earth,
sink all your ships ,
gouge the sea

Call Shiva the destroyer into mind
as Montebello shakes an arcing back
and rises into little death-
an orgasm for empire

Measure a magnificent turbulence,
calculate a dread pattern
define a problem they will come
in time to call
not so much radiological
as aesthetic

As fire turns the sea to ash
breathe a puff of smoke to sky
and leave the scopophilic newsmen
gathered on the mainland shaking,
guilty palms all sweating

Watch toroidal smoke rise
into the morning blue,
coalesce a cloud appearing first pink,
then fade to mauve,
then dimming into brilliant white
to crown the fading of a second sun,
a cloud whipped east- south- east
to fall at last, descending as a dark,
as ash across the earth

A grief to echo in the keening crack of sky
above a stark and haunted field
of Maralinga- a grief to bury deep in sands
cursed and named for thunder

When the gravity of everything weighs like a stone and the only things in your eyes are your eyes

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1.

She looks at the sky.
Says she thinks stars are a dare.
In her hands she holds a peach.
Then a lightbulb.
Then a planet.
There is water in front of us.
It moves like a  wolf.
When I look at her hands again the planet is gone.

2.

Birds begin to land all around us.
They take off their wings.
Under their wings they have new wings. Nothing hurts.
She pulls the flight feathers and threads them in my hair.
When my whole head is full we stuff feathers down our sleeves.
The wolves are lifting knives in their grey backs.
We are so small.

3.

When we are done filling our coats we go out to the cliffs.
We are high enough that the ground below disappears under clouds.
The air is thick and slow as honey.
The sky is full of songs.
We stand at the railing.
Climb over it.
Hold hands.
Jump.

4.

We never see ground again.

These lungs, this hum

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And as for me, each day now seems
to be an unfolding golden field
in which I walk well-lit,
search each blade of grass
and find songs hidden in the root,

where, having spent years wound out
tight and thin as string, I could,
with a song borrowed from the river,
call down the sky, have it sing me slack,
and all those wild horses at the shadow
of the tree-line, twitching flanks
and flaring eyes, would follow me
along the bank, wade into the water,
watch the river fold its arms around us,
grow gentle as the flow,
could raise these hands to flaring faces,

hold palms upward to the light,
cup the falling sky and hold it out
for them to drink and this would
be something more than metaphor,
not just a harking back to myth
or some nostalgic ‘better time’

when all we had worth saying
was said in deep-blue quiet,
was said with mouths pressed
against each other’s palms
or written on our spines by light
that bled from night into the room

and how some nights, still,
when you rest your hands
against me, I feel remade entirely,
singing as the hole in Hafiz’ holy flute
and if your hands would lift me
high enough I’d press myself
against the sky
as a ‘concert from the mouth
of every creature’ sings-
and all these holes I keep finding
in my skin would bleed not noise

but light.

The lines ‘concert from the mouth / of every creature’ belongs to Hafiz

Scrimshaw

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1.

Small boy sits on bridge,
dangles feet over edge,
river slaps his legs raw.

Wonders if he went in
would he get out,
whether it would even matter.

Hold on.

2.

Tall boy,
grows up watching old men build boats
that will never see the sea.

Watches them scrape stories from hulls
like barnacles that never took hold.

Sees them cart barrels of salt-water
in from the ocean to hurl against hulls.

3.

Tall boy watches one night
as every boat becomes a whale.

By morning, the whales break
under their own weight.

Old men keep carting in salt-water.
Old men break under the weight.

4.

Tall boy says to the morning:

I will have a son one day.
I will call him Endless.
He will be as broke and
whole as any other.

I will cut us a field in a field.
Will sing him a river.
Build a bridge of whalebones.
Show him how easy things can be.

If he hesitates on the bridge
I will show him my palms are maps to the ocean.

Will show him my jawbone,
polished as pearls.

Hold him close as a rib
and be the first to jump.

Ten things to do on the day you will go to your deceased grandmother’s house to collect the books you have inherited from her.

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1. Buy three types of yoghurt.
2. Sell three books.
3. Plan an Easter egg hunt.
4. Remember how she was once in a lift with MacArthur.
5. Wonder when a poem for her will come as you come apart in her house.
6. Go outside.
7. Pick a lemon from her tree.
8. Be kissed by the light.
9. Shoulder your daughter around her garden.
10. Carry her like a crown. Carry her like a crown. Carry her like a crown.

Three Kings

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Clouds break across the shoulder of the plateau
and rush a tide of white into the canyon
as the sky turns swift to grey above and thickens
out the light. Through the window, you see them -

three ghost-grey Eucalypts plucked by squalls –  
a haunting of dead kings, come to keen their grief
at your door – spines bending towards the deck,
crowns pitching back then down toward you,

hands cast up to tear out hair or gouge out perhaps
a guilty eye. A pane of glass is all that stands between
you and the sky and if a spine let go you might yet
have the time to duck under the table 

or to sit wild-eyed and let the pane break
across your gaze and gouge you into landscape,
leave you pinned between the hardwood
and the gums now howling in the storm:

here- old and toothless Lear, all howl and ‘never, never’
there- old Hamlet, ghost of ghosts, jealous as a son,
here- old Laius, offering eyes as tithe at Delphi,
all lost in their regrets.

And in the canyon down below, a thousand wooden arms
are cast about, liquid as anemones, at the bottom of a sea
now flooding heavy as the belly of the sky
splits and thunders.

You wonder what it would take to move a landscape,
to cleave a cliff-face from the rock,
to break the thing in you that turned to stone
and though you know come morning,

the storm will pass you over, the flood
will drown into the soil, you still beg these three-
three kings of grief, three ghosts all choked
and strangled by your one platonic line,

to thread their way, their grey and thundered way
                                     from this world to the next.