This website page updated 28 November 2004
by Dan Byrnes
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Beyond books and back to real life
If the dogs of war are actually so well-trained,
And all the cats of Shakespear's worlds
Are so well-belled as art suggests,
A man might as well just waste his strength
With facing down the bleakness,
And an older woman might wearily say,
"The gifts of life have their strengths
Which are also with their weaknesses,
Where do we decently go from here?"
Not to Mars, it's too far past the moon;
It's too far past the wasted earth
Where poverty splinters every fond belief,
Cynical wealth exploits every meekness,
And the powerful can only give the bourses
Another keen-eyed, pointless, long and loony leer.
Quiet as wool
(At Boorowa April 2002)
This is a town called Boorowa.
It's quiet as a woollen blanket left carelessly under a woodpile.
You've only been here a few days,
And already heard about fourteen extra life stories,
All told dry and in laconic detail.
These are people with no side,
And pretty standard Aussies...
With no concessions made except to flood or fire.
Behind the scenes is a lot of old cypress pine,
And several of the vaulted, better-wooded ceilings built early on
Have more altitude than the locals can now imagine.
It's the usual bush repertoire of small population,
Too many drinking establishments,
Roads made for slower cars,
Local government moves like a reptile,
A sense of great distance from important places;
Good weather, full-on peace, winter getting a run-up,
And no idea at all about what to do next
For the rest of the twenty-first century.
The Astrologer's Doubts
It is the never quite knowing, is the worst.
And yet I cant believe we're entirely cursed.
Influences from afar, those distant planets, circling, circling,
breezes from the wafting of an imperious god's kirtling.
Or, uprush of feelings from within, contradictory,
ensuring there is never any lasting triumph for victory
in a society, in a vision, in a dream.
Just the sheen, the sheen of a possible explanation
as the lights of heaven descend for a conversation.
Though about what? When? For the future? To explain the past?
To gather symbolism-plus-possibility, though not too fast.
It is as though the beautiful curves of a fleece keep spoiling the weave
of a tapestry commission that I can't allow myself to leave,
and when you mention some planets, I might feel a mood,
of yet another extraordinarily ordinary human feud.
So it goes on and on, and if there's any point of rest,
here, I still can't say, for sure, what's best.
are supposed to have a strong sense of the frailty of human life, so
here it is:
Friday the 13th, October 2000
(For Australian Federal Minister of Workplace Relations, Peter Reith, who lost control of a telephone card, misused around the world to the tune of $50,000, which globalised his political career - the telecard affair)
Frailty, of intelligence, because it never crossed our mind.
Frailty, of the love of any thing, because any thing can be burned.
Frailty of even tears, tears never quite large or small enough, as the case may be.
Frailty, even, of revenge, since when we find that we can strike with it, that's the moment that time moves on.
Frailty, as of compassion, not yet in the right place with the best of timing.
Frailty, of organisation by the Sun God, never enough hours in the day.
Frailty, of the future, like when the we're-gonna-get-you police arrive.
Frailty for the future, like fear of tomorrow, I really don't know what will happen next.
Frailty of the universe, that has love, but not enough.
Frailty, of chance-and-contingency, that gives and takes, smoke on the water, from itself and from others, and equally worships both God and The Devil in whispers of risk on days of suspense.
Frailty of the new born, who shape so much hope but become like
Frailty of the flesh we live in, as with pus oozing from yet another wound with pain.
Frailty of the computer in modern life, like another Windows reinstall.
Frailty of the finer mind, as with Alzheimers Disease, or heavy metal music.
Frailty, when a better way of doing anything at all, happens in another country.
Frailty, as of a day of moods that change like the weather, caused by things from afar before which she is helpless.
Frailty of language, which can never quite get it across.
Frailty of religion, fact vs fate vs belief vs faith vs death.
Frailty, too, of very valuable glass, just because it can be
Frailty, like, poverty, so much more easily-shared than wealth.
Frailty, as of therapy, as when things are different, that's when I or circumstances will change.
Frailty of philosophy, when every thing has its opposite.
Frailty of education, because the teachers didn't know.
Frailty of law, and the army, and government, when clockwork perfection paints a bad picture.
Frailty, like art, not real enough to be believed-in-fully.
Frailty, like awe and wonder taking everything human off its pedestal.
Frailty, when the longed-for arrival of the angel is indefinitely delayed due to an accident in limbo.
Frailty, of any idea at all, which permits the appearance of a poem like this.
Frailty, as of a view of a war that fails to solve the problem.
Frailty of a sense of history, lost between last ice age, the next global warming, and the question: why did they do that?
Frailty, like unseasonable floods, toppling your house and your heroes, and eroding the feet of your very own clay.
Frailty, as when the guard falls asleep, but the thief of my life is myself.
Frailty, like misunderstanding, in the seed-bed of my best or worst, or even, my most secret dreams.
Frailty, as of not speaking ill of the dead, because the truth will out, but much more rarely in.
Frailty, even of genuine mystery, just because we can turn away.
Frailty, of every human soul, because from the beginning, the winding sheet of self had a defective weave from an unknown evolution through an unimaginable time.
Frailty, like this poem, thinning the blood through the unpredictability of the heart.
Frailty, like simple words on a printed page, unpicking the seams of a life.
Sweat and sex
The untidiness of making money
was not on our minds at the time.
I the virgin who never quite got back
to remake the discovery,
as unvirgins don't because they can't...
and she the one who lay back
with shining skin like the Queen of Sheba
and said, "sweat and sex"...
As one of her boyfriends used to say,
It was summer,
long and hot and sunset-ridden,
a season of many things dawning,
and her hips heaving like a ship
at night in rising seas,
increasingly beyond the anchorage,
the anchor, the rudder or the helm.
Where a woman might find herself
in kinds of helplessness, or, abandonment,
and a man helps himself
in findingness, or, decision.
Sweat and sex reek,
and so can life,
and so does life unlived.
She said she was sore,
and I the talker was speechless;
happy in a quite new way
not fully understood.
Not all the reefs are mapped yet.
Not all the coasts are warm.
High over North Brother Mountain
(Hang-gliding at Laurieton, Christmas 1999)
North Brother Mountain,
talking to the clouds,
overcast skies, maybe light rain,
a sense of the oneness of life, and proud.
But here, nothing overstated,
northing torn down too early,
nothing too-darkly etched.
Good fishing by the beaches,
good food upon the grills,
and everywhere, undisturbing silences
laid cleanly into the window sills.
Just a town near another non-mountain,
named by Captain Cook.
He could sense vertigo from a distance,
he could write it into his book.
And today, young men launch themselves into pure thin air,
on wings with a curved v-shape,
covered in little more than dreams,
high above the lake-skirled landscape.
If the country is just a social laboratory,
if the future aches uphill or down,
if the past tumbles down this high-tree hillside,
it doesn't matter, over this particular town.
James Cook never saw human eagles,
or expected them flying so high.
Welcome to a so-called New Millennium,
in a country far older than human sighs.
Look at them now, riding the heights,
calm and alone and conquering fear,
as we, the thoughtless people with a little-minded government,
turn on our TVs and watch other people's lives down here.
While way up there, over North Brother Mountain,
altitude imperturbably waits;
above aboriginal solitudes and convict hells...
if you have the courage, it quietly opens heaven's gates.
to Big Men in Government etc. from Poets
Ok, big men, guys in government, ... and, ... and, ... and, ....
other bigmen in international whatever, shareholders with the big boys,
and like, ocean-going ships and doing the e-commerce thing...,
It's the year 2000 and you are now on notice that
the unacknowledged legislators of humanity,
the poets and the songwriters, and the literate,
now have the Internet,
(like, that's a distributed military command system, aha).
And now you have a new horizon that we create. Ok?
This is new, and no philosopher ever quite expected it either.
You watch the currency exchanges, we'll watch the people;
we'll let you know the outcome, and you will reply.
Without tears or even effort,
we can now subvert your lies,
we can qualify your qualifications,
we can qualify the way your qualify your qualifications.
We have visions of good life; you maybe don't.
We can fill you in. We can get you going.
We can fill your populations with the facts,
with philosophy, with the news;
and the news is, your role has changed.
You don't check the welfare of the people,
we'll find ways to email the world.
We can do agendas, too.
We can switch your universities, we can switch your opposition,
`cos we is the world's people, we do the people,
we are the people, and we will remain as the people.
That's a human luxury you don't have;
the vicissitudes of power,
"power tends to corrupt",
and so on, as in history.
You and we have got email now.
Get with it, it's all different.
You tell us what you think is a fair thing,
we'll tell you if you're right.
You will print-out our email and you will read.
You go rigid, we just email the UN, now.
Tremble, big men, and give thanks
that this is all so bloodless.
The tables are turned forever now.
Now it's you who can't escape.
(the Serbian side) 1999
Slobodan, thank you for the balaclava,
it keeps me warm
and hides my face from everybody
While we take so few prisoners
during our own kind of war...
our own kind...
our own kind...
our very own kind of war,
I read our history and see
I come from a joyless part of the world
where people have lived almost since
people have been alive,
but we still don't know how not to kill
because of religion, or differences,
or things that matter to some, but not to others.
I'm not as modern as my ammunition,
but I'm even more dangerous.
We know that you others have no great love
for our music or language,
our silences, or even our women,
and not our balaclavas,
but we can cruise freely in the pain of others,
Did you ever see a shark feed a prisoner? As for my part,
I'm sure that your machines or civilization
can't knit a balaclava as tight as mine is -
and a shark in balaclava
doesn't need to speak,
he only needs more water.
Thank you for reading this far