On a Bus in Burgundy
On a cold and crowded bus in Burgundy
he sat absorbed in silent agony.
His married love now lost brought almost
death, and as he watched the blurred
and sliding landscape through a bleared
and mud-streaked window, he couldn’t see
the signs of savage winter’s ending.
Crocus tips like the rounded points
of spears piercing skyward through
the brittle rime of last week’s snowfall
signalled only hurt still swelling.
In them he saw no cyclic yes
but the twist and pointed thrust
of loveless silence. Time-flayed poplars,
grey in corpse-like stiffness, claimed
a truth he could not alter, could
not think the melt that soon would surge
the roots with life and send leaf sap up
to glory into April shimmer.
High hawthorn hedges promised only
icy shafts of mental thorn—
for grief had set his brain in frostbite’s
burning; all hope for common joy
had frozen there; and in that grim
and arctic place his surface mind
had grooved itself to pain’s repeating
pointless circle. Yet within
his half-unconscious hoard of dream
a waking freedom stirred up long
forgotten words from the mind’s womb:
Who if I cried out would hear me?
And when within from close afar
he heard a gentle voice reply,
I would my son, he knew at once
the winter’s pain could end, spring poplars
rise like jets of sapphire flame
and near long fields of crimson poppies
the roadside hedge could blanch with candid
bloom. Then from a frothing surf
of hawthorn flower a myriad
bees would poise to suck the shining
sweetness out that summer hives
would turn to healing honey. On a cold
and crowded bus in Burgundy,
the thought of it, the taste, the touch,
the scent and gleam of it redeeming
pain would, with time, transform his story.
for Sr Marie-Therese Slavin
Mist blooms in the valley,
light leaches away,
and far over fields
blur to a distant
The weight on my slope
is only the wind.
Across a gap in the gum-tree forest
goes the brief flight of a bird,
swift as a man’s life.
Day shrinks beyond hills,
and the skies
melt through onyx and gold
into the laser of the first star.
Time slides upon time.
I watch the seasons pass,
till death entangles the fields
building on fences
its barbed fur.
Then spring like a cockerel
cries from morning’s crest,
and Eden comes,
crowned with cockatoo flame
over the hills.
Portrait of a Taronga Platypus
Nervous wild creature
who gather about you
are watching you closely.
Your forefeet, so wrinkled,
are floating out front
as the hands of a baby.
How fine and how white—
like rings with dim jewels—
are the knuckles you wear.
You’ve come from your burrow
and the world of the air
to inhabit the water
where weightless you shift
like a spaceman in orbit.
Silver and cinnabar
flash from your fur,
and bubbles in chains
stream from your body.
You climb with webbed strokes
to the tank bed,
there batter the pebbles,
stir the silt up
and watch for thin grubs
rising and falling
in slow whiteness
Then glide on hypotenuse
to twitch at the surface
where the grey hump,
breaks above water
like a floating dead bird,
and your head, half hidden,
along the meniscus.
Your feet have white claws
that scratch at your belly’s
grey russet and gold.
Your rounded pale bill—
a light-tinted slate—
fits to your face
like a reveller’s mask,
and your tail’s like a tongue
that dips down.
and frightened of strangers
you spend much of the day
in the darkness of a den.
Poison and spur
you keep for your foes.
You are improbable,
a future implied
in the first fish
that grew lungs
to walk from the sea;
and I am another,
who greets you
and calls you my cousin.