Death and Some Friends
Death comes and sets a fingerprint on you
And you see nothing. Then he goes away,
One of those men whose face you can’t recall,
Someone you saw while waiting for a bus
Or sitting in a park with headphones on.
One day he found out David Campbell, grinned
Inside his blood, then ate him from within.
And David held out first one poem, then
A dozen more, but Death said, “Nice try, friend.”
One day I saw him plain, beneath the clocks
At Flinders Street in baggy jeans and shades,
Checking a Moleskin for an old address:
He called on Alec Hope that very night,
And tuned him to the deepest silence known.
I watched Death feed upon his many books;
No gorgeous lyric stuck inside his throat,
No matron stopped him as he stalked the ward:
He slipped outside and wore another face.
He visited Gwen Harwood too one night,
Dear Gwennie whom I loved: she struck those chords
That cry “Farewell! Farewell!” and left me here
With eyes that see the darkness inside things.
It’s summer now; blonde hills dissolve in heat;
I’m closer to the dead than to the quick.
In hospital, young doctors sift my blood
And scan my flesh for marks of any kind,
And they find nothing much, and Death just smiles.
Surprised by first snow!
But the clock won’t wipe its hands
Of torrid summer.
Breaking through thick bush:
Drab shack—and sunlight bathing
In a frisky creek.
Burnt air drying lips,
Heat strumming the horizon.
The kiss of a peach.
Clouds stalled; in my room, a clock
Still hedging its bets.
Dingy street at night.
Thumping heart. A border runs
Right through your innards.
At midnight I nod
To all my books. How did they
Ever learn so much?
I’m an enigma,
But when I utter your name
I enter myself.
The darkness wants us
And the silence wants us too.
Speech is our sunlight.
The War Years
Back then, the war had never really stopped.
We trooped with plastic guns to Eastbrooklands
And there we sneaked into the day’s fat hours,
A world of rubble dragged there from the Blitz,
Smashed chimneys, gas lamps, lumps of tenements,
Riots of twisted wire, cracked paving slabs,
And other rubbish geezers dumped at night:
Bent wheels, a settee with its springs gone mad,
An old flock mattress, half its guts cut out,
A Prestcold fridge that leaked a rancid smell
(A boy was shoved inside and left, I’d heard).
We looked for bombs and spied on German camps
And fired some staples at each other’s backs
And made the first to cry out stand bare-legged
In nettles, while we ate his sandwiches.
Once, when we came upon a blown-up bridge,
We reconnoitered and then quickly passed
Three skinheads slowly pulling birds apart,
A rubber band bundled round each beak.
All day our plimsolls squelched on marshy ground
And once there was machinegun fire of rain.
Wire fences and a scowling sky all day;
We walked on hollow legs until the light
Was almost soot, and won Dunkirk again,
And, somehow, made it back to Rowdowns Road,
Expecting medals, bangers, dreamless sleep,
And not the wallops that our fathers gave.