FOR NICK MASTERMAN 1948 – 1994

I

the sound of your going

the bow slices the treacle sea
not silent but silenced     sluiced

delirium    struggle easily down
the slow descent
a valuable lost overboard
gravity affirmed

the way I imagine you
doing it    going
challenging how it might
be best achieved     how
it might be improved

II

ship’s bells surely heard    surely rung
the harbour at night
its own reassurance

the sure lie
lights on the water
at night surely lying
the great pretence
gaiety    a trick caught
by the slick sludge

as we grow older
our bodies become so predictable

no longer caring for
what we can no longer do

III

the funnel of your mind tipping
its eclectic contents in a clatter
like so much disassembled junk

we could no more understand
what passed from you as language
as we could understand your pain

words dropping from your cracked lips
like so much dust lumps
foretelling your immediate future

each word    partly formed    setting
like concrete in great chunks
a jigsaw of sound at your feet

we can at least begin to comprehend
the breadth of your knowledge
the intricacy of your understanding

IV

the way the tide cuts deepest
against the sandstone seawall

the wall crumbling
the reclaimed land reclaimed
by the harbour

the way the tide cut
the best bream hole
on the harbour

flush with the flash
of bream hooked in moonlight
another treasure caught
in the spanner of your mind

lost now like quicksilver
like phosphorescence
slipping through your fingers

your life drained from us
breath by shallow breath

V

I fly into Sydney
on your death
the city ringed with flame

all the way down the coast
the night forest sprouted
angry rings of red
eruptions on the skin
of the mountainside
the forest spat its anger
oceans could not extinguish

ICELAND PIECES

I

headlights on the return from Vik
snow settles in the fields
swirls like critters
skittering across the road
wind picks up a cloud
of snow windscreen whiteout
we hurtle into a void
we hope

II

climbing the python road
alternatively crunchy with ice
or slick with mud
past the scar where scree
from glacier melt
scoured the best farmland
up the incline of the volcano
not seen but sensed
before we retreat

III

driving past lava fields
nothing moves
rocks cleaved like skulls
from the sagas
Thingvellir replicated

IV

this mornings still warm toast
tossed to the honk and stink of ducks and geese
confined to that small corner
of Tjornin* heated ice free
our daughters delight
turned nocturnal as we await the light
midwinter morning

*The Pond ( in central Reykjavik )

LECH VARIATIONS

I

a carapace of ice welded to the rock
the perfect exoskeleton

a rock stranded in the snow driven alpine river
the point of constancy in this tumult

the ice turtle holds limpetlike
against the flow

until sun strike melts the ice
restoring stepping stones by which to cross

II

my daughter and I
stranded on the bank
of this snow driven river
waiting to cross

ice carapaces welded to the stones
make crossing impossible
challenging points of constancy
in this portentous flow

ice turtles hold limpetlike
interrupting the surface
as sunstrike melts the ice
restoring steps by which we cross

III

if you wait long enough
that ice turtle stranded on the stone
in the fast flowing alpine river
becomes a salmon urging upstream to spawn
when the sun hits

TAFFY AT KANGALOON

for Mimi

at 37 your Welsh pony was old when you got her
by size and temperament perfect for you at 8
more age than choice on her part

you find her down in the paddock before school
your day starts early with the chores
feeding the horses chaff and hay checking water and untangling stays

the vet attends explains she is not getting back up
I can give her something to ease her way
what we all may need one day
send your daughter to say goodbye
it’s important for her but which
his wisdom escaped me at the time

you approach that shadow in the mist
heat rises from her flanks streaked with red mud
her smell with you as you cradle her head in your arms

tears and the grunt of the backhoe
in the corner of the paddock she made her own
a mound in the mist slowly subsiding
you grow up quite a bit that day

MAGNOLIA FIGO

my plausible belief
your name derives from
the port wine stain
on your crystalline flowers

but when I see
the wine glass shape of your corolla
I doubt
perhaps the container not the contents

then after morning rain
downed your candied petals
and the sun finished its job
that smell of fermentation

intoxicates my senses
from bud to burst to bust
the mobius of faith and doubt
that makes you whole

STONE PIECES

I

my Carrara marble egg
its perfect ovoid
disguising the sculptor’s failure
to liberate the angel
contained within that block of stone

benign in its insinuation
luminescent in this afternoon’s light
a useful paperweight underselling its promise

with its mate placed in the hutch
to encourage that hen to lay
no amount of brooding
can impart sufficient heat
to cause those eggs to hatch

not enough to stop her trying

II

secrets as subtle as the mason’s handshake

never to lift a block of stone
when easing walking bouncing
will dance it into place just as well

if you don’t leave spaces
you’re just building a wall

I come back to these words
a revenant to cut and slash to fashion sense
an echo where the words once were

all poetry consists of remnants
the art in the spaces as much as what remains

ARIADNE AND THE MINOTAUR

For Fred Lang

there! the southern cross

points HMS Ariadne’s war time
Lieutenant Commander long retired

as we stand on the edge of
civilising light where paths
tangle into a bush labyrinth
near the border back of Eden

at least your daughter’s middle name
now makes sense

beneath the unfamiliar southern sky
I wondered why you chose to point this out
precisely then
under the words I hear your stream
hitting the dust and dry grass
your private sigh

that’s why you startled on my approach

I join you taking a piss
on that dark night
we shake last drops
turn in unison towards the light
following the thread back
to the weave of conversation
carried on inside

FOR CAITLIN

I

reprising the roadtrip
from half a lifetime ago
a father and his daughter

in the passenger window
a woman I can’t identify
my own reflection
some stranger

heading for the snow
we breast the ridge
between Cooma and Jindabyne
get our first glimpse
of white on the ridgeline

ribbon gum dieback
the Monaro barren
granite boulders punctuate
the bare paddocks
like a giant game of marbles

crowtorn roo and
exmarked wombats
reclining like sunbathers
as we rush by roadkill

II

my playlist of
Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan
fails to entrance
so much for gravel voiced old men

I summarily dismiss your offer
of your own playlist
and the opportunity
to hand over the driving
remembering my failure
to teach you to drive

as happy in our long silences
as we are
in the challenge of our conversation

FOR STEVEN

I

the true supplicant
seeks eternal balance
in a tent by the creek
forsaking most things we crave
sleeps by an open fire

embers smoke the frozen dawn
where the gums arch towards the light
a cathedral in which to dwell
a kingfisher opalizes the water

hard to be humble
when this is all you own

II

wakes at dawn naked
struts the polished floor
of the house he designed and built
imposed upon the land

wonders at the majesty
of the range folding
lustily upon itself
like a lover
hard not to be challenged
by this act of dispossession

the greed of
trying to own all this

LOSS MARKERS

in life’s calculus

the aggregation of loss is zero

the sum total of lost things is nought


get used to losing things

declares Elizabeth Bishop in One Art

for the art is in remembering

but there’s no joy in absences

nothing is lost without loss


a dead lover

haunts your dreams now

illness finally consumed him

secrets from beyond

tell nothing unknown

and not much that is

love remembered a one-way street

receding into the past


my twin perpetually grinning

in the mirror of our life

from conception face to face

until death foretold

at Drimfern Inveraray

eating gravel in his stoop

when his heart stopped

his barbour jacket with his smell

on its peg inside the door


my father face down

in the leaflitter of the gully at Maroota

the fall’s force puncturing his brain

news conveyed by phone

grief released

in that front paddock

of stripped oats at Gundaroo


revisiting David’s farm Gunnas Gunya

driving the dirt track through scrub

located by intuition rather than recollection

after this time deserted

his MG TC abandoned in the barn

that front paddock bare


not lost just misplaced