NEST PARASITE

woke to that unsettling feeling
the dream from last night was erased
nothing will bring back
that seed waiting to germinate

amongst the morning humdrum
the cape koel’s escalating call cuts through

a cuckold fragment      all night
searching for a mate
a call with no response
at the outskirts of the migration south
what drives it to repeat
this sterile journey
setting words on a page
no one will read

each year the weather flicks a switch
marking the change of season reliably
the journey from New Guinea
deemed complete at our suburb
pausing to call for a mate
scouting established nests
in which to secrete an egg
so the surrogate can concentrate
on your cuckoo
and you can return north

MANGROVES

that timeless summer
three marauders hop from aerial root to root
trying to avoid the shoe sucking mud
sticks prod crabs and mudskippers
as they wait for the tide to turn

by low tide they own these mudflats
intersection of creek and river refined

lines in the ooze
slurp and lurch of steps
air thick with bugs
sun burnt migrant skin
sulphurous tracks
the animal shape of roots
coming up to breathe

remnant sandstone blocks
outline a boatshed jutting into the water
enough to drive out the last
of the Wallumedgal one hundred years before
the lines food sources disrupted
connections and links
with seasons past and future obstructed
the sheltering sandstone overhang exposed

three boys with sticks digging
a mullock heap nearby
oblivious to the midden
generations in the making
of oysters and shells discarded
food and cutting tools extracted
pirates in their bubble

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