staccato conversation on

our walk to preschool


first observe the dead rat

laid out in the gutter

long tail ribbed like a worm skin


next pass the bat

pinned to the ground

by gravity’s inevitability


then the carcass of a cat

and the howl of a man crumpled in the gutter

his lover hovering unable to cross grief’s divide


return to the rattatattat of our conversation

rat bat cat rat cat bat



in the distance

the bullet connects like a sting

the bullock slumps in the paddock

in hock deep grass

the hunter lays down the gun

settling the scope gently

before sprinting knife drawn

to cut the throat and bleed the beast out

a ceremony played in silence


the disconnect between sight and sound

leads my four year old son

to report the scene as seen

that cow just fell over

an innocence not even

these events could extinguish


the hunter controls

his pulse as he pulls the trigger

his chest constricts

the hunter fears

the quarry stands in blissful



will you eat what you kill

the beast winched

onto the truck

deck slick with blood


then strung up

stripped of hide

eviscerated and butchered into portions


are you prepared to kill what you eat


the daily mix of seed and mash deposited

inside your wire enclosure

fenced to keep the cat out not you in


click and chirrup as you circle

quizzical as I mimic you


in the scramble for the feed

you walk over my feet

eyes targeting the largest corn amongst the seed

a sudden dart extracts that morsel with precision

the focus of your greed


I reach into the nest

a perfect bowl lined with lilac feathers

and collect two pale blue eggs

to complete the exchange


your feathered carcass lay

Elvis white with yellow quiff

in the gutter where your flightpath

intersected with the road

bitumen black beak and claws


for days your cohort of lairs

hung about the wires strung above


scooped into a bag

and dumped into the bin

on collection night

no viking funeral for you


I held your surprising heft

feathers softer than skin

your natural life span

longer than my own


looming large and suddenly

at speed there is no time

as you slam into the windscreen

with such force

the wipers are activated


all that remains

the perfect imprint of your wings

and a smear across the glass




in the deepest cave the ancient

carved stone reclines

soles of the feet

marked with winding circles

hands set in enlightened repose


each cave contains a statue

evolved over time

the last a gift

gaudily decorated as authentic

as a retail mannequin


we emerge into the light

from the depths of the cave

blinded by what we now know




at the entrance to the cave complex

shoes and thongs in random array

like the aftermath of some market bombing

a reminder of Sri Lanka’s recent past




the liveried sentry

on guard against the 20th century

faded colonial colonnades


once the official home

of the Governor of Ceylon




around the pool

crows stand their distance

long trained to anticipate

staff flinging fireworks

in their direction

a gesture like striking a match

sufficient pantomime to set them to flight

a dance rehearsed




the Saturday brides assemble in their finest

gaudy saris billowing in the wind

waiting expectantly for their photoshoot

and their future

the Indian Ocean drives

against the rocks

as if to reclaim this promontory

letting us know

our presence here is transitory




shots of light

mesmerizing the surface of the pool


his LA exile

looking like bad photography


surfaces bisected

by light and shade and colour

a flat pack world


not as you might imagine

unlimited blue water

reflecting the vast sky


a static take

on that vibrant splash


his real interest

the intersection of that boy

with this water

the way the white bottom bobs




the barbarians are still needed

a century on

Xenophobia justifying itself


his quest began

looking into the eyes of old men

and ended with the splendidly oiled body

of that remembered youth

a journey without end

as if that were the meaning

Alexandria a way point

to exile   Ithaka an ideal


loss and longing


(his Fourteen Poems illustrated with

line drawings by Hockney)


water like glass placed over white sand


scores of hermit crabs move at your feet

in borrowed shells    soon outgrown

smaller crabs grateful of the hand me down

the way of ideas


on the shore   shells flattened and uninhabitable

slowly disintegrating    replenishing this beach

you wander for hours

looking at dross    the dregs

and detritus the sea spits out

avoid the lumps of congealed oil

volatile under your prodding stick

avoid the gaze of mutton bird carcasses

bloated on the high tide mark

avoid their anguished beaks


in the haze the beach becomes a concept

you struggle to make sense of how

water and sky intersect    and where

the distance like some unknown future

tapering to an unseen point

sun disorders your senses

that smell of sex and ozone

the way you wish this time would extend

like the best of intimacies


footprints in the sand

steps like a crazy dance

to your ambiguous future



this is no rehearsal

away to safety in your mother’s wake

child’s gas mask

malevolent in its dun bag

to the neighbour’s cellar

two doors down

on the sounding of the alarm

coat over pyjamas

as planned     in total darkness

and sullen silence

there to sit out the night

listening     1945

your father out on duty

as an air raid warden


this war senseless as the last

too young to join your brother in the fight

a target under the flightpath

to the steel works along the coast


someone incants

don’t fear the one you hear

it’s the one you don’t will kill you


the silence is unnerving     the world shifts

time stops     the flash

the juddering crash

then darkness     dust     a form of silence

punctuated by screams and the broken

wail of a broken siren

the ringing in your ears

climbing into the cold night

clothes shredded

as you are delivered from the remains

of the house

time resumes

with the sudden realisation

your mother is no longer there


the ringing in your ears

a lifelong tinnitus of grief


the ringing always there

like cicadas in summer

sound that hurts

you sit in the shade

of a Sydney summer

wheeled there in your hospital issue chair

delivered from the antiseptic smell

of bodies bumping up against their use by dates


our conversation avoids the fact

you are dying

concentrates on the mechanics of what passes

for your life these days

the insects     the flies that flower

that sound     reinforces

this is your last experience of this


the ringing the ringing is always there like pain


your faithful wife

attends to your every need

a sip of water and a wipe

her life has no meaning beyond you

such love on show

embarrasses me


then you conspire

to send her home to collect

some vital thing


she goes with a kiss

you kiss her back like Judas

as you close your eyes

intent on dying alone


shedding a tear for your mother

one last time