BUTTERFLY

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

DAMBULLA

I

 

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

 

II

 

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

MOUNT LAVINIA HOTEL

I

 

the liveried sentry

on guard against the 20th century

faded colonial colonnades

regimented

once the official home

of the Governor of Ceylon

 

II

 

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

 

III

 

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

CAMERA OBSCURA

HOCKNEY

 

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

 

CAVAFY

 

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)

BRILLIANCE

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

MY UNCLE AND THE LAST BOMBING RAID ON CARDIFF

I

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

II

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

TWO DEATHS

I

 

a better story

Frank O’Hara dying

hit by a dune buggy

as he lay in the sand

on that beat on Fire Island

nude and lubed

so much explained

love declared but unexplored

24 July 1966

 

the prose truth   bleak

like your Long Island funeral

run down by a Jeep

driven by Mr Ruzicka

late at night

as you stood   by yourself

in the darkness    next

to the stranded vehicle with a thrown tyre

on that beach

shattered legs and ruptured liver

no charges laid

 

II

 

the poetry of his death

James Dean

imagined    like the end of that scene in

Rebel without a Cause

who stops before the cliff is chicken

his end foretold

in the movie    then unreleased

the beauty of everything he did

30 September 1955

 

in truth your Porsche Spyder

slammed at speed

into the turning Ford Tudor

driven by Mr Turnupseed

 

no elegance

your remains

locked in the wreck

 

no charges laid

 

with your beauty it was

no wonder Frank loved you

TWO SONGS

For Emma

 

I

 

your errant breasts

unmanageable and impossibly new

fighting last year’s costume

in the surf

 

your bounty

fuels your nervousness

puts your father in a spin

rouses every male on the beach

 

such imaginings

 

II

 

dance in the bubbles dancing

at your feet

squeeze the salt and sand

between your toes

let yourself be tossed

by the surf

 

the slow flap of the

red and yellow flag

in the haze

the world reduced

to slices of colour and

the great sigh of surf

 

don’t fear the blue bottles

or the threatening storm

 

 

ORNITHOLOGY

For Meredith

 

looking down at you

on your two year old toddler legs

I hobble on my new hip

you see them first

sense they are nesting nearby

insist we search for birdies

 

your optimistic hunt begins

in the supermarket carpark

bare concrete and fluorescent light

no deterrent to your determination

 

I see the swallow sweep and swoop

Hirundo Neoxena    realise

as it alights upon a pipe

it is watching us watching it

 

the Welcome Swallow’s dart and dash

a show to distract you from the nest

the vigilance of a parent

returning to the same uncertain roost

leads you to her young

hardwired betrayal

 

you search the ceiling

for the nest until you find

a mud cup with two bobbing heads

sticking out the top

you squeal with delight

 

it takes my old eyes time

to adjust    you were on them in a flash

I look to my feet and see

the white and grey droppings from the nest

I need to tell you

how to find the nest by looking down next time

 

but you are off

PHOTO-REALISM

For Huw

 

I

 

on the dull density

of that wide beach

Merthyr Mawr

part of my childhood existing

beyond memory

one black and white photo

slightly out of focus

like an old tattoo

bleeding back into the skin

 

the photo is proof

I sat smiling on that forlorn strand

in a car sculpted

by my father’s hand

perched in the front seat

triumphant yet again

over my younger twin

banished to the sand car’s

cramped dickie seat

resentment etched in his frown

us attended by the black and white border collie

not our dog

 

II

 

now as my young son sits

on the hot tropical sand

Noosa air thick as treacle

the day   as likely or not

recorded on multiple devices

remembered this time

I begin by burying his legs

with no great purpose

slowly I begin to sculpt

a car around him

other children join   I stack

them one behind the other

transform the car into a bus

six children stacked

legs buried in the sand

to the crowd’s delight

they wriggle and squirm

break free in an eruption

 

 

III

 

the continuum stretched halfway

across the world    halfway

across last century

my patrimony

in genes and memories

my hope you’ll be   like me

a better man than your father