Poems by Alan Gould
A Timeshot, Joseph Conrad In Picture
‘One Hundred Years Ago’
Outlandish to be thought of as having lived.
And yet this little person in her sun-bonnet,
knees together, slate of numbers on her lap,
lit in an oblong brilliance between
sail-shadow and deckhouse shadow,
look how she observes us when she should
be at her sums. From her deckchair look
how slyly she peeps at the fellows
who ascend the gummy black verticals,
one by one by one, until they vanish
above her bonnet’s rim into the slanting
dazzle of the tropic light.
What does she conjecture for us?
that we are tarry spiders in our caps,
smutches of smoke ascending into heaven?
No more than I can make tomorrow
can I make her present thoughts.
Yet into her extremest age this darling might
carry these instants of barefoot fellows climbing
high to grease a topmast or hand
and bend fairweather canvas.
And if she carries this, will we be there
beyond such time as hands of ours can reach?
Outlandish, the old lady coiled
unmade in this white-muslinned child.
For I can’t even say that light and shade
will be the same, that girls will wear white bonnets
in the sunlight where she combs
and plaits her silver hair,
and says to her children’s unimaginable children,
I came, you know, in the sailing ship, Torrens,
with Captain William Cope. That was
in eighteen ninety two, the year
a short first mate was of that crew who all
the sailors there called ‘Polish Joe.’
My dears he had such long arms
but spoke politely in his accent.
Already we know the ships of taut grey canvas
will have gone by then — for plainly the future
parleys with us as it likes,
the steamship smoke smarting our eyes.
And yet you can’t, unless by fancying what
has never yet been made, transfer your eye
to how the scene with Little Miss
grown old will want to set itself.
Except it will. But what I’m trying to say
is how we each get in that freight that’s carried
a little way beyond our lives,
shot like sun-motes into the future’s
tropic dazzle. So call it outlandish to think
of all those unmade years she’ll live beyond
this moment of our muscles here
and give our presence here its future.
For does the dolphin, nosing at the cutwater,
sense a future any instants after
the feed it’s watching for? What if
the very time beyond my saying this
is uncreated till myself or some bright spark
has fashioned it to mean a thing? Or more
than just a thing? Which makes
whatever havens where we might
bring home our memory-freight, the time-seeds
picked from all that was, outlandish indeed.
Is this to watch our other selves
migrating finely toward hereafter?
(from ‘Twelve Sea Pictures’)
From The Skald Mosaic
7. A Scene At Grimur’s House
Here is a man, Grimur, walrus-trembly,
and his laugh is a walrus bark,
who arrived home late with companions,
hands slimed from the handling of salmon,
having stood daylong in the quick
salmon flutter of the Gletta River.
Here hums a man Grimur, heedless of his person,
who therefore must set a household to fussing,
who shoulders scolding with wink-wink,
kiss-kiss and thunk of several fish
that slip across the scaling table,
Grimur, lynchpin of the grand cheery world,
world which naturally
now looks for its dinner.
13. Skular’s Skip-song
Here comes Skular Scattered Brains,
on his chin are egg-yolk stains.
Watch him give you such a look
will make you eat your silly talk.
Here comes Skular Butterface,
Doctor grumbles Here’s a case!
Skip one, miss one, have you heard
Skular thinks that he’s a bird.
Skular likes to stroke your bones,
could crunch them nicely with his stones,
but he loves you far too much
to ever make you ache and itch.
Here comes Skular serpent mouth
God locks him in a skin called Youth.
Skip one, miss one, did you know
Skular Skular loves you SO!
21. Katla With Skular-Bird
The feathersmell at his armpits,
The lice I cracked with my fingernail.
To peel his clothes was like parting plumage,
poor plucked dear, oddboned loveliness,
his beak kneaded my neck gently.
‘Don’t speak, my love,’ I told, ‘Don’t talk at all.’
But he would prattle, ptarmigan and puffin,
squeaked enough for a clifftop colony.
Such longfeet, you saw could crab on an outcrop.
‘Don’t speak my dear,’ but this Skular must chirrup.
Sometimes Katla-witch likes to be alone,
And sometimes Katla takes company,
One midnight sun her conscience made her rest,
Laugh, crack lice in Skular’s shirt hem,
Chance on new rooms behind her old door.
A Vagary For Philip Mead
When we were schoolies in those purring classrooms
where revolutions massed like summer storms
and empires fell toward the big exams,
Phil, what could we really tell of time and times
in the Year Twelve torpor we talked at?
Interim on their maps, the nations flickered:
the helmeted signatories smiled, scattered,
the light in Sarajevo killed, continued.
History blokes! You’re in it and outside it,
mark that paradox!
Whatever, Sir! And yet it is the bowl
of time’s intactness teases me. Just
to conjure yesterday and presto! glows
a molten portion we’d like to stand back from,
glassmaker from his cooling whorl.
So let us say we two shall rise from table,
(glasses tumbled, talk a small curmurr,)
and simply slip behind some quiet hour.
A deep verandah stillness can enfold us
where our thought might lead
from selves to two astonished counterparts,
small beneath a heaven serene with tumult,
dark with unearthly light. Is this, I’ll ask,
the underweave of history, its flow
of lives in lives, its flow
between and over lives so conscious, each,
that lives must flow. And you’ll reply, We can
sidestep the pools of theory now to favour all
the chancy metaphors; observe how shy
their light, and yet auspicious.
Whereon, through watchfulness, perhaps we’ll glimpse
history from its outer side, lucent
like a syntax, whole like a life, but O
grandly itself, curve that leans toward,
though never touches quite,
a ground of meaning. Such, Phil, my vagary,
to make of the aeons a tableau where we see
the glowering one we used to call The Word
existing epicentric in his cyclone,
while at the same time he lies calm
among the dinosaurs, his flurried moment
shying to a breeze in this our very own summer,
itself a fretwork of perspectives. Look how
our little lives will catch distinctive light,
our myriad voices, whether
wailing, singing, loving, hateful, meek,
will shape the one, the small momentous music.
Vagary perhaps. But isn’t this as well
the vehicle of our deepest longing, the fine,
the sobbed pelagic boom
that goads our lives with times when we believed
we swam unconscious in a vast Unconscious?
Rarely appeased, is this the fragile voice
which urges us to finish what we start,
to go in deeper and find
what truly happened then and in that place?
Can only that which is entirely seen
re-enter the instant of the innocent start?
Poets guess at Time, grow wise or silly,
yet know that to apprehend
wholeness, if only for a moment, makes
them gods and innocent indeed. Perhaps
this is why recklessly we’ll always leap
from the present to imagination’s Present,
haunting (as I do) the harbours
where what was still is, or tracing language,
along the bright seams of Now and This,
as you do finely. Irritant is the skin
of questions we live inside, and who outgrows it?
Were we to do so, to be,
if only for an instant, in true self-possession,
holding in mind our time which is all time
look how the Seven Oceans would become us,
look how the systole, diastole of galaxies
would become our lives.
The Observed Observer
From darkness where no stars shine
and the projector is clicking like a stopwatch
you move out from your times to where a time
flickers against an illumined wall,
a time not lost
for all its weather crackles after sixty years.
This is not occult; you shed no place.
The ducted air cresecendos softly,
the further street-noise, sea-noise of vehicles
And yet you move into the light that travels
out of former lives, for instance, these five
who strain around their crucial rope,
their vanished bodies rooted to it like molluscs,
their oilskins gleaming like kelp.
They are so close.
Sixty years or sixty centuries —
it is a membrane of time divides you.
Look, here at your shoulder
the sea has spangled in a ruddy beard,
is drooling like a tap from a blonde forelock.
Above them, out of picture,
the drear, monstrous canvas thunders.
But stay with what is shown,
how one has eyes tight shut
as the atrocious tension draws out his arms,
how one, his head averted, seems ready
to leave his arms behind him,
how their knuckles shine like quartz.
And if you know
the simple vehemence of their effort
will become unfashionable
this knowledge is years off from their dance
of inches and inches and an inch,
remoter than the gull-grey unstable horizons
that shatter to foregrounds of waist-high froth,
remoter than their sun, not seen perhaps for a week,
which only moments ago
broke on them like an epoch,
permitting these pictures, this grainy aureole
where they glitter in their time and yours,
unearthly as stars in daylight.
And as you leave the theatrette
for the animal-quick commerce of streets, you know
you are millions of years from the neighbour creatures
where the dolphin grieving the drowned schoolboy,
the lions grieving the snakebitten lioness,
grieve innocent of ancestry. For it is this,
this widest, this thinnest of loves, astounds you,
this care to catch distinctive light
from the vast shopfloor of former lives
where you also will find your place
below the balconies of hindsight,
the long cables of remembrance,
the historian’s desk dishevelled
by diaries, letters, reels of film.
In elation for where light travels
from a myriad vanished origins
you step out beneath your stars
in the light of all predecessors.
Always before you are quite ready —
you’re in the shower or on the phone —
before the suburb’s cool vestibules
of birdsong and your lawn, prismatic
with sprinkler-dew, can be got ready
for the shattering onset of their solos,
they arrive in a ute with muffler-rattle,
and the boom-boom of fifties rock;
‘Horizon Modifiers Unlimited,’
is emblazoned on the bonnet, and
you note a sticker on the tailgate
that urges, ‘Eat more koalas.’
They accept the tea, black with several,
and begin the daylong crossfire of banter:
the blonde swaggery one who hulks
around the cigarette he’s making
tells you they’re gunna drop the tree
in one shabang right there between
the greenhouse and the Audi, no need
to move the pot plants. But even as
it dawns on you the wisecracks are
a means of subtle surveillance, he’s turned
to Naccers, his gaunt offsider, who,
you gather, tree-lops to finance his calling
for translating Arabic poetry, and,
returning his tobacco, says, ‘Nah,
leave it all to ol’ Fumble and Grumble.“
Once it is established they’re here
as much for the job as loose subversion
of both your world and theirs, they start,
with spanners, oil, conferrals, till one
with animal sudden-ness, leaps at a branch
and shins skyward with a rope.
Whatever your plans for today, forget them
in favour of this craning theatre,
this lofty, improvising ballet
on a stringy, disappearing stage.
Remark how utterly a chainsaw
takes possession of a day
with its not quite monotonal plainsong —
its bursts of unbridled hype, its low
growls of impatience — how it reveals
short-lived beauties, say, the clay-red
roundels of an ironbark’s cross-section,
or a lightning-white torso
cleft into dozens of lovely shoulders.
Theirs, the biggest on the market,
is nicknamed der Führer, with reason,
as its edged, unyielding tongue takes
the lead through layers of intransigence
with a snarl of pure aggression and
a furious spitting of dross. It is tackling
a blue gum gangrenous with bracket
fungus, and leaves your lawn, alas,
littered with blue-green plumage, as though
it were the killing ground of a grand
pheasant shoot. Remark also,
how, for all their talk, their work
is founded on obedience to
a tree’s intricate system of fulcrums,
how scarf-cut and back-cut abet
the tendencies of limb and trunk,
and how the dancer is watching for skew
or the rogue inward swing of a branch
as his mate lowers it on a rope
that uses the tree-barrel as a capstan.
It’s this might prove the telling subversion,
this longing that wells like a sob, to be
alert to the immediacy of things,
to recover presence there, at the nexus
of animate balance and technical nous.
In their time, which is expensive,
they’ll finish up and drive away,
their ute hugely ruffed with foliage,
leaving your horizon modified.
You, and your house, of course, have been
representative, though personally
you’ve done quite well; you paid in cash,
refrained from fussing over details,
and suppressed the niggling feeling that
somehow you spent the day on trial.
My love is out on her bicycle.
Her purple skirt fills like a sail on The Nile.
The likeness of a galaxy
spirals in my coffee cup
as breezes finger apple leaves
like mothers in a fabric shop.
I brood and wander restively,
I’m happy enough, is what I say,
prowling my house like an émigré
among the sunlight’s see-through sleeves.
Annie is out on her bicycle.
Her purple skirt fills like a sail on The Nile.
Hungry, and calling for whisky, she
will come home when the little moon
is a grin perched over our apple tree.
Then ice and glass will clink their tune
and she will talk with easy grace.
I was more than happy, I will say,
to listen for the tell-tale sway
of your purple skirts in our moonlit house.
My love is out on her bicycle.
Her purple skirt fills like a sail on The Nile.
From Ill Tempo
Reply To A Common Complaint
Mention poetry and you’ll find enough
opinions to cry down the recent stuff.
For those who read and love the art
are but a tiny, weathered part
within a vast and dissonant convention
where also lonely sergeants count each stress,
and rasp that poems will not pass unless
they’re dressing right and trembling at attention.
Hounding Your Bloke From Office
(On the forced resignation of Bishop Peter Hollingworth from
The fair-go country scores no point,
the witch-hunt team scores one.
Equality this, your chance to paint,
the tar on anyone,
to slap and dollop by the pint
until the righteous itch is spent,
whereon you can, with shining face,
resume your small and equal place.
Panel Session On Oz ID
We love the topic’s vertigo,
how piously we each can rise
to bubble-wrap in journalese
the old presentable disguise
of who we are and why we need to know,
how question-time colludes to show
not what’s observed, but how we pose
on mirage sportsfields of Fair Go
beside the partying kangaroos,
Ned Kelly The Good and that Equal Class
that’s never heard of kiss-my-arse.
The Oz ID, that giddy spiel
we play in order to get real.