With Icarus, stealing ice-creams

On the eaves it says
Fish caught daily
In waves of rope

There is a yoke
Sunburned in your shoulders and your back
Where through the ache bright day
You bore wings

I imagine the mottled taste
Of vanilla and salt strawberry 

Light globes swim

Big eyed and with that
Lost but stalwart resignation
Of deep creatures unwillingly brought
To gasp the evening-coloured air

The door is screened
By the flat Neapolitan droop
Of tentacles, slap an insult

Above the threatening continental shelf, a monstrous 
Toroid eye, eats insects in the hard
Whip-crack, a singe
Of rising oil and burning wings
Datura noxious in the chitter ricochet
From the loom and pedestal
Of a turning fan

The caged steel weight
Makes me think
Of Icarus falling
In burning oscillation 

Just that one decisive moment

Our grievance at the sinking sun
At the fish-eyed mirror
Of our recalcitrant misdemeanours 

While you melt

In eternal denial
On repeat

Cow town

We return to childish homes
Stealing pieces of ourselves
Blocks where
Almost nothing left
Except  the criss-cross shadows
The iron in that deep part of your nose
Spit on your thumb and rub
Indelible welts
From the formica table’s edge
Where cigarettes burned down
Left from fingers, hard as yellow 
A slight tremor in the ribs
When passing cattle trucks
Slowing, brake, the hard, pneumatic wheeze and shriek
Jolting square, starvation eyes
The jigsaw door, half-smiling
Clouds of puffing smoke
From the stacks above the abattoir 

On the charming & irreverent poetry of childhood

In Beyond The Pleasure Principle Sigmund Freud describes how he observed his young grandson playing a game in which he would throw his toys, or any little thing, away into the corner of the room or under the bed, uttering a forlorn or angry cry as he did so, which Freud took to mean “gone” or “away” (fort in the original German).

Later the toddler, Ernst was observed playing a more developed version of the game; he would repeatedly throw a wooden reel with string attached into his cot, crying his small expressions of command or consternation when the reel disappeared from sight. Then with some delight, and another rudimentary cry, (this time an approximation of Da! – meaning “There!” or “Here!”), he would reel it in again.

The game was played as a response to the absence of the child’s mother. To Freud the Fort/Da! game demonstrates how pleasure and pain are inextricably linked in the psyche, how early we learn to take such measures, to make such gestures, to gain a semblance of control, of understanding, from loss, from absence and need, of how one person or object can stand as a substitute for someone else, and indeed through symbolic gestures, how we will repeatedly recall or re-enact a painful experience by such exertion in order to engender a pleasurable one.

The French philosopher and linguist Jacques Lacan, analysing Freud’s Fort/Da! game, saw not only an entry into the symbolic, but the destruction of the real. The grief experienced by the child at the mother’s absence is denuded of its power, of its effects, by turning her into a symbol, by controlling her, by destroying her, through the interplay of presence and absence; as the object of need, she can never quite return to that pre-linguistic, pre-symbolic, ultimate real, that according to Lacan is destroyed by word and symbol.

While through this performance of an act, of a spell, rather like the primitive mimesis of sympathetic magic, though pain is temporarily allayed (or perhaps, alloyed), we can only conclude that the pleasure of the presence of the object of desire, now no longer quite as real, is also lessened. So the child cries, clutching at his mother’s skirts, even when she returns.

In this tantrum, in this petulance, we not only begin to see the necessary first becomings of the individuated self, but also the first formations of poetry. In the rhythmic cries, in the conflict of desires, in the play and transformation, in the creation and control of the symbolic, in the outpouring demand and the inpouring need, in utterances that embody the contradictions of need and want, in the way we deform the real to create objects of amusement, of rancour and delight.

Philosophy and psychoanalysis, at their best, are largely works of language and the imagination. A Fort/Da! game in search of the meaning of presence and absence, of pleasure and pain, of being and non-being, of nonsense and significance, of desire and despair, rather like the continual inquiry of the poetic.

Of course philosophers and psychologists find prodigies and marvels in what seems readily apparent to poets; that in a realm where symbols are filtered through the idiosyncrasies and significances of the self, we enter an arena of transformation and interchangeability.

In children’s poetry, whether in the fabrications of the young, the boasts and taunts of the playground, or in the strange and divinational chants that count who is out and who is in, there is a ruthless kind of measure. In the raucous expressions of amusing rhymes and nonsense, or in the raw and dreamlike anxieties of nursery rhymes and folklore, though we may think they are composed by adults, by the search for essence, the act of simplification and reverie itself, we are reaching back into the primal symbols and desires of that first savage and formative game.

A cotton reel easily becomes an absent mother, and with a string, an obedient puppet. A toy becomes the self, the self the dream. In broken boughs and broken crowns we have other primal metaphors. It is easy to forget that the playground has its own defiance, born of a primordial Darwinian politics, until we remember, perhaps, that;

Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin ran away, (Traditional; – circa 1967).

It also has ways of emphasizing that acts of defiance must have consequences;

My momma told me, If I was goodee, She would give me, A rubber dolly, But Sally told her, I kissed a soldier, And now she won’t give me, A rubber dolly, (Traditional; – circa 1930).

Childhood also has its essential tragedy;

Ladybird Ladybird fly away home, Your house is on fire, your children alone, All but one, and that’s little John, And he lies under the grindle stone, (Traditional; – circa 1770).

Between the doggerel of mockery and obedience, beyond the charming melancholy of untrammeled tragedy, we can perhaps find another way, beyond authority or moral didacticism, where tomfoolery and beauty meet, in a spell of wild divination, and see again as children;

Intery mintery cuttery corn,
Brambly briar and brambly thorn,
Wire and briar and barrel and lock,
Three fat geese in a flock,
One flew east and one few west,
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

(Traditional; – circa 1888).

Intrigued? For further reading I highly recommend; 
Cinderella Dressed In Yella; The first attempt at a definitive study of Australian children’s play rhymes. 
1969, Heinemann Educational, Melbourne.
Edited and selected by Ian Turner, June Factor and Wendy Lowenstein

Or, The Book of Bird & Bear, 2019, Maximum Felix Media, Korumburra, which features a selection of my poems inspired by the rhymes, fantasies, nonsense and folklore of childhood, available now from Amazon in the link below, and the usual other online venues.


Silvered & bird’s eye

Sold the dresser where
You daubed my face
For nights out, glittering
Too pretty, you said
Lashes like a girl
The bird’s eye maple
Lifting, on one edge
As if some creature
Of dune and heartwood
Half-slumbered still within
You eat with your elbows
I replied, the way a gull
Fossicks in the dirt
Ignoring gold and sea glass
For lesser morsels
The mirror with
The spreading stain
Of decaying silver
A blemish tiding from the edge
As if the dawn sea froze
Where you jammed
The stems of stolen roses
The wings reflecting three times
Caught the train
In the watchful desert evening
Ninety three dollars for my name
Leaving you behind
In a suddenly, echoing empty room
For a discontented world
The dresser on the rails
Following behind

This house on fire

The library makes the small mouse noises
Of a patient after defibrillation

I have eaten my way through several volumes
Of the intimate correspondence 
Of poets and kings

Learning (almost) nothing

Except the peculiar bombast and reserve
Turned in that intimate, sinister way
To bemusing incriminations
Of those who know their private thoughts
After death will be widely dissected

A particularly servile aggrandisement
(The fireplace alive with sparks)
To providence and
The self-important moment

Knowing (almost) nothing
I gnaw on

While grandiloquent lives become
The substitute for everyday dissection
Limbs splayed and pinned
Entrails and misdemeanours 
Humbly and shamefacedly arranged

The map (almost) illegible 

With that turned half away
Scalpel bright
But strangely grief-struck grin

Quite mad, Kate

Have thoughts like a dog
Pat and scold them
Until they behave
With that desperate, Pavlovian drool

There is no news today
Just stray cats and poetry
And the crisp meringue
Of clouds

If I wilt in the disdain
Of your withering heights
Perhaps you will forgive
My awful pun, bleak and mad
As it is, with thwarted love

A bird will steal your voice
If you let it

Nevertheless, a hand full of crumbs

Tadpoles & legionaries

We mostly made buildings
of different kinds of light
stolen from trees, river bent
and man-eating concrete culverts
the silver of Ariadne’s thread
stretched from crypt to bald-faced
waiting mountains, mercury temper
gathered in two cupped, prayerful hands
disdain transparent but distorting
with the descendant ripples 
of amphibians slipped
between numbed fingers
sloughing away
grey autumn mud, sheathing calves
as if wading rancid pools
beset by the warfare drone
of damsels and of dragonflies
made us legionaries 
languid as invasion
with all its noxious gifts
matted reeds as if
a holy child, in some regretful sacrifice
was abandoned here

In the curled leaf of your eye, still full with sleep

The morning has holes
Like a summer leaf
Withered by all those excesses
The swelling lymphatic process
Curtailed again, in that shirking act
That ebbs in sacrifice
Closes, a bent fist
Inside the marble of your eye
Thought you had turned the world
Inside out, the moon-thin meniscus
Serpentine and fluttering, in return from sleep
For that, the ocean dark below
All the pooling magma
Defying sunrise (you said the name
Of some lost shape)
Between wakefulness, and
The still suffused surface

Poetry & bingo

There is no news today
Today, no news
How strangely
New today
Without the shouting

In the White House
The president hums
The Stars and Stripes forever 
When making love
To his wife
Or almost anyone
With a dose of fluoxetine
Hair blown thin as gossamer
By his compassionate dreams
Of all out thermo-nuclear
An unfolding morning chrysanthemum
To atone for countless misdemeanours

In the quiet of apocalypse day
You can still dance with yourself
If you keep
An appropriate distance
The Holy Spirit in between
As you said, the Mercies used to say
Before they gave it up
For poetry and bingo

Gone to heaven
Heaven’s gate

With no one left to venerate
We all are martyred now

Jewry st bridge

Gunmetal road
xylophone rails
breathe like that old
vapourlocked EH Holden
your dad had
strangulation blue and around
the goon-eyed, bifold fender
a three day growth of rust
an astronaut grin, the jawbone
from high orbit, crashing back to earth
more patrician than abrasive
the one with Venetian blinds and rainbows
in the curvature of the glass
as if a gondola raced down
Constable’s flooded streets, past the Doge
a fallen gumtree lurking
with a crocodile intent
beneath the red brick arches
of the Peel St viaduct 
nothing is ever quite as close, as it seems
the rail bridge
built by invading Romans
of iron cast, from sheeting silver, curving away
in brute and manacle latticework
their mathematics lapsed, levied
to that noxious lead paint intoxication
highway frequencies 
monoxide bright
time in that clumsy columnar link
grinds from first to second as it shifts