A Paper Boat Unfolds

Some months before I drowned

arms crossed like spars

they made the lake

graders, slowly feeding insects

in the dead beast’s well

a skin of mud exuding

in tracks gouged deep as no man’s land

across lawns and paths and roads

as if this growing death

would poison half the world

now trees protrude like grief

from reflections of themselves

in a Rorschach aftermath

the boat skims like a leaf

loosed and unhomed, with that drifting

impermanence of life

of tides and swells in gutters

and rips in stormwater drains

hungry in the way of ghosts

on blue winter days

the rising smoke

of slow evaporation

subsumed and sublimated 

lines grown blurred and weak

in the chrysanthemum of morning

a paper boat unfolds

Jumping Puddles On The Moon

You are bright as

shop windows in the rain

a wooden ark that

so easily falls down

hard-shaped animals

rigid games

of words in squares with

values concomitant 

on the difficulty of meaning

I will lift you high

to careless shoulder blades

with a monkey-puzzle swing

your arms a python around my neck

knees almost a horse

jumping traffic-light puddles

shiver, smear, break like glass

one two three and stop

choking (only a little) 

on your glee’s foregone restraint

desperate as plastic

landing the way Armstrong did

in a world gone black and white

gum boots down

time dismayed

all the colours up

A tree so high I never came down

In that whistledown Sunday afternoon
I took a balsa plane my father made
giddy as glue! sleight as bones
rondels filmed as downcast eyes
on each seesaw wing
held loose as tinder
climbed as high
limbs laced between
the crag-barked branches of a light-struck pine
long-tailed birds all fleeing
in the sough and shriek of wind
let it go
with that slingshot fling
as if I came to slay giants (never could)
almost falling
knee fishhooked ‘round
a branch as thin as promises
forearm raked in shallow furrows
a hard kind of thirst
bark against my cheek and brow
hard as callused hands
a stitch, a breath
ribs punched in
waited til
the stars all died
in cloud cast aftermath
gone magnetic resonance blue
street lights, windows flicking on
in a far and moth-warm offering
the plane ink-dark, almost gone 
to a curtailed horizon
made that simple choice
between forever, falling

A surfeit of nectarines

I have clean earth in my hands

You shake, a sea of trees

Humpty-dumpty falling

I am drunk on nectarines

Face half bellyache green

The obverse

The deep maroon

Of summer’s lost eclipse

Clouds thin as desperation

Where we once bent like ships

Buoyant but

Never quite losing

A carefully layered union 

There is almost nothing

Left up here but sky

And your warm-honeyed faced


Jack-knife crooked

Strung on the limb

Turn aside

Far away

Water breaks, rejoins

Curves like swans, dissolving

The heat is a churl 

The unctuousness

Of sickly pine

Arm in arm we go inside


On the ricochet linoleum 

The Day My Kite Flew High As The World

Caught a blue day
On a sharp paper wing
Thin throat a-howl
Until the looped string
Broke with that strange
Updrawing weight
Of a new jealous wind’s
Stray trumpeting
Gone almost too high
Almost to glass
Almost as thin
As the last shard
In your blue orb’s
Sun struck glance
No longer you
No longer me
No longer see
Gone paper thin
A scrabble of ink
Through translucent skin

Mother to owls

I will take calcium from your teeth
Until they are milk and opal strange
Too soft to eat me with
An accusation borne with a bird-bark laugh
My birdsong replies as raw as warnings
Sometimes I feel the mask beneath the skin
Descended from the stranger world
An owlet that you carefully kissed
If I all reasonless wept
Hands against my neck and chin
As if they were his unfurled wings
Here now, away from all such childhood familiarity
Your hands have the eyes of wear
Pulling roots and weeds from raucous beds
Of judas penny and rhododendrons 
How with a wringing love
In this embrace they watch
Measuring pale skin with callouses
I do not remember lullabies 
Only a lost and dreamful sleep
Your morning voice still echoing
Insistent as a sunrise

Your mother is a broad tin roof

The rain is your mother
when she’s angry

And when she sings
your sleepless night to sleep

The see-saw of the tin
A deflection

Against the hem of morning 
a familiar spill

The mottled face
against proud heat
a hand cool-ly calming

Her shadow
for a while, while you sleep

Keeps the rest at least
a blanket thick, and almost noiseless day

Until you’ve done
with the mewled noise
of your forgetting

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.


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