look at me
looking at you looking at me looking right through you
i’ll probably get sick of your face some day
so i’ll grow out my eyelashes plait them closed
i don’t want to write about my lovers anymore
but i can’t see past your massive head your ego
hanging daft clouds like cigarettes
before and after sex
because, whatever, treat yourself
because, they say this generation’s living to a hundred and ten
but i don’t know, that seems like too long of a time
and i’d say i’m pretty terrible at making people feel good
i’m no one’s guardian angel
i’m the light up sign on skipping girl vinegar
too-long awkward childhood suspended in the smoke
glowing tubular lights and
a cameo role in my sister’s nightmares
where she smiles all flash teeth in the dark
and there’s no windows it’s just like ikea
everything’s just like fucking ikea
i don’t want to write about the people in the city
how profound it is to watch them all falling through the gates at flinders street
bullshit, look at them all
what would david attenborough say?
in the bitter climate of a melbourne winter
they suit up scramble in the day time
trying to shield themselves from natural selection
like who do they think they are?
stamp down suffocate the grass like a fucking plague shitting concrete
and the nerve those poor ones have
to call themselves prophets or poets
but they suck back their shit just like everybody else
shit poems your poems love poems butt sex poems
feel good poems for underconfident women
poems about poems like that’s something new
sea poems tree poems and talk of how you breathe with the earth poems
and how everything’s connected and ain’t that profound
but the truth is you just like mushrooms
poetry, i’m trying not to be so narcissistic
poetry, you can write yourself
what the fuck do you need me for?
it mostly smells of lung cancer
stale petrol fumes and sounds
like engines or cellphones or
the clinking glass of top shelf liquor.
windows of cars are bathed in condensation from
the words of lovers who say they have no room
left in their lives for commitment
(commitment – what a dirty word)
but you can tie me down
we’ll hoard each other like commodities
under mattresses or in the bottoms of
desk drawers /glove compartments where
something meaningful might have been.
(i once knew a guy
who thought he could fold his girl
four times down the middle small enough
to fit inside the notes pouch of his wallet and another
who once spent hours in the ‘wife’ section of hallmark
just so he’d have something better
to whisper in his girlfriend’s ear than
i wanna fuck you so hard your mum’ll feel it
i am a spectator
i arrange the notes in my wallet according to their value
and buy gift cards with messages i’m too lazy to write
only i don’t call it falling in love
there’s empty in the whites of our eyes
(and ok – money can’t buy me love
but it sure can get me laid)
let’s say the sky unzips itself
and a wind pulls skyscrapers like they’re weeds
lays them down in rows like supermarket aisles
and in the ruin we’ll shop for love or
everything’s gonna be fine we’ll be happy
so long as we’re too busy counting change
to ever look anybody
straight in the eye
still honeyed fingers tighter eyelids shut against
wind howls forgiveness howls
dawn pulling blaze over city
might look up
call it romantic
as myself small peace
offering a skeleton housing a soul can’t depart
might mean something
clarity rags of day
fingers branches winter rings of bones
security guards framed dreams beast department store
called my shame
want one safe place phantom life raft
still paralytic sing you’re not special
distance weakens everything
true enough is true
to water flowers blood flames rhyme some more
no writer shut up writer
Consciousness is a lie (I think as I walk the city - what a trip!)
but a journey is no journey, only perpetual arrival,
and so we do not know how to leave each other.
This kind of politic scares me too -
new heads springing up where the old ones are cut off,
like hyacinths, like science fiction or breathing or
as you already are with your ‘falling in love is a kind of suicide’ -
I dreamed you died in a freak road accident and then you loved me -
but there will always be an ‘Other’ and so you are not special.
I mean to say your self-awareness is a book you can’t put down
and sympathy is having a gay cousin or something.
A strange new thing is happening to me -
now I no longer see truth.
A tree absorbeth water and forgets it ever rained.
He’s talking I think but there’s no sound.
Closer to home now but chill between and
spring rain of course, always the rain. I’m in
the eye of something drinking coffee by
myself. I’ve got a life or two half in my hands
(holding off from breaking) but I don’t
want them. (There’s a lesson in that
somewhere – you’ve got to stop trying to
fix everyone.) Someone died today I guess
we don’t need the news. My heart is
in the city drawing pictures of himself.
We don’t like rock stars only Zappa.
We’re breathing dust and Beethoven
from a busker’s cracked up speakers.
His hands move so fast you could say
that they’re no longer hands.
I’ve been craving a simpler philosophy. But first - a real crisis.
I’m told it’s healthier to identify with something, whether or not you consider yourself an existentialist. I’ll sift through my head until I find something worth telling you about, I’ll strain my neck trying to keep the rest in. Is this right? Is this what you had in mind?
Thought is made in the mouth - Tzara said that - and so mine is full as a Frenchman’s bending around these finite combinations. The best way to know someone is by their reaction to the cosmic joke - you said that - then you kissed me in front of a homeless man bathing in the crisp blue light of a 7/11. I’ve got no change so don’t bother asking.
It’s simple enough to love; much harder yet to receive it. Isn’t that grand? What a punchline! I’m a true philanthropist.
We only know how to talk past each other. Words on clouds of bong breath or we’ll shoot up our bullshit arrows from our amateur bows. If I could only change your mind on something - then we’d have a real conversation. Then I’d get dressed and go to the city, I’d talk to my barista, or someone on the tram or eating lunch on the lawn by themselves. I’d change all their minds on something or other. I only want to know my way is better. I only want recognition. Pats on the back from strangers. I used to be a genius you know. Let’s ponder that for a moment while the ticket inspector writes our fines. While we’re at it, maybe a real job?
Poetry never made anyone happy; least of all me. We could just stop trying, retreat to social networking, grow a harder chin. You’ve got nothing until you tell someone about it, and besides, it’s far more important for people to believe you’ve got an easy life than it is for you to actually have one.
I’ll pour meaning over everything until I’ve got nothing left with which to smother you. I’ll act in symbols, I’ll go - leave the city, clean break and talk up to the face of a cliff instead. He’ll talk back, he’ll get it. You’re here, you showed up, and that’s not even half the battle, it’s the whole god damned war. Do you even know what I’m saying?
No - it’s fine. We both know I’ll be back. I’ll miss the city humming its single life-affirming note in my ears. My fine is in the mail; I’ll pay it all at once, become a neutral force in this world. Sanity, thy name is mine. Keep talking. Don’t let me fall asleep.
- Find a poet
- Tell them: I am going to write better poetry than you
- Record their response
- Put it in a poem
- Read it back to them
I am trying not to think about you.
It’s 1:56 on a Monday and it’s true I feel a little more alive
in the city when the rain keeps me interested in
other people’s sadness.
Suits are the lining of the gutters and in shop fronts
models fucking each other photoshopped.
I care for the sanctity of lunchtime cigarettes
outside a cafe where the storm lifts umbrellas
like the teenage skirts of girls who scream in horror
at the rain in their coffee
while across the road a life-size Kim Kardashian
bursts from the walls in a most sublime display of worship
of the true human spirit.
Sometimes when I think of you I feel as if
I might projectile vomit on the window of a passing tram
in a glorious affirmation of life.
There’s a day when ‘love-sick’ is an oxymoron.
There’s a day when they ban smoking in the city
so we’ll all be healthy lovers fucking ‘til we’re 95
under fig trees and much more gentle.
I want you to ask me what I’m thinking so I can tell you
about the lady whose tram fare I paid this morning
so that she could see her daughter in the hospital
where the deathgeist taking root in her belly is breathing blue and bruises,
even though it’s been months since I’ve paid for a tram fare of my own.
I want to tell you it’s because my grandfather died last month
and so I’m still a little fragile on questions of mortality.
And when we say ‘fragile’ we really mean ‘empathetic’, and when we say ‘empathetic’
we really mean that if you jumped off the West Gate then I’d probably do it too
because I like the idea of dying with you
in some gruesome way to show us like the aliens we feel,
our bodies bloating next to each other in new winter shades of plum,
all across the shit brown river whose mirrored skin
shows us filth instead of our faces.
I’ll tell you all of this because it sounds
much better than what I’m really thinking about,
which is fucking you in putrid summer in a blow up pool
filled with papier mache glue.
I’m simple like everyone else.
I only want an easy life.
I want water in both of our graves and sweat stains on the sheets of a tentative love.
Love, love, and whatever.
I want not to watch you picking little balls of tissue from your wet dick.
I pulled off my hands and left them by the river in the reeds
where the children screamed at the helplessness of limbs.
I pulled off my hands and a doctor found them and told me
I should brace myself for an early death.
For the rusting bones of sleep, for the whisper of mortality
to rattle my ribcage and fill my lungs with silence.
I kicked him and I screamed and he said:
'What are you mad at me for? It's not my fucking fault.'
I pulled off my hands and then you took them and slapped me in the face
and said ‘stop hitting yourself stop hitting yourself’
and I was eight years old again, building paper houses
in the back of the car on the way to school
and no one really grows up do they no one really changes,
I’m still the one who’s not allowed to hit back
and you love that don’t you, you fucking love that.
And then you slapped my mother then my uncle then my brother,
you same blooded sadist, you miserable psychopathic bitch,
yet I’m still the black sheep dressed in mourning clothes
for some sort of innocence I never even had to begin with.
I pulled off my hands and you threw them in the river
and they clawed their way down to the open sea I’ve seen
the only lesson you had to teach which was: Just shut up and take it.
You outcast child you shut up and take it.
You miserable teen you shut up and take it.
You overprivileged you art school drop out you just shut up and take it.
You too smart for your own good you tortured poet you drinker you smoker you psychadelic taker
you wannabe escapee from this shit we call reality no - you shut up and take it.
And if you start to think you’re living a lie
and if you start to think it’s easy to die
just remember how no one even meant you to be born
so how lucky you are how lucky you are just to even be alive
and what a beautiful world this must be that won’t hear the screams
of the sad of the poor of the the faithless of the broken hearts
of all these victims and you -
You whose life amounts to a note in the margin of a book
that no one even wants to read so they prescribed it a university textbook
and forced us to pay attention while we handed over
those last remaining bones of a children’s thirst for knowledge
so that someday soon we might become our apathy
we might be become those upstanding citizens, get real jobs
and close our eyes and shut up and take it
cause the one who cries at the 6:00 news is not one who belongs in this world
so go ahead and drink that litre of wine if that’s what you need to desensitise, but me -
I watch it like a nightmare, I watch it like a fiction, me -
I stopped wearing mascara to the movies years ago,
I cry in every death scene in every film I ever see
except for the one where I’m the protagonist,
the one where I wear a vacant expression of the latest trend
and talk of how little we know of each other,
how little we know of ourselves,
and talk of how life and death don’t know don’t care
for the names we give to them, only take, take, take…
And how our bodies are indifferent to the plans we make for them
or the places we reserve for feeling afraid,
and what a flaw what a fuck up in nature that must have been
that enabled us to give a shit, enabled us to grip onto nothing
and cling for our lives on fresh air and ideology.
But hey, don’t be mad at me. It’s not my fucking fault.
I just pull off my hands and I throw them in the river
and they claw their way back to the damned
who shit on each other and shit on the streets
and take, and take, and take…
It wasn’t your fault that the engines stuck with gulls.
Fingers spitting ash and teeth dripping blood and
you screamed like an aeroplane howling with absence.
Children cried because they’d already forgotten silence.
Life seemed less like a miracle and more like necessity.
If your ribcage were the nest of a sweeter-songed bird,
roses would bloom in the salts of your eyelids
and whole processions of insects would stand still.
In the dark we would feel for ourselves,
sipping the air of the cicada’s frantic song.
Out when the cold sets bones to moving,
another dawn wages its war with the moon.
Windows dress for the day in grey cloaks of fog
and a faceless voice hums niceties with stolen breath.
Trains stop to fill with people and dive
off the ends of the tracks to the reality of nothing new.
Here in the city there will be no need to dream.
Here, where the sun sleeps cradled in clouds,
licking the tops of our scalps.
Here where we gather the death-bent bones of trees
that shiver under the ache of unspeakable winters.
Windows kissed by frost return our faces to us,
complete with blank expressions.
Here on the ground there is no need, no need to dream.
The moon’s whispers hide in the skins of so many girls
who lay inside the crooks of replaceable arms
and stare at the ceiling. Nature penetrates
the cracks in the corners with a chaos of limbs,
desperate for the comfort of weather-worn room.
Higher than this, where time is no longer linear
but meets itself to circle,
straight roads will tell of their struggle against
the curvature of the earth.
Younger islands asserting their existence
by throwing their built arms skywards to offer
for the quiet acknowledgment of unseen gods.
Here it makes more sense the further up you are -
Tiny men with the songs of worker bees in their hearts,
parthenogenic crowds of suits longing to become a river.
Rats, having forgotten their predators,
dutifully carry the refuse of the city to the underworld
and lay down to rest under carpets of moss.
Greenery flees for underground, spreads like a blood disease,
and spits out spores through gaps in the pavement.
Here where the sun rests still in its bed,
casting a glance of faint approval.
Sure it looks better from further away,
so climb to the rooftops,
climb to the roof and
We strive, of course, for perfect expression. The preoccupation of every generation, every movement, every artist and poet since art and poetry were first conceived. An admirable aim no doubt, but entirely unachievable; any possible form we may wish to use to express something is necessarily imperfect because we, the creators, are necessarily imperfect. It is important, however, to recognise that this is not only unachievable, but entirely undesirable. For this is the struggle – against content, against form, against the dismissive prejudices of society, against our own imperfections and those of our language, our beloved; against the untranslatability of a seed of a thought into words, against words themselves, words that dance about the things they represent, flirt with meaning, flirt with each other, charm and tease out the minds of everyone who ever cared to do them any justice. Words that do all of this, do everything except to touch on their objects and stick, simply by virtue of what they are, their abstract removedness, and the fact that they were arbitrarily contrived by such imperfect minds as ours.
There is this struggle – towards perfect expression, something transcendent, a true mirror or our collective souls – and then there is the struggle against the struggle itself, that which holds us, pushes us back, ensures we keep shy of our goals, keeps us forever falling backwards like round things trying to mount an uphill slope. I feel that every poet should, at some point in their lives, recognise that we do not by any means wish to arrive at the threshold of this aim of ours and find the door wide open, arms outstretched, receptive to our coming as though it had been expecting us all along. For what then would we have to shoot for? What impossibilities would we have to love, to entrance us, to charm us, to tease us with their slippery aloofness, their power to elude even – or perhaps especially – the most talented or determined poets ever to set their sights upon them?
I have long thought it an essential property of human love that it first and foremost attaches itself to some person, object or idea that could only exist in a sort of utopia; then, with this goal in mind, it proceeds to trawl through reality to find the thing that most resembles it. This we call the object of our love. Love itself, however, lies more in the thing we will never hold; and, perhaps more importantly, in our stubborn determination to find it. This special kind of dissatisfaction, coupled with a knowingly misguided belief in something better, is the true source of all of our strongest motivations. Poetry is no different, for it, too, is love. And it, too, requires disappointments of this kind to keep us fixed on our ideals, both in spite of and because of a deeper recognition of their unachievability. This conflict, this simultaneous, contradicting need to achieve and to never achieve true perfection – this is poetry, and this is unavoidably the life of the poet beast whose stomach growls as it hesitates and shies away from its prey. And our task – to straddle this impossible divide, to wince in pain, but stay exactly where we are for the time it takes to make another feeble attempt with a few lines of careful verse. We poets are true faithful mistresses of struggle. What else have we ever known or loved? And of course we are human, so forever turning away from enlightenment, terrified of both the unknown and the truly knowable.
Let us consider for a moment, however, what would happen if someone achieved what I have thus far insisted is unachievable; a perfect means of expression through words, one that is skilfully adapted to generating exactly accurate representations of any object, of beauty, of feeling, the real stuff of art and the true workings of the human soul. (This is not even to mention the subjectivity of beauty and how we could even know perfection if we ever came across it.) What then? It seems apparent to me that the best thing we could hope to do in the face of such a discovery would be to dismiss it as another failed attempt and abandon it immediately. For this would signify the end of the struggle so essential to any ideal, any object of love; our source of motivation to keep on shooting hopelessly would be gone, and thus would occur the death of the art. And who should ever wish to abandon any love of theirs?
Now consider, again, this hypothetical. What could perfection of expression, a truly flawless beauty, possibly look like? For poetic beauty lies in the invisible, the indescribable, that elusive something that, though we can rarely explain just why, stops us at exactly where we are, fills us with real awe, and sets us trembling at our cores as if a ghost were passing through. The invisible, the unknowable, the brilliance of continuous evasion – that’s true motivation, that’s the whole god damn point of it all.
Take the old cliché, ‘it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters.’ All this is not unique to poetry. This is life. Any admirable ideal should not have as its true objective the actual realisation of any of its loftier goals. We are hardly any closer to pinning down the invisible and giving it a name today than we were on the day the first word was conceived. Nor would we ever want to be.
Still your honeyed fingers tighter round my neck
forcing steel out of blood wounds gaping holes all round the sides
Still sweet firework flesh of yours
bursting phosphenes in my eyelids shut against the wind
that howls forgiveness howls you miss me just as much
Still vessels moving coursing with other ghosts
You exist in the space between wake and sleep
and so it’s only those few seconds that we had to see slaughtered
by the clearer light of dawn pulling its blaze over the city
so that someone might look up and call it romantic
There are phantoms walking the streets at day
Criminals cloaked in day jobs and all the rest
I live amongst the soldiers’ masks
I am dressed up as myself
Still my fingers breaking off as small peace offerings
for the bone-snap cold winter mornings
howling silence howling dried ice
Your hulkish hands pry apart my ribcage
Tear my skin like gift wrap but don’t be too surprised
since we all start bleeding over each other
at the first mention of a skeleton housing a soul
Still in my dreams you show up uninvited
Start to shapeshift taking forms of all my other ghosts
greedily as if you wished they were yours and greedily as if
you knew they weren’t
But hey anything goes here it’s just a dream
So take it all away from me I’m not going to stop you
Still there are men who worship the gods of their own five senses
as if they were something to be trusted
And there are those who can’t depart from the thought
that their lives might really mean something
Dressed like brides of clarity in shining rags of day
And we are very busy and important
Still there are postmen bricklayers railway workers those
who give their lives to secure the certain rise and fall of day
Revolutions, Revelations, Remember
the sun sets the same time every day
and you’re supposed to pay it back somehow
or just by playing along
The years warped the bark of the trees in my front yard
until they started to look like you
You would sprout leaves and bloom in warmer sun
if only you weren’t so cold
Still your fingers deadened branches
Winter is written in the twenty-six age rings of your ripening bones
Still I’m much too young to have met with the warmed hushed breath
of my mortality as it presses against my arching shoulders
and hitches a ride on the older man’s hunchback
marring the bright with sunset cataracts for all his remaining days
I’m much too young to know these things and once so were you
Still the thumping churning of a poor man’s mechanical lungs
Still I miss you like the city misses silence
we’re pretending to remember from the womb
Don’t you know the babies cry because they already forgot
The security guards framed me for possession of better dreams
They took them and hid them in the belly of the beast (department store)
and called my name over the P.A. to shame me over thinking of you
Still I’d rather wrap myself around you
like a toddler on his parent’s leg in protest
Still I only want one safe place in the world
So be my phantom life raft, damn it
Be still now, I am running out of metaphors
There are too many ways to talk about absence and
none of them will ever be horror enough
Not until my skin shrinks back from my fingernails
shrinks back into itself as if from a desire
not to disturb the air around it any more than it already has
I see you mount the stairs to something better something sweeter than
the shrinking blossoms of winter yards
It looked like a dream and hey it probably was
but true enough for one is true enough it’s true
You the subtle worship of sleep
There’s a world inside of everything that’s still
Still the muscles of our paralytic days
So sing me out of stupor, sing me into sleep
Sing with the birds so no one can tell you you’re not special
Sing with the gulls if they tell you they’re born of the sea
Sing, just Shut up and Sing
Still is the sea if you’re high enough above - Silent too
Not quite the tempest you’d hoped for
Distance weakens everything, my Mother taught me that
Still the air will taste of violets if you want it to
And the storms will sing to you as if they really cared
while they summon fury enough to whisk you away from gravity
True enough for one is true enough it’s true
Still the trees are home to water flowers home to flames
Still my blood is home to you for one unsettling day
And I’ll rhyme more if you want me to
Graft sonnets onto Sunday Tuesday afternoons
Because there’s no such thing as narrative there is only the writer
So Shut up, Writer, and Sing.
Almost had a way to control it all
A hypothetical button on a hypothetical machine
Couldn’t find the secret to make it work
Next door a wasteland a ruin a landfill of all our failed attempts
I broke into the grandeur the palaces of the rich in Ostentatia
And all the sky was dressed in dark
And all the clouds were sweating storms
But still I’ve been late to every party
Jayne was so upset with me I’m sorry Jayne don’t wait
My legs are failing me aching like a marathon can hardly even stand
I dragged myself up the driveway on my elbows
Telemarketers called to sell me funeral insurance
Whispered in their cracked up faceless voices
That peace of mind costs just a little over a dollar a day
And they could give that to me they could
And there was you and in your arms someone somehow worthier than me
Harder to hold a shadow I’d imagine
There was a hold-up in the grocery store and no one could leave
Stuck making picnics in the aisles between the freezers
I saw your face in my coffee this morning
And yes I swallowed you
I’ve realised that my whole life I’ve been going through very short bursts of being really productive and then I’ll stop for a while because I start to feel like everything I’m creating is really superfluous or something, and like I need to keep my ego in check if I’m thinking that people actually really want to hear what I have to say, like, why would they? Your life reflects enough of your pain back at you without needing me to do it too. And I remember reading somewhere someone said that if you can stop writing, then you should. And I would stop if I could, I really would, I’m not just saying that, even though half the time I have to force myself and it feels contrived, I think about all the times I haven’t been writing at all and they’re always the times where I’ve been all blocked up and very sad. Then I remember how crappy that feels and so I’ll start writing again. Lots for maybe two or three weeks. In this time I’ll labour over a poem or two and be very proud of myself very briefly. And repeat. And I fear that this may be my process, and it’s funny because every decent writer I ever met has felt these same things, the pointlessness I mean, and I’m always like, well, maybe the things about poetry that make you feel that way are the same things that you love about it, that make you feel some indescribable something grip you and you feel this feeling like something transcendent within yourself and outside of yourself, like how love might feel if love could have feelings of its own. I don’t know. Your own advice on creativity is such a funny thing. So foreign somehow. So unnecessarily strange.
2012 - 2014