1: More Rooms to the House
He’s forgotten a door until today
in the weatherboard bungalow.
Through it there’s another wing to the house,
a ball-room from the 1820s
where high stairs and tall ceiling
are cold above. He could sit
and write now the kids wouldn’t hurt
themselves in here, he could wear
thermals or light a fire. Behind
the ball-room stairs go down
to a derelict passage, out of sight
of the portraits in their steadfastness.
He says to anyone he meets outside
that finding it was like a common dream,
More Lost Rooms to the House,
one his friends had had, he’d
dreamed himself. Everything flickers,
becomes a bit unreal as he says it.
In that room before lightbulbs
night is unmitigated and snaps
each little thought with its brutal thumb.
To that century belong all passages
hidden under pubs and court-houses
on this island where the bricks
record prisoners’ hands. It’s no library
that he’s found or kitchen, not even
the passage to escape a tribe reclaiming
land, to run hidden to the river.
An empty ballroom, bubble of peak years
of theft and slaughter. It’s an opium dream
of Berlioz in an armour of dust.
‘See me here,’ says the note he slips
out under the heavy door, ‘don’t
see me here hiding in the past.’
2: Dead Friends
If there were a Feast of the Suicides
it’d be the busiest day for visiting.
My friend is back, still alcoholic
and ambushing people as a fleshy ghost.
I don’t forget even for a moment
that he’s dead. The debris
of his last years has settled,
and we can see again the old core
of friendship, shared mischief. He’s still
somehow employed, despite his death
and resignation, so we pose together
for a university calendar for the coming year:
he is a monstrous robot, I’m
mock victim in his crushing claw.
There’s always someone else to meet
at the conference where it doesn’t matter
if you’re alive or dead. My colleague
asks me to look after Marshall
while he himself works on disappearing into
his singularity. From some things
even the most unresolved of spirits
won’t return. But Marshall seems
to need no care. His specialties
are bullets and blow darts. He’s present
to inflict pain. Better leave him,
stay in the corner for those withering away,
remind them, just once more, their names.
They remade Lucas as a computer image.
It was on the news. The newsreader said
‘the cricketer’s brother’ had been simulated
with original mannerisms. It cut to Marcus
(after recounting batting statistics
in this last few minutes after sport and weather)
standing beside the reconstruction.
I guess they asked him to smile
against a green screen, doing his best
to look fraternal. The image itself
was disappointing – face was right
(the easy bit) but gestures, expressions
exaggerated beyond anything
I remembered. No one had managed
to replicate his splintery voice.
3: Trying to Get Back
An old hotel in the country, evidently
in Europe, probably France. The colours
of walls and furniture are soft but glow
like the lightshow they project
at night on the Ara Pacis, showing
what it might have been. The beds are old
and too soft and I decay into them.
It’s night and food
is brought by a man who lost a hand
in some old accident. The manager
is fiercely free from character, is the son
of a mother famous for toadstools and fingernails
ground down to charms.
It’s been night for years
though only children are naïve enough
to say. Adults remark only the things
that go on despite the suffocation
of the light.
Outside it was never France,
it was Australia, the southeast where
if you squint it could be almost Europe.
That could be a nothofagus, a pool
The basement has a model
of the solar system, each planet is a sphere
revolving. The interstellar spaces are
reduced to the homely fixed stars, currently
in need of repair, jammed sometime
in the debauched and terrible reign
of the hotel’s last owners. The model
has been useful in the years of the Eclipse,
as they call it if they accidentally tell
some story that depends on knowing that
there once were hours of daylight.
Outside it’s near Perth, somewhere
like Serpentine, a night in summer
with a predicted storm that might arrive this time.
In a drawer in one room live a populace
of silverfish on what’s left of a wedding dress.
They’re so many for the little food left for them.
Outside is the nearly tropical air
of Sydney and the rhythm of cicadas
sounds wrong if you’re from any other place.
You try to look to your lover’s face but there’s always
something else: your eye caught
by that bedside lamp reflected in the mirror,
or there’s a sound, very clear, at the upper end
of your remaining hearing, or you’re afraid
of how your look will be returned, or you
recall how many hours were spent on that
almost eaten wedding dress.
it has always been Tasmanian winter,
Jupiter and Saturn revolve just like
their polished simulacra in the basement.
It’s a dark where past murders seem
so new, and night allows the island’s
innocent animals to feed on skittled flesh.
They’re sepia things in an archive, they’re
growing native to the Long Eclipse.
Getting back is always the intention.
They’ve built new malls and cafes
where there used to be the union office
and pub. Same block of flats is there,
its dowdy 70s brick. But the balconies
look safer where there was thin metal
against the drop (and you knew
how the pips of watermelons fell
from a child’s mouth up there).
The view is tidier, even Freo Harbour
and the cargo ships.
But there are barriers
between you and that flat, no way
to the lift with its sulpherous light
where you might well be stuck on your way
to the seventh floor, where a grandfather might
name you of all the children gentleman.
He is translating August Andaleuse,
drop-out from the nineteenth century,
would be troubador on the back roads
of France and Italy. Short poems pooled
in the odd pages of his memoir. And the best of them
was written when he walked to the Community,
semi-monastery of not quite monks
and nuns, somewhere near Verona. His wife
had died long before and he walked
with his little daughter till their shoes
fell apart and feet ached. They grew
sicker as they went, convinced it was due
to ‘the cool, fresh water near Verona.’
They walked imagining hand-made books
and stained glass, rooms safe and clean,
probity like an imaginary knight’s code.
(Here he sounds like early Moréas).
When they arrived she died and he
lived, made stained glass since there was
none, bound books and wrote the epitaph
to inscribe on her little stone just inside the walls.
Now and then,
the note says, a visitor on the long trail
of Andaleuse visits to see the stone,
or historians come for what’s left of the Community.
He left behind her ruck-sack with her toys
and a few books, and his poem on a death and a well,
‘the cool, fresh water near Verona.’
4: In the Vicinity of the Temple
A stone church like a mountain
in the country, near the sea.
It was built from tiny bricks, each
just a palm-full of grey flint.
You could move them one by one
with enough patience and forever on your hands.
Dark inside to eyes closed by summer,
open just enough to let in the sallow.
Down the cliff over a shallow reef,
cerebral twists of coral and sea-grass -
the man-length of my father swimming.
The buses run almost to the peak
of Everest. It’s busy up there with tourists
like me. The queue for the last flight
of stairs is long, the peak
crowded, the approach worn smooth into pilgrimage.
Somewhere nearby, on a lower,
more secret peak, I went with a friend
whose year ahead was a shifting prognosis.
We thought we could feel our personal dead.
Things were fading down on our world’s
mixing board, and we didn’t know if
we were too. Or else we’d be left
in the dark, listening to silence after.
They gave me the hammer to show I was a killer.
I couldn’t remember but went to hide it
somewhere away from cameras, not in a bin
that would go to the tip that junior cops
would go to search. Not in water
they’d dredge. Nowhere was secret enough
for my hammer and its bloody rag.
And so to trial and the punishment reserved:
I was spared the child quick with a razor
who’d take just a little of you
with a snick almost like a joke.
It was human sacrifice for me, as though I were
a king of the woods to shake
a golden bough, to go down
through clouds of text, be translated
to an underworld. I knew it was right that I nod
when they sprinkled my forehead, pretend
there was no knife under the barley grains
in the basket. Pretend above all
to know my guilty conscience and my nerve.
5: The End of It All
I dive where I used to walk, revisit
submerged places by snorkel. The beach
where half the suburb used to be
in Hobart summer, and where our dog walked,
is sandy bottom now for whiting.
High Street, where I was a toddler,
drowned under quick glugs of sea –
you can still spot asphalt, square edges
of a foundation. I’d like to think I dived
to the steps where I used to throw things down.
I went back to Oostende, swam
to the monument for Ensor, the crooked metal
cube and masks, more disorienting now
at the limit of breath in cold water. Fish
whose gray names I don’t know swim through it.
Arjuna’s Penance and the Shore Temple
at Mahabalipuram are smooth and magnified
through glass and water. The ascetic floats
the worlds and gods around him. Near home again
my friends’ stone house, its witchy brooms
and dried body of a stingray from a beach,
its shelves of poems and philosophy, rooms loose
and long, adjacent like states of mind,
are all returned to Great Oyster Bay.
Like in dementia the edges disappear bit
by bit, sometimes in rushes as ice
has melted somewhere distant,
and things drown from
complicated failures out of sight.