from Issue #8: Poetry by Bill Adams

Photo (CC) Vic Nicholas @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Vic Nicholas @ Flickr

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Wren

This is a bird’s back
Keeled as a breastbone
Fragile as a bag of sticks
Creaking like a matchbox.

Life is still a kind of test
You pick at details out of place
Lose concentration for a moment
And everything will come to pieces.

Your pinched body shrinks
To the essential kernel of discomfort
A sharp questing wren, forced to perch,
Flinty with disapproval.

Your bones are hollowing,
Soon you will simply blow away,
And we will hold only echoes of sharp song,
The self-belief that framed us

 

*

 

Halloween

Tonight is the night that old dogs bark
And kids fill bus shelters,
When leaves give up and slump
Like plaster in a roofless house.

Tonight, car drivers desperate to get home
Jump lights and shave corners.
It was dark early – the fog
Is thick as ash and eats sound.

Tonight, November shambles forwards,
Asthmatic and grey-faced, sucking out the light.
The thinning hedge is a shrew ash,
Dressed with plastic. The festivals

We use to ward off darkness,
Tonight start to reveal themselves,
Stalk empty streets,
And search for souls.

 

*

 

Barn Owl

Wings supple as a scarf:
Rigged to perfection,
That box fuselage
Stretched canvas over bent sticks;

Inside, a small hot body,
The rest is buoyancy.

Launched across the thin grass
You float beside the hedge,
Dipping and rising, a lilting tune
Against the dark blackthorn stave.

But this is not a maiden flight,
Your eyes miss nothing:

A roving drone, with death
Slung sheathed beneath you.

As the cooling air thickens
Wingtips sense the layered currents,
You turn, a shark quartering a reef,
Flip across the hedge, gone.

Ghost bird, for years your blank eyes
Watched me grow up, face pinched with disapproval.

Now I see you sometimes, towards dusk
In desert camouflage,
Fragile in the light air, drifting,
And I think, where did it all go?

.

*

ABOUT THE POET

BILL ADAMS teaches about the complex relations between people and nature in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. He has published various books on conservation and development, including Wasting the Rain (Minnesota University Press, 1992) Future Nature (Earthscan 1995), Against Extinction (Earthscan 2004) and Green Development (Routledge, 2009). Bill lives in a village just within bicycling distance of Cambridge, and blogs on conservation at thinkinglikeahuman.com.

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from Issue #8: Poetry by Lyn Vellins

Photo (CC) Selena N. B. H. @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Selena N. B. H. @ Flickr

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Dancing with echoes

Last night’s rain listens on the grass
…….it hears wings whisking upwards
………..the whips of cuckoos rising and falling,
hitches a ride on a train ticking in the distance.

This morning skulks beside stones lonely as a leash of foxes
…….it fails to warm even the brown lizards that perch alert
………..beside the fallen frangipani and the dew-sopped feather.

A Xerox copy of the screen door’s angles
…….lies sun-stamped onto the green street door
………..gracing true light silence and shade
echoes filter through splayed fingers.

.

*

.

Sunday 3pm

i

In this solitude
……..ambient light presses
……………maquillaged diamonds
across the threshold.
The open door
………….lays columns of
…………luminous shade and light
on the linoleum floor,
………weightless bright notes
…………….waiting to be played.

.

ii

In front of me
……..the dog on the Persian carpet
……………has no need
of anything right now:
sunlight makes
……..her fur iridescent
……………she lifts
her face in wonder
……..as if she is
……………seeing me
for the first time
again &
……..again &
…………….again

.

*

ABOUT THE POET

LYN VELLINS is a Sydney-based poet. She runs a monthly poetry reading group, ‘RhiZomic’, and was on the committee of many reputed publications and on several editorial committees whilst at Sydney University. Her first collection of poetry, A Fragile Transcendence, was published by Picaro Press in July, 2012.

from Issue #8: Poetry by Alicia Aza, translated by J. Kates

Photo (CC) Brendan Lally @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Brendan Lally @ Flickr

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Read Alicia Aza’s original Spanish, then J. Kates’ English translations in blue.

*

*

La golondrina merodea entre el magnolio

En la penumbra de los días
se desvanece lo vivido
en los misteriosos susurros
lento marchitar de las flores.
Tus labios, sépalos robustos
que dulcifican la sonrisa
de un cáliz poseedor de néctar,
se condensan en mi memoria.
Mientras me esfuerzo en ser corola
alentadora de suspiros
muestro los colores de un ave
cuyo nombre tú me ensañaste.
Negro, azul, blanco, trilogía
de la noche aterida y mansa
cuando sólo es una mañana
apaciguada de domingo.

The swallow swoops among the magnolia

In the twilight of days
animation vanishes
in mysterious whispers
a slow withering of flowers.
Your lips, robust sepals
that sweeten the smile
of a calyx filled with nectar,
tighten in my memory.
While I strive to be a corolla
encouraging sighs,
I show off the colors of a bird
whose name you taught me.
Black, blue, white, trilogy
of a quiet and frozen night
when it is only a Sunday
morning at peace.

.

*

.

Las sendas del olvido

     (Der Hölle Rache)

La gota de té desdibuja
las letras que me nombran a Montaigne.

Y me hablas de un anhelo
como la gota aclara
el rojo que discurre
por el libro de lágrimas
que ha de quemar mi rostro.

Canta la Reina de la Noche.

Y así comienza otra mañana
que haré cruzar hacia el olvido.

Paths of oblivion

       (Der Hölle Rache)

The drop of tea blurs
the letters that read Montaigne to me.

And you are telling me about a longing
as the drop clarifies
the red that runs
through the book of tears
that will burn my face.

The Queen of the Night is singing.

And so begins another morning
I’ll cross over into oblivion.

.

*

.

Restos de un alga

(Nelly Sachs pasea por la playa en Malmö)

Las vueltas de la vida van y vienen
las busco, me doblegan, me perturban
bailo con ellas, me abrazan y escapan.

Agitadas regresan de las rocas
con una turbulencia indefinida
de ardientes espirales que traicionan.

Fluyen mareas en la dulce noche
del renovado bosque de armonía,
y el frescor reconforta y nos seduce
como ríos de quietudes afligidas.

El cielo gris del mar bravío
tienta a las olas en la orilla
de los límites de mi esencia.

Busca mis peces de colores
pósate en mi cálida arena
girando alrededor del ancla
que firme me amarra a la vida.

Remains of seaweed

(Nelly Sachs walks along the beach in Malmö)

The turns of life come and go
I look for them, they twist back and torment me
I dance with them, they embrace me and flee.

They come back in a lather from the rocks
with an indefinite turbulence
of treasonous fiery spirals.

The tides ebb and flow in the sweet night
of a renewed woodland harmony,
the fresh air comforts and seduces us
like rivers of distressed quiet.

The gray sky of the rough sea
tempts the waves on the shore
of the limits of my being.

Seek out my fish of many colors
rest in my warm sand
circling around the anchor
that moors me safely to life.

.

*

.

El silencio de un lirio blanco

En el silencio de una noche
señora de dos lunas propias
nuestras palabras alumbraban
un luminoso lirio blanco.

Otro silencio nuevo acude
a nombrarme con el mutismo
de unas viejas botas expuestas
con sucios cordones y pliegues
que desprenden aroma usado.

Todo remite a narraciones
con protagonistas ausentes.

Me convertiste en personaje
y con la calma del silencio
pude aprender ante el espejo
la dicción de aquel lirio blanco.

The silence of a white lily

In the silence of one night
mistress of two appropriate moons
our words have illuminated
a luminous white lily.

Another new silence turns
to naming me with the wordlessness
of some old boots gaping
with dirty laces and creases
that reek of second-hand.

Everything goes back to stories
with absent heroes.

You turned me into a character
and with calm of silence
in front of a mirror I was able to learn
the way that white lily speaks.

.

*

ABOUT THE POET

ALICIA AZA is a lawyer and a poet, born in 1966 and living in Madrid, who has published three books: El Libro de los árboles (2010) which was a finalist for the Andalusia Critics award; El Viaje del invierno (2011) which won the “Rosalia de Castro” International Poetry award;  and Las Huellas fértiles (2014).

J. KATES is a poet and literary translator who lives in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.

from Issue #8: Poetry by Mary MacPherson

Photo (CC) noricum @ Flickr

Photo (CC) noricum @ Flickr

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Mary MacPherson’s poems “Threads” and “Subtraction” are presented here as a special PDF to preserve their unique formatting. Click here to read them.

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ABOUT THE POET

MARY MACPHERSON is a poet and photographer from Wellington, New Zealand. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University and her work has appeared in many print and online journals. More information is available on her blog, marymacphoto.wordpress.com or website, marymmac.weebly.com

from Issue #8: Poetry by Philip Hammial

Photo (CC) Tim Parkinson

Photo (CC) Tim Parkinson

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Tied

Those tied at the feet
will attend Lesson Time where they’ll learn
the discipline & grafting required for a transition
into membership in My Father’s House.

Those tied at the waist will receive a deposit
containing a soul’s beginning
that has the capacity to recognize the Kingdom
of Heaven’s Representative.

Those tied at the hands
will, with some effort, be reprogrammed to assimilate
the advanced non-human perspectives that are being
offered by the Admiral & Captain of an away team from
The Evolutionary Level Above Human.

Those tied at the neck,
will return home, will, in human bodies picked & prepped
for this task, experience a second rapture or snatching
away from this world that is about to be
recycled, refurbished, spaded under.

Verily, tied at the neck & guided by the Shepherd,
these human plants will experience the glories
of Our Father’s House, therein to dwell forever.

.

*

.

Ward Seven

Who’s for ward pride?
If not by the light of a maid’s lurks
we’re paged by what? Number mad with sane
& the Molly you think so fair is a face
for an apricot fan. All
of her curtsies at once, at once, all
of her curtsies at once.
………………………………..In a cup
I thought empty the blood of an owl, for who
has wit enough to keep at bay the hounds
of Henry the Eighth, his double
I’m forced to shave. Bury me not in the lap
of a dog, I said, & he did not listen, in the lap
of a dog & he did not listen.
……………………………………In father’s piano
with the lid nailed shut, that’s where I’ll be when
Henry’s finished with me while his cooks skim off
a right keen breast (a ripe queen’s breast), & so
they should for it seems that glaucoma thugs
are close behind, are close behind
with rags for eyes.
………………………..At most
in trams I trust, a dozen dozing
in a depot, in each the corpse
of a man like me who all too soon was quick
through hospital corridors tangled like baobab roots
on the verge of marrow, on the verge of marrow
those baobab roots.
…………………………..If by tooth not nail
I judge a hunt those dogs in the thick
of shamed men will be kicked by him
who’s for ward pride; for it was him I’m sure
who left a knife on my kitchen table, to do
what with, a knife on my table
to do what with?
………………………Not the wit
to know, not wise like an owl
that left its blood in a cup for a queen
to find, to make of it a broth
to quiet Henry’s hounds at large
in tangled roots, in tangled roots
at large.
………….And for a finale
we turn to the last page (sane
numbered by mad) where a surly nurse
with ten thumbs is dressing my eyes
with ribbon, an obstreperous rainbow
skipping its maid on the verge of marrow, its maid
on the verge of marrow.

.

*

.

Bins

Everything
on sale! So what to say
to these burly girls assaulting bins? What
you can’t carry in your cupped hands
leave behind? No way, that’s suicidal & might
prove fatal (unlike those previous attention-seeking
failures).
…………….Leapt
on the count – one – & no time off
for good behaviour. Is it true that a deep plunge
is more effective than a shallow? Yes, obviously. So why
evoke culpability when wives one & three were left high
& dry? – so abundant
their sorrow, so loud their prayers, but would they pay
to hear me print a book? – Hallelujahs
on every page, enough voice
for six choirs (if you’re going to do daft
do it right): sleights of idiom
that mind harm, those begged comparisons palmed off
as apparitional insinuations that buried
the dead of Haiti with the dead of Togo. What
a mix up! – a scramble for place
as house music for God buffs swells
with bloat. Jesus, just a smidgeon
of decorum, please; I can’t take much more
of this uproar, these girls with their celebrity screams
mounting me, a ridden god; if only I was I’d replace
everything that’s for sale with everything that’s not.

.

*

ABOUT THE POET

PHILIP HAMMIAL has had twenty-six collections of poetry published. His poems have appeared in 25 poetry anthologies and in 105 journals in twelve countries. He has represented Australia at eight international poetry festivals, most recently at Medellin, Colombia (2012) and Granada, Nicaragua (2014). In 2009-10 he was the Australian writer-in-residence at the Cité International des Arts in Paris.

from Issue #8: Poetry by Floyd Salas

Photo (CC) G&R @ Flickr

Photo (CC) G&R @ Flickr

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My Brother

He was bent in the shadow
of the same father
wore the same anvil of ignorance
like a hexer’s charm
round his neck

But he glowed like a dark sun
while I was shrouded
black and white
and dusk grey
where the skin showed

Grey is the truer color
I wear it like a dark shroud
White is seen at dark
when only the lamp has eyes

But black catches the light more
like windshields in July heat
and hot tar on a wide street

.

 *

New Year’s Eve  

The moon goes down in the crowd’s eyes
by half
sinking into the sunken lid

The black night cups the crowd’s horror
It will spill it back again
in the cold day
when vacant eyesockets hold yellow pools
of stale rainwater
and face powder
streaks its white masks

Pinpoint the spot
the star crosses your heart
Make a sign over it
in the indelible bruise of a fist
so you won’t forget

.

*

 .

Like Smoke Streaking From Every Shoulder

Al Curtis killed a guy the other night
shot him four times with a .357 Magnum
and it didn’t even surprise me
he was always so uptight and tough
too tough for the clientele at the Salamandra
drove them away
shooed off the poets
threatened them
snubbed them
wouldn’t pay them for reading
or even give them a drink

I think Al killed because he was an ex-con
because he had done time
been caged like a beast
and acted like a beast
because he was black
and they wouldn’t let him in the hospital
after the cops beat him up
when he was innocent

Suffering made him that way
but unless he’s got a lot of money
he’ll go to Folsom Prison now
for life

One hundred years will bury him
behind cool stone gray stone
grave stone walls
built by coolies in the last century
built to last forever
You can see the chips in the stone
where the chisels bit

Picture the guy he shot
struggling for his life
holding his hands out
terror lining his face
making his eyes blaze
the scream curling in his throat

Picture his heart
deflating with each shot
four times
and the first one knocked him down
from the floor he begged and moaned
“No Al No Al Please Al”
and then three more times
like a kick in the ribs
that splinters clear through
deep inside
where it hurts
too deep
to heal
knowing he’s dying
that the light is going out
that the hole
goes clear through him
empty space
like the circle in a donut
the center of the shape
but empty nothing
there
the first circle of eternity
gone clear through him
knowing that
knowing he’s dying
becoming air
literally
picture that

I killed a fly the other night
with my forefinger
poked him with it
and got him the first time
right by my eye
on the pillow
not more than an inch away
He never knew what got him
One poke
and that’s all there was

I cross my heart
then clasp my hands
and bow my head to kiss them
in penitence
Catholic boy
the ritual of death stays with you
like Che Guevara the communist
when the soldier came in with the machine gun
He crossed himself and prayed to the Lord
just before he died
small habit he never broke
when the cross came down

We are all little creatures of habit
like squirrels under the ground
pop up into the sunlight
to see
if it’s all
clear

.

*

ABOUT THE POET

FLOYD SALAS is an award-winning and critically-acclaimed author of seven books, including the novels Tattoo the Wicked Cross, What Now My Love, Lay My Body on the Line and State of Emergency, the memoir Buffalo Nickel, and two books of poetry, Color of My Living Heart and, most recently, Love Bites: Poetry in Celebration of Dogs and Cats. Also an artist and sculptor, he was 2002-2003 Regent’s Lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, as well as staff writer for the NBC drama series Kingpin and the recipient of NEA, California Arts Council, Rockefeller Foundation and other fellowships and awards.  http://www.floydsalas.com

from Issue #8: Poetry by Luke Whitington

Photo (CC) Igor @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Igor @ Flickr

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Only fig, wine and prosciutto

In the gilded mirror we sit – expectant
Yet distracted, sallow figures in the glow
Of a hotel dining room – the hush of luxury
Hovers in the background, waiters blur
Passing with a tinkling of glass and silver.

Thoughts of finished lovemaking linger
And float away, words begin to form
But trail off into softer, vaguer notions
Our limbs start to wake, stirring from recent idleness –

Dazed still we contemplate a pyramid of bruise-purple figs
All painterly perfect – some peeled to a ribbed, pale green
Some split wide open, inviting the tongue and lips to try —

And combine them with a silky slice of Parma ham
Folded in ripples of filmy redness across our plates.
Under its dark blue skin, the unpeeled fig waits
For our palate, with its pulp of honey-slow flavour –

And your smile broadens as I watch
You stab your fork into a pink and cream slice
As you anticipate the flavour of rosy flesh
Your eyes swimming with reflected light

Swirling up from rubescent wine from Umbria, Torregiano
A Terroir type, grapes trellised and grown and plucked
Carried in baskets from the tilled furrows of their province.
Your nose crinkles – another sniff of tannin pungency
Cured ham and fig and wine nurtured from ochre chernozem

Chewed and tippled carefully, warm and cool from a fecund earth —
A quick taste; a quiver to the heart, savoured in recollection
Of summer and winter harvesting, feasts under trees and slanting memories
Begin to mingle, turning sweetly in my mouth –

Crisp marries well with soft and also effervescence
Seconds later lush and lean slipping down
A sumptuous buttering, a plump delight
Remaining on the tongue, more wine – now

Intoxicating us – drained like an old friend – the ruler of our tipsy minds.

.

*

.

Apricots and cumquats

For days I watched you walking
Through the marketplace
Gulls’ cries above and wings gliding about you –
How those naked sandals on your feet, amazed

And hair unkempt but carefully tumbling so
It tossed articulation when you spoke –
And then you reached and picked up the fruit; an apricot
Always was your first choice, and your preferred theme it seemed –

A skimpy orange dress
Suntanned legs unhindered by the floating cotton –
In certain stray slants of sunshine
Your hair curling with its light, flecks as free as autumn leaves

Unfolding red and russet against the walls of rising green swells
Breeze-blown threads across the travertine pier –
You were tall amongst the older women’s scarfed heads
Through the sun-bleached slanted green umbrellas…

The recurrence of the sea’s echoes heaving against travertine
Seemed an undercurrent to your course
Through stalls and barrows in the windy square
Giddy green crashing against your conversations

Made often through cupped hands…
Soon I learnt to follow, a little careful
Not to get too close, buying apricots and cumquats
And then for good measure some oranges and mandarins; appearing to be

Circling there for no other reason – innocent or complicit
Furtive or urbane – ridiculously I strayed along behind you –
Until several days later when the sky had changed
Displayed in streaks of greys and yellows

And you did not come again
And I had the market
To myself for three or four days –
And then for weeks afterwards…

My bowls and oval plates

Placed on the window ledges –
Still lives – depicting to a wintry square
Your absence, arranged in mandarins, cumquats

Oranges… And with the tawny silence of the apricots.

.

*

ABOUT THE POET

LUKE WHTINGTON has travelled extensively and has been published in Dublin journals, anthologies and Irish media, as well as several Australian journals and anthologies, including Australian Love Poems 2013 and an anthology of Canberra poets to be published in China. Recently he read his love poems in Florence with Sarina Rausa, a lead soprano with the Florence opera company, singing her arrangements of his poetry. Luke divides his time between Italy and his cattle farm in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales.

from Issue #8: Poetry by Travis McKenna

Photo (CC) Alessandro Prada @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Alessandro Prada @ Flickr

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I once saw Charon,
you know,
in a cafe, just off the Via Cavour,
stirring lumps of sugar into his blackened beverage.
He spoke
with all the crunch one would expect of a mid-level deity,
of how would you guess that the free market
also can cross the Styx
– one drachma only! Savings passed on.
When I asked if he could feel the sun’s warmth
he just slurped his drink.
Seven sugars, no milk.

.

*

.

Aeolus? But of course
last time we met
we were bumbling, spilling,
into the gutters of medieval streets
– the works –
small place, behind Navona,
old Od has his wind,
you see,
and little there was,
but to stumble, bumble,
windless
– retirement is never kind on
those late deified
Olympian pensions are small
although he got the next round

.

*

.

‘Tourists!’
laments Virgil
and bottoms the fourth shot
of red, red rum
– part time at the musei vaticani is
/exhausting/
A guide by trade,
he points me true
to the bathroom,
when I ask
– and when I get back, he’s gone!
But the tab is paid.

.

*

ABOUT THE POET

TRAVIS MCKENNA is a student of Mathematics and Philosophy, who has also taken very recently to the writing of poetry. He was raised in the western suburbs of Sydney, spent some time abroad in Rome, and now lives in Newtown, in Sydney’s inner west. In addition to poetry, he is currently working on a set of short stories. His undergraduate study was in Classics and Italian Studies, with a special interest in the Renaissance.

from Issue #8: Poetry by Tony Page

Photo (CC) torbakhopper @ Flickr

Photo (CC) torbakhopper @ Flickr

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King Agamemnon, Athens 2014

Who is this tramp stumbling among the coffee tables?
Dressed as if he’s been thrown off a movie set
clothes in tatters and gashes all over?
Now he’s on his knees,
mesmerized by someone drinking from a glass,
as if he’s never seen such a thing.
A waiter attempts to lift him to his feet
but the poor devil draws a sword

babbling gibberish: A-chi-le-us, Hek-tor, O-di-se-us.
His wailing dismays the diners
and children begin to cry.
When the police arrive he’s quietened down
gazing at the glass once again
as if it were an apparition.

.

*

.

Before the War

The air is torpid, trying to ignore history ─
that burden packed away for good.
How the birds sing! commenting on customs
but perched safely above. Gentlemen pause before
clinching their argument, planning which way they
might flee. Shadows across the tables, long late
afternoon with attendant breeze.
A still life on its last legs.

.

*

ABOUT THE POET

TONY PAGE is a Melbourne poet, whose third book, Gateway to the Sphinx (Five Islands) appeared in 2004. He has read his work at the Edinburgh Arts Festival, Venice Conference of Commonwealth Literature, Shakespeare & Co in Paris, plus venues in the USA and Malaysia. As a theatre director, he has mounted productions of Shakespeare, Beckett, Brecht, Pinter etc. plus several of his own collaborations with various student groups. For 20 years, he worked in Thailand and Malaysia, but now lives in Australia. He has also written for the stage, with Who Killed Caravaggio? completed in 2009. He has recently been published in Eureka Street, The Australian Poetry Journal, The Canberra Times, Peril, Plumwood Mountain and Otoliths and is now finalizing a fourth collection of poetry.

from Issue #8: Poetry by Frank Russo

Photo (CC) Marion Doss @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Marion Doss @ Flickr

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The parachutists, 1943

The night before the Americans came the villagers evacuated to the cave.
Six men carried the statue of their patron on their shoulders—
the Marseillaise saint upon his horse, trampling a Turk underfoot.

As the sky hummed with C-47s, they touched the saint’s hands and face
and watched as balloons fell from the sky. Americans swarmed like ants,
dropping to earth, shedding their skins in the branches
of olive trees and on the jagged timpone.

Someone called them paracadutisti—and soon everyone used the word,
repeating it—paracadutisti
parachutists,
as if they’d known it all along.

Just as quickly as they came, the Americans left, heading north in pursuit of a retreating army.
Then came the race—
……………………………the villagers came down from the cave in search of the nets,
the fabric like none they had seen before.

‘It’s perfect for collecting olives,’ one woman said,
…………………………………imagining her net stretched taut between thick trunks.

‘With this, I’ll make a shirt for my husband,’ said another,
…………………………………testing it for tear resistance.

‘I’m using this one to fly,’ said a boy of fifteen,
…………………………………too young to be afraid or enlisted—
……………………………………………………..imagining he’d fly like an American.

From a crag above the cave,
the boy’s parachute caught the wind,
billowing out to form a mushroom.

It floated before opening
like a handkerchief,
folding in on itself
as it fell,

tumbling down to earth
to form a shroud
for broken bones and battered skin.

.

*

.

From Earth, stone, water

I: Gravel road, Pisticci to Craco

A boot-trodden path cuts through wheat fields
to the remnants of a farmhouse. A chimney
standing sentinel takes on the proportions of a belltower;
an archway cut into loose brickwork forms
a poor-man’s nave. What’s left of the kitchen hearth,
now a tip for broken bowls, coat hangers,
shards of glass. A clean slab of granite
might’ve once formed a kitchen bench,
propped up with bricks, a kind of altar.

Here the hills erode to barren dunes
where only tufts grow, roads wedged
on the backs of ravines: a pilgrim’s landscape
through which the Apostle Thomas might have travelled.
Here a well, ploughed deeper in a drought year,
has gone to clay, a silent protest
against the profane.

In the distance, Pisticci, perched above a drop,
its houses whitewashed and symmetrical;
the town’s water tower glints in the afternoon light,
its reservoir full, waiting for a slide to spill its barrel.

 

III: At Laurenzana

A man reclining on a low stone wall recounts the allied
landing at Salerno like it were a week ago;
how the mountains crawled with soldiers.
In these mountains a thousand years
is like yesterday and the memory of yesterday erased.
Pointing to the church on a spur, he tells me how
archaeologists who excavated the abbey floor
found a woman’s mummified corpse—
he stretches his arms out to indicate a crucifix.

At Santa Maria della Assunta a young priest
points at his watch, gesturing the abbey closed at midday.
No, he shakes his head, there was no woman found
in the shape of Jesus; found here were medallions,
a bronze plate with a Madonna and child,
the remains of rosary beads, a fragment of animal jaw,
Bourbon-era coins, buttons—many of them, of wood and bronze,
a pair of women’s leather shoes in perfect state of preservation,
the remains of a woollen blanket that swathed a newborn infant,
and a woman’s corpse, hands folded across her solar plexus.

.

*

.

At home with Peggy

I

In the former dining room Peggy stands
beside the reproduction dining table,
watching visitors admire the sideboard
topped with reliquary carvings from Gabon.
Dressed for guests, though now visitors
stay no more than minutes,
moving to the drawing room
where the Kandinsky and Mondrian hang.

 

II

Peggy rolls her eyes
as she overhears a woman
discuss the Magritte—
I’ve finally worked out
what’s wrong with this painting—
how can it be night time
when the sky is still light?

 

III

In the library Peggy sits
on the white lounge, watching
art school grads frame shots of the canal
through the iron-latticed windows—
tourists more drawn to the view
than to Cornell’s Fortune Telling Parrot.

A woman poses like Peggy
in the photograph that hangs in the corner:
legs crossed, arm stretched over the lounge’s back.
She pouts, and so does Peggy,
parroting her parrot.

 

IV

On the terrace, Peggy sunbathes,
amusing herself with the reactions of guests
to Marini’s sculpture of The Angel of the City
eyes delighted by the figure of the rider,
his arms stretched out in jubilation,
until they see the metal penis
Peggy has screwed in.
She hears an American tell his girlfriend,
You could give him a hat
or put a bucket around his arm
and turn it into an entirely different artwork.
Peggy turns to tan her breasts.

 

V

Peggy in the garden
beside the spot where her ashes are buried.
Peggy watching tourists take a break
in the garden’s cool shade.
Peggy listening to visitors discuss
whether it’s time for a coffee
or the special exhibition;
I want to check out the gift shop;
Are the toilets here safe to use?

 

VI

Peggy in Pegeen’s room. Peggy studying
the photo of Pegeen sitting on the Byzantine throne.
Peggy observing her daughter’s paintings,
how they teem with happiness: scenes of sun and Riviera.
Pegeen’s paintings, primitive and naïve.

Peggy studies the long-limbed women standing naked,
the canals of Venice brown like oil slicks.
Peggy focuses on the brightness of the colours
and tells herself how happy her daughter was.
Peggy focuses on the colours and reassures herself
how untimely and mysterious
the whole thing was.

.

*

ABOUT THE POET

FRANK RUSSO’s writing has appeared in Contrappasso 6, The Weekend Australian, Southerly, Transnational Literature, Cactus Heart and in anthologies in Australia and overseas. His poetry collection, In The Museum of Creation, will be published by Five Islands Press in 2015. His writing has been short-listed for the Vogel/The Australian Literary Prize and other awards.