from issue #2: Poetry by Mark O’Connor (II)

Photo (CC) 55Laney69 @ Flickr

Photo (CC) 55Laney69 @ Flickr

Japanese Garden, at the Hotel “Narita View”

1.       1st Master

Swordmaestro at ease and perfect,
he outwaits the storm
loose-sleeved in his formal garden,
under the small umbrella-shrine
there for his need on the path,
tempered sword slung in his silk sheath
at the approved angle, fierce wispy beard and eye.

Tranquil on a natural planned rock,
his feet and scabbard are placed carefully as the stone
in an age of civilised mayhem.
A servant, scurrying comic,
brings him his green-leaf tea, departs
unregarded in the rain, careful not to crush
a tuft that boils with small red ants.

2.       2nd Master

Designated plants rise in chartered tiers,
each half-clipped leaf aligned.
The green pool, residual, collects
for chill centennial carp
thin gruel of the chartered forest.
This landscape tempered as his sword,
shaped by superstitions,
corporate fauna and quisling flora,
cheers each of the owner’s Springs.

Azaleas controlled
in thick shade, scanted soil;
the labour of retainers,
draws to the eye a quiet carpet
where licit mushrooms swell.

This garden, bought with blood, drips righteousness
upon a worthless son.

Everything pleasing and placed:
trees, wives, rocks and underclass
–a military aristocracy rewards itself
with the ultimate spoil: peace.

Image of the state as garden
–far from the squalling of servants’ brats
and the silent reproach of concubines
–where lives are pruned with blade.

Calm and uncritical as a rock
nature comes, dutiful friend,
bringing no guests except sleek rooks.

3.       3rd Master

Giant carp control the lake,
wallowing,  complacent,
feed on glutinous rice,
silvery ancients reminding
how scales and fish-slime outlast dynasties.

No fishing hawks dare come
to this quiet garden where sword and gun once ruled
and now rest quietly, having drawn the line.

These fish grow ancient quickly,
plump, uneaten for centuries,
part aesthetics and partly
conspicuous non-consumption,

to prove there’s one thing, richly edible,
where this merchant won’t dip his chopsticks.

This one, the First Master’s favorite,
its subtle pattern of gold and silvered scales
congruent with the lichened rock, might yet
find favour with his great-grandson.

4.       4th Master

A man of blood sits quietly, wonders
how guts of mud-eating carp can breed
an elixir to live beyond silk and steel.
The fruit of his slayings is this
brief tenancy of garden. He survives
in the natural adjustment of two boulders.

Close by, his slaves hew paddy fields,
re-forest artifical hills of spoil,
exactly to his taste
with bright-green feathers of the giant bamboo.

Through split-bamboo pickets
just thick enough to impale a head,
the populace watch ungainly
the Master’s newly-captured deer.

5.       10th Master

The sword of money will split this valley.
A freeway, under towering silos
of the money-packaging plant
will restore some foodchains
from human use, will fence off a median strip
for butterflies, wood-ants, frogs,
and the robin whose islanded nest
no peasant child now raids.
Whims of the money serfs now trim its forests,
brace its corrected river
with rungs of concrete bridges
each straight and brutal, like a row of planks
dropped from a truck.

Two green and silver dragonflies, unfamiliar,
argue that somewhere a pool of dull water
breeds things that still live here, wild and unchosen,
simply because their ancestors did.

6. Hotel Narita View

An Airport Hotel inherits this garden
image of a state where each has his place.
Glimpsed from windows,
it will help soothe grumblings
over a bill in yen,
conduce to a recommended view
by guests overnighting here
between the continents.

Perhaps a businessman, up
too early for breakfast,
his briefcase loaded, will enter
noting a tuft beneath the umbrella shrine
and the wild red ants
foraging under the jumbos.


MARK O’CONNOR was born in Melbourne in 1945 and graduated from Melbourne University in 1965. He has been the Australian National University’s HC Coombs Fellow and a visiting scholar in its Department of Archaeology and Natural History. His poetry shows special interests in Italy (where he spent some years), in the Barrier Reef, and in other Australian environments. He has published 15 books of verse and is the editor of OUP’s much re-printed Two Centuries of Australian Poetry. He was Australia’s ‘Olympic poet’ for the Sydney 2000 Games, with a fellowship from the Australia Council to ‘report in verse on the Games’. Visit him at