One little lonely moment on the train from Brisbane to the coast, and just like that

I am back on the train to Mount Koya
watching an old man at the station,
tending to the little gas lamp flames
that keep the points from freezing shut
while behind him, another man pulls branches
from the drying stack outside the shed, sings
and stokes the stove that keeps them both
from freezing in the air.
And here we are again —
hands sifting through a language
to describe two men tending to their fires
while I think about a cedar tree —
how it holds the fall of snow
and how a history is written in its rings.

Is there a name for the sound of snow
descending through the still?
Or the way a trail cut into a hill insists,
even as it fades and disappears, on being

I think I have spent a great deal of this life looking
for ways to leave the body.

For example-
I can walk until this trail disappears into the snow,
look up to cedars reaching up like prayers
and keep on walking

I can think of an old man at a train station
breaking branches for the fire,
hear them cracking into splinters,
and imagine writing on my ribs
the noun for snowflakes snagged
on cedar branches
as the man breaks prayers between his hands
and sings them to the air.

i want to believe in small things first :


that when my daughter stands
on the branches of the old apple tree
and moves her arms just like that
she is not pretending to be

but is

a bird


that the sound of a bird
mid-flight is nothing but vowels –
no lips, teeth, or tongue
to clutter up the air


that the day i fall out of myself
there will be one long
bird-song note that slows
as much as it needs to last

and no longer than that


that for now it’s enough
to lay in the sun like this
beside the tomato bushes
watch the corn stalks brushing above
and be an old dog

for some small sound to leave
the body

in which iphicles imagines (how else the story might have gone)



in another version of the story
daddy doesn’t turn to tumours

doesn’t lose the means to walk
and brother doesn’t carry him

to water where the horses
stamp their hooves and turn away


in another version of the story
daddy doesn’t drown

just gets old
then older still

so we watch him –
skin slackening

bones hollowing
joints fusing

eyes milk-white dividing
split the gaze

(one eye looks upon the world –
the other on the question underneath)


in another version of the story
daddy just grows old

and quiet
till one day he doesn’t speak at all

so herc and i, we see ourselves –
see how a body’s just a line that ends

and how a father’s not a thing
if not a map to silence


and before he goes, herc and i
will find him there one day –

standing at the water’s edge
as though he sees another way

my brother will be on his way
to claim the murder in his name

and i will only ever be a question
and daddy, standing always

at the water’s edge
will only ever be

a kind of silence
calling back.

in which iphicles imagines (drowning)



in everything i write
there is a drowning scene

in which the body is
and isn’t water

in which everything is

and being swallowed


i want to blame everything
on where we are in history

                              (which is to say:
                               ‘observed or not
                               the boy is always


and sometimes there is a return,
sometimes not

sometime a witness,
sometimes not


i dream (and it is like this) –

eyes filling first with blue
and bursting out from in
/ erasing /
/ boundaries /
/ seeing everything /

and then the world is named
( a grief  )  ( a grief  )  ( a grief  )

all i want
is to make ‘blue’ a name
for bursting out

as leaving is 

i will tell my brother one day:
it was panic first
a churning blue ( inversion )
then something resembling quiet

that the moment before he pulled me
from the water
hauled me up by the hair
i thought “a thing like this is not so bad”

that there should a name
for this colour of water

a grammar for the pressing in

for the “okay then” of outward breath
(such pretty bubbles rising)


and then the sudden rushing in.

(oh lord, hercules is drunk again, face down in the water, trying to swallow the sea)


water always finds a
level. squid will always
rise to a flourescent light
at night. you can hook
them easy then. tangle
their little legs on steel.
at night the fishing boats
untangle themselves
from the dock. press
out into the waiting black.
drop their silver garland lines
and wait. some nights
I am so afraid to sleep.
some nights – a waiting sea.
most days we remind
ourselves of the world.
one day
we don’t wake up.

Slow growth


It will have been months since you’ve written
anything that matters, on a day you’ll think yourself
to be a fat and slowing story, or another sinking stone.
You’ll wake and read someone else’s poem
about angels and bombs and how, on detonation,
a thing will weigh precisely nothing. You’ll think
of how a flame, viewed correctly, can appear
to be a flower birthed from air. And you, your hands
all full of mud, will think your bones have turned
to hardwood, will think of white ants in your blood,
will think your joints could crack and bleed out sap –
all this until your daughter, who woke an hour before you,
holds a flower out to you and says she wants to dance.
And as you haul your dogwood bones up off the floor
you’ll wonder if you’ve somehow caught alight,
if you’re both a kind of slow explosion,
as you and she, both dancing now,
don’t seem to weigh a thing.

Arc light

When they come to tell the story
they will say that they could still smell ozone in the air,
could still hear thunder drumming all around
when the captain asked your name,
held the raw of your hands in his
and said make two fists,
then breathe out slow
and let go.

They’ll tell it that they found you smoking,
arms outstretched and rigour locked,
feet bootless on the deck,
eyes pinned to a sky still sparking
blue against the black, the mast above you
split and splintered black, smouldering
and weeping smoke into the night.

They’ll say the storm had risen in the east,
its belly growing fat then full of drums and fire
as it folded in towards the ship, and speak of how,
at the storm-sail call, you made it halfway
up the mast to unknot a stuck and twisting line
before the sky lit up in fire.

They’ll talk of how the sky pressed its face to yours
and threw you down,
left you baptised in electrons,
burnt the shadow of a crucifix into your chest
and left a tuft of hair still smouldering.

They’ll cross themselves, then pour another shot
and speak of revelation as they recall your mouth,
yawning like the earth, singing up the dead,
a pale blue flame wicked up on your tongue,
translating the binary of lightning,
some message from the sky.

We are the song of sparrows
hurling themselves through glass.
We are the sound of axes
swung at something brass.

We, such stuff as dreams are made

it’s true sometimes,
a day     will end like this:

the river swelling as the tide
                    comes in,
the sun slouching down
           below the ridgeline,
light unstitching the horizon.

the shadow of a hunting hawk
spiralling a thread of air
          above the headland,
waves singing quiet through the water,
      golden light    washing your hands.

your daughter carrying
a bucket full of shells she plucked
         from the lowtide line,
     she’ll spill like jewels
across your palm,

and you,     for once with no desire
to weight these things with any
       meaning but their own,
for once with nothing 
                 in your head but
                         thank you.

Your most convincing religion

This might be the place you find it.

This beach, this silver spray,
this morning copper rise,
she and she, drawn in relief,
arms stretched out as wings,
or sails perhaps,

trawling for a leeward breeze,
soaring on some imagined gyre
of light they’ve spun from song and heart
and look and look and up into
the spun light now
as water falls from nowhere
and you watch them cut through air
and turn again to hawk their way
towards you.

You made this.
All of it.

This life, this winking heart,
the music of your ribs and this:

your most convincing religion.

You think yourself as something wide
and stretched and shining,
waiting at the shore
and as they round upon you,
all grin and wings and faux faux flap
and dive you fall back and make yourself
a place to land and rest

and so you find yourself like this:
unfurling as a map,
corners weighted by the stones
and shells she brought ashore from sea.

You find yourself: unfurled
and pinned and grinning,
belly up and laughing on the sand
as she plants her spade beside you,
winks once,
says some whispered thing
about finding what was lost
and marks an x across your chest.

How to know that there is a thing called holy and it is small and close and sleeping

You will still feel her fingers in your palm;
the knuckled memory of her heart will hum
and echo slow as you make plans to build
a shrine to her in the spaces where she pressed

her cheek against your neck, stitched her fingers
to your chest and with an ocean calling
through the window, ebbed herself to sleep.
Now, the house at rest, her breathing, steady

as a pulse, comes humming through the wall
and carried on a vein of air now threading
down the hall to where you find yourself
waiting for the earth to turn beneath you.

In a minute, a single breath will stall
inside her throat, will gather itself, swelling
as a wave to break and exhale itself as song
and it will take a feat of will to not sing back

and wake her. You’ll tell yourself to sit instead
and sift through your agnostic language
for some vague approximation of the note
now spinning prayer wheels in your throat.