Fire in the Heavens

We present this work in honor of the 90th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Christopher Brennan
Australian
1870 – 1932

 

Fire in the heavens, and fire along the hills,
and fire made solid in the flinty stone,
thick-mass’d or scatter’d pebble, fire that fills
the breathless hour that lives in fire alone.

This valley, long ago the patient bed
of floods that carv’d its antient amplitude,
in stillness of the Egyptian crypt outspread,
endures to drown in noon-day’s tyrant mood.

Behind the veil of burning silence bound,
vast life’s innumerous busy littleness
is hush’d in vague-conjectured blur of sound
that dulls the brain with slumbrous weight, unless

some dazzling puncture let the stridence throng
in the cicada’s torture-point of song.

Bound for the Lord-Knows-Where

We present this work in honor of the 100th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Henry Lawson
Australian
1867 – 1922

 

“Where are you going with your horse and bike,
And the townsfolk still at rest?
Where are you going, with your swag and pack,
And the night still in the West?
Your clothes are worn, and your cheques are gone,
But your eyes are free from care?”
“We’re bushmen down for a spree in town,
And we’re bound for the Lord-knows-where,
Old chap-we’re bound for the Lord-knows-where.”
(There are great dark scrubs in the Lord-knows-where,
Where they fight it out alone,
There are wide wide plains in the Lord-knows-where,
Where a man’s soul is his own.
There is healthy work, there is healthy rest,
There is peace from self-torture there,
And the glorious freedom from paltriness!
And they’re bound for the Lord-knows-where.)
“Now, where are you going in your Sunday suit,
And a bag for your second best?
Now where are you going with your chest of tools,
And the old togs in the chest?
With your six clean shirts and a pound of ‘weed’,
And enough for a third-class fare?”
“Oh! I’ll be afloat by the very next boat,
And I’m bound for the Lord-knows-where,
Old chap-I’m bound for the Lord-knows-where.”
(There are wide wide seas to the Lord-knows-where,
Where a man might have a spell,
The things turn up in the Lord-knows-where that
We waited for too well.
There’s a stranger land in the Lord-knows-where,
And a show for the stranger there.
There is war and quake more work to make,
And he’s bound for the Lord-knows-where.)
“Now where are you going with your Gladstone bag,
With your shirt-case and valise?
Now where are you going with your cap and shoes,
And your looks of joyful peace?
Now where are you going with your money belts,
And your drafts on the first bank there?”
“‘We have made a hit,’ or ‘we’ve made a bit,’
And we’re bound for the Lord-knows-where,
Old chap-we’re bound for the Lord-knows-where.”
(There are sinful ports in the Lord-knows-where,
There are marvellous sights to see,
There are high old games in the Lord-knows-where,
That were known to you and me.
There is love and music, and life and light from
The Heads to “Lester” Square,
There is more than space for their high young hearts
There is safety or danger there,
And they’ll come back wild, or they’ll come back tamed
When they’ve been to the Lord-knows-where.)
“Now where am I going with my whisky flask,
And with little else beside?
Now where am I going with my second shirt,
To wear while the first is dried?
I have marred my name, and I’ve lost my fame,
But my hope’s in good repair.
There are lies about, there are warrants out-
And I’m bound for the Lord-knows-where,
Old Chap-and I’m bound for the Lord-knows-where.”
(There’s a rise and fall of the sloping decks,
That is good for a soul in pain;
There’s the drowsy rest on the sunlight sea
Till your strength comes back again.
Oh, the wild mad spirit is hypnotized,
And nerves are tranquil there,
And the past is hushed in forgetfulness,
On the road to the Lord-knows-where.)

Messalina

We present this work in honor of the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Dulcie Deamer
Australian
1890 – 1972

 

Cast back the doors! I stifle! Let the air
Of the outer night rush in and seize my hair
As with swift hands! My slender body bare

Stretches, and sighs, and tautens like a thong…
Oh, every hour of daylight does me wrong!

Why are the nights so brief, the days so long?

The days of mask-like faces, formalness.

Of downcast eyelid, pearl-entwisted tress;

I am the Emperor’s wife; the ceilings press

Downward trap-fashion; rafters sheathed in gold
Are as cross-beams of pits that take and hold—

Tall pits of marble, glassy-smooth and cold.

I am the Emperor s wife … I wore the hide
Of a she-leopard once; I rode the tide
Of splendid, savage seas, my glistening side

Compressed by triton-arms; I leapt and screamed
Where down the hill the naked Maenads streamed.
Beneath the droop of boughs, the faun’s eyes gleamed

Goat-golden. Oh, he found me where I lay!

I was a striving, but a laughing prey;

Crushed, conquered, wed—I knew not night or day.

Earth’s unmixed passion gorges all my veins—

The scourging suns, the blinding summer rains,

The breast-white mountains and the panting plains.

What do I know of templed gods, and laws,

Honour, and duty? All my essence draws
From older founts. I see the clamped, stark jaws

Of rearing centaurs in their mating-fights;

The smell of blood and sweat and love delights
My widened nostrils. Oh, those forest nights!—

The crying dark, the heavy blood-like dew,

The feet of Life and Death that doth pursue,

The lusty, rank, insatiate satyr-crew…

1 am the Emperors wife—no! I am I!

The hot Earth bore me: though I live or die
111 seek my old companions where they lie.

Stain both my lids with blue, my soles with red;
Sweeten with myrrh the black hair o’er me shed;

I will rise up and leave this empty bed.

A straight, thin, purple robe is all I’ll wear;

111 take no veil; unto my knees my hair
Falls. Am I pale and burning? Am I fair

As some lithe forest-thing with bloody lips?

Now—now to steal where the dark city dips
In reeking alleys, and the river slips…

My jungles! Quick with lawless, fearless life;

The teeth of love, the death-fang of a knife.

And satyr-brawls, and Maenad-women’s strife.

ril enter by some strait, scarce-lighted door,

Cross with bare feet the dank and wine-wet floor—
Ah! Now I am the Emperor’s wife no more!

Swordsman, Greek boxer, Goth—they wait for me;
Now does my body live—now am I free!

My shredded robe slips downward to my knee.

I am as naked as Life’s naked flame!

None ever spoke of law or coward shame
In that spring-fevered world from which I came
I fear no death. Let swift sleep end the game!

The Gumsucker’s Dirge

Joseph Furphy
Australian
1843 – 1912

 

Sing the evil days we see, and the worse that are to be,
In such doggerel as dejection will allow,
We are pilgrims, sorrow-led, with no Beulah on ahead,
No elysian Up the Country for us now.

For the settlements extend till they seem to have no end;
Spreading silently, you can’t tell when or how;
And a home-infested land stretches out on every hand,
So there is no Up the Country for us now.

On the six-foot Mountain peak, up and down the dubious creek,
Where the cockatoos alone should make a row,
There the rooster tears his throat, to announce with homely note,
That there is no Up the Country for us now.

Where the dingo should be seen, sounds the Army tambourine,
While the hardest case surrenders with a vow;
And the church-bell, going strong, makes us feel we’ve lived too long,
Since there is no Up the Country for us now.

And along the pine-ridge side, where the mallee-hen should hide,
You will see some children driving home a cow;
Whilst, ballooning on a line, female garniture gives sign,
That there is no Up the Country for us now.

Here, in place of emu’s eggs, you will find surveyors’ pegs,
And the culvert where there ought to be a slough;
There, a mortise in the ground, shows the digger has been round,
And has left no Up the Country for us now.

And across this fenced-in view, like our friend the well-sung Jew,
Goes the swaggy, with a frown upon his brow,
He is cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d, for the thought is on his mind,
That there is no Up the Country for him now.

And the boy that bolts from home has no decent place to roam,
No region with adventure to endow,
But his ardent spirit cools at the sight of farms and schools,
Hence, there is no Up the Country for him now.

Such a settling, spreading curse must infallibly grow worse,
Till the saltbush disappears before the plough,
But the future, evil-fraught, is forgotten in the thought,
That there is no Up the Country for us now.

We must do a steady shift, and devote our minds to thrift,
Till we reach at length the standard of the Chow,
For we’re crumpled side by side in a world no longer wide,
And there is no Up the Country for us now.

Better we were cold and still, with our famous Jim and Bill,
Beneath the interdicted wattle-bough,
For the angels made our date five-and-twenty years too late,
And there is no Up the Country for us now.

Song

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 215th birthday.

06-26 Tompson
Charles Tompson
Australian
1807 – 1883

My Sylvia frowns on her love:
Ah! hope from this bosom is fled,
That syren that o’er my fond heart,
So lately her influence shed.

And must I for ever despair
To own the dear girl I adore?
And will the bright day-spring of love
Ne’er brighten my hemisphere more?

‘Tis past!—on the heart that is her’s
She frowns with contempt and disdain,
And seems to exult in the cause
That gives my fond bosom such pain.

Yet, trust me, dear Sylvia, this lip
That sighs nought but mis’ry and you,
Is the harbinger pure of a heart
That will ever—yes, ever prove true!

Drowning in Wheat

We present this work in honor of Western Australia Day.

06-06 Kinsella
John Kinsella
Australian
b. 1963

They’d been warned
on every farm
that playing
in the silos
would lead to death.
You sink in wheat.
Slowly. And the more
you struggle the worse it gets.
‘You’ll see a rat sail past
your face, nimble on its turf,
and then you’ll disappear.’
In there, hard work
has no reward.
So it became a kind of test
to see how far they could sink
without needing a rope
to help them out.
But in the midst of play
rituals miss a beat—like both
leaping in to resolve
an argument
as to who’d go first
and forgetting
to attach the rope.
Up to the waist
and afraid to move.
That even a call for help
would see the wheat
trickle down.
The painful consolidation
of time. The grains
in the hourglass
grotesquely swollen.
And that acrid
chemical smell
of treated wheat
coaxing them into
a near-dead sleep.

The Young Men

We present this work in honor of ANZAC Day.

04-25 Zwicky
Fay Zwicky
Australian
1933 – 2017

Made ghosts in all their country’s wars
they come, the young men in my dreams
with shattered skulls, intestines trailing
in the sand, the mud, the stuff the TV doesn’t
show unless it’s Africa. Or someplace else where
colour doesn’t count, democracy a word
they carted like a talisman, a passport
to the candles, bells of sainthood.

Restored to wake indoors alive, blanketed,
dreams fallen away like ash in birdsong,
sun filtering the blind slats, I’m reprimanded.
My ghosts keep talking: “You thought you knew
it all. Tonight maybe your book and candle,
night light burning infantile, shoes tucked
neat beneath will douse your eyelids closed
with ash, shut them down for good. Our dreams were yours.

You’ll sleep all right with us
and never never wake. Night lights,
books and candles lost the war against our
childhood, growing, long ago, their power
to charm away the everlasting dark a myth:
silence lasts forever. Listen, while you can,
to unseen saplings somewhere falling.
Young men, you dear young men, I’m listening.

The Good Soldier

In honor of Canberra Day, we present this work by one of contemporary Australia’s most notable poets.

03-14 Mansell
Chris Mansell
Australian
b. 1953

On someone else’s place
it seems to him the land
slings distance way out
the dirt is dead and
the sky seems twisted
the beat of the stones is wrong
he doesn’t know how to say it
there are no words no opportunity
and anyway
what would you say
that you’re a stranger
and this doesn’t say it at all

he walks with his weapon through the town
and from time to time he sees the luscious curl
of intimacy the uncommon common life
it’s dressed differently he can’t understand
the language rasping and gargling
another time he’d be an interested tourist
now he’s a hunter and the hunted

soon they say
he’ll be freed to retreat home
where the earth is vein deep
and when he puts his hand on the ground
he’ll feel it beating but now
he can’t remember home
though he knows the words well enough
back paddock Steve’s paddock the yard
it’s just words but now the imam calls
and winds a veil around his senses
and sometimes he thinks he’ll never
get back to where he belonged

At the River Crossing

We present this work in honor of the 120th anniversary of the poet’s death.

02-27 Morant
Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant
Australian
1864 – 1902

Oh! the quiet river-crossing
Where we twain were wont to ride,
Where the wanton winds were to sing
Willow branches o’er the tide.

There the golden noon would find us
Dallying through the summer day,
All the waery world behind us –
All it’s tumult far away.

Oh! thoe rides across the crossing
Where the shallow stream runs wide,
When the sunset’s beams were glossing
Strips of sand on either side.

We would cross the sparkling river
On the brown horse and the bay;
Watch the willows sway and shiver
And their trembling shadows play.

When the opal tints waxed duller
And a gray crept o’er the skies
Yet there stayed the blue sky’s color
In your dreamy dark-blue eyes.

How the sun-god’s bright caresses,
When we rode at sunet there,
Plaited among your braided tresses,
Gleaming on your silky hair.

When the last sunlight’s glory
Faded off the sandy bars,
There we learnt the old, old story,
Riding homeward ‘neat the stars.

‘Tis a memory to be hoarded –
Oh, the follish tale and fond!
Till another stream be forded –
And we reach the Great Beyond.

The Meeting of Sighs

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 150th birthday.

02-22 Neilson
John Shaw Neilson
Australian
1872 – 1942

Your voice was the rugged
old voice that I knew;
I gave the best grip of
my greeting to you.
I knew not of your lips—
you knew not of mine;
Of travel and travail
we gave not a sign.

We drank and we chorused
with quips in our eyes;
But under our song was
the meeting of sighs.
I knew not of your lips—
you knew not of mine;
For lean years and lone years
had watered the wine.