Poems from Taller When Prone

These poems are from Les Murray's 2010 poetry volume, Taller When Prone. "The Farm Terraces" and "Port Jackson Greaseproof Rose" and "Cherries from Young" were previously published in The Quadrant.

As Country Was Slow

for Peter

Our new motorway
is a cross-country fort
and we reinforcements
speed between earthworks
water-sumps and counterscarps,
breaking out on wide glimpses,
flying the overpasses—

Little paper lanterns
march up and down dirt,
wrapped round three chopsticks
plastic shrub-guards grow bushes
to screen the real bush,
to hide old towns
behind sound-walls and green—

Wildlife crossings underneath
the superglued pavement
are jeep size; beasts must see
nature restart beyond.
The roads are our nature
shining beyond delay,
fretting to race on—

Any check in high speed
can bleed into gravel
and hang pastel wreaths
over roadside crosses.
Have you had your scare yet?—
It made you a driver
not an ever-young name.

We're one Ireland, plus
at least six Great Britains
welded around Mars
and cross-linked by cars—
Benzene, diesel, autobahn:
they're a German creation,
these private world-splicers.

The uncle who farmed our place
was an Arab of his day
growing fuel for the horses
who hauled the roads then.
1914 ended that. Will I
see fuel crops come again?
I'll ride a slow vehicle

before cars are slow
as country was slow.

Port Jackson Greaseproof Rose

Which produced more civilizations,
yellow grass or green?

Who made poverty legal?
Who made poverty at all?

Eating a cold pork sandwich
out of greaseproof paper
as I cross to Circular Quay
looking down the last Harbour miles

the world-ships furrowed, bringing poverty,
dates this day to my midlife.

Out of the approaching then city
rise towers of two main kinds:
glass ones keyed high to catch money
and brown steeples to forgive the poor

who made poverty illegal,

and the first Jumbo jets descend
like Mates whose names you won’t recall,
going down behind the city.

This midlife white timber ferry
scatters curly Bohemian glass
one molecule thick, afloat on a
green dark of laws before poverty

and I hold aloft my greaseproof rose
for hand-to-mouth, great hoister of sails.


We were at dinner in Soho
and the couple at the next table
rose to go. The woman paused to say
to me, I just wanted you to know
I have got all your cookbooks
and I swear by them!

I managed to answer her, Ma’am
they’ve done you nothing but good!
Which was perhaps immodest
of whoever I am.

Cherries from Young

Cherries from Young
that pretty town,
white cherries and black,
sun-windows on them.

Cherries from Young
the tastiest ever
grow in drought time
on farms above there.

One lip-teased drupe
or whole sweet gallop
poured out of cardboard
in whatever year,

cherries from Young.
All the roads back
go down into Young
that early town.

The Farm Terraces

Beautiful merciless work
around the slopes of Earth
terraces cut by curt hoe
at the orders of hunger
or a pointing lord.
Levels eyed up to rhyme
copied from grazing animals
round the steeps of Earth,
balconies filtering water down
stage to stage of drop.
Wind-stirred colours of crop
swell between walked bunds
that recall the beast tracks,
harvests down from the top
by hands long in the earth.
Baskets of rich made soil
boosted up poor by the poor,
ladder by freestone prop
stanzas of chant-long lines
by backwrenching slog, before
money, gave food and drunk
but rip now like slatted sails
(some always did damn do)
down the abrupts of earth.

The Conversations

A full moon always rises at sunset
and a person is taller at night.
Many fear their phobias more than death.
The glass King of France feared he’d shatter.
Chinese eunuchs kept their testes in spirit.

Your brain can bleed from a sneeze-breath.
A full moon always rises at sunset
and a person is taller when prone.
Donald Duck was once banned in Finland
because he didn’t wear trousers,
his loins were feather-girt like Daisy’s
but no ostrich hides it’s head in sand,
The cure for scurvy was found
then long lost through medical theory.
The Beginning is a steady white sound.

The full moon rises at sunset
and lemurs and capuchin monkeys
pass a millipede round to get off on
it’s powerful secretions. Mouthing it
they wriggle in bliss on the ground.

The heart of a groomed horse slows down.
A fact is a small compact faith,
a sense-datum to beasts, a power to man
even if true, even while true—
we read these laws in Isaac Neurone.

One woman had sixty nine children.
Some lions mate fifty times a day.
Napoleon had a victory addiction.
A full moon always rises at sunset.
Soldiers now can get in the family way.

© Copyright 2017 Les Murray. All rights reserved.<http://www.lesmurray.org>