Uncollected: The People's Otherworld
The People's Otherworld was published in 1983 (see Bibliography). The following three poems are the only ones not to feature in the New Collected Poems.
These lagoons, these anabranches,
streets of the underworld.
Their water has become the trees that stand along them.
Below root-revetments, in the circles of the water's recession
the ravines seem thronged with a legacy of lily pads.
Earth curls and faintly glistens, scumbled painterly and peeling.
Palates of drought-stilled assonance,
they are cupped flakes of grit, crisps of bottom, dried meniscus
lifted at the edges.
Abstracts realised in slime. Shards of bubble, shrivelled viscose
of clay and stopped life:
the scales of the water snake have gone to grey on this channel.
– o –
Exfoliate bark of the rain tree, all the outer
plaques have a jostling average size.
It is a kind of fire, the invention of networks.
Water's return, however gradual (and it won't be)
however gentle (it won't be) would not re-lay all seamless
this basal membrane;
it has borne excess of clarity.
This is the lush sheet that overlay the first cities,
the mother-goddess towns, but underlay them first.
This they had for mortar.
Laminar, half detached, these cusps are primal tissue,
foreshadowings of leaf, pottery, palimpsest,
the Dead Lagoon Scrolls.
In this hollow season
everything is perhaps to be recapitulated,
hurriedly, approximately. It is a kind of fire.
Saturate calm is all sprung, in the mother country.
– o –
The lagoon-bed museums meanwhile have a dizzy stillness
that will reduce, with all the steps that are coming,
to meal, grist, morsels.
Dewfall and birds' feet have nipped, blind noons have nibbled
this mineral matzoh.
The warlike peace-talking young, pacing this dominion
in the beautiful flesh that outdoes their own creations
might read gnomic fragments:
corr lux Romant irit
or fragmentary texts:
who lose belief in God will not only believe
in anything; they will bring blood offerings to it
Bones, snags, seed capsules
intrinsic in the Martian central pan
are hidden, in the craze, under small pagoda eaves.
The workmen clinked their steel, trudging; one murmured couplets
about a great house and chiefs beaten into the clay;
the new man rode ahead, engrossed with his new landscape
and the swell of his saddle. For ruins are the sleep of dynasty.
He met the neighbour heiress who, bored with church and luncheon,
had found in that gap of frost-spilled masonry
refuge from adulthood, then a precinct for the Numen—
Their children saw Earth itself as the great ruin:
was she not the contracted wreck of Chaos? and of the Spiral
that is primal Order? They walked her final patina.
Travelling, delving, they found themselves everywhere in it.
As dramatic buildings encroached, including their own,
their houses assumed a shade of ruin, a domesticated patina.
Breeding shone in slight defeat. They opposed the soaring line
with a settled, undulant, edge-abraded line Earth taught them.
Ruins lacked all charm, though, closest to home, in the flesh:
gallows-fruit, senility of parents, the bottle-wrapped veteran
wobbling in the lane, his face like matted genitals—
You are too inclusive, they cried. You overwork a metaphor!
Ruins are not Christian. They are sober poignant spirits;
they are the afterlife of genteel religion.
Descendants, by this time, were riding beside battalions
of steel-clinking workmen, going to make ruins
and establish, they said, a line of common nobility.
The spiral now contracted faster. Generations
cried out to each other from their collapsing levels.
We were above this! and heard the answering laughter,
These ruins are heroic! and heard the avenging answer.
Ruins and tribes and wilderness merged thereafter
and all the trusted creatures. Earth became the Great Museum
whose other, more secret name is Noble Conquest.
It swarmed with new people, steel in the hands of some
and in the blood of others. Hey, off with your gentilities!
we're your new ruins, they cried, we're the water sign!
and this is the true dance, the Beat, helix of Helikon!
Lies and the truth, said Nine there, the truth and lies,
we purvey both. You want truth? Just the one?
Truth may be lacking in flair for your aristocracies,
and it tends to be successive, with your orthodocracies;
for instance, now Ruins: for our next intimation . . .
I have no right to what I need
The flying fox crawls on the ground
My father driving fast at seventeen
in a blue Dodge with spoked dog-killing wheels
winds north through the sandstone plateau country
its bared contour lines, its oyster rivers
its pastry-flour soil, its rusting creeks
he sees it as country not fit to farm
so send her for the long split rails of home
thirty years till he'd drive that road again
but the Blue Flyer dwindles ahead of dust
I drive back from life on a Sunday afternoon
When the flying fox first hit the ground
the road signs that point where my pain homed
all used to say eight: now they said thirteen
I brought the Gloucester road to mind
every cutting and bank on those twenty-five miles:
which was grassy, which gravel, which grew wild vines
Now the Blue Flyer's driver grows old all alone
I have no right to help his need
Between sitting like Jacky at boarding house meals
tram bells, and waterfalls loosed with a chain
my father in Sydney on that trip
rocked over the Harbour on a drenched ship
his mentor Jock Affleck wished bound for Home
storms and all. Jock never saw Scotland again
I haunted Central Station in my turn
to hear names, or a suitcase called a port
this even as I was learning to judge landscape
not for food, but blasphemously, as landscape
A world of understanding for a world of interest
I prised that trap open each time it went Swap
that isn't the wire that brought the fox down
I have no right to what I need.