Uncollected: The Weatherboard Cathedral
All of the uncollected poems from The Weatherboard Cathedral are included on this page (with the exception of East Sidney) . The following table of contents shows their position in the original volume.
Evening Alone at Bunyah
Recourse to the Wilderness
The Princes' Land
Troop Train Returning
Tableau with Academic Figures
Bagman O'Reilly's Curse
The Borgia Pope Relates a Painful Incident
Once in a Lifetime, Snow
The Garden Path
The Commercial Hotel
The Merchants' Wheel
The Abortion Scene
Prosper the Commonwealth
Susan and the Serpent – A Colonial Fiction
An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow
The Last Continent
The Count of the Simple Shore
The Incendiary Method
When I Was Alive
The Rock Shelters, Botany Bay
Treeroots and Earth
Three Tries at Englynion
One Who Asked, Thinking He Knew
A Walk with O'Connor
If a Pebble Fall
The Barranang Angel Case
The House of Four-X
The Canberra Remnant
The Ballad Trap
The Fire Autumn
Towards the end of the long Australian peace
When I was a twenty-two-year-old with failings,
Ostentatious, untravelled, with a gift for dependence,
I made recourse to the wilderness for a time,
The far, still Centre.
Today, a sequence from that equivocal season
Danced in my memory:
I saw myself away in South Australia,
Still a novice, but learning,
Having already felt frost through my blanket,
Learned how to dig a hip-hole, to sleep quickly,
How to camp in good cover, especially in cities.
A month from home, barely,
And I'd even made a beginning
In the more advanced, more fruitful major subjects:
Jettisoning weight, non-planning, avoidance of thought
In favour of landscape, stones and the travelling sky . . . .
All that day, I had traversed the German country
—Vast fields of September, distant adobe houses&mdash
Hungry, such was my mood, for the exotic,
I'd listened for German in casual talk overheard
In winecellar towns at peace with their horizons.
Now it was night. Damp furrows smelt of spring,
Cool iron and thistle-stems. Far off windows shone
Approaching, receding. Cars dipped below the world's edge
On unknown roads.
And I walked on and on
Upbraiding myself with melancholy pleasure
For past insufficiencies, future humiliations:
"You are always at fault. Nor will this ever change,"
Saith the inner Voice,
Wise alien liar.
Later that night
The horror of Hell stared down at me for a great time,
Silent, with horns,
Till I reared awake, and found
Myself bedded down on hay in a dawn-wet paddock
With twenty curious rams foregathered round me.
Under that augury, I hitchhiked on all that day
Out of the fenced and fertile South-east districts
And, just on sundown, entered the waterless kingdom.
At Kingsford Smith airport today, in my old trousers,
Farewelling contemporaries, then upstairs with a shandy,
Watching the ponderous, droop-nosed spearhead jets
Roll out on thin legs, speed up, boom downfield for miles
And boost away, I recalled the following story:
It's related that Blücher, after a festive day spent
Touring the city of London in watchful silence,
Ranelagh Rotunda, the Tower, the Mall, Whitechapel,
Alighted at twilight from his phaeton, surrounded
By his entourage, and uttered his first comment:
"Ah, meine Herren, what a city to loot!"
If the shoe fits, traveller, then it cannot pinch.
There is no place more vacant than this harmless
Wintry plain of marsh grass and grey farms
Stretching away cloud-darkened, dull with cold
Past where lone wind-pumps swivel iron arms,
Past where the river, dimmed with rotting soil
And static cloud, spreads wide amongst low islands,
Mosquito country, tea-tree rnudbanks, reeds,
To reach the shoreless gleam out past all farmlands.
Watching slow birds out near the sky, our talk
Clings to this marsh-plain like the smoke of winter,
Drifts among weed-wrack, hovers in fenced fields.
A mile off, a barn stands open. Our words enter,
Probe and withdraw, being attracted always
Back to the reeds, the margins, the sky's shallows.
"Somewhere out there, down in the east, the sea . . . ."
We picture the vast lake edged by crumbling billows.
Here are three kingdoms, earth and lake and sky
Meeting and mingling, softening at their edges,
The sky earth-grey, the fields absorbing salt-damp,
The river absorbing earth, sky-withered sedges:
We talk of many kingdoms meeting, merging,
The kingdom of legend bordering on Time,
All-crumbling shoreline, crossed both ways by horsemen,
Wanderers, ships, of the old realms of Dream
And their horizons, and what houses, peoples,
Mountains and moons lie out there, covered, drowned
For a season, then rise to fill the darkened heavens—
We stand on the flat shore, kicking sodden ground.
"I see this country diked and drained, grown fertile . . . ."
"I see that too. And I see what follows."
Our slow words falter, being drawn back always
To the sere reeds, the islets, the sky's shallows.
"What is that like?" "Log huts replacing houses,
Men leached of philosophy, minds grown cruel and slack,
Language decayed to a devious singsong flatness,
Distinctions crumbling, ploughlands going back—"
"And when is this?" "When the present silts the future."
"You mean when reason stagnates in the mind . . . .
But what if that sleep should sometimes bring forth modes,
Not thought, not dream, but wholly new in kind?"
From upriver, two fishermen in a country boat
With chicken-wire nets and fruit tins, drift and row.
We walk on the wet shore. Horses, feeding, raise
Their heads from the rushy grass to watch us go
Thoughtfully through their dreaming vision, while
In talk and silence, we tap and probe the future
And the great past for legends, patterns, tales
In which to see, and move, and know our nature
And be complete, a world of balanced kingdoms
In each of us, and each in such a world.
As evening comes, horizons slowly harden.
Shallows are deepened. Farm buildings shrink with cold.
And, as the rising east wind dulls the water
And bends brusque reeds for the passage of the sky,
We, growing weary, trudge miles out to high ground
And strike the world-road, firm and fast and dry.
Once in an April moon
Lapped in dark water
Or in some forest pool
You may discern him, still
In rippling shade,
Or see him tilt and glide,
Leaving few bubbles,
Sunk to the cool of his nest
In the roots of the creekbed.
Go down no further. Let us watch from here.
Shadows of scrub lie windless on the water.
Flat-headed, his otter-like body dark as soil,
Small eyes, crude fur and that patent-leather beak,
Blunt limbs and webbed feet
Held just below the light,
He floats and is there.
He has not heard us come.
Not strange, across so vast
A plain of time.
Twice born, and yet a mammalwith a beak.
But see, now he sinks away, perhaps to feed
On the leaf-dark bottom, or to find the mouth
Of his burrow and smear the earth wall as he climbs
And scrambles up to doze there in the darkness.
Hold the thought of him
Kindly to your skin.
It is good to have him in our country,
Unique, beneath our thoughts
To nurture difference.
Changeless beneath our thought
And its disjunctions.
My cheerful cousin, in his prime,
Owned Windy Hill, two fields of corn,
Two dozen dogs who led a slack
Flea-scratching life beneath his shack
And some few cows he milked each dawn.
Sing hey for sweet westerlies that blow
October calm and Easter rain.
And neighbours still tell slanderous tales
Of how he always could derive
A profitable dingo-scalp
From beagle bitch or collie whelp,
And yet hung scarecrows up alive.
Sing hey for dim westerlies that blow
September smoke and winter moon.
Or how he took his pleasure once
And then once more with keen good will
But, when his partner sighed for more,
Stood up, denounced her for a whore
And fled from sin down Windy Hill.
Sing hey for soft westerlies that blow
All evil far from autumn days.
And he himself tells of the night
When, riding home with dangling rein,
He proffered a friendly flagon to
A silent man the moon shone through—
Which is more than I'd have done.
Sing low for dark westerlies that blow
Out of the distance of the sky.
For my own part, though, I'm sure
I'd feel ashamed and out of place
Defaming such a good, gruff man
Who now has stout sons of his own,
A spacious house, two dogs, and peace.
Sing hey for rude westerlies that blow
Hats over hilltops into Spring.
Nor would I ask him how it feels
—Being above such idle slurs—
After a wild, wet ride, to creep
Into a friend's spare bed and sleep
in warm sheets, oilskin coat and spurs.
Sing hey for calm westerlies that blow
All mischief far from Windy Hill.
The Chancellor booms upon a point of Greek,
The gardener trickles fine dust through his hand.
In separate paper cells sit Dr Meeke
And Dr Allmouth, well-known firebrand.
Allmouth and rivals, fashionably rude,
Qualify beards at a thousand seminars,
Debase the language with exactitude
And plot fresh courses by the rise of stars,
While Meeke, who has no vices, and is kind,
Fashions a circle out of purest thought
Through which new forms rise in the world's old mind
And running men who'll bring an age to naught,
Whom Meeke will see, with horror, rage through town,
Allmouth behind themtill they pull him down.
Last year, the mountain slipped
And blocked a tumbling stream.
At first, we liked the novelty,
But, looking long, grew sad to see
Clear water stilled to slime.
But it was summer then,
Crow-black in field and tree.
When autumn blew with mountain rain
We saw the captive creek take on
A shining, deep placidity.
The reeds that grew this year
Are withered still, and brown.
No sign of springuntil a flight
Of shelduck whistled in last night
And scattered down the long lagoon.
I know, in months to come,
My first step will go deep
And with the next I'll swim,
And sometime dive to touch the dim
Boulders where lost summers sleep . . .
Seasons drowned beyond recall,
A bright, unending timeand yet
Could they return, we might well find
Those days grown shallow to our mind,
And that might bring a worse regret.
For where we paddled once
Is deep and long,
Cool with its shadows of wild bird,
And blackberry, and mountainside,
And the dam is strong.
What, of its age, the mountain gave,
Deep rock, compacted clay,
We could, with some hard work, remove
And once more let slim currents give
Speed to the longest summer day,
But now we've let a whole year pass
I and some others here believe
It might not profit us to lose
Or throw away this new repose,
This deep reserve.
I daresay that's the custom in your church:
You, seated, preached while I, the sinner, stood.
I thank you for this knowledge, Reverend Sir,
And for the lingering scent of your rich food.
Your charity of wind left me replete
With all the blessings I am notching here
Upon this stick with my small pocket knife
Beneath the moon, the mistress of the year.
I wish you coughing cows and withered corn,
Blood in your milk and scabies in your blood.
I wish you ten years' drought, and, when it rains,
A cold, persistent leak upon your bed.
May all your meals be burned, or underdone,
Your bacon taste of mildew, rats and smoke.
May your worst neighbours steal your finest bull,
Exhaust him, then castrate him for a joke.
May all the handles break off all your tools,
Or split and leave cruel splinters in your hand.
May every gun you buy kick like a horse
Yet never harm the birds that strip your land.
May both your daughters grow to look like you
And bear a crop of bastards by your son,
And may your wife grow teeth where never teeth
Grew in a woman since the world began,
Or rather, since the former would be no
More than is normal in your noble line,
And the latter, God forgive me, no great loss,
For you own cows and nanny goats and swine,
This final wish I make, this final notch
(At every cut, the virgin sapwood bleeds)
When at last, well watered with your tears,
Milady's garden sprouts black widow's weeds
May I be seated where I can see down
Far down to where, chained in sow's muck, you lie
Attended by cold worms and hedgerow priests
More hungry and less merciful than I.
for Geoffrey Lehmann
As Bishop of Rome, one ought to be above
Visions, and yet, last evening, as I sat
In the autumn garden, quarrelling with my daughter,
Below in the orchard, my gardeners were hauling
Something from a pit. I turned to see
And it loomed nearer, a discoloured form
Smelling of stone, and weed-roots, and old rain.
"Take it away!" I snapped, but no one moved.
Indeed, no one was near. I rose, afraid,
Perceiving the statue represented Saturn,
Well carved, if somewhat late, with empty eyes
Or rather, holes of muck. I stretched my hand
Forth to touch it, and with that it fell
And broke and—bled. The blood fan to my feet
And I leaped back in horror, crying out,
Whereat a Voice, if you'll credit me, intoned:
Blood was appointed, blood you have despised,
Therefore drink this, fit token of your faith!
"Such things attend the great," my cousin smiled,
Sitting by my bed. I bade him go
And rubbed my mouth in shallow sleep all night.
This forenoon, too, I spent unhealthily
Alone in my rooms, reflecting on my life
And whether I should eschew my pagan authors
And—miserable thought—take up the Vulgate . . . .
Fortunately, just then, my eldest son
Sought me out on a question of returns
From our estates, and so my afternoon
Was passed in rancorous fiscal computation
Which excellent work has quite restored my mood.
for Peter Barden
Penury in Sydney had grown stale
And, at twenty-two, my childhood was in danger
So I preceded you, in all but spirit,
To the far-back country
Where the tar roads end.
In the silent lands
Time broadens into space.
Approaching Port Augusta, going on,
Iron-brown and limitless, the plains
Were before me all day. Burnt mountains fell behind
In the glittering sky.
At dawn, the sun would roll up from his lair
In the kiln-dry lake country, fire his heat straight through
The blind grey scrub, awaken me beside wheeltracks
And someone's car, and I would travel on.
At noon, far out in a mirage, I would brew
Tea with strangers, yarn about jobs in the North
And, chewing quietly, watch maybe an upstart
Dust-devil forming miles off, going high
To totter, darken
And, quite suddenly, vanish
Leaving a formless, thinning stain in the heavens.
Where the spirits of sea-cliffs
Hovered on the plain
I would remember routines we had invented
For putting spine into shapeless days: the time
We passed at a crouching trot down Wynyard Concourse
Tell each other in loud mock-Arunta and gestures
What game we were tracking down what haunted gorge . . .
But they sustained me like water,
They, and the is-ful ah!-nesses of things.
Window light and kitchen door
Make such a frame for country wives
At a table in its grace of wood,
Heaped fruit, stew pans, slow-circling knives,
And such a stage for summer gossip
With children clamouring for shares
Of apple to munch proudly at
And dulcet, reassuring pears
That I'm inclined to stop and gaze
Long from the garden path before
I cough politely and become
The citified stranger at their door,
To stand too long, in fact, and spy
On sweetness quivering in a spoon
In spite of shame that sniffs my heels
And country dogs that must bark soon,
Telling myself what I'm afraid of
Is my weight of dry affairs
In a summer balance of pans filled
With apples, sugar, dulcet pears:
Flowers of provision, wives,
Gossip a sly lamp for the dead . . . .
Musing, I take refuge in—musing
On country things, and things I've read
For the truth is, I'm the sort who
At the very doors of grace
Will need the dogs of shame, or worse,
To hound us into blessedness
Or (we are so proudly shy)
Here I take two steps, and pause,
The loving rescue of an eye
Discerning—Ahem! (Oh Lord)—our cause.
Now human means transcend
All human measure
And pile up wealth
To impoverish the heart,
Men trace the heights of fear
The depths of pleasure,
Now human means transcend all
Simply to channel this
Blind wave of treasure
Regardless what bonds
Its bright streams wrench apart.
Now human means
Transcend all human measure
And pile up wealth
To impoverish the heart.
On our way to the high country
Driving down Church Street
Hats, children, car mirrors
Halfcastes and stockbreeders
Gooday there, Jack!
In elastic-side boots
Shirts heavy with paunch
And similar, too
In having no buttocks
Hup! what am I offered?
Dust high as the slaty-gums
A steady, red-brawn
Moan out of cattle
Bashed against timber
What am I offered?
Winged in his dustcoats
The dry auctioneer
Truncating his lifelong
Worn whip-leather sentence
In now like a damburst
An irruption of spears
Lot ten, fifteen bullocks
And the yardhand leaps nimbly
Retaining his entrails
Oh, vigour, I'll grant
Rumble of farmers
Old cars with spoke wheels
Calves, bumped heads lolling
Bred way up dirt roads
Carried in peeing
Carried in bags
Course it's illegal
Bid up, bid up
Yes, colour, certainly
Trucks, pigs, trucks, buyers
Show riders on corner posts
Ten quid for ten seconds
Moleskins and a Jiffy
Castrator blade clicked
Open, slowly, to pick
A thumbnail, while thinking
Ten ten ten five
Look at that dog
What! am I offered?
Poor bugger's senile
Comes here to bite heels
All he remembers
Here comes Mick Stevens
Sniped over a hundred
Back in the war
One was his officer
Gone! Cash on the knocker.
We stroll back to town
Not without interest
But where is the mind?
The mind? That was your bid
As I understood
In the Royal, in the back
In the front bar, the beer garden
And it grows little else
Come on, it's my shout
Mind comes at need
It's not a promotion
More a straight offer
So I goes down and tells him
You fix up your own bloody gates
At least so I hope
Would you rig the bidding?
Steel chairs over brick
The gong dinning Dinner
Rissoles, seared fat
Baked faces of girl
What, steak not cooked long enough?
Yes, Kath. But not soon enough
Roar of veranda rails
From up Barrington Street
A stallion, stepping
On spitfire hooves
Envied by shopkeepers
But is this enough?
No. It's a part
The ranges, the heat
The cool of hose-gardens
The riverbank dead
Pioneers even there
The lovers and living
The humble and proud
Who have scant use for Mind
Nor for Saul's armour
Mick Stevens who saved
And cares not one damn
For your paperback shelves
They'd impress him to look at
You ride on these riches
You shine on their surface
All praise to you, too
Since that's what you craved
With conversion, of course
From these, to love them
Have it from me
And that's all you get
Till I hear your next offer.
Waiting for which
Here's your good health
And with us included
Indeed only then
Prosper the Commonwealth.
Mother in the sweltering homestead
Dreams her daily dream of Kent,
Father at his club talks sheep
Mentioning his old regiment,
Daughter Susan at her tatting
In the arbour long ago
Awakening, with a gentle sigh
From a dream of Yes and No
Sees, from the vines above, a Snake
Fluid, glittering and slow
Pierce the lattice and extend—
The most that she can scream is O
In a tiny voice—and then
Unthinking, with a roundhouse blow
Of her hat, she thwacks the creature's
Head clean through the hole below
And as it strikes back in fury
At her through the next space down
With her parasol, she lashes
Out—and does the trick again!
Down the lattice, straight and crooked:
There, you brute! Back, sir! Take that!
In its knotted rage, the serpent's
Writhing rattles nail and slat
Till, through fifteen cruelly double
Points of flexure, shallow breath
Fails, and with one dwindling seizure,
Slack and decorous in death
Hangs the beast—and Susan, staring,
Shakes her blonde curls in a dream
Of hideous relief, and brings
Her mother with shrill scream on scream.
Mother, hastening, stops aghast,
Raising a finely chiselled hand:
What is that object in the lattice
Plaited like a willow wand?
Then, advancing, white as cheese,
Calms her child with a caress.
My dear, you should have fled at once.
This place has made you—barbarous.
But go in now, lie down awhile,
Better not to speak of this . . .
Oh, how the local wits will crow
Unless I remove the evidence.
And so from the veranda, servant
Girls who will cry the tale abroad
Watch their mistress disentangle
The hideous from the absurd.
Where my great-grandfather's dray
Stopped, is a tractor field;
Roads for a thousand miles are sealed
The wild is burnt and fenced away.
Beasts who saw the day of men
Are hunted out, disowned, and killed;
Star cities that we learn to build
Rise on the inner mirage-plain.
Wild as our hearts remain
Earth is no more the wild.
Deeps of the ancient forest day
Are stilled to art, and memory.
High venture sings a rising tune.
The earth gives way to the world.
Our neighbour has been busy all today
Banging and hammering, bringing things in from his paddocks,
Harrows and hayforks he'd trusted to the weather,
Not thinking he'd need to bring them in before autumn.
Now he's hauling them home as if the time of simply
Leaning tools against tree stumps had run out.
I don't know, he says, yet. You'll think me mad when I say
I have a sense of something tremendous coming,
I believe it's human.
The animals give no sign, not even the dogs.
I don't think it's of their world, and anyway
I feel it myself to be something more like history.
Perhaps it comes of living on a coast:
An inland man has months, or centuries
To prepare for events that overwhelm coast-dwellers.
By the time it crests the ranges, any onslaught's
Likely to be slowed dawn enough to judge
And the continent behind is vast enough
God knows, to draw the first and let's hope fiercest
Sap from the average disaster—or dispensation.
What I can talk about's the measures I am taking:
So far, just this, which is falling back on my buildings
Where I can at least assemble all I know
Near, within reach, and when that's done, I suppose
Wait, doing odd jobs.
What I really feel like doing
Is saddling my horse, riding out to the crossroads
And waiting there with my gun just out of sight.
That's one style we know, that the past has handed down.
Promise you'll take a Daguerreotype if I do it.
Or I could wait there in my car with some provisions,
Tobacco, and a rug, and hope to get back here fast
To tell you what it was, and its dispositions . . .
Except I don't think that'd fit this present case
And I might race back to find it had outflanked me
And you were strange
And a hundred years had passed.
Help me up with this plough
And we'll go back to the house.
Up there, before, I was looking round for some omen
And I noticed the hens, the way they cock their heads
Up slightly, askance,
Down slightly, left, as if
Somewhere they might strike the evolutionary angle
And suddenly see. And there's a sign of the times,
The way we go consulting the wise beasts
In time of trouble, now that we've got them conquered.
And poets, too, not that I mean—But come up.
What I sense coming's something you may remember.
Before the coming of the endless town
When I was alive, it wasn't far to go
To places where houses still stood well apart,
To places, indeed, where they stood so far apart
That from the highest hill you couldn't see one.
The idea will be quite alien, I know.
Before the coming of the endless town
When I was alive, there were animals to see
And even trees, still living in our time:
Nothing much more than meat and wood to some,
To others a land extending far and down
To where the mind's root stood in mystery.
And there were those who lived so far away
They never crossed the hills to any town.
When I was alive, it was possible to meet
Folk ill at ease in the simplest asphalt street
Who were on first name terms with Night and Day,
And even curt at times towards the Sun.
When I was alive and walked upon the earth
There were still seasons, if the term is known,
Fire and wind and all their ancient lore,
And many grew small and murderous as they saw
Water and darkness emptied of rebirth
Before the coming of the endless town.
The dead return
Tall trees sink out of the sky
The wise become silent
The ground cries out, and moans
It is improper to speak
The strong man sits by his fire all day long
Strange beasts are abroad
Smoke winding through the trees
The eye avoids the track of a kingparrot man
Men laugh as their organs grow small
Birds go from the shore
The waters of the earth cannot be drunk
Cloud, then, follows cloud
Thrown weapons are lost among leaves
The pale dead empty the world.
Where the great winds crashed
Strange suns appear
Gleaming with mud and shocks of thistle fur,
And walkers see them at the forest edge
And children, when the winter rains are past
Go hurrying there
And climb and scramble out on rays of wood
Among the antler tines and fluted sterns
Of galleons they rig with string and sail
High over the steep fall forest and the farms
As far as the islands of the summer air.
Tall as great barns
The weather-whitened roots all summer bear
Birdsong of children, rag and applecore,
But when the winds return
And derelict altars lean in pits of rain,
Old writhen gods with shins of dirt and bare
Like an ancient blast that stuck
In time, and toughened, stained by the mother stone
Downward in blackness, slow as the seep of food
In crystal hair.
Time being stilled
Only here, in these frameworks of decay,
Moss comes, and rain, and the underpinning edge
Of the valley, letting go, releases one
To a sudden career as a rimless, wrenching wheel
Stopped short by brush
Its axle trunk snapped clear.
Another yields its tusks for firewood
In a distant year.
Turning to go
As lights come on in the farmlands everywhere
I look back once
At the few last forks and finials of grey
Still rising above dank mounds of vine and weed
And flowers there
And in the darkness of the valley edge
Above the glow, domed huts and sacred poles
Return to life and for a moment wear
Aspects of fire, and rustling talk, and sleep,
Dark face, bright spear . . .
And then the phantoms sink to leaves again.
But walking away from this last glimpse, I dare
To say to myself
For a little while yet, earth is the mind of man,
For a little time yet
Before strange suns appear.
A POET OF 1914
Spendthrift, his life was lived thus
Instructive to watch a whole mountain
Keep your country lean, your country honest
The pebble that clattered
And tapped in its blindstick descent
Down the ledges and edges
Streaking down in and out of such spent
Crumbling infalls of day
As the echoing gorge still admitted
Came skidding at last to my feet
And stopped, uncommitted
To the cold rock water's
Final depth below
As if the man up on top
Who of all should best know
Had wanted to represent
With detached precision
The extent to which my
Dropping out of the world
Had been, despite all the talk,
My own decision
And with like restraint
The gravity and
Of my position.
You see that bench in front of Meagher's stare?
That's where the angel landed.
What? An angel?
Yes. It was just near smoko time on a sale day.
Town was quite full. He called us all together.
And was he obeyed?
Oh yes. He got a hearing.
Made his announcement, blessed us and took off
Again, straight up.
He had most glorious wings . . . .
What happened then?
There were some tasks he'd set us
Or rather that sort of followed from his message.
And were they carried out?
At first we meant to,
But after a while, when there had been some talk
Most came to think he'd been a bit, well, haughty,
A bit overdone, with those flourishes of wings
And that plummy accent.
Lot of the women liked that.
But the men who'd knelt, off their own bat, mind you,
They were specially crook on him, as I remember.
Did he come again?
Oh yes. The message was important.
The second time, he hired the church hall,
Spoke most politely, called us all by name.
Not much. At first we liked him.
But, after all, he'd singled out the Catholics.
It was their hall. And another thing resented
By different ones, he hadn't charged admission.
We weren't all paupers, and any man or angel
With so little regard for local pride, or money,
Ends up distrusted.
Did he give up then?
Oh no. The third time round
He thought he had our measure. Came by car,
Took a room at Morgan's, didn't say a word
About his message for the first two days
And after that, dropped hints. Quite clever ones.
He made sure, too, that he spoke to all the Baptists.
I'll bet that worked.
You reckon? Not that I saw.
We didn't like him pandering to our ways
For a start. Some called it mockery, straight out.
He was an angel, after all. And then
There was the way he kept on coming back
Hustling the people.
And when all's said and done
He was a stranger. And he talked religion.
Did he keep on trying?
No. Gave us away.
Would it have helped if he'd settled in the district?
Don't think so, mate. If you follow me, he was
Too keen altogether. He'd have harped on that damn message
All the time—or if he'd stopped, well then
He'd have been despised because he'd given in, like.
He'd just got off on the wrong foot from the start
And you can't fix that up.
But what—Oh Hell!—what if he'd been, say, born here?
Well, that sort of thing's a bit above an angel,
Or a bit below. And he'd grow up too well known.
Who'd pay any heed to a neighbour's boy, I ask you,
Specially if he came out with messages?
Besides, what he told us had to do with love
And people here,
They don't think that's quite—manly.
Something over ten thousand
Beer bottles went to build
A house, once, in Queensland.
Something over ten thousand
Mullions of glitter and gloom
Fixed and cemented
And every one of them drained
As a point of honour
By the solitary owner.
Picture, in midsummer shade,
The static yet ripple-cool sheen
Of ten thousand leadlights.
Picture, when lamps burned inside,
A shadowy, manifold bee
In his shrine of light-cells,
Vast, torpid and festive at once
Singing Christmas jinks and hooray!
In the heart of Queensland,
So that when he went courting at last
And brought home a bride for his house
(Picture that darkly)
There must have been almost excess
Even for those tropic parts
Of fullness, of wholeness,
Pharaoh and Israel at sport,
Bricks heaped to dry in the sun,
Straw by the paddockful.
And I hope it survives yet, their priesthood,
It would be drear loss to us all,
Not only Queensland,
Considering chill glass houses now
Which bewilder many
And have nourished no one,
If jealous time and the world
Had shattered those honeydew grilles
And the wind grown jagged,
And there were no strong sons to shout
Through sleepouts of radiance and chink,
Bearing high dozens.
My pilot friend tells me how he once flew
Trout fingerlings up to stock the mountain creeks,
The queerest cargo ever in his Cessna:
Thin plastic bubble bags half-filled with water
Puffed out to globes with oxygen and sealed
With a rubber clip. Ribbed from your hand, they hung.
You see them in Asia carry fish that way.
Cambodia. Thailand. They'd know, if anyone
How fine a tissue will contain rich life.
Climbing the south-west sky, he set the trim,
Winding with care. Concern began to form
Finely as acid levels on his thought.
The polythene rub and skid of dewdrop worlds
Prickled his skin to damp. Moving the stick
He listened for harm in the drowsy current-shift
Of fluid tilting smoothly all one way
And the teeming forms that moved and, hovering, touched
Now a meniscus, now a tense faint wall
Echoing in him, in his medium of noise
Between the sheaths of green and haze below
And the ceaseless boundary of the sky far up,
And peeling the clear flap of his clipboard back
He scribbled headings and such till gradually,
At one with the films and milieux of his blood,
He touched a balance where his bones, his skin
Became those of his ribbed sheer metal craft
With seeds of life to cross a summer void—
He gestured between two concepts in the air:
A galaxy collapsed to glimmering shells
(And to be such that you'd see it that way)
I grappled with that, with how each sphere would have
Its planets, oceans, creatures all contained
To flower as time expanded once again.
Perhaps we're no more than incipient, us and time.
He smiled with the worlds and children in his mind.
We touched at Cooma just on six, he said.
Deep where our souls are bone, we understand
The universe. One of the globes had burst:
A molecular stain, some dead fry on the floor.
He glanced at this as at a human death
And went with the Fisheries men to watch the rest
Ruptured and poured into a shining pool.