Home Current Qualm Previous Writers
The scent of the sequoia is an exact match
for the pine tree air freshener dangling
from the rear-view. I hadn’t noticed
the sameness until we stopped to stretch
our legs. Parked up in the roadside dirt,
I took a leak, peered into the high dark,
whistling – as you do… Bear in mind,
this is just a sketch. There is a later treatment,
where we drive on into the sinking light,
squinting at the fledgling stars through
a windscreen milky with photo-activated dust,
and come to a clapboard garage, little more
than a shack, furnished with hubcaps,
antlers, trade calendar, doors thrown wide
to the warm evening. The mechanic emerges,
rolling his hands around a ball of rag, overalls
blackened from chest to crotch, his cue –
the engine idling to a stop. He nods,
wanders over, and the first thing he says is,
‘What seems to be the problem?’
I bring a pail of water, grooming brush, a fresh bale of hay
You must always approach him from the side, my father said.
Step clear of the fog that floats between a horse’s eyes,
and let him know you’re there. Put out to grass, freed
from the lunacy of men, he’s just an ordinary neddy,
carried a story in the belly of a man. I take in the profile,
the cocked foreleg, the elegant taper from mottled haunch
to brittle fetlock, the veins strewn like ravelled lengths
of bladder wrack. No wings, no fanciful addenda.
An ambry, with the north wind locked inside,
sifting the world through flared cringles, caught
between man-stink and a pocketful of sugar.
FOR THOSE OF US WHO GOT UNIVERSITY ENTRANCE ACCREDITED
DUE TO THE EXCELLENCE OF OUR SCHOOL WORK THROUGHOUT
There was white-water rafting
down the Buller River
bunks and three days of biking
which for the asthmatic exchange student
from Argentina made the oxygen
and nitrogen of the chill gorge air
a kind of chalice she sipped from.
There were parrots – kaka.
One nearly took the lesbian P E teacher’s
head off the first day but she ducked.
She and I were the ones scared of heights.
When I leaned back over the soft bank
in my harness, the ropes tight in my damp hands,
and gave myself to the word abseil
I could hear her all the way down there saying traitor.
MASSIVE TUNNEL BORER
The two halves drill towards each other
eating through the mountain
When they meet
the tunnel could be said
to be complete and the machines
bury themselves on that spot
become part of the mountain
it being uneconomic to retrieve them.
Each half is the size of an aircraft.
Each, no doubt, has its trajectory
mapped remotely from above ground.
What appeals most
is not the action of the tunnelling
or even the burial
these topics having been
well-traversed by other machines
but the way they use their food
how they shit out reinforcement
turning the gravel, the mud
the mountain’s insides
into a concrete that prevents
the new tunnel’s collapse.
Perhaps this is where
we went wrong.
The new girl at work is not my colour.
In the Library of Quiet I sort
volumes on Silence and tidy racks
of Absent Sound. The capacity
to boom is blocked as if speaking (banned)
is all male voice, not our thoughts. She is
my partner, and we are a hand
of black and white. In the Torazza,
five hundred steps to the folios,
the sun glazes petals of half-lit
July above the desks. We touch arms.
She's not my colour but she is my shade.
THE WYRDLIGHT SISTERS
Living in Hell, the little fires were useful.
Charcoal lined our life,
so soft to lean on night.
We had a library there. The books were covered
in ash dust. Devils
came here with us. They thrive.
If they go back to Hell I might go back too –
my sister is outed
as a sorceress.
Why stay here when I know there’s no pain in hell
as bad as slander?
Whistling wind is a witch,
says our neighbour, gardens are spellbound, he’s seen
wild weeds ride a giant
slug of punishment.
My breath’s hot magistery will transform him.
Walking to the cinema sewing quick
small steps fitted to hold me
from slipping, I see men ahead swing
their legs. They are tacking particles
of flesh to the street, large as they come in,
pressing past each other, shrinking
as they go out.
It's true that once I swung my legs.
I played in open dirt not the dark.
When I asked to see Kiss in the Tunnel
I was made to sew perfect stitches instead.
All day, threads floated from my hem,
loose, long, children under suspicion.
POSTERITY, LOOK OUT
About suffering they were never wrong,
the future. Forever, grown sinewy, began
young. Beginners' feet furrow whatever
fungus-rot, brain-fog. They were never we.
They were never surgeon-bait, gruff-won
gains, frog-brown. Were they even future
wags? They were never fringe-of-burnout,
grub-to-go ruffians. They were never new
fur, we as we. They never forgot being, urn—
either/orgy. Were never buff, gaunt snow
bunnies. Were never a growth effort, guy
yawn, buffoon gesture. Were never right
either. Were never us, now, baggy turnoff,
guffaw tongue. Sir, they were never born.
NAFANUA, THE SAMOAN GODDESS OF WAR, GOES TO NASHVILLE
She goes with him to Nashville
as if it were some place you could go to easily on a bus
he takes her to an outcrop of rocks and says:
This is where the Mississippians mysteriously disappeared
and then the Cherokee and the Chickashaw
and the Shawnee followed.
Nafanua sits like the single white resident
in a tiny settlement called French Lick.
Zero point zero percent Native Hawai’ian and other Pacific Islanders
are stuffing the holes in their houses to the sounds of ghosts
and their quiet piroguing down the Tennessee River.
Eleven thousand Kurdish are joining the cult of angels.
This is not what she was expecting
they’d been heading for a place of amusement and lost the trail
the guy in the hat is called Joe Cheek and not a Nashvillian at all.
From far, far out in the wilderness comes a noise
that sounds like honk-a-tonk-a-tonk-a-tonka.