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All poems © Copyright 1996-1998 Andrew Burke
All Rights Reserved.




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None so raw as this our land
for Mary Maclean

Many have been more exotic places, but this
you offer us, a taste of our land. The air
so crisp with chill we wear entire wardrobes
like hunters' furs - jeans over track pants,
footy socks, beanies, scarves. Mary's roo dog
does our hunting: an emu caught by the throat,
plucked and thrown whole on a cooking fire,
smoke full of singed feathers and flesh
stings our noses. We wrestle with tin-canned
standards in words the wind blows away. Huddled
'round campfires morning and night, we go where
the sun breaks through as day unrolls. Breakaways,
mulga bush, a never-used dam a hundred years old;
this place of bleached bones and broken glass
queries our presence, unwashed, awkward on
its unpaved ways. Marrakesch, Kathmandu - tales
of former hikes, but none so raw as this our land.
Whose land? Our week is up; we take away
film rolls, rusted horse shoes, and ochre rocks.

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Natural SFX
for Geoff Page

Standing at the edge of
the Western Desert,
minus 2 degrees Celsius,

I listen for
silence. Moon late,
campers asleep,

fires out, I hear
a distant road train
kicking up red dirt

like a country & western song
when all you want is
the white space between

church bells tolling.
Frogs listen too
between the lap-

slapping of
Niagara Dam's hundred-year-old
waters on

red rock shores. It's
as close as I'll ever hear to
hearing nothing,

like Basho atop
an old craggy mountain.
Charles Tomlinson writes

"it rings true: for
silence / is an imagined
thing." Listen

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Esse est percipi
for Denis Cherry

I lie on the surgery table
staring up at the hanging
anatomical drawings of the forestry
around the skeletal frames
of man and woman, and trace
the muscle that pulls at
my leg from my lower back.
Now I know why I'm in pain.
Upfront I joke with my friend,
my doctor. He sees my eyebrows,
my laughing eyes, the leaping fish
in my mouth. 'You see,' he says,
meaning I understand, then
loses me in medico lingo. I
wander, see him in two plays
on the same stage. To him
I am also a double bill: he sees
under my waves to my currents
and caves. Lap lap goes my blood,
following itself in blind obedience
like a bloodworm from river's edge.
Does he sense my fear? I see
he is curious, like a mechanic
with an out-of-tune engine.
'Your timing's wrong,' he could say
and it would be no surprise; I am
driven by analogies, abstract ideas.
I back away until I back into
somebody coming the other way,
a boy who couldn't cry at fourteen
and blamed his father for dying.

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Autobiography

each block of wood
a head to chop

each plant
earth pushing up

the whistling wind
an open cloak

river rock crabs
drowned sailors' hands

every shadow
a sundial arm

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Sharp-Smelling Mist

I see us now on the cliffs
of the Swan River by
the slumbering suburb
where my brother and I fought,

running up slants of
sunlight, gripping rocks
and holding roots, then
sliding back twenty feet

on hands and knees
salted with rocksand,
blood running like
a river like memory.

I hear rock crabs
in jars under beds,
scuttling like pirates
on coral islands, caught

by boys who hired rowboats
with girls in springtime
from Smith's boatshed,
now Mead's Fish Gallery.

Today, fish swim
across screens like
jeering children behind
glass, and scuttling

is backflow from
earbuds on Walkmans ...
Then floats to now
in sharp-smelling mist,

blowfish rotting on jetties,
rowboats driftwood to shore,
cars wrapped around trees,
friends torn like ragdolls,

then to now like a timetable
used to wrap gutted fish,
blood seeping through
onto salted hands.

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Mr Hobby's Poppies

One poppy bends in the wind
precarious as
my memory of our driveway

bordered by poppies -
yellow, orange, white -
planted by Mr Hobby

knobbly old gardener who
spent a day a week
at our home.

Although we could afford
a dozen new sprinklers
he strapped and washered

old piping together
to create his own.
No better portrait

could have been
sculpted of the old
scrawny scarecrow

rusty brown and bent
torn cloth chokers
stained and wet.

They stuttered
and barely worked
all summer.

One poppy in the wind
rewinds me
forty years ...

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From Crystal Set To Internet
for my brother Michael

Today, our kitchen radio crackles
and I remember your crystal set,
its antenna running around
jarrah fences, under the grapevine's
twisty tendrils, behind the flapping
banana leaves ...
And
in that backyard, by the circular
barbecue of coloured stones,
your yacht collected rain where
weeping willow leaves and leeches
created their own environment.
We hadn't heard the word then. We
hadn't heard the Poms were exploding bombs
at Maralinga, we only heard Bob Menzies
speaking more British than Royalty:
reds under beds, the yellow peril.

Memory is like
an old marbles bag found in an attic:
Long Point, Mr Rushton's Perfume Factory,
the running boards of Dad's Pilot V8,
Mum's Agatha Austin, your first Vespa ...
Now the information superhighway Internet
has replaced your crackling crystal set,
and we are the fathers who
complain of power and phone bills.
We have come through an age,
and await our medals, looking to
the daily mail or the next phone-call
to praise us, but hear nothing. So
I praise us as brothers, as
sons, as fathers, I
praise the daily male in us that
we have come through these
harrowing decades of change
with our humour and wonder
intact.

Buddha said "All things must pass":
we are still in the passageway, laughing.

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Summer Holidays

As a late afternoon seabreeze
rattled the sleepout's louvres,
Father sang -
"It's illegal, it's immoral,
Or it makes you fat ..."

The air smelt of sundried seaweed.

Our long shadows did
crude tableaux on the grass.
'Go on, dare ya!'
but the girls didn't bite.

Overpainted for daylight,
Mother sulked in her sundress,
swivelling ice
with a red-nailed finger.

Like a blowfish,
our host sucked air
to fire-up the barbecue.
Father sang on, oblivious.

We shared our fourth jug
of ice-cubed raspberry cordial,
clinking our glasses together.

'The future,' I toasted.
The other kids just
looked at me.

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Dear Father

How sick I get of your ghost
stirring the blood between us,
how sick of the ties
that hold me.

Father, a shrink on the highway
told me to write. To who?
I have made you up. You are
the air in my birthday balloon
the clown at our barbecue
proud patron of the bottle-o
you shape my fingers and my toes
you cast my shadow
my every look-over-the-shoulder
you carve my tombstone in womb bone.

How sick I get of my ties to you.
Let this be a letter
to the Dead Letter office
(I'm sick of your jokes).

Father, I untie you -
air rushes out
and I whoop ...

I'm fifty,
it's time to let go.

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Mortality

1.
Rushing like an ambulance
to the Casualty Ward at
Royal Perth Hospital our car

stalls and drops its clutch
on a hill at a Stop sign,
me not able to push

in my breathless panic,
the fear that drove us
this far, wife, daughter

and me. The tall cathedral
lurches between us
and the hospital, we walk slow-

ly around, derelicts dreaming
in greystone shadows, leaves
locked in chicken-wire cages,

mortality so much
a presence I suck air
like a desert wind,

then enter
air-conditioned Casualty.

2.
We wait. My panic
leaps inside me in this
chapel of victims -

street girl cursing in
her blunt tongue; cops
like store mannequins,

their case losing
too much blood,
eyes spinning ...

A tow truck hooks up
our car, tows it away.
I lie back amongst

masks and gases.
This scene's a clip
from a madhouse movie -

yet who would think
to play these cops
just so, standing,

waiting, missing
their free burgers,
shaping their anger

amongst
the angst of others.

3.
I am towed now,
scanned, and parked.
A toothless crone

lies beside me
mouthing soundless air,
thrashing at her belts,

one free hand
jerking like
a dying fish's fin.

I see my mother
new to her coffin,
thrashing, hands

ripping the lining,
her soundless mouth
opens and shuts.

'Taxi!' I scream,
laughing, 'Taxi!'

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Our Times
in memory of Sam Burke (1977-1995)
and my days so far

Our wake shapes our days.

I'm serious. There's no sense in
hanging yourself, Sam. I am
all the more bitter for saying this
after the fact. Family life is a joke, I know -
I lived with your father as my big brother
all my young days so who's laughing.
Now I steer away, little in common

but memories. In the Swan River
at the bottom of our hill, your
grandfather's tender, bought and moored
for membership, sank, tied to its jetty.
'Put it on my tab,' he'd say
in the yacht club bar as
seaweed dressed the mooring line.
At home, we stalled
in the wake of our blood.

Rich, poor, drunk or sober, we have
lost touch. I remember trying to
kill your father with a butter knife,
then, later, a spear
I honed with love and hate,
dark days by the river,
sunlight knifing my eyes.

Now your days have ended, sailing the Swan.
The whys rise up, arguments of our days ...

At the crematorium I watch my brother.
How much older he is now.
He sits straight-backed
in the front pew near your coffin,
and in his neck muscles I see
the weeping he won't allow.

-

Even before I was a teenager
I was a solitary boy. In our ti-tree hedge
I would sharpen my pen-knife, then
balance it on the edge of my hand,
finding its seesaw spot.
On windy nights
the almond tree¹s blossom
drifted like snow. At first light
my sister, brother and I
walked out and stood in it
barefoot. The cold feet of the dead.
I hugged my knife
in my dressing-gown pocket ...

Who can cut me down now?

I watch the river clear itself into the ocean.


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