Sad Songs

In memory of Glenn Chapman

On Friday mornings he performs in an alleyway

by the supermarket, a hard-worn man who sings
sad songs with splintered voice and plays guitar
with such phrasing, dexterity and attack to hint

at green years shrivelled in quest of bright lights
that somehow never shone on him. Old velvet,
once crimson, now paler than unrequited love
and much nibbled by moths, lines his battered
guitar case. His smile when I drop a few coins
is a solitary brief blooming in a garden of dead
dreams, while notes flutter from strings pliant
to fingers' caress and skitter across the surface
of a fathomless sink of sorrows. I give money
in hope he'll go on singing sad songs, not only
for me but for every wounded nobody who in
silence keeps the stern and lonely vigils of grief.

'Sad Songs' was published in Acumen: A Literary Journal (UK)

A Street Called The Love of God

Calle del Amor de Dios, Las Letras, Madrid

It's a disappointment: two short blocks

straight and narrow, sometimes a throb

of flamenco from the guitar maker's shop.

It finishes at Calle de las Huertas, but

there are no orchards, no Edens, only cut

stones enclosing the Trinitarian Sisters.

Go deeper into Las Letras, to the house

where Lope de Vega, then a priest in holy

orders, lived for 20 years with two sets

of authorised children. Surely Padre Lope

strolled Calle del Amor de Dios to liaise

with his many paramours, pay visits to

spontaneous offspring. And nearing the end,

agitated by a lack of grace and dreading

damnation, he scourged with enthusiasm,

splattering whitewashed walls with blood.

Pity poor Lope clubbing with Purgatory's

sin-struck chancers, soul in the balance,

aspiring to virtue, craving heaven's passport,

bleeding for the love of God, but wherever

he turns or twists - so many willing women.

'A Street Called the Love of God' was published in Going Down Swinging.

Mr Hardy

Undergrowth dense, paths grown-over, filigreed gloom

drapes across the day - and dead leaves, stirred

by fitful breezes, whisper like the turning of pages:

Know the forest, touch its pulse, study its ways, the habits

of its shy creatures. Surrender to its mysteries. Strangers

come and go. Observe them. They too have their place.

And if in some hidden glade you meet another who, like you,

knows the forest, and thereafter feel the sun more warming

on your back, the wind less cutting on your cheeks,

then search no more. Stay. There is no better place.

The undergrowth, so robust, holds the madding crowd

at bay. Leave - and never find that glade again.

'Mr Hardy' was published in Eureka Street.


Golden Boy

When Daedalus fastened those homemade wings,

first to himself and then to his golden boy,

he warned how wax would melt should they soar

too near the sun. 'Fly close by me,' he said,

'and we shall flee this tyrant of a Cretan king.'

The architect of the labyrinth was not the last father,

lofty designs in ruins, to lose a son to death, exile,

estrangement, even madness, and be taunted ever after

by albums that frame a boy, blank pages for the man;

shrivelled blooms, a makeshift cross, a roadside ironbark;

the unrelenting silence of birthday telephones;

the risen sun's first gilding of the Icarian Sea.

 'Golden Boy' was published in Meanjin.


My father was ten years old when South Melbourne Football Club
won its last premiership in 1933. The club, reconstituted as the
Sydney Swans in 1982, won AFL premierships in 2005 and 2012.
He told me he took a train to Melbourne, watched
his Swans play, fell asleep on the homeward journey,
missed Bungaree, and walked miles from Ballarat
to his parentsí farmlet in the heart of the spud country.
I see him tramping an empty road, blackness mitigated
by a wan winter's moon, hear the clash of leather boots
on bitumen, the baying of disturbed farmyard dogs; him
scarcely more than a big boy who played bush footy
unready for sudden fatherhood, never again to quicken
to another triumph before he was coffined beneath wreaths
of white and red blooms, his Swans long flown from
their lake to nest by the shores of a virescent harbour,
the gilt of heyday glories peeled from the walnut of honour,
the pavilions of his rapture crumbled into ruins.

'Swansong' was published in Eureka Street.                                          

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