I’ve well surpassed my quota of 14 stanzas for this November but, though I’m being called to attend to pressing matters involving the vacuum cleaner, storage shelves and other important things, I’m squeezing in one more to make it a round twenty:
November verse 20: Approximatelyfourteen ways to start a stanza
Take a phrase that makes you cranky,
melts your heart, or stirs your mirth,
from politician being wanky
or tweeter somewhere else on earth.
Steal the first words of a novel.
Quote a tiny friend's sweet waffle.
Parody a famous line
from Hamlet or source less divine.
See dead words that serve transactions –
shake them, turn them upside down.
Lay bare your heart and find a noun
or verb that lurks there. Let distractions
be your helpers. Take a thought
and tie it in an eight-word knot.
That’s it for 2020. Normal transmission will resume tomorrow.
November verse 18 &19: 29 and 30/11Using the rhyme words from Vikram Seth's
The Golden Gate, stanza 11.29 and 11.30
As 2020 nears completion,
gurgling swiftly down time's drain,
and leaves behind its vast accretion
of damaged lives, despair, rage, pain,
let's build our souls some insulation,
not give way to desperation,
put our faith in humankind
and the power of the mind.
May politicians' treachery
be no more wrapped in pious sighs
(no way to hide their lyin' eyes),
buffoonery and lechery
in office meet with decent scorn
and find they are no longer borne.
Greenhouse gas accumulation
challenges the world's combined
resourcefulness. The fermentation
of bullshit would leave us resigned
to dying off without compunction,
but we can overcome disjunction.
The clock is nearing 12 at night
but tunnel's end shows flicking light:
I'll join a crowd, not be a stranger,
join hands, write letters, march, and then
do it again, again, again.
It's hard to face how real the danger,
feel climate grief, but then the lust
for life kicks in. In science I trust.
November verse 17: Homonyms
A crash and panic in Vienna.
Eyemouth, many fishers died.
Women beaten at a demo.
Perfect storm Lake Erie-side.
King Zog vanquished by Il Duce.
Allied planes shot down in Norway.
Flood, tornado, bombs and fire,
scandals, massacres – all dire,
all sharing in this nomenclature.
Why choose this term to sell us stuff?
Why don't we shout, Enough's enough!
Why take it on as second nature?
What next, merchant brotherhood?
Yes, why not call this Friday good?
When I started writing this, I had the Black Friday bushfires in Victoria in mind. But a quick look at Wikipedia made me realise that Black Fridays are legion. Here’s the link if you want to know more.
Also: if anyone knows the James McAuley poem whose last line is echoed by by my last line here, please tell me its title and where I can find it. [Added later: It wasn’t James McAuley at all, but TS Eliot, the last line of Part 4 of East Coker in Four Quartets: ‘Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.’]
In a creative writing class I took part in years ago, we did an exercise of walking around the block then coming back and writing down everything we saw. It would be impossible to do that in 14 lines for my five minute walk to the shops, but here’s a partial account.
November verse 16:A walk to the shops
Dotty silver snail trails, roses,
skittish skinks and lorikeets,
gardeners, leaf blowers, hoses,
cafe tables on the street,
three crossword collaborators
(quick, not cryptic), Uber waiter,
handless Lady of La Vang,
cloth monkey left to hang,
stroller, skateboard, backward trolley,
taxi revving at the rank,
homeless regular, eyes blank,
child who's spilled a bag of lollies.
In my ears Waleed and Scott
untie existential knots.
Maybe line 7 needs explanation. Here she is, in someone’s beautifully tended front garden:
November verse 15: An initial response to
Danie Mellor's A time of the world's making
Born on stolen Mamu Country
where the Johnstone River flows
(Robert Johnstone brought the guns, ey?),
where the cash crop sugar grows,
I loved that place, its rich volcanic
soil, the heat, and the titanic
rainfall – the rainforest too.
The place was old, and I was new.
I didn't hear its age-old stories.
Now tiny men, ropes, floating shell,
and women with their pile of skulls –
in crayon-blue, no dark green glory –
all alive, a dream unfurled:
is now a time to make the world?
Danie Mellor’s stunning work, A time of the world’s making, 2019, features in Real Worlds: Dobell Australian Drawing Biennial 2020 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (next door to the huge Arthur Streeton exhibition on the same floor, and a floor below the Archibald).
Here’s a video walk-through of the Dobell with curator Ann Ryan. She talks about Danie Mellor’s two ‘landspaces’ from 11:16 to 12:58:
November verse 14:On waking from a dream of a friendwho has been dead for many years
You left a note and neatly folded
clothes beside the famous cliff;
left the life and loves you'd shouldered;
vanished. But you left a whiff
of disbelief, and time's a traitor:
someone found you decades later,
now not Damien but Bob,
in Tassie with a uni job.
No note this time, a rope your chosen
tool: your mother mourned you twice.
This time there was no artifice.
Yet last night to my dream, unfrozen,
fugitive from death you came,
with warnings not to say your name.
November verse 13: Maggie Thatcher's curtsey
Insiders know to give a little
bob (or bow if you're a man). It's just
that she's the queen, no need for fiddle-
faddle-flum – no need to bust
a gut. But this is some production:
a creaking almost-genuflexion,
shuttered eyes and head bent low,
lips pursed as if to kiss a toe.
Such obeissance for the monarch
speaks centuries of grocers' love
for rulers blessed by God above,
but also sounds a note sardonic:
This curtsey, queen of all we see,
is all you'll ever get from me.
This is of course prompted by the fourth season of The Crown, in which Gillian Anderson gives us a scarily believable, and loathsome, Margaret Thatcher. If you enjoyed that show, and maybe even more so if you didn’t, you might enjoy this brilliant set of impressions from British comedian Kieran Hodgson:
November verse 12: After a colonoscopy and gastroscopyas a public patient
Would this have sent Narcissus crazy –
sight no Ancient Greek has seen,
these gleaming tunnels, pink and mazy,
fleshy caves, mine, on a screen?
From uvula to pre-pylorus,
caecum down to anal torus,
contours of the GI wall:
the tiny camera sees all,
and it's all lovely. But aesthetics
aren't the reason we're all here.
Snip! Snip! Polyps disappear.
And all for free, no big dramatics.
Britons love their NHS.
It's Medicare that I will bless.
I couldn’t work this into the verse, but I learned the wonderful word dolichocolon, as in, ‘The colonoscopy was somewhat difficult due to [sic] dolichocolon.’ The word has nothing to do with chocolate, as I almost hoped, but signifies an abnormally long large intestine, which now we all know I have.
November verse 11: On the eve of a colonoscopy
Remember when examinations
meant you burned the midnight oil?
Tomorrow's test needs preparations
physical – not mental toil.
A liquid diet, no food that's solid,
and pico/glyco prep. The squalid
details of what happens next
I'll spare the reader of this text.
But I'm not spared. Today my body
puts its workings centre stage
and just won't tolerate delays.
I can't go out. I must be ready.
'Watery' just isn't it.
I'd die for a banana split.
Maybe this will turn out to be the first half of a story.
November verse 10: On a Painting
Look! Me at breakfast scrolling Twitter –
hashtags Covid, climate, race.
No, I'm the incidental sitter
who supplied arms, thumb, hair, face.
The artist's left her shining pages,
table scenes from other ages:
a child communing with a cat,
a woman lost in dreams or chat.
The artist stands, her drink neglected,
sees him absent in his phone.
The books behind hold all that's known.
His cup is empty, disconnected.
Reading too much into art?
That knife is pointing at his heart.
The Emerging Artist claims not to have deliberately done that with the knife, and I had to reassure her that, previous works to the contrary (as at this link), I didn’t read the image as signifying hostility, but as a subtle evocation of current dangers.
Incidentally, the Emerging Artist is part of Time Being, an exhibition opening in the Shop Gallery, Glebe, this week. There are Covid-safe Meet the Artists events on Saturdays 21 and 28 November. You can find details here.
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