Transaction, Little Bourke Street

But there he was, kissing
the footpath with his knees, precisely
against the stop-start traffic’s kick-the-curb impatience
beside the heart-lifting red
and blue, and green
of the patterned Chinese memorial gateway —
Earth’s short arch to Heaven —
near Russell Street.
Steeply bent over a basin half-filled with kitchen water,
as predictably chill
Melbourne rain began to spit through storey-tall gaps
in the sky-line, his intensity
the low-key atmosphere, but it wasn’t the touch of the rain
he needed: the coins
submerged in his liquid offering spelt a different,
more drastic prayer, here
far out the white-hot-shortness of debt.

“The Original Inexhaustible Fund of Buoyancy”

Whatever the Doctor orders, is there any cure
for crying out loud? Where
the po social face
wonders under control, the force of her features lives
with a distinct livelihood of its own,
owning up to everything feeling,
and not toning down for shame what captures
her imagitation.
A ray of hope
or a stingray
of doubt — these never take second place
to cool schooled composure, and when —
again for crying out loud — she is bigger
than World Protocol, tears
streaming down her cheeks
and embarrassment singe-ing her singing nerves,
she remains single in that vivid affirmation,
sparkle-arkle-arkling at us all.

Photograph: Evette Kwok (2020)

Here, Especially, the Unassuming Loner Inches Inches Closer to a Particle of Half-truth

In each or any fraction of this work, there is no actual measurable sign of success.

Simply one wishes into the dark for yet another word, and tries to climb by personal pencil possibly higher than the known world’s stockpile of lead.

Eyes stare stars into space . . .

Minutes minute and hours hour almost identically . . .

Flesh and bone become ever so gently enemies of a hardwoodenchair.

Somehow sometimes pitch black ringing in the candle is turned utterly inside out, and wins for the language just a moment of freshness a century, or two, from today.

But is it really always the case that for we human beings “time alone will tell”?

Yes, absolutely ⸺ all our time alone.

Photograph: 香港龍躍頭麻笏圍附近 Somewhere near Ma Wat Wai, Lung Yeuk Tau, Hong Kong

We Look the Other Way

Things admitted to weather beauty without glare.
The red rust of old house-roofs
rests sorely animate eyes.
Posts unpainted by the elements
refine texture in the same way as driftwood —
sight is nothing but soothed
by childhood’s grain-patterning in timber.
Lichen is the flower born to no notice:
its muted green coral
maps bare stone oceans of rock.
What is inconspicuous
invites us indefinitely to look the other way  —
less in easy love with glamour,


Photograph: Evette Kwok (2020)

Get Real, Sister

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. (Hosea, Chapter 2)

I call it THE DESERT where everything, everything flowers
but me. Sand
in that landscape largely absents itself,
not a dune to be seen: I am the sand
crawling expressly against the grain
like a strong, many-crippled river
of dust. Rain
showers down complacently from the sky
to ensure all humanly
physical thirsts are more than admirably quenched,
while existence crackles
its tightly-scrolled parchment in me.
Almost always,
the hot sun forgets to beat down;
little of the treachery of shape-shifting mirages
buckles the bare-faced horizon;
and no bird
cawless between finger-fringed wingtips
watches through the hours for the next candidate corpse to drop dead
on its beat. Yet
still my impossible personal desert
continues to encroach, infinitely
arid and stern,
and I am ordered out of the world’s flat portrait
to hear for myself
spoken out of nowhere how the patterns I learned ―
and I lived ― by heart
are now invalid features
right here in such fundamental country.

The Whole Joy (Tender Living)

Photo by Elianne Dipp on

● More than ten years ago now, a young woman went swimming at an Australian beach and was attacked and killed by sharks. This would be regarded as a tragedy anywhere in the world, but to the Australian psyche, obsessed with the sun and the sea as symbols of ultimate freedom, it was an unpardonable outrage committed by nature against the human order.

Like many others, beyond pointless outrage, I needed to make sense of this. How on earth do we come to terms with something so completely awful? To me, poetry means trying to find the words to deal with the unspeakable. At least, this is where it truly come in to its own, giving us a way through something that looms as a monolithic block, a lockdown of all our usual patterns of thought and feeling. Poems must take us where we cannot go purely on the basis of our common sense or experience . . .


The Whole Joy

Every swimmer
knows that terror
she died of

yet still this Summer
we bait the water
with her fears.

Sun, sand, sea:
how these three
symbol the mind’s joy.

What shadows them —
decease, devastation —
revolts it.

Like earth, like air,
no ocean bears
the slightest enduring stain.

We mind her pain,
scarified, so that we may learn
the whole joy.


Three words in the last stanza are vital. The verb “to mind” has at least three relevant meanings here. First of all, it suggests offence: we are disgusted by what happened, and we don’t want it to happen again. Secondly, the event stays with us, becomes something that stays on our minds, making us incapable of getting it out of our heads. But finally, we are asked, perhaps, to look after this pain, to mind it on behalf of the victim, and to keep it intact in our lives so that it can play a meaningful role in how we move on past grief and horror.

The rather heavy-handed “scarify” obviously blends the two meanings of “scare” and “scar”. “Scar” echoes the previous “minding”, in the sense of allowing something to endure and of keeping it close to us, skin-close. I also had in mind something of what Jiddu Krishnamurti is quoted as saying about meditation in a recent powerful post on Vanessa Able’s The Dewdrop site: “it’s a danger to those who wish to lead a superficial life and a life of fancy and myth”. In the same way, the terrible fate of the young swimmer is a meditative reminder to us to live more authentically, to jolt us out of our fantasy wonderland version of reality.

The final phrase “the whole joy” indicates both complete joy and the joy of knowing wholeness, a wholeness capable of accepting everything that happens to us on this Earth as human beings ⸺ and not just the pleasant flounces and trimmings we so often wish to reduce existence to.

Memory is crucial here. Perhaps one should even hazard a new word and say membory, with a silent b. Unbearably, excruciatingly, in this context, however, what a desolate verb “to remember” turns out to be.

Even Still Lives . . .

Across glass across the rich pre-morning dusk,
quizzical and direct,
the mother stared, as did the hidden joey
through the peephole in her bulging fur-lined pouch ⸺
four wide bright kangaroo eyes
dead set against me staying even one minute longer
on my mattress on the floor
in stupid sleep. Frost
was in the air,
was all over in me,
any personal warmth quite dexterously extinguished
along goose-bumped human skin. But for all that,
mist lifted in shape-shifting sheets off the small pond
as if to say: See,
is on its way! And don’t go thinking
the feebleness of this sign
makes the outcome any less certain!
Saturn could shine for all he was worth
up towards the North, canary- or sulphur-yellow,
but these kangaroos had no time for him:
today, I was their object and nothing else on this Earth would do . . .
Dressed gingerly by now inside crumpled coldish clothes
I knelt and watched back,
humming absent-mindedly an old Swedish song
about a stable-boy called Staffan,
who was, no doubt, at another moment just like this,
watering sina fålar fem
his beautiful five young horses ⸺
probably wide-eyed to his every move,
maybe naturally starry-eyed, too,
as he made up his own tune out of hay scents
and the rank stink of piss
through the careful-tactile stages of his work ⸺
more to do with blind touch than sight ⸺
for the spark of life kindling again out of nowhere within him
in that frigid lidless twilight before dawn.

You can listen to one version of the Swedish song here.

September, a Tall Ardour

Into one warmer corner of today
the Sun sneaks, leaving that Winter-distant anchorage it has
in each and every Sun-less-other-day
to pour against Antarctica
a decisive hint or two of long-lost Spartan ardour.
Goose-pimpled at the heart of an open-wide air,
I am instantly all-porous to the unappointed warmth
of such vernal atmosphere
and out of the rigid closed fist of my full-body huddle
ever so slowly I begin to ravel outwards ―
the way these chattering roof-top swallows seem to do,
ruffling the length of the chilly metal gutter
their glinting metallic blue-sheened feathers
and the Winter-flame-red feathers of their weathered chests,
preening ― as they talk ― with pinpointing, deft beaks,
with their unclenched, bolder bird-sense of tall order.

I Is the River (Meantiming)

You feel it, of course ⸺ the tension
implicit in attention. What it registers
nowhere fingers begin to get a grip on even for an inch.

And if you were the river
streaming forever with no fixed point through the course
of a liquid lifetime
what would you struggle to try and say to yourself
just so the predicament
was that little bit easier to bear? ⸺

Make no object of the current
and by all means let the torrent of “each moment” flood-light you

Photograph: Evette Kwok (2020)