A Pocketful of Pigeons

One wintry night, an amaz­ing artist named Jenna showed us her idea for a book, where the pages were cut into the shapes of a flock of pigeons. We all mar­velled at the beauty of such an object, and wondered about what words could go inside such a curio.
These are those words – or one ver­sion of them, that I then chanted into the micro­phone at the Phoenix on a Wed­nes­day night. You will see a dif­fer­ent ver­sion of what goes inside Jenna’s book any time you look up at the sky.



A pock­et­ful of pigeons


The pigeons that roos­ted under the eves of the great lib­rary found a book,

a blank book all poten­tial and undreamt dreams

all orphaned and aban­doned, face down they

turned it over, and cooed and coaxed it back to life.


In a mat­ter of months the book was more bird than bound volume

spoke the lan­guage of columbi­forms, knew the secrets of the skies

along­side its avian foster­lings, pecked pock­et­fuls of seed strewn over Garema’s grey ground.


The pigeon-book does not tell the pigeons how to be pigeons

the pigeons tell the book how to be

and the pigeon book, tells tales of tail­feath­ers spread taught to tame the air that is up and up and up above mount Ainslie and higher.


The pigeon book sneaks past secur­ity, squabs down to the vaults of the library,

below lake level, lest the lib­rary books’ breath­ing quicken and hasten their demise.

The pigeon book it whis­pers feath­ery secrets into the bind­ings of aus­tere old volumes of stor­ies and facts and let­ters and lore.

And inside their paper hearts, a stirring

a strain­ing and a flut­ter to feel that hint of breeze

from the air­con­di­tion­ing vent.

Pages fold into wings and spines crack as they catch the spell of flight.


In the centre of the Can­berra, paper pas­ser­ines pour forth into the light,

and the coo­ing coddle of the under eve pigeons weave among the columns before soaring,

wing­tip against paper­flap they wheel and twist so close that you can’t tell where book ends and bird begins.

And the people of can­berra can only look up

The people of Can­berra they can only stare at the skies

as their little cache of know­ledge is dis­sip­ated and evaporated

and all that was left was a few torn out pages and a feather.


Today is glor­i­ous.

in the glass­blown blue air,
and the wind stirs the world
like a gin and tonic
with a long spoon,

- while autumn rots
late sac­char­ine flowers
in puddles and
the shad­ows of trees
pulling their last leaves to their knees
like petticoats -

I am swept away
on this last blue breath of sum­mer
spun in bicycle spokes
rushed through slid­ing doors
into the library

where the trick­ster sun throws
his shin­ing stones
on book­cases and desks
gift­wrapped in lec­ture notes
and the words stir and dance
through their Dewey num­bers,
leap out the win­dows:
the anti­thesis of sui­cide
singing out their syn­onyms,
circ­ling feath­er­like into the sky.

Blackberry Wine

Back before uni­ver­sity des­cen­ded upon us like an autumn fog of Know­ledge and all our dreams were con­sumed by Learn­ing Things, Raphael and I made black­berry wine. Since then it sits in the chai room and bubbles occasionally.

Black­berry Wine
bottled whimsy
from a bright and flimsy
sum­mer time.


I thought by now you’d be mine.


Autumn leaves fringe but
the night sky is already winter and
the first splinter
enters the heart.


Sun set spills red, each day my head fills
with what I don’t quite want to know.


Past dreams: where do they go?


And the moon, she flies and then sets
and yet, and yet
Inside a tea chest of hope
bucket of bubbles, best before, or, mar­in­at­ing mir­acle
will you ripen and unfold
long past your sea­son
and into the time of cold
giddy won­der as, out­side of reason, stor­ies are told


black-as-winter, black­berry wine.

Two Poems About Lakes

Just come back from a road trip from Can­berra to Mildura and back, my head is full of thoughts, water, dust, desert flowers, roads, places; more things here later.

These are two poems about lakes.

Lake Mul­wala
Some­times the world is too
big; on the stillest
bright­est day
the sky shifts,
slips off
old bear­ings
and with a mur­mur
(too loud for us to
even ima­gine)
falls to the earth:
there we find it
without mean­ing to;
propped up
(like by a clumsy child
play­ing with his brother’s Lego)
attached to dead trunks,
the Vel­cro scrub of moun­tains
flop­ping like skin in lake water
where the fish come to nibble at it
till it is light enough
to rise once more
pulling the paper parade
flags of its birds
back into



Lake Kangaroo
Hav­ing con­fused
Geo­metry and geo­graphy
In high school (an easy error)
I set off west
On a day like the Euc­lidean plane,
Leav­ing the com­plex for­mu­las
of Can­berra round­abouts
I came here
To under­stand width.
Where tra­cing my own circle
With sun­scrunched eyes
I see noth­ing but hori­zon,
Where water and land and sky are
One, where the rules of
Math­em­at­ics break down,
Where joy and loneli­ness and silence
Are all expressed ∞.


I’m recently moved to this sub­urb, and I’m not yet intim­ate with its inter­est­ing bits. Its blots and blem­ishes, sur­prises and gifts.
Today, I went out explor­ing after the storm. When the roads and gar­dens were steamy damp as if they’d just got out from a hot shower. Refreshed.
In old Can­berra you can walk in almost any dir­ec­tion and count upon find­ing a park before too long. I picked a dir­ec­tion. I found the park and before it a pre-school, tiny little place, with sand­pit and a bed of straw­ber­ries. Bring­ing back memor­ies of being very small, Nine O’Clocks and packed lunches, that mix of love and fear.
It’s thanks to the ACT Government’s (past) pro­gram of hav­ing sep­ar­ate preschools, tucked away in the sub­urbs. Looks like this one sur­vived the schools clos­ure. Good for it.
And the park adja­cent has a play ground. If you grew up in Can­berra you’ll know the sort. Old, metal, uncol­our­ful. Swings and a slide that, if you fell off, you’d prop­erly hurt your­self. Years ago, they took the set from my child­hood down, and replaced it with some­thing mod­ern, safe and fun proof. I mourned for weeks. Every time I dis­cover another ori­ginal play­ground still stand­ing, I’m a child again, bare feet trot across the tan bark. My hips are almost too big for the seat, my legs too long, I have to tuck them under, but with very little effort I’m prac­tic­ally air­borne, and I may as well be seven.
No two of these old swing sets are quite the same, shorter, taller, wider, longer. They’re most likely from the ’60s, as old as this sub­urb. Maybe built by a local plumber, climbed all over by gen­er­a­tions of little ones. Someone had left a space ship on the park bench, out in the rain. Did it go for jour­neys down the slip­pery dip, as my favour­ite toys used to?
Ah old Can­berra, with your estab­lished trees and quiet pock­ets of endur­ing love. Vis­ion­ary plan­ners. Places for grow­ing up tucked away in this little sub­urban won­der­land. Greened and paved and tamed from the dry wil­der­ness.
The report that I’m not writ­ing is about high speed trains in Aus­tralia – a net­work will effect­ively be cre­at­ing more dorm­it­ory sub­urbs around Sydney and Mel­bourne. What kind of sub­urbs are we build­ing these days? Big­ger houses, lar­ger roads?
It’s rain­ing again, with drips and rustles, and I think of my for­tune to live in a city that breathes. The cock­a­toos have cer­tainly got some­thing to say about it.

Windchimes and Elephants

I think every poet is hop­ing, one day, to write a poem about love which is as sin­cere, strange and indes­crib­able as love itself. This is my hun­dredth attempt, and I’m learning.

One night
We were wind­chimes
And our octaves
Under the lid of a sky
Through which sci­ence and god were peek­ing
Like school­chil­dren
But we did not care because that night
We were windchimes.


One night
We were ele­phants
We were grey enorm­ous old
As ele­phants:
But I still loved you because one day
We had been windchimes.

The Black Swans

Black Swans

© Ketha.Ledchu http://www.flickr.com/photos/ketha/6638616131/


the black swans
sweep up the sky
in the even­ing,
clear­ing the heav­ens until
we can see the
heart of things above us:
stars and darkness.


the black swans
fly silently, black wings like
grave­stones in the air,
eyes look­ing
straight ahead.


the black swans
dare not look down.
the black swans
dare not see
the world in the even­ing:
factor­ies wreathed in sun­set fumes
hol­low chil­dren swollen futile who have for­got­ten
what milk tastes like.
coral like old men’s scalps
dead in warm water.
Allah and Jehovah
hid­ing in bunkers
afraid to show their faces
afraid of bombs,
they never asked for bombs;
men killing men again and
again and


(we do not kill black swans, the black swans say.
but they dare not look down.)

I Wish I Was An Asylum Seeker

This is a poem about this and about this.

I wish I was an asylum seeker.
Asylum seekers have it easy.
Here, at home, I have prob­lems I can’t solve.
I have to pay rent. And to pay rent, I have to work.
And to work, I have to talk to people in offices.
And to talk to people in offices, I have to walk there.
Or take the bus. My life is pretty hard.
But if I was an asylum seeker…
If I was an asylum seeker I’d hop on a boat and I’d go where the wind and the cur­rents take me.
If I was an asylum seeker I’d leave all my prob­lems behind. I’d say I’ve had enough of those.
I’ll just leave. There won’t be any­thing hold­ing me back.
If I was an asylum seeker I’d sail my boat to Aus­tralia. They’ll put me in a deten­tion centre there. I’d get free food. I’d get free accom­mod­a­tion. I wouldn’t have to pay rent. I wouldn’t have to buy gro­cer­ies. I’d have asylum seeker friends. We’d stay up all night long, talk­ing about how lucky we that we don’t need to worry about our lives any­more.
I wish I was an asylum seeker. If I was an asylum seeker, I’d have such good stor­ies to tell. I’ll tell how they came and murdered my fam­ily. How they came and murdered my friends. I’d tell about the poverty. About the hun­ger. About the floods and the wars and the way noth­ing ever got bet­ter. About the people in power who didn’t care about us.
But if I was an asylum seeker, I’d sail my boat to Aus­tralia, where the people in power care so much. I’d say, Mr Abbott, you’re a good man. I want to be in a deten­tion centre, Mr Abbott. I want to live behind bars, Mr Abbott, I want to be con­fused and scared and I don’t want to under­stand what’s hap­pen­ing to me. And he’d say, I care about you. But I don’t like deten­tion centres any more. I’ll do some­thing dif­fer­ent. I’m going to sail my navy, my big expens­ive navy, and catch you, and I’ll be really nice. I’ll fix your boat. I’ll fix it for you. And I’ll send it back. I’ll send it where the wind and the cur­rents take it. I’ll make sure that you get home safe.
Oh, I wish I was an asylum seeker.

Winter and Withering

A short, short story. I’m try­ing to think of ways it could be longer, but they’re not com­ing. I might revise it before I do any­thing else with it. This is the first tale I’ve fin­ished set in the world I’ve been dream­ing up with Miss Zoë (also on this blog) – a world of grow­ing words and per­sonal weather, of under­ground print­ing presses and sin­is­ter trains, of pub­lish­ing pir­ates and much, much stranger things besides.
Zoë – I know he’s writ­ing stor­ies – maybe the laws ease up after the events with Miss Staedler-Parker and Oliver Dol­our?
The rest of you – hehe I might as well be talk­ing in code.
Any­how, enjoy this one:


Winter and With­er­ing
A Tale


Ded­ic­ated to Danny, Emily, Sasha, Nate and Miles, for their words.


The city of Rhyme rests on the banks of the wide River Spine, and across two hills. The lar­ger, Type Hill, can be seen from almost any­where in the city. Its bril­liantly white man­sions and wide streets all but sparkle in after­noon sun­light. The smal­ler hill is often for­got­ten, for it is less of a hill and more of a hump, and the old houses which cover it have, over many cen­tur­ies, lowered it fur­ther into the ground with the weight of their col­lec­ted lives.
Nev­er­the­less, if a pale and unfit man were to make his way up its cobbled alleys, by the time he reached the top, he would be quite wheezy. The weather did not help mat­ters – the morn­ing had been dark and rainy, and the fore­bod­ing clouds hanging over the man’s head made it hard to see clearly, so as he reached the level top of Tumble Hill, he slipped on a smooth pro­trud­ing cobble and fell to the ground. Curs­ing loudly, he picked him­self up. The knee of his pants – his only good pants – was ripped, and there was a dirty gash on the ball of his palm. He looked around, but luck­ily, nobody was in the nar­row lane to see him stumble. The man took the chance to steady his breath and sucked fol­ornly at his burn­ing palm. All in all, it was not a good start to the day. His morn­ing tea had tasted like soup, his egg had been laid by a miser­able chicken and did not want any­thing to do with him, and his last bottle of ink was as empty as his pock­ets – though less full of lint. As if they were match­ing his feel­ings, the clouds above his head grumbled with the prom­ise of rain. The man squared his shoulders, did what he could about the tear in his pants, and walked up to the squat brown door of his des­tin­a­tion. The sign above the door pro­claimed, in blocky cap­it­als, “A. B. With­er­ing & Son, Pawn­shop.” ‘& Son’ was crossed out in faded chalk. A smal­ler hand­painted sign under­neath said “All Weather To Be Left Out­side.” The man shrugged off his clouds with a small des­pond­ent sigh, and walked through the door to the sound of a bell. His clouds drif­ted up the alley, where they sat brood­ing above a pub.


The pawn­shop was as dusty and dark as the space behind a ward­robe – with the dif­fer­ence being that the dust there is made of dead moths and house­hold argu­ments, while the dust in the shop was made of poverty, for­get­ting, and regret. The man did not know which kind was worse, but he felt imme­di­ately like walk­ing back out. Clamp­ing the feel­ing tightly behind his teeth, he trot­ted over to the high counter. There did not seem to be any­one around. The man wondered idly if pawn­shop keep­ers them­selves had been pawned off by dis­ap­poin­ted wives and busy chil­dren, and never col­lec­ted, which would have gone a long way to explain­ing why any­one would choose to be a pawn­shop keeper and why they looked so very for­got­ten. He was inter­rup­ted in this prom­ising train of thought by the appear­ance, above the counter, of the pawn­shop keeper’s hair, which was wispy like dead may­flies, and which was fol­lowed before too long by the rest of the pawn­shop keeper. He had a face like the moon, grey and pit­ted with memor­ies, and wore a waist­coat made of pock­et­watches.
“Yes?” he said. His voice fit­ted him, though the man could not say how.
“H-uh, hullo,” said the man. “My name is Florian, Florian Winter… I have an account.” He said this with a great sad­ness in his small, quaver­ing voice. Noth­ing could have made his embar­rass­ment greater. Noth­ing could have made his regret less pain­ful.
The moon-faced man peered at him. “Ah. Yes, I remem­ber you. Are you col­lect­ing?” His mean eyes added, “I very much doubt.”
“No,” said Florian, in con­firm­a­tion. “No, I need to sell.”
The wispy hair dis­ap­peared moment­ar­ily behind the counter, and returned with a large ledger.
“Your account isn’t very good, Mis­ter Winter,” said the pawn­shop keeper, scan­ning a page. “It isn’t very good at all.”
“I know,” said Florian. “I know, but I can’t make rent. Please let me sell. I’ve got good wares. And I’ve got a story in the post. It’s a good one. A mys­tery. They’ll pay me for sure. Ten crows, and thirty more when it’s pub­lished.”
The man leaned in closer.
“You’ve been pawn­ing here for four months, Mis­ter Winter. Four. I’ve not seen a crow from you in all that time. And I know for a fact that before you came here, you were pawn­ing with Mis­ter Dur­lew in Wend­ing Lane. And he never saw a crow neither. I don’t mind, Mis­ter Winter. I’m not say­ing I mind. Time’s run­ning out on your old wares already, a week more and they’ll be sold. But I’m just of the per­sonal opin­ion, Mis­ter Winter, that the more wares you sell, the less chance you’ll have of ever get­ting them back. If you see what I mean. It’s a-” he glanced down at the ledger. “A vicious cycle, Mis­ter Winter.” The mean eyes met Florian’s.
“I need to sell,” Florian repeated, lower­ing his.
The man clasped his dusty hands over the edge of the counter. “Tell me.” Florian felt small and eaten.
“Ver­ily,” he said, shuff­ling uncom­fort­ably in his shoes. “Obstruc­tion. Frip­pery.”
“Ver­ily I’ve got,” said the man. “I can give you a pil­crow each for the other two. Any more.” It wasn’t a ques­tion. He knew Florian had more.
“Verisimil­it­ude,” Florian con­tin­ued. “Augury, man­nequin, peri­phery, paraphernalia. Sar­co­phagus. Derel­ict. Win­nowy. Tinc­ture, luc­ub­ra­tion, lugubri­ous, sal­low.” The moon-faced man scribbled in the ledger as he spoke.
“A pil­crow apiece for derel­ict, tinc­ture and sal­low, half a crow for augury and peri­phery and sar­co­phagus. Hmm. Two crows for luc­ub­ra­tion. And two for verisimil­it­ude. I have the oth­ers. More.”
As the words were writ­ten down in the ledger, Florian felt them being drawn out of his head like the river mos­qui­tos drew his blood at night. He no longer remembered what he had said, and felt empty and crushed and as if he were betray­ing his very tongue. He racked his brains for more words, but none more came. He thought as the man’s gaze pinned him to the dusty old floor.
“Des­pair, des­pond­ency, des­per­a­tion,” he intoned. “Poverty, beg­garly, insolv­ent. Hol­low. Hope­less. Des­ol­ate. Void.”
The pawn­shop keeper cut into him with piti­less eyes.
“Oh, Mis­ter Win­ters,” he said. “I already have all of those.”

Egyptian History

I don’t write poetry all the time. My writ­ing pro­cess goes some­thing like this: a line, a con­ver­sa­tion, a thought will inspire a string of more lines. As I drive, or while cut­ting onions, or talk­ing to some­body, or sit­ting and read­ing, I will form a com­plete poem, aloud. Then as soon as I’m at a com­puter I will write what I remem­ber down, and it never seems as good as what I said (I need to invest in a dicta­phone – to prove myself wrong, most likely). And then the poem will gather pixel­lated dust until I need some­thing to read at a slam, or I remem­ber it and want to send it to a friend, at which point I will open up the doc­u­ment and edit it (or edit it right in the email) until I’m hap­pier with it, send it away/perform it, and con­sider it complete.

It’s a truly strange pro­cess, but it works. This poem is the res­ult of one such pro­cess – it was writ­ten about a month ago, in the car, after listen­ing to a song by the The Jane Aus­ten Argu­ment called Sil­ver Suit. The Jane Aus­ten Argu­ment are a truly amaz­ing Mel­bourne band – a third cab­aret, a third heart­break, a third laughter, they hit all the notes on all my heartstrings and I love them dearly as people – lovely, kind, humble people who, I very much hope, are going to get all the recog­ni­tion they truly do deserve. Check them out and tell your friends.

This was a very long pre­amble for a pretty short amble. To the point: this is a poem about my dad, who passed away two and a half years ago, and about whom I have writ­ten many poems but am happy only with this one.

Egyp­tian History

You taught me Egyp­tian his­tory
Under the wattle in the back­yard;
Between the toma­toes tied to stakes,
Around the Hills hoist and
Here in the lawn­mower­shy grass
You built me obelisks and temples
Of sand­stone and old Nile silt,
Your soft hands helped me up pyr­am­ids
And your soft eyes were swinging lan­terns
That glimmered in steep dune tombs;

The wattle tree is gone now
And the toma­toes haven’t grown so well
Since you’ve been gone,
But there are still obelisks
Among the weeds
And tombs to dis­cover
Like secrets
Along the driveway.