‘The things they carried were largely determined by necessity.’
Tim O’Brien

The beeping of horns, the relentless waves of scooters –
a whine that spirals to a high-pitched roar
scooting down alleys and footpaths
flowing like oil around taxis, through roundabouts
across bridges. Nobody has time for burnouts.

The sound of the streets is the growl of purpose
the 6 am momentum of fathers and sons
running errands through the veins of a city,
threading gaps between pedestrians
gliding over a history of patched roads.

The things a scooter carries – families,
teenagers texting, sacks of grain, a wardrobe,
two goats in a basket, a dead cow,
whatever’s necessary.
The things I carry – Tim Winton’s ideas of place,

my ignorance, my father’s need to be walking
out front, my Australian assumptions.
In a country with a history of invasions
there is no road rage, just polite chaos at roundabouts.
Rivers of scooters revving and scrambling round

our taxi until the momentum pauses
as if the roundabout was clearing its throat.
I’m cast adrift with a sticky shirt surrounded
by face masks, puffer jackets, and impassive faces
because white skin is pure, desirable as an iPhone

yet the fall-out from the American War lingers
with genetic disorders. A man with deformed limbs
drags himself across a busy road. Fathers
who fought with the Viet Cong pass their stories
onto sons who lead tours to jungle temples

while veterans wake up screaming at dawn
drink rice wine, beat their wives until
their granddaughters break the cycle
talking of abortions and teenagers
suiciding with unborn babies.

The elderly who survive sell lottery tickets from a gutter
while the faces of those who disappeared
we pay our admission price to at the War Remnants Museum.
The land is mined with stories, like the massacre
near Bến Tre nobody talks about

except those who are willed to keep returning
like choppers for the body bags. Each holiday
means facing up to spooky, the jungle smells
of things burning. Each morning a rooster crows.
A radio station broadcasts by loud speaker to the streets

what the government is doing.
Who is listening? Like heavy surf,
traffic pulsates below my window. I look down
to women sorting through hessian sacks
at a rubbish-sorting depot.

Other women fold their histories
into rice paper rolls, sit at markets
with a meat cleaver and a tray of raw chicken.
The men sit on low plastic stools watching
or laze in hammocks, scrolling.

The things a driver carries smoking on a river barge
as he steers a path between histories,
between the intimacy a woman creates washing
her hair in a Mekong tributary
and the weights a country asks its people to bear.

A baby’s face squashed against her mother’s chest.
The father driving without a helmet.
Their four year old son holding on.
His eyes stray to mine as the lights change.
I step out before the motorbikes.

Brendan Ryan

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Cracks in the clay, locusts flittering over bleached stalks
old couches in the herringbone, ribbons of bird shit down the walls.

She married into the district, thin as a whisper
a woman who was summoned to the front rows at Mass.

Each day the wind passes, paddocks of rye grass sway.
She smiled through luncheons, gatherings

made the small talk that fertilised a district.
This year’s heifers watching from the shade of a sugar gum.

Like a rumour she slipped round her kitchen
school forms for children, his phone calls after tea.

Hoof prints shadowing a cattle trough
green algae choking the creek.

A hard doer, priests warmed to him talking a district,
a footy club, the cranky bugger who got things done.

Cypress tree shadows, muddy corner cut by the tanker
rusted car bonnets I rode down the mountain with her sons.

Nerves in her family, shadows beneath her eyes.
He bought up land, kept his neighbours at a distance.

Cow shit splattered driveway, sheets of corrugated iron
curling from a pigsty, capeweed encircling a dead calf.

A wife who dressed for his municipal heights, who toasted
his occasions, who stood on the edge of his name in the paper.

A man who couldn’t stop clearing his throat. Their children scattered
like birds that don’t know where to return.

They found her in the shower. The parting statement
of a farmer’s wife echoing round a district.

Brendan Ryan

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In memory of Max Richards

Somehow you found the articles and poems
I needed to read.
Your key word searches driven by connection,
of passing it on.
Whether it be through the nodes of ADSL2
or the poetry of Heaney, Murray, or MacFarlane’s
nature writing,
whether you be in Doncaster or Seattle
or your shelves of books and manilla folders
at La Trobe,
you were always passing it on. Whatever
you found for me on the internet read as personal,
yet it was only after your death that I learned
I was one of the many, scattered across the globe,
who received the news and poems you set before us.

I sent you all I had written, for you were a first reader –
forgiving, close, a grammar stickler. Mostly
your feedback confirmed the work I had to do.
Sometimes poems were returned and broken up
into stanzas or quatrains giving form to my ramblings.
Your own poems arrived almost daily-
light, diary entries of dogs, trees, squirrels,
dream poems of other poets, the last outing
with your mother, the words of a father,
your tendency to be sombre yet playful about dying.
Your poems grew into a life from ‘an inarticulate
and non-self examining culture’. The moments
you left us, the urge for the next poem
may be all that a life writing poems can teach us.
There is no absence like the days following
an email of poems sent.
Trying not to wait for a reply
to see if a poem breathes or dies.
Your replies were never late, sometimes within hours.
The warm, confiding voice is still in my head.
Tall, gentle, Max who would rather exclaim
in wonderment than complain in negativity.

I was on holiday when I heard
you had been knocked down by a car,
your dog refusing to leave your side.
Some hours after my last email
some hours after I last thought of you,
the absence of its reply I am continually adjusting to.

Brendan Ryan

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Lights over the rail yards are sparklers
that never die down. Every day
is a drug test day. All that’s left at Ford
is the security lights, shadows on the pedestrian overpass.
George Pell is refusing to leave Roma
where girls were once named after their fathers
who could, if so desired, sell them at fourteen
into slavery. George is cantankerous
as the music I listen to is old, out of date,
timeless. George is of a time that haunts
like a rash, of looking the other way,
of a justice that dare not be spoken of.
The brake lights of cars have become
pulses within my thoughts. Tim Buckley
launches into ‘Sweet Surrender’ – the epic
confession to bruised love I never tire of.
The shuttered weatherboards of Norlane
give way to the spindly trees of Corio
as empathy hardens like a row of bollards.
George pauses to compose before a camera,
to restate his innocence while families in Ballarat
attend funerals, not Mass. Flash of the golden arches,
lurid glare of a Caltex, George is immovable as The Sphinx
on Thompson Road, unforgiving as a red arrow.
I turn right into the darkness of School Road.

Brendan Ryan

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 I remember you as you were, polished and dismissive
now sawdust and spangles lie on cedar.
‘Insufficient funds’ responds to my favoured transaction
at the checkout’s dystopia, a green-haired maenad slices the machine.
You saw in the eyes the future going away.
It carouses in the shadows
a watery silhouette of vengeance.

Mouth in ashes, words lie in air.
They trot off to a knobbly paradigm
while you manoeuvre the street,
another dickhead on a slab punishing childhood.
Grey object of consternation who could’ve etc., blither,
as past’s sorrowed turquoise eyes cream distance.
Melodrama thickens in a showroom and a cap of tin.
Outside, cars parley and stars replace attrition.
Embrace the true world shoved in a treetop
and the particulate rainbow mugging the horizon.
There lies the repentant wafer
or the two-timing retreads of yesteryear.

Gig Ryan


Published in Read On (2018) edited by Pete Spence.

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First

That I have written, of places I have not been. To Carthage I came, where there sang around me in my ears a cauldron of unholy loves. And in the vast courts of memory, the caverns  of the mind. I have heard great waves upon the shore, I have remembered what it is. In other ears: the scaling of heights. These circuits of stars, compass and pass by.


Second

That what I have seen I have seen from houses. That in my father’s house was a strange unhappiness. That I had searched for it, in my life, in the hollows of doors, that I had found it, that it had found in my home. And in my home I had neither rest nor counsel. The days, the soul of man riveted upon sorrows; now and then the shadow of a woman, in the far corners of the house.


Third

That I walked, under the trees on the boulevards, in a mysterious darkness. Through the stone city, these streets I have seen only from houses. Towards darkness I have dared. In the provinces, under the fall of leaves, and the dream moved me more than the dream itself.


Fourth

That I have been foolish. That I have loved, and Thou in me, Thou also. That I have loved not yet, having loved those that must die. Forgetting the friendship of perishable things. So in acts of violence – iniquity. As if she had appeared in the room; this place to which she would never come. While the days darkened and an ill wind stirred. I walked the streets, my heart, as if seized. I could not. I could no longer think of anything else.


Fifth

That when the time came – remembering distinctly the afternoon: I was then some six or seven and twenty years old, reading those volumes, revolving within me corporeal fictions. I had broken this view often, into its corporeal fictions. That day, in the afternoon, I had sat beneath the frame of the door, with the view, with those volumes, six or seven or twenty. I had wept, against the frame, I had read – I had in the afternoon asked: heal Thou all my bones.


Sixth

There are sounds I do not hear. Sometimes, at the edge of water and surrounded by trees.


Seventh

That I would grow old. At the entrance to the avenue of oaks, in those meadows, before the ponds. Foretelling, in great detail and with gravity, transits of the luminaries. And out of them, my hope from my youth: in what year and month of the year, and what day of the month, and what hour of the day, and what part of its light.


Eighth

That the entire forest was plunged as though under a sea. As at the beginning of the world, as if there were only the two. So was I speaking, when – with a more premeditated return, with more precision, as though upon a crystal glass – I asked my soul, why she was so. Over the forest did my heart then range. I shut the book. And I cannot say from which country, which time, I cannot say from which it came.


Ninth

That at the end I do not recollect if I am what I say. That I was grieved. And whatever I beheld was death.


Tenth

Confessions ABR 11


Eleventh

Confessions ABR 12


Twelfth

Confessions ABR 13


Thirteenth

Confessions ABR 14

Bella Li

Notes

Phrases were sourced from the following texts: Marcel Proust, The Way by Swann’s, translated by Lydia Davis (London: Penguin Books, 2002); The Confessions of Saint Augustine, translated by Edward Bouverie Pusey (London: John Henry Parker, 1838).


Images for collages were sourced from the following texts: Albertus Seba, Cabinet of Natural Curiosities (1734–1765; Den Haag, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Shelf 394 B 26-29); Étienne-Louis Boullée, Cénotaphe de Newton (1785; National Library of France).

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– if that indeed can be called composition –
wrote Coleridge –
in which the images rose up before him as things –

‘In the summer of the year – the Author, then in ill health, had
retired to a lonely farmhouse – ’
where, seated in his illeism by a window, the Author passed
into the background of his imagery –
                                           woods, clouds hanging over the sea
                                           in deeps of glass – ‘sole eye of all that world’, or
                                           vanishing point it
                                           floods back through – ‘huge fragments vaulted’ –

‘You must know that it is the greatest palace that ever was’ –
                                                                                                its rooms like clouds
following one another in an order hard to memorise –         ‘all gilt & painted
with figures of men & beasts & birds’ –                               its hall of statues –
                                                                         stopped machines –
leading away and back into that first astonishment –            its green smell
                                                                                   like the cry of a bird

A city at first light, long-shadowed streets –
An open plain of rubbish behind rails –
A sky afloat inside its landscape – clouds in the river,
wind in the dry mouths of the grass –
                                                                                               beating images
                                                                                               from their dark wings
quick shadows brightening –

‘So twice five miles’ – ‘So twice six miles of fertile ground
with Walls and Towers were compass’d round’ – ‘were girdled’ –

‘In Xamdu did Cublai Can’
ride out on his white horse
with a jaguar on its pommel, loosed
to hunt the animals stored
in the wide cage of his pleasure –
‘a stag, or goat, or fallow deer’ –
carcasses for his gyrfalcons in their mews –

A is for Alph – sacred river of
converging perspectival lines –
Momently it rises – momently
sinks back – into that lifeless ocean
the letter’s two struts stand
afloat on, raising its tower again –
– A woman crying in her wilderness
– A woman singing
– A ‘palace so devised that it can be taken down
and put up again
wheresoever the Emperor may command – ’

From far off, the Emperor hears his dead
in panoply of ice
speaking war through their long smiles –

‘And now once more / The pool becomes a mirror’ –

His poem is a mirror made of metal –
its one face the engraving of a landscape –
the other, polished to brightness,
keeps taking things into itself
and letting them go – A palace of images
that the Emperor walks about in –
its dome of air, its caves of ice,
in the flashing eye of a mirror, his floating hair –

‘The author continued about three hours in his chair’ –

The Author walked in
through the iron gate of its palace – Only
his shadow moved among the shadows –
He was in its hall of statues
when a sound of rain
opened like a door into that room where he slept as a child
and all night it rained, all night dark
poured onto its glass like rain –

‘Irrecoverable – ’ meaning, it couldn’t be finished –
Circumstantial as a preface, things rising up
out of their images before him –
                                            or ‘sunless sea’ –
Midway, the shadow floats – long-dead Emperor
with a voice of water, looking out
from mirrors with a face of false calm –

The Author watched his Person of Business
walking in from Porlock
among deep fields of grass – His hat like a stone
skimmed the tips of the seedheads, late-
summer pale, scattering
from the wind like light on water – and
elderflowers, poppies, speedwell, hyacinths –
                                     ‘I have annexed a fragment – ’

Lisa Gorton

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                                       – is made of windows
side by side and repeating the way two mirrors
face to face cut halls of light
back through their emptiness – Its façade,
like that version of desire which
feeds on absence, endlessly draws in sky –
Clouds sunk in glass advance
across its fret of cast-iron columns, incorporating it
in pale brightness till at its edge
they pour off vanishing – An hallucination
industry caught up with – plate-glass set
facet by facet into its vault of light –

‘It is, above everything, the science
of beauty’, wrote Mr Paxton, copying out in
upright iron the radiating rib and
cross-rib growth-pattern of veins
underpinning the leaf of that astonishing water lily
original to the bays and still waters
of the Amazon and its tributaries –
a leaf and flower of which, preserved in spirits,
John Company’s unworldly botanist Mr Spruce,
under contract to steal the means
of producing quinine – six-hundred plants,
a hundred-thousand seeds of the Chincona forests
of Western Chimborazo – sent back, remarking
how its leaf, ‘turned up, suggests some strange
fabric of cast iron’ – brought to flower at last
in an alien season inside a glass-house
replicating in large the infrastructure of its veins –
They named it Victoria Regia, whose ‘dearly beloved consort’
commanded this inventory of an Empire
or hoard of wreckage closed in glass –

Uncovered ground, bare-iron pillars,
a confused pile of scaffoldings – At its centre
the skeleton of its great transept arch –
then columns, then girders spanned across
its naked distances and hanging bays of glass
inventing aisles with staircases
to second-storey galleries inclosing even
its elms, as still as reproductions,
and sparrows nesting in their leaves –
Its crystal fountain is glass and elaborates itself
up through complications of fluted column
and lily-flower-shaped cup to where water
pours back from the idea of water –
Mr Paxton thought to set the floorboards
an half-inch apart so the women’s skirts
could sweep the floor clean as they passed –

Overhead clouds, like images
in the mind of a reader, replace themselves
time and again against its glass –
A steam engine dragged in by sixteen horses,
a column of coal from Newcastle,
sixteen-tonne weight, the crane that raised
the suspension bridge at Bangor, the iron ore
and the Sheffield blades, the elephant’s tusk
and Indian carvings in ivory, classic marbles of Paros
and Hiram Power’s Greek Slave, the cotton mills
and cloths of finest texture, tail of a wolf
and soft fine fur of the badger, plumes
of the ostrich and raiments of the camel’s hair,
antique silks as heavy as armour, armour
of close-worked chain, a battle-axe finely
inlaid with silver, Winchester’s patented revolving
turret rifles, an ormolu clock that runs for a year,
the Koh-i-noor or ‘mountain of light’
inside an iron cage, and Bontem’s prize-winning
automaton humming-birds that in their glass-
shades flit from branch to branch, opening
their wings and beaks of gold, and sing –

The Iron Duke had his answer to the question of the nesting sparrows.
                                                         ‘Sparrow-hawks, Ma’am.’

Lisa Gorton


This poems ‘The Crystal Palace’ and ‘Mirror, Palace’ include phrases and descriptions from John Tallis, Tallis’s History and Description of the Crystal Palace and the Exhibition of the World’s Industry in 1851 illustrated with beautiful Steel Engravings from Original Drawings and Daguerreotypes by Beard, Myall, etc. etc. (John Tallis and Co., New York and London); from John Fisk Allen, Victoria Regia, or the Great Water Lily of America with a Brief Account of its Discovery and Introduction into Cultivation: with Illustrations by William Sharp from Specimens Grown at Salem, Massachusetts, U.S.A (Dutton and Wentworth, 1854); from Leigh Hunt’s Journal: A Miscellany for the Cultivation of the Memorable, the Progressive and the Beautiful, No 1. December 7, 1850 (no 17, March 29, 1851); from the Book of Ser Marco Polo: The Venetian Concerning Kingdoms and Marvels of the East, translated and edited by Col. Sir Henry Yule (London: John Murray, 1903); and phrases adapted from the Ivory Tablets of the Crow in the Art of the Ninzuwu (online); as well as from Coleridge’s Kubla Khan; Or, A Vision in a Dream, A Fragment.

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Stone eidolon at the end of a walled-in colonnade –
               She was born from the sea, light
               off the foam of the sea –

               [Alex]andros son of [M]enides
               citizen of [Ant]ioch at Meander
               made [this] –
Her body rises over the crowd – She looks aside
as though at something about to happen –
               Stone in the flesh, her blank eyes
               invent distances – Stone comb marks in her hair –
               Her hair, unloosed,
               enters into the heraldry of women’s gestures –
Under her right breast a hole
where the metal strut held up her arm –
               In her left hand she held an apple –

Light sinks an inch deep into Parian marble –
The sculptor of marble is a sculptor of shadows –
               Nude upper body and base of drapery –
two blocks of Parian marble joined under its first fold –
               Drapery falls from her thighs
               like folds in water –
               like dense-packed snow
the quarry on Paros where slaves cut blocks out of the mountain,
dragged them on a road lined with marble down to the ships –

A farmer found the torso buried in a wall –
               A wall of cut stone
               floored with rubble,
the torso lying on its side half-sunk in dirt –
               The robes she dressed in to seduce Anchises
               outshone fire – shining necklaces on her soft throat,
               golden earrings in the shape of flowers –
Her arms are buried under the landslide –
               Where her arms are broken the surface is like torn paper –
A path steep downhill clutching at branches, grey-green olive trees,
grey leaves whitening from the whipped-back branch –
A soldier paid the man to keep on digging –
               They stood her in a field –
Stone heaps and broken columns, salt-pale grass –

They broke her arms off when they dragged her out –
               In her left hand she held a mirror –
They smashed her earlobes to get the earrings off –
The ambassador arrived to find men loading her onto a ship –
               The marble is scratched
               where they dragged her over the rocks –
They have searched the sea there for her broken arms –
The dragoman had the men whipped
who sold her to the ambassador – After the war broke out
the dragoman’s body hanging three days in the street –
The ambassador gave the statue to his king –

Her arms lie in a heap of broken marble in a warehouse,
hands holding out the things that tell her name –
               The mirror she holds is a polished shield –
               On the side she turns towards us, painted gold,
               a warrior runs from the burning city,
               his father clinging to his back, son crying behind –
               the sky, though made of gold, looks dark with smoke –
               The statue looks into its other side
in which there is not one thing more real than another –
rank after rank of light between the mirror and its eyes –

Lisa Gorton

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Storm water piped under the cutting comes out here,
unfolding down under the surface of itself, bluish oil-haze
clotted with seeds and insects – where down the gully
dank onion weed tracks the secret paths of water – Late winter,
black cockatoos scrap and cry in the Monterey pines
which bank the gully’s side – The water flows to a standing pool
out the back of the CSL where a metal trap stops leaf-litter and bottles
and the massed reeds are that washed-out grey
which shines at dusk – From the wetlands water is pumped
up to the golf course or sometimes floods the creek, now a concrete drain
beside the motorway into the city – Across the gully
the factory generator begins itself repeatedly – Behind the cyclone fencing
its rooves stack the horizon – Smoke from its furnaces, widening out
through shadow like scratching on a lens glass, is suddenly there,
lit coils across the brick wall of the factory, blank updraft swarming
in and out of light that whitening shiver out the back
of magic lantern slides, invented depths giving its close scenes place –
The rain is first a screen that folds in on itself its
infinity of repetitions, nerve-end flares, and then the leafless furze,
its each thorn strung with unrefracted rain, is the infrastructure of a cloud
stopped on the gully’s side and at each step vacancy
scatters out of the pale tops of the grasses, untellable, singular, immune –

Lisa Gorton

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