excerpt from Ligature

he drops his shoulders
lets out his breath
finds himself benched
between green wood slats and
a black plastic platter of sushi,
disposable sticks in his hand.
ache on his right eye like a river stone
thinking like five hands
at the piano.     city stratified in front
his eye’s diameter
curves the park – half-moons grass
before his brain corrects,
sets it back flat beneath
palms     pines     poinsettias
that trail over asphalt;
ocean wind in
the river is busy
seems to flow back
toward the valley
as if behind its face
it replayed a moment
– something misspoken –
over and over
hoping the minute
were different.
he empties his breath
and says stop
the sound of her name
a song that doesn’t budge,
contains less
sound without her.
he begins.         on the hill
he should turn right
but thinks of his chair
pinboard partition
the stench of lynx in the men’s
and walks forward:
North until the rail bridge
lifts him      stops at its peak
as cars pass under: aluminium slab
and pantograph
hide passengers
sat silent         still
as the city speeds beneath

Chris Arnold

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excerpt from Ligature

her office           kept cold
she shivers          exhales
but never the satisfaction
of seeing her breath

a red-black plaid blanket wraps
her legs               pattern
reminiscent of red dust picnics –
she’d pick spinifex spears
and snap them against
thumbnails pressed together
stalks shorter and shorter before
they refused her halving –

her rug synthetic             soft
not the wire-like wool
that scratched her legs
through picnic dresses
in this    somewhere     her parents
she guesses – mouths
eyes      hands  closed
– locked postures unfigured,
only stone layered red on red
and green blades

she bends her back
sets weight against
arms on a white workbench.
Eyes focused close,
she slides steel between
eye blue slats
of a dragonfly’s thorax.
sinks pin into paper
and corkboard beneath;

sits straight
exhales again and thinks
this isn’t orthetrum caledonicum –
a holotype filed from light
while hers had paused
in still and cicada song
wings flat on acacia

Chris Arnold

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Chris ArnoldChris Arnold lives in Perth and used to work as a software engineer. He was published in Westerly’s first writers’ development program, and now works as the journal’s web editor. In 2017, Chris commenced a creative PhD at the University of Western Australia, where he is combining his background in programming with poetic composition. He aims to produce a narrative for hybrid print and electronic reading, and is working, at the time of writing, with generative text and audio.





'Reason Six'

Further Reading and Links

Uneven Floor: Six poems by Chris Arnold

'compression artefact' by Chris Arnold in Westerly


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I am a dickhead in ways I thought I wasn’t
I am a dickhead in ways people who call me a dickhead can’t imagine
I am a dickhead in ways people who call me a dickhead can imagine
I am a dickhead with residues and hangovers of misapplications of beliefs
I am a dickhead whose interior was an adequate backdrop for exterior worlds
I am a dickhead who has tried to leap synaptic gaps to make conversation
I am a dickhead who in damning his past and his routes via heritage has liberated
I am a dickhead despite the awareness of the dickhead moves that preluded me
I am a dickhead who has secretly thought I am no dickhead and that I am defying
               the paths of dickheadery I was injected with at school and by the state
I am a dickhead who lives and breathes the pollution I condemn and tries to hang
               onto life like my life is precious
I am a dickhead caught in anaphora because the mantra is preservation and
               conservation and forests still fall and bush is scraped back to bare bones
I am a dickhead whose epiphanies and self-doubts would liberate him from the
               damnation of exploitation and Western subjectivity
I am a dickhead for allowing the mining industry any leverage over my life at all –
               I use implements manufactured using their extractions, their abominations
I am a dickhead for not planting enough trees for using petroleum products
I am a dickhead for deploying manners as a token of respect when I sit uncomfortably
               in a roundtable confab, adding my two cents’ worth
I am a dickhead for utilising and being part of a monetary system I despise
I am a dickhead for saying I need downtime like everyone else – there’s no time free
               and when I fall into the lush up-currents of birdsong it is not enough
               to say I am there, nothing in the absolute bliss of existence, as existence
               is so tenuous and the deprivation of the right to a spiritual journey
               for all living things nullifies the luxury of my own journey towards
I am a dickhead because I once thought sex was a natural process, was more than a social
               construct, was a sharing on an equal footing if there was consent, as if consent
               was chained by the privilege of gender and identity
I am a dickhead because I don’t think of my pacifist rage as a form of violence, and caught
               in the paradox, critique each step I take with motifs of calm to channel my anger
I am a dickhead because I am prepared to give up my life in an effort to stop damage to
               other lives – peace at all costs, my body crushed by machinery on the edge of a
               forest – trampled down by the military, the constabulary, neo-Nazi Australian
               patriots flying their Southern Crosses and Eureka Stockade t-shirts, the Liberal
               party, the Nationals, the right wing of the Labor Party, and some of the ‘left’
I am a dickhead thinking my words might make a difference and the problem is not
               in the make but the kind of difference words can bring because words
               can’t be contained and controlled and nor should they be, surely? Which leaves
               me with what at the end of the day? as the tradies say as I co-opt to my purpose.
I am a dickhead because I have so immersed myself in the consequences of self and what
              constitutes the ‘I’, especially my responsibility to my own subjectivity
              and the declaration that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction
              platitude which I don’t see as a platitude nor as just another variation on self-
              mythologising which is an affirmation of purpose when I too am nothing in the face of
              remorseless entropy and eschatology
I am a dickhead who won’t be held accountable when ‘the reckoning’* comes, comrade
I am a dickhead you might think is actually trying to call himself a dickhead to avoid
               actually being called a dickhead or to say so while believing he’s not
               but I can assure you I know the truth of it, and I am a dickhead
I am a dickhead who confronts people destroying the bush and throwing a tantrum
               collapses as his heart falls out of sinus rhythm and brings the world of nature
               he has constructed down around his ears
I am a dickhead who can’t ward off the truth with a mantra as the bulldozers and heavy
               mining machinery are hauled slowly and steadily to the mines of the north
               with vast areas of bush falling to blade every day and the roadside vegetation
               vanishing despite a change of government as there’s no halting the loathing
               and though there are many good people working to stop it, the hatred of life
               beyond self and family permeates this world this dickhead is part of this world
               this dickhead watches and dies a little more each day as he experiences and yet
               cannot stop the ravaging the rapacity the cruelty of ‘development’ so what more
               can a dickhead do than declare himself than plead dickheadery?
I am a dickhead who talks too much in a place where ‘lippy bastards’ like me are held
               in contempt and I have the healed fractures of nose and skull, the cigarette burns
               and the psychological scars to evidence this fact though my saying so makes
               me more of a dickhead. Maybe you have to have lived here. Though that in
               itself is no proof as the hearsay, voting trends, main street of town, actions
               of land owners, and internet chatter will tell you
I am a dickhead who thinks he can in some small measure co-exist with the state he rejects
               when the state murders and robs and bullies every nanosecond of its existence
               while feigning innocence while claiming the higher moral ground while claiming
               it speaks with the approval of the majority
I am a dickhead who thinks the majority doesn’t and shouldn’t rule that only consensus
               has authority and a dickhead for whom authority is a lie anyway
I am a dickhead who thinks democracy is about oppression of minorities and not liberty
               for all – never has been never will never wanted to be
I am a dickhead who won’t use pesticides or herbicides or fungicides but who lives
               in a realm where they rain down from neighbours and shires and farmers
               and contractors with the support and affirmation of multinational companies
               that are eating the earth to its core and claiming they make the world go around
I am a dickhead who doesn’t think any job is better than no job. Not even worth
               explaining that – a condescension that makes me even more of a dickhead
I am a dickhead because school mates, teachers, police, government ministers, right-wing
               newspaper columnists, blokes in the pub, some friends and some exes, people
               yelling at me as I march and protest as I read poetry in public, tell me so. Oh,
               and some literary critics. Maybe more than some. I am not sure how that ‘more
              than some’ sits in the calibration of the personalised (‘wank’) of the dickhead scale
I am a dickhead because I am loved by my son and my partner and my mother and my
               brother and my mother’s partner and my auntie and uncle and cousins and maybe
               a dozen friends. Which is not to say they might not privately think I can’t be
               a bit of a dickhead on occasions but I am hoping against hope that they
               can cope with that and it’s not simply out of politeness. What I appreciate
               is their tolerance of dickheads, and I’d like to think I’ve got a bit of that as well

John Kinsella

*This is a reference to a communist marcher at a protest in Cambridge telling me that if I didn't convert from anarchism to communism, my fate would be decided at 'the reckoning'. JK

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Grasshopper on the window, the flyscreen, and stepping out
into the beige heat, over us. Tangled in our hair, hooked to our backs.

Grasshopper, cod wisdom. Grasshopper contraband on the eye-
out for plagues. The Australian Plague Locust and its tendency

to shift character when gathered together. In worship. In parliament.
O phase polyphenism, in which morphology and social disposition

shift. And the ag department would repeal their identities, make
mass hate an organophosphate reality. But the green, all the green

we make in the loving monocultural fields will be stripped away.
But it’s post-harvest, almost, and the wheat ears and canola pods

have been beheaded. The granaries are full. Nuseed Monola
worshipped in the holy of the holies. But then, as day cauterises

night, the Gould’s Wattled Bat retreats into its hollow, chatting
with others in its quodlibet way, illustration of the glories of sound

in the boombox valley. Grasshopper activates, and hops past
the early crickets and katydids. I read to the boy Keats’s ‘On

the Grasshopper and Cricket’, only distantly relevant, and I read
to myself Volcán: Poems from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua

published by City Lights which was still radical in 1993, with Alejandro
Murguía’s plea in his introduction to American readers: ‘who could

act directly to stop the flow of military personnel and weapons ...
Those right-wing death-squads. That anthology thirty-three years ago.

Fables. La Fontaine. Grasshopper on the event horizon. And so many
of us here in a state of mumchance, locked in our anachronistic language

of debauch and abuse. In this age, this rise of global fascism. Beware
the Australian Plague Locust – native! The temerity of its Latin name,

the prejudice of its Wikipedia manifestation (‘significant agricultural
pest’), that first swarm recorded in the east, out of the east, 1844.

Prophecy. Francis Bacon thought so little of prophetic texts. Cut
to fit. And its grasshopper shape. Its colouring. That chiasmus of thorax,

that art we lock & load. I don’t know, Grasshopper, I don’t know.
I lack wisdom to render you unto discourse. Even to make you

as Biblical as you deserve. Holy text of annihilation. And now,
indoors, we watch you disperse, alone. Observing your solipsistic

truths. Your personal ontologies. Can I repeat what I heard
you saying to each other? ‘I don’t know, sister, and neither do you.’

Seemed wise. In the beds the nymphs will stir, awake to the poisons
then no more. The world is there to be fed. Worldly as we are. Mondanité.

And so ‘little difference’, or maybe so hard to tell, between locust
and grasshopper. And those swarms we must watch out for,

those swarms fought back with legislation, with a thesaurus of death.

John Kinsella

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We are thrilled to find evidence of roos returning –
after being driven out of the reserve and slaughtered
by hunters, the survivors are finding refuge at Jam Tree Gully.
The vestiges of the old mob. And maybe new mob driven
this way by hunters down on Victoria Plains. In the long grass
they hide. They make tracks and graze and flatten
areas for rest. They are maintaining out of sight.

I walk with Tim at a tangent to the house, up towards the north-
western granites. The grass is long and wild lupins have built
a platform and it’s a hidden area now with hungry reptiles
waking. Haven’t seen a snake yet, but just today I found
the burrow of a bungarra – could tell by the patterns
of digging, by the flicked dirt, by the slender reptilian scats,
by the fresh brown dirt divined and fomented inside the hill.

A few days ago, the first bobtail we’ve seen since
the days grew long enough. And sun skinks! The awakening.
And today, I forge a way through the grass, up and across,
and Tim follows in my wake, cautious, cautious. We don’t
walk the roo trails because, I say to Tim, The chance
of kangaroo-ticks is higher in those avenues, in those
boulevards, in their town squares. And, what’s more, they

have their town-planning, their architecture, their road-
work to respect – temporary is never less in its design,
its purpose. With pollen Op-arting our clothes, with
honeyeaters chasing each other to the four corners,
we are inside something beyond our design, and that’s good!
Spenser wrote of the ‘carcass examinate’, and before roos
showed themselves here again, before the bungarra

worked its burrow, before the nests came thick
and fast in trees around the house, and before we knew
for sure that the tawny frogmouths have territory
marked up by the red shed, we could not be sure
that the destroyers of land – omnipresent – hadn’t
succeeded, hadn’t wracked life from the body examinate.

John Kinsella

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It rained heavy, ridiculously heavy, when the heat
was at its peak, and then it went dry – the ebb & flow
of the surface-water, the water soaked deep. It’s
thin-on now, even vanished. A dry creeping towards
longer cold nights. The tank is down to 20 000 litres,
or thereabouts. And no clean air for weeks, as farmers
have burnt their tinderish stubble to ash, so volatile
the flames have mostly escaped, or been let go, to erase
‘shade trees’ in paddocks, and bush that has stuck
for legal reasons only. Fire, the trickster? It’s agony
to watch as we choke, eagles spiralling higher.

And the mistletoe birds are easing off, chasing those sticky
fruits on other hillsides. All that sunset collusion in the red
chest of the males – flashy, unexpected. But we notice
the females as often – no hierarchy of glory for us, though
they have their own codings, their own headrushes. But
while they were here, skipping unisex from mistletoe to mistletoe,
we were as ecstatic. And now at dusk, writing in dying
light, I sign off on almost four years of twists in the senses –
yesterday we heard a ‘new’ bird, and Tim found it singing
in the south-east corner of the block. A fantail cuckoo.
This map that won’t reveal the secrets. Try following it.

Between these poems there have – of course of course
been many others. Those of lost trees, and damaged wetlands.
Of animals crushed and extinguished. Of wars and conflict.
The emulsion of sinews and xylem and phloem. The fencers
who in the name of work! take out as much bush as they can
to lay down new posts, those stretches of taut wire.
All of that. Proximity, and in the catchment of our days.
And reports from further afield. The boats turned
back on the high seas – the drownings we no longer
hear of inland, just a couple of hours drive from the sea.

All of those closed doors. All those birds that won’t fly again,
as once farmers killed mistletoe birds in their droves,
arguing that in doing so they were saving the native bush
they’d clear the following week, month, year, decade.
All of us in this temporal lapse – unique, trying to breathe,
take in the beauty, filtering contagions we release ourselves.

John Kinsella

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John Kinsella 240John Kinsella’s most recent volumes of poetry are On the Outskirts (UQP, 2017) Firebreaks (WW Norton, 2016), Drowning in Wheat: Selected poems 1980–2015 (Picador, 2016), and the three volume edition of his Graphology Poems 1995–2015 (Five Islands Press, 2016). His poetry collections have won a variety of awards, including the Prime Minister's Literary Award for Poetry and the Christopher Brennan Award for Poetry. His volumes of stories include In the Shade of the Shady Tree (Ohio University Press, 2012), Crow’s Breath (Transit Lounge, 2015), and Old Growth (Transit Lounge, 2017). His volumes of criticism include Activist Poetics: Anarchy in the Avon Valley (Liverpool University Press, 2010) and Polysituatedness (Manchester University Press, 2017). He is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, and Professor of Literature and Environment at Curtin University. With Tracy Ryan he is the co-editor of The Fremantle Press Anthology of The Western Australian Poetry (2017). He lives with his family in the Western Australian wheatbelt.


'Swimming Pool'

'Sui Generis'

'Detracking the Body Examinate'


'Graphology Endgame 100: I am a dickhead'

Further Reading and Links

Mutually Said: Poets Vegan Anarchist Pacifist  - A blog shared between poets John Kinsella and Tracy Ryan


Australian Poetry Library

Poetry Foundation

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    John Kinsella’s most recent volumes of poetry are On the Outskirts (UQP, 2017) Firebreaks (WW Norton, 2016), Drowning in Wheat: Selected poems 1980–2015 (Picador, 2016), and the three volume edition of his Graphology Poems 1995–2015 (Five Islands Press, 2016). His poetry collections have won a variety of awards ...

for Lorraine and Tony

Not an expression of wealth but one of quiet desperation,
the heat and dry eviscerating hope – a giant shadehouse
of green cloth, and an above-ground keyhole
swimming pool, with avocadoes and ferns edging
the cement slabs, aura in the midday twilight.

And the red dust, too fine to shut out, decorating
the aqua-emerald waters, a wound open from an attack
of the inland leviathan, invisible as the filter strains
to remove impurities, leave pure as chlorinated amniotics,
and the dry birds squawking to be let in – shriek-caw-shriek.

Inland pool that was no waterhole, gnamma parody
down from the salmon gums and wandoos and pepper trees,
looking out over the sheep paddocks, the pig yards,
down onto the rat-tunnelled horse dam, out beyond the white-
walled house-dam of fated sailings, edge of the earth.

And this was in the Seventies, long before the rise
of pools on cocky properties, a nod towards a strong
swimmer, towards a childhood visiting the coast, a father
who loved the ocean. But there was a mother too, one
of the goldfields women who never learnt to swim.

Wheatbelt swimmers, wheatbelt pathfinders,
wheatbelt paradoxes carted in on the truck in riveted
steel cubes, brimming from standpipe flow; and then lesser
but regular cartings for ‘topping-up’. Record the volume,
pay up later. And all those kids travelling from far

afield, travelling to take a dip, frolic beneath the shadecloth
cathedral, bathe in the gothic font of swimming pool –
Australian crawl, breaststroke, frog-kick where the sun
denies the existence of amphibians, and dirt looks past
the sky for an opening through which rain might fall.

John Kinsella

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Harbours h res

 Josephine Clarke

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