Folly & Grief
Book Sample

I

FUNAMBULIST


Coins fill the busker’s hat;
it’s true, a thief will steal from the blind.
Satellites spin delicate journeys
in the woods above. Space

the guestroom we never had.
Malleable, down below,
in the mute neon between streets,
we’ve touched only the details of maps.

Believing ourselves beamed upon,
we script new mercy themes
and here are the things I carry:
a silver bell, a desk, a lock of hair,

some laurel flowers, a lantern,
a bonbonničre, three scarves,
a black cat, a peacock, a box of rain,
a streak of lightning,

a ladder, a pipe, a coffin, a fan,
a pumpkin, a skull, a book of law.
Believing myself beamed upon,
I carry one clap of thunder, some shrimps

and a globe, a bag of nails, a carton of crčme,
a rolypoly of doves.
I carry the city, the cleft mirror,
the faked fight of the fist on the drum.



THE AUDIENCE


These small shapes
shadows and their quiet stains. Crafted from light

the city drifts across glass and water, the lips of a ferry
licking thin cream from the river.

We were watching the juggler near Southbank
his unicycle jab-jabbing the sidewalk

his body a lean pendant, his monologue shiny as brass.
And I imagined him watching us wrapping around him

a psychiatrist of summer, how he might analyse
the temperature of laughter, the power of his hard banter

to pull us in.
To him we are rhomboid faces, shy awkward helpers

crimsoned by quasi-fame as we balance the chair
his unicycle climbs or hand him the saltimbanque knives.

We drift like Paz in the shadow’s cumin
in search of the present. From childhood’s golden pause

the juggler caresses four, now five yellow balls
(what a notion, after all, these shapes; remnants).

He bullies the children to bully their parents to pay -
and the girl who holds the smaller girl, who is the one restrained?

Fallen from the commedia’s baroque grace
the juggler might know but why should he tell?

For all the images we hoard in shoeboxes and albums
for all the faces, there, in the tiered grades of vanished schools

he has looked at us through the eyes of Harlequino.
Into each other, we have blurred.



CHANGZHUO’S BEES


Here is a photograph of Changzhuo, the Chinese apiarist
who sculpts with bees, who tucks the queen under his chin

calling the swarm to his face, the workers settling into the shape
of his mouth, nose, brow, until he has a mask of bees

and the stillness of marble or ice. Imagine the vibrato
of his chest; how he must delve into his breath, until

it is the breeze of the flower tipped over by dew.
Pollen and hive - the dizziness.

Pieta of bees - he is motionless as a pixilated mother
looking down at the first tug on her breast -

does she, too, exhale? Yet Changzhuo looks up
so as not to trap the bees between his chin and chest -

the gesture armours him as the word mother can.
Summer’s sublime lavender store? A shell finding form?

Here is a son’s school project on Virudunagar
and here a daughter’s violin, its dusty case full

of her scratchy wings. Here are kindergarten art works
locks of floss-soft hair in a grandfather’s collar-box.

Here are beloved masks, gathered as discarded.
Breath of the bee, what needs have shaped me?

The swarm must have lifted from Changzhuo’s face but I haven’t
yet seen a picture of that. Was he unscathed, always?



RINGMASTER


No one wants to be the clown
surviving thinly on the edges of a joke

the balloon-footed clown
who carries a meagre sack of shrill whistles.

So I went inside to where the sky
could not be seen

to where tricks-with-birds and laughter
accept the gull’s true, loose nature.

I went inside the grass smell
of a tent to recall the desires of a child

hunched over games, five knucklebones
landing lightly on the back of her hand.

Mannequins pinned to the high trapeze
glitter like sparklers in glass

but I went inside the rough sketch of a woman
to find the dice’s grace -

to find hail drubbing on an old Zephyr sedan
a ringmaster’s whip scything the air.

I went to the circus to take charge;
to remove blouse after blouse.

I went alone
because to master the sanded weights

a juggler first conquers clumsiness
then writes the same poem, over and over.



WILLIAM FORSYTHE’S
IN THE MIDDLE SOMEWHAT ELEVATED
a performance by the Australian Ballet


The dancers promise us a new mathematics of flight,
their limbs wired into Willems’ music, their faces
blank as the portraits of happiness can be.

They appear to promise a new sort of chic, the emotions
disengaged from the body (and body from limb); see - the
careless way he flings her in the air - her nonchalant, felt-puppet fall.

Nothing disturbs such swans: a woman’s back, drifting,
men loitering in groups of two or three, the solitary dance.
They are shoulder to shoulder in defiance - fiercely living.

How can we walk to the edge of light and ignore the abyss?
Which one, you ask? This one, here - or that. Tomorrow
the famous might weep us away because so often suspended

between mime and the stars. In the middle of an evening,
in a theatre below a street, violins on my skin raising the hairs,
I’m choreographed to believe in the ascendancy of stairs.

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