Chris Mooney-Singh The Bearded Chameleon cover
The Bearded Chameleon
Chris Mooney-Singh

Some of the most effectively wrought depictions of Asia and its people that have been published in Australia
Sam Byfield, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal
Creating effective cross-rhyme is difficult. Kipling, Hopkins and Swinburne were the only poets of whom I was aware to have crafted it well until I encountered Mooney-Singh’s ghazals; in this challenging form he rubs shoulders with the best
Phil Ilton, Mascara Literary Review
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Book Description


Animation of The Bearded Chameleon by Chris Mooney Singh

Accept you have no inkling of the power
that walks upon the dragonfly water.
Siberian geese each season migrate here,
yet bird and lake exist beyond your will.
You comprehend so little of this, truly.
Brother of fish, brother of water-lotus
when will you frog-kick out toward the truth?

The Bearded Chameleon is a new collection from Chris Mooney-Singh, an Australian poet who commutes between Australia, Singapore and India. The poems are set in India, his country of inspiration, which beguiled him in 1989 to adopt the Sikh way of life. The title poem is a witty study of the lizard that can adapt its colours to any circumstance.

Mooney-Singh speaks from his perspective as a Westerner who now sports a beard, turban and Indian dress, and by doing so merges with the landscape of Indian society. He witnesses an ancient world turning modern as a resident, not merely as a traveller or tourist. These are poems of sharp visual detail and comic irony. There are sparkling character portraits, such as that of Mrs Pritima Devi. He has a story-teller’s eye and a lyricist’s sense of music.

After Octavio Paz, Mooney-Singh is the only poet who writes about the paradoxes of Indian landscape with great passion.

H.S. Shivaprakash, Indian Literature

ISBN  9781876044718
Published 2011
86 pgs
The Bearded Chameleon book sample

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Punjab Pastoral
After the Taxi Halted
Steel Kiss
Pink Silk from Punjab
Night Owl
In Memory of One Who Can’t Be Seen
A Punjabi Leda and the Swan
My Fallen
Abstract Studies with Monsoon Green
The Bearded Chameleon
Aubade with Marshland
A Meditation at Sukhna Lake


Apartment of a Bombay Millionaire
Another Bhagwanpur
To the Dalits
Indian-Made Foreign Liquor
Indian City
Peep Peep Don’t Sleep
The Thirteenth House
Mr Chopra
An Un-Named Pandit
Yogesh Meets Ganesh
Advice From An Uncle
Directions to a Bombay Poetry Samelan
Long Distance
Bonehead Ghazals
Yatra, 1999
Mrs Pritima Devi
Maharajah Ajmer Singh Speaks from his Miniature Portrait
Request to One Passed Over
Indian Standard Time


I Come in Winter to a City Without You

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Beyond ‘A Cultural Look and See’: Chris Mooney-Singh’s The Bearded Chameleon
Sam Byfield (poet)
Cha: An Asian Literary Jounal, Issue 18, September 2012

It’s not very often that the first poem in a collection involves defecation, and rarer still, I suspect, that it does so with grace and artistry. The first poem in Chris Mooney-Singh’s collection, The Bearded Chameleon, does just that and sets the scene perfectly for the works that follow. In ‘Punjab Pastoral’ we find Mooney-Singh, an Australian poet who in 1989 adopted Sikhism, squatting in a field, cotton shawl pulled up around his ears, ‘bobbing like a sunflower.’ Having moved to India in search of meaning and ‘deeper experiences,’ he questions his motivations and the wisdom of his choices, suggesting that ‘they all want to leave and yet I’ve come/to squat and shit and chew on grass and spit/for ‘a cultural look and see’.’

Perhaps in response to his own preconceptions, this poem starts and finishes with the observation that he can hear no mermaid singing; indeed, he notes, ‘I am the fool round here.’ This search for identity, for wisdom and for a ‘legitimately’ lived life is a common theme in this collection, though it is interspersed with poems of both great loss and great hope, as well as some of the most effectively wrought depictions of Asia and its people that have been published in Australia.

As an Australian writing from India, Mooney-Singh can be viewed in the context of a broader pattern among the country’s poets engaging with the region - think Aitken, Cahill, Caddy, Kelen, among others. Australian poetry is clearly benefiting from the country’s growing engagement with Asia. Yet this collection is notable in that it’s not simply a tourist’s weeks or months spent in-country, but years - a whole life that’s been packed up and relocated.

One of the most notable elements of The Bearded Chameleon is its ghazals. They possess a more playful tone than some of the collection’s serious offerings, and highlight both the poet’s preoccupation with the culture he is writing within and with the possibilities of language more broadly.

The series ‘Bonehead Ghazals’ consists of five poems. In ‘Puzzle’ the poet writes - ‘The system sucks: can’t click, can’t knit with it./Round peg, square slot. I’m quit unfit for it’ - demonstrating a sense of lyricisms and rhythm, and also emphasising the questions around identity and purpose which pervade the collection. ‘Roses’ shifts to an exploration of the many types and connotations of ‘roses’ and again displays a sense of playfulness: ‘The redhead rose has that playboy look./the bee is hooked on the soft porn rose’ and ‘Make money, not art, says the plastic rose./I have no nose for that stillborn rose.’

‘Belonging’ turns to the themes of entrapment and the desire to be free, and draws them together with a lovely image - ‘Absurd, this cage, so where do we belong?/In peach-faced lovebird-heaven we belong’ - while in ‘The Bearded Chameleon’, the ghazal series from which the collection derives its title, the poet writes: ‘Suburbia was a dumb cartoon:/here, typhoid sweats through each monsoon.’

Several poems in this collection deal with grief and loss. ‘Casualty’ is an unsettling description of the death of the narrator’s first wife, who passed away en-route to hospital in a taxi. This is a poem of acute loss played out in an alien environment, full of effective details. Where it would have been easy to alienate the reader through overt bathos and an absence of detail, this poem and several that follow avoid such traps. ‘Casualty’ opens with

At 8 in the morning,
at exactly 8 in the morning,
they wheel her through swing doors
banging like a poltergeist.

and continues with an effective mix of image and simile: ‘a woman who gasped like a dove,’ ‘ripping off her wedding ring,’ ‘dehydration on wheels,’ ‘this absurdity of roses outside the window.’ The only questionable note comes right at the end, with Mooney repeating the opening but adding a play on words which is perhaps out of place: ‘at 8 in the morning,/at 8 in the period of your mourning.’

Some of the most effective poems in this collection are portraits. ‘Mrs Pritima Devi’ takes the form of a monologue by a school teacher who has escaped a troubled marriage and left her son behind, and who appreciates a sympathetic ear to speak to. The language and grammar of the poem bring it to life and demonstrate the Mooey-Singh’s attention to the rhythms of the language around him. In ‘Advice from an Uncle,’ a business-owner explains the realities of business to his ‘MBA-fresh, Harvard-hyped nephew,’ noting that ‘Bribes are bad, dear boy,/but we must get the job done’ and must become
a practical chap: serve all
Superintendents of Police
their God-allotted cup.

Ever-practical, the Uncle even

incense in a brass holder
before the Guru’s photo, so
he, too, will turn a blind eye.

The only sticking point in this poem is the short line lengths, which disrupt the flow and give a sense that the line breaks weren’t thought through, whereas many of the collection’s other works employ a longer, more natural line length.

In ‘Families,’ Mooney-Singh broadens out this portrait approach to capture the diversity and complexity of families in India:

This family left the village, that family found the city,
this family emigrated on false passports,
this family placed an ad in The Times of India,
this dutiful daughter got a green-card husband.

Several other poems share this focus on observation and ‘naming.’ These poems are particularly effective and benefit from the narrator taking a step back. ‘Indian City,’ for instance, is comprised of a list of often contradictory images:

Satellite dishes     on a temple sky-line
low-flying jets     vultures in a flock
a bicycle loaded     with electrical fans

In ‘Laws,’ Mooney-Singh provides a series of contrasts between the human and animal worlds, in essence noting that despite our foibles and occasional destructive urges, the natural world continues. In this same observational spirit, ‘PEEP PEEP DON’T SLEEP’ is an amusing list of signs seen while driving on Indian highways:



The second half of The Bearded Chameleon contains several traditional love poems, dedicated to ‘Savinder,’ Mooney-Singh’s second wife. These contain strong moments, though at times lose focus and momentum. In ‘Long Distance,’ the poet has returned to Delhi from Singapore and is struggling through a rickshaw ride.

and queasy, I missed home
badly - the flicker of your hair,
breezy as the East Coast palms

The details of this ride are, as with much of the collection, strong and believable. The final two tercets, however, are somewhat unclear in their language and syntax, and detract from an otherwise strong work.

By contrast, ‘Yatra, 1999’ is a more complete poem. Starting with ‘You had come to lure me/from my white-robed life/in a marble sanctuary’ it describes how his lover has come to visit him after a period of long-distance communication. In the taxi, ‘We counted the mile markers;/time was rushing to harvest/as you agreed to marry me.’

The final poem in the collection, ‘I come in Winter to a City Without You,’ continues with this theme of long distance love, of finding a way to bridge the separation of continents. The poem is a worthy finale to the collection, marking a clear and definitive finish to the themes leading up to it. There are a few moments, however, when the strong images and tone are somewhat undermined - the following lines, for instance, veer too close to clumsiness: ‘I know peach-pink lips still unlock/the zone of your aromas: this is the future/and I will always kiss your rose.’

I also question the need for this poem to constitute the whole of the collection’s third section, when the previous two amounted to over 70 pages. At the very least, the other works dedicated to Savinder seem to work well with the final poem and could have constituted a section of their own. More broadly, the allocation of poems to specific sections, as well as their ordering throughout the collection, is at times confusing, with different themes and forms being broken up and interspersed. The overall cohesion and flow might have been aided by more judicial editorial intervention.

These criticisms aside, this is an impressive collection by an interesting poet. Future anthologies of Australian poets who have ‘written Asia’ should certainly contain one or more of Mooney-Singh’s offerings, especially those that engage strongly with locations and people and those which utilise the ghazal form. In a literary climate where poets sometimes end up sounding rather alike, Mooney-Singh stands out.

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Australian Poetry 2011-2012
Judith Beveridge
Westerly, Volume 57, Number 1 2012

Chris Mooney-Singh has lived, studied and worked in India and Indian religious communities for a number of years. The Bearded Chameleon is an engaging, often satirical account of his time there. With sure-footed control of free verse, blank verse, rhyme and oriental forms such as the ghazal, Mooney-Singh reveals the conflicts, contradictions and hypocrisies that a Westerner can experience in a country that never quite sits comfortably on his shoulders, though he has deep respect for many of its spiritual traditions. Most powerful are the poems about the death of his wife in a rural ashram, and the dramatic monologue ‘Mrs Pritima Devi’ concerning a woman who has left her son, husband, and his family because she is being slowly poisoned by the mother-in-law. The poem memorably evokes, the ongoing struggle that women have for equality and recognition. Mooney-Singh’s style is often playful and there are some delightfully humorous poems about characters and Indian eccentricities, as well as the self-mocking ten-part title poem in which the poet, likening himself to a chameleon, reveals how difficult it can be to find purchase on an identity in a place as socially complex as India. Overall, the poems in this volume have a lightness of touch and an ease of style, which combined with strong subject matter, make them pleasurable and rewarding.

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The Bearded Chameleon
Phil Ilton
Mascara Literary Review, June 2012

There are poems for the page and poems for the stage. Chris Mooney-Singh is an established live performer. His second poetry collection, The Bearded Chameleon, transposes his performative skills into poetically good reading. Mooney-Singh is a chameleon because his ‘makeup’ stems from two cultures: his native Australia and India where he has mostly lived in recent decades. He is never quite at home in either, his ‘colours’ change according to which country he’s in. His adoption of the Sikh faith, which forbids cutting hair, has him bearded. This theme is encapsulated in 40 end-rhyme couplets tightly presented with perceptive cultural observations (‘village life is one food chain’). India, exuberant and traumatic, contrasts with Mooney-Singh’s other life:

Suburbia was a dumb cartoon:
here, typhoid sweats through each monsoon;

There’s exquisite images of interaction between the newcomer and villagers:

I wet my tongue, pretend what’s best
and they are kind, pretend the rest.

An ‘internal ode’ to the poet’s fauna namesake weaves engaging snippets; the chameleon is ‘prehistoric, spiky, punk’ for whom ‘sun-bathing is the reptile’s art’. ‘Abstract Studies with Monsoon Green’ distils the adopted environment’s fecundity’:

The days of humid blindness are upon us,
the rain has left a steamy haze of green.

The mulberry limb drips into the milk pail,
green are the tears upon the chilli plants.

There’s an innovative reprint of humanity’s footstep:

I follow footprint puddles to the pump.

Mooney-Singh aims to

...learn the way of planting rice:
green thumb, invite the fingers to make friends.

Among captivating images of India there’s a night-driving view of a truck’s decorated rear: ‘Krishna and the milkmaids/ were dancing in our headlights’. ‘Indian Standard Time’ includes ‘eating pakoras and deep-fried gossip’ and ‘yesterday or tomorrow, neither too late, nor too early’ whether that be ‘in this birth or the next’. There’s arresting street-graphics:

the lifters of dead-cows,
cremation-ground caretakers,
collectors of the shit-bins,
bottom-feeders, vultures.

And vivid imagery that could be from anywhere such as this forest-after-rain metaphor:

sunlight opens up its peacock tail

Personal aspects of Mooney-Singh’s journey embrace the evocative pain of witnessing his (first) wife’s death.

I was helpless, a passenger
during the final act of her breathing
that slipped beyond even its coma
as the taxi halted at the traffic light.

Aftermath is poignant:

...I lift your old cup from a suitcase
of last things you touched on earth.
I see the lipstick: two firm petal prints.
I will never clean away the kiss.

‘My Fallen’, images of deaths in Mooney-Singh’s family, innovatively commences ‘These last photos I don’t have’. Significant memories are often associated with background detail and these are captured with powerful brevity:

The strident starlings of 2001
still halo your head on soft grass.

Mooney-Singh produces striking aphorisms including ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is a clear conscience’. ‘To the Dalits’ demonstrates well-crafted rhyme is effective for invocation of traditional Indian folklore. Tradition is also invoked with the ‘ghazal’, a love song comprising couplets with an end-rhyme refrain that usually repeats the same word; Mooney-Singh diffuses the refrain’s monotony by introducing ‘unattached’ prefixes which form cross-rhyme patterns - neither end-rhyme nor internal (within-a-line) rhyme, but constructed on rhyming words appearing within different lines:

Make money, not art, says the plastic rose.
I have no nose for that stillborn rose.

Poetry got divorced from the rose,
yet the New Thing’s still a fresh-worn rose

Seventy million years of the rose:
fossils lime the time-sworn rose.

The cross-rhyme is ‘stillborn/fresh-worn’ etc. Creating effective cross-rhyme is difficult. Kipling, Hopkins and Swinburne were the only poets of whom I was aware to have crafted it well until I encountered Mooney-Singh’s ghazals; in this challenging form he rubs shoulders with the best. Innovation doesn’t always work. Coining neologisms (new words) has potential pitfalls – they can seem forced, too-clever or obscure. A neologism in ‘I Come in Winter to a City Without You’ doesn’t suffer these flaws; the now Australian-based poet and his (second) wife (temporarily in Singapore) communicate by mobile and internet, chatting in ‘glocal tongues’. ‘Glocal’ is an engaging creation: these technologies may be global but they allow for an intimacy which is effectively local. Attractive eclecticism is quirkily reflected in ‘found poems’ of Indian highway-side graffiti including ‘riotous’ examples like ‘HORN IS TO HONK/ PLEASE DO IT ON MY CURVES’.

Mooney-Singh’s India is not all traditional. A woman who dares to reject her violent husband by deserting his family’s home evocatively observes:

To move in public is no easy choice
if you wear divorce’s question-mark
upon your forehead.

With riveting figurative language she urges:

...more women
also swept beneath the family carpet.
Fight! I say...
Never shall we let them make us feel

like wedding ornaments, like nose-rings
returned dishonoured to the jeweller’s shop.

The Bearded Chameleon has a pièce de résistance, ‘Another Bhagwanpur’, which opens:

A country village stuck in the buffalo mud
piles up its cow-pats, balancing clay pots
of mosquito water on the heads of women
who wear pregnancy under flimsy shawls.

The metaphorically stuck-in-mud village is personified by its ‘orchestration’ of cow-pats and women’s actions. The stereotypical heads balancing pots become thought-provoking with ‘mosquito’ water - potential drama not associated with the image. Women ‘wear’ prominent pregnancies. We learn much from skilfully packed lines:

The village council of five cannot fight
the school’s wrong sums and cane-learning;
cement walls, white-washed by government,
the young men employed by opium.

There’s doctors who ‘deal in snake-bite mantras’ and this arresting portrait:

...the last Gandhian freedom-fighter
props up old glory on a walking stick.

More transfixing language concludes this village vignette: ‘the night-long typhoid prayers to Ram.’ Sixteen lines have the reader experience a tour de force.

There are flawed moments. If information becomes a poet’s ‘driver’ the poetry usually suffers; this happens with Mooney-Singh’s portraits and some traditional-story retelling. ‘Mr Chopra’ is mostly prosaic description. ‘Apartment of a Bombay Millionaire’ and ‘Mrs Pritima Devi’ are generally similar and include unnecessary didacticism. In ‘Yogesh Meets Ganesh’ and ‘Advice From An Uncle’ storytelling dissolves the poetry. There are moments when things don’t work. ‘A Punjabi Leda and the Swan’ presents an ostensibly good metaphor between the Western myth and a man raping a woman in contemporary India, but there’s awkward passages; the mental wrestling needed to wrap one’s head around these reduces effectiveness - a forced sensibility suggesting the legend doesn’t fit the poem’s context. Sometimes poetically good ‘moments’ are undermined by additional figurations:

Saffron priests say Out!
like big sticks hunting rats
along the temple drains.

The images of saffron priests and big sticks hunting rats in drains are vivid; but the linking simile is not – verbal commands and running with sticks are dissimilar actions. The ‘common ground’ is intensity, a minimal likeness. Since the commands are projected by priests, effectiveness is further reduced; whatever the faith, clerics don’t undermine their authority with doing-the-shitwork frenetics. The collection has instances of overwriting.

I look out into the darkness for you.
Rest is the wraith
that will not let me sleep.

This image’s potential is under-realised with the superfluous ‘out’ and the prosey ‘let me’. Direct ‘ownership’ of the wraith and tighter presentation like (for example) ‘Rest is my wraith that will not sleep’ increases metaphorical impact. ‘I Come in Winter to a City Without You’ is curiously headed by this Mallarmé quotation: ‘Oh so dear from afar and nearby’. What is this quote’s purpose? True, it fits the theme – but Mooney-Singh’s poem says it much better than this (unusually) ordinary Mallarmé line; a redundant epigraph, it may imply credibility is sought through an artificial hitch to the famous. High-profile quotations can be epigraphically effective. But there’s risk that contrast with iconic lines may diminish one’s own and inclusion may appear to ‘name-drop’. If the same poem’s ‘the god of small transactions’ is an allusion to Arundhati Roy’s Booker-winning Indian novel The God of Small Things, should this be acknowledged? Or is it a subliminal reference to the novel? Could it be pure coincidence? Of course the reader is never ‘party’ to writers’ thoughts. It’s suffice to say that if Mooney-Singh was aware of his line’s similarity to Roy’s title, it was advisable to not use it and rely on his own words.

There are minor irritants; an alcoholic’s problems are lessened with a cliché (‘all have raised a storm’) and curiously excessive use of colons and semi-colons. These ‘punctuations’ enhance pauses but frequent use impairs poetic flow and produces a ‘boy who cried wolf’ effect - reduced impact of their effective moments. The poem ‘Families’, mostly a prosaic list, has poetry in its rhythm, which leads to the other key feature of Mooney-Singh the poet: performance. It was informative to attend the collection’s launch. Prosey patches were enlivened, reflecting that a not insignificant proportion is ‘poems for the stage’. His performance embraced skilful light/shade vocals and effective nylon-string guitar accompaniment. The Bearded Chameleon progresses strong poetic qualities Mooney-Singh crafted in his first collection The Laughing Buddha Cab Company (2007). To gain full appreciation one should experience the performance.

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The Bearded Chameleon
Geoff Page
The Canberra Times, 21 January 2012

Chris Mooney-Singh has also had an interesting life story (though re-telling it is rarely the intention of his poems). Raised in Canberra in the late 1950s and 1960s, Mooney-Singh adopted Sikhism in 1989. He has travelled and lived for extended periods in Singapore, India and other countries in the region. He has also become an expert in Sikh music.

The Bearded Chameleon, the first of his books to be properly circulated in Australia, focusses on India. Unlike most of the work written by Australian poets travelling in that country (or living there for short periods), Mooney-Singh’s poems are written from the “inside”, as it were. Even so, the poet has no illusions about how well he knows his subject — or how well he is accepted by his new correligionists or compatriots. India is a vast topic after all.

The key to this book is probably the title poem, a sequence where the poet sees himself as a chameleon, adept at fitting in no matter how difficult. He is also quick to see the irony of his self-chosen predicament: “My sun-cracked soles have drawn some sap / from green Punjab. An Aussie chap // I chew on sugarcane each week / and sport this beard — a convert Sikh. // Now turbaned like a maharajah, / I’d pass for Ranjit Singh, the Padshah — // a bit like you, chameleon — / a colour-shifting charlatan.”

There’s nothing of the charlatan, however, in Mooney-Singh’s nicely balanced views of the pluses and minuses of the country which has called him. He is quite unsparing of the corruption in Indian life, the savage oppression of a great many of its citizens and yet he also leaves the reader in no doubt as to the  country’s and the culture’s attractions. There are poignant monologues such as that by the unjustly treated “Mrs Pritima Devi” but also the cleverly balanced binaries in the poem “Laws” where every negative is offset by a corresponding positive. e.g. “despite the hunting season on dissidents / another mongoose crosses the road” or “despite the rise of fanatics to government / clans of macaques will rule the ruins”.

As the excerpts quoted may illustrate, Mooney-Singh is a poet who is both accessible and skilled in his art. What he has to say about his adopted country should be essential reading for the naive tourist — indeed, even for the sophisticated one (who will enjoy even more its slyly observant references).
Chris Mooney-Singh’s new collection of poetry The Bearded Chameleon is the work of a new voice engaging with the ‘diaspora discourse’. As a Caucasian Australian who embrace truth in the global world. Such are the rich layers of thought and experience to be found within the pages of The Bearded Chameleon.

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The Reverse Diaspora - An Australian Poet’s India
Ranga Chandrarathne
Sunday Observer (Sri Lanka), 1 January 2012

Chris Mooney-Singh’s new collection of poetry The Bearded Chameleon is the work of a new voice engaging with the ‘diaspora discourse’. As a Caucasian Australian who has converted to Sikhism, his is a kind of reverse-diasporic point of view. Mooney-Singh’s close empathy with the land of his adopted way of life and philosophy creates in the reader the impression of a second-generation ‘returnee’ to a familiar time and place, when in reality, he is a son of Antipodean soil.

This is evident from the dropped hints in selected poems throughout the collection. Otherwise, this is poetry that could have been written by an Indian with all its insider knowledge.

The title itself hints at Mooney-Singh’s chameleon-like position within the Indian landscape and the agility with which he writes about it. Thus, his example as a cultural convert needs its own reverse-diasporic category to differentiate it from mere travel writing.

It is evident that he has lived and breathed long and deep in Northern India and his considered work codifies the vivid and changing reality of the diaspora as he commutes between Australia, Singapore and India; along the way, he deals extensively with prominent themes such as nostalgia, memory and the imaginary homeland.

Ethnic, cultural and the micro-observation of regional diversity are some of the hallmarks of Mooney-Singh’s India poems.

As in the classical description of diasporic writings, this poetic exploration is not only a codification of individual experiences but also a poetic documentary of the ‘collective voice’ in a highly hybridised milieu. In a way, this hybridity is manifested in Mooney-Singh’s mixed genealogy: his Australian-Irish descent, a work life domiciled in Singapore (evident from his previous collection The Laughing Buddha Cab Company) and his ongoing transnational experiments with the Sikh way of life.


Poverty and deprivation in a typical North Indian village is brilliantly captured in ‘Punjab Pastoral’ the opening poem of the collection. Poverty is coupled with an inlander naivety on the part of the villagers who think the village tank is like ‘the Ocean’ that nobody has ever seen.

In fact, this is also a classical allusion to medieval Bhakti and Sikh poetry where the metaphor of the ‘Ocean’ represents eternal consciousness and is often applied to any body of water at hand.

In a traditional Punjabi context a ‘tank’ was a flat ‘ocean-wide’ expanse of water, rather than a small-mouthed well. In the Post-Partition days, however, the Central Indian Government created irrigation canals with pumps controlling irrigation within Punjab and controversially to other neighbouring states such as Haryana and Rajasthan, negating the old system of using village tanks for human and animal consumption:

I cannot hear the mermaid singing here
beside this irrigation channel, dug with hoes
and feeding sugar cane – a sudden crop
of sweetest cash, yet magical as staves,


and green-checked lungi , that is now hitched up
above my knees, so that my own wet soil
can drop and find its way back into landfill.
It sounds quite pastoral and yet

a place without a latrine, without a job
for every man, a place of raw mixed opium,
strained through muslin cotton, squeezed and drained...


The only way a young man gets to leave
is selling his plot for an agent’s dicy promise

of a stamped visa to a foreign sweatshop.
Yes, they all want to leave and yet I’ve come
to squat and shit and the chew the grass and spit
like village elders by the Panchayat tree.
For what? A cultural look and see and then
To fly back when the travel cash runs dry?
They look and talk of me, the grubby kids,
Dragging a stick of sugar cane in dust,

and mothers loading grass onto their heads...
...I hear no mermaid singing by the canal.
Panchayat: a village council of five

The poet contrasts an over-fertilised and toxic pastoral landscape with the impoverished human world relying upon it at a time when everyone longs to leave. Having come for ‘a cultural look’ this should be an idealised heaven - the land of his philosophical beliefs. The harsh reality is, however, that having endured centuries of Islamic invasion, partition, war and discord, including the militant decade of the 1980s, this is now a place in agrarian and social decline - with over-reliance on deep artesian wells and pumps in a State subject to water politics, land division, unemployment and social problems such as AIDS and massive drug addiction where the Government turns a blind eye and receives its bribes.

Like many diasporic poets, Mooney Singh explores with unclogged vision a place beset by man-managed tragedies, yet still attempts to link with the idea of ‘the original home’ and historic home of the ten Sikh Gurus and their disciples who created a spiritual, economic and political revolution in Punjab - the ‘Land of Five Rivers’ from the middle of the 15th to the 20th Century. Sadly, it seems such a haven seems now to exist only in the poet’s imagination and he is aware of it.


The term ‘pastoral’ for instance also carries with it all of the connotations of Western civilization, going back to the bucolic age of Homer and Hesiod in ancient Greece and Virgilian Rome. Now, however, the word ‘pastoral’ is clearly ironic in a post British-ruled sub-continent. The sources of problems for the Land of Five Rivers of the once undivided State encapsulating Pakistan run deep.

‘Punjab Pastoral’ is thus a poem which might well be catogorised according to the poetics of ‘return’. The poet visits a familiar landscape which is the ‘original home’. In his mindscape, there is still a mermaid who ‘sings by the canal’ which may allude to Eliot’s Prufrock where the mermaids sing ‘each to each’ but not to him. It’s a nod to Modernism that informs us that the author, despite his interest in Indian history is still a global poet of the post-industrial era with all its foibles and post-modern doubts. The ‘pastoral’ image of the village contrasts sharply with the harsh ground reality with ‘grubby kids, dragging a stick of sugar cane in dust’ while ‘mothers [are] loading grass onto their heads’. It is clear that the poet is not part of the landscape he wants to identify with and his cultural anchorage has almost foundered. Cultural loss is a major characteristic of diasporic life. The narrator of the poem has dual identities, but in the deepest sense is a stranger wherever he is.


Thus there are more poems that attempt to find firm ground to re-build memories into edifices of faith. In ‘Steel Kiss’, Mooney-Singh solidifies one of these cherished moments celebrating a lover’s lipsticked kiss on a steel cup which has been preserved unwashed over three decades. In a highly skilful manner, he returns again and again, poem after poem, during the first section of the book to a time of death and tragedy and loss of a life partner and holds each moment up to the light with deep feeling and poignancy. A primary trait of diasporic writing is the attempt on the part of the writer to negotiate with retreating history, past customs and traditions.

Poetic analepsis, the major technique behind the collection, works through nostalgia, memory and reclamation as literary themes. As mentioned before in ‘Steel Kiss’, the poet attempts to reclaim history (personal history) which may be a part of collective history as well:

‘Stainless steel’ we say, long-lasting,
one cup per life span, It did not rust
away on a table under the pipal tree
where we and squirrels took meals.

How long has it been since I heard
your discourse on love? Once sipped
from this cup, I unpacked it today as proof
you had red lips, and drank, and lived.

Yet, why have I been detained among
the iron gods? I gulp down milk and sorrow
from new tumblers of steel, filling and draining
three decades of gains and losses.

Today, I lift your old cup from a suitcase
of last things you touched on earth.
I see the lipstick: two firm petal prints.
I will never clean away the kiss.

The line ‘of last things you touched on earth’ quite clearly suggests that the loved one is no more and all that is left - ‘the kiss’ on an empty cup is a powerful visual reminder of a past relationship and becomes an emblem of a love that does not forget and wants to endure.

Passionate encounter

In the poem ‘Pink Silk from Punjab’, the poet describes a passionate encounter with a woman and its memory which is aptly symbolised by the pink Punjabi silk. There is nothing to suggest that the character of ‘Steel Kiss’ is not the same love-making woman of this poem. She represents the continent of India, while the narrator is from another ‘continent’ and thus the act of union is played out symbolically. Interracial marriages and dating is part and parcel of diasporic life. In such a relationship clash of cultures, values and ethos is represented by the expression ‘collision of continents’.

I’m still dreaming pink silk from Punjab.
I’m dreaming the gentle collision of continents.

The scent of her is gone from my hair.
Enigmatic in the traffic as a rickshaw wallah,
Why do I imagine her wobbling her head?


The last time before she left, we wallowed
like buffaloes for one hour. I am left with only
the memory of our bodies, wet as fish.

In the poem ‘My Fallen’ the poet evocatively narrates the emotional departure of his relations in a long and unending journey of life. The principal motif of the poem is nostalgia associated with childhood (past) peopled by his relations.

These last photos I don’t have:

China doll-haired sister,
whom I played and fought with,
you were first to fall, aged 7 -
your liver coughing up in 1963
while the heart crashed down
for good on a hospital floor.


The strident starling of 2001
still halo your head on soft grass.
Dad, you were stroke-struck,


Bumpiness and a photo flip book
and every other happy snap
keep smiling among tall mountain gods;
but I am travel-sick, bussing up
the puke-green hillsides of Himachal,
climbing to what summit?

‘Abstract Studies with Monsoon Green’ lends novel interpretations to the colour ‘green’. In this agricultural context, green becomes a personified invisible form who comes and goes mysteriously with the days and the monsoonal moods of the season. Yet, the ‘green’ has always been there like a numinous presence as mysterious as in ‘Steel Kiss’ and ‘Pink Silk from Punjab’ On a more pragmatic level, the poem is also celebration of tropical nature:

The days of humid blindness are upon us
the rain has left a steamy haze of green.

The mulberry limb drips into the milk pail,
green are the tears upon the chili plants

It is a sudden season of tractor bog,
green footsteps printed in the mud

It seems the white of milk has lost its green,
idle days have lost their shouting children.


I have to learn new ways of planting rice:
Green thumb, invite the fingers to make friends.

A salient characteristic of the poem is that it strongly evokes ‘Home’ or the ‘Old Country’ in which the narrator wishes perhaps to be a part of, but cannot, and yet it is a vital part of his emotional life. ‘Home’ is a numinous desire in the diasporic imagination. It is a hidden place of no-return, although it’s quite possible to visit the geographical location: a Punjabi village, or place of ‘monsoon green’. That aspect of loss is evocatively captured in the line ‘I have to learn new ways of planting rice’. Such is Mooney-Singh’s identification with the source of his imagination that he speaks like an ageless peasant from this milieu in the same way that Wallace Stevens speaks in metaphors within the lines of American symbolist poem ‘The Blue Guitar.’

Diasporic existence

In the aptly titled poem ‘The Bearded Chameleon’, the poet skilfully dramatises the basic dilemma in diasporic existence, constantly in negotiation with diverse cultures, languages (bilingualism or multilingualism) and the sheer hybridity which virtually obliterates one’s identity. The personality that diasporic writers bear is multifaceted and such writings depict the intersection of cultures, identities and ethnicities that swing between an adopted motherland and the lost ‘Home’. The narrator compares himself to a ‘bearded chameleon’ on a Bo tree:

My sun-cracked soles have drawn some sap
from green Punjab, An Aussie chap,

I chew on sugarcane each week
and sport this beard-a convert Sikh.

Now turbaned like a maharajah,
I’d pass for Ranjit Singh, the Padshah-

a bit like you, chameleon –
a colour-shifting charlatan.

Yes, since I came in my blue jeans
to do write-up for magazines

your form has been my best touchstone
on how to live in The Zone

A decade later or more or less
I still reside at your address

with farmers, trades-folk, holy men
who can’t read book , or use a pen.


My pen is like your sticky tongue
I snatch my image- files among

the geckoes, birds on tree or plant,
or dog and pig in excrement.

If I could train my mind or hand
not just to write, but understand...

Another thought-provoking poem in the collection is ‘Families’. The poem in its own manner codifies the diversity of sub-continental ethnicities and is like a collection of snap shots of life in a melting pot of its cultures:

Families of Dravidians inter-married with Aryans,
Bactrans, Parthians, Scythians, Huns,
Families of Arabs, Afghanis, Turks, Tartars,
families of Moguls, families of White Men.

Families of Ram, Shiv Ji, Kali-Durga,
Guru Nanak, Mahavir and Buddha,
families of Sufi renouncing all but Allah,
families of Moses, Jesus, Zoroaster.

Families of maharishi top-knots under turbans,
ash on the forehead, third eyes of red powder;
this Brahmin family wears a shaved tuft of hair,
these lace skull caps are all facing Mecca.

Spinning wheels, cane knives, humped bull and tractor,
raw chili families, white buffalo butter,
gypsy carts, truck drivers, itinerant bicycle tinkers,
fish hunter families on midnight rivers.

Families of fundamental Hindu and Mussalman,
militant grit in the Government eye,
black money families, unfair election tactics,
families of bosses, families of thugs.

This family fought the Moguls, this fought the British,
this family chopped off heads during Partition;
this family went on non-violent hunger strikes,
this family plundered, that family looked on.

This family left the village, that family found the city,
this family migrated on false passports,
this family placed an ad in The Times of India,
this dutiful daughter got a green-card husband.

Well-fed families, choked platforms of families,
endless traffic of uncles and aunties;
and this is a family of child prostitutes,
this is a family of railway orphans.

Families of priests, families of bureaucrats,
families in business, families with one acre,
beggars, street people, Dalits and tribals,
castes of inheritors and the eternal outsiders.
Caste systems

The poem is a slice of Indian society with its classes and caste systems. What is obvious is that the class system will go on unabated with families of beggars, Dalits and outsiders. Despite change, nothing changes in the social order here. The poet has captured the diversity of the Indian human landscape which is an amalgam of ethnicities with their inherent disparities in socio-economic terms. The poem also touches on aspects of dislocation, re-location and memo-realisation. Diasporic writers while looking backward for ‘home’ also look for the new belongings that can be owned and built upon. In this process, the transformation of ‘identity’ is accompanied by change of place. One may not regain a ‘home’ in the diasporic existence. It is due to this factor that a diasporic writer often tries to realise memory or memo-realisation.

One of the poems which captures the quintessential form of the lost ‘home’ is ‘Another Bhagwanpur’. The poem offers a microscopic view of a village with its cultural and class diversity, abject poverty and deprivation:

A country village stuck in the buffalo mud
piles up its cow-pats, balancing clay pots
of mosquito water on the heads of women
who wear pregnancy under flimsy shawls

The village council of five cannot fight
the school’s wrong sums and cane-learning;
cement walls, white-washed by government,
the young men employed by opium.

Here buffalos don’t budge from bor trees
and doctors deal in snake-bit mantras,
while last Gandhian freedom fighter
props up old glory on a walking stick.

How poignant the hopes for a better harvest,
the flimsy huts laying down for floods,
the naïve child-brides of the king of malaria,
the night-long typhoid prayers to Ram.

Chris Mooney-Singh has admirably dealt with many issues such as the caste system in India (particularly in the two-part poem ‘To the Dalits’) and how globalisation is affecting Indian cities. There are also several narrative sketches and character monologues that again skillfully depict Indians in their home settings, or troubled circumstances such as ‘Yogesh Meets Ganesh’, an agnostic executive forced to accept the faith of his ancestors in an eleventh hour bid to save his infant son from fever; or the story of Mrs Pritima Devi, the school teacher and survivor of poisoning at the hands of her in-laws who tells her story (in Indian English blank verse) to a foreign colleague on the staff. Despite creating an epic frieze of ancient India transitioning to a modern one, there is still a feeling of reverence portrayed in between the moments of confusion, gentle satire and tragi-comic irony. In addition, Mooney-Singh’s metrical and open form virtuosity abounds, especially in his adaption of the ghazal into English while still retaining its inherent rhyme scheme, equivalent English metres and deep metaphorical conventions while delivering contemporary moments of intimate experience.

Invisible sensibility

Overall, Mooney-Singh delivers many gifts in a post-modern package - flawless technique, psychological insight and a knack for catching the flavour of Indian speech without turning it into parody through his role as a cultural translator. He is someone equally at home in the Indian milieu he writes about and yet retains the invisible sensibility of his Western upbringing and education which does not dominate or try to colonise its subject with ‘easy judgements’ (p29, ‘Apartment of a Bombay Millionaire’).  Just as Vikram Seth masterfully wrote his tetrameter sonnet-novel The Golden Gate in the voices of satirical Californians, Mooney-Singh has done something equally deft, reversing the perspective from Australia to India, in turn, adding a deeply engaging book to the canon of diasporic literature. Whether Eastern or Western-born, The Beaded Chameleon offers both macro and micro views of the diasporic reality in which its writer is virtually caught between a cultural home that no longer exists, while coming to terms with the new ‘home’ - a modern India that is still being constructed through the tug of war of globalization. In the third and final section of the book, a single ‘homecoming’ poem - ‘I Come in Winter to a City Without You’ in seven sections, the speaker has left his partner back on the sub-continent while he ventures to his original ‘home’ to Australia. In doing so, he is forced to acknowledge that his true home is not a physical one, but the intimate relationship he is now forced to inhabit via the virtual world of ‘ennui and email’:

Distant intimacy
demands imaginings,
a new domicile of words

as the ocean swells
under galaxies, out of time zones.
When do we meet under stars?

And thus, the collection returns us again to the symbolic ‘Ocean’ of ‘Punjab Pastoral’ which opened the collection, emphasizing that all journeys aim toward an inwardness and expansive understanding, and that all diasporas are allegories of the developing self, learning to embrace truth in the global world. Such are the rich layers of thought and experience to be found within the pages of The Bearded Chameleon.

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Blending into the Buddha Tree
Mark Roberts
Rochford Street Review (, 13 December 2011

There is little wonder that there is a sense of ‘otherness’ running through Chris Mooney-Singh’s second major collection The Bearded Chameleon. As in his first collection, The Laughing Buddha Cab Company, Mooney-Singh is very aware that it is impossible not to stand out in either India or Australia when you are a turbaned, bearded westerner. Having converted to Sikhism in 1989 his poems reflect an inspiration which is perhaps unique to Australian poetry.

But If Mooney-Singh is unique among Australian poets, his position in India is also slightly complicated. A number of times in this collection he comments on how he is perceived in his adopted land. In the first poem in the collection, ‘Punjab Pastoral’, for example, he begins by describing how much he blends into the Indian landscape:

This cotton shawl is pulled up round my ears
keeping out the fog as I defecate
on fallow field like any other farmer.
I wear a turban, bobbing like a sunflower

But there is a fundamental difference here:

Yes, they all want to leave and yet I’ve come
to squat and shit and chew on grass and spit
like village elders by the panchayat tree.

‘Punjab Pastoral’

The fundamental difference, of course, is that Mooney-Singh has a choice. He can stay, leave and come back:

For what? A cultural look and see and then
to fly back when the travel cash runs dry?

This is a theme he returns to in a later poem, ‘Apartment of a Bombay Millionaire’. This poem begins in a mock deferential tone “Sir, you have wide windows, facing West/to the Arabian Sea”.  But the trappings of wealth can’t hide the reality of every live for the vast majority:

yet I find it hard to talk of ‘higher things’
seeing the tin shacks of the servant slums
directly below these apartment blocks.

At the same time as the poet feels disgust at the hypocrisy of the millionaire donating to the temple while ignoring the slums, he also releases that there are points where both them are more similar than he would like to admit:

                              It’s all too easy
to invent tidy aphorisms. It is high time
I was gone. Mine are also the words of privilege


But there is hope in the ending as the poet understands that he must ‘escape’ back into reality. As he is washing his hands he realises:

                              I must take myself far away from
Your sparkling unblemished rose standing in this vase,
And make them into useful hands.

‘Apartment of a Bombay Millionaire’

The strength of this poem lies in its almost spiritual sense of temptation. From a western tradition one thinks immediately of Satan’s role in tempting ‘virtuous men’. In the same way in this poem Mooney-Singh is escaping the temptation to cut himself off from the reality of his adopted land by retreating into an Indian version of the West.

While he can sense this ‘difference’ Mooney-Singh can also see a way out. In the title poem of the collection he sees himself like the chameleon adapting and fitting in so that, over time, the ‘differenceness’ fades away:

My sun-cracked soles have drawn some sap
from green Punjab. An Aussie chap,
I chew on sugarcane each week
and sport this beard – a converted Sikh

but in the end his skill at disguising his difference is not as good as the chameleon:

Perhaps, I will, one day, be free
to blend in with the Buddha tree.

‘The Bearded Chameleon’

One of the surprising strengths of this poem, at least for me, was the poet’s use of rhyming couplets. While initially a little wary of the use of the form through a fairly long poem, Mooney-Singh manages to pull it off with remarkable skill - for the most part the poem maintains a strong internal rhythm mostly avoiding any forced rhymes that could disrupt the flow of the poem.

The other strength of this collection is the way that Mooney-Singh can turn the everyday into poetry.  From the stark contrast of the imagery in a poem like ‘Indian City’ – “satellite dishes    on a temple sky-line” and “fresh cow pats    on the new overpass” - to the wonderful juxtaposition of the astrologer in ‘The Thirteenth House’ with the Stock Broker in ‘Mr Chopra’, we begin to sense that the poet has, perhaps almost a unique insight into the day to day functioning of Indian life.

In the final instance the contradiction of a Australian trying to blend, like a chameleon, into the everyday of Indian life provides the major strength of this collection. Mooney-Singh has become very close to India, but he still brings the cultural baggage of the West with him. Like the Chameleon, no matter how still he stands, no matter how much he tries to blend in, we can still see the outline of a previous life if we look closely. There is much to enjoy in this book and I look forward to Mooney-Singh’s next collection.
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The Bearded Chameleon
Lindy Warrell
Wet Ink, Issue 25, 2011

The delightfully titled The Bearded Chameleon refers, in the eponymous poem, to the poet, Chris Mooney Singh who writes about India as an Australian convert to Sikhism -

My sun-cracked soles have drawn some sap
from green Punjab. An Aussie chap,
I chew on sugarcane each week
And sport this beard - a convert Sikh.

As the poet-chameleon, Mooney-Singh situates himself as both insider and outsider-observer but, overall, the outsider-observer dominates and, despite disclaimers in ‘Apartment of a Bombay Millionaire’, often judges -

I do admit that easy judgements are
A Westerner’s naive undoing. Please excuse
my traveller’s stomach that needs the toilet.
Through the South door? Fine, I’ll try to scrub off
The self-righteous caste of ‘foreigner’ from
These palms in your jasmine-scented bathroom...

Mooney-Singh borrows from the Indian poetic forms, especially the Ghazal or rhyming couplets but he uses a range of styles, including short bursts of free verse. My favourite poem in this collection is ‘Families’, one of the few where the words themselves do the work of poetry instead of the pronoun ‘I’, which places the poet front and centre in the telling.

Mooney-Singh’s poetry is clear and largely descriptive, but there is joy in reading poets whose work add something unique to the tapestry of Australian poetry.
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Launch Speech

The Bearded Chameleon was launched by John Hawke, lecturer and poet, on 19 November 2011 at Red Wheelbarrow Books in East Brunswick.

John Hawke
19 November 2011

Chris Mooney-Singh belongs to an intermediate generation of poets who emerged in Sydney in the 1980s – Steven and Chris Kelen, Adam Aitken, Dipti Sara and others - whose work seems to have been underrepresented in anthologies. This may be attributable to the fact that they are an inter-generation - but it also might be because their work doesn’t conform to hegemonic nationalist expectations of Australian poetry. Certainly there is a shared openness of engagement, particularly evident in Adam’s work, with broader international themes; and each of these poets is widely travelled. This is perhaps exacerbated in Chris’ case by the fact that he has spent extended periods living in Asia - he has made a significant contribution to the poetry scene in Singapore, and has participated in a wide range of poetry festivals across South-East Asia in recent years. It is also worth noting that while it may be relatively easy to ‘emerge’ as an Australian poet, many experienced practitioners in mid-career tend to be overlooked - often in spite of the fact that this is when they are producing their most important work.

This is Chris’ second full-length collection - I’ve read his first, The Laughing Buddha Cab-Company, and I’m also lucky enough to have read some of the excellent recent work that’s been completed since this current volume - and it seems clear that he is now delivering the fully developed poetry that he’s been working towards for many years. One thing that is immediately noticeable about Chris’ work is his mastery of prosodic technique: his poetry has its basis in a flawless metrical sense, especially in his control of the blank verse line, which allows him to write extended narrative and dramatic poems. There is a remarkable variation in formal models, as well as a range in tone, throughout this book: there are rhymed stanzas, monologues, evocations of the natural world, even a highly amusing found-text. Each of Chris’ poems is consistently based in solid technique, which means that they not only stand up to close inspection, but improve on rereading (the real ‘test of poetry’).

I’ve never been to India, but feel I have an entirely trustworthy guide through the paradoxes and contradictions of what it must be like to experience that country through reading the central section of Chris’ book. The adeptness of understanding demonstrated by the speaker of these poems is most apparent in the portraits, like the wonderful ‘Apartment of a Bombay Millionaire’; and also in monologues – recalling those of Clough or Browning - such as the major poem ‘Mrs Primita Devi’. Obviously there have been previous Australian poets who have engaged with India - some of the poems in Judith Beveridge’s Accidental Grace, for example; a long travel-poem by Robert Gray; Vicki Viidikas’ India Ink, to name a few; and there have been a growing number of recent books of Australian poetry focusing on Asia, which Chris has been pointing out for me. But I don’t recall a comparable sense of immersion, of a genuinely long-term lived understanding of the country, as one encounters in these poems. I did sit down to watch the whole of Louis Malle’s six-hour film Phantom India shortly after I met Chris, but I needn’t have tried: it’s all in the poems.

But this book isn’t just about creating exotic panoramas and character studies, though it certainly does that. In fact the personality of the speaker, which is self-evidently suggested in the book’s title, is acutely important to the reception of what is being described here - and not only as an observer or cross-cultural filter. The book opens with a series of confronting poems that are pitched at extreme level of grief - very carefully handled and shaped, I should say. That’s quite a risky way to start, but I think it is deliberately intended to provide a shaping theme for the structure of this book. We’re immediately made to confront the fact that this is a very sad world to live in: there is intense grief, there is suffering, and - as we’ll see in the Indian portraits later - there are also extremes of acute injustice. So the book from this point on describes the speaker’s attempt to ‘orient’ himself: it’s quite literally a search for meaning, as journeys to the east often are. So in this context, the descriptive poems about India, the chaos and contradictions they’re identifying, are quite loaded with the speaker’s own divided perceptions - it’s a kind of purgatory he’s experiencing after the sudden descent of the opening sequence. There’s a very fine, and very carefully placed, poem at the conclusion of the first section that I’d like to read; it’s called ‘A Meditation at Sukhna Lake’, and it’s about just that: the attempt to, at least fleetingly, clear the mind of a world of suffering:

Accept you have no inkling of the power
that walks upon the dragonfly water.
Siberian geese each season migrate here,
yet bird and lake exist beyond your will.
You comprehend so little of this, truly.
Brother of fish, brother of water-lotus
when will you frog-kick out toward the truth?

Only the endless saga, coming, going -
may free your awkward spirit-form today.
Stand witness to the swans, the gliding hours
that slide by here; feel all of sadness,
of happiness beneath the lily-pads,
and realize that neither can be shelter
under the blue sky that you did not build.

A temporary tenant of the flesh,
only your steady mind can save you now.
The leaf will helicopter from the tree,
the yellow blossom crash upon the water.
Wind knocks you down upon a fatal whim,
as the spirit rainbows upward like a fish
gasping between the earth and heaven. Think
where you will go, where you must go, and go.

That’s obviously a religious poem - one which has more in common with Kabir, or the poets of the sufist tradition, than with anything we’d recognise in Australian poetry of the natural world. That’s not entirely true, of course, because we find similar quests in the work of Harold Stewart, and indeed throughout the imagery of Judith Wright’s work - the ‘white water-lily’ that appears as the culmination of her book The Gateway, for example; and I know that’s a tradition which Chris himself is interested to identify and to position himself within.

As I suggested, The Bearded Chameleon is carefully structured as a volume, and the journey it describes does lead to some consolation in the beautifully shaped extended poem that concludes the final section. It’s not a ‘paradiso’ by any means: the relationship it describes is still affected by absence and separation, of cultures as much as distance, and that’s what Chris identifies and chronicles so clearly throughout this book. In doing so he provides a wonderful foundation for the major work he’s now engaged on - and I think we should enjoy this volume in anticipation of the poetry to come. Chris provides quite a unique voice and perspective for our engagement with and experience of Asia; and that’s mainly because he’s a highly accomplished and profoundly serious poet.

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Mooney-Singh biography
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