COLLECTION OF POEMS
Our Fathers In Heaven
Death Of A Father (1979)
The Kyrios Is Dead (1986)
The Cedar Table (1987 rev. 2000)
A Lopsided Look At The Gospels
At Gamla (1987)
At Bethesda Pool (1988)
The Lady Recalls (1991)
Journey To Emmaus (1986)
Sabbath Cure (1992)
The Cure Of The Leper (1991)
The Elder Brother (1992)
For Friends and Felines
David And Jonathan At Hensley Field (1982)
This Fragile Boy (1987)
At Coventry Cathedral (1988)
Villanelle For Michael (1988)
For James’s Cat (1991)
For James’s Cat Deceased (1994)
Young Man Dancing (1989)
Food for the journey
The Garden (1997)
Sonnet For Two In The Morning (1980)
The Heart Always Knows (1995)
The Embrace Of The Black Bear (1995)
The Housekeeper Of My Soul (1994)
Christ My Newel Post (1996)
Along the Way
At School Today (1991)
The Dreamer (1991)
Peeled Capsicums (1997)
As It Is With Horses (1996)
Today I Stood Calm Among The Cows (1995)
Port Arthur (1996)
My Old Familiar (1997)
The Poet Tries to be Funny
Miss Fogg At St Peter’s In Rome (1987)
Miss Fogg At The Sydney Town Hall (1990)
Reflections On The Death of A Tortoise (1998)
The Last Word
Media Vita (1997)
This Special Edition of thirty-four poems written over a period of some twenty years in response to various reasons and seasons is the second edition of a collection made in November 1999. This selection represents the best of what I have written except for several poems which were too long to include. I have taken the opportunity to make some minor revisions.
Apart from the Miss Fogg poems (of which there are five), the poems are personal responses to people and experiences. The three poems about the deaths of several fathers, one of them my own, under the heading Our Fathers In Heaven, are self explanatory. The Lopsided Look at the Gospels are quirky imaginative reconstructions of several Gospel episodes.
The poems For Friends and Felines were all prompted by friends, younger or older, and their gifts or their journeys.
The poems entitled Food for the Journey are deeper reflections on the journey of a soul, not always mine. The poems written Along the Way derive from a variety of personal thoughts and experiences. The Embrace Of The Black Bear came out of the experience of a dream, as did The Cedar Table, though the episode it recalls happened in about 1950. Christ My Newel Post is also founded in the experience it recounts. Port Arthur was written after my first visit to that place in January 1996: my great-great grandfather William Dedicoat was incarcerated there under the name William Jones. Several months later, in May 1996, the horrific massacre occurred, demanding a coda to the poem.
Miss Fogg has been destroying the great organs of the world for years. She is currently encased in ice somewhere in the Antarctic still playing the Sydney Opera House Organ after the Opera House broke from its moorings during one of her recitals, and sailed south. She may return – who knows! During 2000, Miss Fogg At The Sydney Town Hall was published in Robert Ampt’s history of the Town Hall organ; and The Cedar Table was one of the runners-up in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Great Sonnet Competition – originally written in 1987, it was somewhat revised for the competition.
The Last Word touches a deep question but gives no answer.
Brother Tony Butler January 2001
OUR FATHERS IN HEAVEN
Death of a Father
I never wept for my father.
It hasn’t worried me till now
When I see him mourn who loved his begetter,
Him who weeps for his father’s empty chair.
He will not hear that voice again, not touch that hand;
He sees the unpruned roses go to seed,
The grass grow unheeded in the cracked path,
Because his father is not there to tend.
He rings home, forgetting the line is dead.
He smells no longer his father’s scent;
He sees no more the coat in the hall.
Yet a little piece of him has gone with his father
And so they are together.
But I never wept for my father –
And, oh, the loss.
The Kyrios is Dead
The Kyrios is dead.
He was never one to crush the broken reed
Or quench the smouldering wick.
No – he would temper the wind to the shorn lamb,
Indeed, to his afro-headed young tearaway
Who walked bare-footed in Kingsford
Much to the horror of elderly Greek women.
He simply waited, open-armed
Till his son came home
Now the Kyrios is dead
“Father, O father, agape mou.”
Kyrie, you live on in your gentle son.
The Cedar Table
My father was a polisher of wood;
He knew his timbers, walnut, ash and oak.
But cedar best, as best of craftsmen should.
Once as a child, I watched him at his work:
He sanded gently, washed with soap and water,
He rubbed with spirit and applied the stain;
He worked with all his skill until he caught
The cedar’s deep and richly glowing grain.
I still regret I did not have the grace
To learn the craft at which he was so able:
When he had finished, he could see his face –
And mine – reflected in that polished table.
I’ve learnt of late to love what he did best.
And so I’ve let two restless souls find rest.
A LOPSIDED LOOK AT THE GOSPELS
At Gamla (for David Praill)
A nice new rabbi preached at synagogue today.
Not too many think to stop at Gamla.
He was travelling down to Sidon I believe.
On his way to Bet Shan – Scythopolis, you’d say.
I know because my sister looks forward to
When he opened his mouth to speak we all fell silent
He was not like the other ones who talk and talk –
He spoke with eloquence but also such
His words were like the dew upon the asphodel in Spring
Up there among the wildflowers near the cliff beyond the village.
Yigal would say I loved him for his soothing eyes,
His gentle features and his dark and handsome beard.
Oh yes indeed he was very pleasing to behold;
But his words – from prophet Isai, my favourite too –
Were full of hope in these hard times.
That was why I loved him.
As we bowed our heads in prayer for the blessing
(Even the attendants hushed and the children stopped their play)
Two army helipcopters swooped into the valley
At Bethesda Pool
Things had been quite alright before he came.
I had my mat, my coffee pot, my trannie and my games.
I’d friends to talk to, something of a name
For good advice, a gentle listening ear.
And then he came.
I told my friends as soon as he appeared
You knew, just the way the crowd had parted,
The way he held your gaze with those strong eyes;
That was where it started.
I tried to avoid that electric gaze at first –
It’s easier said than done. He asked, as terse
As you like, “Do you want to be cured?”
“I’m right in the middle of Trivial Pursuit,” I said.
“Who’s winning?” he asked; and sure as sure, I led
With my chin: “I am. I’ve had lots of practice, you know.”
“And besides, I do not like to put my friends
To any trouble. And there’s others in greater need,”
I added nobly.
He just kept looking. Quietly but firmly he said
“On your feet. Pick up your gear and your bed
Next thing I knew he was embracing me.
“Bloody hell!” I thought.
But the power that flowed from him then
Knocked me off my feet
So to speak.
And I walked in his strength in sight of men,
Day and night for forty years.
The Lady Recalls
They were not kind, those stale men friends of mine,
Despite sweet nothings, whispered promises,
Their urgent pleas, while we were hard at it,
For understanding and a little love.
But it was different now, here in the public square,
Before the village, exposed to the public eye,
That pitiless, glaring, nothing-hiding sun;
Here all were raw-exposed for what they were.
Under the steely gaze of wife – or mother –
They wilted and pretended not to know me:
I, with nothing to my name but shame, and
My long hair – a woman’s glory, they say.
Just one in all that servile crowd could hold
His head up high; and yet he bent it low
To the ground in reverence before me,
And silently began to write in the dust.
You want to know, of course, what words he wrote:
So did they, but did not like what they saw.
Just we, he the glorious sun, and I
With naught but woman’s glory, got the joke.
I only saw that in the village square
I lifted up my eyes and looked into his,
And in that gaze I walked for forty years
And sinned no more. My name was written in gold.
The journey to Emmaus (for Mark)
The journey to Emmaus is a long one,
And slow – not a matter of days merely.
First of all you’re probably looking for something –
No Emmaus for those who think they have all the answers.
Undoubtedly you’re grieving over a loss –
It’s only then you’ve anything to find.
You’ve got to have a friend who really loves you,
Who’ll walk with you wherever you might go.
No good the know-it-all who tells you what
It’s all about, from his own precious knowledge.
Oh no, you’ll need a friend who’d give his life,
Yes, a friend who’d give you life as well –
He’s the one who’d walk with you to Emmaus.
And when at last you reach the door, your home,
He’ll move along, he’ll not stay uninvited:
It’s up to you to ask him in to rest,
To join you for a drink, a bite to eat;
And if you do – but only if you do –
He’ll grace your table with his gentle self.
And quietly in some unexpected moment,
He’ll take a crust of bread and say a blessing
Just the way he blessed you on the road.
Before you know it, there he is, gone,
Leaving such a fire burning in your heart
A yearning for another healing word.
Immediately you’ll want to rush outside
And share the news with all your friends: He’s here,
I recognised the Lord in the breaking of the bread.
I knew a lot about knees, feet and dust,
The dirty hems of garments, children, dogs.
And so I should, because I had been bent
Low to the ground for eighteen years. Nor could
I straighten up, nor look you in the face.
Most of my friends were kind enough, I guess,
But others, surely, thought it punishment –
Perhaps because my David had turned bad.
I always tried to do the proper thing;
I always went to Synagogue at Sabbath,
Though Eli never made me quite at home –
He made me feel a nuisance, in the way.
But one bright Sabbath morning as I entered
The house of prayer and struggled to my place,
(The women, you know, are forced to sit aside)
I saw some toes I did not recognise.
And then I heard the sweetest sound of all –
He called me by my name, to much surprise.
I felt an awesome thrill course through my bones,
As with forbidden touch he placed his hands
Upon my shoulders and he gently said:
Woman, be freed from your infirmity.
And up I stood, as straight as any tree.
The joy. The peace. The calm. Oh, what release.
And then to spoil it all, Eli proclaimed
For all to hear: There’s six days you can work!
Come and bring your ailments then for healing,
And not upon the Sacred Sabbath Day.
The killjoy! I suppose poor Eli thinks
We do not know the truth about his wife,
Or how he hides his shame about his son.
I do not gloat. We all have our own hurts.
Alas, I could not help my spreading smile
When New Toes hit the roof and shouted out:
You hypocrites! You’re all so quick to loose
Your oxen and your asses from their stalls
And lead them off to water on the Sabbath.
Why should you not rejoice when this dear soul,
This woman cruelly bound for eighteen years,
This precious daughter of Father Abraham,
Is loosed at last from her infirmity.
Daughter of Abraham, he said, no less,
And touched me too, and contravened the Law.
He’ll come to no good end, this one, New Toes,
For rubbing up Authority the wrong way.
I saw it as I looked him in the face.
He, too, will see the dust, the dirty feet,
The hems of garments plucked up from the mud.
And he, too, will be straightened out, I know,
And cruelly nailed with open arms upon
A tree. That’s what you get when you ignore
The taboos of this Holy Race of ours
And mix it with the women and the poor.
The Cure of the Leper
You who are normal can have no idea
What it is to be different like me.
Whatever you may call it, the truth remains:
You still are outcast, reject, burden, leper,
Though the New Jerusalem Bible describes it thus,
In bowdlerised and euphemistic phrase:
A virulent skin disease – a rash. Indeed!
When barely sixteen years I grew aware
Of things that set me apart from other boys,
The other village lads who ran and jumped,
Played pass-the-ball, and laughed, climbed trees and fought,
Snatched healthy kisses from each others’ sisters,
While I, with my unnamed condition, was forced
To play along the edge, out of the way,
Or sometimes, when they thought it quite OK,
I sat inside and gently strummed my harp.
Soon I could not hide it any longer:
The pain in my fingers, the limp, the delicate cough,
The pale cast of my face, the thinning hair.
The elders knew; they’d seen it all before.
When it was time to go, to leave my village,
There was no fuss, and sure, there were no tears –
Only fear, and a wish to get it over.
My parents were sad, but did not dare to hug me;
My peers lined up, respectfully but guilty,
Happy it was not they who had been caught,
Happier I had never been too close;
Though one of the boys, from David’s house, stretched out
A kindly, generous hand, to say goodbye,
Only to have it sharply beaten down
By a fearful elder who cried ‘Beware! Unclean!’
That kindly gesture was all I had, those years,
To save some little hope in my sad heart.
Out of their sight and out of their minds I was.
From time to time I’d hear their laughter float
Across the hill to my bare lonely place
At the time of festivals I used to love.
True, my food was there, at the safe limit,
Each day, in its own special bowl, clear-marked
For easy recognition, and water – not a lot;
Nor could I go to the river or the well:
That would invite stoning – though such contact
Would be something, for all it would be fatal.
It was the loneliness that hurt the most –
Never anyone to hug or hold me,
Especially when the nights were long and cold,
And generally they were both, I know.
I longed for just a smile from one of those
Who’d once permitted me to join their games,
A touch from father, a tender hug from mother
Or little Leah who was now betrothed
To Ishmael, the handsomest lad in the village,
Whose father kept the inn. I grieved to think
Of it, that such a joy could not be mine.
Nor with the passing of the years did I become
Used to it. Others of our kind, I know,
Turn off, grow callous, make the best of it
(For lepers may be nines as well as fours!)
But not so I. I yearned, I longed, I pined –
That was my other, my more severe, disease.
There were some hopeful times when I’d recall
Bare snatches from the psalms to comfort me.
My memory, never good, could not retain
More than several disconnected phrases:
The deer that yearned for running streams, I think,
Or hart that panted after waterbrooks –
The old translation seems to catch the sense.
Where were those lovely dwelling places now,
Where was this saving shepherd of Israel
They sang of daily in the synagogue
In phrases that remained to haunt my mind,
But merely served to hold out some thin hope
Then dash it from my hands – my ruined hands.
I often wished I was like other men
But never let the thought take too much hold,
For that way madness lies. And so I lost
My looks, my heart, but not entirely hope
Nor memory of one gesture, selfless, kind.
Then one day laughter floated across the hill
Much louder, closer, so I went to look,
Up to the invisible line I might not cross.
And there he stood. I knew at once that he,
Who turned and looked so deep into my eyes,
Was the shepherd. And as I stepped towards him,
My heart panting, there at the edge of the village,
I cried, “If you want to, you can cure me.”
It took him by surprise at first, but then,
Heedless of the gasps of the crowd who called
“Unclean! Unclean! Our Sacred Law forbids it!”
He stretched out his arms and wrapped me in an embrace.
It was not just your normal, courteous hug
But such a hug that made us as one flesh,
A hug that drained away the pain of years,
A hug that drew from deep within my soul
The very roots, the source of my dis-ease,
Which ate away my looks, my touch, my smile,
Almost my all – all but that tiny heart
Which panted still for flowing waterbrooks.
“Of course I want to; have no doubt,” he sighed.
His power flowed, my shrivelled heart now bloomed,
Recovered greenness by the flowing stream,
And I’ve walked in the strength of his touch for forty years.
I regret I never saw my friend again,
But Leah often tells me how, some time
Later when she was in the capital,
She saw the man dragged out to crucifixion
Because he had defiled some Sacred Law.
This suffering servant, risking to embrace
People like me, took on himself dis-ease,
Rejection, became the victim lamb
Our holy prophet Isai talked about.
Leah, who grew much kinder with the years,
In spite of her harsh treatment by Ishmael,
Was moved with great compassion by the sight
And wiped his face with her own handkerchief.
She kept the cloth, herself, for many years.
I have it with me now.
The Elder Brother – Forty Years On
I was a bit of a wanker in those days –
More than a bit, if all the truth be known.
I certainly had my fair share of problems,
Though none could tell it just to look at me.
I was prosperous – and so I should be:
After all, I got my share of the farm
Well before I’d any right to have it.
For that I thank my selfish younger brother
Who almost as good as told our doting father
I wish you were dead – or words that said as much.
I set to work at building up the farm,
Installing new equipment and demanding
Much greater effort from the hired hands and slaves.
I was pleased to see my little brother’s back –
In his father’s eyes the whelp could do no wrong.
Now I could do it my way, manage my father,
Keep him in his place, and rule with an iron fist,
Nor even pretend to sport a velvet glove.
I worked hard, too, at building a façade:
Rose early, led by example – and a harsh tongue –
The rule of fear: I could do what I liked.
And that was how I easily had my way
With the attractive village boy behind the barn.
And no one knew – or if they did they feared,
Like the boy himself, to smirch my name in public.
Such was the power I wielded in that place.
And so the years went on: the farm prospered;
My ways were much admired; I built new barns.
My stupid father looked out every day,
Although he could barely see beyond his hand,
To await the return of that prodigal bastard son
I never wished to look upon again –
With his whores and his harlots – pleasures denied to me.
But lo and behold, one balmy summer’s day,
The brat returned, all humbleness of course.
Down at his father’s feet he fell. But Father
Merely opened his generous heart and arms
To embrace the wastrel, would not even hear
The speech so carefully prepared: Father,
I am not worthy to be called your son …
Right on, little brother! Never truer word.
I knew it all, before the dust had settled.
I had my faithful servants ready to tell
Me all that happened in the village or on the farm.
So I had time to prepare my little speech:
I’ve served you with devotion many years,
And never once did you present a calf
(Carefully forgetting that all the stock was mine)
For me to share with my dear faithful friends.
You never gave me anything at all.
And now you welcome home this prodigal
Who spent our money having his way with his whores.
(Oh, how I envied him, in my heart, his whores.)
But that was many years ago. And though
I still can see my flattering friends’ smooth smiles
As I tried to outstare my father’s gentle gaze,
I knew deep down the games I played with words
And truth and lives of friend and foe alike,
I knew within my heart the time would come
When I must face the truth about myself.
Mine was a painful life. All the pretence:
Too busy building up my father’s farm
To think of marriage or enjoy myself
(That was the impression I tried to cultivate);
The energy I had to use to keep
Myself aloof, powerful and secure;
The threats to those who dared to challenge my power;
And all the time, to hide my secret fear
That the boy behind the barn would bring me down.
But that was many years ago, and I
Am different now. My father, long since dead,
Became once more for me the lovely man
With open arms I’d known as a child.
I saw him change before my very eyes
From the blind and stupid, doting, fond old man
Who gave his all to both his wastrel sons
And he became such a pattern of love
It blinds my eyes to recollect it now.
My younger brother long ago forgave
Me, though at first I thought it mine to forgive.
He changed for the better once he had returned:
Not so smart or anxious to play the stud.
A gentler heart he showed, a willingness
To listen. I felt he knew me through and through.
However, I find it hard to understand
Why he should join that band of folk that’s setting
Our nation by its heels with factious views
Of an obscure Galilean long since dead.
But that’s a story for another day.
Something there was in Father’s open arms
And smile, remains with me still through the years.
And though my lands are rich, my barns are full,
And though the boy, long since become a man,
Still sits at my feet when I preside in state,
My father’s precious mantle around my shoulders,
As I dispense mild justice in the village,
Somehow I’ve come to know, when all is said and done,
My father’s love, no strings attached, did more –
My words are paltry to explain it all –
To make a man of me
Than anything that I could ever do.
FOR FRIENDS AND FELINES
David and Jonathan at Hensley Field (for Michael and Rick)
Jonathan, thy love to me is as a brother’s
Rick, the mischief, wit atwinkle,
Paces, patterns steps, like mother’s
Anxious care for child, as Michael frets
At the jump. Michael, spring-like
Tense, for Rick’s support indebts
Himself. From the stand I watch
The ritual ballet, pace and counterpace,
Till, ready, Mike’s away, his tension matched
By Rick’s, whose power and drive lace
In Michael’s steps. And oh, the ease
Of that sweet leap and graceful fall.
Exhausted, both lads take their rest
And judgement of a higher bound calls
Forth again, the better urging best.
Excuse me, lads, your love is showing:
Rick’s delicate pride in the victory won,
Michael’s fresh joy in success, interwoven
With pleasure of Rick’s accompanying run.
This loving kindness lifts us all.
The world is better for your care, you, imps.
Your solicitude, your oneness, hurled
My heart into a world that limps
For lack of love. And I in memory
See the Lord weeping for love over his city.
A church stands on the spot today.
Maybe I will build a church at Hensley
To tell the world the Spirit, moved with pity,
Reveals his love day after day
In lads like you.
This Fragile Boy (for Peter)
This fragile boy with the delicate face
Chosen to be the strong right hand of God
Go, gentle youth, new-priested
the anointing oil not yet dry
upon your cheek
And be the still small voice of God
unto his panting, weary flock
Do not let sin spoil your solemn beauty
Though spoil it must because you live
and in this wanton world
Remember then that Christ has come
for pastor as for flock
And lay your broken soul
before his wounded feet
At Coventry Cathedral (for Jonathan)
A sad lowing tumbled down the combe
and fell across the vale
In the soft sunlight of an English afternoon
I followed your cry, my soul drawn by the sound of it
And found you in your Gethsemane
on a bench
beside a wall
As we sat together, silent in sadness
at one with each other
The Spirit of the Lord
he who atones the whole world
Stole gently into our hearts
and brought us peace
Villanelle for Michael
In youth the world spreads out as bright as day,
And all things at our touch turn into gold.
Now listen, let the spirit have its say.
For power and love cannot in one keep sway,
Do not resist love, nor by power be sold:
In youth the world spreads out as bright as day.
Gifts have been lavished on you, lush as May –
You may not let them lie unblossomed, cold.
Now listen, let the spirit have its say.
As hart that yearns in waterbrooks to play,
Your dear heart yearns its dear beloved to hold:
In youth the world spreads out as bright as day.
A heavenly hound keeps your fond heart at bay,
And yearns to hear your answer, generous, bold;
Now listen, let the spirit have its say.
So do not fear the call; do not cry Stay.
Let his strong love your gracious self unfold.
In youth the world spreads out as bright as day,
Now listen, let the spirit have its say.
For James’s Cat
O wise, discerning Cat!
You know the seasons and the times.
You know the reason that
The earth is round
Though some have thought it flat;
Why some have found
Wisdom in all things,
Some naught in any.
You know the hearts of men,
The joy love brings,
The hurt therein,
And how the two are one.
You know when time is right
To listen or to leave,
Rejoice or when to grieve;
Why day and night
Are not one,
And why the sun
Shines on bad and good alike.
Your silent eyes can pierce the space
Between the reason and the cause;
You look into the face,
Make strong men wilt
And know their guilt.
And so with sharpened eyes
And sharper claws
You leap into the lap
Of him who lays no trap
For any man,
The guileless one whose face
High principle and grace
Your master, James.
For James’s Cat Deceased
Of all of the wonderful cats in history,
Of that whole tribe of famous cats –
Jellylorum, Skimbleshanks, and not forgetting Macavity,
Which T.S.Eliot celebrated with mock gravity;
And Jeoffrey, so beloved of the aptly named Christopher Smart
Who sang the Songs of David and praised the Goodness
Of the Supreme Being with his Art,
And still had time for his faithful Cat;
Nor overlooking Flinders’ Trim
Who circumnavigated Australia with him;
You, Cat, more deeply plumb the mystery.
I miss you, Cat.
I miss your warmth, your purr,
The comfort of your fur;
I miss your silence
Which in me inspired
At the times when I desired
To be alone with my thought
O Cat, more beloved to me
Than Eliot’s tribe or Jeoffrey or than Trim
You are now one
With the Universe and
The Supreme Being praised by Smart
For Omniscience, Immensity and Power,
Not forgetting each hour
Of comfort and pleasure
His Jeoffrey gave.
O Cat, I pray for you,
The beloved of God,
As you rest quietly in your grave
Awaiting the time which He proclaims
When all will be one again:
He, God; you, Cat; and I,
Your grieving master James.
A Young Man Dancing (for Vince)
You dance from gracefulness to grace
You dance us into joy
A joy reflected in your face
That tells God’s love in girl and boy
Expressed in every supple gesture
Of one who felicitously moves
From ebb and flow to rest. Your
Very being proves
That grace is found in mankind’s every act
The gentlest arc and sweetest curve
Of your body tells
A message forth from God who dwells
In each. To older limbs and stiffer joints
Your youthful vigour points
Towards hope that life will spring
Afresh and all will be well
In this old and tired world of ours
All manner of thing will be well
FOOD FOR THE JOURNEY
The Garden (The Death of Annette)
If I might be pardoned the liberty,
Mister Campion ought to know
There is a garden in every face
Where roses and white lilies grow.
If Adam’s ever smiled at you
A thousand welcomes, all delights
At once, you’ll understand why God
Created lips and eyes
To smile, be buds and funds
And horns of plenty, Eden gard-
dens, just to please his loved ones.
If you’ve ever looked into Eve’s eyes,
Unhappy pools, rippling
With tears of bitter sap, dropped
For her child taken, wanton-wilful
Taking of womb-fruit, first fruit,
You’ll know that Paradise wants
A sacrifice, divine litter-loot.
Father and mother of us,
Would you like the loan of my garden
For your little boy to play in?
If you do accept, please let me know
At my home address, Gethsemane.
A Sonnet for Two in the Morning
Does your wolf-hour prowl in the pre-dawn dark
Or does he dog all your day, eating your belly?
Is he the unknown knot in your gut daily,
The wind in your mind? Does he play with you, bark
At you, leave you in forests with fear for your friend,
Stir, gnaw, rub wound and nerve ends – you never know why –
Drain down your whirlpool mind, then let you cry
Suspended between obscure paths and your end?
Be patient, little one, trust in the sun;
Turn the gentle bud of yourself to the light.
Open out to the warmth, let it be done.
For the wolf that lurks in the soul’s dark night
Will run before the bright hunter, and a young child
Waits to pluck you, to place you in the window of her eye.
The Heart Always knows
How long does it take a man
To realise that
The London Underground
Is not actually all straight lines
And neat, precise angles;
How long before he understands
That your Politically Correct language
Is yet another way of avoiding the truth;
And that to find the answers to
In tomorrow’s paper
Only tells a man what,
With patience and honest reflection,
He should have discovered for himself?
When it’s all over
I only ask
You let me down gently.
The Embrace of the Black Bear
As I went out a-walking
One bright and sunny day,
I saw three black bears walking;
They did not know their way.
I stopped still in my walking
That bright and sunny morn,
At the sight of three bears walking,
So sad and so forlorn.
My heart reached out in anguish
These sad black bears to see;
My heart reached out in panic,
Lest harm should harm these three:
These three black mighty creatures,
Red eyes and claws so fierce,
No mercy in their features.
Such fear my soul did pierce
That these three noble creatures
To some dire hurt might come.
I looked upon their features
But fear had struck me dumb.
Into the park they vanished,
These three black bears of mine.
My heart went with them, anguished,
These three black bears so fine.
My fear was not for myself,
Nor for their raging eyes,
Nor tearing claws, nor fierce black pelts –
I feared lest they might die.
They loped into the park,
They loped away from my sight;
They loped into the dark.
I hoped they’d be alright.
And as I stood in anguish
One bear returned to me
My hopes began to languish:
Where could the others be?
I had no need to worry,
For three were one, I knew.
To my side it hurried
And me to itself it drew.
This fearsome beast embraced me
And drew me to itself;
This three-in-one enlaced me
And wrapped me in its pelt.
I did not fear the darkness,
I did not fear the grip.
I did not fear the starkness.
In surrender I let slip
The fears, the griefs, the anguish,
The terrors of the nights,
The overwhelming panic,
The terrors of the light,
The hell of each day’s journey,
The pain, the tears, the flight,
The dark at every turning,
The hell of touch, of sight.
I let myself be overcome
By black bear’s fierce embrace.
The one-in-three, the three-in-one,
Enfolded me in grace;
In grace, like light from darkness.
I rest in that dark pelt
Of black bear’s ruthless starkness.
In that embrace I melt.
The Housekeeper of My Soul
The bug which you would fright me with, I seek (The Winter’s Tale III.ii)
Be absolute for death (Measure for Measure III.i)
I am merely the housekeeper of my soul.
I keep it swept and garnished
With a few flowers of the season,
A few good deeds to please the return of my master.
Meantime I reflect on all the world has to offer –
Not a lot, except the joy of a few friends
And the quiet goodness of those who, by their deeds,
Try to widen the skirts of light;
I await the day when the unprofitable servant,
Who has done no more than duty demands,
Sees all his hopes fulfilled
And enjoys the joy of his lord.
Sometimes on the weekly holiday I take a ride
Along the Via Negativa, just to see the sights,
To illuminate the unfathomable melancholy
That makes the artist long for death.
Meantime I keep the household neat and clean,
Reaching into the corners with my broom
To find the precious mite that may have fallen there,
Seeking the golden scarab that some have thought a cockroach.
You must not think that I am more unhappy
Than most who tread this earth.
Oh no, I know of light and love and joy.
Meantime, I just sweep and polish and shine – and wait.
Christ My Newel Post
After the War,
When my father returned from his overseas service,
My mother collected us early from school
And took us to grandmother’s house.
I knew, I just knew he was home.
When we went into the house
Everyone was there, gathered around him.
I could not bear the excitement,
And in my fear
Of letting it go,
I clung tightly
To the newel post
At the foot of the stairs.
I remember nothing else
But the crippling pain of my love
And my impotence to express it.
Be my newel post,
When I come to stand
Before the Father.
ALONG THE WAY
At School Today
I grow weary of those who mock the children,
Of those who call them little jerks or worse,
Who long to see their swift departing backs,
Who make their silly foibles, their lack of tact,
The object of some smart and cruel verse –
How they would teach with whip and hand grenade
Last lesson of the afternoon, thank-God-
It’s-Friday attitude throughout the week,
The howler some poor sod has made again
As if to prove his cruel nickname right,
The staffroom name bestowed by Clever Dick
Who’s read a bit but nothing much of late;
Weary of those who threaten children with
“Wait until you’re in the real world”,
As if their daily world of failure and abuse,
Of subtle punishments at none too gentle hands
Of wise adults who’ve long since known the tricks –
The reprimand delivered loud enough
For all to hear along the corridor,
The lining up outside the staffroom door,
The scathing witty jest on some assignment
Written in blood upon the kitchen table
Dodging his father’s blows or siblings’ babel –
As if this world is not quite fully real
To fifteen-year-old kids who know no other.
If you recall with any clarity
Your own and less than glorious days at school
Or better still the high ideals you wrote
About so well that last exam at College-
The one for which you happily received
A High Distinction – you’ll know that deep within
All you can do is love them – and more than most
The little jerks who least deserve your love.
My soul desires five things; of six I dream:
Wild, wanton wind that runs its fingers through my hair
As the beast I hug to my body cleaves the air,
Lacerates my spirit, lays bare the naked bones of self;
To thrust through water, battering tunnels of glass
To shards that cut the very muscle, bleed into the mind,
And rip from my belly a grinding birth of knowledge in pain;
A burning fire to forge a mirror that looks
Beyond the stars into my soul’s worth,
A vision beyond the debilitating dross of earth;
To approach the great Omphalos, the navel of the world,
And stretch beyond earth’s bounds, be hurled
Into terrifying chasms only chosen souls can know.
For as the elements are one
In me and I in them, so I in body, flesh, soul and desire
Am one with the universe. My seed bursts forth in fire,
Water, earth and air; I come to birth in spirit and in truth.
And in my vital youth, I blossom, I flourish,
I am the greening of my land.
To peel capsicums for someone
You really have to love them.
I know, because I did it once.
Now I realise what it meant for Emilio.
He did it the way his folk in the old country
Had done it for generations:
He roasted them and peeled them
And bathed them in the best virgin olive oil
And anointed them with vinegar.
And there they were, ready on the table
When I came to visit.
Oh, now I know
What a labour of love it was.
As It Is With Horses
As it is with horses –
You approach and humbly wait
The silent communication
The stately measured walk towards you
The inclining of the head –
“You may touch me here, but not here” –
The turning of the neck, the nose, the cheek,
The unfathomably deep eyes that gaze down upon you
And then the intimate touch of your arm
As if to say
So it is with You –
The silent stance
The longing, loving gaze
The wordless presence, each to each
As if to say
Today I Stood Calm amongst the Cows
Today I stood calm among the cows.
I read somewhere once
That horses will not let you approach them
Unless they sense your calmness,
Unless they know that you
Are more interested in them
Than in yourself.
And if you are really calm,
And empty of yourself,
Cows may approach you
And sniff your outstretched hand
And rub it with their runny noses
And lick your fingers with their raspy tongues.
Today I stood calm amongst the cows.
Flies have no such délicatessse,
And geese seek bread alone.
But today I stood calm amongst the cows.
Port Arthur 1996
The peace and tranquillity of the place
Belie the horror you must have felt
At landing here,
Great-great-grandfather William Jones the Third,
The cries you must have uttered
At your flogging
After you tried – more than once –
When you were forced to listen
To the parson’s Sunday sermons
Did you remember
Your Dedicoat brothers and sisters at home
In King’s Norton?
Now into that fragile peace
Violence has come again.
My Old Familiar
Ah, my Old Familiar,
It’s been a long time now.
We’ve wrestled and fought each other,
I’ve run away and sulked, and beat my fists –
But there you were, waiting,
Waiting patiently –
At the table, in the streets,
Tucked up warm in bed,
Peeping around a corner,
Glimpsed through a window.
Nothing – nowhere – was sacred:
You were there, you were there,
Ready with your “En garde!”
Lunge! Parry! Thrust!
How often have I wished that you were dead
Or gone, at least.
Then one day, with the dawn, it came:
I’d miss you, my Old Familiar;
For you and I fit together
Hand in glove,
Snug as a bug in a rug.
And if, dear sin, you disappeared,
Then so would I.
For I am you, and you are me,
And we are one.
THE POET TRIES TO BE FUNNY
Miss Fogg at St Peter’s in Rome (for Sister Cecily)
Invited to play at Vespers in Rome
At the organ beneath Michelangelo’s dome –
Miss Fogg, from Australia, whom all the world smiled on
For she studied counterpoint up at the Con.
It happened on Easter Day, Rome being full
Of pilgrims so curious, so fresh and so cool,
Full of Bishops and Cardinals, even a priest,
Come to Saint Peter’s to sing at the feast.
At the first sound of the sweet organ notes
A smile spread from face to face, even the Pope,
Resplendent in mitre of gold, held up his hand:
”Here is music at last,” he said, “from a fair land.
“Miss Fogg’s studied counterpoint, as you may know.”
Here in her glory she lets herself go,
Bombards all the cherubs and sunbeams and saints,
Weaves a halo of sound around the fresh paint
Of the frescos restored which now glow in the dome;
God the Father in majesty beams down from his throne,
God the Spirit from Bernini’s Gloria glows
As sound fills the air and hope in the heart grows.
Miss Fogg’s magic counterpoint now starts to arise
His Holiness’ mitre slips over his eyes;
The Bishops are smiling still – so is the priest –
The choirboys’ voices now strive to compete.
The grand sound is swelling, the first crack appears,
Miss Fogg at the organ – her eyes filled with tears –
Says “If they could but see me, my Con friends at home!”
As the sixty-four foot stop booms up and down Rome.
Maria Maggiore now shuts up her doors
In an effort to save her old Cosmatesque floors;
Ancient columns in Forum fall, shatter and bust,
An arch in the Colisseum crumbles to dust.
Grave pilgrims from Germany rush to the fore
With landler and lieder and folksongs galore;
The French bring up Gounod to little avail,
Nor can the power of Verdi prevail.
Not a thing that can hold her back now in her stride:
“I’ve studied counterpoint”, she cries in her pride.
She tramples the pedals, discovers the bells,
And rings such a peal that the demons in hell’s
Lower depths hold their ears as they cringe and they frown;
They seek in their panic a spot deeper down,
But that is too crowded with Cardinals from Rome,
So they fly to God’s now empty seat in the dome.
Miss Fogg’s studied counterpoint up at the Con,
And she’s trampling the grapes of wrath on the bourdon.
Borromini, Bernini, Bramante as well
Hear their great Baroque churches sound the death knell.
The Tiber flows over its banks once again
Into the Bocca di Verita’s drain.
Into Trastevere the angels and saints
Rush to Cecilia with their complaints:
”Stop her, oh stop her, before it’s too late!”
Even the Altare del Patria succumbs to its fate –
Victor Emmanuel’s great Wedding Cake
(Ugliest of monuments) is starting to shake.
The Bishops and Cardinals, led by the Pope,
Rush – with the priest – to the Sistine, in hope.
“Can nothing at all stop the woman?” they groan,
“We must save the city,” they cry and they moan.
“Help us, we pray, O most merciful Lord,
“Stop this modern Atilla’s barbarian chords.”
But nothing, it seems, can save Rome from its fate:
Miss Fogg’s at her counterpoint. Too late, oh too late.
Do not despair, good souls. Down in the crypt
Saint Peter could take it no more, so he slipped
Quietly from out of his centuries old grave,
Made his way through the grottoes and up to the nave
By one secret door, which he alone knew,
Stretched his hand round Longinus’s column
And silently drew
All Rome is now breathing a sigh of relief,
Having been saved once again by the Chief
Of the Apostles, Saint Peter in Glory.
And so, my dear Cecily, happy ending of story!
Miss Fogg and the Sydney Town Hall Chandeliers
The Sydney Town Hall once had six chandeliers
Which hung from their domes in the ceiling.
They were splendid affairs with fine crystal in tiers,
The pride of the city, praised by sonneteers
With no sense but a great deal of feeling.
The story of how they were lost is not told,
No one has had courage to tell it.
It’s a story of shame and disgrace uncontrolled,
A story for only the bravest and bold-
Est of prime minister, peer or of prelate.
It happened some years ago on the occasion
Of the Town Hall’s Grand Organ centenary:
An event that stirred up the strong pride of the nation,
A great event heralded with jubilation,
With flowers and streamers and greenery.
Our City’s chief organist, one Robert Ampt,
So famous for his free recitals
(Which thousands of people to listen to camped
Out in George Street in terrible conditions cramped,
Poor hippies next women with titles),
Decided to honour this mega-melodeon
With artist renowned for her playing
At organs from Westminster Abbey to Bonn –
Miss Fogg who learned counterpoint up at the Con,
A choice greeted with general hooraying.
Miss Fogg chose a programme to show at its best
This organ from Hill’s London workshop,
With an unprecedented five manuals blest,
In splendid new showcase with towered canopies dressed,
And a first-ever sixty-four foot stop.
She thought “Bach’s D minor Toccata and Fugue’ll
Be just the thing to start playing.
I’ll add a nice counterpoint part for the Bugle;
I’ll not give ‘em muck, though the fee’s a touch frugal.”
(City Council of Sydney was paying.)
Some pieces by Handel, Vivaldi and Blow –
Anything else was unthinkable.
Something to show off the Flauto Traverso,
And the first half of the evening would reach a plateau
With a lovely surprise before interval.
And after a break for a quick G and T
For the titled, if not for the hippie,
Miss Fogg planned a counterpoint-fest with much glee;
And as a finale, a Grand Symphony
To show off her footwork so nippy.
The great night arrived, and with fervour and awe
The Establishment – of course they don’t pay –
Flocked into the hall (seats appointed by draw);
The Archbishop arrived from Saint Andrew’s next door
And the Cardinal from over the way.
They all took their seats – the hippie by door –
Miss Fogg steps out, all the noise ceases.
Then a truly great thunderous roar of applause
Greeted her presence, but with never a pause
She launched at once into her pieces.
Miss Fogg’s in her glory on Trumpet and Lute,
Bass Viol, Cor Anglais and Tuba.
The hippie just thought the whole thing a bit cute,
But a fine obbligato for Marimba and Flute
Delighted the Consul from Cuba.
And just before interval, a little bon-bon
Long awaited by those in the hall:
Variations and Fugue on Saint-Saens’s cool Swan
By Miss Fogg – who learned counterpoint up at the Con –
A piece that just kept them in thrall.
Here at last was great music to speak for the age,
The audience rose up in acclaim:
There was only one way their great thirst to assuage
And that was to rush as one man to the stage
There Miss Fogg’s noble gifts to proclaim.
“Miss Fogg, oh Miss Fogg,” they cried out as she played
With more and more passion furioso.
The audience shouted and sobbed while they swayed
To the rhythm as Miss Fogg’s Swan did a glissade:
“Here is a true virtuoso.”
But what these poor captive folk missed in their awe
Was the trouble way up in the ceiling:
Six tiny crystals fell down to the floor
And nobody noticed and nobody saw
The glass in the chandeliers reeling.
The interval came and the interval went,
The audience to seats scrivolando,
Awaiting with eagerness this chance heaven-sent
Of hearing La Fogg at the organ invent
For the occasion a Pedal Scherzando.
She starts with a sweet little melody on
The Great where she couples the Quints,
Adds all Diapason and the Contra Bourdon,
The Cymbal (four ranks) and the eight foot Posaune,
And begins a cadenza which hints
At a well known tune which sets them all humming,
Adds Piccolo, Oboe, and Horn:
The result is rather like air in the plumbing –
The audience love it, they find it becoming,
But the hippie just stifles a yawn.
Miss Fogg is away now, her counterpoint furious,
As she moves from the Great to the Echo,
Adding Leiblich Gedacht to Flageolet for the curious
And Viol D’Amour lends rich colour luxurious
Lest the overall tone be too secco.
But it’s down on the pedals Fogg loves to create:
Her counterpoint here is enrapturing.
She couples the Super Swell Octave to Great
And plays on the Clarion an air so ornate
That the audience can’t stop their clapping.
By now all the manuals are fully engaged
And coupled – by magic – to pedals:
Miss Fogg’s in her stride, the audience raged,
But Fogg battles on, she will not be upstaged –
A performance like this deserves medals.
Miss Fogg’s at her counterpoint; sound waves are mounting
An attack on the Centrepoint Tower,
Which tumbles like avalanche down a steep mountain
And misses by inches the Archibald Fountain:
Such is the fury and power
Of Fogg’s mighty crescendo: her counterpoint air,
Which she plays on the pedals as solo,
Is enough to make Treasurers tear out their hair
And Media Magnates on horses to scare
While out in the fields playing polo.
From Fogg’s mighty influence nothing is free,
She’s now at the height of her powers;
And down in the Harbour, around from the Quay,
The Opera House sails on its way to the sea;
In Macquarie Street Government cowers.
The sixty-four foot stop with lowest C sound,
Sets the glass in the windows a-rattle;
Glissando crescendo with Carillon Bells crowned,
Glockenspiel notes tumble, ceiling to ground,
And the windows just give up the battle.
At eight cycles a second, vibrations like thunder
Now shake the Town Hall’s old foundation
And the highest C sounds out, oh wonder of wonder,
With a puff, as the six chandeliers burst asunder
And the hall suffers defenestration
There’s little to say: they’ve cleaned up the mess;
The hippie escaped by the door;
The rich titled madam they recognised by her dress.
It’s sad, but when chandeliers disintegrate, I confess –
In spite of all efforts by You-Know-Whose press –
They’ll never be found – nevermore!
(Those who attended the premier performance of Haydn’s “Miracle Symphony” – Paris 1786 – found themselves in a similar predicament, but they escaped with their lives.)
Two Reflections on the Death of a Tortoise
Tortoise – I
Today I saw a tortoise in a field
Why is it that slow but beautiful creatures
Are always victims –
Either of man
Brought into the world
Struggling to grow
Being in the wrong place
at the wrong time
Tortoise – II
Today I saw a tortoise in the field
I nudged it over reverently
with my boot –
Let it have a little dignity.
“Damn!” – I heard a tiny little voice:
“Another bloody do-gooder.
All I wanted was
A little sun on my belly!”
THE LAST WORD
The immaculate, headlong dive of the gannet,
Leaves many of them blind
Towards the end of their life
So that they can no longer find food;
And thus they perish miserably.
Why does the very thing you do
With such beauty,
Even to perfection,
The very thing that exquisitely
Celebrates your essence,
Will the care you have for this fragile world,
The yearning you have for its well-being,
Gouge out your eyes
And eat away your heart
And leave you
Blind and hungry?
Is that what the journey means;
Is that the path you must take
Before you can come
To the promised fulness?
Tony Butler 19 October 2017