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Unread 01-15-2005, 02:06 PM
Janet Kenny Janet Kenny is offline
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: Queensland, (was Sydney) Australia
Posts: 15,584

Gwen Harwood was a formal poet with a great gift for character.

Gwen Harwood

This poem is about one character whom she follows in various poems. A pianist, a trapped genius of the second rank.

The Flight of the Bumble Bee

Kröte plays for a fiddler scraping
flthat bee thing from his violin.
There's little prospect of escaping
flback to Green Room and his gin.

A piece concerned with flight--symbolic!
flhe murmurs pianissimo.
Somebody hisses "Alcoholic"
flaudibly from the nearest row.

That woman with the bust! That bumbling
flamateur with an insect heart!
Heaven preserve me from all fumbling
flspear-holders on the stage of Art.

Drunk, often. Alcolholic never!
flHere comes those octaves-and-a-third.
Madam I could play on for ever,
flthinks Kröte, playing his absurd

pantomime of a great musician
flwresting hard with his instrument.
The fiddler's nervous disposition
flrapidly throws him off the scent

of any flower the bee might visit--
flhe scrapes beyond the normal ear.
Has Kröte drowned him out? Or is it
fla sound that only bats can hear?

The woman with the bust claps brightly,
flnot sure that anything's amiss.
The fiddler bows, deciding rightly
flagainst an encore. Kröte's bliss

flowers in the Green Room, where restored to
flhis bottle, in the grateful pause
before the storm, he can afford to
flignore the honey of applause.
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Unread 01-15-2005, 03:50 PM
Mark Allinson Mark Allinson is offline
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Tomakin, NSW, Australia
Posts: 5,317

Great choice, Janet. I met Gwen at Monash in the late eighties. This one is the second half of a pair. The first half is entitled "Barn Owl", and deserves to be posted, but I couldn't find either on the web so I just typed out part II.

BTW, I made the mistake of giving this poem to my daughter to read while browsing through Borders when I didn't have any tissues in my pocket.

II Nightfall

Forty years, lived or dreamed:
what memories pack them home.
Now the season that seemed
incredible is come.
Father and child, we stand
in time's long-promised land.

Since there's no more to taste
ripeness is plainly all.
Father, we pick our last
fruits of the temporal.
Eighty years old, you take
this late walk for my sake.

Who can be what you were?
Link your dry hand in mine,
my stick-thin comforter.
Far distant suburbs shine
with great simplicities.
Birds crowd in flowering trees,

sunset exalts its known
symbols of transience.
Your passionate face is grown
to ancient innocence.
Let us walk this hour
as if death had no power.

or were no more than sleep.
Things truly named can never
vanish from earth. You keep
a child's delight for ever
in birds, flowers, shivery-grass -
I name them as we pass.

"Be your tears wet?" You speak
as if air touched a string
near-breaking point. Your cheek
brushes on mine. Old king
your marvellous journey's done.
Your night and day are one

as you find with your white stick
the path on which you turn
home with the child once quick
to mischief, grown to learn
what sorrows, in the end,
no words, no tears can mend.

[This message has been edited by Mark Allinson (edited January 15, 2005).]
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Unread 01-15-2005, 06:37 PM
Janet Kenny Janet Kenny is offline
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: Queensland, (was Sydney) Australia
Posts: 15,584

Mark, but what a mark you left on your daughter

Here's a lovely one:
A Piece of Ivory

I would grieve over fallen finches,
drowned frogs, an occasional duckling
that did not live to be eaten,
but this was beyond me.
.but this was beyond me.At bedtime
my father said "You remember
the circus you saw at Enoggera?
Well, one of the elephants went mad
and killed a keeper who used to torment it."

"And serve him right," my grandmother said.
My father continued "It had to be shot.
They made the other elephants dig it a grave
in the paddock, and help to bury it."

I saw them in wrinkled twilight
swaying with spades in their trunks,
chained one to the other, crying
and digging a grave for their friend.

Next morning, unroofing the graves
of Finch, Frog, Duck, I ran howling
at what gave shine to the world
then took it away forever.

I remember my grandmother's comfort,
my being allowed to play
with her particular treasure:
an enamelled Indian casket
full of handcarved ivory elephants,
diminishing, the smallest
the size of a grain of wheat.
But carved. The artist cared.

[This message has been edited by Janet Kenny (edited January 15, 2005).]
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Unread 01-15-2005, 11:05 PM
Janet Kenny Janet Kenny is offline
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: Queensland, (was Sydney) Australia
Posts: 15,584

Night and Dreams

“I come to you inI

“I come to you in a dream of ages
past,” sings Crab. He swirls his velvet-
seaweed cloak. “When first we met,
and last, you will recall, I was
imprisoned in your father’s house.”

Sea colours on his carapace,
wave-hiss, tide rustle in his voice.
“Some fiend has tied my fearful claws--”
--Yes, I recall. I must have been
a skinny child of eight or nine

that night my father brought you home--
“No, let me tell,” says Crab, “this is
my aria, my party piece.
Grandmother, mother, father, brother
and you, went to the local theatre

leaving me bound in parching darkness.
I prayed: Redeemer Crab, release me
by your own sidelong righteousness
from these straightforward evildoers.
Take me where my transparent children

float in their manifold sea vision.
Silence. Mouse-whisper, cockroach-scuffle.
I felt, not far, the Brisbane River
ebbing to salt creek, mangrove swamp,
and burst my bonds, O yes I did!

and raged through your dark house, and hid.
That night you dared not go to bed
finding me gone when you returned.
Splintered pencils and toys proclaimed
my ocean strength. How soon forgotten

what Stan and Olly did and said!
Time, time. I felt the tide returning
far off. O Salt Redeemer, come
(I prayed) let navies drown to feed me
with rotten stump, decaying belly,

or if I am to die, allow me
one crunchbone tender-balancing foot.”
--My father caught you. “Ah, he did.
‘Bring me the hatpin.’ Someone put

a diamond eye on a steel stalk
into your father’s hand to stab
my stalked eyes. O the blaze of pain
eclipsing light’s immense mandala!
Seagreen, seablue, I raged to red.

Boiling crab died. I became Crab.”

“I come to you inII

Crab is dressed for the feast: on lettuce shredded
to seaweed ribbons, cracked claws reassembled,
he lies among parsley curls and radish roses.
Our starchy Sunday-snowy cloth is set
with what remains of Greatgrandmother’s china,
translucent white, rimmed with a deepsea blue.
On his great serving dish Crab’s at the centre
of a splendid colour wheel: cucumber slices,
tomato, celery, carrot, egg: my work,
duly admired. My grandmother says grace.
“Where would you eat like this," my father asks,
passing the homemade bread, “except in Queensland?”
A lovely room. Windows give on the garden,
rose and green panes of bubble-glass enchanting
the dullest day. The sideboard mirror offers
more light. Such light, restoring, recomposing
many who dined here. Most of them are dead.

“I come to you inIII

“That’s enough of pentameters,”
says Crab, returning to my dream.
--What shall I write, I ask. He writes,
so I won’t miss his fearful joke:
Making himself a cairn of stones
he says, “This is my own rock group.
O I’m the original punk rocker
with a hatpin through my brain, my brain,
with a diamond hatpin through my brain.”

--Your jokes are awful. “I know worse.”
--Impossible. “Shall I rehearse
the names of those who’ve died from cancer?
O I’m the original merry prankster,
a diamond hatpin’s all my eye.

Tell me, where are those who ate
my claws, my tender body meat?
Laurel and Hardy fans, long gone!
You cracked my hardware, ate my software.
Now I’m programmed in your brain.”

“I come to you inIV

More and mmore of the great questions,
such as: what am I doing here
in gumboots and a summer nightdress
in a moonlit garden chasing sheep?

The sheep are out. It’s not a dream.
I’ll mend the broken fence tomorrow.
What’s left of night? Enough to dream in.
What dreams will come? Who else but Crab.

I ate him sixty years ago.
Ocean of memory, transposing
feaster and feast. He beckons, wearing
seaweed clothes, with sidelong charm.

“Shall we go to a pirate movie?”
--You like the sea? “I like the bodies,
and ‘Take the lady below and make
her comfortable’, that’s what I like.

I can’t be bothered with the love scenes.
I’ve opened hearts. I know what’s in them.”
At interval he buys refreshments,
“Two seafood sticks. One without crab.

Come live with me and be my supper
where colours have no boundaries,
where every word is writ in water,
I’ll put my arm around your waist.

I’ll put my armour round your waist.
Shell after shell my soft self waxes.
Seek help! Sea kelp for drowning sailors.
Great questions all have wavering answers.”

Ghosts crowd to hear, O my lost loves.
Waking to hard-edge sunlit colours,
sharp birdsong, lamb-bleat, I recall
myself among the moonlit sheep

questioning--what? Why should I care
how long ago my death began?
Am I a ghost dreaming I’m human
with herbs to plant, a fence to mend?

[This message has been edited by Janet Kenny (edited January 15, 2005).]
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Unread 01-16-2005, 07:35 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
Lariat Emeritus
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Fargo ND, USA
Posts: 13,818

I'd like to thank Janet for initiating this thread. I think we've moved up a long way from Murray! Mark, the poem is Father and Child, my favorite Harwood poem (well, it's trimeter, and damn fine trimeter at that.) Here is the first section:

The Barn Owl

Daybreak: the household slept.
I rose, blessed by the sun.
A horny fiend, I crept
out with my father's gun.
Let him dream of a child
obedient, angel-mild--

old No-Sayer, robbed of power
by sleep. I knew my prize
who swooped home at this hour
with daylight-riddled eyes
to his place on a high beam
in our old stables, to dream

light's useless time away.
I stood, holding my breath,
in urine-scented hay,
master of life and death,
a wisp-haired judge whose law
would punish beak and claw.

My first shot struck. He swayed,
ruined, beating his only
wing, as I watched, afraid
by the fallen gun, a lonely
child who believed death clean
and final, not this obscene

bundle of stuff that dropped,
and dribbled through loose straw
tangling in bowels, and hopped
blindly closer. I saw
those eyes that did not see
mirror my cruelty

while the wrecked thing that could
not bear the light nor hide
hobbled in its own blood.
My father reached my side,
gave me the fallen gun.
"End what you have begun."

I fired. The blank eyes shone
once into mine and slept.
I leaned my head upon
my father's arm and wept,
owl-blind in early sun
for what I had begun.

When I first crawled out from under my rock to realize there was more than Wilbur, Tim Steele sent me some very hard-to-find books. Helen Trimpi, Suzanne Doyle, Dick Davis, and Gwen Harwood's Collected from Oxford, which is probably still in print. All wonderful, masterful poets.
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