FEATURED POET: James Walton

Letter to Lois

I’ve experienced falling
but never in such a tumble

twirling like a tin can

I wanted to tell you
without the safety
of a cloak’s heightened perspective

how much I love
your human fragility

the joy in a wind chime

to feel the scissor depth of an ending
the gothic pages of ink

newsprint wrapping a bouquet

the short speech of balloons
a stagey mess of comic action figurines

tell Jimmy my favourite one
is still you and me in mufti
holding out our Press cards
the ill-fitting fake lenses
my gin to your tonic

and I’m now way past
the speed of time’s sight
where our shape has no dimension
holding on to this cobalt krypto rock
because I don’t want the super power

of living without you forever


Made in Milk

The cattle have grazed through the wait
anxious at the gate getting noisy
throwing heads shuffling feet in the dark
udders tight with the thought of grain

this winter icy frigid as despair
in your hair a faint elixir of that secret smoke
the pack of Old Jamaica you hide
behind the grease gun where I don’t go

enough rain to bring in Spring dams full
if you must get up I’ll have early lunch ready
a special gourmet treat from my menu of eleven
probably number three the Mexican beans

although I’d rather you stayed awhile
listening to the river play La Nina’s nocturne
there’s nothing unknown to discover outside
under these blankets it’s as warm as hello.


Two handed draw

I had thought
like a bird falling from a nest,
undressed as a heart
beating within my palm,
to have outlived usefulness

instead with both arms lifting
because I had no choice,
that frantic beak signing
in all the shredded shorthand,
ever lost to this binary world

placed the wingless thing
into the silky oak’s airy cradle,
then sat cross legged and whistled
a feathery version of In My life,
waiting for new down to form


There, but for the grace of a stranger

it is the thing about suffering
the excuses of a friend’s gobbling

cheeks full with unknown currency

over the ankles in sand
this slow thaw to conscience

weathered, open to sky

every now and then
while dragging knees toward it

a glance of redeemed sunshine

clapping foreign discourse
where every shadow is anonymous

identical to the core

how our hearts chambers push
this sticky throbbing mess

tangential of one another

our abandoned other selves
arm out, waiting for the baton


Abandoned soliloquy

a flotsam head
not quite ashore
treading water seemingly

speaking ancient Greek or reformed Latin
who would know these days

drifting down a tidal river
to eastern beaches
water like tea

augury symptoms in urine
the lost squid in a rock pool
waiting for the afternoon tow

once hands held out arrival
for our beautiful roles
your ventriloquist’s tongue
in a perfect sentence

you drove the core out
peeled my love in one long threat
the scrutiny of your beak dissecting

no boat can get anchorage
the Antarctic breath colludes
capsizing histories

all along the shipwreck coast
our children your new young lover
hoping the mast they cling to
has a future where the baggage
intersects a stranger’s journey

these serpent arms
that held your face in compromise
I licked the salt from your inner thighs
strangled ambition for a wanting
so powerful my eyes were burnt out

the estuary pushes
this infection squeezed abroad
one way a new continent

turn about parturient islands arch
hardy shoulders curse the dozen labours

bent to the task like the trees of Patagonia


A Murder of Intent

It was the sun of course
kissed each cheek in that Godfatherly way
of portentous elegance

that glissade your trademark isotope
entry and exit wounds
too near their favoured haunt

the record winter negative decline
misjudged by haughty dawn
so shallow there the mirage

of three-inch-deep clouds
an icy soak in Trojan cumulus pallor

your final shutter
the eye a hatch
between a horse’s drumming beat

watch them now rise and drop
a weaver’s threading loop
do they remember after each long cast

as their talons finally withdraw
what it was they thought they feared


I’ll lay down with dictionaries
(and you)

When we are too old
for the Crossword
and the swallow comes early
singing for a lost partner

when out of season
the whip bird’s tuning fork
calls the humble circle
out of a lasso’s embrace

sky writing your name
in that opened portal
vowels and consonants
placed inside the circumference

dangling missing letters
we have chanced for canvass
a wily clue you gave me
of secrets no one knows

lexicons hesitantly shelved
the answers between us
teased into definition
out of more solitary lives

then leave all pages open
make a cuneiform mattress
out of every alphabet
graft us to our own calligraphy

the words that seek homes
can pummel for new comfort
rub against us until found
here where our language formed


Converted Maternity Wing, Wonthaggi

I live in the old lay over ward

the infants’ windy smiles
fall out of the lining of night
a row of piano keys resting

whilst at the end of Campbell Street

the fishers

pudgy fingers hands of bananas
are dragging lines for ocean trout

saltier from the desal plant

in water needed to flush rivers
back to the sea

ankle deep a wading foreshore
my forehead is breezing
then a coal train
stalled in a tunnel

gaunt by steam whistle moves

birds beneath the netting
the quince unripe

dawn hooking silhouettes
chess with macadamias
leavened decades in covenant

away from the ticketed price
squirming and fearless
layettes to dress
a value of things

louder than the dormant blinding


Almost Shipwrecked on Byzantium

I

There will always be better words waiting. Hewn from
the territory of loss, erupted from joy at love’s motive
– refusing entry – at calling down,
straying from the paddock/ crunching as stubble,
caught out, irresistible in the turning key’s summons
wandering beyond polite conversation,
holding down sheet music blowing past
the snatch to retrieve what cannot last.

II

A rickety piano accordion scrapes and wheezes. Leaves harry
bare feet the northerly chases, sheaths of sounds unannounced
– spring and crash – the buckle’s bursting,
tattered fragments of chorus/loosed by ayr,
break away, tenanted melodies shed the landlord’s bond
settling in gryphs or scripts of language lost,
leap in faith no ponderous thing to where
the corners are turning in thought’s glare.

III

The blind see in hand as the deaf hear by touch. Come down
drifting shed of failing senses, toss all about this harbour of trees
– in the weary roll – buffet the cork,
brace divine cascade/serenade a sleepy siren,
chisels pillared, forbearing dimensions to last forever
out of the long transit of swaying passage,
speak in knowledge the tactile years away
remorse prowls the wasteland of eternity.

IV

Keel hauled memory lingering in a shiver. Dazzling thaw
learning templet stretching out, casts off the rust of old cocoon
– tattoo frieze – bleeding dyes colour,
cored ice delivers/old to new and back again,
dreaming walkabout, shawl of avalanche cures rift
arrogance to think a door’s not opened here before,
bobbing in languorous continental drift
strike out now for the patient shore.


Bequeathable Sanitoria

Don’t be offended
if as an old love song

you’re the needle in my arm
the messy heart and anchor tattoo

that won’t be scratched out
of these polished corridors

locked down night and day
awaiting the scuff of attendants

as they whistle away
‘hear, I’m going back to Massachusetts’

you’re the straightjacket
I can’t shake loose of

borrowed shoes for romance
not enough hair for style

out of the high storey window
my second-hand jacket open

phalanger spread flying cover
the last cast iron bed home

if you were there to hold me
in a wayward parable of rain.


Even the Broken Things Entreat

Each day the border
becomes a line of retreat
a swinging vane

declining lids
over the almond iris

reduces to standing space
the things that were once apart

even the broken things entreat

out of their tenacious memory

a daughter’s hand at four
in an acrylic blue kindergarten print
last school bag of a boy’s years

a ragged clay dragon coiled by fire
the chipped koala salt and pepper shakers
texta lines of height on the kitchen door

this house has swallowed a library

now the overdues are called

each box of go or stay
has a notice of acquittal
fares for the van to release

a recusal of all vanities


Old Falls Road
(After R.C.)

Old Falls Road, the signs have been removed.
To keep the tourists confused. The secrete
Where dinosaur age mushrooms
Prevail against the odds.
My lips ease off timeless elastic lines,
Blue Danish goes soft in jazz.
Wine becomes warm, we sit afterwards,
Backs against the leaking rock face,
No ancient roar now,
Just the chirpy tinkling,
Of private reclaimed places –
Where a lyrebird drinks.


On the edge of a Lea

I had not expected that.
Death arriving as Katharine Ross
straight out of the Graduate
you’ve put away the sundry things
she smiled except the handlebars
but overall we’ll get you there

I have a question still.
The look on your face the bus scene
but I was drifting in and out
of Van Gogh’s mad courtyard
council workers re make it
every other day by numbered hues

I thought maybe over east.
Were the raindrops real in ‘Butch’?
how tissues fall from a sleeve
in weary non-compliance
there are no names for days
and the songs have new titles

I need the breadth of an elephant’s memory.
That really wasn’t me on the bike
just another actor she laughs
if you give up this precious object
we’ll walk over to the native meadow
where the sky’s a shackled prism

and I’ll tell you everything.


Palliative Care

I’ll sponge you with that moon
when the years shape my hands,
to close over the impossible
landscapes of everything we are.
The flecks of wattle gossamer
where my cheek rested,
as I listened to the Niagara rush
laughing through your belly
in those prehistoric days.
You dyed your hair jacaranda
then pomegranate, enough to confuse
the light plaiting between
the salvaged Beardsley glass panes.
Cellophane days in hidden crinkles
art nouveau flickering leaves,
tessellate our lives in Roman ways
of stones and glassy jewels.
Throw out the failing medicines
those prescriptions of what’s not,
let’s lay beneath the wax plant,
listen to the bees dream of everlastings.


A Diary of Anne Boleyn

My ladies weep in the vernacular tongue
kneeling in the French style

I caught the wren as another’s head fell
and later perched for witness

at the place near the abbey a heart beat quiet
then loud the cat still as sculpture

artful ferocity in those bloody sinew lines
drew from these palms a sanctuary

a censer swings slowly for a thousand days
the metal clanging its catechism

open hands meet the knowledge of ravens
given voice from a wooden block

release an olive complexion by Wyatt written
in pulse of reformist contraband

arms drop at side outstretched fingers release
not falconry or master’s quiver

took flight a stalked harmless precious thing
away from the predator and papal manoeuvring

a scavenge of royal alchemists pecks to parts
the once kindest knit of souls

the loins of a king are as common as any man
tempested wings erupt impatient there


What the Rain Forgot

It has all there was, is, and can be.
The memory of rain is a fickle thing,
how it fondled a ravine, broke the dusty
fever of Autumn in a sleeting charade.
Bid golden orb spiders to hatch in its call,
eye dropper signals to wake and run,
sighs into the desert as lizards gallivant
to the silliness of the unscheduled visit.

Seas remember flat earth, like dough.
Rolling tides an intake of breath,
balling up and shaping where breakers
made natural chic in designer bays.
Cracked lips of clay stovepipes yearn,
seething for the gentle flirt of moisture
to kiss again in the season’s break
and let loose all that has been stored.

Trees know the truth of sky, clouds strewn
laundry that bite down on the angel wings
of their backs, better then to be the wall
that holds the thought within the squall.
Call in the mortgage of horizontal growth,
the tap root stretches out straining to hear
in branches reflected in puddles, leaves
jesting sideways of what the rain forgot.


Under the Flinders Street Clocks

I am waiting

We were seventeen when you said
we’d meet under the clocks
at Flinders Street Station, each decade
for twenty years I waited for you.
Photographed by students, longingly harassed
by alms gatherers, still there the third time
that other guy, seen by everyone
in the woollen monk’s habit morphed out of uni
hair unfledged as usual, held there by an umbrella

I am waiting

At the forty-year plimsoll line
new trains bringing new suburbs
of ancient peoples having traversed
the earth, I am waiting for Esperanto
to ask them all where you are.
I will be under the hands of half a century
as the new ticketing system fails again,
in the chimes of reasons the next time
to make sense of this liturgy of travail

I am waiting I am waiting still


Truman Capote’s brownstone

Holly’s voice
fingers digging between ribs
the one-eyed cat’s
zig zag troupe

the shower running

after the call up
rooms full of old grey white men
in avalanche
interring country and western songs

a guitar taut as strung throats

no one’s Fred
callow as a phone booth at Joe Bell’s
should have listened sooner
a false note on every dollar

in old Spanish towns they believed
blindness gave voice a tone
birdcage on a sidewalk

a marmalade rescue
warming a window

awash in a cul de sac

our histories gutter up
perhaps for snow or fire
the past best kept as fine china


Tithonus and Dawn

do not fall in love with a God
when they say forever
it is the duration of vanity only

out of my breathless ossuary
these slow seconds
turn within themselves

a tapestry made of stone

Eos asked him to make me eternal
we were to be beautiful together
a hand aside the mouth of Zeus

his incremental curse of immortality
a hover in the white noise
of this bitter tea

once to kiss the feet of stars
no longer she breaks upon me
I do not live I do not die

locked in this closet
talking a babble of dispossession
my words hear themselves

the momentary visit of light after night
occasionally to shine on my withering
where I age in shadow forever waiting

without the strength to hold a lantern


These bridges, too far

My friend and my enemy
are buried together

where the peat is frozen as glass

over by Bartlet’s Outlet
the falls we played beneath

a chandelier of tears

side by side
the child and the adult

grow under the mound

patted gently with spades
of rifles loaded from Sundays

an armistice culls the night

its preparatory days
wound through this shared village

life in a slow yeast

our days broken and unsealed
drafty windows blown out

of the class room photos doors ajar.


 

POEMS INCLUDED HERE WERE PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED AS FOLLOWS:

Letter to Lois – Your One Phone Call
Made in Milk – Glasgow Review of Books
Two handed draw – somnia.blue
There, but for the grace of a stranger – Outlaw Poetry
Abandoned soliloquy – North of Oxford Review
A Murder of Intent – somnia.blue
I’ll lay down with dictionaries, and you – Bluepepper
Converted maternity wing, Wonthaggi – Bluepepper
Almost Shipwrecked on Byzantium – The Leviathan’s Apprentice, Writing Raw
Bequeathable Sanitoria – Outlaw Poetry
Even the Broken Things Entreat – The Wild Word
Old Falls Road – The Leviathan’s Apprentice
On the edge of a Lea – Your One Phone Call
Palliative Care – Indolent Press
A Diary of Anne Boleyn – Nerdalicious
What the Rain Forget – Panoply
Under the Flinders Street Clocks – Bukowski on Rye, APJ
Truman Capote’s brownstone – Punk Noir
Tithonus and Dawn – unpublished
These bridges, too far – Nine Muses Poetry


 

Jim portrait head

 

James Walton was a librarian, a farm labourer, a cattle breeder, and mostly a public sector union official. He is published in many anthologies, journals, and newspapers. He has been shortlisted for the ACU National Literature Prize, the MPU International Prize, and the James Tate Prize. His poetry collections include The Leviathan’s Apprentice, Walking Through Fences, and Unstill Mosaics (forthcoming). He is now old enough to be almost invisible. He lives in Australia.