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Manoa 18.2 (2006) 121-125

Four Poems
David Malouf

At The Ferry

A light as of axe-handles
swinging through fogbound scrub. Touch
wood. "This is the last
time you will see all this. This is
the last thing you will see,"
the stranger at my side, no stranger, whispers.

I come with empty pockets
to the boatshed at the end of
the ramp, the river's breath stilled to a slow cloud beneath me.
And wait. And stand waiting.

Close by, either
behind or close ahead,
damped in the dampened air,
music. "This is
the last thing you will hear," the stranger
whispers. His last word.

I stand and listen.
approaches. A silence approaching music. [End Page 121]

Rain Poems

I. Rooves

Patter of rain on the roof,
its variable touch
in the same house on tiles
on tin, as if what stretched over our head
more than another roof
was another sky.

In childhood our verandah
sleepout. Beyond its lattice, leaf
-tap, a drip toccata on the elephant ears and staghorns
of a pocket rainforest. Later
the slop of English skies on a "sunny attic"
in Putney.
                    We lie down
in the one dark, in sleep

Discontinuous music,
of days that move on, nights that do not;
the authentic note,
once struck, endlessly sounded.

II. Watertanks

Squat corrugated-iron
clouds lashed down
with ropes of Morning Glory, galvanised
angels filled with the sky's
outpourings. When we washed our hair

in last month's downpipe music
it sparked with the electric
thump of horizons. When
we turned a brass tap-spanner
galaxies dripped

from our fingertips, our mouths
were enlightened. We stumbled
barefoot back to bed,
our sleep a sky-annex
busting to break away [End Page 122]

up there, out there, dream-walking
the boom towns, the waterless
kingdoms. Rain-maker,
bull-roarer, invader brimming
with tall tales, hunkered down on

its stumps, translating back
to breath and bloodbeat in us
sheer paean, magnificat:
the amplified ostinato
measures of earthed sky-music.


I. Owl

The owl's eye, midnight,
total eclipse

for the fieldmouse stopped
dead where its shadow flares

on stubble. Thin bones under
the impact of the sky's

falling crack. The nightbird
hungers for what it holds,

all that is not
sky—groundwork, gleanings.

Since even owls do not end
in air, what they

hope to take in
is what these small lives know

of the afterlife, sunlight
ascending a straw,

the earth in close-up:
shock, then slow

aftershock collapsing
the horizons of a skull. [End Page 123]

II. Kites

Elite black killer angels,
claws a confederate
close sect, high
rollers of swoop and harry.

A miracle unique
to mealtimes, the groundling's
blood-dream of flying
come true in their maw.

All else in the long view
waste, mere decoration
of lightpole and rooftile, fast
food heedless at play.

A hotline from brain
to hooded eye sorts out
the jigsaw components
of a landscape, what's

fixed, what merely stilled.
Baffled wingtips convert
the brunt of air to muscle
power, all wrestle

and pause, then suddenness,
breath passing
from mouth to mouth, quick snatches
of song, the imperative

dark consecration
of bane and being to what
comes once in a lifetime:
death, the flesh made flesh. [End Page 124]

Poetry Makes Nothing Happen

Silvery spellbound
trunks. Bark curled
and crisped like dry pork-crackling. Scooped
shadows in glazed snowdrifts. And these
deer knocking their antler-buds on wood, where do they
come in?
                 The snowy spaces
of a page are their habitat, call up
trees and this nomad herd will find them.
Eye-pulp turned liquid
in a camera flash, they
startle. Trunks
vibrate to percussive thuds. The woods are barely
visible now
in the clouds they make, the pack of
their bodies, the meaty hot
smoke of their blood.
In our veins, slow-spreading
thunder. Unrecorded the lightning-stroke.

David Malouf was born in 1934 and is a poet, novelist, and writer of librettos and occasional essays. His most celebrated novel is Remembering Babylon (Vintage, 1993). His...