1. Requiem (for the member for Fendalton)
Sam Mahon 2009
No one cried when the big man died
No Angelus was rung
The poet stood mute as a broken flute
While words like birds fell dead upon his tongue
The leader came with his apostolic train
Judases every one
And the unfrocked priest
Made the sign of the beast
With one hand on the podium
But what’s to be said?
What’s to be penned?
That his like will never ever come again?
Ah, but let me tell you friend…
His likeness stains the hearts of men
From Bosnia to Bethlehem
His likeness is a Halloween
A harlot’s breath of nicotine
His likeness is the soldier’s creed
Where generals laugh, where women bleed
Where roses fade and poppies bloom
Where Beauty shrugs and
His likeness is the bloody sheet
Where whores engender meat…
Ashes to ashes dust to dust
Once he was the puppy of the upper crust
But built like a bubble, he was built to bust
So no one cared, no one fussed
When the big man passed away.
2. The Model
She never forgave the cards
they gave for her to play
Her only ace, a lovely face.
she grew her hair and combed it straight
she set it in a Celtic plait
and set her sail to navigate
the sea of men…
They never leave me,
Always, I leave them
Summer came, summer sweet
and all the fallen fruit now lay between
her lovely feet
But with the first presaging leaf of autumn
she in turn took off her clothes…
I only pose,
for the artists
Down-town in bars and street cafes
she puts her body on display
because, she says, it’s been remarked
that Art becomes me
or in part, it could be said
that I become the art.
She plays her cards so close
Her tight bowed lips do not
as one by one
she loses all her tricks.
the mantle of her years too seer
the winter in her bones;
Her laughter brittle as gulls
that cry and break on cliffs
of some forgotten sea…
I never leave them
Always they leave me
Jenny’s at her window,
the city at her feet,
a coffee cupped in both her hands,
staring at the street.
She wonders if the crowds below,
or Epstein, or Eliza Frink;
what do the people really think,
In their suburban heart of hearts
is there still room for the visual arts?
She lays her finger tips against
the crenellated scar,
that one unlovely part,
the slow embalming of her heart.
She takes a sip
and feels the bitter taste upon her lip
of crushed black beans and cinnamon,
with a little froth to hide it in.
She shakes her head to flick away the thought
that love, like intuition, can’t be taught.
That love is paint that drips and runs
and spatters on your dress.
That love is process, love’s unfair
that love’s a mess, like morning hair.
Love’s what the artist leaves behind,
loves a poem that can’t be rhymed
love goes hobbled, love is lame
love’s a horse with a broken rein
love’s debris, love doesn’t fit
And Jenny’s having none of it.
Alone in her director’s chair,
androgynous, with close-bobbed hair,
as carefully composed as a Mondrian square,
Jenny sits and with utmost care
fits and locks
Art into its little box.
‘I have a vision,’ she declares, and it’s inarguable.
‘A vision that I’d like to spread from Auckland to Invercargill.
If it’s good enough for Wellington
it’s good enough for me;
a Price on every corner
a Dawson up every tree;
a Monument on every street in plastic, chrome and steel
to those of us who lost the lust to feel.’
She takes her coffee in her hand and, smiling at her master plan,
muses how it used to be; art societies, cups of tea,
Kollwitz, Schiele, John Millais,
All fading now, beneath the light of this so bright
And most post-modern day.
The engineers and draughtsmen are all in full employment
Making computer cut-out toys for Jennifer’s enjoyment.
But Music plays a cracked guitar in bars along the street
And Dance is turning arabesques on bruised and broken feet
And Poetry’s in the gutter which is what the gutter’s for
While Art is in the alleyway, chatting up a whore.
And Jenny’s at her spinning wheel, spinning invisible threads
to dress the city’s emperors, to bronze their egoistic heads.
And while the middle classes scrape
and bow, before the edifice of Scape,
somehow, there’s a latent understanding;
the art of Art, these days,
is simply branding.
Jenny’s at her window, the city at her feet,
a coffee cupped in both her hands, frowning at the street.
She hears a voice complaining about beauty, form and love;
a disembodied requiem for her, four floors above.
But the window’s double glazing and the walls are made of lead;
either Art is outside is raving, or it’s God again…
inside her head.
Tabitha was born in Merivale
on a golden afternoon
Where life was served from fluted bowls
on the edge of a silver spoon
They sent her down to Craighead,
a private school for girls
And five years later she emerged,
her porcelain face semi-submerged
In blond, cascading curls.
‘I’ve found a flat,’ she told me
And drew on a thin cigar
‘Just down from the university
You won’t even need a car.’
So we started our lives together
In pursuit of a thing called Art
I painted life as I saw it
She saw life, then took it apart
One evening I found her,
her sisters around her,
Perched on top of her bed
Reciting a Cantonese mantra
With a blanket thrown over her head
Then again, in June,
By the light of the moon,
Some anarchists came to stay
There were hairs in the bathtub
And hash on the bench
And all through the flat
That peculiar stench
Tabitha moved in muslin,
she wore bangles in her ears
Around her toes were Bali rings,
her eyes wept honey dew, not tears
A variation of Lovers wore
a ragged path to Tabitha’s door
Hoping for her soft guitar,
hoping for a little more
than Leonard Cohen’s mournful chords
They hoped applause
and Buda sticks, would help her to undress
But most left bearing disappointment
and the latest Herman Hesse
One day she smiled and closed her eyes
‘Don’t come home early,’ she advised
‘I’ve found a man to seal this wound,’ she said.
‘All my life I felt half ruined,
all my life I’ve felt a little dead.’
I came back home at a quarter to four,
And there upon a threadbare shore
I found their bodies wrecked
As if some recent storm had drowned them
Two candles burned and somewhere near a record turned
The needle idly rutting in an empty groove
And I was moved by this peculiar medieval frieze
The slightest breeze, imperceptible, faint
Flickered the candle light and set her hair
Like the halo of a saint.
Spread like St Andrew, welcoming her doom,
her tears were poised like drops of ice.
And, nailed to her virgin womb,
the pale, emaciate Christ.
On a leafless, winter’s afternoon
I found her crying in her room.
I put my arms around her for the first and only time,
And like a wounded bird, her body trembled against mine
Then breaking free, she cried,
‘It’s too absurd, no one died!
People leave, it happens every day.
It’s just emotion, and emotion gets in the way.’
She sits among her sisters
As they contemplate their craft
And smoke black Russian cigarettes
And Tabitha remarks
That Art is not a thing to feel
Art is Das Glassperlenspiel
Many years have passed since then
I’m painting now what I painted when
I saw life from a point of view
Untainted by the pessimistic, contemporary hue
And Tabitha? Well, from time to time
I see her and she’s doing fine
She married a surgeon in Latimer Square
She tends to plaid, she’s cut her hair
And they lie on a beach at least once a year
In Biarritz, or Ibiza or god knows where
But there’s a shed set down at the end of the garden
Where an easel stands and the oils paints harden
And a palette, where paint used to run like blood,
Lies gathering dust the colour of mud
And there’re some paintings turned to the wall
And a palette knife and a muslin shawl
And an old cigar and a rusty tin
of varnish, puckering like ancient skin
Tabitha drinks cappuccinos
But, once, she drank green tea
In the autumn, now, she’s faithful
in the spring, her body was free.
Tabitha lives in Merivale in her golden afternoon
Where life is served from fluted bowls at the edge of a silver spoon
6. Antonyms of trust
There’s a time bomb in the water
it’s ticking underground
It’s ticking in the aquifers so quietly
it doesn’t make a sound
And steadily it makes its way between the shingle and the clay
a million tonnes of nutrient floating down the river
from the Canterbury highlands to our children’s spleen and liver
And I wonder if they’ve told you yet that, when you pay your rates,
your paying for the water that the farmer gets for nothing at his gates
Yes, the farmer’s paying nothing for the water that he takes
to trade among his fellows at the highest market rates
And when he’s finished using the water he gets fro free
he sends it down the ditch, my friends,
a drip for you, a drop for me;
undrinkable, unfishable, eutrophied and mottled,
‘till the only water potable is water that’s been bottled.
Once upon a better time, the poor man’s wine,
flowed beneath our feet, bubbled up between the streets
on which we stand, brief case in hand, pack on back, shopping in a sack…
It was heady stuff, clear as air and half as rough.
And no one owned it, no one thought
one day it could be bought,
and sold…as marketable as gold
So, what has happened, who can point and say,
‘It was he who stole our water rights away.’
Who was it in particular filled our waterways with shit
And left our tawny river boulders smothering in it?
Who was it stole our rivers from the mountain to the sea
And gave them to the corporations?
Certainly not me.
No one came with a salesman’s smile
to borrow the river for a little while
No one phoned me, no one wrote;
there is no invoice I can quote
Still, my brother and I, just the other day,
wandered down to the river to play
and found someone had stolen it…
Just stones and sand where the river once ran
and the sound of the wind in a rusty tin can
And a busted old car with its gusts hanging out;
Crank-case blood, mingling with the bones of the very last trout
Yes, the dairy farmers took it and they didn’t pay a cent
They sucked the bloody rivers dry, they didn’t even offer rent
They did it cause it’s legal and they did it with consent
And mournfully they spread their hands
while all around, the pivot irrigators stand;
‘Please don’t put the blame on us,’ they say
‘Ecan gave it lawfully away.’
Yes, legally they took it from us, legally it stands
that the water from our rivers flows abundantly through private hands
and turns the corporate wasteland into cattle feed and milk
so a New York banker’s whore can lay her body down on silk;
so some Ponsonby accountant can afford a brand new Porche
who has never seen the sun set in the Waimak river gorge
Yes, legally they took it all;
the lake, the stream, the waterfall
They gave away our legacy,
a treasure that our children’s children will not grow to see
that where the river flowed
you once could dip your hand
and drink the water clean from an unspoiled land
So sip it now and try to savour
that unique artesian flavour
Enjoy that O and H2 blend
‘cause pretty soon it’s going to end
And so I write this map of grief
from the Accuser to the Water Thief
for you to idly read or feel,
or trace a finger down this tarnished steel
And I will name them,
I will write them here
a scattering of letters
black as crows on the winter air
Black as the alley where the deals go down
on a moonless night on the shady side of town
where the alley-cat screams
where the east winds blow
where the promises of office wither like petals in an autumn snow
So mark them well, these antonyms of trust
who turn our children’s legacy to dust
These men, these women of the democratic state
who steal from our children’s children as they wait
the chord untorn,
their thoughts unspoken…
the waters…already broken
7. The Artwhores
Bonnie was born in the country
She went to the local school
She wasn’t the brightest kid in her class
But she certainly wasn’t a fool
She was tall, she was blond, she was slender
And she kept her emotions on ice
And the one thing the boys still remember
That for Bonnie, all things had their price
But time turned around and one day she found
Herself married to Davy McCall
With two kids, a cat, and a shed out the back
And a hate in her heart for the dice she had rolled
For the hills float away in an ocean of grey
each summer the nor-wester blows
And Bonnie just stands alone weeping
As the dust settles over her clothes
And a tractor that burns like an embre
Sends clouds of it up from the tines
where the gulls flap along like the white sheets of washing
She nails to the number eight line
And the winter brings no reprisal
The sheep suffocate in the snow
And Bonnie, herself, has run out of breath
She’d escape if she could, but there’s no where to go
At the A and P ball with a gin in her hand
She stands all alone and she studies the band
Hell is a near horizon, she thinks,
with music on Saturday night
Where a Dunsandal rousey’s the singer
And the drummer’s the publican’s wife
And it’s Aertex and Moleskins and Canterbury ale
And fish and chip dinners, and love grown stale
It’s hell, she decided, her eyes growing pale
It’s a slow dismembering, an open grave
It’s the throat of the lamb on a rusty blade.
No one saw him sauntering into the room
Looking like a thoroughbred recently groomed
And, leaning his back against a nearby wall
his sleepy eyes appraised them all
A lonely cockerel with pig dog eyes
He sipped his beer and scrutinized
Bonnie, where she stood like a four leaf clover
He grinned, filled his glass, and wandered over
I’ve watched you dance, he said to her
You seem to dance alone
You want to leave, I know,
But it’s a hell of a long way home
You’d like to talk to someone
But it’s a language that nobody speaks
If you like you can whisper it all to me
But we need to dance cheek to cheek.
So he waltzed her around that old weatherboard hall
and he kissed her outside by the granary wall
And he talked about love, he talked about fame
He talked about winning, then told her his name
My friends call me Clyde, I’m your incoming tide
I can wash away all of this sand
But I’m leaving tonight for the city lights
I’ve had all of this hillbilly town I can stand.
In the morning sun they hit highway one
There was nothing more to be said
Their future lay somewhere before them
Behind them the recent lay dead
Bonnie and Clyde had dreams to follow
They had schemes inside their heads
But they left behind them an aching hollow
in two matrimonial beds
worked a while in real-estate
He worked in the money game
While Bonnie filed numbers for a finance firm
slowly turning insane
Then one day he took her to the middle of town
To the National gallery and made her look round
See the stuff, he said, that they hang in here
That spatter of paint
That monotone square
The man who owns these is a millionaire.
I’m going to rob a bank, he said
And here’s the funny part
The bank I’m going to rob
He grabbed her arms and nailed her eye
Give me a year or maybe five
And the usual bag of salesman’s tools
And one day, my dear, we’re going to be rich
as any damn one of these fools.
At every charity art event
was there to represent
The people we aspire to be
giving our time for Art for free
But time like this was well invested
As Clyde sequestered
all the gold
by writing a list on the back of his wrist
Of those who bought and those, of the artists,
Now Bonnie runs a gallery on the wealthiest of streets
And Clyde remembers every name of the clientele he meets
They’ve learned to speak the language from a magazine on arts
Like tourists with their phrase books stranded in foreign parts
And Bonnie buys her clothes now
From a Merivale boutique
Where once she wore blue denims,
now she’s considered chique
And Clyde is showing his gay side
With a man-bag of his own
Yet once he just wore overalls,
stained with blood and bone
Bonnie and Clyde keep their past inside
Far from the Cheviot plains
They live in a villa in Naseby street
Where no body knows their real names
Bonnie and Clyde by their fireside
Plan for a brand new start
But nothing exceeds this contemporary greed
So they open a bottle of pinot noir
And toast the remains of the day
The market can crash and we’ll all go to hell,
But Hell is a distant horizon
where a band plays each Saturday night
Where a Dunsandal rousey’s the singer,
and the drummer’s the publican’s wife
Its Aertex and Moleskins and Canterbury ale
and fish and chip dinners at seven;
But Art’s a revolving fairytale
And for these two,
it’s simply heaven.
8. Denis Dutton
My uncle lived in London, with a semi-detached point of view
a little to the left of Menachim Begin, like any unorthodox Jew
He had a Rolls parked up his driveway, I had holes in the soles of my shoes
I was returning from a spell in Fontainebleau and I needed my visa renewed
I’d been too long drenched in inadequate French, I was starved for polemics,
And I think that my uncle was too.
I was wandering along towards Wimbledon when the tennis crowd came out
And I was caught in a flow of humanity, everyone seemed to be heading south
The stream flowed round me threatening to drown me
and I stepped in and out of the trees,
as the people turned their collars up against the autumn breeze
And I was washed up at last on the crest of a hill
where the people seemed to spill in all directions.
And there in the middle of an intersection
a man stood like a crucifix, at each wrist, a ragged sleeve
And in a voice grieved by some past atrocity
He directed us with this simple philosophy;
‘All heading west, go east,’ he said
‘All going east, go west.’
‘All going south, go north,’ he said, ‘if you think going south is best…’
His face was as worn as a blanket at dawn after a night of heavy dreams
There was tobacco caught in his whiskers and his heart was breaking apart at the seams
And nobody spoke to him, nobody joked with him, it was as if he couldn’t be heard.
But however absurd, I sat on the curb and weighed in my mind each delicate word.
Again, one day in Fontainebleau I stood at the edge of the road
And watched the lorries and cars flow by
and wondered why I had no place to go
in such haste. It seemed like waste.
It’s the same today as it’s always been,
watching the universe caught
in its vortex of dreams.
I prefer to stand on the opposite side,
I tend to leave as the people arrive
And every time they go away,
It seems to be a nobler thing to stand alone,
not to cast the first stone,
but take sides with the few very good
who question the many who would.
So I’d always liked Denis, I’d always admired
the way he stood out from the mass
and drew their attention to the wider dimension
less tended, less voiced, less crass.
But that was a long, long time ago now
and the Skeptic Society has morphed somehow.
Chomsky was right, I would say,
when he talks about education these days
and how the Right has taken the socialist’s role
of nurturing the embryonic soul.
Now Denis the menace comes to school
a member of a high society of fools.
In his three pointed hat he dances around
but with the undertones of The Joker’s clown
who always has a weapon up his sleeve,
Do you believe? He says, Do you believe?
Gentlemen, he says, do you really think
the USA would shrink
from invading if there was no good reason?
Why, Al Qaeda and bug-eyed Jack
are just waiting to launch their missile attack
and we’ll be gravy in an atomic stew
if we don’t let America do, what a man has to do.
Gentlemen, the way that war is won
is by delivering democracy 101
even if we take it to them
at the point of a gun.
Five years have passed since that great debate
and a lot of Americans have died
And America has engendered a lot of hate
As the coffins fly home in the quiet of night
And women and children of the Christian war
Don’t ask for freedom any more
They ask America to go back home,
they ask America to leave them alone
It was all a lie, it was all deceit
but Denis still warms his professional seat
Dispensing wisdom to girls and boys
While soldiers are still deployed
Dispensing the hypocrisy
Of Denis’s philosophy.
‘For those going north, go south,’ he said,
that old man of the street
‘And those going south, go north,’ he said,
through gritted tobacco-stained teeth
And no one gave him anything for what he told us that day
He was no free-market philosopher growing fat on a professor’s pay
But the street’s the true university
from here to Basra town
Where the kids crawl by on broken limbs
And the free world’s bombs rain down
And Denis sits in his ivory tower teaching kids from nine to five
And they dance to his tune on a Hamlin pipe; it’s the Milton Friedman jive
And Norman Rockwellian mothers kiss their little kids goodnight
As Mesopotamian children die, beneath the clouds where bombers fly
In a livery of bone white stars and bloody stripes.
9. Just another Christmas:
How was it? You never said. Everyone, I trust, was substantially fed?
Was it family, his, hers, people you don’t usually meet,
a drive in the evening to see the lights all along Bleaker street?
Cafe tables clotted, people idling on the fulcrum of the year
like swimmers turning at the wall, changing gear,
drawing in their strength to kick away down one more length.
Girls turning the corner in Cranford street wear Santa hats in varying styles,
Christmas stockings, bourbon smiles.
Paper angels, pole dancers a-swinging in the wind,
from street lamps, while beneath them buskers sing
familiar aching songs, nothing new
A celebration of a simple man who came to right a wrong or two.
And seated at an inebriate angle, Saint Nick, the giant Christmas whore,
welcoming us all to his mega store, his paint beginning to flake,
and in his hooded eye the glint of take, take, take.
Last year we hid among the hills like refugees,
and from some Christ-forsaken alpine ridge we could see
the threading road where cars like drops of dew slid by
to camp grounds in the sounds, to busy beaches;
we seem to be such congregating creatures.
But not this year...
Ali’s stranded like a whale waiting for the tide to turn.
She’s waiting for her passenger to disembark.
She’s an arc, and the doves have not returned.
We suspect there are no olive trees anymore
…nor rainbows anywhere.
Tristan at his seat by the window
turns away and sags willingly into oblivion.
But there she finds and wakes him.
He stares up at the blacknight shapes.
A rooster cries as the flaccid Skywomb stretches
and another Day breaks the waters
Winter now, clotted-milk sky
He lights the fire for company
He lays her against his easel
her body tight in black
Her hair catching the light
With the smallest touches,
his own hair brushes hers
His own hair bound to a wooden stub
runs softly across her cheek
He sits and stares
and inner fears
rise like blind chicks straining
He leans forward
Ear to the board
he stares unseeing
11. Sunday; Waimak river gorge
Sleep is a flimsy business when you sleep out rough
The mind slides and flickers like a lure
drawing creatures from the deep, obscure
dark forms, unnamed
that turn and sink away again
the morning pours at last its broken flask of milk across the sky;
the trees are grey with honey dew, the boulders lie like hips and thighs
the river runs through everything, the poor man’s wine
running through this ancient coliseum
The river as its bottom line
I’m sitting here beside my fire
wood smoke drifting round my shoulder like a friendly arm
the morning calm, a fantail flicking in the branches like a piece of ash
and in the pool a salmon lies, waving like a heavy pennant;
a temporary tenant, waiting for the final dash
A shattered face of rock strikes up toward the sky
while at its feet the silken river whispers by
singing songs beneath her breath, an infinite caress
a fatal mistress in an emerald dress
If this one river, soft as air, can break a mountain down to silt
then surely words in rivulets of ink, you’d think
could wilt the will of mortal men
who live their lives like bloody-minded salmon
of that great orgasmic final curtain
Unfortunately we haven’t got a million years to do the job;
these Neros in Armani suits and cotton ties
are playing tunes on fiddles while the natural world subsides
These men who live behind a tinted wall of glass
who never ask, who take because they can
who take because they have a lawyer and a plan
and oatmeal in their pockets
to feed the mules of public office…
These men are made of harder stuff than greywacke and granite
so if we’re going to save these last few acres of our planet
we’re going to have to put aside our subtle toys
I think we’re going to have to load the rifles, boys.
12. The age of communication
Daryl‘s got an SUV, a cell phone and a stretch TV
Daryl’s a Twitter, Daryl’s a Skype
Daryl’s got an Apple with a zigabyte.
And the I-pod in his pocket’s got more Ram in its socket
than NASA could have dreamed of
when they launched their Saturn rocket.
Daryl’s down on Facebook as an educated man;
you’ll find his point of view all over Googleland.
Daryl had a latte once in a café with Ritchie McCaw…
Daryl can quote you the latest rugby score.
Einstein rides a bicycle beneath the Aarau sky
and counts the birds in the Sycamore tree
as, relatively, they pass him by.
Einstein uses a fob watch to measure the speed of time
as he watches the leaves, which like galaxies, swirl along the Rhine.
Einstein wears a cardigan and recites Herman Hesse verse
and rearranges the building blocks of the universe.