A history of unremarkable fires

His habit sprung from Siberia, I’m told,
inventing heat against hunger
ceasing only with my grandmother’s panic
at the sizzling mattress.

The other grandfather declaimed metaphorical,
warning of bridges aflame with the irreparable
and irreconcilable, whole texts of taunting,
years of anger’s hardened crust.

Still the wild world seeps through
even casements we thought closed
to the dark perfume, strange bottles
singing meaning into memory

when our guide, whose face now past the hour,
told of pine and eucalyptus
razed to hold back the inevitable,
named what we could not help swallowing.


Having penned me as an older brother
and all that entails,
point-of-reference for their sisterhood:
a segue, a footnote, an invention
like some ghostly shadow spurring the machine,
whose engine-name launches memory
again upriver or adrift,
a stop, a tangent, or a shift
in conversation,
this is how we relate.

This is how we relate in absence
by invoking shadowsong and scattertalk:
that time, that thing, that hour when
endlessness returns again, again.

Look, how easily we revive some slumber,
and past lives whose bedrock
leases clay for song-craft,
yesterday and endless life-raft

You cling to: spin, speak, slander, sigh
some spell and I am here again
in words and bends,
stories that make amends
or cast dim light against dark glass.
Recited or revisited as phantom figure
for whichever fluttering incantation
suits mood or mould,
(or so I’m told).

Who knew you could fold
it up and call on me again
with your pencil music,
conversant magic,
fantastic images where I am rarely me?
Never exactly,
mostly impression,
only as much as the tilt of light
on the cross-hatching of imagination.

Whatever sparks that flight and
your mind sketches form and face,
remember all you really see is
outline, shade and soundless space.

– 5 October 2016

The Stand-in Girl

Come to think of it, I have only seen
Her silent moments
Contemplating her brittle youth,
Eyes turned to faraway thoughts
Where she never knowingly subscribed
To this mild-manner imitation of servitude.

Some second-rate Mephistopheles
Offered this deal, surely, but what
She forfeits to her temporary masters
Can hardly be sufficient for what is
Given in return.

What deal is this?
What passes for a year of life?

Her bedroom light remains
Past the hour when darkness eases
Its heavy weight, or so I guess:
I never look, just wonder,
Imagining all the nights she spends
Enclosed there, cradling a mobile,
A tit-for-tat of traded cries until
A toddler stirs
She must go,
Must she,
Until it ends?

One late afternoon I saw her beating
Stubborn tiredness, washed sheets
Against the railings upon the balcony.
Another morning she leads and trails
Her charges through winding streets.
Adrift, unmoored, we cross unnoticed.

Does she smile?
Not even, I think, when a taxi departs
Bearing her away this one night,
Though I may have read
Relief on those lips,
But for the fickle patterns of the light.

(20 February 2015)

Rehearsal (19 October)

Linger on sidewalks whose
shadowed walls
day-drawn blinds
conceal mechanical monsters
their false starts and stops
leach out
tick-tock whirring of the
slow, twisting, turning,
winding of gears stretching
hidden strings

now so tightly aligned,
deposited polished and gleaming
in the upright position
we imagine arms
poised Mummy-like
when the owner removes
their grip to let this
perfect contraption
recall its
tortured sequence


On the 10th of October (1o October)

I remembered today and
Before it passes, this
Quarter-life, half-life
All gone since you left
Would say

Your leaving, the last of many departures
We mark
The strangest anniversaries, these,
Disappearing acts
Performed once only
Bringing silent pleas for an encore
   Empty house
   Cold room


The rest is –

Before I began to increment
Days into months into years
Commenced within an hour
In fractured passing,
Your voice would sometimes crash
Against the walls of dreams
Awake, asleep, its echo blurred.

Mind’s eye, my sense of you,
Once so loud dims to
Those final monochrome moments,
Pale, bleached shades of

Your eyes
Your face

Not again, again, again.


This is the clock that
Unwinds my life
Echoing with such precision.

Where does love disappear to?
Can it fade or merely hide?
Does not leave but
Haunts us
With what cannot be undone.

So when I remember today
I will try to see
The smiling years,
The Before
Though I cannot unsee

You follow me everywhere
All of you

So I will remember the next
When it comes
If only to remember and
Mark these days.

The table, again (23 September)

Plunging through the slanting doorway
Into open arms and customary greetings:
Lips grease stubbled cheeks and vice versa,
While open palms meet firm backs,
Shoulders are vice-gripped amidst
Easy monosyllables and nervous laughter.

Trying to beeline for the lounge they are
Interrupted by the usual diversions as
Reunion transforms into museum tour,
Strangers reviewing this curated inversion of
Familiar walls, spaces, faces
Blanked and redecorated.

Cautiously, each sentry resumes
Their former place as added chairs
Accordion old order into new formation.
Question, answer, nod, pause.
Again, but with more hesitation
As fingers form unseen knots, trace time.

Coffee? No, the other one.
Bag drifts, slides into the cup:
Drowning, sinking, rising, drowning
Like some bobbing body coming unstrung.
All the pieces now arrange themselves
In three-card monte played sotto voce.

They wait
Concealed within the mist
For the first misheard word,
For mistake or miscalculation,
A chance to pounce with vicious claws
On suspecting prey.

Settling steam condenses these windowed lives
Admitting storied stains, dusty residue and
More double layers than a Tim Tam
Not in this house!
But instead they sip it in,
This new civilised, suppressive brew.

Knowing the centre cannot hold
And all that
Blah blah blah
Back and forth, back and forth
They push friction aside
With small talk, small words.

A slow exhale across the water’s surface
Skims heat off the top.
From the yard a black dog rears up
With jolting cries, a Lego figurine
Assembled from a million fuzzy fragments.
A toast!

April 9

Moving at walking pace you only capture
a two-second glance between eye blinks:
Warmer trays turn barricades a ghostly shade
as mopping girl’s ponytail, wrung tight,
whips rhythmically to anonymous FM tunes
while mother’s unwavering stare
nestles tiredly on the doorway
only four metres away.

A few cloudy seconds to create that
Sharp tableaux, not easily erased.
Immigrant dreams flat-packed, reformed,
boxed in again by the simple mathematics of
space and distance:
square feet, now, not miles.