Have you thought about our first common ancestor,
presumably female. Did she know her offspring
would absorb variations from all those males
who found sexual love to be a necessary part of their role
for replication, amongst the hullaballoo of life. It started
unimaginably further back, near alkaline vents in warm water
where proton gradients and chemistry somehow became biology.
Out of atoms, or to be precise, quarks, electrons and neutrinos.
the first heartbeat became us, then we started to ask questions
about ourselves, including what was all the empty space
between these tiny particles held together and apart
by three mysterious force fields. But then
consciousness wanted more, looking for meaning.
Now if I was looking for god it’s a fair bet that
she lies somewhere in all that empty space
holding our little particles just the right distance apart,
for us to be magnificent thinking animals.
Let’s face it, it’s all a fluke, and to top it off we can make
music, poetry and even magic. Out of the dust of stars we have
Shakespeare, Jimmy Barnes and Dr. Yunipingu.
But our existence is so unlikely, I get nervous just thinking about it.
evolution might suddenly decide the whole thing is a mistake, and fall into some kind of
entropic stasis as the system crashes from complexity or lack of love…
Then if that isn’t unsettling enough, spare a thought
for the space time continuum and the fourth dimension,
where all things that can happen have already happened,
no beginning and no end. Eternity. That’s it, nothing matters.
When this creation/infinite universe depression comes on
I go back to childhood memories of bicycle face breezes,
sea salt, sunburn cream and smell of old schoolrooms.
I talk to my dog about it, she says without smell things don’t have any meaning,
her little neuron computer is only olifactorily programmed
Then I talk to the trees who tell me about chlorophyll and photons,
the osmotic pressure of the sap, being green and making oxygen from CO2
and water. So I get the urge to burst into leaf and blossom.
Our planet seems so small and irrelevant, when someone asks me who I am,
I am not sure what to say. Perhaps from East Africa, or a village in North England
watching the Vikings drifting in with the tide with rape and pillage in their eye.
Or a Vandemonian settler burning our native’s huts because they took a sheep.
Here we are in the Goldilocks zone in the solar system, and all our history is about
these sacs of nerves and minerals with brains and beating hearts struggling for dominion.
The egg carriers and the careless seed carriers are stuck in their roles.
Our warm flesh is curious to know each other, curves and shape of neck, pulse
wrist, breast, nipple, nerves in our skin, eyelids, lips and tongue.
The phallus and the fanny, our heartbeats, ecstatic embrace, the ache and the release.
Biological drive and the need to know ourselves by knowing others. All this,
belongs to us. So, could our gender diversity be the answer to my evolutionary doubts.
THE SILICON BRAIN
Whenever I look up words in my compact dictionary
like adiabatic annealing or metempsychosis, they aren’t there.
So I make a list for the silicon chip brain, the data hoarders
with clinical memories storing words and images,
fake news and revenge porn, getting hot switching on and off.
Need to be cooled, quantum computers like to be close to zero,
storing our history, geography, language and poetry.
And they are learning ambivalence. Meteorology, country rain
is forecast as fifty percent chance of 1 to 5 mm, can mean anything.
Yet they don’t quite have our doubts and fears,
which might prompt output such as “Yes but what’s next?”
or “Are you sure of this data?” or “You may get another
answer if you change the variables,” or, “In your dreams”.
But can there ever be poetry? Is there beauty in science?
Does our Voyager spacecraft carry anything meaningful
as its heads towards the Magellanic cloud carrying data
like a slam champion describing humanity in five minutes?
Soon we will face an electric ‘Ern Malley’ who may come up
with a few silicon chosen words of truth and beauty. But I
never trust poetry from one who has never felt love and loss.
Those black velvet lips and heavy head lay down
last night in the frost and left his pain behind.
Those proud hooves tearing the passive grass,
the strong neck and horizontal flying tail,
a mirage of hair, energy, muscle and soul
is now back amongst generations of horse.
I should have kept some of his mane,
nomads say the spirit remains in the twine
and strings they use for music instruments.
In felt yurts on the steppe, music tells
of breath turning to crystals in winter.
and green summer pastures in the desert
where fresh water slowly turns to salt.
‘Monty’ was a long way from central asia,
exchanged the wolf packs for the saddle
and the odd carrot, oats and kind words.
But he knew from where his ancestors came
and they will call him back to Samarkand.
Sculpture at Sawmiller 2014
The sculptures have crept back to Sawmiller reserve,
like a council chuckout pile freeing itself from neglect
and human prejudice, the prisons of suburbia.
Elsa and Michael conferring legitimacy
on this conspiracy of anarchy and creativity.
Organic consciousness from metal and stone,
an SOS from the third kingdom, nymphs in trees,
wire homunculi, steel animals and wooden angels.
Those human figures dissembling emotional energy
PVC secrets, comic characters playing chess.
Old stone steps searching for another level,
the earth mother and Miller’s dogs unperturbed.
Colour and bling competing with rust and decay,
distorted sacred space made for the human heart
a congregation of fragile images sitting beside
the impassive flooded Triassic sandstone valley.
Those Wandering Stars
Pythagoras was bored with the Illiad.
Thinking about the here and now,
the geometry of plants, the joy
in the intervals of plucked strings
and ringing of the Ionian blacksmiths.
As time dripped from the clepsydra
he had time to think and doodle,
he felt the frisson of ideas falling
into place like lintels over doorways
through which he glimpsed something perfect.
He dreamt of a powerful future
where he might teach the children
how to see over the horizon.
Euclid was looking at an olive
wondering why it wasn’t round.
He saw the shape of the Aegean moon,
the curve of the earth on its surface.
A fish made a splash in the harbour
circles of iridescence carried outward.
Stars were reflected as points of light.
The ancient breeze carried mystery
and made straight the mooring lines.
He looked at these things as geometry
and thought this might measure the world,
so man might look into the eye of his god
and say “ you are not the only one to know.”
Appolonius abstained from diurnal imbibing
so he could see the serenity in an egg,
the curve of ellipses, and the locii of parabolas.
He sensed the need for a line
beyond the simplicity of the circle.
These patterns provided an echo
of the shape in iron chain bridges
and the curve of the masonry arch.
Archimedes was musing how
science might magnify nature
and put a lever into the hand of man.
The Alexandrian library was
three weeks in a leaking trireme
with pirates and storms in the offing.
The tidal race, Scylla and Charybdis,
caught the oars of galleys manned
by believers in monsters of the deep.
The magic of buoyancy and shadows
of ideas swam through his mind with
a swirl of turbulence from the past.
The force that held the stones of history
might be manipulated by machines.
Aristotle came to Al Ma’mun in a dream.
In the house of wisdom in Baghdad
he had accumulated manuscripts
wrapped in oiled egyptian cotton.
The Hindu methods of reckoning,
the geometry of the Greeks, almanacs
from China, a thousand tales from Persia.
Looking for reconciliation with the Qu’ran,
so the eloquence of man’s tongue
might shine light into the mind of another
showing the logic of his belief.
Timur was restless in his silken tent.
He read the captured texts from the west
and built his monuments to the stars
amongst the almond groves of the Oxus.
In the evening he looked at the pattern
of seeds in a pomegranate.
At sunrise from the top of a minaret
just after the muezzin’s call to prayer
he could see the curvature of the earth
and he never doubted man’s right
to ask questions of the heavens.
Uleg Beg, mapped stars with his eyes
wide open in the desert night, wondering
like others on the far side of the world
whether these glittering jewels were
parts of god’s mysterious realm.
He had no way of knowing
they were more numerous than
the grains of sand in the Karakum desert
Gradually in the cobblestoned lanes
of Krakow, Bologna, Prague and Pisa
the eye instructed the brain
to derive laws written in nature.
The speed of these dark planets
around the blinding centre was mind boggling.
But the beauty of deduction was obscured
by priests who believed that man
could not be trusted to imagine the
infinite beyond their geocentric world.
Weather Gods and Angels
Oracles with science degrees draw synoptic charts, isobars
nudge clouds, invisible pressure, leaves catch forecasts on the breeze.
You would expect something wild on this satellite of soil and rock
tethered by gravity attraction to its nuclear reactor god.
Then summoned by the invisible priest wind sets the trees praying,
a few drops from pizzicato base and light percussion over the hill.
My kelpie hiding in her box, listens to electric thunder,
from the giant devil dingo growling in the next valley.
The lake was a pool of mercury then the wind swoops,
a kadaitja in a willy willy, seeking revenge from the west.
A front comes molto vivace, the congregation turn their backs
while nature takes a bath, regular baptism, coming ready or not.
The adagio of lost time, doubt and pain crowding like iron dust
to a lodestone at night. I was in a hurry to get somewhere,
I needed a bag of words to find minds paradise, something poetic
after the transgression, rest after the wildness of the storm.
But even angels fear that kind of madness that weighs
every word on a scale and takes a ruler to measure the heavens.
The Winter of Discontent
Winter country shrinks down, dormant
seeking a response from its sky partner,
hard to separate the earth from weather
or from friends who walk over it
with the cries of their children,
dispensing their own rough justice.
Or grandchildren’s tiny hands
hanging on to immortality
Absent friends like kangaroos culled
or visiting pockets of pasture
in alternative valleys of the mind.
A little thinning of the herd, prostates
cut or zapped, some early dementia,
bored with natures rules.
Finding romance, lecturing on ships
New relationships, calendar flexibility.
I am not halfway through pruning the vines
sleet is drifting in from the Southwest
the crows are complaining hungry
I think of my warm fireside like
the lairs of native and feral animals.
Ambitions of friends now retired.
Writing groups, suddenly we must
get it down. Previous generations
left few notes behind, knew who they were.
Search for identity, driving us.
In daylight it is what others see
in the way we queue to be served
and the sinister joy of laughter,
photos and linen in old trunks
attached to past lives like
slim volumes irreverent of time.
Surfacing of childhood memories,
chatting with country folk about
the daily dance with stumblefooted nature.
Large families further out, fourteen children
could fence a fair bit of country..
The valley below me had five families
veggie patches and chooks, the school
with one teacher and tinkers to spread
the news of births and passings.
I could read a book instead of writing
this poem, and it might tell me more
than spending hours in the mind’s library.
If you are too cosmopolitan, who are you?
Said the silver haired lady with blue eyes
and tartar cheekbones. But she wasn’t
too exotic compared to some outback characters.
Bluey the farrier who knows horses
like people, telling endless stories,
composing rhymes in his head
reciting them to the world around him.
Or the vet who goes anywhere in his sedan
and can manually preg-test fifty cows an hour
while discussing local issues and the weather.
A willy wagtail comes by who knows me
and his confidence calms my discontent
“I am sharing this space and moment…”
Art and Thieves
Feathers I find here are not from angels,
as the snow on the tablelands melts
like my memories of the Italian heat.
Our sun is taking a European holiday.
Twilight Camparis in Campo dei Fiori
watching girls walking on their toes
so heels don’t catch in the cobbles.
Rome maybe full of art and thieves,
watched over by sad Madonnas
and the crumpled body of Jesus. But
the odd piece of art can make you
grit your teeth to slow down the tears
in the face of legends made real,
marble limbs of perfect innocence
faces caught in piety or passion
heroes in fine clothes and spiritual ascendancy.
But now, jet lagged, brain halfway
between those polished stones
and the reference books on my shelves
I am back in familiar country. Herds
of eastern grey macropods, flocks
of black cockatoos buoyant with
lazy wing beats and funereal cries.
An ecclesiastical falcon watching
over all the space and light here.
There were cockatoos watching the ATM in Rome,
I paid no regard to the handsome gipsy,
like a silly goat, an innocent caught
in Caravaggio’s Rome, I did not feel
his delicate fingers in my pocket.
Art has no currency when the poor are hungry
and the poems they found next to the loot
were tossed after searching for clues
hidden amongst ephemeral truths.
‘South of my days’ is about as far from Italy
as the feral animals and hard black frosts
under the silver web of the milky way,
that I see when I awake here at three a m
for my coffee and pastry in the Via del Croce.
By the way, if I hadn’t seen Caravaggio’s
St Jerome, full of years and learning,
resigned to the sadness of wisdom,
I would have imagined all he painted
was youth waiting to be aroused
to the possibilities of vice,
the chiaroscuro of life with
art as a trade in service of power.
It’s hard not to wake the dead over there.
I try to build a museum of words,
but I am distracted by the wild pigs
ploughing up grass on the native dog syncline.
Perhaps this country was never meant
for pageant or rich tapestry.
The first Europeans turned north
to the cloves and spices
to dress their rotten meat
and perfume their civilization.
As I try to escape seductive history
I look each day here for nature’s miracles
presented without chronicle or opera
in a country that absorbs blood like sand.
The Old Quarry
The track ended in a kind of regret
for the lack of purpose in a once vigorous
enterprise. Evidence of human endeavour
hung like sadness over the quarry.
My thoughts slowed, feeling the sky
and the eucalypts reclaiming the gravel.
In a depression where clay settled
were the tracks of visitors preserved.
Time compressed, there were only three
dimensions. Past and immanent future
seemed to be the same, beginning again.
Did I belong in the moment or outside it?
The dogs as usual followed their noses,
constructing recent history, making new.
I collect fresh gum tips, vigorous
re-growth, roots swelling in damp cracks.
Suddenly humbled by geological time
my life was a folder of unfinished poems,
then doubts about life’s purpose dissolved
by the life force in the small wren nearby.
What Shall We Teach the Children
Of what is the world made, asked Thales,
it is the playground of the gods maybe,
but what shall we teach the children?
An ordinary man may capture fire, another will sing of its beauty
one will observe the earth shaking, another will sacrifice to his demons.
There are those who pray, those who fight and those who choose science,
While the emperor claims the credit for trigonometry of the temple.
The voyager consulting his barometer, chronometer and sextant
coordinating position from stars, declension tables the new liturgy.
Cataloging plants, making maps, longitude, giving things names,
St Elmo’s fire at the masthead, a reminder of god’s prescence.
Frogs legs and magnets, those bumping electrons,
Voltage differential, like man impatient and curious.
Lucky Fraday with his electric hum, felt the torque,
Found invisible magnetic field even affecting light rays.
Energy and the carbon factor, the heart of the diamond
the pale organic fire of methane, explosive at one in eight.
An element with beautiful bonding, electron spacing
revealing the clever poetic beauty of the periodic table.
Theoretical physicists playing god with infinitesimal particles
stripping atoms, behavior and life in microseconds, but
not knowing the momentum and position of a particle.
Measuring disorder, increasing entropy, imagining absolute zero.
An experiment repeated is a conversation with nature,
knowledge owned by all, like the jugglers built in radar
his instinctive parabolic skill, anticipating gravity,
finding the trope for energy, work and equilibrium.
Let x be the unknown quantity until we run out of questions.
Facts are stubborn things, the age of wonder probably ended
with the silicon chip imagining all, matrix algebra
and differential calculus, mimicking evolution in tiny steps.