I ... entered the poem of life, whose purpose is ... simply to witness the beauties of the world, to discover the many forms that love can take. (Barabara Blackman in 'Glass After Glass')

These poems are works in progress and may be updated without notice. Nevertheless copyright applies to all writings here and all photos (which are either my own or used with permission). Thank you for your comments. I read and appreciate them all, and reply here to specific points that seem to need it — or as I have the leisure. Otherwise I reciprocate by reading and commenting on your blog posts as much as possible.

30 November 2010

Next Steps

Keep very quiet. Tell no-one
what you experienced in Semarang
on your last visit to Bali.

(Yes, Semarang’s in Java. We went there
from Bali, to visit people we met; took in
Jogja and Borobudur on the way.)

Wrestle alone with the strange
things that happened. Try to find rational
explanations. Fail.

Driving across the island, south to north,
going up into the hills, we passed a hut.
A young woman came to her door
and stared out. Our eyes locked
a long moment. Behind her I saw
two small naked boys on a dirt floor.

At once it seemed I knew all about them,
what their lives were. It seemed I had lived
that childhood, become that mother.

Experience increasingly severe headaches.
Conceal them from others. Fear
you are going mad; fight for control.

Approaching Semarang, I felt
a dull headache begin and worsen
until I was dumb with pain.

When we came into the city, I knew
before we got there, what was around each bend,
in detail as if familiar. Shocked, said nothing.

Suddenly that stopped. The remaining streets
were unknown. Our host mentioned later 

an old and a new city. We’d driven through 
old Semarang to arrive at his home in the new.

After three months of silent battle, notice
you are still functioning in your life,
and are no danger to yourself or others.

Looking across Semarang harbour,
I saw two grey warships — visible, solid, and yet
I knew they would disappear if I shifted focus,
and that no-one else could see them there.

‘Did the war come to Semarang?’
I asked very casually. He shrugged.
‘The war came everywhere.’  Only
at home, when I did my research, I found

a picture of warships in that harbour —
not positioned exactly as I'd seen,
but I recognised the type of ship.
(Research said, probably Australian.)

Give up. If you are indeed building
a delusional structure in your head — well
it seems harmless; and it 's not going away.

Decide: If you can’t find a rational
explanation, accept the irrational.


The head pain stopped on the instant.
Peace engulfed me.  Surely
it was all fated. I became
aware of God.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 29
Prompt: a ‘next steps’ poem.

A request to my readers

Dear Readers

I only have two more Bali poems to write, or possibly three as we always get the option of two on Tuesday. Then December will be spent editing and revising, and choosing which ones to include in a chapbook of 10-20 pages to enter in the competition.

If any of you have the time and inclination, I'd love you to tell me which ones you'd like to see included.  I am making a 'Like' box available at the end of each post, which you can tick if applicable.

Most need much editing, so I am really only asking which ones you consider worth working on for inclusion in the book.

(All I know so far is that the book will be called 'Remembering Bali', will probably start with the first poem, 'Remembrance of Times Past', and might end with day 17's 'Tell Me Why'. Others will likely not be in the order they were written.) 

Many thanks!

29 November 2010

What Really Happened?

My youngest, twenty-odd years later,
found a new Bali — enough of the old
and enough contemporary thrills
to delight him. He liked the bars and clubs
as well as the directness of the villagers;
made friends, goes back sometimes.

Cool cat Adi, at 27, carried on the family business
with his own small hotel, dressed in jeans
instead of the traditional jacket and sarong,
had an Australian girlfriend (live-in)
and rode a motor-bike. It crashed. At 27 Adi died.

The French couple who took us to Tanah Lot
sent a surprised post-card at Christmas
in answer to my long, warm letter. So I learned,
‘Let’s keep in touch’ doesn’t always mean that.

David, my older son, said while still a child,
‘I don’t think I’d like to marry a Balinese girl.
I noticed that they start looking old very quickly.’

We didn’t keep in touch. Our lives changed
as lives do: we moved ... we split up
twelve years after our last trip to Bali.

Long before that, friends came as our guests
to Australia. We didn’t give them the good time
we all desired. Not so rich in our own country
as we looked in theirs, we were working hard.

I remember a hotel maid in Sanur, who asked,
‘How many servants do you have, at home?’
‘None,’ I told her. She murmured politely
but her eyes showed disbelief. ‘Feel my hands,’
I said. My hard palm visibly shocked her.

This happened, that happened, all of it real.
But just for a brief, unforgotten time, I saw
life lived as I’d always dreamed it could be.
That altered, and the country is richer now,
which may be good. But that short glimpse
was enough for me to know I wasn’t mad.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 28
Prompt: a "what really happened" poem.

Blame Hitler, Blame Hirohito

Blame Hitler, blame Hirohito, I don’t know —
whoever took war
to the beautiful islands of the South Pacific.

Blame them for the bomb
that simultaneously killed his parents
and deafened him for life.

It was Bill’s mate Neil who met Mendra,
and decided to take him to Java
to get his hearing fixed.

It was expensive. Bill helped too.
After that, Mendra was their friend forever
and the kids’ and mine as well.

He loved our kids and they loved him.
He was like a big elder brother or funny uncle
who made up games of clowning and mime.

The vocal chords had atrophied.
He could hear, but he still couldn’t speak.
So, as he always had, he used expression and gesture.

And he drew!
Those drawings were as good as speech.
We thought they were brilliant. Well, they were.

We wanted him to have a future
with his hearing and his art,
instead of the begging and the menial jobs.

But Mendra had TB.
I don’t know if you can blame the war for that.
He died suddenly, young, and we wanted to blame someone.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 27
Prompt: ‘Blame ...’  and fill in the blank.

28 November 2010

The Lady from Lombok / Tail Between His Legs

Tail Between His Legs

When we had become
friends again,
able to talk and even laugh
about our respective peccadilloes,
he told me of the night
he tried to go to her bed a second time,
barefoot across the dark veranda
from his room to hers.

He almost stumbled into her husband,
leaning back in a chair
with his air rifle over his knees.
‘I’m just watching out
for stray dogs,’ he said.
‘If any old dog comes sneaking
into my place here
where he doesn’t belong,
he’ll get a big “Ping!” in the tail.’
and he rocked back and cackled.

I don’t recall what Bill replied, or if;
but he got the message. I think
he made a bit of conversation
and some excuse for being there —
knowing the other man knew
and knew Bill knew he knew —
then went back to his own bed,
concentrating hard on not running.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 26
Prompt: an ‘on the run’ poem


At night, the island was full of spirits.
There were no street lights in those black lanes
only lamps on the verandas below the thatch,
or hung on poles beside the gates.

While the gekkos rustled in the cabin walls
we stayed indoors. ‘Don’t go out tonight,’
our friends said. ‘This is not a good night.
There are ghosts.’ On some other nights,
they whispered the names of demons.
They meant it seriously, and we believed.

It was not our country. Our rules
were absent here. This place lived
by its own reality. Besides, you could see
shapes in the shadows, and in the tendrils
of trailing smoke from the cooking fires.

I was glad, therefore, to meet the Barong
with his wild sunburst mane of a head
and the good face in the middle. I didn’t see
that face as animal or fierce. To me
the Barong was friendly, his gaze direct.

They told me he sometimes appeared
as elephant, horse or goat, but most often
the hybrid I encountered: lion and tiger mixed.
‘Who is that great animal with you?’
clairvoyants ask me. ‘Some kind of cat?’
It must be the Barong, still looking after me.

‘He wouldn’t let me near you,’ complained one —
who proved to be a bad friend. But that was in Australia.
In Bali I watched as villagers danced with the Barong
and Mendra hammered its image into beaten metal.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 25
Prompt: an animal poem


I remember, at the resting place of the king,
a thin old man, hunched double, crawling like a spider
and grinning happily. Su explained, cripples were hidden
away from tourist centres, but this was a quiet spot
little visited. He could find a living here, minding the garden.

Even so, it was hard to comprehend that happy face.
‘All his needs are met,’ said my friend. And I looked around
at the old stone walls, the carved seats, the sunlight,
the straggling strands of bougainevillea, and thought:
This is one whose whole life is lived in regenerative spaces.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 24
Prompt: a spaces poem

27 November 2010

Defining Moment


At Uluwatu the water boiled green.
Su was with me in the temple on the cliff.
Was there anything more beautiful I’d ever seen?
At Uluwatu the water boiled green
and the froth was lacy. I had not foreseen
that gorgeous abyss, the unspoken ‘What if?’
At Uluwatu the water boiled green
as Su and I stood on top of the cliff.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 23
Prompt: a ‘form’ poem.

Submitted for dVerse Poetics: It's Tempting

Stand By Me

In time we read of the death
of the man who was still known
as the last Rajah of Denpasar,
though he never ruled.
We called him Bapah.

As his family did. It was a word
for Father, and he was Patriarch.
He and Bill talked philosophy, sang
old Dutch songs together. (Amazing
to us, how many Indonesians
had fond memories of the Dutch.)

When Bapah went to hospital,
Bill found him in pain on a thin mattress.
‘We’re not putting up with this!’ he said,
went back to the hotel and ripped
the comfortable one off his own bed.
He marched back into the hospital,
carrying it on his shoulder, lifted Bapah
on to a chair and remade the bed.

The old man recovered, and went on
visiting in turn each of his five wives
allotting equal time to keep the peace.
‘Have one wife only!’ he advised BIll.
What Bapah really wanted
in his old age, was to be a priest.

It was years later we read
of his cremation, and the tale
of how he was found as a baby,
only survivor of the mass suicide
of his conquered family.... A gentle man.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 22
Prompt: taking a stand.  (There are several in this poem.)

Note: The word for father is properly spelt Bapak, but we pronounced it as written here.

Permission Denied

I’m going home,’ he said.
‘You and the kids can stay longer.’

Good heavens, I thought,
he’s bored! How can that be?
But I never argued with Bill
when he was in that kind of mood.

I didn’t, but some did.
The trouble was, the boys —
too young to travel on their own —
appeared on his passport, not mine.

‘I’ll fix it,’ he said,
striding up to the counter.

Through calm request,
blustering, some vague threats
of 'important contacts',
and an attempted bribe,

the uniformed man
continued to smile
politely, contemptuously.
‘I’m sorry sir.’

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 21
Prompt: a ‘permission’ poem

26 November 2010


‘I must believe,’ he said.
I understood. ‘Yes,
because you have seen.’

He nodded. He was speaking
of the witches in his home village
in Karangasem, past the mountain.
His uncle was one of them.

Already I too believed,
though I didn’t know then
that I myself was a witch.
There were just these things I did,
these things that happened....

I think of that acceptance
now, in my own country,
where so many ignorantly think
witches are evil, magic is wrong.

In Bali the villagers knew
witches are healers, magic
like all things, is a gift from God.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 20
Prompt: a ‘what’s wrong or right’ poem

This poem also appears in Sherry's Poets United feature: A Chat With Rosemary Nissen-Wade ~ On Poetry and Witchcraft.

24 November 2010

The Children

The children squatted in a circle
around a space on the ground,
heads bent, hands moving
in a game I couldn’t see:

David and Stephen, blonde,
aged six and four — mine —
and Rini and Trisna, dark,
quick and thin, a little older.

Absorbed in their play,
unconcerned with us,
unconsciously beautiful
in opposite ways,

they spoke to each other
with looks and gestures
and with words they didn’t share,
the meaning understood.

In the centre of their circle
was a space, which they filled
with the business of play
and with communication.

There was no gap between them.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 19
Prompt: write a poem with a hole in it.

Lost and Found

(The Effect of Holidaying in Bali)

We lost
the certainty
of being our greatest loves.

We lost the keeping
of our promises to each other,
the warmth of them,
and truth.

He did allow himself
to be seduced
by the soft-voiced young woman
with lowered eyes.

And I, refraining from golden youth,
fell into other (unregretted) arms.
A fellow traveller, a romantic
tale I won’t tell here.


We found
the real truth of each other
to each other —
which we then ignored.

In our hearts
we were brother and sister,
not lovers.
Not even best friends, but mirrors.

We found a way back
to our interrupted marriage.
There was love; it was real.
And there were the kids.

I played him like a whore
rather than risk them a stepmother —
mine had been cruel, my Dad too weak.
And that’s the truth.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 18
Prompt: a ‘lost and found’ poem.
(The marriage didn't last - how could it? - but it endured until the kids were grown.)

Submitted 23 May 2013 to Poets United's Verse First: The Wild Truth

Tell Me Why

Why do you still think of Bali
after all these years?

Love is the answer to every question
and this one too. I fell intensely in love
with the place as you might a person.

Why did you burst out crying
so often on that first visit?

As Bill said at the time, understanding first:
it was the Indian in me. I was seeing
memories of my grandparents’ house —
bowls, carvings, vases, jewellery....

And after your third visit, why did you sob
uncontrollably, all the way home on the plane?

I knew I would never return to Bali,
never be with my love again. I was right.
Life has a way of cancelling our plans.
And now it’s too late; my Bali is dead.

Why are you writing so many poems
on your Bali? Why not let go?

I am old at last, and selecting
what is precious out of my life.
I offer the essence to God, and I feast.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 17
Prompt: make the title ‘Tell me why (blank)’, fill in the blank, then write the poem.

(My poem has several questions, so I left the title unfinished.)

22 November 2010


Mendra’s drawings were thrown away.
‘We’ll go back there another day,
and get some better ones,’ I said.
Three months later Mendra was dead.
We never went back anyway.

In gifted drawings, he’d portray
the things he had no speech to say
from out his deaf-mute, silenced head.
Mendra’s drawings,

which he made for my sons in play
and in love, on our final day,
scribbled on scraps of a note-pad,
turned out to be all that we had
of our friend. But I threw away
Mendra’s drawings.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 210: 16/2
Prompt: an unstacking poem

(And it's another rondeau.)

21 November 2010


‘She will dwell too much in fantasy,’
the palmist told my parents
when I was a child. ‘Make sure
she keeps her feet on the ground.’

The ground I walked then
was the island, Tasmania,
and I wanted no other place to be.
Nature fed my inner world,
fantasy mixed with reality.

I was river and sky,
ocean and mountain,
earth and tree. I was
inside dream and fairy-tale.
The spirits of place
spoke to me.

Wrested away at 15,
to a flat, dry landscape,
I lived in longing.
Fate moved me. I merged
with a city; seldom returned
to my island, except in sleep.

I was 34 when I stepped off a plane
into Bali — another small island
of mountains and streams.
Ocean and sky embraced me.
The spirits danced, surrounding me.

Afterwards, though I walked the ground
of Melbourne, I lived my life
in a strange state of removal, my soul
inhabiting an island.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 15 (slightly out of order)
Prompt: a "just when you thought it was safe" poem.

20 November 2010

Remembering Bali

I remember processions of women
winding their way on narrow roads
to the temple.
Their sarongs were edged with gold,
their kebayas lacey.
I remember the deep colours:
vivid pinks, magentas,
inspired by hibiscus and bougainevillea.

And on their heads
high, conical towers of offerings:
trays of food and flowers
in colours to match or outdo
the kebayas and sarongs —
piled to impossible heights,
and tapering
to the tiniest points at the top.

Every offering,
every portion of every layer,
was an intricate work of art
created lovingly
without hurry.
And without hurry
they walked to the temple
straight-backed, with gently swaying hips.

The serenity
of those petal-soft faces
completes me still
as I gaze in recollection.
Watching the processions pass,
not with fanfare but simply
as day-to-day life,
day-to-day life becomes enough.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 16/1
Prompt: a stacking poem

I'm blocked on day 15

... so I am giving up for now and proceding to day 16.

Day 15 shall appear at some time, out of order.

16 November 2010

Crossing Points

At the intersection of two paths
she placed rice and flowers
in a tiny palm-leaf boat.

Seeing me, she smiled,
put her hands together and bowed.
I returned the unknown gesture.

It was my first morning in Bali.
I‘d slipped out early
before the others woke.

Six years later, guests
at Ngurah’s father’s cremation,
we shared the preliminary feast.

Some tourists opened the gate.
Ngurah strode down the path. ‘Sorry,
this part is only for family.’

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 14
Prompt: a crossroads poem

How Shall We Spend the Money?

He had such a good month,
we found ourselves unexpectedly rich.
We needed carpets, we needed curtains —
but we never even had a honeymoon.
Kids and all, we went to Bali.

That was such a good month!
The experience proved unexpectedly rich.
Woven carpets, bamboo curtains,
and the holiday became a honeymoon,
kids and all, in exotic Bali.

Laughing and silly,
we sprawled on the bed. The kids
were having their afternoon sleep.
‘Just think,” I said straight-faced,
“We could have had curtains and carpets,
if we hadn’t come to Bali.’

We laughed ourselves silly,
rolling on the bed — while the kids
somehow managed to stay asleep —
to think how ridiculously straight-laced
it would have been, buying curtains and carpets
instead of coming to Bali.


November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 13
Prompt: Ask a question in the title and have the poem answer it.

(This form doesn’t have a name yet; it’s my own invention.)


We visited Semarang
to see the old couple, Javanese,
who’d stayed at our hotel.
(Indonesians holiday in Bali too.)
Our friend Linda was with us.

We couldn’t stop staring
at the two teenage daughters,
nor restrain our praise for their beauty.
(Recollecting, I gasp even now.)
‘We,’ the old lady said,
‘Think you are beautiful womans.’

Another time we lounged,
after dinner, on Putrha’s veranda.
His pretty wife Tini remarked,
‘We walk down the street
and everyone calls you beautiful.
I hear them all say, “Cantik, cantik”’.

‘Which one?’ I asked, thinking
of course they must mean Linda;
of course it couldn’t be me.
Tini leaned over and tapped me
firmly on the knee
with her index finger. ‘You!’

For the last thirty-one years
their forgotten words
have been less than whispers
against that older voice in my head
which calls me a plain girl: mine.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 12
Prompt: a ‘forget what they say’ poem.

14 November 2010

No-one Wants That Stuff

No-one wants batik caftans
in a Melbourne winter.
He was going to set up
the perfect import business
to enable us all
to return often to Bali.
He returned often,
the family only twice.

He opened a little shop
on Beach Road, Beaumaris,
and put a dressmaker there.
She invented short caftans —
ugly, and not the vogue.
No-one wants to look weird.
And no-one wants to wear
resort clothes in the suburbs.

I wonder if, in Bali,
the tourists still wear sarongs,
or do the Balinese
all dress Western now?
I miss those caftans, though —
the long ones, made over there.
But no-one wants that style today;
you can’t get them anywhere.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 11
Prompt: Title the poem ‘No One Wants ...’ and fill in the blank.

Oh Golden Lad

Oh golden lad, where are you now?
I hope not gone to dust below
the ground, or into the last fire.
You were the all of my desire
when you were young, so long ago.

It was thirty-seven years ago
we first locked eyes. How could we know
that swift passion would not expire,
oh golden lad?

And yet we always had to go:
too soon, too far each parting. So
those flames were not to flare higher.
Nor yet would they die down entire —
as you too, if you live, will know,
oh golden lad.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 10
Prompt: a love poem

13 November 2010

Balinese Time

The bride’s sixteen-year-old cousin
wore one white flower in her hair
(frangipanni). She herself
was beauty in bloom.

We had time to gaze,
standing about in the courtyard.
Honoured to be asked,
we made sure to arrive promptly
but nothing seemed to be happening.

Where were we meant to sit?
When would the priest turn up?
With such a long delay,
why did no-one look tense?

I approached the bridegroom’s aunt,
our chamber-maid who invited us.
‘When does the wedding start?’
She smiled, waggling her fingers. ‘Oh,
when we are ready, we begin.’

Gradually the courtyard filled.
Reaching for a delicacy on a passing tray,
I was politely admonished:
‘The old ones first. It will come to you.’

During the tooth filing ceremony,
that sacred Balinese ritual
without which they could not wed,
the bride was pale with fear
and brave, uttering no sound.

Her headdress was like a cupola.
The groom wore a long jacket
of bright embroidery, red and gold.
A gamelan orchestra played into dusk.


Three weeks later, we had the rhythm.
You can’t walk fast in floppy thongs
nor try to hurry the tide. The buffalo
move slow in the paddies, as do
women with baskets on their heads.

The chambermaid asked, ‘What time
do you make your tour today?’
‘When we are ready, we will leave,‘
we said. Then we all laughed.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 9
Prompt: a ‘go slow’ poem.

Submitted in May 2013 for dVerse Poetics: 'Asians Are Ugly!' (We are invited to write of our own Asian experiences. This is one of many poems about my Bali experiences, which taught me that Asians are beautiful.)


(shadorma sequence)

was not forthcoming.
‘You can’t live
in Bali.
Without work, without money,
they won’t let you stay.’

‘I can’t lie
on the beach all day,’
said Himself.
‘I’d get bored.
The good life’s Australia.
But we will visit.’

Home again,
no-one understood.
‘The children!!!’
‘In Bali,’
I said, ‘Children are happy,
and educated.’

‘You tourists
will change what you love,’
said my Dad.
‘No,’ I said,
‘The culture has stayed the same
for many centuries now.’

Six more years
and dirt roads were paved;
at Kuta,
bright gardens
were replaced by crowded shops;
there were drug dealers.

More and more
I’m forced to agree:
I can’t go
back again.
Old Bali, if not quite gone,
is too much altered.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 8
Prompt: Agreement

10 November 2010


We didn’t guess, even though
the solitary Englishman at the bar
joked with her suggestively.

We only knew her airport job,
arranging sightseeing tours:
blue suit behind a desk.

Dinner times at our hotel,
in sleek black evening dress
she table-hopped, chatting.

She spoke English, French and Dutch
as well as Balinese and Indonesian;
good company in any language.

‘A woman as smart as that,’ said Bill,
‘Should be working for herself.
She’d be wonderful in business.’

The Englishman stared at us
over the top of a whiskey glass
and delivered his conversation stopper

(drawing out the word): ‘She is
in business for herself — she’s
the highest-priced hoor on the island.’

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 7
Prompt: a 'pro' poem (in the sense of being 'for' something, 
but I've allowed myself a slight reinterpretation).

7 November 2010

Looking for Us

There they were at the airport
looking for us over the heads of the crowd,
jumping up and down with big grins
behind the thin rope barrier —
half a dozen of our Balinese friends.

We started jumping and grinning too.
I’d missed that spontaneity, that truth.

Back in Melbourne, whenever we mentioned
our new friends, old friends said,
‘You mean — NATIVE people?’
We gaped at them in turn.
Suddenly we were among strangers.

‘You wouldn’t like it so much,’ said Melbourne,
‘If you went again. It was the novelty.’ No, it wasn’t.

We weren’t searching for ourselves;
we didn’t know we were lost.
But our hair grew thick, our nails grew strong,
our backs became straight and flexible,
and every day we laughed till our stomachs hurt.

Melbourne said, ‘You wouldn’t like it
if you lived as the people do.’ Wrong again.

In the quiet night of the village,
sitting with the women of the family
on Putrha’s veranda, learning to weave
palm leaves for the next day’s offerings,
I was at peace and at home. It was good

to be in my skin, and see my own thread
in the great fabric: tiny, essential.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 6
Prompt ‘Looking for ...’ [and fill in the blank].

6 November 2010


In her hair she wore a flower.
Her power
lay in her lowered eyes and voice.
His choice
was hardly that, more a portent.
My lament
is that he changed in that moment.
She was more beautiful than dawn.
From childhood he’d dreamed such a one.
Her power, his choice, my lament.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 5
Prompt: a metamorphosis poem

(An attempt at the ovillejo form.) 

Explanations of ovillejo: 


We flew home with Qantas,
the ‘graveyard shift’,
scheduled for midnight
and running three hours late.
The cabin staff
were hard-faced, grumpy.

The head steward
addressed us:
‘Your cabin baggage
is so heavy it’s a hazard.
We’re not taking off
until it’s all stowed in the hold.

Up and down the aisles
the hosties checked
lockers and under seats.
Guiltily Bill offered
the overnight bag on his lap.
A glance. ‘We don’t need that.’

Relief. In the hold
the old Dutch lamp
of curved white glass
could have broken,
smashed by its own
lead weights.

Our legs were cramped.
It was cold.
The kids were fractious,
so were we.
No-one got much sleep.
The crew continued surly.

shuffling through Customs,
we said with a laugh,
‘You can tell
who’s been to Bali.’
Other travellers were neat.

The Bali mob
straggling, yawning,
looked like refugees
in stained t-shirts, thongs,
and all kinds of bags
hanging off us.

We also had even tans,
an unhurried air
and a conscious, unspoken
complicity with each other —
knowing now a simpler, sweeter
life we could not import.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 4
Prompt: a containment poem

5 November 2010

The moon's path: October 2010

a quiet street
disturbed by garbage trucks
the cats complain


Hot spring rains.
Small black winged ants hatch,
swarm and die.


all night
she lies between us


rain clouds hide the moon
spring showers
my cold, dark garden


life in the delta
dim lights looming through the fog
and empty bellies


the moon’s path
wide over water
invites me


not dew but raindrops
lingering on leaves and grass
this quiet morning


His hair is Snowy
yet still that wild bush horseman
plays on his Banjo.


4 November 2010


Kuta Beach 1973

‘It’s been a beautiful autumn in Melbourne,’
our friends said, arriving three weeks later.
‘One of those Indian summers. We almost
didn’t want to come.’ 

We felt like old hands by then. Already
we were drying our sarongs by spreading them
over the nearest shrubs, and taking our tea
black and very sweet.

Bill went for a swim while the rest of us
lazed outside the hut, sipping iced lemon.
He was gone a long time, and came back
amazed, exhausted.

‘This German girl was caught in the current.
Nobody realised but me. I had to save her.
She was dazed, disoriented, nearly turned round
and went straight back in!’

In those days the Balinese didn’t swim. (Now
they surf with the Aussies.) It was tourists
in the water. It struck us then that the Europeans
couldn’t read the sea.

Even I, a poor swimmer who hates the surf —
bred in Australia, I can look at a beach
and know at once where to swim, and exactly
where I’d drown.

Melbourne Afterwards

The strangest thing was walking down the street
and no-one smiled at me. That and wearing shoes.
And only in Bali was I considered, for my fair skin,
a great beauty.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 3
Prompt: a location poem

Beginning / Arrival

After editing, what was one long poem has been divided into two (and tweaked a bit).


He bounced in the door, grinning.
‘Would you like to go to Fiji?’
All his friends and their wives
were going to Fiji that year.
‘Sure,’ I said, ‘Anywhere.’
I’d never been out of Australia.

Then he came home
with tickets for Bali instead.
He’d dreamed of Bali
since he was a boy
reading old travel books
that his grandfather owned.

‘Fine by me,’ I said.
‘Anywhere you like.
What will we do with the kids?’
He looked at me
as if I’d gone mad.
‘Take them with us, of course!’

We flew Garuda.
Everyone was in holiday mood,
the stewards and hostesses
happy too. Lots of kids on board;
nobody minded them running about.
We had a drink and relaxed.


When we landed, I was shocked.
A tiny airport, a few palms,
and soldiers with guns.
The taxi wound though narrow lanes.
The heat felt solid. How long before
I could get my stockings off?

We walked past reception
through a door in a wall
and into a wide courtyard.
A profusion of bougainevillea
half hid, half revealed
thatched two-storey huts.

A man lounged at the bar
looking as if he lived there.
I heard him order a gin sling
in a Pommy accent.
‘It’s like something out of
Somerset Maugham,’ I whispered.

Our hut had a ceiling fan
and a green tiled bath and basin.
A shy young waiter appeared
with a tray of welcoming drinks.
He was slim and golden.
Just like that, I fell in love.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 2/2
Prompt: A ‘ready to start’ poem

3 November 2010

Leaving Bali

I wasn’t ready yet to leave
the tiny island, nor to grieve
so heartbrokenly and so long
as I knew I must. It was wrong,
I said. Indeed, I still believe
I wasn’t ready.

For all my mourning, no reprieve
was possible; I had to leave
the colour, the fragrance, the song.
I wasn’t ready

to farewell new friends: either give
them a last goodbye, or deceive
them and me with, ‘It won’t be long.’
My companion told me, ‘Be strong!’
How optimistic, how naive —
I wasn’t ready.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010: 2
Prompt: a ‘not ready’ poem

(An attempt at the rondeau form)

2 November 2010

Remembrance of Times Past

I have been in my mind
revisiting Bali

back before drugs and surfers,
before the century turned.

Some things, I’m sure,
haven’t changed.

There will still be offerings
left on the paths:

tiny trays of woven palm leaves
filled with rice and flowers.

Processions of villagers will still
tread the rock path to Tanah Lot.

At Ubud, water trickling downhill
unseen through vines

will still tinkle
and the thick, dark leaves glisten.

I wanted to stay there then,
in the Island of the Gods.

But that was when I was young
and thought I would live forever.

That was before the nightclubs
and the bombs.

November Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge 2010: 1
Prompt: a "closing the door" or "turning the page" poem

November Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge 2010

This has just begun at the Poetic Asides blog of Robert Lee Brewer. (Look in the sidebar for November PAD Chapbook Challenge 2010.)

And here I go again!

1 November 2010

rain, rain, rain ... October tanka/gogyohka 2010

‘Black snow’ again,
a sudden attack
out of nowhere.
Shut the car window!
They’re burning the cane.


rain rain rain
the paddocks are lakes
the creeks overflow
I drive in the dark
on a narrowed road


The day so far

Take man for blood test,
walk briskly by river bank,
trip and nearly fall,
write and mail urgent letter,
forget to create tanka....


in the sky
there are many dragons
but they hide
they pretend to be clouds
angels do that too


I’m lying in bed
reading a tale of dragons.
I must get up, must
put the cacti back outside:
daylight-safe from gekko bites.


Spring morning.
The promise of cool showers.
A few warm moments
fire our anticipation
of long, hot days. Come, Summer!