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.

27 April 2017

Writing Shoes

When I put on my writing shoes
I can write poems that run fast,
straight into your hearts, poems
that have a spring in their steps 
to make you feel jubilant and
just a little bit childlike; joyous
and energetic poems that keep on
skipping about without getting tired;
poems that leap tall troubles in a –
you know – single bound, so you
feel good, good, good! And when I 
put on my other writing shoes, they
make the poems tiptoe softly, not
to disturb but to enter your dreams,
where they will dance for you, or
with you; or poems that walk right up
beside you and wait until you see them
and see they are just what you need, 
and then, if you listen, they’ll speak.

Written for Writing Shoes, day 27 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads'.

Outside the Body

We were dancing around in a circle
and bashing wooden spoons on saucepan lids;
we were twirling and spinning and whirling,
and sometimes, on purpose, doing small skids –
me, my little brother, my Dad (all kids!).
As my body kept the rhythm and pace,
and I still had the grin stuck on my face,
I found myself suddenly outside me
in a floaty, dreamy, delightful place:
watching it all from there, perfectly free.

Then, gradually, gasping and laughing, 
we faltered, wound down, and finally stopped.
Resuming my body, I slipped half in –
I realised later. At the time, flopped
happily breathless on a table topped
with my Dad’s dear pots of maidenhair fern
(on the back veranda, catching the sun)
I didn't know part of me was still out.
Decades later, a friend who was shaman
saw and restored that ethereal part.

Written for Outsider Art, day 26 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads'. 

(Yes, true story.)

25 April 2017

My Anzac Day

War planes are flying over the town.
I hear them above the low cloud cover,
rumbling their way to the local park
to salute the Anzac Day celebration.

I am not at the Dawn Service.
'At the going down of the sun,' 
I might remember them – 'and 
in the morning,' but not at dawn.

I sleep sound – partly, no doubt
because men of my father's
and grandfathers' generations 
fought and didn't always return.

My Dad didn't dress up in his uniform
like the others, and march. That was because 
he couldn't, with his gammy leg
(acquired not in war but when he was 10).

It kept him from the front, too, 
but he went to Camp in Central Australia
(somewhere secret) – so I was just as much 
fatherless – training to repel invasion.

He used to lift me up on his shoulders
to watch our town's old diggers march:
his mates, eyes right, looking proud and smart.
I knew them as humble, kindly men.

In my passionate youth, I rejected
Anzac Day, that holy of holies,
as glorification of war – like so many
did at that time, from my generation.

We were Make love not war,
we were Give peace a chance.
But the fire and the noise of our views
for a time divided our nation.

And then, eventually, we all grew up.
After Vietnam, even our parents could see,
all wars dirty your hands. After East Timor, 
even I understood, some fights need to happen.

In recent years I went through a phase
of watching the big Sydney march
on the telly, feeling surprisingly sentimental
for all who survived and all who are gone.

This year, I won't. There's too much war 
in the world again. I'm meeting with other 
mothers and crones instead, to enquire, 
'How can we strengthen our light?' and begin.

Linking to The Tuesday Platform at 'imaginary garden with real toads' on day 25 of April Poetry Month.

Also linked to Protest and Outrage: Dark Poetry for the Cruellest Month, hosted by Magaly Guerrero.

Photo: Challenge by Agnes Lawrence Pelton (1940), shown here in accordance with Fair Use. This was posted with the prompt at 'imaginary garden'. Also it reminds me that the Australian AIF military badge during World War 2 was in the shape of a rising sun (which I believe I am not allowed to reproduce here for legal reasons).

24 April 2017

Reason for Shrieking?

Of all hues, 
the most beautiful blue
adorns the neck
of the male peacock,
his long satiny throat
shining as if for joy – 
and repeats at the centre
of each open eye
on the fan 
of his billowing tail.

The feathers
are called unlucky,
his singular cry 
heard as a death-knell. 
Why do we feel
threatened by beauty
so extreme; why see evil 
in innocence? Why? 
Is it because, unique, 
he is far too strange?

Labelled as vain
yet he struts for love,
holding his tail aloft
with effort that tires.
He is calling out
for home and family,
parading for a mate,
as all creatures
desire and need;
not for vanity.

In his Rajasthan home
his display is seasonal, 
pre-monsoon. He heralds 
the coming of rain 
to the parched land.
When I was a child 
in cold Tasmania,
peacocks at The Gorge
strutted, displayed and cried
at any time, sounding sad.

Written for Artistic Interpretations – Beauty, day 24 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads' (we could write about beauty or peacocks or both), and for Magaly's Protest and Outrage: Dark Poetry for the Cruellest Month.   

– Photo above: "Peacock at Magnolia Garden, SC" by Margaret at 'imaginary garden'.

Planet Icarus

(in climate change future)

All day all the glass 
in all the buildings 
cracked then shattered.

That night many
no longer breathed –
not enough air.

The dirt turned red,
hard as stone. Only the ants 
marched across dry landscapes.

Even eagles faltered 
in the hot sun, and fell 
dead out of the sky.

Written for Magaly Guerrero's Protest and Outrage: Dark Poetry for the Cruellest Month.

This began as the following erasure poem from Michael Dransfield's 'Icarus', then I expanded it into something else (which nevertheless can't quite escape its origins).

All day
glass shattered
night breathed not
red stone marched 
eagles faltered 
in hot sun.

23 April 2017

Portraying Icarus

He makes death 
sound beautiful,
feel triumphant.

This he does 
with the music
of his words,
mellifluous words.

Does he want
that  humans,
aspiring to fly,
be angels?

Or is it 
the crash
he craves – 
its blaze of glory?

A response to Michael Dransfield's poem, Icarus, written for FASHION ME YOUR WORDS ~ The way you see it, day 23 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads'.

Also submitted for Magaly's Protest and Outrage: Dark Poetry for the Cruellest Month

Luxuriant Saturday

An afternoon shower. Clean sheets 
and fresh pyjamas. The book I'm reading. 
Cushions to prop me up, half-sitting.
Raisin toast and coffee on the bedside table. 
My cat lying close beside me, purring.

Then the cat vacates, as I'm joined
by one of my favourite men. 'I'm having 
a little lie down,' I say. 'My dear,' says he, 
appreciating all the details, 'You're not 
just lying down – you're luxuriating!' 

We giggle, as he wickedly suggests 
I tell my girlfriends how my luxuriant event
was enhanced when a male friend joined me ... 
by phone of course! I inform him it's really
a threesome: one girlfriend too, via tablet.

We do love each other, though not 'like that'.
He tells me how to fill my spine with light
and send it out to the world through my crown –
and also what to use to clear my sinuses,
and things to be aware of when I set up my new telly.

Linda sends me a picture of her cat, which is
curled beside her on her bed, purring. She too
is having a lie down, with coffee and cake. I tell her
James calls it luxuriating. She embraces the word.
I compliment James on his use of language.

Linda's cat, Sarabi, in the photo she sent me.

I'm linking this poem to Poets United's Poetry Pantry #350

22 April 2017

A Painting by Mi Young Lee

The blue eye of the painting
looks out at me guilelessly.
There are windows of sky,
some sunny and one 
dark with storm clouds.
Green leaves fall brightly
past the panes, and a yellow
(this is Autumn) and some red.
Red tiles frame the glass.

I set this down, each element
as it strikes me, thinking
when I have accumulated 
the small pieces of description,
like a jigsaw they will combine
into clear meaning. This
does not happen. It wasn't
in pieces anyway, and the whole
painting, undisturbed, smiles at me.

Written for Bits of Inspiration, day 22 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads'. We were asked to use this painting for inspiration.


I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (Harlan Ellison)

You have taken my mouth, 
stolen it from me, 
sealed it up with chemicals.
What you seek to remove
is the scream, 
but it still lives inside me.
You thought you could freeze it 
into silence; instead
it is dammed up, and pushing
against the restraining wall.
It will break out –
it will reach the edge
and roll over it, pouring
into utterance. And then
you should watch out.

Written for Magaly's prompt: "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" (title of a short story by Harlan Ellison) for day 21 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads'.

Also linked to Protest and Outrage: Dark Poetry for the Cruellest Month, 2017

I'm thankful not to have read the Ellison story; it sounds horrendous from the title alone! My poem is not autobiography but a fictional persona, based on things I have learned about psychiatric hospitals of the sixties and early seventies. 

20 April 2017

Encountering Crows

Hekate’s birds: I know
when I see three, 
She is sending a sign
and I smile. 

I might be walking
I might be driving.
Either way, 
my black cloak

wraps around me 
invisible to your sight.
But they see, the crows.

And She,
through their eyes,
looks and sees 

Written in response to Fireblossom Friday : Corvid and sit a while, day 20 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads'.

Image: public domain.

Holidays, Holy Days

Well, you know, I'm an Aussie.
We're not very churchy.
Some of us do go (and then
there are all those other faiths) 
but, as I once explained to a Yank 
whose obscure – to me –
reference to Easter in a poem
he had to elucidate for yours truly:
Australia is a much more
secular country than the U S of A.

But holidays – we do have them.
Two in particular. Some of us (ssh!)
aren't all that sporty, but even we
hold it as our sacred duty
to drop everything twice a year – 
for the Melbourne Cup of course,
and the AFL grand final (footy to you ...
though different States have other codes).
Don't argue! We mean it seriously. 
And take it seriously too, by all that's holy!

(It is often said that our national religion is sport.)

Written for Midweek Motif ~ Holiness / Holy Day at  Poets United

19 April 2017

Clearing Out the Wardrobe

I was ruthless –
didn't want to keep
an empty shrine
of all your clothes
without you in them;
made the choice not
to open the cupboard,
look at them and cry.

I put them in a collection bag
I knew would be taken
far out of town, away 
from local op-shops
and the chance I might see
someone else wearing them –
even a whole lot of someones,
none of whom would be you.

I wanted them out of the house.
You were still here, lingering
in every room, walking
along the passage, sitting
at your desk in front of the computer
or in your favourite armchair.
I didn't need or desire 
physical reminders, I thought.

Of course I was too hasty.
Grieving, I caught a cold,
put myself, sneezing, to bed.
A bed without you in it
to cuddle and warm me.
I curled in a ball anyway –
but how I wished I could wrap myself
in your old green flannel pyjama jacket.

Written for Sanaa's inaugural prompt for day 19 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads': to write about love, using a common everyday image.

17 April 2017

Over Under Through

How to get by in a crisis

‘Just keep putting one foot
after the other,’ my Grandma said
often, while I was growing up,
her voice practical and calm....
She had already left this path

by the time, many years later, 
my shrink said the same, adding:
‘After a while, if you look back 
over your shoulder, you’ll find
you’ve travelled quite a long way.’

It’s good advice. I’ve proved that.
Still, while you’re putting those feet down,
what are you doing with your hands?
I don’t know about you – but me,
I’m writing poetry. Always. It’s what I do.

I could say it’s a light in darkness
to guide my steps. A rainbow
spanning a stormy sky. An eagle 
flying high, then gliding –
coasting on the wind currents.

I could say that. But it’s not the point.
No, think of it as a piece of knitting 
(repetitive patterns, comforting)
in an item you’re making, designed
to keep you warm when it’s finished.

Or think of it as the wooden spoon
you’re using to stir the soup,
after you’ve chopped up 
all the vegetables and put them 
into the pot. Soup that will feed you.

When there’s nothing you can do,
nowhere you can go, just keep on 
putting one foot after another. 
It’ll take you a long way. 
Meanwhile, keep your hands busy.

Written for day 17 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads': Over // Under // Through, about challenges and rising to challenges (or not). 

16 April 2017

Streetlight, Rain

(American sentences)

Streetlight, rain, a rain-blurred moon in a black sky – my Autumn neighbourhood.

After the big April floods bumpy road surfaces muddy edges.

Flood-ruined possessions line the streets, piled as high as the water was.

Climate change summer too hot too wet: garden of weeds and mosquitos.

After a few days the rain stops; after a few more the cat ventures out.

A branch from the bush with red flowers juts across the path: pruning time.

Music piercing walls and scaling fences: schoolboy neighbour's recorder.

Shrieking cockatoos fly over at twilight, urging each other home.

When shops and businesses shut for the night, it’s already sunset.

Summer over, I wear pyjamas to bed; the cat snuggles closer.

Day 16 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads' is Micro Poetry ~ Streetlight Rain in which we are invited to write poem of 10 lines or less, or to try the American Sentences invented by Allen Ginsberg as a Western kind of haiku, or to focus on the theme 'Streetlight, Rain'. So I thought I'd try the lot! If my 10 separate American sentences don't exactly constitute one poem, they at least have a common subject, all being descriptive of this time of year where I live.

15 April 2017

Long John Looks back

He was a good lad,
a right good lad. 
I liked the boy well, 
he had a lot 
of possibilities.

Mighta been
the kid I never had.
Could-a taught him
a good trick or two
for making his way.

But, when you came
right down to it,
he was one of them –
not exactly gentry
his own self, but

fixing to earn their praise
and respect, and get on
that way, rising 
by virtue of virtue,
you might say.

Ah, Jim! I was never
going let them kill ye.
Too bad we didn’t both
get away together
with all that treasure. 

It could have been
a grand life. But there –
I’m getting too old
to travel with youngsters.
And me pretty parrot …

ah, she’d have got jealous
would Captain Flint,
and I couldn’t have that.
Been with me a long time,
that cranky old bird.

Robert Newton as Long John Silver, in the 1950 Treasure Island movie. Image: Public Domain.

Poem written for The Villain Speaks, Day 15 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads'.

14 April 2017


You can't be invisible
if you're a star;
you can be invisible
if you're a man with a gun.

You can still be innocent
when you're a star;
you can kill like a militant
when you're a man with a gun.

The man with the gun
travelled far,
invisibly, until
he shot the star.

He killed her dead
then he turned the gun
onto himself,
and the thing was done.

Oh we can't make meaning
out of stupidity,
we can't turn insanity
into lucidity.

Goodbye, bright girl,
your star has shone,
your future invisibled
by the man with the gun.

Inspired by the story of singer Christina Grimmie, as told on Day 14 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads', in conjunction with the prompt, Invisible.

The Scam

To the prison poets, 16 years later

Poetry, that bridge
across separate realities, 
lifted me out of the dark
to see and know
the lie lying over you
as untrue. 

That tomb, prison,
left many marks I'm sure,
but they were not you.
Only the marks you made,
on the page, revealed
the true soul – so far
from everyday reality,
and so much more real.

Sad, then, 
that after all
physical freedom threw you
back to the world's fraud
where we all act out 
external roles
learned early.

What got you in there
engulfed you again, out.
The brawler, the drunk,
the druggie, the thief,
the hustler, the sucker 
found no other way
of coping. Poetry

doesn't pay the rent
or put food on the table,
and when it gets you the girl
it doesn't teach you
how to live with her,
how to keep her.

Sorry, I didn't mean
to do such a good con job.
I myself was gullible.
It worked for me –
but I started out
luckier, I guess.

There were those of you 
turned it around,
after false starts
inner and outer man
combining to be new,
and grow.

Some, as far as I know,
still make poems. 
Others stopped.
This has nothing to do
with which ones 
changed their lives,
and who did not.

Poetry and I 
might be

Once upon a time I was a poetry tutor in a men's prison. They were all poets already and had approached the Poets Union, through their Education Officer, to ask for a regular workshop.

For this poem I used a word list from 'imaginary garden with real toads' for Get Listed – April Ain't Fooling Edition, Day 13 of April Poetry Month. We were asked to use at least three of these words (I used all but one): bridge, con, lie, tomb, scam, gullible, fraud, president, hustler, sucker, mark, prison. 

Also linking to Poets United's Poetry Pantry #349.

13 April 2017

The Unforgiveable

Of all the various things for which
I might have withheld forgiveness,
one remains. When we moved house
and that kid helpfully watered 
the garden beds along the low veranda
and also my just unloaded tea-chests of books,
I knew what to do. 'Give me a hammer.'
I was going to claw open the lids
and set the books standing upright, 
pages open to dry. But you were fierce
insisting I must not, while she, 
the mother of the boy, soothed: 
'Just see them safe, undamaged.
Just know they will be all right.'

No matter I begged and cried.
Apart from anything else, 
I couldn't find your damn hammer.
And no-one would help. You all acted
as if I was a foolish, hysterical child.
I don't know why you took that attitude.
Was it because she was pretty; did you 
wish to impress? Was it to spare 
the feelings of the ignorant boy?
You said there was no room
to spread the books to dry – but there was.
We could easily have shifted chairs,
made more space in that vast living-room,
anything – but it had to be done at once.

Of course, when finally I was allowed
to prise the crates open, I was lucky
that only some by then bloomed with mould,
only some had the ink running and blurring
on authors' signatures, only some
were water-swollen out of shape, and only
some were destroyed beyond legibility,
and so beyond keeping. And of those,
not all were irreplaceable. Many I had not
treasured from childhood. Most were not even
expensive volumes in monetary terms.
You never said sorry. I know that you never
let yourself understand why I didn't just
get over it, like a sensible person.

Written in response to Poets United's Midweek Motif ~ Books.

I should add that it was a long time ago (1987) – and since then I have always owned my own hammer!

12 April 2017

In Defence of Weeds

(Make love not war)

Now the harsh sun
softens for Autumn,
the drenching rain 
becomes a trickle, a drizzle –

don’t begin a dirty war, 
don’t kill our thriving weeds!

They that grow
with hardy ease
are to cherish:
medicine plants.

Let them flourish! 
Let them nourish the bees.

Picture: Megan Stoyles, October 20, 1966. See this article in the Canberra Times for details. Photo used according to Fair Use principles. 

For Signs of the Times, Day 12 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads' we are invited to let a protest sign inspire us to a non-political poem. This has always been my favourite – and the image was famous at the time.

This piece was simultaneously written for Quadrille #30 at dVerse: a 44-word poem containing the word 'drizzle'.

11 April 2017

Never Call Me Rose (It Hurts Too Much)

on being asked if a song had ever saved my life

No song came to save his life. 
He was alone that night, when he took it.
Mine thereafter was not in need of saving.
With his death, I too was dead already
only still walking around in a body.

But eventually my blank brain
heard some words which pierced
months of numbness, though gently sung: 
When the night has been too lonely
and the road has been too long ...

and I forgave him then, and became –
well I wouldn't say reconciled, but at least
I understood that some things 
can be too much to bear. And so 
I came alive again, into pain.

Day 11 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads' is the unprompted Tuesday Platform ... but the question, 'Has a song saved your life?' was offered as a suggestion.

Yes it is a true story, but it happened 35 years ago. (Though, obviously, I have not forgotten.)

10 April 2017

Sunset On My Street

Inside the houses under the streetlight
the children, called in from play at twilight 
by careful mothers, have all been fed
and folded safely into their beds.

Now the mothers' and fathers' hands
are washing dishes, last of the demands
of the day, and then turning on the TV.
Outside, sky-watching, is only me ...

though perhaps old ghosts from down the hill,
ghosts of riverbank tribes, may still
wake on such nights of tempestuous sky
to gaze too as windblown clouds fly high –

inky and murky, and flushed aflame
in more shades of red than I can name,
and tawny and gold, and even some white 
behind the black trees, just ahead of night.

Day 10 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads' is for Poem Sketching: using word lists as a preliminary sketch for a poem. We were given a choice of selecting from some given word lists, or choosing words for one of our own photos and then using a thesaurus to make them richer. I did both (but kept my own nouns un-enriched):

tribe riverbank ghosts names 
mother folds twilight hands

inky tempestuous tawny flushed 
trees clouds sky houses streetlight

They Mourn the Bees

(a lament in three voices)

The bees are absent,
their gold faces gone
out of my garden
all this last summer – 
more sinister now 
than the relentless hum
of their presence.

O tigerish and burning bright,
the bees that danced in flower-sight
leave our gardens dull and bleak
where once they played sweet hide-and-seek.

I'm scared of bees –
stood on one with my bare foot
at four; still recall
that sharp, hot pain. But now 
not seeing them at all
I am more afraid.

Picture: Public Domain

For Day 9 of April Poetry Month, Magaly at 'imaginary garden with real toads' asks us to Twitter Me a Gothic Poem, i.e. to create one 3-stanza poem with a touch of Gothic, made up of a twitter conversation by two famous poets (in their styles) and oneself. These are, in order: @sylviaplath, @williamblake, and @snakypoet (my actual twitter handle). I didn't think this really worked as one poem – Blake's voice too different – so cheated a bit with both title and subtitle, to try and make it right. But I do get some things right – each tweet above is exactly 140 characters.

PS Do, do, do follow the link above to read the wonderful things everyone else is producing!

9 April 2017


'Would you like a holiday?' someone asked. I said, 'My life is a holiday.'

My retreat is on top of a small hill. I am
on the high side of the slope, with steps up
to my front door. I can look out from there
across to deep blue mountains,
over the wide roofs of my neighbours,
and to a stretch of changeable sky.
Even when stormy, it's thrilling.

If I step out on to the quiet street
I see the greatest mountain, which Captain Cook
called Mt Warning because he saw its peak
first of all when his ships approached this coast –
this, in many ways, unsuspected coast,
still keeping ancient secrets
that only some are allowed to know.

Nearby are creeks, rainforests, wetlands, and 
winding rivers. Every time I drive by the Tweed 
when the sun is shining expansively as if forever, 
I say to myself again, 'Why would anyone ever want 
to live anywhere else?' And when I pass
the little tidal creek-mouth at Hastings Point,
I rejoice to see, in three seasons, bright children play.

I grew up far south, in a small town on a river,
a hilly town surrounded by deep blue mountains
and not too far from a variable coast
that still makes my heart lift in silent song
to see again, or simply remember. But oh, the winters
were cruel cold. Decades later, I find a home
that echoes my birthplace and adds warmth.

This small town has been badly flooded of late.
Some people drowned, many lost all they had.
(Nowhere is perfect.) I on my hill was safe,
but I ache for some of my friends. Still I bless,
as we all do, the warm community spirit: the many
who instantly, freely volunteered help for need. 
In good times and bad, this is a place of friends.

Mt Warning, aka Wollumbin

At 'imaginary garden with real toads' the prompt for Day 8 of April Poetry Month is Hope and the Places That Heal You, in which we are invited to write about landscapes we love, which replenish us.

7 April 2017

The Child Listening

the child listening 

to the flower with closed eyes
doesn’t know he’s dead
already and the flower
also dead whispers of life

For Day 7 of April Poetry Month at 'imaginary garden with real toads', Let's Paint a Picture, we are invited to write a tanka on a painting by Kaoro Kawano.

The image is from WikiArt and is used according to Fair Use Principles.

I usually don't worry about strict syllable count for tanka and do worry about other traditions; this time it's rather the opposite.

I wanted the small ambiguities (which may be too small to be seen!).

Yes, I was thinking of the children's deaths in Syria – but I am sadly sure they would not have been so gentle as my poem implies.