Taller When Prone
By Les Murray
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Copyright © 2010 Les Murray
All rights reserved.
From a Tourist Journal (Continues...)
In a precinct of liver stone, high
on its dais, the Taj seems bloc hail.
We came to Agra over honking roads
being built under us, past baby wheat
and undoomed beasts and walking people.
Lorries shouldered white marble loads.
Glamour of ads demeaned street life
in the city; many buildings were
held aloft with liverwurst mortar.
I have not left the Taj Mahal.
Camels were lozenge-clipped like rug pile
and workhorses had kept their stallionhood
even in town, around the Taj wall.
Anglos deny theirs all Bollywood.
On Indian streets, tourists must still
say too much no, and be diminished.
Pedlars speak of it to their lit thumbs.
I have not left the Taj Mahal.
Poor men, though, in Raj-time uniforms:
I'd felt that lure too, and understood.
In Delhi, we craned up at a sky-high
sandstone broom cinched with balustrades.
Schoolkids from Nagaland posed with us
below it, for their brag books, and new cars
streamed left and right to the new world,
but from Agra Fort we'd viewed, through haze,
perfection as a factory making depth,
pearl chimneys of the Taj Mahal.
Bluelookout is a tractor climb
to where you see the South Pacific.
The animals who stay
up there don't know to see it.
Bluelookout is the colours and smooth
texture of forest pigeons
though it's 'dirty' in some folds
with scrub the old ones would have burnt.
Grasses of exotic green
radiate down its ridge lines
just how snow would lie
and the owner's house snuggles
in close, not for shelter
but out of all the view.
Note: the spelling Bluelookout as one word with the accent on the first
syllable reflects local pronunciation.
The Sharman Drum
What year was the very best Mallee Show?
When Lord Hopetoun attended, that bottled year?
When Skuthorpe danced his horse for some peer,
Lord Brassicae? Or was it Brassey?
and Sunshine harvesters turned into Massey –
No no, what year? I need to hear.
When the Wallup Pipe Band piped music and rum
and Jim Sharman's pugs beat the step-up drum
and ladies dressed up their skills and tone
or dressed for each other, or themselves alone,
when the ticket strung through the tweedy eye
of each member's lapel meant pedigree –
What year, what year? It was every year
after the last. They made a past,
the ring events, the Wyandotte hens
the marble cakes in their ribboned pens.
What year was the greatest Mallee Show?
When Warracknabeal yachts sailed on Lake Glue,
bagging needles flew and girth straps strained.
The best show was any year it rained!
The Toppled Head
A big bald head is asleep
like Lenin on a pavement.
Tipping backward, it starts
a great mouth-breathing snore
throttling as stormwater,
loud as a hangar door
running on rails
but his companion gently
reshapes his pillow, till his
position's once more foetal,
breathing toward his feet.
His timbre goes silent, and
the glottal dies in a gulp.
Effete: a pose
of palace cavalry officers
in plum Crimean fig,
spurs and pointed boots,
not at all the stamp
of tight-buttoned guards
in the shouting yards,
but sitting his vehicle
listening to tanks change gears
amid oncoming fusiliers
one murmurs the style
that has carried his cohort
to this day, and now will test them:
You have to kill them, Giles,
You can't arrest them.
A full moon always rises at sunset
and a person is taller at night.
Many fear their phobias more than death.
The glass King of France feared he'd shatter.
Chinese eunuchs kept their testes in spirit.
Your brain can bleed from a sneeze-breath.
A full moon always rises at sunset
and a person is taller when prone.
Donald Duck was once banned in Finland
because he didn't wear trousers,
his loins were feather-girt like Daisy's
but no ostrich hides its head in sand.
The cure for scurvy was found
then long lost through medical theory.
The Beginning is a steady white sound.
The full moon rises at sunset
and lemurs and capuchin monkeys
pass a millipede round to get off on
its powerful secretions. Mouthing it
they wriggle in bliss on the ground.
The heart of a groomed horse slows down.
A fact is a small compact faith,
a sense-datum to beasts, a power to man
even if true, even while true –
we read these laws in Isaac Neurone.
One woman had sixty-nine children.
Some lions mate fifty times a day.
Napoleon had a victory addiction.
A full moon always rises at sunset.
Soldiers now can get in the family way.
The Double Diamond
He was the family soldier,
deadly marksman on tropic steeps.
Home, he spurned the drunk heir-splitting
of working for parents, and stayed poor
on share farm after fence-sagging share farm.
Goodbye! yelled the kids to new friends.
Slim sang his songs, and his kind
wife's skin was sensitive to gossip.
Over eighty, he stands in his suit
outside where she, quick-spoken Alice
lies tight-packed in varnished timber.
As the family gather, he tells me
Late years, I've lived at the hospital.
Now I'll forget the way there.
As Country Was Slow
Our new motorway
is a cross-country fort
and we reinforcements
speed between earthworks
water-sumps and counterscarps,
breaking out on wide glimpses,
flying the overpasses –
Little paper lanterns
march up and down dirt,
wrapped round three chopsticks
plastic shrub-guards grow bushes
to screen the real bush,
to hide the old towns
behind sound-walls and green –
Wildlife crossings underneath
the superglued pavement
are jeep size; beasts must see
nature restart beyond.
The roads are our nature
shining beyond delay,
fretting to race on –
Any check in high speed
can bleed into gravel
and hang pastel wreaths
over roadside crosses.
Have you had your scare yet? –
It made you a driver
not an ever-young name.
We're one Ireland, plus
at least six Great Britains
welded around Mars
and cross-linked by cars –
Benzene, diesel, autobahn:
they're a German creation,
these private world-splicers.
The uncle who farmed our place
was an Arab of his day
growing fuel for the horses
who hauled the roads then.
1914 ended that. Will I
see fuel crops come again?
I'll ride a slow vehicle
before cars are slow
as country was slow.
The Death of Isaac Nathan, 1864
Stone statues of ancient waves
tongue like dingoes on shore
in time with wave-glitter on the harbour
but the shake-a-leg chants of the Eora
are rarely heard there any more
and the white man who drew their nasals
as footprints on five-lined paper
lies flat away up Pitt Street,
lies askew on gravel Pitt Street.
Jumping off startled horses come men
and other men down off the horse-tram
which ladies stay aboard and cram
their knuckles in their teeth, because a
grandson of the last king of Poland
is lying behind the rear wheels,
lying in his blood and his music sheets
where he missed his step and fell
to be Sydney tramways' first victim.
Byron's Hebrew melodist, driven
out of London by Lord Melbourne,
by the inked horns of Lord Melbourne,
is now being lifted tenderly,
he, the Anglican who used
to pray wrapped in a white shawl
is being wrapped in a tarpaulin
and carried in catch-up cadence
with crotchets he might have scored,
carried over streets to his residence
to lie in state on his table:
Our Father and Melech ha-olam,
then to go in a bourdon to Newtown
and sleep near the real Miss Havisham.
The Filo Soles
When tar roads came
in the barefoot age
crossing them was hell
with the sun at full rage.
Kids learned to dip
their feet in the black
and quench with dust,
dip again, and back
in the dust, to form
a dark layered crust
and carry quick soles
over the worst
annealing their leather
though many splash scornfully
across, to flayed ground.
Muscles and torsoes of cloud
ascended over the mountains.
The fields looked like high speed
so new-mown was the hay,
then the dark blue Italian lavender
met overhead, a strange maize
deeply planted as mass javelins
in the hoed floor of the land.
Insects in plastic armour stared
from their turrets, and munched
as others machined stiffly over us
and we turned, enchanted
in sweet walling breath
under far-up gables of the lavender.
Observing the Mute Cat
Clean water in the house
but the cat laps up clay water
outside. Drinking the earth.
His pile, being perfect,
ignores the misting rain.
A charcoal Russian
he opens his mouth like other cats
and mimes a greeting mew.
At one bound top-speed across
the lawn and halfway up
the zippy pear tree. Why? Branches?
Stopping puzzles him.
Eloquent of purr
or indignant tail
he politely hates to be picked up.
His human friend never does it.
He finds a voice
in the flyscreen, rattling it,
hanging cruciform on it,
all to be let in
to walk on his man.
He can fish food pellets
out of the dispenser, but waits,
preferring to be served.
A mouse he was playing
on the grass ran in under him.
Disconsolate, at last he wandered
off – and drew and fired
himself in one motion.
He is often above you
and appears where you will go.
He swallows his scent, and
discreet with his few stained birds
he carries them off to read.
Buttress on a High Cutting
tree without a deep hold
but when its hill split,
this side root, jutting
out into sun glare
and flowed down, tight
as mailbag wax, rain
year by drought year
to the new ground level
buttressing its trunk still
in high bush overhead
above blue roadbed
and palm-tree eruptions,
this pirouette of wood-
coated trouserleg, taller
than its many-buckled man.
Moist black as sago pearls
in white Chinese tea
heads of women lovingly
watch babies grabbing
like unsteady moons
in a wading pool full
of cherry balloons.
Cushions and knees
and round toes in grass
under tropic leaves
the scented sweet
skin glazed in sweat –
all snapped from above in
the aqueous ovarian.
Ne tibi supersis:
don't outlive yourself,
panic, or break a hip
or spit purée at the staff
at the end of gender,
never a happy ender –
yet in the pastel light
of indoors, there is a lady
who has distilled to love
beyond the fall of memory.
She sits holding hands
with an ancient woman
who calls her brother and George
as bees summarise the garden.
We were at dinner in Soho
and the couple at the next table
rose to go. The woman paused to say
to me: I just wanted you to know
I have got all your cook books
and I swear by them!
to answer her: Ma'am
they've done you nothing but good!
which was perhaps immodest
of whoever I am.
Trees from modern times don't bear
but the old China pear
still standing in the soil
of 1880 rains fruit.
Chatting, after the donation part,
the Blind Society's caller
answered my shy questions:
'... and I love it on the street,
all the echo and air pressure,
people in my forehead and
metal stone brick, the buildings
passing in one side of my head ...
I can hear you smiling.'
Excerpted from Taller When Prone by Les Murray. Copyright © 2010 Les Murray. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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