A new collection of poems from Les Murray that renews and transforms the contemporary world through language
In Waiting for the Past, Les Murray employs his molten sense of language to renew and transform our experience of the world. With quicksilver verse, he conjures his rural past, the life of the poor dairy boy in Australia, as he simultaneously feels the steady tug of aging, of time pulling him back to the present. Here, syntax, sense, and sound combine with such acrobatic grace that his poems render the familiar into the unknown, the unknown into the revelatory.
Whether Murray is writing about a boy on a walkabout hiding from grief, a sounding whale “spilling salt rain,” or leaves that “tread on the sky,” the great Australian poet’s sense of wonder, his ear for the everyday, his swiftness of thought, are everywhere in these pages. As Derek Walcott said of Murray’s work, “There is no poetry in the English language now so rooted in its sacredness, so broad-leafed in its pleasures, and yet so intimate and conversational.”
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.30(d)|
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Waiting for the Past
By Les Murray
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2015 Les Murray
All rights reserved.
The Black Beaches
Yellow rimming the ocean
is mountains washing back
but lagoons in cleared land often
show beaches of velvet black
peat of grass and great trees
that were wood-fired towers
then mines of stary coals
fuming deep in dragon-holes.
This morning's frost dunes
afloat on knee-sprung pasture
were gone in a sugar lick
leaving strawed moisture
but that was early
and a change took back the sun
hiding it in regrowth forest.
Coal formed all afternoon.
Inspecting the Rivermouth
Drove up to Hahndorf:
boiled lamb hock, great scoff!
Lamplit rain incessant.
Next morning to the Murray mouth,
reed-wrapped bottlings of view
grigio and verdelho.
Saw careers from the climbing bridge,
the steel houses it threw
all over Hindmarsh Island,
the barrages de richesse,
film culture, horseradish farms,
steamboats kneading heron-blue
lake, the river full again.
Upstream, the iron cattle bridges.
So. Then a thousand miles
home across green lawn.
Rome, 17 October 2010
Mary MacKillop, born 1842,
what are the clergy giving you
on my birthday, Mother Mary?
Sainthood? So long after God did?
Independence? But you're your own Scot.
The job of Australian icon?
Well yes. Black flies in the buggy.
Bush pianos. The cheek-sawing wimple
in summer: you did do local penance.
Your vow to "educate poor children" –
might you now say "to heal
the education of poor children"?
Who says a woman can't rise
in the Church? Mother Mary,
awake in Heaven, pray for us.
Fawn high rise of Beijing
air conditioners on each window
and burglar bars to the tenth
level in each new city,
white-belted cylinders of dwelling
around every Hong Kong bay –
Latest theory is, the billions
will slow their overbreeding
only when consuming in the sky.
Balconious kung fu of Shanghai.
A nineteenth floor lover
heroic among consumer goods
slips off the heights of desire
down the going-home high wire –
above all the only children.
Nuclear Family Bees
Little native-bee hives
clotted all up the trunk
of a big tree by the river.
Not pumped from a common womb
this world of honey-flies
is a vertical black suburb
of glued-on prism cells.
Hunters stopping by
would toe-walk up,
scab off single wax houses
and suck them out, as each
smallholder couple hovered
remonstrating in the air
with their life to rebuild,
new eggs, new sugarbag,
gold skinfulls of water.
When Two Percent Were Students
Gorgeous expansion of life
all day at the university,
then home to be late for meals,
an impractical, unwanted boarder.
When rush hours were so tough
a heart attack might get stepped over
you looked up from the long footpaths
to partings in the houses' iron hair.
Hosts of Depression-time and wartime
hated their failure, which was you.
Widows with no facelift of joy
spat their irons. Shamed by bookishness
you puzzled their downcast sons
who thought you might be a poofter,
so you'd hitchhike home to run wild
again where cows made vaccine
and ancient cows discovered aspirin,
up home, where your father and you
still wore pink from the housework
you taught each other years before –
and those were the years when farm wives
drove to the coast with milk hands
to gut fish, because government no longer
trusted poor voters on poor lands.
I Wrote a Little Haiku
I wrote a little haiku
titled The Springfields:
Lead drips out of
a burning farm rail.
Their Civil War.
Critics didn't like it,
said it was obscure –
The title was the rifle
both American sides bore,
lead was its heavy bullet
the Minié, which tore
often wet with blood and sera
into the farmyard timbers
and forests of that era,
wood that, burnt even now,
might still re-melt and pour
out runs of silvery ichor
the size of wasted semen
it had annulled before.
Six little terns
feet gripping sand
on a windy beach
six more just above
white with opened wings
busy exchange of feet
reaching down lifting off
terns rising up through terns
all quivering parallel
drift ahead and settle
bracing their eyes
against the brunt of wind
West Coast Township
Cervantes. This one-strum pueblo
seen beyond acorn banksia
along a Benedictine surf –
never the Oz end of a cable, though.
How Spanish was the Indian Ocean?
Well, not. Except for basque Sebastián
de Elcano, centuries off Perth:
Of mankind, only we in my ship shall
have made a full circuit of Earth ...
even as scurvy kept their ebb low.
Money and the Flying Horses
Intriguing, the oaten seethe
of thoroughbred horses in single stalls
across a twilit cabin.
Intimate, under the engines' gale,
a stamped hoof, a loose-lip sigh,
like dawn sounds at track work.
Pilots wearing the bat wings
of intercontinental night cargo
come out singly, to chat with or warn
the company vet at his manifests:
four to Dubai, ten from Shannon,
Singapore, sixteen, sweating their nap.
They breed in person, by our laws:
halter-snibbed horses radiating over the world.
Under half-human names, they run in person.
We dress for them, in turn. Our officer class
fought both of its world wars in riding tog:
Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht in haunched jodhpur pants.
Stumbling turbulence, and the animals
skid, swivelling their large eyes
but iron-fisted rear-outs calmed by revolver shot
are a rarity now, six miles above
the eventing cravat, the desert hawking dunes.
Handlers move among the unroofed stalls.
They're settling down, Hank:
easy to tell, with stallions;
they must be the nudest creatures alive –
Tomorrow, having flown from money to money
this consignment will be trucked and rested
then, on cobble, new hands will assume the familiar
cripple-kneed buttock-up seat
of eighteenth-century grooms
still used by jockeys.
Across the river
outside of towns
farm machinery for sale
in wire compounds
Pumpkin to all of it
are rainwater tanks
plastic, mostly round
edge on, ribby flanks
a few Roman IIIs
most in cool Kiwi tones
sage, battleship, dun
two thousand litres, ten
each with a rimmed
O hole for sound
Persistence of the Reformation
Seen from the high cutting
the sky drifts white cotton
over dance-floors of water
either side the shady creek
that trickles down country
lagoons gummed with water fern
saucepans of wet money
brass polyester gold
couch grass black in swamp
lily dams backed up gullies
and parallel in paspalum
old tillages that fed barns
no one grows patch-crops now
slow-walking black cattle
circle up off cleared flats
past pastel new brick houses
and higher charcoal-barreled
hills are fields of a war
four hundred years of ship-spread
jihad at first called
the Thirty Years War
buff coats and ships' cannon
the Christian civil war
of worldwide estrangement
freemasons, side massacres
the nun-harem, Old Red Socks
wives "turning" for husbands
those forbidden their loves
bitter chews of an old plug
from Ireland and Britain
while mutual help and space
and breach of cliché and face
here civilized the boundary fences
bigot slurs jostled tempers
right up into the dairy age
new killings back
in cold lanes of the Boyne
shamed it all on the news
among Christmas homecomings
the local dead
still mostly lie in ranks
assigned them by denomination
though belief may say Ask Mum
and unpreached help
has long been the message.
The smallest girl
in the wild kid's gang
submitted her finger
to his tomahawk idea –
It hurt bad, dropping off.
He knew he'd gone too far
and ran, herding the others.
Later on, he'd maim her brother.
She stayed in the bush
till sundown, wrote
in blood on the logs, and
gripped her gapped hand, afraid
what her family would say
to waste of a finger.
Carelessness. Mad kids.
She had done wrong some way.
Floodtime Night Shelter
No mattress for the last levee shoveller,
estates of damp clothing rather
and groceries and crises on the netball
squeak floor, within sidelong of the river.
Roped curtain to let underpants be shed,
mulch of blankets half dry, and how
to keep four cushions in line
underback, with clay and shift-off
as of islands in continental drift-off.
Discreet knees up for sex or
to check the infiltering depth of water
far off houses colliding in main stream.
These were many nights of that year.
Powder of Light
Hunched in the farm ute
tarpaulin against wind
the moon chasing treetops
as it yellows into night
us, going to the pictures
by the State forest way
my mate's brother driving
we are at the age
that has since slipped
down toward toddlers
for whom adults and dreams
mostly have no names yet.
What wagged on screen then
made from powder of light
were people in music
who did and said dressy
stuff in English or American
kissed slow with faces crossed
in an instant, then
were back in Australia
we believed it was Australia –
then our driver who never
attended films would surface
from courting and collect us
there way before TV.
And people, some holding
phones like face cards, still ask
good movie? Who was in it?
I smile and say Actors
but rarely now add
hired out of the air.
The Backroad Collections
Verandah shops with history
up roads like dry-gully bends
proffer gouts of laundered colour
out into their gala weekends,
recycled fashion displayed
under bullnose eaves, down corridors,
cerise, magenta, nubbled teal,
lilac overalls that were a steal,
yellow bordure and buttony rib,
pouched swimsuits, cretonne ad lib
in front of blush-crimson sleeves.
Craft collectors carry off sheaves,
tie dye, mai tai, taupe lingeries –
and cattle who haven't yet entered
any building wander, contented,
munching under their last trees
till a blowsy gold-ginger horizon
stacked up out of the day's talk
glorifies and buries the sun.
A nude moon burns the newsprint version.
Tap Dogs Music
roaring with air
white gold slopping over
smoke fallout everywhere
Open the tap-hole
steel light is blind
intense as a searchlight
The scorched hook-steerers
down in the spatter
spend crib times heel-and-toeing
a new ferrous patter
on sheets of cooled plate
since these works will soon close
and spangling metal
will set in black floes.
English as a Second Language
A coffee cart was travelling down the mountain,
in the yellow shape of an ice-cream coupe it travelled,
a cappuccino on wheels.
And we followed, speaking
of this American teenager who was sent
to remedial English, since he spoke more Tagalog.
An American in remedial!
His military parents had been deep
in the Asian preoccupation. When he came back
on a visit, it was in the splendid blues
of their Marine Corps, wowing all the teachers.
We recalled the Australian boy who comprehended
nothing much, till his mother, called in to help,
was heard talking fluently with him in a baby talk
they had never abandoned. They were off a farm
deeper in the mountains. A bit like the Georgian
who sat in the back of his class for one whole year
getting no English, substituting his fists for it
till he was a State champ. Unlike the Hong Kong boy who
returned to class with a slim briefcase and pinstripe
having successfully saved a million of family
investments in court before lunch time recess.
They rise up from then, Widow and Camel Driver,
now forty-fives and fifties, whom the teacher
taught to prepare and cook their halal pilaff;
they break-danced for her after midday prayers
and spoke of a friend sniped with an ack-ack gun
who vanished in red spray at his brother's shoulder.
It was a time of teenagers coaxed to go
back to such boulevards. And of helicopters
But!But!But! that sent boys scrambling
into their chair tunnels.
And we drove on down
at just the speed which made our tyres buzz
like the small wheels of a bed that would divide us.
Excerpted from Waiting for the Past by Les Murray. Copyright © 2015 Les Murray. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The Black Beaches,
Inspecting the Rivermouth,
Nuclear Family Bees,
When Two Percent Were Students,
I Wrote a Little Haiku,
West Coast Township,
Money and the Flying Horses,
Persistence of the Reformation,
Floodtime Night Shelter,
Powder of Light,
The Backroad Collections,
Tap Dogs Music,
English as a Second Language,
High Speed Trap Space,
The Privacy of Typewriters,
All of Half Way,
Big Rabbit at the Verandah,
Being Spared the Inquests,
The Plaster Eater,
The Glory and Decline of Bread,
Eating from the Dictionary,
O.K. Primavera Lips,
Order of Perception: West Kimberley,
The Mussel Bowl,
Radiant Pleats, Mulgoa,
Last World Before the Stars,
1960 Brought the Electric,
Raising an Only Child,
Clan-Sized Night Chanting,
Grooming with Nail Clippers,
Up to the Greek Club,
Self and Dream Self,
Beasts of the City,
The Genghis Firmament,
The Walk-Off in Newtown,
Jesus Was a Healer,
The Murders of Women,
Under the Lube Oil,
Goths in Leipzig,
Also by Les Murray,
A Note About the Author,