FOUCAULT HIS PENDULUM
For Jenny Lee
--- Up tails all
(Sing derry-down Derrida),
Foucault his pendulum
Swing again merrily,
--- Up tails all
(Sing hey-nonny Habermas),
Not even Vonnegut's
Games with neology
Escape our devoted
Nor where it's all at in
Poor old Giles Farnaby,
Wish he were here today,
Couching his discourse
In plain and trillable
Words of one syllable.
--- Up tails all!
Philosophical Gas, 1990
I.M. SIR JOHN, 1904-2000
Farewell, dear Gielgud!
O man of rare delight!
He acted rielgud,
Made me fielgud,
Now gone, that gentlegud knight.
Doesn't turn me on.
Philosophical Gas 22, April 1973
THE CURIOUS PEACH
I wondered idly -- as McLeod,
High on port and pot and pills,
Ensnared with flowers, and bare-arsed,
Stumbled on melons as he passed,
Communing with the daffodils --
If one is company, two a crowd.
Around the suburbs older boys
Go surly in their thunder toys
Whose harsh exhaust and shrieking tyres
And raucous blast of rock-bound choirs
Give furious tongue to inner fires
Not sparked or fed by finer art
Than urgent need to make most noise
Before they grimly fall apart.
BIRDSONG IN NORTHCOTE
Birds singing in Northcote!
Who would have thought to hear
Birdsong in Northcote?
Gentle grey fingers
Of fog have crept into
The grey streets of Northcote.
The people are sleeping --
It's early on Sunday --
Grey people of Northcote.
Car engines are silent;
Their owners are sleeping.
Fog peeps in their windows.
Fog covers all Northcote.
That's why I could hear them --
Birds singing in Northcote.
Didn't even stop to look
As he sailed on past Sydney,
And he did the right thing, didney?
New Statesman, 27 June 1980
There once was a man named McCall,
Who could have been tiny or tall;
At St Anselm's insistence
We claim his existence,
But know nothing about him at all.
Tirra Lirra, Spring 1992
SHALL I COMPARE?
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day --
High pressure system centred over the Bight,
A total fire ban, light breezes on the Bay?
Synoptic charts and satellite photos say
Another dinkum scorcher's on the way.
Yeah, that sure sounds like thee all right.
AN AUSTRALIAN PSALM
Big Mal is my drover; I shall not whinge.
2 He maketh me to stand up in grey dole queues; he leadeth
me beside the still factories.
3 He destroyeth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of
wretchedness for his policy's sake.
4 Yea, though I crawl through the valley of the sorrow of
debt, I will speak no evil: for thou art with me; thy whip and
thy scowl they discomfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table where I wait hand and foot upon
mine enemies: thou fillest my pocket with onions; my blood
6 Surely sales tax and bad teeth shall worry me all the days of
my life; yet I will vote for Mal's party for ever.
The Australian, 1982
THE BALLAD OF THE READERS
[The polite fiction was maintained in the Australian
Parliament that Hansard is a verbatim transcript of
proceedings. Accordingly, its subeditors in the
committee reporting section were called readers.]
Invocation and Apology
Calliope! Fair Muse of Verse!
Lend power to my Rhyme
(And make my readers all confess
I'm born out of my time).
Forgive Thou my effrontery
By writing downright whoreson
And speaking of these lofty things
In the style of Henry Lawson!
Across the stony syntax,
Against the rolling drone,
Alf, Bob and John, the Readers,
Make marks that are their own.
And well their headphones fit them,
And light of heart are they,
For Byrne and James and Mulvihill
Have lost their voice today.
Of all the wise committees
They've meetings heard galore,
And rarely is a question asked
They haven't heard before.
They hum a song of someone
They hope will lose his seat,
But even if he doesn't
They'll ne'er admit defeat.
Beyond the hazy thinking,
Against the tortured prose
And yon blue line of wisecracks,
Each chunders as he goes.
But thitherward the Readers
Proceed with all their might:
They'll turn the stuff to English
Though it take them half the night!
Now mighty is their muscle
And fertile is their brain,
But like the wee corpuscle,
Their labour is in vain:
The Member's twisted lingo
They alter out of sight,
But when the Member sees it
He thinks he said it right!
Of all the words in Hansard
One word in four is theirs
(And if they need a fifth word
There's an Oxford full of spares).
In English they are fluent,
Likewise Strine and Hansardese,
And a smattering of fourteen more
From Greek to Japanese.
Their encyclopaedic knowledge
Is wondrous to behold,
But they work in symbiosis,
Our three Readers brave and bold:
Bob's specialties are politics
And science; John is best
On music, books, theology;
And Alf knows all the rest.
"What means resile?" "What's OTC?"
They cry, and someone's brain
Yields up "Like in resilient"
And "O'erhead Travelling Crane".
"But what is NEF?" says one
Whose mind has gone on strike;
The other two in chorus say
"Any effin' thing you like!"
And so the long day passes,
With strain on eye and ear.
One wonders what these gifted men
Are doing, working here.
Such knowledge! Such percipience!
But Alf and John and Bob
With characteristic modesty
Say "Well, we need the job."
There must be some more reason:
Modesty's not enough.
Why do our brilliant Readers
Rot their minds with all this stuff?
The Judaeo-Christian Ethic
Is the seat of their complaint:
They hate it when they're working
And feel guilty when they ain't!
One day when they depart this life
And wing their way on high
They'll be called to that Committee
Which meets up in the Sky,
And the great Recording Angel
Will say "O'er is your strife!
But . . . we need a little subbing
On this bloody Book of Life!"
Philosophical Gas 14, December