Poets of Australia
S. K. Kelen
Atop the suburb’s ‘mountain’, really a
hill just ragged bush almost the last place
in the city one can be alone with sky
and the trees. The wind blows grass seeds,
dust and insects in no direction
cracks the big branches and down
they come to embrace gravity. See danger—
it’s better you talk to kangaroo, cockatoo
& any spirit who could be bothered
travelling here to this cold hill.
As the clouds wrap around
hear Dad softly saying goodbye
he’s leaving on the next flight up, up,
up, and up, another true life adventure
what is there at the end or ever
space, light and air? A man who never
said never, made life look like an exercise
in style touring the twentieth century
ah Dad travel well those heavenly climes
hot or very warm I’d bet and don’t forget
to write & charm the clouds, the stars,
time goes from here to forever.
Words after the last words.
Who steers the thunderbolt?
Events conspire: there’s the one
Growling like a tigress, calls you ‘mate’.
Choose life. Love’s duty will not wait.
Answer with your being and art,
Learn how to care. Late at night
Armpits that are carburettors
Heat the air, and heart
Programmed to ache, stay young
Until the beautiful one says
Ulla ulla ulla and I am
The most comfortable chair.
A sunbeam enters the palace.
Drafting: Don Juan In The Shopping Mall
Thee, best beloved! the virgin train await
With songs and festal rites, and joy to rove
Thy blooming wilds among,
And vales and dewy lawns,
With untired feet; and cull thy earliest sweet,
To weave fresh garlands for the glowing brow
Of him, the favoured youth
That prompts their whispered sigh.
Unlock thy copious stores, —those tender showers
That drop their sweetness on the infant buds;
And silent dews that swell
The milky ear’s green stem . . .
Anna Letitia Barbauld, ‘Ode to Spring’
Let us fly to Bounty Land, Aqua.
The earth moved under Parramatta Road and
The wind ruffled a bird of paradise’s tail feathers—
Angels’ wings shaded toxic sky— a sin of traffic
Exhaled gas and hummed white noise the auto
The car had arrived at its godhead climax
The force for life dominance there is no choice
Listen to car engines all night, breathe poison
All day long—cars up and down—stop and start
Steel demons—obnoxious motors screech and blur
Gorge the atmosphere, their fumes perfume love forever—
The endless traffic zoom drowns speech—roadside even
A dead dog can be sexy—it’s so right to be a maniac—
—at night the cars keep coming and going—
The traffic grew logical— history—doomed hands
reach up from the steering wheel—
Juan left his chariot parked underground—
Inside the mall it’s safe and warm. Atoms vibrate
Molecules agitate. ‘The mall has it all”,
Brings bounty to those blessed by the glitter gods
(Slavery’s reward). Shopping’s all there is to do,
Except for some of the young people the mall
Management would like to exclude—they hang
Round and grow up and try to keep out of trouble.
Flamenco muzak is ecstasy, escalators
Are heaven’s path. You ride a dragon’s spine
Upward upward rise through the shiniest place of all time
Shining the way paradise should shine,
And all the factions of fashionable, glowing
Bliss grows in the fresh fruit’s heart strawberry
Rockmelon avocado and smoked salmon
For the masses, the fragrant mix of simmering meat,
Baking bread, hairdressers’ vinyl incense
Happy aroma of roasting coffee beans and
Chocolate make life smell great, and taste luscious
And all the ice cream, kebabs and hamburgers in the world
There’s gadget apparition digital virtual electronic
Electric, mountains of myrrh, silver appliances
A dream Seiko waiting for every one—Come buy, come buy
Screens and glowing signs, sports clothes, shoes, mobile phones,
Cane furniture, health food and all life’s accessories
You name it—gear flecked by gold, the mall’s levels take
Consumers farther from hell— the mall is happy hunting
Chapel of gleam, a farm and village magic well,
Radiant hub and sacred site two-hundred shops sell
What people want or can afford and mall gives
Warmth and truth to all the lies—music tinsel
Petshops, banks, books, a building, mirrors
Come to save us from the rubble and the tents
Shamans can fix or find anything the customer needs
—Juan was an expert in his fields—
Most houses and flats are furnished
From the mall and whether his place or hers
Or at a mate’s everything was warm, gratifying
Juan was home, felt the mall satisfying.
Of course they still ennoble the soul but today’s
Best loved poems are the ones that can be enjoyed
During the ads on TV, while playing air guitar
Downloading a game or sitting in an RSL drinking.
Thus this poem will leave much to the imagination—
What is given are some illumination and bursts of story
Something extra for resonance—maybe some startling imagery—
—maybe not—as far as plot and meaning go—
Like Byron’s Don Juan, this baby is an open field
A map with a lot of terra incognito.
A quick–epic or verse miniseries that approaches
The lyric in brevity and leaves time for other play activity.
Every epic has a shipwreck (get it over and done with!).
Juan’s boat hit a reef in a storm before he was even born—
Juan’s grandparents made it ashore and found
An island of streets and shopping malls, paradise
Where all comers are welcome and there’s
Nothing doing but love. On land Juan kept swimming.
He swam from birth through childhood and school,
All sticky and metaphorical, learned early law
Is here to teach limits of behaviour and
Prevent those who would distress society
Learned it’s good to have a civic outlook,
Good citizens keep out of trouble and in their own ways
Help progress progress— but with migrations
Come the loss of the old verities: religious, social
& family structures, tradition trampled to dust,
And so many brought memories of diverse terrors
Somewhere along the line in a homeland
Turned nasty, sectarian, a world of cruel relativity
Where the most fluid entity of all is morality
And this can be delicious so into chaos
Don Juan was born a happy mongrel
(Family background tick multicultural)
Two centuries after the first boat people landed (with
His birth certificate Juan got a medal).
Brought up by MTV in gangsta lore
And rap (read baseball cap) he grew up
During the New York War
He could be Doan Hoan of Da Nang descent,
Or Mohammed Hatim a wayward son of the Mujahadeen
Mario Lanza with a genetic fetish for soccer
Jim Giakos a long way from home in Kiama—or
Any of a million characters—you choose one
Or make a combination and don’t give it another thought—
We’ll call him Juan for short. Who cares? whatever .
His forebears came by boat from West, East & North
All shipwreck survivors 21st century wogs safely tucked
In bed ashore the island of shopping malls—
Now these migrants call Fortress Australia home
Who wants to be a millionaire? Juan knew
He was a work of fiction working his way to the top
In a zone of esoteric entertainment. Trapped
In a poem for Heaven’s sake!—a poem reincarnated!
When the good luck gods play a joke—Prithee—life
Should be entertaining. His accent was dinkum
Aussie but to many Juan was dark like a foreign country.
Not everywhere’s a mall, outside there’s a world
Incredibly sad—huge swathes of continents
Where children search for shrapnel to sell for scrap
Where there’s no food on the table, where there’s no
Table the nearest shopping mall’s a thousand miles away —
And that’s in India. Now Juan works the mall like
A missionary or whore searching for a pulse, gazing
Blue windows when security stop and ask him where he’s going
Where he’s been—times like this he feels too bent
Wished he’d been more like his studious mates—
Doctors lawyers, bakers, electricians, salespeople
One was like a tweedy sheik teaching in university
All of them were good citizens populating in new suburbs,
And interstate. Marvellous dynasties.
‘Hey Juan!’ someone calls from a shopfront.
‘Hey Juan—your life sucks.’
Life might suck but Juan had a date with Lee Lin.
But that was later, much later at the football club
And there was the matter of meeting Lee Lin’s brothers.
We next meet Juan on his way home from the mall
A moment when he’s fallen from the mall’s good grace
Taken by a near haiku, Cabramatta Headline
Race relations success
these three Vietnamese boys
hit up with skinheads
Reebok power can’t protect from the demons who
Consume first chance they get—Juan knows he should
Have stayed in the games arcade then gone straight home
or to a friend’s place.
Poetry can be happy therapy hence poetry
In motion ~ the poetics of space or sport~
Love poems & songs~ confessionals and odes to trees—
Performances of mad passion any transcendence
Will do—TRANSCEND— eternal lost cause
And hope of the world—the hope to escape the chains
Of bad faith so often failed—eternity yet
In perspective, back on the pavement, on the road
A car park shows eternity’s incarnation—driving in
Driving out—perfect transience. flows through the streets
Cries from the babes in prams, the teenagers
Hanging round sing ever onward comes the grave—
Humanity squeezes through the mall like sardines
Up and down the silver escalators
And Juan nodded to acquaintances.
He acknowledged the girls he’d meet later
At pubs and clubs the night time’s happy hunting
Where sex’s grace linked the freedom in sex’s
Echo with the music of talk and traffic
(every five seconds people think about sex).
Juan’s lovers came and went they knew in a world
Growing up, old and dying Juan was okay to spend time
With because pillow talk means you’re not dead yet.
Thus sometimes it’s good to be desperate:
As with melancholy you don’t need to be
Starving to do desperate. Lord Byron the romantic
Saint was wealthy, melancholy and desperate
To finish Don Juan as the poet knew he’d terminate
Before completing his epic about a man who
Liked to, well, charm houses full of women whose names
Aurora, Julia or Adeline were the many names of roses.
And like a hot night, Juan was cool as.
Some push their luck: the young (s)punk Juan caught
Sipping eagerly at love’s chalice—made Ruben’s angels
Express delight—o veiled breasts o comet eyes—
Like its protagonist Don Juan was a poem you ought
To go to bed with day after night (though ennui might
Lead to putting the book aside), what do you do
When a poem’s abandoned or a book read?
Like gone love you put it down and start another.
Don’t talk mention any ‘isms’ or speak morality
Your government drowns refugees, it’s way better
At Kandy’s flat where her underwear glows and signals:
The angel is coming Juan swoons, melts and
Swears his love undying. A good time had by all
An eight day –––– is a journey like any journey a trip
Upon which a youth might embark in the third
Flush of hormones, and writing verse can be
A kind of whipping. The original
Don Juan was composed in ottava rima,
A stanza of eight lines of heroic verse, rhyming
Abababcc, it survives here as a kind of primer
On which to paint the words, painting a wall.
History growls in its cage—enough of this gentle
Reader stuff forget the paint, forget the primer it’s time to
Log on to level fourteen of the game—a
Playstation game that has Juan racing street to street
Talking behind hands while waiting in the car.
(If he passes through a twirling screen icon
He earns extra life and wins the beautiful princess bride.)
Juan drives his noble steed Impreza gallops hip hop
Through the traffic with six thumping speakers
In the doors & a 24 valve injected motor
Powers alloy wheels—the engine’s got grunt.
Floats like a discotheque along Canterbury Road
Finds a place at the bar, the darkness punctuated
By spinning stars— every time he steps out
Of the bar he steps into a new car (dream option)
Where a beautiful girl hands him an orgasm.
‘Keep the dream alive,’ a talkback host sieg heils
From the car radio and the listeners proceed
To abuse members of Juan’s community,
As if there were no decent people—a straight lie—
As if everyone were all like him, Juan, a sleazy, creepy,
Substance-abusing. . . blah de blah. . . They all
Sounded the same, unhappy. He wondered why.
Far sweeter to be a hot blooded wog
Blessed with passion, Juan loved everyone.
And as if the cool stereotype Juan’d become
Was all his doing when he finished school
Juan couldn’t find a job so he got into selling
Pace & ease in the shopping malls’ dark corners
And in houses (an easy disaster)—it beats washing
Windscreens—or does it?
Around the corner he met Kandy, Karen or Kelly,
Liz, Liz another Liz, Lydia and Lee Lin, Leanne, pierced
And pretty Lola —a preoccupation with the middle
Of the English alphabet seemed eminent at this juncture
and they dated and explored for a while
Until Phan and Suzie and Su, Vicki and Yolander
Give it a rest. On and on,
How many letters are there in the world’s alphabets?
And he was so happy he couldn’t get anything done.
The best place for a bush ballad is the city
A meeting that has created our times’ great power myths—
And where love must always go wrong
The urban cowboy, tribal battles, the town mouse
And the country mouse and best of all the sincere
Young miss who brings humanity to a man’s monster soul.
Together they confront life’s disasters, she the mistress
he the master (enjoy the luxury of comedy and soap opera)
She didn’t save Juan he found the cliché too corny
Her social work manner made him extra horny.
But Juan craved love the way a poem might dream
Many readers or a parched traveller chase mirages
Through the desert—Juan found his oases real enough,
Was at one with his calling to see loveliness
Like a bird set free by touch and kiss and
Share his wicked happiness. In uncertain
Times Juan was slippery plain and simple,
But most folks didn’t mind—they liked his natural wit
The way they might like a butcher or a therapist.
Juan took care of himself
Worked hard at the fitness centre near the mezzanine.
Where he was a bee with serious sting as tensile as a
Loaded spring a num chukka on a fling he
Was. . . and he felt psychically good (psycho
Goodness) every five seconds he thought about sex
And Juan’s mind made love with the atmosphere,
His gods are fine with most of this,
And in his own way Juan was really a feminist.
Women rule in life, they should run things.
Like lions men should live their natural lazy lives
When Juan was out of it he might philosophise.
A naughty feminist Juan wakes at noon
And hears high heels clatter down the hallway.
Across the suburbs. . . the escalators call to him,
Driving to the mall he’d seen the troika
Of hairdressers who made New Year’s Eve
Such a treat, a shocker. A hard body is always
On vacation but works the overtime. Superficial?
It beats being Hitler or Martin Bryant.
Everyone here’s happy polluting the world
With their garbage and dreams
And with Nature dying in humanity’s hands
Juan knew it was too late to save the Earth, so
He might as well enjoy the technology and the girls.
Too much good time was like swallowing
A karaoke machine all sparks and smoke
The microphone hanging out of his shirt
How many femme fatales does it take
To change a light bulb? Juan drank and watched
Angels fall through the atrium clasping harps and trumpets—
Their buckets and brooms dropped from heaven on Juan’s head—
Juan wrote in his journal next to the evening’s meaningless
Drunken scribble: ‘consume, be silent, die’.
To pray to Madam Bountiful helps make sense,
—Give me the universe’s love and make me
Be a great grand father happy till the end
O ancestors I will not upset tranquillity
& please intercede on my behalf with spirits
Of generosity, good luck charm—please—
Thank the lady for granting wonderful life
Bless all the ancestors who helped build the world
And he placed between the incense sticks a neatly
Folded letter written in a confident script
With his double dragon seal—of course—
A quiet word with Goddess the Universe.
There are eyes and there are souls
There are classics, romance and adventure
There’s the kind of love that’s beyond love
There will always be a place for truth and harmony—
Somewhere there are places — of fresh air and clarity—
To go—the way watching a video is easier than reading
Is why Juan didn’t need to go to those places
Except maybe the eyes and souls (soul?)
He learned from TV that puddles multiply the moon
And the white moon trapped in quiet lily pond
Distracts lovers— them moaning full deep—yes
And once you had the hearts and eyes
There was no need for sincerity.
Romance, however, is always necessary.
Outside the malls and the clubs there was
No air conditioning and poison clouds gathered.
Juan celebrated his thirtieth birthday—
Baby he said, I love this 21st century
But ‘all those years wasted’
There’s the matter of Lee Lin’s five brothers.
Five Brothers. They gave Juan a choice
A fine son-in-law, or a sticky ending.
There’s nothing like a shotgun
Wedding to focus and give closure.
The old Don Juan’s gone,
Headlong into Lee Lin’s Dynasty
And while the world around them
Grew cold and mean
Juan and Lee Lin hearts entwined.
A chance. . . Juan steps up to the next level.
He’s pushing a stroller in a shiny new mall
In a new vicinity. Now Juan’s —GAME OVER—
S. K. Kelen lives in Canberra but his poems have been published throughout the galaxy. His books include Atomic Ballet (Sydney, Hale & Iremonger 1991), Dingo Sky (Sydney, HarperCollins/Angus&Robertson 1993), Trans-Sumatran Highway and other poems (Canberra, Polonius Press 1995), Dragon Rising (Hanoi, The Gioi Publishers 1998), Shimmerings (Wollongong, Five Islands Press 2000), Goddess of Mercy (Sydney, Brandl & Schlesinger 2002).
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