Stephen Oliver



[ Letter To David Mitchell ]

We secrete ourselves behind
                             our mythologies – no question!

better mileage than hiding behind a tissue
of lies. History claims us, if we are lucky, in the end.

You made your mark then stepped
out of youth’s circle, away from that campfire,
                             and into the dark –

a shuffle amongst memory’s leaves.
Through the rain the Sunday bell tolls over rooftops.

You’ve done it then – like the pied-piper of Hamelin,
walked into the hills of home, you and your tune,

a regular confederate attended
by innumerable ghosts, alone.

Man Alone. Last Man Standing.

The perfect patriot to the heart’s drum shadowed
against your past in mythic retreat.
                             Dead Man Walking.

Seems your soul got caught up in the branches
of that pohutukawa tree at Cape Reinga – hangs

there like a busted kite that no wind from between
the stars can rescue.

The ivory tower has become an oubliette.

The White Goddess unceasingly builds her
nest out of horse’s hair - the broken bones of poets,
                             in the fork of an oak or kauri.

Ego imploded: from epiphany-to-catatonia
in an instant: you saw your love as an unattainable,
                             distant sentiment.

The puritan spirit cried out aloud,
“No truce with the Furies”.

That imagined vertigo is the slow free-fall
of a sycamore seed spinning unseen
behind an abandoned church.


[ The Mysteries ]

The sun and moon
                             the five visible planets,

swing their ‘seven lights’ (as Menorah) through
the darkened rooms of galaxies
                             inventing and reinventing

our visions beyond the bend of light and time that
loops back through us to record what we have missed,

found or been mislead by – although there is no
home for the ‘mental traveller’ who is as Socrates claimed,

Citizen of the World.

What echoes in the mind’s vault are the half-harvested
memories, rituals, divination of ‘The Mysteries’

and Orphic cults of Pythagoras,
                             pagan roots that feed the Christian Tree

nourished by the seven-lipped Nile

winds that carried language throughout
the Mediterranean’s wide blue / white amphitheatre.


[ The Desert As Palimpsest ]

‘St.Elmo’s fire’, ‘fata Morgana’, ‘will-o’-the-wisp’,
‘Castor and Pollux’, ‘ignis fatuus’, ‘corposant’,

                             corpus sanctum, the sacred body made
                             the pale and foolish fire
blown thin over bombed out craters and rubble:

pink-mist (pingk mist) [US military slang] n.

A human body vaporized by ‘bunker-busting’
bombs that leave only a ‘pink-mist’ as sole evidence

of human remains; a term first used by the US military
during the Afghanistan war in 2002.

Over the pottery-coloured deserts,
a pattern of stars wraps around the earthly vessel.

The Tigris river unwinds its bloody bandage at sunrise
through Baghdad, small-arms fire mingles with
                             the muezzin’s call to the hour of prayer.

River mist or tankfire blur the stately date palms.

Baghdad is a display case, smashed, memory wiped;
in the Iraq National Museum, the night-filled corridors

reek oil-lit rags and the condensation of fear beading
the foreheads of the iconoclasts

                                            / the swarming rabble
looting the underground vaults
plundering Sumerian and Babylonian artifacts

from 5000 BCE, stone bulls,

cuneform tablets, ivory figurines, Nubian statuettes,
ceramic jars and urns –

Nineveh in fragments, Mesopotamia in ruins,

the City of Ur laid waste of its treasures in a city
cross hatched by tank tracks - back to an engraved

granite-quartz block, next to the trimmed hedge,
under the playing fountain
fronting Liberty Enterprises guided by the principle:

‘war is the pressure valve of techno-determinism’.

Rashid the Pavement Artist
squats in the ruined market place
and makes a mosaic out of metal fragment

and glass shards - depicts scenes of Baghdad;

donkeys made of brick bits, Euphrates / Tygris rivers,
animal rib-bone curving back as scimitars

across a desert of potsherd:

life made frantic by the freedom anger engenders.

Let tribal memory float unperturbed upon
these two rivers where the sun places its golden harp.

Averroes holds in one hand ‘intellect’ in the other ‘faith’;
may peace descend on the desecration of this city.

Can the sandstorms erase the hanging question of
“double truth”: is the shadow as real as the object that

casts it does ignorance make of anger a religion
are the lessons of destruction a philosophy to die by?

Bless this first land first witness to the Written Word.


[ The Road To Peace ]

A prayer originates in silence,
is a cry that finds its voice.

A chorus of people becomes belief.

I write out of shock and diminution .

O Void!
               lives empty into you endlessly.

A bus load of children, a few with parents,
fragments blindingly, blood bright, brilliant day!

Forgive us our realities our distortion of them.

Life it appears is the last, and the biggest thing
in a give and take world,
                             unredeemable / unnegotiable.

The world and its wants log-jam in horror,
histories vaporize along with believers and doubters.

O Void!
               brute friend of darkness and distance.

Wind funnelling back through trees,
each crown capped in half-light against a sky brought
                             low to the horizon.

A tank grinding cobblestones romances
a hamlet through Central Europe.

Rush of air and leaf-storm in a darkening,
buoyant stadium.

Now is, as always, then;
barns, hayricks, tanks.

An ecology of give & take [in] a boom & bust world.


[Finding Linda Bohe 1950-1983]

‘those million-shaped clouds’
a dying of the light that is eidetic at the day’s end;

paddocks lift darkening backs to it

while the last, wedged bird-call drives home
                             between the small silences at dusk.

Not far off, once a small village with
‘a spire like a fine Spanish needle’
untenable in the heavily tenanted space

as one suburb, leapingly, bounds over another.

Once I had said:
                             ‘your lipstick reminds me of tall,
buildings pale pink.’

Once you had said:
                             ‘my lipstick is a coral invitation
contrived like the lights on the Empire State Building.’

We had never met.
I knew nothing of you.

I found your poems years later yet faintly memoried,
Linda Bohe, by 2003.

And leaving this life, did you pause
at the narrow footbridge across the frozen red creek
                             your companion built?

And moving quickly on, did you again hear
the piano notes of the moon hold to the canyon wall?

In your poems, you played out the ultimate
human secret, that love discloses little more than loss.

                             I felt I knew you.