Office blocks thrust
into buffeting daylight;
houses hunker under
pale suburban skies;
a low-slung cat crosses
the photographic dusk;
the science-fiction lighting
of deserted 7-Elevens;
the out-dated starlight;
a nightwalker passes
the TV-blue of windows;
a phosphorescent Frisbee
muses on the porch;
sentinel LEDs on consoles
and microwave clock;
fridge glow upon the subtle
slate and stainless steel;
the mirrors’ unnatural magic.
Summer Nights, Walking
Orderly lawns; licorice power lines;
the backlit trees.
Your neighbour’s patio displays
two white plastic chairs.
Statuesque cars curated
by the street lights.
You walk, as if blameless,
through the indulgent dark.
A bat leathers past,
like it’s learning to fly.
At Barwon Boulevard the steep slope
to the river gradates to darkness.
Muted noises betray
night’s unkempt life below.
View from the window at Le Gras.
Self-portrait as a drowned man.
Boulevard du Temple, Paris 1838.
Louis Dodier as a prisoner.
Untitled (two women posed with a chair).
Use of ether for anaesthesia.
Valley of the shadow of death.
Untitled (melancholia passing into mania).
The ladder. Reclining nude.
The ascent of Mont Blanc via a crevice.
The Prince Imperial on a pony beneath a window.
Communards in their coffins.
Miss Booth; Miss Booth.
The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite.
Synoptic table of the forms of the nose.
The open door. The horse in motion.
None of it is true: I am
neither malevolent nor
mystical. You have nothing
to fear; I am the one who makes
things bright and
dramatic when they need to be.
Like when I spill myself a
little at sunset. Night after
night you dream of me. One day
you will wake up for good,
and there I will be, at last.
Your new and endless climate.
Don’t look at me; I don’t compose
By the light of the bedside lamp
you flick through
Last Words of the Executed.
Letter to Ken Bolton
Dear Ken, tonight there was a power blackout
at our place, during which Maria and I watched
Fiona Shaw perform The Waste Land in an app
on our iPad (which was luckily fully charged).
Her performance was electrifying (har har),
changing voices like a dial sweeping across a radio.
Unlike Eliot’s adenoidal readings of the poem, Shaw
treated the poem as theatre. I’d never thought about
how Madame Sosostris would sound with a cold.
So there Maria and I were, with our electronic device
and three candles in a darkened house, like some
eighteenth-century tableau, a fact we both noted
more or less simultaneously, commenting on
the disjunction between the technologies.
“The domestic postmodern” one of us called it
(the quote marks inevitably hanging in the air).
Meanwhile, Shaw’s presentation of Eliot’s poem
brought out new shades previously unnoticed:
how “Falling towers” reads post-9/11; how those
“hooded hordes” evoke Hollywood Islamophobia; and
how camp (“queer” even) the poem could be
(and not just because of the bit about Mr Eugenides).
Shaw made The Waste Land strangely sexy; the
Cockneys in “A Game of Chess” funny and tragic.
Actually, the blackout was a brownout, according
to the man from the power company who I called
on our out-dated Nokia mobile phone. (Students go
into raptures of nostalgia when I look at the phone
in class). But “brownout” doesn’t sound quite
so lyrical, does it? It has an embarrassingly
scatological sound to it (or let’s just say “shittiness,”
which is more James Joyce than T.S. Eliot). Or else
it evokes the War, meaning the Second World War,
my parents’ war, my father turning eighteen
years of age in nineteen forty-six. But in the forties
I don’t suppose they had clothes dryers to turn off
during a brownout so as not to burn out the motors.
And our brownout didn’t last long, just enough
to make the night seem strange—reading to my son
by torchlight, boiling water for tea on the stove-top,
peering through the blinds at our darkened street,
the street lights looking uncertain. But by eight-thirty
“service had returned to normal.” I was answering work
emails, and thinking about writing this letter
(this “verse epistle”) to you, who I don’t know well
but whose voices (those that occupy your books)
have kept me amused and aglow, like a boy with
his ear against a radio in the war, valves warm
in the night, the room filled with interesting
and recondite thoughts. P.S. By coincidence,
I have a copy of Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives
on my bedside table, a novel which features in
one of your verse letters. All of your writing shows
that such coincidences are the stuff of art (where are
those quote marks?), every thought and every action
jostling together like bumper cars or comedians or
paratroopers drifting down from the sky like beautiful
mushrooms, and being fired upon by grim-faced Nazis below,
their automatic weapons ripping through the delicate night,
all a diversion for the Resistance to blow up the power station.
Reflection: The Interplay of Light and Dark
Most of the poems I have written in the last few years have been concerned with the interplay between light and dark, both in their literal and figurative senses. While I could suggest biographical or political reasons for this (a period of ill-health; two years of the worst federal government in living memory), neither of those factors is specifically at play in the poems I have chosen here. Rather, I am more concerned with light and dark as basic poetic resources, and with the ability for either to “lighten our darkness.”
David McCooey is a prize-winning poet and critic. His latest collection of poetry, Outside (London: Salt Publishing, 2011), was shortlisted for a Queensland Literary Award and was a finalist of the Melbourne Prize for Literature’s “Best Writing” Award in 2012. He is Deputy General Editor of the award-winning Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2009), published internationally as The Literature of Australia (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2009), He was associate editor of the annual literary arts journal, Space: New Writing, from 2004 to 2006, and inaugural poetry editor of Australian Book Review in 2013. David McCooey was “Poet of the Month” in Australian Book Review, No. 371, May 2015, and his album of audio poetry, Outside Broadcast, was released as a digital download in 2013. He lives in Geelong where is a Professor of Writing and Literature at Deakin University. His webpage is www.davidmccooey.com
‘Darkness Speaks’ was published in The Best Australian Poems 2013, ed. Lisa Gorton (Carlton: Black Inc., 2013).
‘Letter to Ken Bolton’ was published in The Best Australian Poems 2012, ed. John Tranter (Carlton: Black Inc., 2012).
‘Summer Nights, Walking’ takes its title, amongst other things, from Robert Adams’s photobook, Summer Nights, Walking: Along the Colorado Front Range, 1976-1982, rev. ed. (New York: Aperture Foundation & Yale University Art Gallery, 2009), which is an expanded edition of his Summer Nights (New York: Aperture Foundation, 1985).
‘Early Photographs’ is a catalogue poem made up of titles of early photographs. The poem is concerned with the poetic potential of those titles, rather than the reader being necessarily familiar with the images in question.
‘Darkness Speaks’: ‘kindertotenlieder’ (songs on the death of children) is a cycle of five songs for voice and orchestra by Gustav Mahler .
‘Human Nature’ refers to Last Words of the Executed by Robert K Elder (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).