I’ve chosen two of my poems to illustrate different types of pain. I could have selected any number of poems because most of my work comes from some sort of conscious or subconscious pain. Some of this pain from my past has been resolved but some of it has not, so writing poetry about it is a way of trying to explore it further. I took one of my poems to my psychologist once & asked him what he thought it was about. He said: ‘It’s a classic case of living in denial you need to take more responsibility for your pain.’ After this advice I was able to finish re-writing the poem. My personal life improved too, whenever I remembered his counsel.

This poem is about the pain of going through the delivery process, where the end result of pain is the miracle of birth & its overwhelming sense of happiness & achievement.


In the delivery room I massage
your back & you scream
& when your contraction ends
you say: Stop leaning on me.
I say: I’m trying to relax you.
You say: Don’t touch me.

Another contraction comes
& I tell you how to breathe
& you think: How would he know?
I re-call pre-natal instructions
& show you loud shallow breaths
but I’m saying: Breathe deeply darling.
I wipe your forehead with a damp cloth
thinking: At least I’m getting this right.
When your contraction ends you ask:
Why are you scratching my head
with a dry rag?

You sway on hands & knees
on top of the high delivery bed
& the mid-wife guards you on one side
as I wait to catch you on the other.
You scream so I offer water & ice
& think: Any moment know
you’ll ask for a pain killer.
But you don’t.
You scream & the mid-wife beckons to me
& points at a slit of wet scalp
appearing between your legs.

The mid-wife leaves the room
& you scream & I wonder:
Why is she leaving now?
I turn the lights down lower,
pat you with the dry rag
& tell you how to breathe
as I drink your cool water.

You scream so loudly
that I wish you’d ask for the laughing gas
because I could sure do with some.
The mid-wife returns with a doctor
& you scream as he prods at you
& I wish I could share your pain
because it doesn’t seem fair
that you should have it all.

This is all your fault, you yell at me.
The doctor nods
& I climb behind you on the bed
& try to support your back
& you scream like I’ve never heard you
scream before & you squat & moan & scream
as I pat & rub & forget my instructions
& you shake from side to side as you push
& I struggle to hold you
as you push harder
& you give a final loud scream
& the mid-wife says: Well done!

You moan & say: Never again.
I’m shocked to see the purple & pink baby
& I think I can see testicles
& the mid-wife says: It’s a girl!
You say: I don’t care.
You’re bleeding all over the baby
& I notice the thick umbilical cord,
glad I didn’t get a chance to cut it
like we planned & I’m crying harder
than I ever have before as I look at the baby
& hug you tightly as you try to recover.

I’m so proud of you, so proud
of the three of us together on the bed;
such a brand new family so exhausted.
Everybody looks at the baby
with her eyes tightly closed.
The mid-wife places her on your chest
& you hold her gently in your arms
& try to give her your nipple
& the baby opens her eyes
as I bend closer to look at her
& now it’s her turn to scream.


My final poem is based on an experience I had in the early 1990’s when my partner & I were splitting up, after the birth of our daughter. We were living on the outskirts of a small country town & we were very unhappy with each other. She said I was a city-boy & should move back there & just come around to visit sometimes. I said I’d just stick around to see what happened, that things might eventually improve. But, I didn’t actually do much to try to make things better between us. I moved into a cold, little log-cabin out the back of the house.  A few months later she told me she’d fallen in love with somebody in town. I thought: Well, here’s a good poetry opportunity. I invited him over so I could meet him. The first thing I noticed was that he only had one leg, which gave me the title to this poem:

She Ran Off With a One-legged Man

After two years of breaking up
she says she’s found a new man
so I invite him to dinner.
He’s a one-legged, asthmatic diabetic
with a good sense of humour
and one bad eye.
I cook them a roast lamb.
I eat mine in my room.

I don’t mind him being here
playing with my daughter,
her mother’s arms around his neck
but I do drink lots of wine.

The music from my cassette player
gets louder with each glass
and when Leonard Cohen sings:
There aint no cure for love
I yell: Yeah, but wine’s an antidote
for jealousy. But I don’t believe it.
I don’t believe in jealousy.
I don’t believe in jealousy.
I don’t believe in jealousy.

I go inside and my two-year-old daughter
is playing at his foot
and when I bend to her, she says:
Go away dadddy, me mummy’s daughter,
not daddy’s daughter.
I don’t believe in jealousy.
I don’t believe in jealousy.

The new boyfriend goes home
and I play Jim Carroll singing:
All my friends have died
over and over for an hour or so
on full volume
before going tightly to sleep
in my drunk cabin
for the last time, mumbling:
I don’t believe in jealousy.
I don’t believe.
I don’t…

Humour in pain is something I come back to again & again in my work. Is it yet another act of denial on my part? Why do I enjoy hearing people laugh at the predicaments I present in my poetry? Maybe putting humour into pain is the only way I can write about depression & confusion?  Sometimes I am referred to as Melbourne’s happy pessimist. It’s a description I sometimes enjoy, although I know it means I have to suffer periods of depression (when I’m not writing) in order to do proper research into my condition of being alive in such painful times. Poetry is my pain & my cure. If I wasn’t a poet, or any other type of creative person, I wouldn’t have as many lows in my life, but I wouldn’t have all the highs that writing & reading poetry have given me.