Perth Poem

Perth Poem – Poem

John Kinsella

Perth Poem

Branch: river, local teller

never tempted to dip into the till,

phosphate on the oval, goal-posts

mocking with their lean white-lines

a boundary where church and state dissolve,

the temple or meeting house next to the petrol station,

or near traffic lights: the odds are high,

like car-wrecks in front yards

or high-maintenance European gardens,

or prawners dragging the river by hot tilly lamps

on those evenings, every place a scared place

overlaid; place of the of the vacuum,

The Terrace was The City, tunnel of bankers

and mining executives, importers and opticians,

land developers and newsagents, consulates

and the constabulary, courts and governors,

where the draught would drive you to drink,

drive you up into the city to Mangoes

to search out the other singles, floaters,

partners intent on cheating, or into a bar

in Northbridge, the Equator Club,

freaking out to a band you knew too well,

the blank-faced brothels and stand-over merchants,

the surveillance cameras in their smoky bubbles

keeping an eye on the cosmopolitan, souvlaki

and pasta and dim sims, tofu and rice, wines in raffia

and boarding houses wandering back

behind the picture, labyrinths with death

the only way out–a coffee-shop proprietor

leans out into the traffic as if it’s a stream of sharp boats

off Pireas; wandering out of the ‘done clinic,

or a hostel for backpackers, or the Good Sams,

or the Arcane Bookshop with the idea for a sexual fetish,

or the Vietnamese Grocery store, or the strip club and peep show

or by-passing the terror of lobsters trapped in a tank,

tourists eyeing them over as though they’ve never been alive,

either observer or observed, or coming out of Buddhist

peace and splendour or families making the budget

work at the markets while young out-of-it crews

cram in as much food as the pollutants

in their body will allow, diluting the effect; branch:

the train line out to Armidale–stations,

chapters; another car caught on a level crossing,

boom gates locked either side, a family

in a station-wagon … the train stationary

at the same place every time, these accidents

happening over, and through the sirens

you look into a garden backing onto the line,

the same back yard you

are always looking into–high

grass, fire-trap in summer,

rusting Holden without wheels,

teetering on termite-bitten wooden blocks,

a pyramid of bricks with chunks of cement

making precipices, canary weed and morning glory

pulling down the fences, a pigeon coop,

lost toys; towards the hills you drink beer and Cinzano

and houses are rented after divorce

has driven them down from the heights,

from houses on stilts tucked amongst the orchards,

the smell of spray and stone-fruit

morphing with linseed oil and turpentine,

highlighting the crackle of creeks,

the hum of the potter’s wheel–down

in the Westfield Tavern it’s darts

and Tammy Wynette, deals done away from home,

the Christmas stocking outside the supermarket,

and the born-agains reviving the sun

on swampy ground; at Kelmscott station

kids are wagging school and hanging out,

despite the police, railway security,

cigarette packets jammed square

to the shoulder, cabalistic stores of ritual–death

and Prince Planet’s power packet

rolled into one, governments warn, and the micro mini

runs like terror over narrow things, over the slice

of enticement that’s a way out of school,

a way out of a place that’s hard to leave: cock and balls

still grace the walls, tags and paeans to AC/DC,

LET THERE BE ROCK, and none of that trendy city-beach

techno stuff; branch, recall the Triffids,

the bloody horror of Thou Gideon,

Kim Salmon and the Surrealists, the Neptunes

at the OBH, twenty-somethings looking down on Cot

as if it holds the answers, a guitar rift almost better

than the stuff going around the car park,

and the punk bands decapitated in the overhead fan

at the Stoned Crow, the old boilers

and their Jazz down the road; branch, the smell

of bricks and hardiflex, of oil-soaked black sand

in backyards, the burning of tyres in incinerators,

fly strips and chlorinated above-ground swimming pools,

the decking perishing, detailing those off-hours;

the nitrate drift of the fertiliser factory on Coburn Sound,

chipping out the wagons of super-phosphate,

the rivers sourcing their anti-lives

from shifts and safety records; branch,

the freeway dropping suburbs like double-gees,

the Cut that cannot heal, annealed stone

torn from the hills–the fall of grevillea,

dryandra, jarrah, hakea, roos, echidnas,

28s, pink and grey galahs, the storm-warning

white-tailed black cockatoos, dusky minors,

red wattle birds, dugites, gwarders,

sandlions, dragonflies, parrot bush, scarlet runner,

star of Bethlehem, leschenaultia, paperbarks, magpies,

crows, green eyes, hawks, stalking birds, seed birds, mud

and sand birds, bats and geckoes and mosquitoes,

the corridor choking, trails cut, families

disconnected, lost; branch, the drive-through

primes a party, the front bar during Friday

session is bursting, electric, exuberant,

by closing time it’s wan and bitter and drenched;

beneath the glass, beyond the facades, the redecorated

Town Hall and almost-in-time clock tower,

jousting knights and a slice of old England,

buskers in the mall, the Nyungar camping grounds

are patrolled by sealed howitzers and playground equipment,

totems driven out, this making of the fringes,

while the eroding codes are undone

but those who know in studies centres,

recollecting and focussing and declaring

the power of learning, the power of family, the power

of dreaming: the elders warn the young who cut loose,

the young who will find family in the country

knowing the city scrambles the tracks, the branching

brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties, mothers

and fathers, the unity of cousins;

in the parks mothers scour the sand for syringes,

Moreton Bay figs swelling at the interface

of earth and “heritage”, the settler sways of commerce,

the new chums and the servants, the loss of language

to the single language of English, as if the brilliant

coast will absorb all odours, misdemeanours;

reticulation drains the mounds and cavities,

drains the muscles beneath the city,

drains the dams rung by rung

so you can hear the hollow sound echo out

through the hills, melding with the chainsaw rip,

the jarrah clumped on the forest floor,

the reservoirs drain like some kid’s

backyard experiment, the sharp expressions

of bird of paradise looking out through the fine mist

of the time-triggered sprinkler system; the drier

the place the more it’s about hydraulics,

as those spontaneously produced by the city

look to get away, or give in and stay forever

refusing to believe there’s a better “lifestyle”

anywhere! They eat along the river–solve

crimes and circumvent zoning laws,

have affairs and think about the flow of water,

the meeting of sea and river, evoke

odes to the lights that guided astronauts and poets,

discuss art of fire and murder, ponder sell-outs

to corporations espousing satellite cities

as the lynchpin of a new global economics,

the far away getting closer closer closer,

this language of landscape we proffer;

branch: in the Supreme Court Gardens

we sell our arse and eat slightly-out-of-date

throw-aways from companies with a social conscience,

peak-hour traffic on Riverside Drive occluding

the ferry lost between Barrack Street Jetty

and South Perth, the morning sun sizzling

like a barbecue behind clouds in this “sunniest”

of cities, eye of the power grid, the views

from apartments counter-productive: navel-gazing.

Branch: powerlines, those sails strung-up

over the river, as if a meditative religion

might be drawn out of them, luff, stiff breeze,

stilled like stone or angle-poise lamps,

stone indentured by slave labour–they

wanted convicts here–to build

their (their) future; what? “our city is not like that”?

Surely: gateway for heroin, sex slaves, racist

diatribes … and so little water?

Up North refugees drown.

In Port Hedland the detention centre

hides the city’s crimes. In the harbour, icons

of the “coalition of the willing” offload

seducers of thirteen-year-old girls

and divorcees, allegiances that would swing faster

than the stock exchange, or with more impact

than tactical nuclear weapons. What does

the Narrows Bridge, for all its expansion,

become a symbol of: who wants nation?

Who wants Crane’s Bridge, symbol

of the New America? We’re too busy

worrying about the volume of traffic.

Branch: from Mount Eliza the dreamings are drawn,

and the Wagyl branches out against modernity,

the pile-drivers that split open its head.

It will not be updated, incorporated, appropriated,

absorbed by metaphor, contained by simile,

strung out by conceit, reduced to a symbol.

In the market garden the roots of carrots

entangled, the family might have been Italian

or Vietnamese first or second or third generation.

They would say they were of “Perth”,

the here and now. Past the factories

of Kwinana, they say the British migrants

settled in Rockingham. And down

from your primary school, a hostel

for those from Eastern Europe.

Nissan huts after the war.

This is a refugee city

planted on ancient land: all or nothing,

with little or no thanks to the custodial owners,

and reparation for the songs lost to the jackhammers

and speculators, the klaxons and orchestras.

Branch: fed by the country. Vacant blocks

closed off, no through road, the outer

becomes the inner suburb. A quarter-acre

becomes a fifth and then a townhouse

then an apartment block. Squirrels populate

long-standing trees around the zoological gardens–they’ve

crossed over, though stay local;

the old Mill a star in the eye of a speeding motorist,

and those sails in the windows, lightplay.

Branch: the Great White comes in close to the shore,

tracking seals and the human swimmer

on the surface agitates the water

in much the same way; government

must be seen to be in control

so increases air and sea patrols,

a network TV station lends its chopper,

fishermen hunt like sentinels; on Swanny

cocks shrivel with the evening cool,

in the sand hills relief and comfort unfurl,

free in their bodies an elderly couple

pick up towels and fall into clothes,

fishermen here staking their spots,

happy to catch an eyeful and store

it up for their mates, the tailor

running fast, ripped up by gang-hooks

as the sunset’s volcanic and of increasing depth,

the blue seas drained pink then black

with the blood of fish, colour shifts

working outside the spectrum; branch,

the drag races at Scarborough Beach car park,

the land-developer illegally clearing bush

out beyond the northern suburbs,

the city planners making the river

narrower with limestone and dirt,

the Cut at Mandurah flushing out algae

and shattering microscopies: empirical and rhetorical

the images haphazardly choke the channel,

the cut a skippy’s arched scales, plimsoll and serrated

despite the clean line; branch, the racetrack near

the old brickworks, in the place where swampland,

wetlands, bird-heart of the area, is compacted,

desiccated: a certain kind of Tuscan Splendour

glowering out of the Mediterranean river,

the Bristile house down by the highway,

the photo developers looking on

as the plate is cleaned up and views

become exponential, the race-track–the love shack

where rape was a rite of passage,

absorbable by the testicular culture of horse tranq

and fixes, shock therapy and stand-over merchants;

refuges for battered women are hidden in the suburbs,

children play and fathers drive around

waiting to be let back in. Most go back.

It happens again. Counselling. Branch: in the Fremantle lock-up

you watched as a young Nyungar guy was tossed around the blue

circle, dead-limp. You are warned. Silence. Deaths in custody.

On the Horseshoe Bridge–as if crossing the railway lines

to the wrong side of the tracks can’t be a straightforward

gesture–an arcing circuit that needs centrifugal compulsion,

the cops kicked your face in for protesting

the harassment of Nyungar guys drinking under photographs

of ancestors in chains, troopers proud as peacocks, rifles

unslung; tracks imposed on a map,

no more than a few might be gathered together

the Court declared, and the wealthy shall gather

like old money in Dalkeith and Peppy Grove,

though nuns behind high walls garden and consider

the little flower of Therese avidly, they love us

from their cells as do the Krishnas with food

in the belly, and the Central Drug Unit, and the cop

who pulled you from the bath, drowning,

nothing said, and the railway to Freo, branching …

Flying in, even the forested hills in winter

ache with dryness–uplifting and eroding,

a place of simultaneity, paddock dams

greening and below-ground pools overly blue,

firebreaks turn into clearings, there’s no hiding

from mining and logging companies,

people on the ground suddenly surprised

to see it gone, all along hollowing

from the inside–it starts with a dirt trail, gravel road,

then bitumen … even the rules of catchment purity

are changing, in small ways around the boundaries;

branching, development, the cordoned space

becomes the hub, families and fast-food

and evangelising religions cycle

along shorelines, nature strips, through parks,

past pyramid sellers, strip shows at sunset taverns,

bike-run sex shops. In the booths it’s sticky

and an apprentice mechanic crosses paths

with a town clerk, junior, and a social security

case worker, senior, taking in the private strip,

worried the watching seat might not be cleaned

thoroughly–later that evening, if drinkers,

they wouldn’t notice, but some will always

be paranoid; branch, next door

the guy who did a bank job

and did his time

makes idle threats,

only idle because he’s retired,

and determined to keep his head

above water selling smoke alarms; on the sand spit

orange-legged waders absorb Blackwell Reach,

they know better than to think on history–that

family enterprise as decorative as the State;

in a flat by the river chickpeas burn on a stove

and the smell is all the places that make the place

the place it is, erasure and warmth in a body

that feels like someone else’s, though this

can be forgotten; the picket fence runs

treated through the ground, a missing picket

a child’s view into the neighbour’s world:

dogs debarked haunt back verandahs,

in asbestos sleepouts kids see aliens;

a school siren sounds and someone

flips on a show delayed from Sydney,

the time shift misprisions, later

she’s booked for picking up the kids

while full of valium and alcohol;

branch, in the hills the orchid lady

speaks of the sun and damage,

fires singe the event horizon–circuit-breakers

of beauty,

and arsonists looking out

at all they survey, shaking

with power; to reach out,

to fall short, their portraits

dimly pyrographic on the public

consciousness; as off the boats in the Fifties

they searched Fremantle for coffee,

for a glass of wine; branching

though the port, rival and liver

of the city, sea-breeze bastion,

seagull cleanser of dropped foodstuffs,

place of laundering and dubious landlords,

America’s Cup flash in the pan rip-off,

displays of public comfort dressed-up

as quaint, boutique, trendy, rough and ready,

as chillin’, stylish, beachy, po-mo, maritime,

historic … sailor larger than the shops, cars coming in

by the yardful, dealers clustering, rustic in the pubs

with dreadlocks and board shorts, bikini tops

and sun glasses, poets and musos homebaking

locality, recalling family when inspiration

dries up, smoking under the wharfs,

waves of export guilt waved off

with hats and caps, dolphins

signaturing the river’s mouth,

pink wash a sail in a permanent sunset,

this drip-dry decking, lines of gossip

meandering as art, a substitute dreaming.

Settlement. Federation. Architects.

State Printers. Title Deeds. Surveyors.

Sanitation. Landfill. Last buses

running quickly through midnight districts.

Whale tunnel. Limestone. Barges up-river.

Pylons. Barrack Street Arch drop-off,

toxins in the arteries. Clip-board collectors

in the shadows where it’s cool. At the showgrounds

the train shows timetables can be flexible,

though it’s cyclical. Like the Ferris wheel,

the rocket, the twister. Aggressive types

who assault people in the ghost tunnels.

Coronation. Flights to mining camps

to bring back the big bucks–the iron North,

Prix D’amour drag show on the hill,

always overlooking the mirror, the river: remember

the sideshow, the friend you can’t find

on the net–some don’t go there.

Some names remain hidden,

keeping their own company … branch: as a name displaced

exhumed begged borrowed stolen, as a shotgun

hidden in a tree just up the road

from childhood homes, serial inversion,

as kangaroo paws come out in force and the river

under broken cloud is indigo again, streetwalkers

blocked off, hemmed in, driven out; at Midland

train station a white woman is being ushered away

by cops harassing an old Nyungar guy,

points changing, signal boxes buzzing,

the Hardy products factory clocking off

near Welshpool station on the Armadale-Perth line,

such the switches, such the changes of platform,

trestling over the river, casino gloating, golf courses

pallid with lawn; about rosewood pianos

families keep up with the classics, some compose

their own music, flowers on the wall, mattresses

upright and leaning away from guests,

next door, they take their shoes off before

entering the house, each notes that the other’s house

smells different, and after vague suspicion

they grow to appreciate the difference–cooking hints

sneak into the predictables, and a new hybrid cuisine

is rumoured; in Bassendean a retired gentleman

plays with toy trains he’s bought religiously

from the hobby shop by the subway;

he knows the best places for kosher food

and his wife tinted photographs as a young woman–both

are new to the internet and are taking lessons

from a Muslim couple from down the road–we

know something the world should know

is their motivation–we know here in this most isolated

of capital cities, closer to Singapore than Sydney,

as the guide books crow. On the Upper Swan

fruit and horses are by the river, phosphate run-off

is suffocating the mulloways and flathead downriver,

a middle-aged guy who brews his own beer

is about to head off to a folk do up at Parkerville,

up on the rim of the city, above the inversion layer:

he is single, and hoping to meet a like-minded woman

of similar age. During the day, he removed

racist posters from his neighbourhood.

His family travelled from New Zealand

by way of the Victorian Goldfields

in the 1860s. His ex-wife called him sexist,

but he’s sure he’s improved over the years;

branch into the gardens, the fanfare of palms and brick-lined

paths–covered in woodchips from the shrinking forests–coiling

coolly through ferns and snapdragons, a grass-tree

that hung in during the clearing,

that out of guilt and a bizarre exoticism

they’ve built around–they’re everywhere, these gardeners,

in their thirsty gardens … as Balga and Balcatta and Thornlie

and Spearwood and Bedford and Applecross and Brentwood and Palmyra

and Wanneroo and Calista and Westfield and Nedlands

and Woodlands and Rossmoyne and various groves

and valleys collude and fold as visitors

cross the lines and admire or demean or remain

indifferent to the circumstances of others; branch–rain,

closing in, sparking the Doppler, a pall rising up

before the scarp, the news reveals

that it’s a pool factory fire, toxins

poised on the wind-shift, atmospherics

of chemicals as Parliament House light-fractures

across both chambers and a committee

fractures through the fountains; frosting and brick-clad

the intention of parrots high in well-watered trees,

canopies of precedent and legislation, rosellas

hidden when a show of hands is called for; elsewhere

a yellow donkey orchid, pressed between pages

of a book brought out from England,

a collected poems of Wordsworth, and plough discs

from rellies in the wheatbelt, shoring up

rose beds, and nowhere to park

on footy days unless you’re a local,

and even then, fines: multanova, parking

infringements, prime movers dropping trailers

just outside the city limits, those trucks

gearing down coming into the city

know the cop’s radar places, know the gravel trap

should the beast break free; branch the drag

on momentum, the raw materials running Eastwards,

the broken marriages, the young on dole cheques and those

afraid of flying doing the bus trip, confronting and quelling

the doldrums of the Nullarbor, its gothic activities

well below the surface; branch, the Sunday schools

and prayer groups and prayer times

and meditations beyond internet shops, anonymity

of download outside the private home,

the Russian porn, the chat-room liaisons,

New York and London and a small town

on the edge of Greenland, an ice-confection sticky

on the keys, dropped, melting on the footpath–the

figure will always stay red, and we’ll never cross,

even on a Sunday afternoon where all is dead

in the inner city, except for skateboards tearing

past the GPO, a Nyungar family laughing outside the central

station, a group of youths smoking against the sculpture

they helped create, install; outside the private home,

students in flats, families who waited years

for citizenship; outside, the town heritage

and settler follies, restaurants, masons, and charities,

philatelic societies, women’s group and the infinitesimal

but vocal men’s con-fraternity,

drag racers, rock hounds, covens, dog-walkers, Siamese cat lovers,

AA groups, narcotics anonymous, the Magic Circle,

balloon shapers, Asian cooking classes, vegans, PND,

collectors of esoteric smoking implements,

printers, photographers, newspaper men and women

caught between the sensational and sincere

and the verities in between–theirs

is a liminal art; branches … zamia palms

and concrete towers abandoned

like an Apocalypse in Eden–Wireless Hill,

mud flats and blood worms as the tide goes out,

the odd grey nurse shark and swimming lessons

before ears eyes noses and throats

became victims to bacteria: who

was it dived for a brick

off the end of Deep Water Point Jetty

to prove worthy of a Junior Swimming Certificate?

Those driveways with boats marooned

after cutting the slight but gnarled white-horses

on the khaki waters, green hosepipe

snaking into the motor,

outboards driven in tubs,

flushed out as the concrete driveways

exposed evaporating lines

of automatic writing; knives in jetty plank

and pylons, fishing line tangled around all

in casting range, blue-manna crabs

swimming against the trend,

against the current, failing in nets

while cormorants sit stock-still, sails

draped against Kings Park, rising up

against gravity, the gravitas of war dead,

widow-makers, bottle-brush flowers,

those jets passing over leaving

filaments, dashes and diacriticals

of water vapour strung in sentences,

branching the commute and expedition,

bringing back clothing and photographs, branching:

so the northern lines they spoke

of when you were a child

finally went through: Perth, Leederville, Glendalough, Stirling,

Warwick, Whitfords, Edgewater, Joondalup, Currambine …

each with a ticket machine, this frontier policy

of outposts and then filling in the space

between extremities in–modernist bent

in architecture, new age interface

with all that moves and moves ahead;

those banksia coils fading, rough bark

not enough to grip, the lake shrinking,

swamphens amongst the tyres,

a different kind of necklacing

that doesn’t need much unearthing;

branches, the bypass outriding Midland,

train town, shunting yards and heavy machinery,

the faded workshops, past the tallow works

and a stink that drives the windows up, cars swerving

or jagging just a little, enough to pattern

asphalt into a story; the meltdown

like water-rungs against the hills; oh faultlines,

oh deaths in car chases, oh the gang fights

and genre violence over territory

and stolen video machines, oh companies

sending tentacles out into New Guinea,

Bougainville, sucking people and communities dry,

little empires at the Weld Club,

oh whiplash of a stray and persistent cyclone; branch,

configure the afterimages of Julie Dowling’s ikons

burning with tribal faces that no Church could undo,

as all Gods and all peoples see through,

sandals and thongs and sandshoes and bare feet

sounding the sand, the stone, reeds and paperbarks

in their thinning places by the river,

hammer working the drum of the hills,

a resonance down the pipe of the Swan Valley,

names branching, cycling …

John Kinsella’s Peripheral Light: New and Selected Poems (selected and introduced by Harold Bloom) has just been released by W.W. Norton. He is Professor of English at Kenyon College and a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Fairleigh Dickinson University

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group