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J A C K E T   #   E L E V E N   |    A P R I L   2 0 0 0  


Martin Johnston



      1. Pebble

Other people have amber beads on strings
with wrought-silver clasps. Do you hear? -
you're not the only pebble on the beach,
lounging wry there among inert shells.
No work of art: neat silverpoint quarter-smile,
glissando of skin-coloured stone
curved into spring-onion head,
long Paul Klee face.
All right. A small achievement
in the palm of my hand
not quite amused.
You should be on the end of a pencil.
Pebble pregnant with the fear
that there never was a Cheshire Cat - our smiles
our wrinkles: have we been framed?
Ah, but I could tease archaeologists with you
pretending you're Cycladic
(so much younger than you are)


      2. The Unreality of Roosters

I have come reluctantly to the conclusion
that sexual dimorphism is, in chickens, a fake.
Actually, by turns fluffy scrawny and stout,
they contrive continually - in posse
or in fact -
until, the menopause supervening
and all their creative powers quite dried up,
kindly Nature allows them
(by way of a pension)
to look finally like Governors-General.

      3. Winter Solstice


Small chill reflections
roll around striking each other with steel clicks:
migraine marbles, blotting-paper pinball.


Yes, Magritte was right: clouds are like loaves of bread.
But what he forgot to note was the agony
of the impact, from some miles up, upon one's head
of bullet-hard seeds of celestial sesame.


Summer presents itself as fictive paisley
but there is something unconvincing
in the all-too-microscopic mandalas of snowdrops.


The wind recapitulates the ancient
present moment
when all the duck-shaped jugs of Thera
spilled into pumice-patterned green.
It's blown the castle off the hill
and the nude poppies
were at last able to be assumed
into bronze necklaces
no one ever found, under Pelasgian walls
patched through and through
almost equally elusive rumoured sheepfolds.


It's little consolation to a water-ice,
when it remembers having been a man,
to be praised for delicacy of flavour.


The peaks across the bay are feet deep in seagulls
and still
in fading smudges recede rapidly over the water.


A sky this size coordinates
better with Riemann's view of space.
Such a curvature is unarguable
even now as it contracts, contracts
(and me inside)
- as to embracing it, however,
something less ample, less Junonian, frankly -


Defrosting and subsequent refreezing ruin the taste.
This explains both the persistence of Golden Age myths
and their continual enfeeblement.


O wild west wind, I apostrophise you: notice me!
But do please be discreet about it.


Under white mindwinter sun the air's bleached fabric is stamped
with a repeating pattern of black-and-grey-striped cats and still-wet
golden berries.


The flies are still alive -
I begin to grasp Dante's penology.


You have to just go
up        and then pause
a little up
there, said

And Gide said, of fish, that "they die
belly-upward, and float
to the surf ace; it is
their way of falling."

Before dawn the fishing boats
float into floating mist that certainly conceals
little prospect of a light descent
from reportable middle regions in solid air,
freeze there, hunch
back under cover, steel
sea, boats, fish, a single liquid
falling, slow horizontal rain, through the dark bedroom.


One hadn't expected -
one hardly welcomes -
the discovery of wicked Popes in the kitchen freezer.


These infinitely various mirrorings attest,
in all their shadings and elisions, perspective-shifts,
outrush and inflow of colour, cathexes of light,
the singular unacknowledged virtues of never washing the window.


The streets will run green and scarlet with molten birdsong,
perhaps, in spring

      4. The Evidence

It isn't as though there'd been no warning.
The clues were literally everywhere, we kept stumbling
over the evidence; really, the ploys
of misdirection should have been all too apparent.
Why, for instance, did that triple rainbow
salt its tail in urchin-speckled offshore
searocks, for a sly moment, and then snap back
into church like a guerilla hatband? The Minoan bowl
of translucent rose-glass, figured with cloudy octopi and squid,
who clapped it down on top of the White Mountains
and snipped off the curls of seaweed, the parched
articulations of foothill cactus and thyme?
Where did they come from, those T'ang illuminati-in-exile
with their scrolls and inkpots? Rain indeed.
And the flag of bees? The snow in the roofed market
scribbling sententiae all over the melons?
- I need hardly mention the shotguns cycling tandem up the ravine,
the goats that kept dropping out of fig trees,
the grandmother who turned into a sickle.
But there's no use denying it,
by the time the wind danced off with the breakwater
we'd all been completely taken in. And even now,
look, again everyone is gathered, staring and pointing.
O the ineptitude! - Somewhere else a quite unpeopled
                                                               miracle occurs.

      5. The Rent

It has been less than satisfactory.
The chickens, fortunately, are too much chickens
to remember how yesterday I nearly brained them,
as they fuddled around in the garbage pit,
with a half-gallon retsina bottle.
If those chickens did catch on
I wouldn't give much for our chances.

And when I suddenly found myself
heaving, among other things, into that same pit
a florid authoritative rat -
when the landlord's small daughter tottered in
with a wilted radish,
wanting, I knew from experience,
to operate in exchange upon the typewriter -
when the landlord threatened to cut our friend's feet off -

and so we left, giving them
little gilt Qantas kangaroos.

      6. The House

                                          for Nadia

There is no need to talk about the light.
The solid mountains blow about the gate,
young cats and yellow frogs in the rosemary
are still, meticulous. (Our tree
promised mulberries, but three weeks late.)
An owl nearby ticks night.

We've climbed very slowly up the hill
where the asphodel flower like quotations
from a poem we never quite understood.
The beach was crosshatched with driftwood,
stippled with reeds. There are other creations
round us; first drafts of spiders on the sill.

In this bay within a bay times drift through the pines:
the watering-lady in the garden floats
breaststroke out of lumps of marble or walls
frescoed under whitewash. When the owl calls
she vanishes, leaving stout black petticoats
nodding over the roses, pruning vines.

      7. Notes From the Noctarium


your coiffure
repels all contumely. Why then are you yourself
thus transparent-soft, mousevelvet
quivering on my coat? You rely on trust?
Come now,
surely your hairdresser could recommend also
a health studio?


When they cut down the plane trees in the square
the owl moved into one of our pines.
But small elegant bodgie birds come and wake him up
and josh him in blank daylight. Ah where now is the old club,
worn armchair and definite cigar
far above the traffic,
light pouring down the wet black streets?


The frogs still hop, awkward and if they've time,
into weed-patches, building-lots and bathrooms.
Our houses are built on gauzy traceries
of silhouetted frogs. You can scan them,
comic strips,
as they sink gradually into what we call asphalt.
The frog prince married a tractor wheel;
their fairy tale is altogether different.

      8. The Benefactors: Mr. Achillopoulos' Mercantile
            School (Mount Pelion, Thessaly)

Suddenly the bus whizzed onto the sliding glaze
of perhaps the last surviving green-figure amphora
(traditional centaur workmanship) of the lost school of Pelion.
Needlepointed with a pox of fog-pits
or vindictively pricked by dead demented lapiths, patterned
with the unmistakable knotting of plane
and horse-chestnut trees, figure
on ground of wet slate and shale. Horsehair in pores of                                                                                     sooty marble,
arrow-poison veining the forest floor.

" . . . the wrong discipline . . . disciplined . . .
A stork booms in the high wind.
'Have mercy, Lord, for we have sinned'."

The plane
tree, good for hanging a dozen bishops, encircled
by seven wooden benches void
of their old men, sweeps shale (now brown with coffee-grounds
and wild-mulberry juice) paving the chill
silent village square, and mossfur on slate roofing
the dissolved cottages of woodcutters
down in the horse-chestnuts where the village hides.

Brambles and roses clog the door
and vacant niche intended for
the statue of the Governor.

All the old men were
forked into the cobbles they'd crammed upright
for mules' grip (still the hooves like running children
suddenly lost in a green stick-insect, and timber
or cocoons cascading) entering
an altogether new taxonomy. From grey-green fretworks of sky
the plane tree fountains down in
five-fingered leaves.

Chinks in the shale are round with rain.
The old men visit once again
the church at the end of Donkeyshit Lane.

But squeeze under the portcullis of white roses
that spill from eyeholes in the grass-snakes'
and cornflowers' habitat, and skip the stinging nettles
and the illusive niche between mirror staircases
receding to a horizon in the pineal eye, scratch on
Where the blackboards have all fallen through the rotten floor
nouns in the ossuary-chapel, verbs
trapped in plane leaves. The process:

Candlewax and lamp-oil spatters.
Priests mutter, the cantor chatters.
They will all rise as mad as hatters.

Mr Socrates Achillopoulos, the Benefactor,
parsed into landscape circa 1909, finds himself compounding
syntactical trunk-murders down every damp trail,
the topology police hot after his flow.
Everywhere springs labelled Undrinkable, or clotted
with a fat paste of leaves (under a tap
a black-and-yellow ladybird swims in a tin can
like a tiny galley after a lost battle.)

- the ceiling drips a pool of staph
the temperature's shot off the graph
there's gangrene sauce on the pilaf -

Claustrophobia on the outside of a vase? Nonsense,
cheap tricks of perspective and inversion, words
that can't be faced unless they're vases
or fishtanks or frescoes - and after all
they're so easy. "It's only nerves."
Earthenware, splotched with fake primaries
or strewn with twilight differentials of green on green,
walls, it doesn't matter. The lie's a continuity of trees
without reference to the footsteps receding
into leaves, into paint . . .

Outside, three kittens chasing a gecko leap
onto the jumbled ancestors, asleep
in their tin boxes, scrabble in the heap

of promises dug into wood and stone
each assuring to each alone
transfiguration in the bone.

Long ago the notorious geometry toxin
stretched their lives into a pattern of such surfaces
as jugs, pots, a village-square and a sun
green as breakers, a transformational
grammar of horse-chestnuts. The naming of parts:
dactylic plane leaves, "Old Handy" "dead
of weddings", church wall and green vase,
all the dismal perquisites of love.

Chestnut leaves block the dry spout.
The kittens tumble the tins about.
Slate and sky shut evening out.

Cheiron and Mr Achillopoulos are equally
scattered. Incredible. And we saw in a flash
- it seemed so simply apprehensible -
hidden tilted villages with no sky but plane leaves
falling away over the curve of the world
past woods and belltowers. Poured
with the shake of a hand into another sphere
of knife-edge cobbles and jammed taps; falling
at last forever away from the sun.

Leviathan looms out of the narthex wall.
The whore straddles her beast. Worms crawl
over the blackening damp. Souls fall and fall.


J A C K E T  # 11 
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