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Jacket 17 — June 2002   |   # 17  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   |

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Max Harris

Two pieces

The Ern Malley poems were printed at the front of Angry Penguins 1944 Autumn number, in their own section of 36 pages, followed by a blank page, followed by the rest of the 108-page issue. The Ern Malley section closed with these two pieces by Max Harris, one a prose elegy for Ern Malley, the other a poem perhaps informed by the experience of reading the Malley poems a week or two earlier.




The dark parabola falls, its steady curve descending in space with the precision of a bird’s beak. Its arrow ends the rainbow in the rocktorn continent of the flesh. From the crannies, the incisions in the cast iron boulders, the marmosets and jackrabbits leap like pins, excited to the magnet, the eye. Across the lambent fields, now, she comes, bearing a quiver in her breast, and that ideal look thrusting her tears apart. The heaving waters turn black and blind, as if they had embraced the sun, or seen the perfect disaster regimented across the bedroom mirror. There are no birds. Remotely, the wheat, with its shorn fingers, like a mechanic at tea, looks awkward. The lamprey, eel-like pseudo-fish with sucker mouth, pouch gills, and seven spiracles on each side, and fistula on top of the head, slithers insidiously to safety in the oily scales of the lake bed. She is near, bearing death like a toothpick between her smile. Now!
“I am the achievement by which you will deny the carnal.”
“I am that which striving to do evil, does good.”
“Oh my friend, my bacterial lover, burning lava on the brow of my thoughts. You are that which neither strives to do good, or does evil. You are my silence in the morning.”
“I am that which the gods designed as a home for the parabolas of destruction. Griselda, my dreams have brought you kisses, and I believe you are carrying a little death, clutched like a grubby penny in the ball of your left hand.”
“I have come with nothing.”
“With my desires?”
“With nothing.”
“With my lack of desires.”
“With nothing.”
“Then why have you a meaning?”
“Because it is only through me that you can achieve anything. I am necessary to you, because I am the only thing of which you can expect nothing, which lays open to you entirely and unavoidably for offering. You receive nothing in return. You need me.”
“What are you?”
“I am an altar.”
“If you wish.”
As the earth lay undulating like a lackey, its faded braid and livery dulled with the imprecation of centuries, it had a wild organic vision. The astigmatic eye loomed as high as the sun; the long golden dirndl swept with the rhythms of sin about the purple sex of the penultimate mountain ranges. The hand that fiddled with nervous irritation petrified as a comet, or a scar, or a tragedy across the viscera of waters. The earth changed. As it waited it changed. It changed as it waited. Still it waited. These were my centuries and I am not ashamed of them. For now I must tell of the vision, and a vision justifies centuries. It is to be confessed that as the needle of the breasts lay concealed beneath the aquamarine blouse, rocks based in the richness of indefined waters, great longing surged as a drought across a thousand years. And in that time the pitiful skeleton of the marmoset dropped dead and strangled from the broiling wires of the trees, the squeak of the marmot went as doors clicked “lock,” and only a few paraplegic trees thrust the tips of life in defiance. Desire is strong. That happened and more. Her thighs were oceans, renowned in a number of songs, but the dolphins left the waters, and the thongs bit deep into the wrists of Ulysses, until the ropes and the flesh were one in a putrescent union.
Then there came the vision.
Now I am tired for love cannot bear too much reality. I speak as a stranger in this land. The people who have grown up in this land are dumb, and their thoughts are bread. Amongst them I perform the miracle of loaves and fishes. I am not proud of it.

Joy Hester and Max Harris 1943 a

Artist Joy Hester and editor Max Harris on the train from Melbourne to Heide, circa 1943. Photo copyright © Albert Tucker. Reproduced from The Eye of the Beholder — Albert Tucker’s Photographs by Janine Burke, Museum of Modern Art, Heide, 1998
7 Templestowe Road, Bulleen Victoria 3105, Australia.




I am deciphered by the black waters,
union, and terrorist surge avid in my fields,
sun my god, the purpose love,
and the strong swing of hawks my blazing shield.
Here I was an age unfolding
like the rose my veneer panels to the rafters,
and the natural birds blinked,
and at my birth the yellow waters followed after.
I lay, like tyranny, in my own corn,
waiting nightfall as the mice
to play the moribund penury of desire
at the sneering globule of the moon.
Many times it descended, and my eyes,
the lids overburdened with shame,
and my darkness joining the burning
auguries of death, the salamanders in my breast.
At last I reached that sullen age
where my chains crackled and spat
like the burning of cellophane, bursting,
leaving me to descend with the
ghastly inevitability of virtue
on the sleeping cancer, the lambent world of men.
My shadow cast madness, and fangs
honored me from the jaws of dogs.
Childen [sic] no longer wept, but laughed
their tiny sadistic joys up and down
the paralysing fingers of the town.
The old, decreeing death was dead,
raised great marbles, like teeth, to me.
But seeking one heart, depair [sic]
settled down like patient murder
upon the mobile world of my feet.
Leaving men for manna, dreams for blood.
imagination leapt aortal channels
and rested sibilant in the lake of gall:
the doctors operating on the landscape
removed the belly of the mountain
and gaunt entrails rolled like smoke-signs,
clouds, bellying from the hills,
on the laval sweetness of the slopes.
The trees that had lived to whip the birds
rocked and moaned, pitiful as mothers,
and breasts were tortured with the weight of milk.
This eye, the black eternal waters,
the wild incestuous caverns, my kiss,
lay trembling before this neutral agency;
and final was that whisper of the world
which said, ‘0 agony, to be love’.

November, 1943

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