Poems by S. K. Kelen

Earthly Delights

It was about the time
tiger balm and a host of liniments
entered mainstream consciousness
I found the best path through
galloping middle age
was the garden path.
Gardening brought an easy oneness
with the good itchy things of the soil —
a time to get acquainted —
helped dispel storm and stress.
Resuming the ex-marital home
I’d found the backyard baked
hard clay, not a blade of grass
grew on that cruel hard bole.
Turned the topsoil, laid the seed
I started growing a lawn
initially watering every second day
and after two weeks
a delicate but deep green pelt sprouted —
any 17th-century aristocrat would think fine
though it was mostly couch and budget seed
a bit of strawberry clover that didn’t come
to much at first, but the grass
grew fast and green.
The lawn was beautiful, alive.
An unforgiving Summer
left it almost bare again.
Tough yellow grass tufts
survived, clumping like islands
succoured by a slow drip from the hose.
This time around adding lime and compost
(with earth worms) made the soil
softer and it held water.
Seeding across the seasons,
an occasional deep watering,
and some fortuitous Spring rain
a lucky storm and a few days
good soaking helped re-establish.
The lawn grew variegated with rye, blue
grass, couch and some strawberry clover.
The major features of the garden were
in place, shrubs and trees: a white flowering
cherry and two thriving wattles,
spread their branches in the sunlight.
(Grevillea won’t grow here unless they’re spoilt.)
In the mornings nectar-sucking birds arrive.
Rescued from tangles of honeysuckle & ivy,
Gardenia, azaleas and roses bloom
a kind of gratitude for being there.
Elm, birch and gum branches crowd
toward the sun. The oversized golden ash
shades the yard and keeps the earth in place.
Each year the camellias bloom stronger
and the poppies, daffodils and tulips
grow back, bring the flower beds respectability.
The weeds are generally well behaved.
The lawn is beautiful, alive.
Gardeners know one day they’ll
be calling their creations
the gardens of paradise. For now
there’s a space called rough patch
where nothing good will grow,
the place gardeners might indulge
a favourite whimsy, or
dream distant flower parks,
an arboretum where oak trees groan
or a hot house tangled with genius orchids
and Venus Fly-traps. Gardeners know
the earth should be under the fingernails
that prayers for rain are sometimes answered
and where things are in the garden.
From Earthly Delights (Pandanus Press, 2006). 




Violet droplets parody sleepless
brutal instincts are our claw
and here as every modern, machines
make life easier. Towers are symbol
representation, words said, reports
written long after the heels stop
clicking. There’s a wheel we’re on
flaming, full of trepidation
but good fortune to wake up
in a new month, discover the one
eating the sugar and sad-sack brooms
leave home, goodbye — the heart 
(in navy of body and soul, pride of the fleet)
breaks into its component nuts and bolts.
The phone sings like a frog in a limerick,
the message banning laughter: funny.
First published in The Age May 21, 2011. 


At the Door
Bushfire serenades a river
a star spreads on the earth’s surface
flaring then extinguishing —
yellow flames mean a fire’s happy
the river and creeks carry sweet ash,
burnt-desolation revives a fire spirit
at night, water holds other worlds
galaxies of stars wheel in a river.
In this life you’re lucky if you get to be
a toy but in the garage there’s a steel horse
its mighty heart thumps, polished like forty-
thousand shiny dollar coins welded into
terrible beauty that goes breathing fire
every day and in a year pumps a tonne
and a half of lead into the atmosphere.
We own that beauty. An engine’s life is
important — hot and insane.
She’s uniformed and he’s nonplussed
her cream flesh pressing her tunic breathes —
long lunch they park by the river in seventh heaven
dense breathless pathways to explore —
undergrowth, sunbursts — bless — it’s shameful
how much pleasure can be had in a car —
the fire’s downtown. At night stars rush
their infinities of love, cool candles to look at
but hot as tongues each with one word,
stars are so far apart there’s no need, no hurry.
With daylight traffic come the humans.
Around here, the atoms are excited.

From Island Earth: New and Selected Poems (Brandl & Schlesinger, 2012).




A jingle woke and gee-up knew.
Who prime-numbered the village —
routed the countryside? a wolf sack
filled with of courses, perhapses, and maybe.
Power feeds the organ’s gaskets, postures,
lizard, plasma, shouting blue — schism —
people believe and behave. Where country
and town woe begone, the cars breathe fire.
There was relax and friend-hut, warmth
to the chilled the shelterer provided;
a gentle hand opened a door to the future
and the village? A nymph went wild — a guest’s
wheels — then the bull exploded, the creek
flooded, the shower screen was brilliantine.

First published in The Best Australian Poems 2011, (edited by John Tranter, Black Inc, 2011).



We lived in electricity’s future
exulted the daily bread benign Astroboy
mesmerised the workstation earned drudgery
kind of lonely I guess we became the first robot writers
Hello Kitty or some useful software to put me to sleep
make me one with the telephone: the mind-saving
Doctor Hardcore has the answer to our ills:
walk into vanishing lake, the fence posts are teeth
and the hills undulate like breasts, nurture the homesteads.
O dusk-powered frogs sing, the insects reach crescendo
give heart the blinding truth (sun and gum tree) harmony
transfixes the glory hallelujah clouds drift the livelong day
praise yet without the passions eternity is endless hygiene
and the earth and sky drift apart (far thunder), happens.

From Island Earth: New and Selected Poems (Brandl & Schlesinger, 2012).