Poems by Ken Bolton

Things to Say

When there’s nothing to say  —
"do you ever just force yourself?"
  — Michael Grimm, his question

My answer
‘No’    is
not true
you do
but not
a few days ago, in the empty room
< moving >  from one room to the other
I find myself doing A Silly Walk
—  for my amusement  —
& it transmutes
into you,  one you might do — as a joke, for me ­­––
how weird   —
I am, briefly, absent you
(The time
—  after the wake   —
able to impersonate
the physical movements
of a dead friend
to my amusement
but just the once
Less accurate
With each repeat
In New Zealand
everyone is called Kevin, Iain, Scott,
are the women’s names
so Scottish too?
(Colin, Kevin, Keith)
lots of "Margaret"
I take in Greg’s
fanciful, lightly brooding essays
(Gagliardi’s painting
of a levitating priest  —  a saint,
preposterously floating before a
congregation  —  I mean,
were there really witnesses ?
His halo gives him the aura 
…  of  —  was that his name?  —
on the black-&-white TV
of childhood, who introduced
The Outer Limits
The Twilight Zone ?
Richard Sterling?)
               A realist
baroque painting   —
of me becoming
Cath Kenneally :
say, my jeans & shoes …
—  with attendant glow?  —
to her
upper body
(glow around it),
Crossing the lounge room  …
a silly walk   —
it goes like this   —
Legs like Boofhead’s,
upper body
doing some Salomé-like thing
—   Cecil B. de Mille-style slinky Egypt :
Claudette Colbert
(what a name!)
what a mug  !
so comically weary
(Now, Charlton Heston’s best role
was as Richelieu —
The Three Musketeers)
that a relevant,  a necessary,   a true thing to say ?
Hey, no  —
no need for the police here son (!)
                                                (  put that down  )
Father O’Dwyer
or Brian Fitzpatrick
the Irishman who played ‘nothing but priests’
in the midday movies of my youth
& enjoyed a tipple.
Whose youth  
is not misspent   —
Heston’s, Richelieu’s, Colbert’s? —
"these days"   —
Michael’s wedding
 —   Wendy’s   —
they both looked beautiful.
& happy.
                    I liked
         their friends
I was one of them !
but  of a different set
(my set)
Julie     Francesca     Anne !
— is that a title?

( The WRONG SET? —
   was that? )

I Was One Of Them   ?
strange tale
of a girl,
& inducted to a  —
  ‘dark’  sect …
"for almost seven months Kevin
(pictured right) has dug in this hole:
that’s thirty weekends!
but who’s counting
says his mother (in
left of photo).
Dad  … " (but here our quote ends:
‘torn’ from the New Zealand News,
dad not pictured).
I had a dream once of my dad, a sort of
joke about him: he had this ball & chain attached to his leg
in a fir tree wood
got into a biplane, sat behind the pilot —
& took off  —
the plane buzzed furiously, all over the sky,
above the mountain that was in the dream
above the fir trees on its peak  —
unable to go beyond a certain distance —
& descended
Dad, sheepish but amused, got out of the plane,
in his cardigan,
& got the ball
wrapped, as it was,
around one of the fir trees, where it had
tethered the plane.
I love to say  
"Are you all right, mate?"
to anything I’ve dropped — & bend to pick up —
or that something
is not something’s  ‘bootlace’
—   my dad’s dismissal
of the substandard or secondary
"He’s not Elly Bennett’s bootlace!"
( of some pug )
That’s not a tomato’s bootlace: me,
of tomato  (a dud)
you get the hang of it.
My father worked in a factory
built into the foundations
of the Harbour Bridge  —
regularly enough
a suicide would land outside.  One day as the men knocked off
a body landed — with a thump — 
dead of course —
& the new guy asked it (him) the question
— & was taunted with it
 ‘ever after’
people yelled out to him  
around the factory
Hey, Frank !
Are you all right mate?
but don’t force it
Which is my answer to Michael:
Give it a try — & if it’s ‘ready’
well, something may give.
Maybe, maybe not.
Good to have been Cath, tho, for a while
to have   been   at that  wedding   …
& here I hear Michael (Michael Grimm)   —  alarmed  —   "Hey,
it’s going back !"  Who were the great minor actors
of your day? 
List them.
         …  Thelma Ritter
Edmund Gwenn, (Brian Fitzpatrick?),
Errol Flynn?
Julie,  Anne,  Francesca !
It’s m o i  !    
the amazing Changing Man !
                   — legs like Boofhead’s
                       head like Cath’s —



                          of not writing poems, & at nights
 my limbs, moving through the air,
as cool about them
                                      as an almost liquid medium
                          above the trees   there is no
                          mystery.   There is
                          just the plane   it is crawling slowly along the
                          sky  .   like a fly along the rim of a lampshade
                     Wayne Shorter
                                                                      ‘Footprints’ – live
                                              I rub Cath’s
                                              beautiful shoulder

                                                                         I rub
                                                                                      the other one, too—
Also beautiful
                                                                         the cat
is here again, coming up the ladder to the loft
                                       to butt my chin, with its head,
                                                                              purring, like a small   
                                                                               I am that least admirable of
                         I always give up boundless love.
                                                                                       now, all I
                                        can think
                                            is of your nether lip, your entirely
                         strong & specific nervous face
                                                                                                         & the salty
                                      briny brown which I associate with your lips, &
                         with your skin, now seems like rest          
                                                                                               (the cat, a head-butter
for love)
                     the secret river that runs like a moon through
                                                                    the obvious river,     
                                                        that runs (like …  men 
                                                   the running of the bulls at Pamplona                     
                                                                                            The nun’s story.
now in the afternoon   with you   it is you I love   in the afternoon
what’s the name of the feeling I have about you that says
you should be in a book   & illustrating the easy life that comes
of never singing out loud but going round always singing in your
                           head & thinking there
                     also  ?

                          relaxing  lying-back
                                                               calm & pale   as a cigarette that is smoked,
                                                  lying here   am
                                                                                      I smoking one, aren’t I?

                          “In dreams begin responsibilities”

                          (“) responsibilities
                                                              start in bed"   you hardly seem
                                                                 … as I run the bulls at Pamplona
sliding down the page
                     I translate
a french poem.  I’ve
washed my hair.
                          as if we would live forever?
                                                     Yes, as if we would!
               Philip Whalen, a book of drawings by Kirchner,
                                       Street Scenes of Berlin,
                                                                the veiled, the hawkish figures
And Etta James is dead.
Late at night
reading Ted
Ted is dead
                          (and Tod) —
                          und Tod
                                                       yep, him too
the terrific days of summer
                                already    the sun is making the pool rooms
in the British Lion     too hot in the afternoon  or soon will,
& the carpet stinks of beer again
                                                                         & parties have begun    – 
       got a job til Xmas
           a house you lived in
                                                                 the last you had begun to be
                          the luckiest    the toaster might catch that sun
                          every morning, & near it the knife, when you get up
                     after every night.  — marmalade, or crumb; the toasty cat
                     at its sour white plate, your jeans undone.
the air    risks itself among her hair      & everything
the air    & things   are all aroused  & everything, & that.
it was like    some sort of    ‘stuff’
.                           *
                    there is none :  love is artless.   There is only
                    the wallpaper
                    & the chintz & carpet
                                                a chint?
                                  ( My kingdom for one! )
                                                      the fabulous limp calligraphy of the
             spiritual miles distant from the thought of you
we will be passing the telephone booths soon
& then we will be in the suburbs, things that say
‘COKE’ against the sky
                            — I’ll
just open the car door    & get a bit of fresh air & stare

above the booth, resting.
                                  sky   cloud    chimney   aeroplane
             the record player has not been on for hours
             though the light on the record player glows
             but the intense sad notes still ‘haunt’ the air
             & affect the view, out through the bars,
             of the street & the factory across the road
             with their own grid, of wire & bars,
             on all their windows, staring back
             the sunday traffic, occasionally, roaring past
             I get up, & put on Lou Reed’s
             ‘Rock n Roll’, which I love.  It always makes the bars
             seem more neutrally rigorous —
             how I’m beginning to feel now.
lists of adjectives for days
:                                            terrific days,
                                             inelegant days,
                                             eloquent days,  days
                                             like spring  & days
                                             like summer,
                                             impenetrable days
                                             literal days
                                             the saddest days,
                                             days  that are stoical, classical  or cool
the effect of Donald Brook
the effect of Nigel Roberts.
the effect of Forbes,     (the effect
                                                                   of taking all their personal
effects   &
nailing them to a board     & comparing them
& of thinking    how that, in effect,
                                                                       was like summer;
of looking at the city
                                                 & knowing
you could / be there.
                like your chest is full of brows
                                                                                    suddenly / ceasing
to frown,  now smiling.
                days /
                        without parallel,
                         & days, days & days of them,  that are all
                                                                                                     exactly -
the -  same

                     days    without parallel,
                            let’s go sleeping
there’s the air    risking itself   among her hair
                 & things
   & everything, & that.     
The Paris Commune
                  Manet  O’Hara  Coltrane
— & the loons, like de Chirico — the Germans, Kirchner
Kokoschka, Adorno — Christa Wolf.
hermeticdays .
New photo-realist days
the sort of thing   that for some people, presumably,
is conjured by a lawnmower ad on television
                                                                                     Pam laughs
                                           is it really effortless?  is it
                                           really so smooth & green?
Tonight I’m ‘high
‘where I write at night & think of you
where I aim my best ideas
            “Everything is Kafka”
             Like, “everything is,
                                                     like, …”  & so on
                    the joint kicks in
                                                    where am I?
                                                                   adrift again?
             The British Lion is opening its doors
             Reification can be my tool too, & come in handy!
             Midget legends of our time
             I feel like a temple must feel
                                                                         a feeling temple
The phrase "Italian Drink"
                                          nearly abstract nearly real,
                       &  Wayne Shorter — ‘live’
                                                                            …  like
                  (  which is where I stand )
( & sometimes laugh, sometimes (almost) cry, )
                            ideas for poems float past
                          For a second, not even looking up
I feel like a temple without a saint
                                                    My life, where so often …
                                       —  “Pull up a pew, mate!”  —
                                                                                             There is no truth
                                                                 There is tearfulness
                                                                                                   Rather than
                                                    A pew is pulled up
                         a terrible mildness
                        Do I have my ‘sights’
                                                                                   on something
                              that is Universal
                                                    (without feeling like Elmer Fudd,
                                                                               or a Greek athlete?)
                                                                  do I?
                              I put on, again, Wayne Shorter
               a book of drawings by Kirchner,  Philip Whalen
the Berlin Street Scenes,
The Paris Commune
                  Manet   Coltrane   O’Hara
                 — & the loons: de Chirico — the Germans, Kirchner
                  Kokoschka, Adorno — Christa Wolf
.                                                                                    Filippo De Pisis
                                       & at nights
                          days writing poems
                          my limbs
                                                                 move through the air
                                       (cool about them
                                                    as                 )
                        living brilliantly
An  "Italian Drink", nearly abstract nearly real, like
my best ideas
                                          comes thru the window
which is where I stand
& laugh,  (or cry),
                                                                      & where abrasively
& beautifully
                                                               ideas for poems float past
                      I can write
                                                               telling another poet
                                                                             how I love.
                                                            but I do not write
                                                                               I do not tell
                                       I am that least admirable of men
                                        having an italian drink, at a window
                                                                                                                 & the salty
                                       briny brown which I associate with your lips,
                           with your skin,
                                                                                           loony also
                    on the other hand :
                    Do I have my ‘sights’
                                                                                 on something
                          that is Universal
                                     Like Errol Flynn,
                                     an ageing Errol
                                    & the twins
                                     The Big Boodle   ?
                    aflame with love for you my main
                    feeling is un-nameable   & is concerned with the way
                    these attitudes, which you weave about you, you weave
                    about you. 
                  Let me play with your poodle
                             (Old Saying.)
                                            comes ‘thru the window’
                                                         (Thank you, Tampa.)  
                  now in the afternoon
                     in the afternoon light. 
                  it is you I love
                  what’s the name of the feeling I have about you that says
                  you should be in a book   (you should illustrate the easy life
                  of …
                 this makes you mysterious
                        little white Magrittes
                        against the quiet, loud blue
                         For a second, not even looking up
            I feel like a temple without a saint
                                                    My life, where so often  …
                                 I’m a just luv luv luv you, baby
                                 I’m a just keep on luvving you
                                                                             (as, so often, McKinley
                         had cause to iterate)
                                          (a terrible mildness)
                                                                           (Thank you, Chet Baker.)
                         & isn’t it
                        better here, living
            Is everything ‘Kafka’?
            Is anything?
            The British Lion is opening its doors
                                                             (but I am not their doorman)

                        I am running the bulls at Pamplona.

            Reification can be my tool too, & come in handy!
            Midget legends
                                                    of our time
            I feel like  a temple must feel
            relaxing  lying-back         
            “I know what he did have his eyes on — ‘nominally.’”
                                                                (— Raoul Walsh)
                        the record player has not been on for hours
                                     you have ‘pulled up a pew’,  a
                                     mental pew
                              you ‘sit there’
                    in your mental pyjamas
            though the light on the record player glows
            the intense sad notes still ‘haunt’ the air —
            & affect the view, out through the bars
            of the street & the factory across the road
            with their own grid, of wire & bars,
            on all their windows, staring back
                       Who could like
                                                     temples & churches?
                       In truth you never have.
            the sunday traffic, occasionally, roaring past
            I get up, & put on Lou Reed
            which I love.
             neutrally rigorous bars — which is
            how I’m beginning to feel now,
            like one of the bars on the window..
                                                   o, to be one of those !
                      whose teeth
                    bump those of the men they kiss
                     wondrously   girls with fingers, girls in clinches
                     the secret river that runs like a moon 
     how that, in effect,
                                                                      was like summer;    
                                                                   is like summer)
of looking at the city
                                                           —   A perspective view  —
                           above the trees   there is no
                         just the plane   crawling slowly along the
                      sky    (like a fly along the rim of a lampshade)
                      like your chest is full of brows
                                                                                            suddenly / ceasing
      to frown,  now smiling.
                                                                                 Your name is Rembrandt,
                                                                                           Paul Rembrandt?
                                                         Have a banana —
                                                         a roll-mop then!
Write to Sal;
Draw my hand
                                            Floyd Jones   (‘Playhouse Down’)
                           Hullo, Akira!
                           Susan Mervyn-Jones
Monsieur Paul Sloan, master
.                        #
                                        exult ,    exultant
                                "Friend or foe," says the cook
                                                                  in this establishment
                                                    he is
                               a ‘joker’
                               an establishment I today had my lunch in
                                                    or, anyway, coffee
                days /
                        without parallel, 
Big swigs of resin / retsina
The joint kicks in —
      there goes my handwriting —
                                                                                    (& dreams)
                          let’s go sleeping
                                                                  the last you had begun to be
                          the luckiest    the toaster the sun
                          every morning, & near it the knife, when you get up
                     after every night.  — marmalade, or crumb; the toasty cat
                     at its sour white plate, your jeans undone.
hermetic days .
                     B: "Art"?
                     “Shall I place your bags in the vestibule, SUH?!”
which the art
in our mind makes
.                     Juan Gris,   Jack Benny,   Frank Stella
like paintings
— like the Piano Lesson,
like Braque!     & terrific days
                            like Jackson Pollock
               — & the loons like de Chirico, Konrad Bayer — the Germans
:                                                                                   Kirchner
                                                                     Kokoschka, Adorno
                                                                                 Christa Wolf
         if you’ve got some change
                          & you want to make that phone call
                     (make it)     
lists of adjectives for days
:                                        -
                                           list begins
                                           list ends
                                           stoical, classical  or cool
                   on a Japanese envelope: This letter may contain no message
                                            ha ha ha  —  & many hardly do
             the fabulous limp calligraphy of the afternoon
             spiritual miles distant

                                        the ‘obvious’ river, that runs,
                                                      like a bull, thru …
the terrific days of summer
are here again,
                                already    the sun is making the pool rooms
in the British Lion
                                               too hot in the afternoon 
the carpet stinks of beer again
                                                                           parties have begun
 the air    risks itself
                                             & everything
the air    & things   are all aroused  & everything, & that.
It was like    some sort of    ‘stuff’.
Tonight I’m ‘high’
                                                              & where there is a sense of
           (where I write at night & think of you)
                                                                             where I aim my best
Awake & Refreshed
tho with nothing on the page!
two thirds of a second,
the average poet’s life
Archie Shepp   Lou Reed   Fats Waller
                    I put on, again, Wayne Shorter  —  it is
                                                         ‘Footprints’ — live
                                — maintaining altitude —
               4 or 5 short blacks & some retsina chasers
               the music, then, is Coltrane — Coltrane ‘live’ in Europe,
                        courtesy of Crab
                       “Four stars, Ken!
                        Any biscuits?
                        as the dog said to me, coming in
.                                        put-in-my-place. 
                                                                           But what has done this?
                          Coltrane?  Europe?
                        my friends — whom I sail ‘by’, ‘beneath’, ‘between’
Mary, Mill, Craig, Coltrane & Pepper Adams — or
Cecil Payne, if it was him —
                                                        Frank O’Hara
Pam, Laurie, the big brains line up
the photo of Mill —
                          ‘A Step Away From Them’
                                                  and a photo of The Banana —
                                                  easing herself, nimbly, off the trampoline,
                                                  where she had been sitting, cross-legged



2/12/08 — A Poem for Philip Whalen 

                       “Here it comes again, imagination of myself”
                   — Philip Whalen, ‘International Date Line, Monday/Monday 27:IX:67’
Here it comes again, imagination of myself:
I’m sitting in the harsh light in a study
(mine) — it’s the light I like  —  & it’s late.
“In a study” always suggests “He was in
a bad mood, tense with it”  — not that —
reading Whalen, a book of drawings by Kirchner,
the Berlin Street Scenes — in an attempt
to gain some purchase, kick off
from something different — thinking
of Yuri, a bit, Cath’s eldest son, the one
I know least but like & like his difficult life
& how he’s dealt with it —“Yuri! I will speak
with you later!”  My friends the poets, famous,
in their way — in the not very satisfying way that
poets can be — large in my mind at any rate —
& another, rather foolish, at the same time as
rather good — well alternately, from poem to poem —
something of a comeback.  Another friend, ill
seriously mortally time running out.  How quickly?  How
quickly for us all the question.  (‘A’ question.)  Anna, &
boyfriend Chris,  on their anger at / fascination with
The Howard Years documentary a
self-serving account but, as they say, so far
the major & lone political fact of their lives
It will be their early history: yech — Reith,
Howard himself (whom I never expected
in the 80s I would have to hate — what future
did he have?).  The rest.
‘Consigned’ now ‘to oblivion’, to echo & re-echo
in succeeding waves of revision, counter-construal
like analyses of the Third Republic, the French
Second Empire.  Where are we now?  Even ‘interesting times’
seem to follow a pattern, the bangs & whimpers
louder, more ironically conventional for their
inadequacy to the occasion.  Will America go under
because of Bush?  how appropriate
But was that my point?  Late at night,
not even worrying.  Whalen, the Kirchner drawings.

Go under?  What,
next week? 
Okay, then.
"It may never happen!"  Isn’t that the joke?
If it takes ten years, if it takes twenty,
it will be cataclysmic.  Tho — 20 years —
I might be out of the way — or less concerned —
if curious as to the outcomes.  For
twenty years — for thirty — I have been amused
— "amused at best" — by Whalen’s politics —
raving & ranting, observations
of a hippy dropout.  Well, a Beat
the one I like best.  What did Whalen change?
He was sane, he set an example.  Now,
as I read the poems, I find those same politics
both nostalgic & to the point.
What will I change —
if I put my crazy-arse shoulder to the wheel? 
Is the answer: "In this vassal state?" 
"You should have thought of this earlier"? 
Leave a record, like Whalen did,
of clear perceptions.  The avowedly political authors
I read—Naomi Klein, Tony Negri — seem no
nearer the mark, tho fun to think about, think
with.  Negri, so systematic, abstract, & wishful.
The ‘Multitude’ — what a category!  How do I join, ha ha.
The overweening confidence & blindness of
think-tank America: the End of History.
Wishful thinking — & the rest of the world knew.
(Cheney, Rumsfeld & the others — Pal,
we make history!)  A century
of Interesting Times.  More.  When did they begin?
1871?  1789?  The innocence, & the percipience,
of my artistic heroes seems so touching,
even their blindness.  Manet  O’Hara  Coltrane
— loons like de Chirico — the Germans, Kirchner
Kokoschka, Adorno — Christa Wolf.  Did they each sit up,
as I do, in bed—a sleeping other at their side —
writing, nodding off   … ?

The fan is going & blows my page occasionally
though I have weighted it now with Heavy Breathing,
Whalen’s orange-covered volume,
with its wonderful drawing … that is too smart
to date much, really.  Then one day it will date
suddenly — the ironies, the humour, the seriousness
will cease to register — a fallen, a trashed
civilization.  I hope not.  Tho Whalen of course
could live with it.  Less tied to this world than me. 
I like life.  I like ‘the continuing story’, anyway,
& will be unhappy about it, the rupture.  Will
the rest of my life prepare me?  ("Check the serenity!"
Ha ha.  Dreaming.)
My body, turning, in some future.
Now I read this 24 hours later, & rub Cath’s
beautiful shoulder.  If I love life
why haven’t I had one — like Whalen did?
Tho I must’ve.  Mine’s all gone, right?
In fact I don’t know much about what Whalen did.
I seem to have spent mine day-dreaming — or thinking hard
about music, blues &  jazz & art — & making jokes & quipping
& making poems out of it.  The women
I’ve hung around have kept me sane.  (A few were ‘nuts’ —
but I was nuttier.)
People just want to be happy?  The big,
noble notions
exist, it sometimes seems, as ‘a caution’ — to ‘ennoble’ lives
with their ‘perspectives’.  Rembrandt, for example,
those terrific self-portraits — pathos, self-knowledge … the rest.
Dignity & failure — etcetera.  Yes,
but fifteen minutes later, he was having a banana. 
Or is that me? 
A rollmop, then.
Cath reads an old favourite, laughs occasionally,
reads me bits.  The fan churns,
noisily.  Tho we don’t notice: the night cooling
after a day of 42 & another of 37.  Cool tomorrow,
at 27?  24?  A small list of things to do builds.
My first week back at work. 
Write to Sal, draw my hand
or wrist-&-watch, stuff to edit, CDs to copy
for Michael.  I recommend to him
Floyd Jones: ‘Tore Your Playhouse Down’
how the song rolls so casually — solid, unfussed
the solos played on top of each other
a wonderful cacophony (Fred Below, Otis …)
The drawing — for Nick — illustration to something
he’ll print.  Sal —— after 20 years — to be
evicted from her flat.  A view I love.  She must, too.
Sydney.  Sydney as an idea.  Slessor, Cossington-
Smith.  Not that I care much about them: it is
Sal’s harbour view suggests them.
At last someone wants to charge real rent.
The old owners must have died? — or sold up?
It will be weird if she moves somewhere I don’t know.
West, I guess.
                               A week later I have edited things,
Photocopied my arm — preparatory to drawing —
these are the easy things.  Not written to Sal.
Tho what’s to say?  You have to say something of course.
Very likely she is ready for change.  Regretting
the view she will lose — but impatient with the place
now the move is on.  She was always something
of a Futurist.  One pictures her beautiful, goggled head
hunched forward to the sights of a WWI Fokker,
or leaning low & forward on a 1930s motorbike.  Laurie jokes
that I should send the T-shirts to Les Murray,
they are so big.  On different sides of the planet
we smile at the idea of Les — wearing the Brainard
T-shirt, a graphic proclaiming a reading.  For Ted Berrigan,
for Joe Brainard & Anne Waldman.  ("Oh, boy!"
says Nancy on one, "a Poetry Reading!")  Laurie’s
new book is out.  Fingers bent,
curled over, relaxed, I draw my left hand, held
palm upward, & the wrist.  My plan is to get it right
then copy it quickly with a firmer pen
& add the watch-band.  Nick requires an image
— with which to feature a particular
bright red — against which the drawing will be
set.  (A poem I wrote years ago —
that Nick has found & likes.  I like it, too,
so why not?)    Weeks have gone past.  Unchanged, the world
continues — tho shifts occur, indeterminate.  The
one stability is a US stalled, awaiting the appointment
of the next incumbent.  Moves will begin
when he is sworn in — the slide, the counter-measures,
the moves of Russia, India, China, Europe.
Though it’s been non-stop ‘interesting times’,
most of it, in my life, has been going on elsewhere,
a pointy end far from here.  For me,
no military service, no economic disaster.
My luck runs out? 
Blues For The Girls, All Blues, Mary’s Blues
names I consider
for a new book, ‘Mary’ being Mary Christie —
but it’s also an early Coltrane tune — & really
I would like it dedicated to Cath & Anna, the women
in my real life.  Mary,
an old friend — in India now — in Japan for
the last 7 years.  More.  I lived in her house
in Westbury Street.  The Westbury Street Poems —
was once a title I hoped to publish.
I’m sitting here in Cork — the bar, not the town.
(I should write to my Irish friends.)  Joyce was pleased to have
a painting of Cork, painted on cork, apparently.
Amused, I guess, at the finality & nominal closure
of the pun:  What’s that?  ‘Cork.’
I find most puns shit boring, but still more so
the declaredly learned — discoursing on their own ‘delight’
in them,
as if puns were naughty, & daring, & confirmed
their membership of some club — a kind of unofficial
High Culture Mensa.  I hate intellectuals going on about
Sport.  Why am I talking of this?  I don’t know.
So, here I sit in Cork, time running out, luck running out,
Thinking about titles — tho I can’t make up my mind, &
writing them down means I can forget again for a while —
& think about Art Criticism — write some at any rate.
That is what someone wants me to do.  And I’m ‘on to it’ —
I tell them.  (I’ve done the drawing, meanwhile, & sent it off —
my wrist & hand — looking not too deformed — tho not
resembling exactly mine — which could be really satisfying.
Like ‘Cork’.  My own hand by my own hand.  Is that it?)
The letter to Sal is written, posted.  I think it felt
too weird — shifty, dishonorable — to write here about
maybe writing — & then not get it done.  I tell her
about my picture of her as a Futurist.  The
close-helmeted figure, in goggles — coming from
a Lina Wertmuller film — tho which one?  In it
the joke Fascist — lantern-jawed — dumb machismo type —
speeds about, aerodynamic —
acting out his picture of himself as he does.
Tho who am I to talk?  (Not exactly lantern-jawed,
not exactly machismo — tho — like a Fascist — seemingly
a little down on intellectuals: When I hear the word "pun"
I reach for my gun!  Yike!)
My father’s war — the second, ‘world’ war — was an odd one
Significant in his life — along the Some Came Running lines:
he was young, free (single, at least), & joined up
not to fight so much as to travel — given that
waiting to be called up meant permanent duties
in Australia, & call-up seemed inevitable.  Dad
joined, hoping to see the world.  He would have, too —
except he & his friend proved such a good shot
on the 22 pounder that the generals kept them home,
for permanent display.  (See that tree on that hill,
says one general to another.  I have a pair here
who can hit it first shot!  Bolton!  Nicholls!  Load up!)
(Or so I imagine.) 
Dad was stuck here
as his regiment — regiments — would ship out …
to New Guinea, Africa, the Middle East.  My father
took increasingly long vacations AWOL & was
regularly punished.  Why did you do this, Private Bolton?
Because I could.  I see.  From that period of his life,
a kind of paradisal time of boredom, fun, camaraderie,
he had endless stories, that I heard endless times
& can remember & would like to hear again,
hear my father tell them.  Tho he’s gone.  Time
having run out.  (Me, my
watch, & I.)
Cath will show up soon, any minute, & we’ll
cross the street & shop in the markets, buying
fruit & vegetables, bread — for the weekend & the Monday,
which is Australia Day & a public holiday.  Monday —
usually — when we shop.  (Public Holidays,
unfortunately, mean nothing to me — I don’t work Mondays,
& nobody cares about Australia Day — this is Australia!
Altho, increasingly, people seem to.  Well, count me out.
Whoa!  Close call.  The girl taking coffee outside
is nearly collected by a young guy on a skateboard going by.
Luckily she pauses on the doorstep just in time.)
Cath’s arrived. 
(Sal, I was going to say, liked my father,
& his stories.)  My time
would have been different — Vietnam.
(Which I am grateful to have missed.  Demonstrating against it
was bad enough — the real thing would have been awful.
My father told me — I remember — not to go if I was called up:
‘Disappear,’ he said.
                                                           But it didn’t eventuate.
It did for others.)
                                            Australia Day,
at Margaret & Crab’s.  We sit out on their
verandah, in the dusk & then the dark, talking,
catching up, watching the street lights & moonlight
thru the leaves, listening to parties up & down,
watching young people visit.  The dog, Molly,
excited & attentive, yapping occasionally,
at other times absorbed, silent. 
It’s hot, tho cool by now.  Marg’s hair,
cut shorter than usual — like a Cleopatra cut
but abbreviated, sharp.  It resembles the haircuts
of the girls in Kirchner & Heckel’s paintings — & Schmidt-Rottluff’s — so
severe & modern.
These models were the women Kirchner hung about with.
Girlfriends.  I saw a photo of one recently & was
Amazed at how modern the haircut seemed
Severe & sure, ‘Bauhaus’: the woman looked independent
& unfaked.  Though this was before WWI — before
the Bauhaus, the Tingle-Tangle Girls, Dada.
It is a shock to see in the photo the real life
the painting depicted — suddenly actual,
a moment — not bent to a purpose.
Some of the Berlin scenes are pretty good.
But it’s the scenes of bathing at the lake I like
& cabaret girls dancing — where Kirchner,
as well as being suckered by the women’s beauty,
depicts their friendship & humour: in the chorus line
there are always two women in conversation.
Crab points out the perfect sweetness & beauty,
& construction,
of a Little Walter solo behind Muddy. 
Etta James is dead.  I hadn’t realized.
Perfect in her own way, a few times.  An
unhappy life.
                             She will be remembered longer than me. 
Unless, in the library, in the Himalayas, in 2333,
some monk decides the poetry of Australia 300 years earlier
really was interesting — & allows himself a footnote. 
“Ken Bolton answered phones in an art gallery, ran a bookshop,
& wrote poems of wistful humour.”
I see it in a small hand on an index card —
“a provincial poet in the era
of Late High Capitalism —
not much regarded,”
I have to laugh.  What’s that great line
of Apollinaire’s,
about tossing your life off like a drink?
I finish my coffee up.  (I expect
this looks like decision.  Tho in fact it means
Time for work.  I go there.)


Train Tripping 
yellowed long grass, that looks
as it did on a trip 40 years ago
to Canberra: the soft
pale, gentle hair of an old labrador
(my thought at the time)
goes by
& I remember it
& I see that grass outside.
& the song I was singing —
‘Paint Your Mailbox Blue’ —
a song I never hear
& always approve
— is this a life? —
of Pam & Jane & Cath &
Pam’s question — as to what Cath
does alone on Bruny & my
explanation: fishing, hiking around,
dinner with Lorraine & Ian
& friends up in town
& Pam & Jane’s life in Blackheath:
what they do
what they might do, &
remembering, then, Coalcliff —
but that’s train trips.
Cath will be launching
her book in Hobart in a few weeks. 
The film of us all
young & graceful
(the way we never knew we were)
in 1979/1980  Pam, Micky, Sal —
Laurie & me, Tom, Barb
(Barbara Brooks)  I tell Pam
of Peter Sloterdijk (Critique
of Cynical Reason) — & of his
new book.  I tell her who
he was — who I think he was.

She asks after the new Ron Padgett
How To Be Perfect — have
I read it?  No,
but I’m going to & I’ve had it
through my shop & sold it
I’ll get it again.  Pam talks of
Padgett’s Cendrars translations
I remember Kodak, a Padgett collection
of short Cendrars pieces
I associate it with the tugs
that bustled around below the window
of the flat in Glebe — Leichhardt Street — with names like
Idaho  Omaha  Wyoming  (did
they have those names? all of those exactly?) —
they moved barges laden with wood about,
the water a deep blue around them,
the wood brown or deep orange
the tugs, of some
uncertain but evocative era —
twenties thirties forties: the mercantile
bustle & energy Cendrars saw in America
(in one of those decades probably).
Kodak was A-4, roneoed, had a glossy black
cover, with the title in ‘modern’
1920s Hollywood art deco letters
a little suggestive of old Kodak
packaging.  All of it — cameras, kodak,
those fonts — that lettering — Cendrars — old now.

I am old, & Pam.  And Ron Padgett —

the American Express — is older,
Blaise Cendrars (one-armed, grizzled,
unshaven, rugged, a smoker, a drinker)
long, long dead.  Do they love him in France
much, now?  Blaise, George & Marie’s kid,
named after him.  (If this poem
is called ‘Train Trip’ it will match Pam’s
of that name — written on this same
journey.  How many years has Pam been
up here?  Two, three?  It seems
like a while ago I read that poem.  Called in fact
‘Train train’.
Maybe she wrote it soon after arriving?
She & Jane meaning to move again.
In the poem she passes Sasha’s grave — so I guess
I will, tho I won’t know
as it happens.  Mentally she argues with him
as she passes — as she used to when
he was alive.  I listen to two girls
discuss a boy who is “cute” — but “in a
good way.”  On the way up
a few nights back
I listened on & off for ages
to two girls & a boy.  I didn’t look to check & see —
but 15 or 16 I would guess.  “If you
got rid of me, then you could be with
her — the sophistication & melodrama
of “be with her”, which her voice handles
so well, ‘scare quotes’ ghostly, or strongly,
around all the words.  She is pretty funny.
“Ghostly” of course is not an adverb,
I realise.  They adopt — adopted — vaguely
wheedling complaining tones much of the time
But only as a way of ceding him
some power — as the source of statements
— of fact, of conjecture — & jokes.
He makes jokes, too.
& some of his jokes are good: the girls both laugh
but really the power is with them,
friends, lazily running thru their repertoire
of savoir faire, of knowledge, of
feminine fiat.  I wonder how pretty
they & the boy are?  Better not to find out.
A young mother, carrying her daughter on her hip
says slowly, conversationally, “Stop crying,”
& the tiny sound stops.  Blacktown
station.  The train is very full, of very interesting
people.  I will change at Central, have
lunch in town — Greek restaurant? —
then down to
Bulli to see Kurt.
After getting off the train — Pam,
Jane — I have a typical traveller’s time
at Central. A kind of shuffle
that would be irritating if one weren’t prepared …
Was I prepared?  I was.
                                          Then I went
to Diethnes where once, for a few years
at least, I ate once a fortnight.  The middle
70s — a filial relationship to the owners,
Helen &
Nick, & — against my will — a rivalry, seemingly,
with the head waiter.  Decades later he owned the restaurant
& was overjoyed to see me
remembering me as a best friend or at least
(some realism here) a well-remembered,
much-liked former customer.  Did I try to set him
straight?  I may have.  Anyway
here I am.  I have successfully not bought
some new shoes on the way — wonderfully lairish
& glamorous, in that Dennis Hopper/American Friend
& order anchovies in oil & the small Greek salad
& a carafe of retsina.  Christ, I love that taste!
The place is nice still — generous.  There is
the boring bastard nearby explaining
how he can’t eat mushrooms.  Can’t those at
his table ‘take it on board’?  Obviously not — or
not to his satisfaction & at a neighbouring table
a big group do a lot of yelling, especially the girls
who gain the attention gratefully given to a cliché —
because everyone knows how to respond.   Bravo!
she yells, arms over her head, attractively, because one of    
           the heroes
(all in white business shirts, black pants)
           goes to the bar (!)
to order wine.  But I approve — of her & him
& get back to the weird head-spaces I’ve occupied
           in Sydney
many times over forty years, the
thirty especially — when every visit has been
          a Return.
Actually, if I weren’t seeing Kurt
in just a few hours, I’d’ve ordered
The Diethnes Special (in
Helen & Nick’s time delicious lamb on the bone
& stuffed capsicum & maybe a
zucchini or two & the most fabulous pilaf).
But it is midday.  The
boring guy goes to the toilet & the two with him
earnestly discuss their divorce
& arrangements for the kids: quick, efficient thrusts,
           not much parried: they’re
not scoring points but communicating.  Who
is this guy then?  He’s not their father.
He’s like one of those second rate actors
the Americans love to promote late in their
to head the office in a crime show,
his ordinariness his main suit.  This beige-souled
groper could outface any steady Senior Detective
— supposedly of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles etcetera —
their yellow teeth, yellow eyes, their yellow opinions
& stock phrases.  (Dud pearls
drop from this guy’s lips like
the print-out used to come to financial institutions,
trying always someone’s patience — “Let me
see that!” — rips extruded tape from the machine
reads numbers, stock prices falling or tumbling, or
holding even)
                                 (“Sell amber! Buy tin!”)
What future
does television have?
Have I seen its face?
The shuffle:
I ring Linda & Allan, say I won’t be arriving
           after all,
don’t be alarmed; ring Di & Michael
Are they in?  I’m between Blackheath & Bulli — briefly —
But, as they’re engaged, I explain, to their answering machine,
& promise to ring back.  Then I go & seek change
from various of the punters awaiting trains
who of course assume I’m begging
but get the correct change to make another call —
to no avail
& here I am.
Now I ring Kurt.  That is, next I ring
           him — that is my plan
& head on down to Bulli, in
           two minds about the shoes

                            At Diethnes

The boring bastard — specializes
in unsurprising revelations (“I can’t eat
           Mushrooms — I can eat
mushroom sauce but I can’t eat mushrooms”)
           — & in revelations that things
taken as surprising
           aren’t so: Americans
landed on the moon — but they’ll
           never be able to do it again
unaided.  (Think of that.)  Most of the
           stupefied people around him
           or fill their glass.  I put
my pen thru his forehead,
           salute his dinner partners
& leave to catch my train.
(A single simple stabbing motion.)



• September Song
                 for John Jenkins & Pam Brown
                   I was …
I was born in the 70s
— no no — I was young in
the 70s, so the 80s still seem
new to me.  Most of you, I realise,
were born then, or later,
& of course I’m so old
I might conceivably
die — before the end of this lecture,
which would be funny (tho I do not
welcome it & I am not sure
from what perspective it could
really be funny.  From mine,
if you imagine the pluperfect
regarded from the future.  For those of you — are there any? — who
have no Latin,
that would be a little like bowling a ball, slowly,
& running quickly down the green
to see it ‘arrive’, to kiss the dark ball
at the other end.  Is that the ‘eight-ball’,
or is that in pool? — the dark ball
‘of death’, which would effectively
end the lecture, & my life —
you’d have forgotten about me after the lecture
either way.  And there is a phrase for that
& it’s not non modo sed etiam, one I loved
in my overdetermined way: “not only but also”.
&, forgotten, I can get some rest at last
(for which there is ‘something’, probably,
in Virgil).  I who am about to die
salute you: September 26th
two thousand & ten.  Drinks glass of water,
taps mike.
I look out the window as the light changes
& see we are crossing water — the lake
or inlet that was Otford — &, on the
shore opposite, the house & boatshed
where Alex & Penny lived & where Claire (née Chris),
& I, visited them — & slept in sleeping bags
with the fog, that penetrated their house,
around us — in 1951? 1972?  My once
best friends — with whom I never fell out
(they moved to England —
just as Gough got elected —
a kind of irony, then, they felt) who live
now in Tasmania, somewhere:
Claire will know
I remember, walking there, solo — so
how? why? drunk —
I’d drunk much of a bottle
of Marsala, thinking it might be
mescal.  (I had read & re-read
Under the Volcano.)
I remember — sober, surely —
rowing with Alex & Penny &
nee Christine across that lake.  Quite
a long way, to get home from dinner at a pub
(so maybe not so sober, after all)
before dark — bright, grey-white sky,
lowering cloud — & very blistered
hands.  I’d never rowed before,
young, healthy, embarked.
Tho, in my case certainly, knowing not very much
Claire & me — Alex & Penn’
Diethnes — the Balkan —
where I also ate very often,
introduced  by Penny & Alex.
The cook died face down
on the grill: that was the legend.
Could it be true?  You would
see him there as you looked thru the window
year after year, steam rising from the onions.
I quite liked him.
I was thrown out once
(face down in my food)
Anna, Lila
‘Omaha’ — the tugs —
now that name always makes me think
of the beach landing at Normandy,
where Americans died —
& of cargo pants & DC2s
(& a Brainard cartoon)
(I have no idea which —
when I return to the poem.)
Nick, who cooked at Diethnes
while his wife ran front-of-house,
began as a Chinese cook down in Haymarket somewhere
in the war years. 
Diethnes had very deep windowsills
on the interior of all its windows,
including the many false windows (which were murals
painted, to show simple scenes, window views, or maybe show shuttered windows.
Why didn’t I pay more attention?)  The sills
stemmed from the 6 o’clock closing era.
Drinkers, expelled from all the pubs, would come to the restaurant,
order a basic meal, & stand with their new, legal drink
balanced on one of these tiny ‘bars’, the place quite full.
(I think the windows showed schematic sea & sky.  I’m sure
one or two of them had a painted vase depicted
as ‘on’ the window sill.)
The new, young waiter — waiter-cum-cook —
took against me when I claimed not to have ordered moselle.
He’d opened it already & there must have been something said
when he brought it back.  I’d have ordered riesling — or hock, which you could
still get at the time.  He was very down on me, & remained so.
It was a surprise when I met him twenty years after
& his face was suddenly wreathed in smiles.  He’d forgotten.
Thank god.  When I next came his son was in charge. 
(Late in the 70s the restaurant
had moved across the road from where it used to be:
to it’s present site — underground.  History.)



Poem (What’s Best)
Actually, a
week into work — after
the holidays
               . . .  &
Monday off) —
& finally
I am relaxed
happy even
                        at what?
tho that is what’s best
about it 
                — that funny
grows outside my window
for one
associated now
with a particular friend,
Cath beside me, reading,
             kids at home, in
the back room
watching a movie  
                                        — their
disputes so loud &
quickly resolved —
              — the neighbouring kid —
still a child
while the others are grown.
                                        The flower
is a yellow, creamy
              a bell
inside which is
a jam-red
to point up
the translucent white
                     The shrub has
sometimes two or
three flowers —
usually one, or none —
and not always open.
Cool weather, after a week in the 40s
the breeze moving through the room
via the windows
                                 opened out
— into the yard,
the street —
The street light —
(except that it is
always there — & like
a book design you
hardly notice)
(a streetlight
                           on the cover of a
book by Celine, in fact.
                                 That I
had once. 
                       Do I have it
              I think ‘moon-’
(rather than ‘street-light’) —
until we
go to sleep,
and then it
peers in
— too bright —
so unvarying it is
not the moon —
though I go to sleep.  No
mozzies tonight.  My little
new fan, secondhand, a
Hecla ("By Hecla it’s good!"
their slogan in the 60s).  It
runs  — silent. 
                        The lines,
of Cath’s — pages
of type,
held up in front of her —
they parallel the broader
black & white
of the top she wears —
bought in Italy,
                            My feet
are bare, uncovered,
on the bed, the
bottom sheet a
pale crème de menthe —
the top one a ‘scrawl’ of
white cotton — from
the days of heat
before — how it looks now.
Cath puts out her light —
just me now & the benevolent
streetlight coming thru the bamboo
darker cloud
massing near the moon,
the wind coming up
to rustle the bamboo
tinkle the distant wind chime in the kitchen
then I go — open or close
windows, drink a glass
of water —
from the bed, for the streetlight,
the moon — will
one have supplanted
the other?

“Things to Say” was published in
Staples, an Adelaide University student magazine, in 2008.