Poems set for HSC

The six poems set for HSC are ‘Late Ferry’, ‘Flames and Dangling Wire’, ‘Journey, the North Coast’, ‘The Meatworks’, ‘North Coast Town’ and ‘Diptych.’ Two of these poems are reproduced below (and four others, not included).


The wooden ferry is leaving now;

I stay to watch

from a balcony, as it goes up onto

the huge, dark harbour,


out beyond a gangling jetty;

the palm tree tops

make the sound of touches

of a brush on the snare drum


in the windy night. It goes beyond

street lights’ fluorescence

over dark water, that ceaseless

activity, like chromosomes


uniting and dividing, and out beyond

the tomato stake patch

of the yachts, with their orange

lamps; leaving this tuberous


shaped bay, for the city,

above the plunge of night. Ahead,

neon redness trembles

down in the water, as if into ice, and


the longer white lights

feel nervously about in the blackness,

towards here, like hands

after the light switch.


The ferry is drawn along

polished marble, to be lost soon

amongst a blizzard of light

swarming below the Bridge,


a Busby Berkeley spectacular

with thousands in frenzied, far-off

choreography, in their silver lamé,

the Bridge like a giant prop.


This does seem in a movie theatre;

the boat is small as a moth

wandering through the projector’s beam,

seeing it float beneath the city.


I’ll lose sight of the ferry soon—

I can find it while it’s on darkness,

like tasting honeycomb,

filled as it is with its yellow light.


Notes on the Poem

On a highway over the marshland.

Off to one side, the smoke of different fires in a row,

like fingers spread and dragged to smudge:

it is a rubbish dump, always burning.


Behind us, the city

driven like stakes into the earth.

A waterbird lifts above this swamp

as a turtle moves on the Galapagos shore.


We turn off down a gravel road,

approaching the dump. All the air wobbles

in a cheap mirror.

There is fog over the hot sun.


Now the distant buildings are stencilled in the smoke.

And we come to a landscape of tin cans,

of cars like skulls,

that is rolling in its sand dune shapes.


Amongst these vast grey plastic sheets of heat,

shadowy figures

who seem engaged in identifying the dead—

they are the attendants, in overalls and goggles,


forking over rubbish on the dampened fires.

A sour smoke

is hauled out everywhere,

thin, like rope. And there are others moving—scavengers.


As in hell the devils

might poke about through our souls, after scraps

of appetite

with which to stimulate themselves,


so these figures

seem to come wandering, in despondence, with an eternity

where they can find

some peculiar sensation.


We get out and move about also.

The smell is huge,

blasting the mouth dry:

the tons of rotten newspaper, and great cuds of cloth . . .


And standing where I see the mirage of the city

I realize I am in the future.

This is how it shall be after men have gone.

It will be made of things that worked.


A labourer hoists an unidentifiable mulch

on his fork, throws it in the flame:

something flaps

like the rag held up in ‘The Raft of the Medusa.’


We approach another, through the smoke,

and for a moment he seems that demon with the long barge pole.

—It is a man, wiping his eyes.

Someone who worked here would have to weep,


and so we speak. The rims beneath his eyes are wet

as an oyster, and red.

Knowing all that he does about us,

how can he avoid a hatred of men?


Going on, I notice an old radio, that spills

its dangling wire—

and I realize that somewhere the voices it received

are still travelling,


skidding away, riddled, around the arc of the universe;

and with them, the horse-laughs, and the Chopin

which was the sound of the curtains lifting,

one time, to a coast of light.

Notes on the Poem