Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Flying Foxes by Robert Gray


The following poem has so many things I love about poetry: Its language is vivid and rhythmic, it ebbs and flows, you can smell the words and touch them. It also is a tad dark and melancholic, for which I seem to have a penchant, I am told... And it is Australian and contemporary and so a fitting first poem for this blog, I think:


In the night, the gorging begins / again, in the spring / night, in the branches / of the Moreton Bay figs, / that are fully-rigged / as windjammers, and make a flotilla / along the street. / And from the yard-arms / are strung clusters / of hanged sailors, / canvas-wrapped and tarred - / these are the bats, come / for the split fruit, and dangled, / overturned where they land. / It is the tobacco fibrils / in the fruit they seek, / and those berries, when gouged, / are spilt, through the squall / of the crowd, like / a patter of faeces / about the bitumen. This amidst / the cloudy shine / of the saline / streetlamps. In the ripe nights / the bats fumble and waste / what they wrest - / there's a damp paste / upon the road, / which dries to matted / sawdust, soon after the day's / steam has reared; it is scraped / up by the shovel-load. / The bats are uncorked / like musty vapour, at dusk, / or there is loosed a fractured / skein of smoke, across / the embossed lights / of the city. The moon is lost, / to an underhanded / flicked long brush-load of paint. / You think of the uncouth ride / of the Khan and his horde, / their dragon-backed shape / grinding the moon / beneath its feet. / And then, of an American / anthem, the helicopters / that arrive with their whomp whomp / whomp. I'm woken / by the bats still carrying on / in the early hours, / by the outraged screech, / the chittering / and thrashing about / where they clamber heavily, / as beetles do, on each other's backs. / They are Leonardo / contraptions. They extend / a prosthetic limb, / snarl, and knuckle-walk / like simians, step / each other under / and chest-beat, although / hampered with a cape. In sleep / I trample the bedsheet / off, and call out / 'Take that!' (I am told), / punching the pillow in the heat. / I see the fanged shriek, / and the drip / of their syringes, / those faces with the scowl / of a walnut kernel. / It's some other type of bat / I think of: these, in books, / where I looked them up, / have a face you can imagine / if you recall how you'd whittle / finely at a pencil / and moisten the lead / with the tongue-tip - / a little face that belies its greed, / like that of an infant. / All partly autonomous things / trample others down, / even what is their own, / and the whole earth throbs / and smoulders / with pain. No comfort for us that / in the nights I have seen / how the living pass / about the earth, / that is deep with the ashes / of the dead, and quickly, too, / vanish into dark, / like will o' the wisps / thrown out of the sun. / At three o'clock I gather / our existence / has been a mistake. I would like / to turn my back on / its endless strife; / but when I look out / at the night, I am offered / otherwise only / the chalk-white, chaste / and lacklustre moon.


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