Les Murray


Bottles in the Bombed City

They gave the city a stroke. Its memories are now cordoned off. They could collapse on you. Water leaks into bricks of the Workers' century and every meaning is blurred. No word in Roget now squares with another. If the word is Manchester it may be Australia, where that means sheets and towels. To give the city a stroke, they mixed a lorryload of henbane and meadowsweet oil and countrified her. Now Engels supports Max, and the British Union of beautiful ceramics is being shovelled up, blue green titles of the Corn Exchange, gamboge bricks of the Royal Midland Hotel. Unmelting ice everywhere, and loosened molecules. When the stroke came, every bottle winked at its neighbour.

In Phrygia, Birthplace of Embroidery

When Midas, no less deserving of mercy or better for being a king dope, had lost all faith in the gods, either they or their haughty absence sent him metaphor, an ever-commencing order that can resemble a philosophy but is more charming faster, like a bird that stars into flight, like rhyme, its junior, like edgings of the clinker-built sea - The gold was a symbol, like a need to prize things. I'm smater now! he cried. I'm enlightened, as befits a great king! My silver age will not seize the taramosalata! But his court worked like stuff he'd learned through nonhuman ears and like a gold effigy entitled The Hug his first daughter stood in the strongroom. Age was like age, tears like tears, his palace equalled his design for it, and looked no nobler tiled, his desire for slave girls was like when he could slake it, his wife was like an aged queen, and his heir like a child.

The Breach

I am a policeman it is easier to make me seem an oaf than to handle the truth I came from a coaldust town when I was seventeen, because there was nothing for a young fellow there the force drew me because of a sense I had and have grown out of I said to Ware* once, Harry, you're the best cop of the lot: you only arrest falls he was amused I seem to be making an inventory of my life but in the house opposite, first floor there is a breach and me, in this body I am careful with, I'm going to have to enter that house soon and stop that breach it is a bad one people could fall through we know that three have and he's got a child poised I have struck men in back rooms late at night with faces you could fall a thousand feet down and I've seen things in bowls the trick is not to be a breach yourself and to stop your side from being one I suppose the sniper Spiteri, when I was just out of cadets-- some far-west cockies' boys straight off the sheep train came up with their .303s and offered to help they were sixteen years old we chased them away, not doubting for a minute they could do what they said bury your silver the day we let that start now I've said my ideals Snowy cut, snow he cut... A razor-gang hood my uncle claims he met is running through my mind in Woolloomooloo, wet streets, the nineteen twenties Snowy cuts no more he was a real breach also, in our town, I remember the old hand bowsers, that gentle apop- poplexy of benzine in the big glass heads twenty years since I saw them There's a moment in every man who has started to stir (even this kind, who'd lap up prayer and fasting) when he tires of it, wants to put it aside and be back, unguilty, that morning, pouring his milk that is the time to separate him from it if I am good I'll judge that time just about right the ideal is to keep the man and stop the breach that's the high standard but the breach must close if later goes all right I am going to paint the roof of our house on my day off. * Ware: Special Sgt. Harry Ware (1897-1970) founder of the first officer-in-charge of N.S.W. Police Cliff Rescue Squad

The Broad Bean Sermon

Beanstalks, in any breeze, are a slack church parade without belief, saying trespass against us in unison, recruits in mint Air Force dacron, with unbuttoned leaves. Upright with water like men, square in stem-section they grow to great lengths, drink rain, keel over all ways, kink down and grow up afresh, with proffered new greenstuff. Above the cat-and-mouse floor of a thin bean forest snails hang rapt in their food, ants hurry through several dimensions, spiders tense and sag like little black flags in their cordage. Going out to pick beans with the sun high as fence-tops, you find plenty, and fetch them. An hour or a cloud later you find shirtfulls more. At every hour of daylight appear more than you missed: ripe, knobbly ones, fleshy-sided, thin-straight, thin-crescent, frown shaped, bird-shouldered, boat-keeled ones, beans knuckled and single-bulged, minute green dolphins at suck, beans upright like lecturing, outstreached like blessing fingers in the incident light, and more still, oblique to your notice that the noon glare or cloud-light or afternoon slants will uncover till you ask yourself Could I have overlooked so many, or do they form in an hour? unfolding into reality like templates for subtly broad grins, like unique caught expressions, like edible meanings, each sealed around with string and affixed to its moment, an unceasing colloquial assembly, the portly, the stiff, and those lolling in pointed green slippers... Wondering who'll take the spare bagfulls, you grin with happiness - it is your health - you vow to pick them all even the last few, weeks off yet, misshapen as toes

The Quality of Sprawl

Sprawl is the quality of the man who cut down his Rolls Royce into a farm utility truck, and sprawl is what the company lacked when it made repeated efforts to buy the vehicle back and repair its image Sprawl is doing your farming ny aeroplane, roughly, or driving a hitchhiker that extra hundred miles home. It is the rococo of being your own still centre. It is never lighting cigars with ten-dollar notes: that's idiot ostentation and murder of starving people. Nor can it be bought with the ash of million-dollar deeds. Sprawl lengthens the legs; it trains greyhounds on liver and beer. Sprawl almost never says Why not? With palms comically raised nor can it be dressed for, not even in running shoes worn with mink and a nose ring. That is society. That's style. Sprawl is more like the thirteenth banana in a dozen or anyway the fourteenth. Sprawl is Hank Stamper in Never Give an Inch bisecting an obstructive official's desk with a chain saw. Not harming the official. Sprawl is never brutal though it's often intransigent. Sprawl is never Simon de Montfort at a town storming: Kill them all! God will know his own. Knowing the man's name this was said to might be sprawl. Sprawl occurs in art. The fifteenth to twenty-first lines in a sonnet, for example. And in certain paintings; I have sprawl enough to have forgotten which paintings. Turner's glorious Burning of the Houses of Parliment comes to mind, a doubling bannered triumph of sprawl - except, he didn't fire them. Sprawl gets up the nose of many kinds of people (every kind that comes in kinds) whose futures don't include it. Some decry it as criminal presumption, silken robed Pope Alexander dividing the new world between Spain and Portugal. If he smiled in petto afterwards, perhaps the thing did have sprawl. Sprawl really is classless, though. It's John Christopher Frederick Murray asleep in his neighbours' best bed in spurs and oilskins but not having thrown up: Sprawl is never Calum who, in the loud hallway of our house reinvented the Festoon. Rather it's Beatrice Miles going twelve hundred ditto in a taxi, No Lewd Advances, No Hitting Animals. No Speeding, on the proceeds of her two-bob-a-sonnet Shakespeare readings. An image of my country. And would that it were more so. No, sprawl is full-gloss murals on a council-house wall. Sprawl leans on things. It is loose limbed in its mind. Reprimanded and dismissed it listens with a grin and one boot up on the rail of possibility. It may have to leave the Earth. Being roughly Christian, it scatches the other cheek and thinks it unlikely. Though people have been shot for sprawl.

Vindaloo in Merthyr Tydfil The first night of my second voyage to Wales, tired as rag from ascending the left cheek of Earth, I nevertheless went to Merthyr in good company and warm in neckclothing and speech in the Butcher's Arms till Time struck us pintless, and Eddie Rees steamed in brick lanes and under the dark of the White Tip we repaired shouting to I think the Bengal. I called for curry, the hottest, vain of my nation, proud of my hard mouth from childhood, the kindly brown waiter wringing the hands of dissuasion O vindaloo, sir! You sure you want vindaloo, sir? But I cried Yes please, being too far in to go back, the bright bells of Rhymney moreover sang in my brains. Fair play, it was frightful. I spooned the chicken of Hell in a sauce of rich yellow brimstone. The valley boys with me tasting it, croaked to white Jesus. And only pride drove me, forkful by forkful, observed by hot mangosteen eyes, by all the carnivorous castes and gurus from Cardiff my brilliant tears washing the unbelief of the Welsh. Oh it was a ride on Watneys plunging red barrel through all the burning ghats of most carnal ambition and never again will I want such illumination for three days on end concerning my own mortal coil but I signed my plate in the end with a licked knife and fork and green-and-gold spotted, I sang for my pains like the free before I passed out among all the stars of Cilfynydd.