Poetry

Two poems

Watching Dulac’s La Coquille et le clergyman and thinking over my great-grandmother playing piano to accompany silent movies

 

I know this one wouldn’t have reached the picture houses

of Perth, Western Australia, in 1928 or any years soon after.

 

Late in the wordless anyway. And the British Board of Film Censors

issuing its verdict: “so cryptic as to be almost meaningless.

 

If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable” might have

echoed in text out over the empire, as if the reels were flywheels,

 

its members keeping specimens in their kingdom, class and phylum.

In corsets. Even the Parisian surrealists shouting down

 

Germaine Dulac, calling her a cow! Harassers. Molesters.

Fantasists. Artaud with all his doubts still hanging out in the stalls,

 

hoping for serious applause, his screenplay on no billboards.

My great-grandmother interpreted as she played, or played

 

from a score in the flickering light. How would she have run

with this? Single mother, migrant, royalist, leftover Huguenot.

 

That lusty ethereal necromancer priest, the general stuffed

into his uniform, his wife as object pursued through the limits

 

of imagination, Genica Athanasiou’s breasts exposed to collimated

gleam, shell scallop brassiere torn away, dangling in the clergyman’s

 

murderous soft hands. Confession. Taking flight. Lost at sea.

Without time to censor, great-grandmother would have rolled

 

with the flow, piano keys matching the pace.

 

Parrot bush and the twisting of the story of fire

 

On the false edge created by firebreak and paddock

this lone stand, a pair; you’d never call it an “outpost”.

 

Budjan, fruits beloved by parrots among sharp leaves,

old with filaments of spent flowers holding on through

 

harsh summer, and seeds winged inside their casings,

withheld by seed separators, heat averse but wanting

 

fire which we don’t want, which would be catastrophe

to this stressed bush, to us, should it come too hot too fast,

 

which is the way of it now. We work hard to prevent.

Actions of outpost because outpost changed fire patterns.

 

Now Banksia sessilis because Dryandra has been beamed up

into new naming. A visitant taxonomy. An alien nomenclature.

 

And only this morning we watched a raft of singing honey-

eaters, and I collected seed from the parrot bush and hoped

 

wings would settle into sand over laterite, a false

setting – blanket ghost of outposting, not indemnified

 

by survey and claim. To be nourished again by parrot

bush and those internal settings of harsh edges. Spikes.

 

Alternative timing. Living when lost as long as soil remains

as it was, as long as outpost doesn’t become fortress.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 25, 2022 as "Two poems".

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John Kinsella is a poet, novelist, critic, essayist and editor.

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