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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Special Australian Edition August 2023
The Kookaburra, poems by Anthony Lawrence.
I am fourteen, halfway across a metal pipe
I gained access to after climbing over
a fantail of rusted spikes – a deterrent
only for those who can resist a risk.
Below, a river, on the far bank, my friend,
shouting encouragement or abuse,
it’s hard to tell from fifty years away.
If I sound like a time-obsessed observer
of the past, it’s because poetry stopped me
on the way home from school and said
‘Sign here where it says Your memory
is now the property of Imagination & Co.’
My friend swears he wasn’t there,
but I can hear him and see, above his head,
a kookaburra, its face angled
like the one I shot with an air rifle,
its blood dripping from the end of its beak
before it fell. I have known disgrace.
A Fox on the Flats
While digging for worms on the mud flats,
the moon new and dark, the worms
segmented cord in a tin,
a man turned to find a fox, its eyes
a red flash in the beam of his headlamp.
His pulse changed gears, and there
was a heaviness in his chest
as though a living thing had found
somewhere in need of treading down,
in circles, before sleep.
He switched the lamp off then turned
it on again. The fox was gone.
He went to where it had been and found
paw prints filled with water
and starlight like powdered frost.
There were other things worthy
of his attention: bloodworms, bivalves
that write difficult code and verse
in mud, the afterglow of a sail, blown in
from the Continental Shelf.
A fox barked, twice, once to put down
a vocal marker in the world, and again
to answer itself.
I rarely leave a field unvisited, morphometrically speaking.
This extends to the vanishing-point glow of runway lights,
carcinoma-seeding beds like radio-active sarcophagi
in tanning salons, and sub-zero cocktail bars, with drinkers
in snow-mobile suits lounging on blocks of ice.
When I have passed them without entry, which is a poor
stand-in for intervention, such as when my circadian rhymes
fail to marry comatose with induce in a full-throated way,
I accept illumination in lieu of a rural expanse: cricket ovals
where shadows are cast in four directions, or a golf driving range,
at night, the grass sewn and bulbed with narcotic fungi.
When I return to fields for the olfactory gift and overload
of fauna like the red, downwind, ink-and-brush vision
of a fox going to ground, or the swish and tatter of pheasant
beaten from cover by the flash-drive of cars on backroads,
the game-scent drift into air softens to a scene from Water-
ship Down with its clearances and erosion like landslip scars
in starlight. Sometimes, craving the open plan narrative
of words instead of a smallholding I am drawn to the poems
of Patrick Kavanagh, who understood that headstones, seen
through gaps in a wall, tell more about the dead than any
epitaph you stop to read for too long on a cemetery walk.
As for my own entry to a cutting in a field or mantle
of reef my ashes might darken like cloud shadow, permission
is unspoken and universal. Please don’t rhyme my name
with anything like leeward or terminal.
© Anthony Lawrence
Anthony Lawrence has published sixteen books of poems and a novel. His poetry collection, Headwaters (Pitt Street Poetry), won the 2017 Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry. He has won many other awards including the Ginkgo Prize, the Peter Porter Poetry Prize, The Gwen Harwood Memorial Prize and the inaugural Judith Wright Calanthe Award. His work has previously appeared in The Rialto, Prole, Magma, The Moth and Poetry (Magazine). He lives in Moreton Bay, Queensland.