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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Special Australian Edition August 2023
Because, poems by Damen O’Brien.
This is your Earth: a warm flannel cave of pumpkin
heads and cartoon witches. From your yawn you
point out inconsistencies in Harry Potter, fatal flaws
in the laws of wizarding that threaten to pull down that
edifice of dubious literature. We debate with the cunning of
wisemen and precision of magistrates over the iconography
of wands, the hagiography of incantation, even as you
drift easily into the other universe of logical illogic
which are dreams. You ask: but how? How could he? How
could Dumbledore…? and like an apologist, a prophet,
a spokesman for Big Oil standing beside a black slick
beach, I attempt to piece together an orderly scaffold,
a Great Big Theory of Everything, like two Popes
meeting to reconcile Eastern and Western churches.
I want to tell you that it doesn’t matter, that we
argue over the lesser work of a discredited author,
that Hagrid and Hermione and the rest don’t need
to make sense, can’t make sense, that you should
surrender to sleep, but I may as well stand before
the Court of Arthur and predict an eclipse,
I may just as well speak to a sceptic of science,
to an agnostic of faith, I may as well speak to you a
truth: there is no law that holds beyond a nation’s gate,
there is no rule that binds the ignorant, no word
that stays the strong, none that I’ve found. When
you grow up, perhaps you’ll find something, some
temporary thing that might serve. The News is
growling somewhere in the house, speaking its own
dismal tales of confusion and doubt. My wine warms
in its bloody bulb. It’s getting late and this is the Earth
that we are given. That’s magic, I tell you, just as
someone long ago must have spoken of their God
manifest as swan or bull. Because magic lets him do it.
At saturation point on Crescent Head,
rain slicking my hat brim down.
Mud, ti tree tailings and bitter iron
from the mined topology of the coast
washing and staining the river thick.
From the shelter of caravans and camper-vans facing
the spuming and sputtering sea,
fishermen and surfers line up and carve up
their waves in arcane measures of precedence.
On the hard fourth hole with the right dog-leg
down by the weather-board golf-shop with its failed pros,
children toboggan down the fairway on old surfboards.
A seamed knucklebone from the aboriginal graves
swallowed by tourist rentals and car wrecks,
has eroded to the surface under the pressure
of the laden, bilious water table.
Down at the Local, after tossing back a last beer,
a bus-driver waded into a cold rip in his boxers,
and isn’t found, until the mud shifted
and the sodden grass dried out.
But before that I stood on the cliff face of Little Knobby
and pointed out to my son a pod of black dolphins
cutting across the foam chasing fish,
we peered into the curl of each wave,
and I told him that he was lucky.
A was for Aardvark
Who knows if the aardvark still exists
or if it ever did – I’ve never seen one –
invented to prop up the opening vowel
in dictionaries and alphabetical lists,
even ahead of the erstwhile armadillo,
with which I fancy the creature resembles,
its bloody fangs bared in exhilaration as
it swings through the forests of Borneo
after ants and apes and other aleph
animals. Or so I’m told. I wouldn’t know
one if I met it on some dark night,
rooting in alley, aviary, apiary or depth
of darkest mine, or fishing in a stream.
The world heats and all the animals are going –
aghast, appalled or in apathetic extinction
and what remains is mostly silent, unseen,
so too, perhaps the aardvark in its flight.
I’ve sometimes thought I’ve heard it,
woken from my dreams to glowing eyes,
its lonely shriek shattering the night.
© Damen O’Brien
Damen O’Brien is a multi-award-winning poet based in Brisbane. Damen’s prizes include The Moth Poetry Prize, the Peter Porter Poetry Prize and the Newcastle Poetry Prize. He has been published in journals all over the world, including New Ohio Review, Poetry Wales, Mississippi Review and Overland. Damen’s first book of poetry, Animals With Human Voices, is available through Recent Work Press. He is currently working on his next book.