Some lines are straight, some bend a little
It’s 6.24 p.m. in Melbourne and I’m not wearing a shirt with cufflinks.
To the best of my knowledge not one pair of cufflinks has been left by
astronauts on the moon.
While driving the car of this poem I’ll let go of the steering wheel
in homage to poets, Ron Padgett and Ken Bolton.
I’m waving to them now but there’s not enough time for them to wave back
as this a sonnet.
To my right and left, there’s a muddy ditch. In it are two crocodiles.
One of them I name “Allen”, the other “Unwin”. They’re fighting over a
manuscript, a posthumous short story collection by Salinger.
A road sign warns me of cartoonists crossing.
I apply the brakes. Don’t want to hit one. Could lose a typing finger.
The motel has a neon sign — Reasonable Rates. I turn into a vacant margin.
Sit there. Listen to the crickets, the road trains hauling epic poems interstate.
I stumble up the embankment—can you do that, stumble,
Up?—anyway, & when I get there I step out of the grass, onto
The ‘verge’ (a word I’ve always loved: like a familiar term
For someone called Virgil), and I’m almost knocked down—
By this nut, who drives past fooling around with his sleeves
Or his wrist, and then he lets go of the wheel! I look back over
My shoulder—the grass, the lantana & whatever else—
Don’t want to fall down there again. (As well there’s a snuffling sound
Coming from the undergrowth. ‘Critters’, another word I love.)
There are trucks roaring by. I read their containers
As they pass. Like an awful painting by Jeffrey Smart. Or
A good one by Stewart MacFarlane. Truck after truck. Tranter
Parisian, says one. Murray: Australian Product, says another.
There’s one says mysteriously Kelen Bros. Another says Ryan Gig. I decide to
hitch, keeping an eye out — for the return of that nut.
The containers thunder by—two or three, sometimes,
of the same one
& I read them: Tranter Parisian, Murray
Australian Pie, Viidikas Spliff, Maiden something—
Maiden Digest News? Indyk Mogul. Wearne, Wearne &
Wearne. Duggan Laconic, Brown Riposte, Sarah Hollande-
Batt Chaste, Adamson & Fish, Adamson & Fish, Adamson
Vatic Incorporated, Bakowski New Ones, Petra Sonorous,
Salom Creative, Murray Bumf, Dobson Retrospect, Judith
Beveridge, Bolton Drivel Drivel & Drivel
What a lot containers—who can need this stuff?
Tranter Duwell & Mead, Martin Johnson Last Drinks, Adamson
& Fish—again—Brown Laconic, Duggan Riposte
There’s almost a rhythm to it—this is meta poetry.
Hang on—Tranter Droll, Adamson Vatic, Farrell Critique & Cosh
Subject Matter Sonnet
I’m reading the anthology Haiku in English – The First Hundred Years.
The moon and flies appear, perhaps too often.
I’m yet to come across a haiku about a shipping container. There are several
about bowls, rain, snow, the stars, but none about droughts, although
loneliness and other erosions are there in some of the kitchens and relationships
sketched in the haiku. To write a credible haiku about a koala would be a challenge
but I’d rather write a haiku about sweat on a drummer’s forehead or traces of saliva on a
saxophone reed. I can imagine writing haiku about Australian roadhouses. Already
I can see a wilted lettuce leaf on a last illuminated cheese roll as a metaphor for time.
The styrofoam coffee cup remains mistreated. Lacking a handle, often victim
to a sudden gust of wind, sometimes stabbed in its curved flank with a cheap Officeworks
pen by an unhappy teenager, tossed into a roadhouse ditch without ceremony or respect,
it’s ripe for deft portraiture in haiku,
perhaps complete reappraisal via the verse novel.
Report from the Napoémien Valley, New Caledonia, 3 October 2017
I’m neither a saint nor a shipping container, wear shorts, thus exposing my varicose veins.
The local youths are yet to spit at my shadow. Rather they wave, sing song their morning
hellos, wear T-shirts of Che Guevara and Bob Marley. Helen is learning Bob’s song Three
Little Birds with its chorus of “Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna
be alright.” Optimistic lyrics for these times. Here the ongoing wish is for rain. The river
level is low. The grasses on many hills are a dead yellow, not green.
My wristwatch lies facedown most of the day on the bedside chair. Time for Helen and me is
measured in naps, the leisurely eating of apples, reading, writing postcards and poems,
the morning and dusk ritual of long walks into the village or away from the village.
Roosters and dogs announce our unhurried passing.
There are roadside stalls, offering humble pyramids of tomatoes or a single papaya, the prices
written on thumbtacked squares of cardboard. You place your coins in the small plastic
Tupperware container left there by the stallholder who is elsewhere —
at church or sitting in the shade by the riverside, braiding the hair of her shy daughter.
Hullo As Goodbye
The rooster fixes me with its eye, as if it had said ‘hullo’.
Did it? The dog wags its tail, sensing my confusion.
Perhaps it did. ‘Hi,’ I say, & saying it breaks the spell—
the rooster reduced, its eye less arresting, & the dog’s tail
seems to applaud
a correct move. Hi, pal, I say to it too—& hi to one of the guys in the
village. I still can’t find my shirt, my cufflinks—
so I am dressed something like Mike Cooper—Hawaiian—
appropriately. Mike is right in most things and this is ‘just the weather’.
In the village I pick up the Guardian, return my copy of the book on
The cufflinks have pieces of moonstone set in them—my favourite
stone, if I had to name it—moody but untroubled, the pale,
grey-blue light. Small, like haiku, and with the same sort of leverage
or perspective on the big big themes, time, the human condition.
Not much prospect of plot—the styrofoam cup via the verse novel—a lot
of research: a history of the twentieth century,
via design? via scenes in offices, conferences, cafeterias, kitchens?
the cup showing up incidentally, a Zelig
among items … on a desk, a table, near a water cooler? its tiny face
among the crowd—of scientists, politicians, delegates, activists,
secretaries. Like that documentary series on the railroad
crossing Canada, but not as boring.
Walter Gabriel was born in 1986 in the Maitland district. He practices as a vet, currently (since 2016) just outside Brisbane’s Valley area, and is ‘a good way thru’ a much interrupted Film Studies course. Long ago when he began that course he also began writing poetry. Gabriel has travelled widely overseas, including stints as a volunteer aid-worker. His favourite film is El Topo when it isn’t Nights On Earth. ‘Roll the dice’ is his motto and the title of his first published book, one day. Surely soon. (Hint, hint.)