Cover illustration, 2:00 (Doorway I) 2005, by Helen Wright, courtesy of the artist and the Bett Gallery, Hobart, Tasmania (photograph by Patricia Roche)
History of the Day  was published by Black Pepper in May 2009.

The following three poems from the book are displayed on this page:

  • Nocturnal
  • The Red Sea
  • The Grand Hotel


It’s midnight now and sounds like midnight then,
The words like distant stars that faintly grace
************The all-pervading dark of space,
************But not meant for the world of men.
************************It’s not what we forget
But what was never known we most regret
Discovery of. Checking one last cassette
Among my old unlabelled discards, few
Of which reward the playing, I find you.

Some years after her death, but years ago,
Hearing Gwen’s voice recite “Suburban Sonnet”,
************At first we could not focus on it,
************So jolted that the radio
************************Should casually exhume
From our shared memory the woman whom
We knew and make her present in the room,
As though in flesh, surprised to find that she
Had earned this further immortality.

Who ever thought they would not hear the dead?
Who ever thought that they could quarantine
************Those who are not, who once had been?
************At that old station on North Head
************************Inmates still tread the boards,
Or something does; equipment there records
The voices in the dormitories and wards,
Although it’s years abandoned. Undeleted,
What happened is embedded and repeated,

Or so they say. And that would not faze you
Who always claimed events could not escape
************Their scenes, recorded as on tape
************In matter and played back anew
************************To anyone attuned
To that stored energy, that psychic wound.
You said you heard the presence which oppugned
Your trespass on its lasting sole occasion
In your lost house. I scarcely need persuasion,

So simple is this case. Here in the dark
I listen, tensing in distress, to each
************Uncertain fragment of your speech,
************Each desolate, half-drunk remark
************************You uttered unaware
That this cassette was running and would share
Far in the useless future your despair
With one who can do nothing but avow
You spoke from midnight, and it’s midnight now.

divider image

The Red Sea

Lulled in a nook of North West Bay,
The water swells against the sand,
Hardly more liquid than Venetian glass,
In which clear surface, just a little way
From shore, some four or five petite yachts pass
With languid ease, apparently unmanned,
Adrift along the day,

Imagining a breeze to fan
Their motion, though there’s none. Siobhan
Reaches a giant hand down from the sky
And nudges with insouciant élan
The nearest hull, her bended waist mast-high.
That hand is just as magically withdrawn.
So moves the catamaran.

And through the Lilliputian fleet
She, Beatrice and Gabrielle
Wade in the shallows, knee-deep, spaceman-slow,
To fashion their manoeuvres and compete
Among the stationed hours to and fro,
While watching through the viscid slide and swell
Of water their white feet,

Made curiously whiter by
That cool light-bending element.
Doubled by shadows on the sand they glimpse
Pipefish and darting fingerlings they try
Impossibly to grab, translucent shrimps
Among the lace weed, seahorses intent
To flee the peopled sky.

Hard to conceive that they should be
Precisely who they are and here,
Lost in the idle luxury of play.
And hard to credit that the self-same sea
That joins them in their idleness today,
Careless of latitude and hemisphere,
Blind with ubiquity,

Churns elsewhere with a white uproar,
Or wipes the Slave Coast clean of trees,
Or sucks among the scum and floating drums
Of some forgotten outpost founded for
The advent of an age that never comes,
Or bobs the remnants of atrocities
Limply against the shore.

What luck they have. And what good sense
To leave the water with their toys
When called, before their fortunes are deranged.
And still the day hangs in its late suspense
For hours without them, virtually unchanged,
Until the bay’s impregnable turquoise
Relaxes its defence

And sunset’s dye begins to spread
In flood across it to the sand
They stood on, as though, hoping to disown
The blood of all the innocents he’d shed,
Macbeth incarnate or his grisly clone
Had stooped on some far shore to rinse his hand,
Making the green one red.

divider image

The Grand Hotel

for Les Murray

Apart from that, though, I recall
Something you said about the place:
That you could never see it all,
It seems to propagate with space;

Always another stair to climb,
Always another corridor
With other rooms to count like time,
The end of which is always more;

A sort of Tardis made immense
That somehow manages to flout
The laws of sense and common sense
By being larger in than out,

The three dimensions’ mean constriction
Opened, unfolded and unpacked:
A building out of science fiction.
Or, come to think of it, science fact.

For don’t they say if we could shatter
Their shackled forces we should find
Dimensions at the heart of matter,
Immensities wound up, that mind

Cannot conceive? That’s some hotel,
And just the place to take to heart
And contemplate the parallel
World that this world is made by art,

Whose finite limits charge and prime
The senses they unpack, and store
Dimensions beyond space and time,
The end of which is always more.

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