currently out-of-print but a selection is available in this author’s latest work, Kiss and Tell:

ISBN 0 646327 10 3

PB 320 pp $AU25

baby talk

getting away

still life, Cafe Medici

a clean well-lighted place

at the Hotel Florida

the walls of Toledo

baby talk

it’s early morning on the Terrace,
where the pediatricians hold court,
that frantic hour of public servants
quickened to air conditioned cells
on the sixth or the eleventh floor

you're down there under date palms
waiting for a nurse to call your name

a patient emerges from a taxi
some refugee from the suburbs
bearing her belongings in a sack
she wavers slightly on the kerb
as she strains to count her fare
then shuffles off to the tower

you want to beat her to the door

once the baby talk gets started
there's no stemming the flood
hormones keep those phone lines
humming and though the message
is recorded you can't stop tuning in

have they skipped your number?

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Getting Away

for Bob Pinter

There’s another child when I come back.
Two sons, and now a daughter —
a cast large enough to upstage
your first marriage and those ghosts
who sometimes jam a bedroom drawer
or chew on the curtains.  The only constant
is your love of mountains, the getting away
from valleys and predictable climates
with a single man, a keeper of silences.

So we’re off again, the Olympics this time
because the rain has stalled far out at sea
and colour’s draining from the wildflowers.
On the switchbacks I talk about my latest
lover who tastes me at night then pushes
the plate away.  The thought of children
is a bear lunging at her from the dusk.

Then you tell me about your teenage son
who killed himself three months after
your divorce.  No one saw it coming.
As we regain our breath on the edge
of a glacial lake a chunk of ice breaks off
from the slope down the far side
and splashes in, scarcely rippling the water.
It was just like that, and then he was gone.

I want to say something to break the surface
calm but I’ve never lost anything so precious.
We continue up the trail toward the summit
through fields of lupin and indian paintbrush
until suddenly I ask why blame yourself?
You point down through the haze at tankers
etching the Sound.  I wanted to trade places.
His way seemed better, cleaner, back then.

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Still Life, Café Medici

no music, no waiter
at first light, the café
keeps its distance

the carpets are wool
and traffic has scuffed
through Persian pride

the walls are a hardwood gloss
two matador posters face off
with a Picasso double frontal

the tablecloths are crisp
minimalist dishes (Japanese)
finger-worn stainless (Korean)

on the buffet sit a spartan pair:
in the pot, coffee thick as syrup
in the jug, milk skinned with cream

then baskets of apricot pastries
jars of fresh marmalade and jam
bowls with shavings of butter

Europe’s a darkroom of images
its contrasts are gently teased

it carries the scent of a parent
never known yet never forgotten

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a clean well-lighted place

part of you died each year when the leaves fell
from the trees and their branches were bare
against the wind and the cold wintry light

It’s easier when you come back in winter,
in the half-life.  The sun’s more sympathetic
to grey and you can sip a cheap rosé without
regretting those stories you left too quickly.

the blood goes first

Chicote’s — that table over there
is where I pretended to listen to them,
the ones who’d have written something
great if only they’d had what it takes.

then the mind trails along
stubbornly

always something left
unfinished

It took me a while to get the balance right —
enough alcohol to stay awake and seem amused
but not so much that the boredom crept back
before the hangover.  Discipline, that’s the key.

I still wonder if others felt the same, or if only
those who are addicted to imagination
feel so restless when the chatter goes stale.
And not a single one saw through my gaze!

Spain was an excuse for them, not a reason.
They arrived by chance and were waiting
for a gust to sweep them off to a new perch
where they could speak as if they’d known me.

reporters who play at soldiers
soldiers who lose the will
to report

i was both and yet neither

There’s a wooden bust of me up on a shelf,
a few scraps of prose, a snapshot of a marlin.
The last owner thought it might be good
for business but it lured in more writers

than tourists.  He didn’t make a living
from cappuccinos though one waiter
did all right by telling how I wrote
A Moveable Feast between whiskies

over there.  And they encouraged him
with tips, which I suppose was as good
as believing him, until he’d saved enough
to open up his own place at Plaza Mayor.

He called it Not the Hemingway Restaurant
and all the postmodern pretenders go there.
I can’t understand a word they say
and the booze is BYO but it keeps off the frost.

when all you want is to get nothing
out of something.

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at the Hotel Florida

It was the only place I could relax
in Madrid.  I didn’t bother to tell them
who I was, and they had the decency
not to ask or to put words in my mouth.
They never confused style with substance.

It was the kind of place where you slept
with the door unlocked but always kept
a pistol under your pillow just in case
especially after the shelling stopped
and the women you were dreaming of
had dressed and crept away.

they say every man chooses
his own hill to die on

the taste of earth
sour in his helmet

I knew things had changed when I saw
the lobby, the bevelled mirrors, the crystal
chandeliers, and the friendly receptionist.
In the old days if you wanted a mistress
you brought your own.  And no one cared
if you didn’t or did, or tried to tempt you
either way.  Even during the worst nights
of the siege.

When I signed the register E. Hemingway,
Ketchum, Idaho, she smiled and asked
“and is there no Señora Hemingway?”
“Two women did their best,” I answered
in Spanish, “and others would have liked
to try their luck.  I’ll tell you about it
some time.” Her name could be Maria
I thought, looking her up and down.
And I knew I would be tempted.

I lasted that night on my own
which was pretty good considering
how long I’d been bunking solo.
But then you don’t really miss it
once it’s out of bounds and you ask
what the fuss was all about back then
under the sheets, in the sweaty neon.

when you’re wounded and dug in
you feel this urge to name
every rock

I stood at the writing desk in my room
for hours staring at a sheet of paper
wondering if I could ever get it back,
keep the demons at bay long enough
to let a story take hold.

Then I heard voices in the street below,
a man and a hooker haggling over price.
He’d pay for what an artist would have
for free — what could I make of that?

between the fire-storms
i have this rotten habit of picturing

the bedroom scenes of my friends

I’d written a paragraph by sunrise
and ripped it up after café con leche.
The waiter was a bit too eager to please
and the antler coat racks left me cold
but I was back at the Hotel Florida
and the juices were starting to flow.

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the walls of Toledo

It took days for our troops to reach
Toledo through all the sniper fire
and land mines but just a few hours
for Maria’s old Renault.

I’d almost forgotten Ituarte’s son.
We caught him trying to dynamite
the last bridge over the Tagus River
before we could cross.  Surrounded,
the fascists retreated to the alcázar
“to die like Romans!” Ituarte shouted
shaking his fist from the ramparts.

Then we showed him his son,
a noose draped around his neck.

the young ones bleed like stems
but the old men are more stubborn

The deal was this — a life for a fortress
and their stockpile of arms.  Through it all
the youth stood defiantly, his black eyes
daring us to martyr him before his father
could choose.  He needn’t have worried.

the romans swore these waters
hardened their swords like no other

Ituarte delivered it like a proclamation:
“pray, my son, then shout viva España
and die like a hero!”

i’ve seen many die
but i’ve never seen a politician
die well

We hung him from an orange tree
but it took a bullet to wipe the smile
off his face.  As the men cut him down
the tree pelted them with ripe fruit.

A month later we had to lift the siege.

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