Murray Alfredson

Murray Alfredson is a former librarian, lecturer and Buddhist Associate in the Multi-Faith Chaplaincy at Flinders University. He has published essays on Buddhist meditation, on inter-faith relations and poetics, and poems and poetry translations in journals and anthologies in Australia, the USA, the UK, Sweden and Canada, and a short collection, Nectar and light, in New poets, 12, Adelaide: Friendly Street Poets and Wakefield Press, 2007. He has won a High Beam poetry award 2004, the Poetry Unhinged Multicultural Poetry Prize 2006, the Friendly Street Poets Political poetry prize 2009, and has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, in 2009 and 2012. He lives on the Fleurieu Peninsula by Gulf St Vincent in South Australia.


Of gods and truths
In Thebes the mighty Amun ruled perhaps
two thousand years before he grew in power
fed and nurtured by the nation’s service
to reign a further thousand years and more.
And then his fading started: his bones grew weary;
his phallus drooped except as counterfeited
in granite or in limestone (memorial
of glories past); daily services by
the priests and pharaohs, morning offerings
and lavings, failed to hold against decay,
that creeping tide. How terrible it is
to rule as god so long forgetting death,
to sense one’s powers seep, to know again
oneself as fleeting. Instead of raising arms
that held no strength (with sinews slack and bones
already porous, time-leached, his back crush-fractured) –
instead of raising arms against the Romans,
he turned in desperation to use the wiles
and nether charms of Grecian Cleopatra.
By then he knew his end loomed very near.

For several hundred years Osiris, lord
since far before all writing of it, lord
of corn and vegetation, lord of afterlife,
archetype of death and resurrection,
and with him sister-wife, skilled in powers
and lore, a mother goddess giving suck –
this couple throve. They spread their nurture far
beyond their native shores until eclipsed
by him of wounded wrists and ankles,
of bloodied scalp, more newly resurrected.
In turn, that elder holy family also
was displaced; it slid from life to story.

Two thousand years ago plus half a thousand
in the Ganges valley, called by those
who knew him ‘best of men’, ‘awakened’, ‘teacher
of gods and men’, Siddhattha Gotama,
who found and showed a path from suffering,
foretold decay and passing of his Dhamma.
And who dare say it will not happen, or even
assert it does not happen yet? These days
the perfect ones seem sparse as desert trees.
Be careful not to call your truth eternal;
in summer skies the gleaming clouds dissolve.

Prince of Peace
A rose has sprung
ancients have sung
from Jesse’s root
a tender shoot
in desert stone.

Isaiah said
that fragrant head
be Prince of Peace
bringer of bliss
between all nations.

Plucked and torn
and capped in thorn
that sprig was hung
from cross bar slung
with ache of nails.

Peace has not come
trumpet and drum
bode bomb and flame
lead flies the same
as arrows of old.

Soil gâthâs
(after Huang-po)

Buddhas, bodhisattvas, other saints
walk the soil.
Soil does not leap for joy.

Cattle, goats and other beasts
tread soil underfoot
squirt piss, drop turds.
Soil shows no anger.

Soil holds gold nuggets,
amethysts and other gems.
Soil is not puffed up
nor grasping as men dig.

Snakes, spiders, scorpions
burrow, creep and slither.
Soil knows no fear.

Trees root, grow stately,
sway in cooling breezes,
burst forth in brilliance.
Soil knows no envy.

Men plough furrows,
hoe and harrow.
Soil does not bleed
nor cry in protest.

Soil feeds plants,
plants beasts;
ever giving nurture.

Rains soak and chill;
soil drinks in silence.

Soil receives the dead,
does not recoil
from putrefaction.

Soil transforms, returns
all these as gifts.

Be as soil.

I’ve lived in Wales, a land of mighty noses,
sharp knives to slice the air ahead of faces,
narrow of nostril, the inside membranes formed
close and ample to touch the cold dry air
drawn in by diaphragm, to warm and moisten,
soften the shock, the impact on the lungs.
Though fierce to see, they serve their owners well.

But that man’s nose I saw across the room
out-nosed them all; in vain I cast around
my skull for words to evoke its size and shape.
‘Gigantic’ and ‘huge’ don’t show the line;
‘noble’, ‘lordly’ approach the standing, but
too wimpish; ‘hawk-nose?’ – form’s right but size is not,
nor mien; ‘king’ draws closer, but not quite there.
‘Aquiline’, I guess; you need to know
the Latin. ‘Emperor’ in spirit almost
does the trick, the lofty majesty, and yet . . .

The ancient lore of falconry declared
‘an eagle for an emperor’. I’ll settle
for ‘eagle-nose’. But still I wish I had
the skill to fuse ‘eagle’ and ‘emperor’
into one mighty sneeze.

Road kill
Four days the cat-corpse lay there on the footpath
before a worker flung a plastic film
through which he lifted it into a body bag,
zipped and dropped the bundle in his ute
leaving behind a death-juice stain on pavers.

Red-grey and gaining dust the kangaroo
in rigor mortis lies along the shoulder
gravel as cars and trucks roar by.

Against the cutting-slope a wooden cross;
sun glints from cellophane and plastic wrappings
around dead flowers and brighter flecks remaining
of yellows, greens and reds, and cut no doubt
of cloth and plastics wound on wire to lend
that unkempt shrine a longer-lasting look –
sun-rotting memorial to that lad whose mate,
forgetting road and speed, changed a CD.

Road-kill, road-toll – blood-offerings.

Abelard to Heloise
The cost, the cost,
how terrible
the cost of loving
your uncle sliced
from me that night
he burst my door,
flooded my chamber
with toughs and torches.

I’ll never know,
though, was it mercy
or torturous
intent to tong
a glowing coal
to cauterize
those tiny spurting

The sear burnt fiercer
through me far
than rapid razor;
demanned they left me
lifelong to linger.

I ache, I ache,
I still ache on,
Heloise for you,
ache that I dared not
defy the Church,
own you as wife
more publicly,
ache for children
ache for the belly
that did not swell,
again, again
from livelong loving,
dainty lacework
stretched in skin.

How brilliant might
young Astrolabe,
have been, and those
not-born, we failed
to rear as mind-stars,
outshining far
father, mother,
outstarring even
thought-born siblings
penned on vellum.

Above all else
I ache for you
nightlong beside me,
our murmured love.

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