Les Wicks’ 11th book of poetry is Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) (Puncher & Wattmann, 2013).
Wicks has been a guest at most of Australia’s literary festivals, toured widely and been published in over 250 newspapers, anthologies and magazines across 18 countries in 10 languages. He runs Meuse press, which focused on poetry outreach projects.
His website is leswicks.tripod.com/lw.htm

Two Ghosts & the Diesel Crow Choir

Black highway, reflective
“1” & the moon exchanged stares
across truckless distances of space.

Me – four hours standing, just past the bridge
dropped off
from a country town lust adventure, getting late
hitching south back
to the old Big Smoke.

Past 11, past 12.
North coast cold rose up as if
the river below was shedding a frozen skin/
like it was throwing out a net of itself
to catch a night-stunned world.

& out of that mist came two women.

I’d been dancing on the spot, singing to an emptiness
in that free solitude.
Staying warm too,
part of a truth.

Straight dissection of road
up to the bridge. The following dip
had become a reprehensible welcome mat.
No traffic for almost 30 minutes &
no nibble for hours not
even a hesitation before the gush of passing air,
eruption of roadstone.

Then these two
distinct beneath moon, one
in a long dress, other in jeans they
ambled across the bridge, occasionally leant into touching
as they shared secrets, drunken bump suggesting
history & trust.

There was an unease to the picture, as
though the road was suddenly crowded, some
blueprint ignored to see three people
loose in this isolation & time.

Putting down the mild hysteria of waiting
I called out welcome, moved towards them.

In the distance
a turpentine smudge of light grew
to the conflagration of hibeam
& the diesel crow-choir howled
as a truck became a cannon
& the valley was scoured in panicked shadow.

Revealing an empty bridge.

Five times those women walked –
not once made it past that long concrete-bone bridge
before vanishing under headlights.

Did they have a story?
Bodies that also never passed this creek,
perhaps one night flesh too was pierced by light
as the formwork pavement gave way to weeds & sand
on this bitter highway.

How much pain to glue you to the tarmac
beyond even life?
Did they hear me call out,
consider this man with his bag edging closer
or was all this entirely locked within themselves,
an audience meaning nothing?

I jumped like a flea through the hours.
Trapped
between these repeating visions
& the echoes of earlier gropings at the local cemetery,
the contact for both so
hungrily sought &
the provision in the end of no sustenance. We are
wrapped in low country urges, impassable moments
repeated across time.

Still the night tinted waves of grass
one beaten gum & moon.
Heartfelt
on asphalt around 5 a salesman pulled up.
I had a story to tell & told it hungrily;
as though this needed to be out,
quickly reduced to
words & the artificial spookiness of a shared commentary.

He was called Bob, I think, suggested coffee at a diner….
barely 6 kilometres
the woman there serving no nonsense
as the thick brewed black on dawn-formica morning did it all…

Moon-ridden,
fragments of me were still waiting
for those thieving headlights.

Shaky hands & swollen oyster eyes
reached back again
to the bridge,
to the endless wander of two women
caught forever on a river’s cold hook.

Spin the Bottle

On the train
the two of them are big, wear
denim like animal skins, hair carved freeways
& beards a wilderness. They stink (soil, damp & sweat).

Talking to a woman
Newtown mid 30s
her language cranked down to a strine
that soothes, dampens, lubricates
the rambling of these men.

Everything they do or say
is as though it’s grabbed.
Even simple talk about the weather is found
& taken like a ram raid.

No, she doesn’t drink
after 15 years of fighting it –
Fucks ma head.
Her face torn,
tense – maybe unfriendly except for the words plus
she’s given them her address
(causing the shit-rich shipwrecked
suit-woman across the aisle to become panicky,
a shiver at the perimeter).

Yeah Newtown. They’re heading to the Cross
….for a while.

I realise they’re me, bar a few accidents.
I’m her with her habits
in handbags & other people’s hallways.

They’re a miracle of matching
& so common.

Or rape. Will the guys talk about
sharing the bitch?

Perhaps she’ll tame
& pamper them with hot meals beside eastern curtains.
Give them perfumed baths, stories to carry
to the next stop.

Prison, psych hospitals
the bush & the beats.

They’re dangerous

& wander uncertain paths with only
a spinning bottle for a compass.

What Rhymes With Injustice

We will fight them on the beaches
because we love those bayside Sundays.

Opalescent sedans in battle formation
mines amongst the zinnias
gunners at a paper wall
of property guides and stockbroker tips.

The one thing that cannot change
is everything we already have or want.

while Fear and Greed patrol the parterre,
lead our armies into battle.
Just two human bones, this duo
do the clerking
at concentration camp gates, they
write press releases that smother babies.

It’s the honey helping
strychnine go down,
the gun oil acting all innocent
on a garage shelf.

Patched ships slump on the surface
of a complicit sea.
Our big televisions are full of words
sometimes there’s the whisper refugee.

Dearly Demented at the Sundowner Nursing Home

1. Birthday day
Pollock lipstick
vagabond slippers, the snug imprisonment of tracksuits
blotched with 11:30 soft-diet lunch.

Begin to hope the progress
behind pharmacological ramparts.
The real medicine is touch
all other expertise unnecessary.

I am now a fixture here
the nurses chat at visits, even read my books
between wiping bums and
perennially guiding Tommy back to bed.
Clinical notes recorded on the verge –
chasms of new molecules,
pneumonic harmonica and missing limbs.
I sing along at this birthday party
when everybody else thinks it’s theirs.
Cordial and cake fly like confetti
slow motion kindergarten.
There’s the bazaar worth of plots afoot
scheming over nothing
stolen wedding rings
or dentures. Buccaneers are aloft
in the rigging of their wheelchairs/
aluminium walking-frames glint dangerously
in a gatecrashed refulgence that
cranks gaiety to a cackled fever.

2. Pick Me Up
Each visitor is like a death, still hanging on
rusted to every mother as she’s caught
keening into where.

The constant spatter of TVs –
worlds coming in to seduce away facts
that have still clung on
(steel hooks in the cerebellum).
Always music somewhere
cassette recordings of pianos built with
ceramic tiles instead of strings
Underneath the Arches
We’ll Meet Again
(and just once My Generation sent a ripple of anxiety
through attendant babyboomers).
The heart patch of stone nursed,
mouths open like day
eyes turn tail in prayer
for this week’s Dearly Departed.

3. Kind Regards
My mother is “such a lady”
and they love her in the way
of pedestrian driftwood, stars and paper cuts.
The dependable burn of cigarettes,
flags of clarity and void, alternate horrors each
in separate ways. Time as soil erosion.
Some kind of word in a sleeping night.
Commonwealth Care Standards
and the guilt of children.

Nothing here is unmanaged
yet there’s a kind of anarchy,
painted over every three months and
marked on coloured charts.

Families play a hackneyed role –
their fret, love
and secret wishings.
It washes over staff who’ve seen it before.
There are always better,
always worse actors for these parts.
It’s a morality play
written in DNA
‘cause Mum’s dementia
will probably be our inheritance.
Partners and doctors monitor afternoon snores,
measure our decline.

4. Lost Post
This is some kind of harvest
old flesh on brittle bones
and grey wheat above
episodic eyes.
Who says death is better?
Most of us
(today- tinned salmon in a weak tomato sauce).
Usually not the residents
encrusted
sometimes even the mad, tender collegiality
of senescent love affairs –
even though she calls him
by another name and his face
is netted alongside unrelated memories.

In the sound of the sun,
every day is new.
Ambulances arrive
more regularly than friends –
there’s the thrill of the ride
beneath panic, balms
and the silent rite of agony.

These veterans wear their ribbons of scars…
the Battle of Afternoon Tea.
Pain management.
Come half past five
That Bloody Olga nods off,
above Deal or No Deal
an outpost of transcendence.

from The Ambrosiacs (Island, 2009)

There

Forgot to be dirty.
In brocade & lemonade
registered courtiers must undress under sun,
yet another new life, new hands.

In those Hawaiian shirts
lorikeets lout across our treeline.
The river wheezes.
Didn’t think I had it in me
dumb love
our words are wigs –
in this cider light
they slip.

I do this for a living. Live
out of habit. Habitually life
fails to cooperate
& I am left standing penless in this teary marvel
that sparks green at the hem of my reach.

The League of Lovely Women

Don’t think their shields are mirrors.

I love their fierce white teeth,
my women roar.
Face paint shatters on a belly laugh,
they plot with a potted glare
then march on down the stair without
wobble, wand or weave.

Cloaked in the black cloth of fire & desks;
won pride. Strange, strange partners
they adopt their wounds.

No wife, maid, no nun or mum is tamed;
their neck sometimes submits
while brain punches back.
We strutting sons stomp blithely on perilous parquet.

There’s more you say,
you’d be right. Hold them to your ear
then hear the gibber of the waves. Crazy as men,
contentment is suborned intent. They are everywhere,
like headlights randomly illuminate as they move
& sometimes choose to shine on you.

Calibrated

Feed the stairs
roll the corridor like
your last smoke at this edge of lamps. Someone chose this wacky orange for the waiting room.
An “array” of tests (military language). Cancer is coming. Cancer has gone. Moles bloom on atom geography. Amidst a darkling fever, we delve.
Double barrage, his cinched levis.
Our bones aren’t a cage.
Armour, defence
these constructs our words have mortared-in around
the pledge of mortality.
No one would vote for this, but it’s ours. The pitch of our
dried mouths. We dandle children, parents,
livers & lives.
Beside me – she came all the way from Singleton.
Her husband
is the shepherd of those dawdling optimisms.
Raised voices from consult room 2 –
a teenager frankly
pissed off. Won’t stop. Anything.
This is a family too, sometimes we pretend…
a gang. Don’t discuss
the spirit or the spit, our words

are like the bubble in the level
they flip and quaver while we discuss
the improbable mathematics of wellness. Scriptless.
There is a revelation
over lunch
(a numinous ginger chicken)…
we will carry on for a time longer.
Across scarred formica
our love (yes, these words emerge easier now)
is beyond the possibility of taint.
The jostled queue of next days
will all be worth the wait.
Blood comfort serves.
And that is the test, this is the answer.

Little Imogen Black

is just a bit creepy when she cuddles him
(admitted only under this sanctity of paper).
In this foster-life so far six months
healed about delicate regulation that
relief of regular breakfasts, predictable nights with
nothing behind her shoulders she
is allowed a childhood in the paradise of Telopea.
On her way
the daisy way
that only is seen
from a distance like love.
Imogen still wants to die in the crisp linen
on her burnished bed,
she keeps thinking back through the day
those clean smells. Now, not then.
Ibis fly over the hill of fractured bones, do you throw away broken parents? Lions of the ratty lounge argued over teams & demanded. Boys will be monsters. Then, not now.
The senses of pizza
& future… a good girl, desperately attentive then hugs so normal
but so many a discomforting hunger.
Show & tell no bruises, a Pantene flick of hair then she is there.

Pack her lunch to
the novelties of school, St Bernadette’s Primary painless cages
maybe games, a friend…
fierce, tiny ambitions so
flagrantly normal.
A spectator at the borders of radiance,
in the sun of her temporary family
she is ruled by an arthritic Labrador.
There can never be enough
of just now.
Our tumid world is smeared with the ichors of money,
but this costs nothing more than this.

On The Nature of Wickedness & Plums

Dead Christmas Children
Chaos on the Roads
& everyone knows pure chaos is evil
but perhaps anything pure is evil? Each proposition
has its prozac cons…
Department of Mind.

Yet we walk on wounded feet, fractured hands
want nothing more than the perilous end
of the taut nylon line with
its bait & bombs.

Social workers circle Toby
fixing him right up.
I cannot say perfect any more,
the tawdry polish denies both age & glamour. But I’ve
tasted the austere Love of gods and governments,
freedom in the pools of gore.

In this lusty cowardice
from my dirty money nest
to the guano towers
of my Great Reputation
I stand just as I should be,
just like you.

Agog, the selfish charity
of each gift that lands like downpour
on the sprawl of rough shelter.
Children’s Dead Christmas.

But this isn’t right either.
I think and thank constantly, a biological tool,
this generosity
that knits the tribe. I’ve seen the spirit lift, been lifted too…
that woman’s hand or
a shaky reconciliation. Give Glory to our fetish angel
that shines on through
its necessity.

Got nothing this year, just what I wanted.
Dodging linns of seasonal lights, etched
by adamant, drowned in a tinny blue, duck
as the memorial park fireworks aim
against the unholy.
Home to block out the carols with
something sharp from Iceland.

All the fish are scooped from the sea,
we splash in a sandy vacancy,
the December Seafood Holocaust
which stinks our bins while dogs snigger in the shade. Pass it by,
but I’m smiling & silly is my key.
Give Glory to this
exquisite stretch of the lips
that saxophone is wrapped…
alone. Children, Christmas is dead,
right on schedule. How else does the rest survive
elves with shovel, a stickytape shroud
& barely a cloud says the weatherman.

Bargains

Breath is overrated,
shove it down.
He’ll be circling with his carbons & need.
This happens live.
On the edge of her patience
he watches like some rough accelerant,
her naked trust is no insurance.
A petty, pretty thing he was – not enough…
never will be that’s fine she
trades in broken things her shop
in cheap sunshine
is priceless.

***

Notes on the poems:

‘Two Ghosts and the Diesel Crow Choir’ and ‘Spin the Bottle’ are taken from the collection Stories of the Feet (fip, 2004)

My sincere thanks to Les for sending me these great poems and allowing me to republish them on here.

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