Patricia Sykes is a poet and librettist. Her poems have won the John Shaw Neilson, Tom Collins, and Newcastle poetry prizes and her books shortlisted in the Mary Gilmore, Anne Elder and Judith Wright Awards. Her collaborations with composer Liza Lim have been performed in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Huddersfield and New York. She was Asialink Writer in Residence, Malaysia, 2006. Her most recent collection is The Abbotsford Mysteries (Spinifex Press, 2011).

A flight of leftovers

1. Do not distress yourself
the Dodo is extinct long before you

2. Someone must have taught the axe
to hone its arc towards the neck

3. The blade bedded in the wishbone
is in pursuit of glistening and succulent

4. Even the guillotine understands
its own effect as a feast in the making

5. Some juices know when they’re done for:
each drumstick is a traumatised leg

6. It has become impossible to prove
that flight was not born to be eaten

7. Obey the signs: Do not bring wine
Do not bring your lurking eyes

8. The feathers on the floor
could be the newest thing in missiles

Patricia Sykes (Australian Poetry Journal, Issue no.2, Transitions, June 2012).

“The fearful are many”

It came about and that was that. Carriages
rocking through forest like a tourism fun train.
There is no singing at the stations. The smoke
turns out to be distress breaths. Learn to tell it
this way: violence kissed the passengers
during a cold ride. Then headlines
spooling over a blood-softness of bodies.
And in the later dark a detritus silence
smouldering like black and white photography
under the moon’s opalescence

The name of the place is easy to remember.
The dead remain dead, the survivors newly afraid
of intent. What use is a warning sign? There is never
any hiding from each other. The fearful are many
cannot calculate the lifespan of risk.
The mind cannot bear the weight of repeats.

Patricia Sykes (The Age, 11 August 2012)

Suicide With Flowers

(i.m. R.M.)

Death again playing beautiful innocent
I should have known by the crows
it’s in their massed sheen, in the black
glint of their terrible patience, old
carrion eyes, icy blue, deadly as winter
It’s in the shock lustre of your drowning’s
sunlit blondeness on blonde wet sand
Later I see your ghost in the small boy
who pings stones at your kill rocks
(listen his laughter sounds like victory!)
Later I give your mother, your brother, your
children, your lover (her rage will be
your haunting) words like peaceful, I do
not give them rock-bruised, sea-mauled: your
violent distress is already their suffering
Finders is not always keepers, I give
you up to Emergency, the police cordon
is your final (remote) embrace
Later I am given pale pink tulips
they are voluptuous and tender
I stroke them and think of your hands
of what mad torment made them
give up on reaching and touching

Patricia Sykes (HEAT 21, 2009)

sanctuary: Swan Lake, Phillip Island

for there is water and there is sky
and between them feet big with tongues
each act of language a collision, each one
a shoe this one a walking default
in the tracks of a committee

who left signs: ‘can you believe
this was once a paddock used for cattle?’
and ‘Once a Paddock, now

a Sanctuary’ which makes of the visitor
a kind of tourist-refugee at a ballet
where the dancing swans are black not white

but what I came for is seasonal a lesson
from the musk duck and indeed I find three
all female therefore no mating

only the close feathered swimming
that means companionable a time to eat
between the broods the noisiest demand

the soft dopple each of them makes
in their feeding dives a way to cut
water open without forcing a wound

how the eyes like linguists are never satsified
how they’ll poke and pry into any lexicon
the ducks unaware they are being watched
(the hides silent as isolation cells)
or so used to reflection as in
the water-pictures mirrored in binocular glass
that they’ve adopted their own dictionary
of indifference they float like calm boats
entice the eyes nearer towards ignorance
until it’s impossible to tell if the small
birds skittering beyond them
on the camouflage line between water and sky
are sandpipers or plovers a failure of image
as language magnified by distance
identity then as a secret habitat
the lake concedes at least this much
what it offers is light the slow
fingering drift against the skin
and I think this is how trespass
might be tamed by vibrations
so intense it agrees to the muzzle

the day so warm it sheds layers
a throat could be thirsty with syllables
and be unable to offer a word

if it has not learned to live
by native food what could it speak
that would keep anything else alive?

on the hide’s darkest wall
a namesake has painted a species guide
among the solitary gloom it is like meeting

a faith in the traffic then the failure of it
each time the satellites chatter overhead
the musk ducks avail themselves

of the dive forgive them
they confuse speech with death
and human with predator-as-alphabet

Patricia Sykes (Winner Tom Collins Poetry Prize 2002. Modewarre – home ground (Spinifex Press 2004)

Deep (paraphrase of) Play

After a passage from Diane Ackernman’s Deep play

The night a keyhole, the mind stepping through into distance.
From out of the dark riffs iceberg gardens,
filling the page, their strange white love

their perfumeless grip… play deep…

Writing “nature” is not the it of it
the i/I of her scribing hand not an arctic butterfly
feeding on a rapture she has no name for

play deeper…

beyond the shining words, beyond and farther
than vocals abeyant in rock,
amber, permafrost

play deepest…

among the nervy nerved instinctive self.
The foot on its throat is centuries, the weight
a ball and chain. Till the ground

that feeds the worm else dispassion builds,
annuls. The closest relative of nothing
is nothing…play deep

Patricia Sykes (The Wonder Book of Poetry)


Birrarung, ‘river of mists and shadows’
drifts of white in a dark hover
as if breath here grew inconsolable⎯

‘This was the Abbotsford property.
The name of which has now become
so celebrated’

big praise! for the trouble-girls gifted by
the poor, the dead, the drunk, the mad⎯

‘keep your eyes down or you’ll become like them’
or like the older women gifted by fear or fault
some desperate enough to gift themselves

or like the nuns, offering themselves
to the sweet debris of drenched lives
drowning or afloat, the river
as red aorta
how the wanderings of water
stress the imprisoned pulse:

I became afraid for my own heart
believe the river when it says amen

Patricia Sykes (The Abbotsford Mysteries, Spinifex Press, 2011)


My sincerest thanks to Patricia for sending me these amazing poems and allowing me to republish them on here.


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