S. K. Kelen lives in the bush capital and enjoys hanging around the house, philosophically, and travelling. His most recent books are Goddess of Mercy, Earthly Delights and Island Earth: New and Selected Poems, recently published by Brandl & Schlesinger.
Jungle has broken into the city.
Trees mobilised, their roots
tear pavements throw aside telegraph poles
and wires. Suddenly the city wild today
with birdcalls, elephants, lions and you
taught your cry to all the animals.
Everywhere beasts respond to each other
as if answering your call.
With the jungle come the native
people, ivory smugglers, a river
filled with crocodiles and U-boats.
The river brought disease yet you
are still here pretending to be Tarzan
A birth from the earth occurred.
The sun is burning a hole in your pocket
and though very slowly you are making
the tides turn it is a sunny day
and everything burns
today goes very fast
you might make it rain
or intuit another bearing the mark of Cain
you see lips and a weeping black rose
in each of the god’s eyes
it is a day of aces and dancing dogs
Kafka was still a puppy when a car
hit him and broke his leg it was the best
thing that could have happened ever since he
is extremely careful on the roads &
prefers to cross at the lights
or pedestrian crossings
as we have seen life can be quite harrowing
even for a young dog who, once over
the traumas of worms & house-training, would
be expected to lead an idyllic dog’s life
dogs all speak the one language & therefore
have no need to learn French
How many times do
the words ‘dog’, ‘chien’, ‘canis’
or ‘hund’ occur in an average poem?
How long do you think it will take
before people will be reading poems
rather than newspapers?
The artist’s lot: to flounce about the countryside
Like a dog.
The Spin of the Dice
A green Mallarmé floats ethereal over
the Harbour Bridge so I
set out for Canberra, hopeful of
poems — big pink shiny ones.
Goodbye sweetheart, I’m off in my happy
red sports car and crazy blue shoes
driving over murdered blackfellas’ bones
thinking of bunkum and myself
‘midst the better known Greek gods.
It rains then I turn on the Sony
stereo eight-track cartridge-player
and Dylan’s dirge comes out in
the full glory of stereo, although
it would be better if the higher treble
notes were clearer. I should have
bought a car cassette-player instead of
the cartridge-player, could have bought
one with a Dolby noise-reduction system
and used the cassettes from
the cassette-deck in the hi-fi system.
I stop at Bermagui & trying not to be obscure
eat cabanossi for breakfast, remembering Eluard,
Kafka, Joyce, Frank Kermode, the Furies, and Dylan’s
words: I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s Farm no more.
Prayer to Shiva
Like smack freak dried out on Jesus
and real estate agent found happiness
in Khalil Gibran so Helmut the Teutonic
computer engineer with five years Fortran
under his belt asked Shiva destroy me
burn the logic in me
absolve my calculus in your flames
O Bomshiva negate six years of Latin
give me Sex plus God take me to
your temples let me love your beggars
and to the most grotesque award rupees
take the arrogance
swallow my hippy pride
I want to be Indian
God lives in temples
looks like an elephant
or stone prick
O Shiva Bomshiva make me a morphine addict
let sleaze edge out the blueness,
my eyes, my Prussian eyes.
award me a rupee absolve my calculus
in your flames tell my wife in Berlin
I will be home in six months
Goodness and Wickedness
1. Young Caligula
Eels radiate from your head
and the earth rises to meet your mighty
swinging balls so you lie down and send a message
to a black dog in a park on the other side of town
who gets it, tells it to the other dogs
and whispers to the cats. Now the signals
go crazy bouncing off buildings but focussed
by the flying magpie’s wings, completely serious.
There’s a link between the black bush and bird
so you melt into the dogs and cats
slipping quietly home seeming unaware
of the lion that’s afoot. Yes, you are
the mighty lion bounding across a hockey field
where schoolgirls show their admiration by laughing.
Darkness materialises as a policeman
taking you home where you sit in a room
lined with tinfoil sealing tight the vibrations
allowing God’s little creatures some rest
from the messages.
2. Saigon Rose
Singing a paean half-remembered from Vietnam
whilst lining a needle up with a vein
then blood like sauce, as Gothic romance fades
to haunted intentions. Like watching children ski,
villages are full of babies and brains blow apart so easily.
Omens — no, too humanesque in a flaking walled flat,
the boredom and all a needle joining a man
to the long lost war. Out on the paddies a duck
drinks with a Spanish dancer.
3. Life of Byron
Good crazy men like Beppo
grow bored with their senoras
and vice versa.
Why does this sadness happen?
Depressing, the thought
of a procession of angels
and Don Juan caught here
drinking too eagerly
from Love’s chalice.
Only Jesus saves him
from slow disaster
House of Rats
They’re up there, all right,
in the roof playing scrabble, listening to
scratchy old Fats Waller records.
They started out a gang of desperadoes
escaped from a laboratory,
arrived via a garbage truck
up overhanging tree branches
elbowed their way in & soon
the colony is an empire of rats
who eat the insulation batts
chew wires, through the ceiling
to ransack the kitchen
take bites out of everything
& carry off furniture. I can hear them
scurrying with bits & pieces, hammering & sawing:
they’re building houses – a model rat town – with
imitation garages to park stolen toy cars in.
After munching down another box of double strength poison
the rats are back at work with a vengeance, thump
around the rafters insulating the house with rat shit.
Or hard at love writhing, squealing
like sick starlings or kicked puppies. The weaker explode
and TV screens fill with rats’ blood but there’s
more where they came from. Teeming over
mountains, down valleys, jamming highways, falling
off bridges to scurry ashore up storm water drains.
Exterminators arrive dressed as astronauts and poison
the house for ten thousand years. It’s time to move out.
But the rats have laid eggs in your pockets, stow
away, follow you from house to house.
The curse enters its exponential phase.
Tentacles unwind from the ceiling, dirty great moths
and leopard slugs take over your happy home.
Soon you are a trellis. That’s just what the rats say.
I’m down here listening to radio messages,
oiling automatic weapons, building rockets.
Living in a rat’s belly.
White glow melts life
Freezes shadow, twisted bottle
The birth of the transistor
Of doom wide open
Flash bang flash bang
Dead ballet in radium
Stuck to the walls
That disintegrate at the speed of light.
Hiroshima is mother and push-button
Skeletons do the rattle dance.
Together, we are the industry of poison light.
Hiroshima, apotheosis of weapon & machine,
Your centenary will shine a sly beacon
In a forest museum where the extinct
Are preserved and money spurts.
TV spawns a billion little Hitlers:
Radiation Plus, this Island Earth.
A petrified breeze from the virtual trees
Apart from its voracious appetite for mammalian blood
little is known of the leech’s ways. Does it know love or
family life? is there communication?
Leaf litter’s monster weapon, what can you say
about one of Nature’s torture devices, except that it leaps
like a super gymnast aimed at the veins and was programmed
with invisibility and infra-red detection a billion years ago.
Don’t credit the leech with any life force nobility
— a sense of fair play is hard to attribute to
Invertebrates — it exists only to suck blood.
Without the vampire’s savoir faire the leech won’t
attain mythical status, it’s just a vicious slug
waiting for the main chance. Leeches fight like hell
yet have never killed. Defending the swamp,
the Leech mean business.
Invasion of the Sea Chickens
like the shoo-shoo babies
sitting in on your
The word ‘lethargy’ became
for a while it seemed like
all the time was
Now in a room with two centipedes
about to love.
They’re all cuddly pie &
up each other. Sunglasses
scratch. Rocks fall from
I don’t want to see this
— for a Dakota winter
Open the refrigerator & it laughs
Look outside at the white fire
Twirling above an exploding deep freeze
White whirl upward, upward
Down & ever in
Deep chill atoms collide
An ode to the wind
Lizards of snow
Blow along the road
Twist into rough helixes
That sweep themselves
& let go
Jack Blizzard stands at the edge of town
He breathes in & car batteries die
Slicks the road and exhales harder—
That man headed home
Won’t make it this time—
A thin picnic blanket
Locked in the trunk—
Anyway car doors froze—
The snow dance — a burning lung—
White twist — the poor man shouts—
Blood holes up finally in its canyon—
Gleam popsicle & stalagmite
— then the letting go — one breath
Glazes him to the windscreen.
The houses are shaking, a tubercular
Whistle pitches high scream
Drops hard to bang on the window
Like passing thunder.
Old Jack Blizzard’s at the door, now,
Chainsaw laughing as he tricks the lock
Blows it open, whirls things like a hay devil
And you have to push so hard to get him out.
Jack cackles down Main Street,
Takes an ice hammer from his belly
Smashes himself to a thousand shards
And where he stood
Poisoned wolf is born,
Bites the ass of a wino
Waking to his heart’s chill
And regurgitates bloody snow
Stumble, prey to the wolf
Gone long ago.
Windows roar as the ice seeds
Hatch vapour renditions in the air:
Coyote, jack rabbit, buffalo, and bear
Join the wolf lurching out of Main into Elm,
Screeching snow lizards powder the sidewalks
Sweep all before, Jack’s fingers
Glide under every door.
Happy Viet Cong and their children
live now on the Mekong Delta: cone hats
smiles. motors’ chug is the river’s heartbeat
and the river here’s deep and wide as the sea.
Restaurateurs sidle up in rowboats
serve bread, soup and endless species
of noodles, tea, coffee, beer and python
the dishes are washed clean in the river.
Dug-out canoes and basket boats wobble
and children hang on to tyres and logs
swim, float on their backs—
anything to be in the water—
more fish here than the Atlantic
and enough snakes to feed China.
You can go ashore to buy something electric
or catch a bus to some place drier
and even there will be waterlogged
rice growing everywhere. The rain slants down
to make things wetter whip up the river
like a rough day in harbour.
There’s no land, no water richer—
moonlight swims with the carp,
the moon’s eye looking out
from every prow.
The clouds are always there
ringing three peaks
busy with lightning &
the place clouds are born
to water the fields
and forests of Vietnam.
You must be light as air
to receive a tree frog’s blessing
then take the path to the cloud pagoda
at the summit of Ba Vi
where a nun lives to tend the shrine
light incense sticks
and burn the ceremonial money
arrange flowers left by pilgrims
in offering to the clouds.
Quiet time, the forest watches over her
she meditates clouds until night—
sleeps on a cane mat before the sweet altar—
the clouds round Ba Vi swirl through the pagoda
wrap her in glowing vapour
make images of her cloud dreams
and if the clouds dream
they dream of her.
Sunrise, she gathers the flowers
left by day-tripping pilgrims
and throws them to the clouds.
Zeus handed Troy’s smoking altars to the Greeks
A burnt offering to human passion and cruelty.
Believe the stuff about Helen’s beauty
Launching a thousand ships. Those kids
Were doing it for kicks and the money.
The wind plays upon Apollo’s lyre: drunk
Satyr strutting under the Milky Way
Strums an air guitar, has a great day.
My sincere thanks to Zen for sending me these amazing poems and allowing me to republish them on here.