Francis Webb: hugely underrated poet
Watch, and for a moment pace him on.
Clipped are the wings of space from him, and gone
Thrust from the hips, self-conscious overstride.
His face hangs yellow, curtainless and void
As a cracked window in a headlong shack.
Brushed by the terrible hammer of the track,
The little spider of torment kicks and swings
In the grey, collapsing bubble of his lungs.
You will not see so pure a thing as this:
Movement alone, with its own emphasis.
For God or Devil or Nothing burns and burns
This mystery. Earth turns and turns.
Trapped in his husk of terror, but alive,
He fights for birth; till drowned and negative
He lurches in to breathe and die beyond
The silver tape, the glass of Wonderland.
The Song of a New Australian
In the hamper of a fictive world this wordy darkness
Is fed by the sick squeal of a truck moving
Onto a stage where friendly word means a weakness,
Safety hangs upon harlequin Hate with his gags
That are hallowed and hideous mockery of loving.
An interval - even armistice? But you only heard
A crate's bruising or breaking on concrete, then the last word
Of the damp, rolling, remorseless kegs.
Darling Harbour, self-fashioned, queer dogmas postered to his wall,
Discovers foreign all my words of defence,
Cannot have me in his black book, Mateship; so I fall,
Like the other thousands of mile-torn goods, to the phrases
Of the account-book, dump and stowage at a glance.
No relief from a galvanised-iron sea, and impure
Mouths are the sky-colours. Bridge is a coil of wire
Slung on top of some upturned filthy cases.
The vegetative soul is the dedicated rhetorician:
Yellow knuckles of gorse are eloquent; motion
Is the psyche entire whose fullness is naked growing
Ungirt with passion or reflection.
Grass meanders intoxicate in green simple action,
Little hills troll the pastoral catches, allowing
Hosannas of Saints in sober gesture alive
As flowering cherry along a drive.
With the Wensum comes consecrated ordered Wish.
From weedy tenements the spying suburban fish.
Dace, roach, carp, dart or loiter with tingling gills
In subaqueous blackout, neon,
Discuss certain shadows, suns as wool or rayon,
Choose certain baits as tranquillisers, pills.
Plucked from his element, each convulsed dreamer beats
Agony for his city streets.
A phylum apart these two old horses stand.
(Flies conspire to transfix the sweating land.)
The pair of them will stand an hour together
Licking each other's sides with great slow tongues.
Minds, as bodies, are ancient galls and wrongs.
Flies would erode this hackneyed summer weather.
Memory, rumour, and an hour spin in the guise
Of the buzzing swarming flies.
He will give his body to the gesticulating
Green grass without forethought. He will lie beating, awaiting
The perfect town of water, going, gone.
He is the listing hulk or bale of straw
In silt of the inorganic; pang of law
Tides him into the rivers and the sun.
Light plays throughout his muddied floating things,
His action, desire, his gift of tongues.
The world, the tranquil punctual gyroscope,
Is more or less at peace after her fashion,
Broad bowels work, creatures rejoice or mope,
There is clash of interests in all dogged creation,
When silence comes as at noiseless thwack of a drum,
And look! the warriors come.
First shudder away the birds, all flaking, wheeling
Out of range and all forgetful of their young,
Crying at the ominous shadowy floor stealing
Over their earth; and then not giving tongue.
Now all things hold silent, and the surf
Breaks on beleagured turf.
They come. And whose ear can divine the awful waves,
Signals of command suspired by what demagogue?
They tumble in orgies of commitment, these black slaves,
All activity, but insensible as rotted log.
Their mad absorbed unity of hunger and mirth
Is the belly-heave of earth.
The wounded mammal whimpers and butts and runs,
Glazing, eaten alive. The three-days' chick
Shrills fear, and like a paradigm of guns
Anarchy gorges itself and life is sick.
Look close for a second, stranger, you will find
Blear paradigm also of our mind.
For this is our mind for today - never creation
But all nakedness. Odours and colours blent
And sounds and shapes, swivel throughout that ration
Of basic nerves, like darkness imminent;
But sometimes in moments of withdrawal one sees, feels
Certain subterranean wheels.
As their cloud progresses it may assume strange shapes:
Of devouring lover and organ, it may weep
Like mandibles of rain and whatever rapes
The fruit and flesh of life in very sleep.
Sleep is ever the enemy, it seems,
To all who dream these dreams.
But punctilious night now sweeps away all lust
On wheels, and another, a blessed, silence broods
Over many bones left twinkling in the dust.
Earth debates bitterly in these solitudes
Whether she dare replace, below, above,
The singings, ramblings of love.