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An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow - by Les Murray

An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow

The word goes round Repins,
the murmur goes round Lorenzinis,
at Tattersalls, men look up from sheets of numbers,
the Stock Exchange scribblers forget the chalk in their hands
and men with bread in their pockets leave the Greek Club:
There's a fellow crying in Martin Place. They can't stop him.

The traffic in George Street is banked up for half a mile
and drained of motion. The crowds are edgy with talk
and more crowds come hurrying. Many run in the back streets
which minutes ago were busy main streets, pointing:
There's a fellow weeping down there. No one can stop him.

The man we surround, the man no one approaches
simply weeps, and does not cover it, weeps
not like a child, not like the wind, like a man
and does not declaim it, nor beat his breast, nor even
sob very loudly—yet the dignity of his weeping

holds us back from his space, the hollow he makes about him
in the midday light, in his pentagram of sorrow,
and uniforms back in the crowd who tried to seize him
stare out at him, and feel, with amazement, their minds
longing for tears as children for a rainbow.

Some will say, in the years to come, a halo
or force stood around him. There is no such thing.
Some will say they were shocked and would have stopped him
but they will not have been there. The fiercest manhood,
the toughest reserve, the slickest wit amongst us

trembles with silence, and burns with unexpected
judgements of peace. Some in the concourse scream
who thought themselves happy. Only the smallest children
and such as look out of Paradise come near him
and sit at his feet, with dogs and dusty pigeons.

Ridiculous, says a man near me, and stops
his mouth with his hands, as if it uttered vomit—
and I see a woman, shining, stretch her hand
and shake as she receives the gift of weeping;
as many as follow her also receive it

and many weep for sheer acceptance, and more
refuse to weep for fear of all acceptance,
but the weeping man, like the earth, requires nothing,
the man who weeps ignores us, and cries out
of his writhen face and ordinary body

not words, but grief, not messages, but sorrow,
hard as the earth, sheer, present as the sea—
and when he stops, he simply walks between us
mopping his face with the dignity of one
man who has wept, and now has finished weeping.

Evading believers, he hurries off down Pitt Street.

The Weatherboard Cathedral, 1969


FAST EDDY - by Peter Neary-Chaplin

I straight away let go,
the need to know.
A little point of turbulence I shall be,
fast eddying
in this crazy downhill flow.
Somewhere downstream
I form
a pirouette
and seem
to draw things to myself awhile,
hold them in my gravity.
I am
But then unwind
and all my swirling self
ending up in far-off lands,
evaporating into space
or crashing in a sea of grace.
So swirling’s what I came to do.
It’s not my fault:
there is no blame.
I swirled
and now
the river’s not the same.


From Steady, Pilgrim by Peter Neary-Chaplin


Andrew talks to gulls - by George Roberts, for his son

standing on a string of grey rocks
reaching out into the clear water
andrew talks to gulls

his voice     sliding through octave cries
light as time    lifts in clouds of gulls
and draws their tiny black eyes

he thinks those pure white birds come
out of the sky and across years of water
for the pieces of bread he scatters to them

i know the sun dancing on their yellow beaks
is in honor of this small boy
whose voice remembers

he too    once wore
white feathers


From Brother Songs, A Male Anthology of Poetry


Return of the wolf - by Peter Neary-Chaplin

From the time of his freshest young imagining,
the earliest conjectures,
the first tug of horizon-longing
to the hewing and working of sweet wood
into a squat cabin,
to the dragging of rocks to clear a way for the ploughcut,
the sparkle and rush of mountain water
and the sudden dash of birds around the tiller,
the thrum of bugs in a warm sundown ,
the sculpting of ferocious land,
the carving of order and setting of boundary marks,
the wolf was always there,
present in half-shadow,
near enough to snatch scraps of meat and bone,
pale eyes made orange by the licking flame.

Soon the woman came,
the fire went indoors.
The tiller looked away,
took baths,
embraced the soft joy of her.
There was always much to do,
the summers bloomed and they were full.

Soon long winter took more than summer gave.

I have loved you, loved this, she spoke,
but this is not the love I crave.
This is my best, he sighed, my best.
This is what I have. 

One day she took a nap,
woke after two long days.
The doctor puffed his cheeks,
stared at the floor. 

While the earth mound was still fresh,
even before the wooden cross,
the wolf returned by night.
Scenting where she lay he howled her loss.


The fire came back outside
and neither made a sound,
pale eyes made orange by the licking flame,
red muscles stretching on the dusty ground.

From Steady, Pilgrim by Peter Neary-Chaplin


Jericho Road - by Peter Neary-Chaplin

Pour the wine back in the tall stone jars
and draw some water out.

Unleaven your bread.
Remove your robes,
take out the gold and crimson thread.

Dress in the clothes of every day.
Let celebrations fade away.
Be once more single and alone.

Strap on your sandals
and recommence your walk.
Move beyond the comfortable talk.

The answer is not here
but in your feet,
in the robber
and the saint you’ve yet to meet.


From Steady, Pilgrim by Peter Neary-Chaplin