Sitting at my desk
thinking about

you busy
getting something

when I caught your eye
and felt guilty
for something

though I couldn’t
say what

I said too quickly,
“I’m lazy”

to which you responded,
quickly also:

“no, more like
easily distracted”

which had me thinking
as I got up
and walked away

that yes, that’s right

“I’m not lazy,
I’m just easily distracted”

which was something
I could live with.


The dream that labour knows (after Robert Frost)

When spirit is reduced to a bar graph, and pictures
of beauty suffice, and efficiencies of automation
are boundlessly claimed, is it mad, then, to saw wood
by hand, beneath the coiling branches of a grapevine
in a summer sweat, while birds of various amplitudes
sing out to each other, my better self, that I’ve found
here, unexpectedly, next to a pile of broken timber
collected yesterday from outside the pallet factory,
where machines muffled by ear muffs still penetrate
the minds of their operators, in control of the levers
long since cut-off from themselves, and not now
an extension of their limbs and hard-won skill,
even for sawing by hand, able to feel the vibrations
of steel teeth grinding against the grain of the matter,
with a balance, a friction, that whispers, not in the grip
of pleasure, but in the hold of happiness, worked on
over an afternoon, and only halfway through the job
of cutting irregular pieces of dry wood for winter’s
distant warming―mad is it, such revelry?


Love song/no limit (after Bob Dylan)

She works in the city, lives in the slums
on the street she plays the drums
she listens hard to Victor Jara
from Caracas to Kolkata.

See her work in the afternoon
in the evening gaze at the moon
she knows there’s no limit
at her feet our children sit.

She wears a rubber band on her wrist
she likes to give it a twist
she’ll take the fire out of the sun
and raise what we must to begin.



the clear morning hangs
over you like infinity:

the taste of coffee
heavy in your mouth


these mornings are for replacing
rotten fence boards

—if you’re slow enough
it can take until lunchtime

taking care even
to hammer out the nails

putting them in your pocket
because the world is changing fast


two hawks circle
like leaves caught in the miracle
of a twisting spiral of air

each swoop
with still wings ends

with a sharp turn
of flashing feathers


there’s no inspiration in fear,
in jealousy,
or in halls of Gods

the inspiration is in the rhythm
of movement and its score

and if not that, nothing at all.


These old theatre seats

these old theatre seats
are rusty at the base,
the blue vinyl
has faded to grey,
they’re not where
they used to be.
looking over
the western hills
to a wet sunset,
a sliver
of clear orange sky
beneath the heaviest
of dark clouds,
the sounds of children
talking nonsense
on the steps
of the almost derelict
house across the street,
I realise there is
nowhere else.
these old theatre seats
are comfortable
and a good place
to look out.

Northern Advocate Column

I can’t identify with what Beyoncé’s selling, but I’m listening


21 April 2018

I’ve been aware of her, who hasn’t? She’s the world’s biggest pop star, a celebrity icon. Except, I hadn’t paid her much real attention. And so Beyoncé’s reification by fans and her cultural significance had mostly passed me by.

I loved ‘Bootylicious’ by Destiny’s Child, of course, had the single with three remix versions. The rhythm was original, and I liked the defiant statement about the more voluptuous female form. And ‘Single Ladies’ couldn’t be ignored. ‘Crazy in Love’ was infectious. But other songs which briefly came into focus didn’t grab me.

Maybe I hadn’t been trying hard enough. This thought occurred to me when I started reading headlines about Beyoncé’s recent performance at the Coachella music festival out in the Colorado Desert. People were comparing it to Jimi Hendrix playing the Monterey Pop Festival. That Beyoncé at Coachella was a defining cultural moment for African-American women; to be remembered for generations.

OK, perhaps I needed to dig deeper here. So I went to YouTube and found some clips of the performance. It’s great theatre. Beyoncé first appears in an Egyptian-style outfit, looking like the famous bust of Nefertiti, the wife of a long dead and forgotten pharaoh. She then emerged at the top of a pyramid of stacked bleaches (the American term for a temporary stand) wearing a yellow sweatshirt, ripped denim shorts and fluffy white leggings that recalled those worn by Zulu warriors.

In the context of the Coachella festival, attended mostly by well-off middle-class college kids and faux-bohemians, Beyoncé presented the sights and sounds of southern black colleges, especially the marching bands and dancing that accompanies college football games.

The cultural lessons didn’t stop there. Scattered all through the performance were references to African American culture and politics, from the iconic song ‘Strange Fruit’ (about the lynching of black men) to the words of Malcolm X: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman.”

The whole performance was identity politics ratcheted up to the highest level. Black pride, women’s pride, that was the message. Delivered as extravagant entertainment to the festival audience, but more importantly to the millions around the world who watched the lifestream or who’ll access the performance on YouTube.

It’s only pop music, but the symbolism, the codes, they matter, Beyoncé would undoubtedly argue. As they probably do to unknown women of colour in Atlanta, Illinois and Chicago. The women disrespected by white America, and also often by black men. You only have to have a cursory awareness of the history of hip-hop to know the sexism and misogyny that’s part of the culture. And we know the impetus for Beyoncé’s last album, Lemonade, was a response to husband Jay-Z having an affair, the ultimate act of disrespect, which she turned into a symbol of women being disrespected by men down through the ages.

Beyoncé is consciously walking in the shoes of many African American performers who’ve communicated black pride, touching on arrogance. When Beyoncé sings, “I just might be the black Bill Gates,” she echoes Muhammad Ali yelling “I’m the greatest!” Ali, summed up this attitude, this incision into American and global pop culture, with what he claimed to be the shortest poem ever written, which went, “Me. We.” It’s a sentiment Beyoncé would agree with.

Because I’m a white middle-aged man with a comfortable standard of living, I can’t totally identify with what Beyoncé’s selling. Still, I’m going to find a copy of Lemonade in The Warehouse bargain bins and give it a listen with fresh and more educated ears.


Parade of mourning (Phil Hughes, 1988-2014)

The stadium that teams with life on another day
has clouded duly over; the willow blades erected
like crosses at the boundary rope, a temporary
fixture, acknowledged passingly by those honoured

at the end of play, who get to step over first
from the click-focused world―paid for and paid in―
to the shaded area of spectators only. We invest
in the meaningful drama, despite our distant part.

Looking one way, we’re saved the impossible choices
of full sympathy; yet in the parade of mourning,
natural and mannered glances, tears and condolences
viral in the public domain, we sense something real

and are reasoned to watch, knowing our records too
will tumble, and that diving catch will be forgotten.
Mark the score if you like, but everything’s done
so soon; sparrows fall silent under the hedge. Listen.


Phil Hughes, Australian cricketer, 1988-2014.