Stephen Oliver is a transtasman poet and author of twelve titles of poetry,
including, Night of Warehouses: Poems 1978-2000, [HeadworX Publishers,
Wellington, New Zealand], 2001. His most recent titles are, Deadly Pollen
[Word Riot Press, NJ, USA, 2003] and, Ballads, Satire & Salt - A Book of
Diversions, illustrated by Matt Ottley, [Greywacke Press, Sydney, 2003].
Stephen Oliver lives in Sydney. Check out his site.
The Street Sweeper
As Hundertwasser hides out in his bunker studio
about the colonial hills of Kawakawa up in the Bay of Islands
amongst kahikatea and the punga ferns,
insistently unseen and steadfastly uninterviewed - his predecessor,
Gustav Klimt, painted the chromatics of Autumn
and sex, whose women, Birds of Paradise,
glitter in the Kunsthistorisches Museum - so typical!
Yet, even the cigarette smoke curlicues across coffee tables,
out under the full-leafed plane trees, stolid
with the talk of the Viennese bourgeoisie; the dandy in the soft
grey suit, face grey-weathered as a cornice,
unfolds the memory's frieze (decades, past seductions)
with all the fervour of a dying minnesinger and sighs;
become voyeur to ancient indiscretions,
as the streetsweeper, impeccably dressed in black evening attire
and white gloves, fastidiously collects the leaf motifs
left in gutters with the manifold dreams of the citizenry:
the trams looped back from the Ringstrasse,
and stone fountains played on in parks pram-filled, tree-hooded.
Streetsweeper's brain goes snap, then snap again:
sweet little Adolf in his dolly outfit, O cute little Adolf in his sailor-
suit. How Autumn thickens its shadows
under the imperial archways, and leaves gather about the basins of
fountains, while in each civic garden comes a
clattering salute, the branches in their bent nakedness
arrange themselves into wartime insignia.
And what of the emigres gone to the New World to assume yet other
emotional identities, whose hatreds remain closeted,
desire a close guarded secret? "Loss,"
says streetsweeper, "is nothing less than hate - its strongest recognition."
Salute the New World Citizens and cultural Imperialists;
furtive elitists playing the old bohemianism that
allows them to condemn the bourgeoisie while swigging, guzzling
their way into favour as though privilege were a
plate of canapes; history, entitlements, daughters for the taking!
Letter to Peter Olds
I don't know much about the mechanical hawk
ravaging doves, though multiple rapes performed by
the machine we are witness to on a daily basis.
"We've both changed a bit," you said on meeting -
Peter, I take small consolation from Orwell's remark that
"After forty, everyone gets the face they deserve."
Thanks for the two small black & whites snapped
in minutes of each other thirty years ago - I made copies
for a book of never-to-be written memoirs.
You, me and Jeannie, the redoubtable Bill Dean,
captured back then in '73 on the porch at Noyna Road,
Sawyers Bay. That grand old weather-board that
I would soon enough leave behind, and a young
family forfeit to God knows what fate...
The two photos show us on a Sunday, mid-morning
maybe (judging by the light) after the night before
in fine camaraderie, starting in on the left over booze.
Framed there on the porch, flanked by wooden Doric
columns in a theatrical setting, the day's light filling
our hearts, tides of future disasters and departures for one
moment stilled - we are kinsmen on the ramparts
at Fort Apache - is there a wraith of smoke, an Autumn
fire in the middle distance? I am thankful for that
moment through you remembered. Tonight here in Sydney,
the moon is rounding out full, (a torch held by an
invisible hand) tracking the waves back across the Tasman
to pass over in sea mist, dissolve the telegraph poles
along the beach toward The Spit at Aramoana.
Peter, I guess some might say we are as pieces removed
from the chess board, out of the main game, set aside
as though to recall past battles and forays into other
peoples' lives - collectors of facts and figures, maintaining
our Book of Tithes, tally of worn down hurts and hungers.
Dispatches from behind the lines and times till Doomsday
rings through the heart's emptied chambers, that deep
belling sound as tectonic plates shift in the Southern Ocean.
Note: Peter Olds is a New Zealand poet who first came to prominence
in the early seventies. He has published several collections of poetry, the
most recent of which is titled, Music Therapy. He lives in Dunedin.
Such forests strewn over Poland! Wintry
sticks. And snow. These things I have not seen.
The indigene tells of this; those blackened
things caught between - like birch trunks, heavy
coated soldiers over drift - deepening loss.
Every night it is the same, greenly spun
in the iced-cube light of skyscrapers, the Master
Chef dreams he is pitched from the highest
viewing deck in all the world: Grollo Tower,
down through boiling mist into the river Yarra.
July is the coldest month; odours freeze
on the air, vowels solid as hail-stones can slip
centimetres off the tongue in the mouth’s
burrow. Somebody is pierced by silence as with a
bayonet, there! standing hard by the tumulus.
Snow bound, snow blind, the sleety night,
road signs indicate left or right are one breath.
Rocket mist settles over Lake Baikal -
the forecast promises another successful launch;
tomorrow, we extend our sight further yet.
Nostalgia killed her, my mother, for the
Ireland she’d never seen - that, and the harsh
realities of family; a catholic cocktail, why
it sheered off into a broken dream, drunkenness,
children become Priests of the Pragmatic.
Stephen Oliver's recent book, Ballads, Satire & Salt - A Book
of Diversions, can be ordered through Titus Books.
Back to Front.