lies


1.

singing singing and hoping to remember the map beat dust unknowing as grass

hoping to remember the voices in the back of the throats of the old women and old men sitting

waiting for the ground to wake up to begin again the real life


hoping to remember what is far away the home hidden in the rocks

like a stone in the palm sweaty and complete closed and singing its own

song its self  evidence not mouth not body not necessary to singing   its self


but your eyes sing without help of the fragile voice without the you in them

the honey or the bee in them your eyes can without the you stinging

voice singing on its own a lost thing empty singing solo and discrete as a violin



2.

and then

the eyes take up the singing and the country sings under them too like a rapt rhapsody

in clay rusty earth again like we know the country's mine-blistered heart

and there will be the grit in the eye the long lines stretched sharp as a child's voice in the cold


you come back to the song

without knowing the place without centre because you've never put your feet

on the soil you drag out the cold winter sheets of somewhere else flapping other songs

as if they meant something when the dirt red calls out in its uninitiated voice to you  you take words

instead to escape before you fall into the trap of not meaning not articulating pins


and then the voice is on the country and it knows you

when you come back like an old dog to the home bone both sniffing each and each

the red soil sticking to the feet the heart the hand the song knowing the country

like heartburn the absence of nourishment the red burning the gut


still its song calls out

thin as a morning shallow as the sky you call out like darts harpoons knives

finding home you look you talk for nothing its the thin song missing in the words

you're a star-branded half-thing




and you come back to where you've never been before and the song is in the ground

like something you won't understand and won't accept but it's there and you begin

to know how to take gifts graciously as if deserving or knowing why


and you come back to where you've never been before country new with a sky bigger

populated by strangers with odd odd eight eight rhythms not country and western but big centre

music silent in the buzzing air stranger than the alien myths you grew up with all strangers


you can't know what strangers to believe what stones to caress what sky to breathe in

what beasts are real and what are stories constructed out of fear what hands hide

and what they powder-soft reveal like a grandma prestidigitator quickfingered as sorrows

for things unknown and undiscovered like the graves of children or the hopes of mothers


and with the cargo of words you are as replete and unspeaking as a rock

sandblasted with words in a language you don't understand

you go striding with words on the hips ready to john wayne anyone who suggests

you're swallowed by an alien culture


but

the stone sings in your hand you

will understand the speech of landscape

the tonguing rivers the multicoloured sky you build


3.

I make promises too

to work harder eat less dream more but

it's nothing like birth

nothing like horizons


nothing like the archipelagos

of hopes we had before

some of us


even now we're discovering

new sites for massacres

new dirges


and walk with noisy feet

through the bones of money

and long empty middens


I have the stone still

perhaps it will remember to tell

the truth in its thin misery


4.

the first wave


the eagle and the crow sit in the tree wait for the old ones to return

and they look out into the long horizons of Paterson's curse purple filing off

into the distances going out into the slit of blue red yellow black sky

they are minding their own dreams the eagle and the crow the love symbols

of the father's country the heart images beak to beak with the worn ensigns of tribal europeans


how to survive


in the land bitter bitten and barren silent as a mother's darning needle

quietened songs dampened down back pedalled the pillow to the face the bushfired breath

we're aliens too bereft to speak too full of lies to travel far

even the stars are spooked into a rough silence an impossible desire

to see the crow and eagle


they've made a new thing


out of what is left the sad looking for language in each other and in the hills

the kadaitja treads through history trying to cover up the treachery of their own forgetting

of the dark birds the camping sites the old ones dead in trees with songs as hollow

as Her Bab-ie Bin Doin Her Wrong   they take the goanna the land thing knowing just enough to avoid

the things of the air they take the goanna and have forgotten the birds of the old song

and we gubba  have nothing


stand struck stupid like sheep ready

for the dipping mute and guilt hungry

eating the country and not knowing

and waiting for you to speak songs

in a language you've forgotten

and we never knew



you gather myths like honey

melliflua sweet and ephemeral


5.

still there's a stone dreaming


he places his putty hands on the sharp edge of the stones

feels the ground edge of an axe palms it like a man about to sell out


his real house


stands by water high enough for crows enough for the wedge-tailed eagle

it looks towards the sun across the rolling sunstripping squares of pasture


he remembers seeing one


time the people come in small groups the children playing some game through the bush there

and there millstone placed on top of its mate like goannas like turtles mating slow but thrilling

                               

someone asks where this stone comes from


his sad treasuring eyes see the stones he touches the base of his sternum

before he replies he does not know is what he says more than that he cannot


before questions


his eyes are wary and he advances logic like a fence a long stick in the fire

we have him by the heart


so answering


he holds his hands together like milling stones

like women's work near the river


6.

and leaving and entering


you speed past the precisely burnt hills with horses standing around like cocktail waitresses

invisible lines of lost relatives hold a spear to your spine you see them at home

translucent in the hills women carrying children the quick lost language boiling with stories


then


a colt-legged American steps into the frame and whinnies for its kind stranded in Ustralia

and you think yourself oppressed by these people until you see the highway

shrugging up the houses for a town the formal cactus garden among the Paterson's curse


you do not feel victorious


so assume it is the irish in you tipperary natives with uncertain pasts

looking for something you alien you don't know what some rebellion some bloodshed perhaps

and the air sits as still as stone the trees take your breath away



a cuckoo shrike spears into the air


and stinking of something dead the wedge-tail eagle hangs in the sky

listening to our embarrassed conversation our heavy footsteps our foraging beaks

our laughing at rivers at each other at any unusual  we are skittish and place our hooves recklessly



we are so many animals


the Americans want to sell their golf clubs just one or two previous owners

you can get a good price then one sings a song full of rhythms   his land

and you forgive the tiny boil on the back of his neck and that he is rude and stupid


                                   

7.

list


galah

sulfur crested cockatoo

peewee

kookaburra


rosellas (eastern, crimson)

magpies

wagtails

blue heron


grass parrots

flashing their undersides like a joke


fantail

brown kite

wood duck

black duck

tern


noisy miner

more and more

and there


rocks like disappointed

statues stand in crowds


I am bare eyed to the quick

the line

of the country

slips into the retina

blunt as a tic



8.

at the river children stick like flies and the river goes on like a cliche

I sit on the steps of a 400 year old river gum the river goes on thrashing the stones to oblivion


the dispossessed the aliens the out on a limb the ill at ease the deaf the Americans

discuss flights home embarkations   rates of exchange


we other gubba discuss ourselves her relatives grow out of her mouth like leprechauns

and fill the bus and I fold up the map where Hume and Hovel discovered new names


the Wiradjuri are in a circle of their own the soft-eyed ones sit around them

a man gesticulates watching the buses  counting them   one two three in case they go


an American swings her walkman by the strap

the private hidden dramas

and angry births

                                      

9.

up with the stubs of trees

sheoaks and baby leafed gums


he points his finger into my sight

amphora pipe tobacco in my breath


You'll send me the song, he says

Yes I say, I lie


every time he comes here he goes

back into the past

not his own



this is fine grained granite country

the black-backed rocks inside pink like bled flesh

and mica sparks in the sun


we are going to the cave



we walk up the hill through the brittle blackberry

and there in a cage with a sign

a picture of a river and people and animals

I recognise but can't read


at the base of the cave

a curled spike of new-born bracken

a fabulous fractal thing


and the river is on the wall

the women bearing children

their hands above their heads

they hold something I cannot make out


the ochre is faded

the Wiradjuri have been a long time

coming back

you can hear the screams

in the cave


one American stays behind

It's sad she says

Yes I say


but she sees no one here

not the woman giving birth

not the eagle not the crow


a dingo is watchful as we leave

and on the way back

crows reactivate the land

as we pass



10.

around the fire the Wiradjuri sing old American songs

I threw my memories away

something died as I cried

for my broken souvenirs

the gubba think these are old songs and laugh as the band does another

My tribal songs and legends

I only know a few. So I play country and western

on my home-made didgeridoo


the Wiradjuri laugh too

they have heard the joke before and are too slick not to laugh sad


11.

at the mission the Wiradjuri tell the story gubba style

and think I can't understand

flash remarks in the few private words

flung across the grass


I know I'm gubba

I have no old songs either

make do with the new

an immigrant stranger of unknown parentage

born of this country yes

at least not an American

I sit apart from them


but to the Wiradjuri it's all the same

we're no different to the yanks with their golf clubs


and us other gubba

are dispossessed by history and guilt



even to be sanguine is to be out of fashion

you pay your bills and watch the horizon's edge come over like a stone

I have seen the night come softly

on kadaitja boots

and I am looking for my country



[‘Lies’ was published in: Mortifications & Lies, Kardoorair Press, Armidale, 2004 and won the Queensland Premier’s Award for Poetry]





© Chris Mansell Email info@chrismansell.com for permission to reproduce content or images.

See the Copyright Terms of Use page.   Last updated: 13 October 2014

This site is archived by Pandora for the National Library of Australia at http://nla.gov.au/nla.arc-43307


 

CHRIS MANSELL

australian poet










Full text of the poem ‘Lies’. Part of this poem appeared in Antipodes: poetic responses,

ed. Margaret Bradstock (Phoenix Education, 2011).



lies