Issue 30: Anthony Lawrence

A Spectral Weight

My father's father's brother kept a book he'd bound in snakeskin,

or it might have been the fish skin

            he'd removed with a surgeon's skill, prior to tanning.

He lived in a caravan and wrote poems in Cymraeg.

My father swears, having heard

            a recording of my great uncle reading during a storm,

the caravan roof like sustained applause, that the poems were

like trying to translate the cries

            of a dying animal, or animals that had come to mourn

its death. It made me want to stage an intervention, dad says.

When I ask for more information,

            his face darkens. Some of those stand-ins for vowels

            were self-contained spells. Whoever opens that snake-

or-fish-skinned journal is haunted by poetry. I believe you, dad,

I say, behind the false wall

            of my hand, whenever he summons the hurt he says

he endured, and still carries around like a spectral weight.





Unfiltered Things


Having translated the call of the night heron (a rare visitor

to this harbour) into a phrase about need being a human

invention, you enter the oxygen tent of a rain squall 

like a stand-in for yourself, a half-speed remaster for whom

memory is unreliable confidant and witness, and you take

it all in, the way the drive and stall of wind makes a hollow 

for the rain, the way it stings your face into an expression

of delight in unfiltered things, such as a bird that trails

a tapering, white line from a comb-over of feathers

and a vision of yourself when young, pinned to a crazing

of pine bark in a thunderstorm as mud crabs click

like a dimmer switch that turns dusk to night, first star

to a radiation burn on the head of a rescue dog whose

pedigree of razorback hunter and mouse catcher could

not save her from the stainless steel table and needle,

this is how isolation works on the head when you've not

seen the horizon for weeks, except for the frozen swell

in a Nordic noir thriller, and apart from sleepwalking

between the vanishing points of bedroom, refrigerator,

and a wide screen alternative to travel and a vague sense

of community, you remember the day your cousin led

her horse down bob-cat corrugations into a hole where

a man with a rifle was waiting, you know it's time to leave

the land, so you push the kayak out and start paddling,

your body conforming to old familiar rhythms, and below

an osprey nest overspilling from the top of a deep water

channel marker, you look back as lights come on along

the shore as a bird strips a fish to the cage of its bones

to feed her fledglings, and someone, somewhere, as vector

or receiver, palms a metal hand rail, waves, and moves on.

Anthony Lawrence has published eighteen books of poetry and a novel. His books and individual poems have won numerous awards, including the Prime Ministers Literary Award for Poetry, The New South Wales and Queensland Premier’s Awards, and the Blake Poetry Award. His work has appeared in Blackbox Manifold, Rialto, Tears in the Fence, Magma and Stand. He teaches Creative Writing at Griffith university, Queensland, and lives on Moreton Bay. 

Copyright © 2023 by Anthony Lawrence, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author