Issue 4: John Tranter

Well-equipped Men

Lately I’ve been looking at old-fashioned plaids.

I’m sure I deserve a beautiful suit. Call me,

before the Hong Kong tailor leaves town.

I hear the songs popular in the seventies

yet I shall never return to the past, that attic,

nor bid for the tawdry items that were on offer

from the poorest chamber-pot to the glittering jewel,

oh God, if we had been in clever Cleveland ―

I would have voted for a dazzling uniform

in a silent room, and a loaded sawn-off shotgun,

sawn in half for a leading role in the documentary

about the muscley brothers in the rusting truck

on target for the abortion clinic: the news story

inflamed them and no one is responsible.

The Drunk at the Lecture

We would have lost a nuclear war

if one had happened, but I was busy

paying off my darling’s credit cards, and

I wouldn’t have noticed. The news bleeds

from one side of this great continent

to the other. Drab Gelman, that was his name.

He was often more formal than one needed to be.

Is that a sign of some deep inferiority?

When things went wrong he bounced back.

Everybody wondered who the new arrival was,

but he was just the old arrival in a suit, speaking

English well and Italian badly, the lingo of Leslie

the Offender. Laughing, I maintain her in the style

to which she would like to become accustomed. 

Down by the Station

He knew he had to find a meal ticket.

The last racket was a turkey. Then the scene

changed, but intermittently, as through dark mist, 

and he found that he had become fashionable.

He travelled up to his old college. So there he was,

week-long, the honouree and his gadget:

a shoulder holster with a spring release.

He should have met Leonard Woolf first thing

this morning at the station, but he was pie-eyed

and one of the servants had to do it. Last month

he placed the folded bribe in the blue envelope

and dabbed the back with a little honey

like a seal or a kiss. Now his filibuster accent

is on the evening news in the Year of the Dog.

Lateral Sclerosis

Small loans are the ruin of the older folk in

Country Antrim, but in nearby Muckamore

they’re laughing. Mr. Sillars went over them

carefully ― we all want that reporter off-limits ―

and the letter he provided for a signing-on fee

seemed valid. Getting the focus right is hard:

thirty dollars on the one hand, one billion euros

on the other: one hungry family is a tragedy,

a million a statistic. This information is useless.

I want to go back, out of the bad stories.

Be sure to include some of the rebels in the army.

And carry a gun. If they can put up with their comrades

their mournful future will take on a classical look,

like a military history getting ready to be recorded.

Bohemians en route

More people, less room. This motel sure has

a prickly atmosphere. The storm subsided;

the dwarf led you to the end of a street.

Her rehearsal of fear and alarm is an act,

learned beautifully in London back in the

fifties. Can we go back there, please?

Love for the cute animal is contagious.

One also has the infants to think about

as we circle around the small museum

which is really a 3-D colour diapositive

of the usual Mexican tourist trap, including

blue margaritas: sugar and salt on the rim

of a glass of hooch on the slippery table, and now

I am a two-man woman on the run.

Good Times

This is a great time for theology. Satan

is everywhere, which makes you optimistic.

A good opponent stirs debate. But if so,

she with her loud ‘kill the money’ rant

speaks more harshly than we need.

The soul has to stay where it is, where

the janitor hoovers a new home for the killer ―

dial 911, quickly! Here they come:

a gang of Mafia thugs from Sicily where the

‘pleure similar douceur’ is kept for the tourists,

more than half of whom are full of drink,

calm and voluptuous as the poem says, where

calm is the effect of severe brain trauma and

very little tantalises the inner child.

John Tranter has published more than twenty collections of verse. His collection of new and selected poems, Urban Myths: 210 Poems: New and Selected (University of Queensland Press, and Salt Publishing, Cambridge UK) won the Victorian state award for poetry in 2006, the New South Wales state award for poetry in 2007, the South Australian state award for poetry in 2008, and the 2008 South Australian Premier’s Prize for the best book overall (fiction, non-fiction, poetry and others for the years 2006 and 2007). His next book will be Starlight: 150 poems, UQP, 2010. He co-edited the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry, which for over a decade was the standard text in its field. He has lived at various times in London, Melbourne, Singapore, and Brisbane, and now lives in Sydney, where he is a company director. He is the editor of the free Internet magazine Jacket (, the founder of the APRIL project at, and has a homepage at