Giving Voice to the Brunswick Valley
a selection of village poems

I belong to the Brunswick Valley
located in the north-east corner of New South Wales, Australia.
The Valley is shaped by the Brunswick River as it flows from the Mt Warning (Wollumbini) caldera to the sea.
Many of my poems are about that place and the peoples it has shaped.
My conceit is that my poems play a part in giving voice to the Valley.
John (Jack) Bird

Index of Village Poems

Saturday Bath,  1940

The Tribe

Tweed Valley Flood

Anzac Child

Somewhere to come from

Count Your Blessings

The Batman

Backpackers, Byron Bay

Elm Street, Lismore

Home Delivery, 1940

One Cicada Singing

Village Keeper

The Antbed Court

Village Poet

The Paragon Cafe

Wollumbin Kangaroo

Holiday Whiting

Village Butcher,  1940

Boy with Dog

Country News,  1940

Murwillumbah Saw Mill

Fishing Partners

Caravans and Whales

Lady at the Park Swing

to front page


Within Mount Warning's oversight,
stuck like a crumb on its caldera lip,
Chincogan slumps, less a mountain
than leading hump of a camel.

At its feet my Mullumbimby,
slumbers in a mud-blind coil
of the Brunswick River
slithering flatlands to the sea.

Mullum's a town full of aunties
and love. Its pioneer mettle's survived
grafts of axemen, farmers and ferals,
waves of the naked hairies.

The width of its streets was set
by the swing of an oxen span
hauling cedar to float downriver
to insatiable lumber ships.

Like bristled chins rough-shaven,
the bared hills steadily bled
their topsoil to river to sea –
everything's down to the sea.

Buttermilk nursed the Brunswick
but chamber-of-commerce toxins
changed the river that drained our valley
to a cost-effective drain.

Cake stalls built the hospital
now besieged by counters of beans
who know what's best for us
and our dying expectations.

No more the trains that brought
enlightened drifters like me
rattling home to wait their turn
to leach down to the sea.

pic of Mullum - later

 poetry index  

Holiday Whiting

"Time to get the whiting, Jack"

Grandma would wake me, whispering
so's not to disturb the tent-full of others.
She'd hand me a slice of toast-n-dripping,
three sea worms for bait, and she'd say:
"Go and get the whiting – enough for six,
remember six, Jack."

Whiting in the Brunswick River
were more certain than bread at the store.
If tide and the timing weren't right
fish for breakfast just took longer,
in those days of "go and get".
And what did I know about fishing?
It was worms, line on a bottle,
sugar-bag to hold the fish, wriggling
wet and cold against my back.

While her fuel stove crackled
and fillets in the iron pan sizzled
I'd bask in Grandma's praise
and the bounty of love and fishes.

 poetry index  

Elm Street, Lismore

The town is pregnant and sagging
as afternoon storms build up.
A telephone man squats in his pit,
stews in its sauna, watches
her swollen ankles skirt
the root-buckled road.

Blue blurs stir on deep verandahs,
fish-flash of a turning face,
shadow bends to flowerbox.
Kitchen curtains are purdah screens
for unanchored eyes of folks
who own the sporting dogs
that savaged her children's cat
now mewling within her arms.

And who, asks a Lismore matron,
is minding her fatherless kids
while she traipses down to the vet's,
dapple-dipping under elms
planted to shade town pioneers
and owners of pig dogs and pick-ups?

Commended Centoria's Centrefold poetry competition, 2000
Commended Forest FAW competition, 2000
Highly Commended FAW Moocooloobah competition, 2001
2nd prize FAW Lismore competition, 2001

 poetry index  

Home Delivery, 1940

He came from South Australia via the mines of Broken Hill…
but the women who girdled his life wouldn't abide
too much talk of that or Pop's bare-knuckle boxing
lest God and the town got to hear of it.

Against the odds the larrikins laid
Grandma got him Right with God,
and none too soon for it seems...
but let's have no talk about that,
He's out there listening still.

Pop Lamb stood up, stood up for Jesus
in the tray of Mallam's grocery cart –
Mullum's Salvation Soldier,
upright as the Cross,
balanced by a fingertip of rein,
tapes of his flannel long-johns tied around his braces.
He sang God's praise to horse and town,
both loved him for his Joy
and honest delivery.

The barn where he kept the horses
and a lumpy old carpet snake,
reeked of grain, leather, horse piss.
When he'd done unhitching and hung up the tack
he'd spit on his palms, put up his dukes
and we'd go a few rounds in the dust –
straight-left-right-cross combos. We'd end
with our pledge: never tell the womenfolk.

Swaggies passed the word back along the track
that he ran a hand-out home
for those down on their luck,
that his graces weren't too long
and he didn't come on strong
with God-bothering stuff –
they'd leave, with a bit-for-the-road,
a laugh,
and their pride intact.

His ludo board was pitted by millions of taps
from gnarled nails emphatically counting squares
but somehow he never won
no matter how hard he talked to the dice
or rattled them round their leather cup,
but not on Sundays of course.

Pop carried the Salvo banner so high
no-one could hardly miss it.
His Amens went deep as China.
and his Halleluyahs scared
the devil out of Brunswick Valley.
In the middle pub they bought his War Cry,
got a handshake and a Bless You Brother,
and the gift of knowing anything's possible.

Just imagine his meeting with God –
you know,
Pop freshly dead but checking Him out
to see if He measured up
to what Grandma had said.

Commended (as 'Pop') in FAW Lismore competitions in 1997 and in 2000
2nd Prize FAW Moocoolooba literary competition, 2001

 poetry index  

Village Butcher,  1940

Cleaver hits, the skull splits,
meaty fists tear halves apart,
two fingers scoop the brains
plopping from each hemisphere.

The butcher presents for my approval
pink-veined jelly on greased paper
(customers snicker but I don't flinch)
then he double-wraps it in the dailies.

And a pound of cutlets, please sir, I say.
He chucks the sheep's head into a bucket,
loose offal drops to the sawdust floor.
He lifts me up so I stand on a block,
(one of three, like in Ashton's circus)
and I begin to sing:
Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
Ye soldiers of the cross…

From the running rail he unhooks
a carcass dressed in flesh and bone,
shoulders it down a sawdust track,
drops it to straddle a spare block
like a hurdling beast in flight.
Lift high His royal banner,
It must not suffer loss.

Knives clunk in his leather scabbard,
he whips one down his rasping steel
then cuts, cuts, cuts allegro.
Build on the Rock, the Rock that ever stands,
Build on the Rock, and not upon the sand.

Block three: another artist saws and chops,
delighting the cognoscenti.
The letters on the engine spell J.E.S.U.S.

Customers watch them but listen to me
as I finish the last of my Sunday School songs.
While slapping the wrapping around my chops
the butcher asks our audience: Well,
what do you think? Has he earned
some bones for his dog

1st Prize Hastings FAW competition, 2000

 poetry index  

Boy with Dog

Word whips through the timber town, empties the corner store.
Rising from her midday nap, grandma gapes and asks what's up.
An aproned woman wrings her hands, a picker leaves his oranges,
the miller stills his docking saw, the word is heard all round: "Come'n see.
There's this boy, about thirteen, dragging his dog through town."

The dog is lying on a bag – a hessian sled, pulled by a gangly boy
who shuffles backwards, crouching low, so the dog won't tumble off.
Mid-summer shimmer, shaded eyes, reluctant nodding heads:
ah, yes, its chest is still, the dog is dead and the boy is crying-blind
as he hauls it down the road, scraping a trail in the gravel.

A woman fills a tin mug, cool well water, starts towards the boy
but props when her husband growls: "For Christ's sake let the lad be."
The world slows as the boy stops, kneels and positions the dog,
picks ants from blood in its ear, transfers his rag hat to it.
Fifty yards ahead a lady waves her hanky to keep the traffic clear.

A truck rumbles by – wash of relief – then back to the boy
dragging his dog, plowing the haze, brushing off flies with a twig.
The watchers flinch as bag rasps on grit, but hold their ground.
A baby cries. A dog is called to heel. While the boy, the boy
drags his dog beyond the furthest house and releases the village.

Commended, Max Harris literary awards, 2000
Highly Commended, Henry Lawson Grenfell competition, 2000 and published in its anthology
Published Central Coast Poets anthology, 2000
Published 'Moving On With Giggles and Dreams', 2002

 poetry index  

Country News,  1940

By the top of the grade the passenger train's
in a left-hand curve and down to a walk.
Six felt-hatted men planted waist-deep
in a bracken patch: one starts, all join in,
Paper—Paper. Paper—Paper—Paper.

The chant works – windows glint up,
elbows throw rolled-up papers out
beyond the train's sooty veil, to arc
in slow motion, tumbling end-over-end
through other-world air until the wind
catches, and pages flare like sprung egrets
that flutter down, bring War to the bush, spill
the King and his Dogs and Princesses, land
Bradman, Darcy and Phar Lap at the gang's feet.

In the rockabye wake of the train
fettlers turn hunters, race after fugitive pages,
jam the Catholic Worker under a Herald masthead,
crush fruit and vege market reports into comics.
One presses Womans Weekly patterns, recipes
and a smiling Queen against his sweaty singlet.
Wearing self-conscious grins and their spoils
they scramble back to their railway trikes
where they pin down the news until knock-off time,
under wooden tucker boxes.

Highly Commended Henry Kendall Poetry Awards, 2002
Published in Henry Kendall Awards anthology 'Bird Before Landing' 2002
Published 'Moving On With Giggles and Dreams', 2002

poetry index  

Saturday Bath,  1940

Kerosene came in four-gallon drums
Dad made into wire-handled buckets
that we used at the well, and for bailing out
slippery suds from our laundry copper –
hot water from Mum's weekly wash.

I emptied my share in the galvanized tub
brought down from the kitchen wall.
Cold crept in where wall slabs had shrunk
so I set my tub close by the open fire
whose logs had turned to a crumbly red.
I aligned tub handles with floorboard cracks,
sat back-to-door while I studied embers
for twenty minutes while water cooled;
the solitude as precious as heat.

They thought it a privacy-modesty thing.
It was much too hard to explain
I couldn't share what I saw in the fire
while I sat there wet and naked.

 poetry index  

Village Poet

Max is a poet. I know because he
savours yellow and smells the sky,
scoops happiness out of honey,
touches music, won't say soul, and
he owns the only beret round here.

He idles his days in a beach shack,
picks poetry out of sea breezes
and suffers a limp that slows him enough
to know the ways of sugar ants.

When Max visits, my dictionary
twitches about on the shelf,
its words demanding attention,
but Max picks and sorts with his ears,
his infallible seashell filters.

Max once howled with Ginsberg,
sipped syruptea in Nepal, has lived
in villages where they employ
professional writers of words.

We mainly manage our own,
but it's nice to know that if love, or
other odd things need speaking of,
we've got this poet who minds
our village well of words.

 poetry index  

Tweed Valley Flood

A thunderhead sprouts in the south,
slow-boils, grey-white, tormented
inside-out, riding the Great Divide,
searching for our valley.

Ripped open by MacPherson's Range
it dumps on forest slopes, turns rivulets
to cataracts that start the Tweed racing
between its sinking banks.

Wind flails trees in a whip-lash dance,
flattens paspalum fields, thrashes cane,
cowers the cattle, then suddenly stills
like a child whose tantrum's spent.

A cage of rain maroons Murwillumbah,
rising tides infiltrate its down-town streets
and in the Court House pub they nod and talk
of record highs, of bridges now gone under.

The river slips its banks, skins farm plots
and wears their pelts as an earthy stain.
The flood spreads out to efface our world
then, like a thief, carries its chattels away.

Duranbah heights, ghosted in grey shrouds,
look down on the moving valley floor, and
over to faint Tumbulgum where drumming rain
drowns out St Peter's prayers, on this the fifth day.

Commended FAW Lismore competition, 2002
1st Prize Eastwood/Hills FAW competition, 2002
Published 'Moving On With Giggles and Dreams', 2002

 poetry index  

Murwillumbah Saw Mill

Morning glory has grabbed his slab and shingle home
at the dead end of a dirt track in a muted Tweed valley
of timber butts, grey tombstones. Awkward handshake.
We sit on stumps and chat. His empty shirt sleeve flaps.

I know he sees my eyes drawn down to his one hand
where orphan thumb bridges three stumps to touch
a stubby little finger; the nicotine stains line up.
Flicks a woodchip, says his boys've moved to town.

I look at the rusted-up mill, imagine a giant log
chained to a lumbering trolley. I hear the ripsaw shriek...
Mechanical failure? Carelessness? Nemesis?
He talks with pride of forebears – pioneer cedar getters.

Does he relive the mutilation? Forgive those children
who flinch from his touch? Sour silence: no birdsong.
He finally asks, “What do you think this place'd bring?”
indicating its range with a wave of his wasteland hand.

As 'Stumps' Commended Ballarat Writers competition, 2000
Equal 1st Prize Midland Vacation literary competition, 2000
Published 'Idiom 23, Vol 13 No 1', 2001

 poetry index  

The Tribe

Benny crowds between Dad and Pop,
adds his legs to their sea-wall dangle,
waits for the stories to start,
for autumn evening breeze
to cool the fish-n-chips.

Pop hugs the parcel, recalls
he's caught millions of bream in that bay,
and how this park, once Jonson's farm,
grew taters bigger'n Benny's head.
Things sure change, he says, like
they split the atom and went to the moon
yet nobody knows what's right from wrong.
Benny grins, rats a chip from the parcel end.

Pop lets out steam,
places the parcel in Benny's lap
where everyone can reach.
Dad frets that changes come too fast
and communities fall apart,
breaks off a chunk of flake.
Pop throws chips to the gulls, says
God and everythin's up for grabs,
nothin's the same no more,
cold rocks are no good for piles.

Three shadows
on the edge of Byron Bay;
the tang of fish-n-chips.

1st Prize Kings Cross Senior's literary competition, 1999
Published 'Moving On With Giggles and Dreams' 2002

 poetry index  

Somewhere to come from

Bus late again.
Fred's at the wheel, I guess.

I lean on the gate. The gravel track
snakes back to house and bails.
Here, beyond the constrictor coils,
I can almost breathe.

D-Day bus come transport me
from country cloister to lascivious city,
tomorrow-now is waiting for me,
life flying unfettered by seasons,
never slowed to nature's rhythms.

Thank God they're milking or they'd see me off.
Pathetic defined by pain and labour
and uncertainty.
She slipped me the phonecard;
he, fifty bucks in my sock he said; for that,
the muscle and will to fight, thank you both.
Two in a row hit the letter can damn!
why did I promise I'd write?

Goodbye green prison,
retreat I gladly forsake.
Perhaps one day I'll visit later, if, when ...
for fallowing
between campaigns.
But my roots? font? identity? Crap!
Just ... somewhere to come from.

Aboard at last.
No rear windows
in buses these days.
Modern times,

Published in University of Southern Queensland's 'Coppertales', 1999

 poetry index  

Count Your Blessings

If I still had my bike I'd leave this dreadful place,
I'd rumble back up north, rejoin the human race,
I'd find that country town and take the old dirt track,
I'd shout the farmhouse down: It's me! It's Kev! I'm back!

Suppose I got new clothes and freshened up a bit,
And Doc could cure the clap and get me off the shit,
Y' think they'd take me in? Or would they die for shame?
Perhaps they'd somehow know that I've been on the game.

Kevin count your blessings, name them one by one,
Was Mum's pathetic plea to me her restless son.
I couldn't live like them, those years of hanging on
With heart attacks and broken backs; the farm's dead and gone.

For them the bush was home, to me an irksome rut,
Each day the wander lust was gnawing at my gut.
"What do you want?" they asked. I told them, "Everything,
And now before I'm dead from years of dairying."

Dad promised me the farm, said I'd become the boss,
He couldn't understand to me that was a cross.
My sis just up and left without a lot of strife,
But if you're born a son the sentence runs for life.

I fled to Sydney's Cross and now I work the Wall,
I troll the crowd for guys who're out to have a ball.
I've got to catch two more, I hardly pause for breath,
My pimp says eight a night and threatens me with death.

I think I'm getting Aids, I've never felt this sick,
My stomach aches with cramp, I'm screaming for a fix.
The last guy beat me up, he wanted sado stuff,
My bum is raw and sore, he couldn't get enough.

Here comes the Salvo guy, I wish he'd take my hand
And sing redemption songs to help me understand;
Kevin, count your blessings, name them one by one,
Kevin, count your blessings, see what God has done.

Published 'Galloping On, No VIII', 1997

 poetry index  

The Paragon Café

To distract Maria from her lament
about being Greek in a country town
we enquire about the Heroic Lover.
She gives a bosom-shaking shrug
and glares across at her Papa
hand-washing the heavy china.

Fortressed inside a hippie gown
Miss Crystal flip-flops an entrance,
sprinkles some Mona Lisa about,
decides whose table to grace,
and finally fluffs and settles
like a Rhode Island Red. Miss Crystal
sips herbal tea, lets distance fill her eyes
–Aquarius was many moons ago–
twists rings recessed in her dolly fingers,
jiggles teardrop earrings, healing crystals,
and sighs, her décolletage endlessly deep.
Did a youngerman leave her here
while he chased fresher rainbows?
If music and mood are right she'll sing
somebody-done-me-wrong songs
straining the words through a veil of hair
brushed straight and tragically long.

A rusty fan pesters the humid air,
lays more history on the ceiling.

At six bells the Cap'n drops anchor
at his window seat where his eyes
re-water with spume from Spicy Isles
while his body remains to meter
Paragon hours in short blacks.
Embossed veins on parchment skin
map a route through liver-spot islands.
Perched on his poop-deck stool he rolls
his own, one-handed. His fists were forged
to haul sheets, reef sails, fight the helm
around The Horn in Hornblower winters.
One day I'll ask this castaway man
how he shipwrecked on our shores.
But then, perhaps I won't –
how much wonder would I trade
for a few domestic facts.

A truckie steps over the mongrel
asleep cross-pawed at the door.
Mixed grill with the works!
Papa flicks suds from his hands,
pushes through a doorway of beads
to fix it right away.

Commended Mosh-e 2002-2003 poetry competition
2nd Bauhinia Literary Awards, 2003
Published 'Idiom 23, Vol 16', 2004
Published 'Moving On With Giggles and Dreams' 2002

 poetry index  

Anzac Child

What are those children doing here
like wraiths in Lismore's dawn?
I pray it's not to toy with fear;
do they have dead to mourn?

Hear bugle calls, see campaign scrolls;
may we join in those games?
Come read the marbled honour rolls,
those must be heroes' names

Watch scouts and guides in toddling ranks
form threes and wheel about.
Troops face the front! Dress by the flanks!
Who shouts such orders out?

Entranced by pomp and war's romance
each lays a yellow wreath
with downcast head in servile stance
novitiates beneath

a warrior gilt by morning light
who aches to make them hear
his tale of children led to fight
before they'd learnt to fear.

He died in vain if innocents
adopt this martial place
to bow their heads in reverence,
seduced by war's embrace.

Commended Henry Lawson Grenfell competition, 1998
Highly Commended Eastwood/Hills FAW competition, 1998
1st Prize Hastings FAW competition, 1998
Published Grand National Poetry Stakes, 1999

 poetry index  

Fishing Partners

The pattern, power, set of waves at sea,
sad shrill of wind and shrieking cry of birds,
in tang of salt on tongue, through mystery,
Bill's world works, other than by words.

The living deck is drumming to his feet,
the wheel's alive and quickening his hand,
a straining engine's growl, the sting of sleet;
this whirl of senses Bill can understand.

But Lucy fathoms life by what is said,
she needs to hear a thing before it's real,
as words dry up so Lucy learns to dread
the sea which makes her Bill seem hard as steel.

His fishing hands are scarred by net and line,
they chafe across her trembling coddled skin,
his awkward lips, split deep by sun and brine,
cannot express the love entrapped within.

The Brunswick wall is where she goes to wait
on stormy days when fishing boats run late;
a vigil kept beside the ocean tomb,
a losing fight against her sense of doom.

When home alone she waits her life away,
confronts a fear that stalks her every day,
what hope has she against the siren sea
whose song can reach to house or harbour lee.

She dreams about another kind of life
in which she lives as ordinary wife
to banking man, a father, gentle, bland,
or farmer boy whose feet are safe on land.

A role of cozy bliss? A tempting part,
but head is serf before a hostage heart;
she shakes herself to break the reverie,
turns back to look for lights far out to sea.

Highly Commended Hastings FAW competitions, 1997 and 1998
Commended Macarthur FAW competition, 1998
1st Prize Bundaberg Arts Festival, 1998
Published 'Galloping On # X', 1999
Published 'Moving On With Giggles and Dreams', 2002

 poetry index  

Caravans & Whales

When autumn chill reaches southern bones
caravans and whales start heading north,
all those not footy freaks or hibernating
migrate toward our milder latitude —
caravans and whales in littoral balance,
convoys and pods of beasts abreast.

Byron Bay obliquely eyes these hulks,
relentless in their scavenging for warmth,
like swarms of locusts feeding by degrees
they go swarming ever northward after heat.
Vans settle into parks like nesting chooks,
whales wallow down in balmy breeding seas.
To locals they're like meters of the seasons
and welcomed as the fruitful tourist rain,
until we wave the blowhards home again.

 poetry index  

Village Keeper

A cow-couchant guards the goal
at the railway end of the oval, where
our boys did us proud last week.

Immune from apprehension,
cool jersey of the last defence
chews cud, dribbles, nods,
watches spring grass shoot,
her belly holding the ground where
Visitors' shot-to-win was blocked
by Jake's save on the siren.

We carried the shield round here
spewed champagne about
mopped up adulation, then signed on
for the cricket season.

Behind each shooting star,
in the backfield of their lives
where lights are forty watts and
the only sure laugh is canned,
mothers, fathers, lovers
brace themselves for penalty shots
– bills, droughts, bad breaks.

Forward's Mum, Centre's Dad,
The Flanker's Girl – laurels enough
for these minders of goals.        

Volunteers roll the cricket pitch,
gather cow pats for strawberry beds
while the bovine keeper, now in slips,
ruminates on the interregnum
and winter wicket keepers.

As 'Summer Goalie' Highly Commended Macarthur FAW competition,1998
Published in 'Centoria', 1998

 poetry index  

One Cicada Singing

Cicadas, invisible green on green, silent,
until sex stirs, confusing Young Cicada.
He stretches       flexes
high speed muscles over timbal membranes.
Hushed, he waits, for master-drummer's call.

A burst of drumming flogs the hills to life,
he joins the manic tattoo of twenty thousand paramours
competing, beating out their overtures.

The mass of sexual want implodes.
Instant emptiness,
and straining after love's response
in air still bruised.

Summer's endless summerness drains his life
in fruitless invocation, unheard within the flock.
Alone. Then in desperation:

                        There —
    on highest leaf in reckless silhouette
                   lone drummer
   taps tremolo, then steadies on his beat
            and all the world is listening.

Highly Commended FAW Lismore competition, 1999
Commended FAW Moocooboola competition, 2000

 poetry index  

The Antbed Court

Some say that I'm a bludger because I spend each day
riding waves and squandering my time in Byron Bay,
I've never lodged a tax return or owned a bank account,
I'm bred for love and leisuring, my work's not paramount,
So when I have to choose a boss I'm mighty hard to please;
the best I've had was old Nguyen Le, that bonzer Vietnamese.

The Leeton fruit had all been picked and I had packed my gear,
Nguyen Le had paid me for my work and we had cracked a beer,
"Another bumper crop," I toast, "top orchardist around."
He seemed upset, I held my tongue until my friend unwound:
"I tell you Jack cos you my friend, I feel I not belong,
the people here no like me much, do I do something wrong?"

Since I was not a local man, I'd not apologize,
or tell my troubled Asian friend some ego-soothing lies,
instead I offered Nguyen a tip, a ploy to smooth his way:
"Install a tennis court," I said. "Invite folk round to play."
"But Jack, I not know tennising, I not the playful sort."
"But that's the whole idea old mate, you let them win at sport."

"Choi Oi!" he cried. "I've made best farm and put them in disgrace,
so now perhaps I do right thing and let them save some face.
Is good! I build a concrete court and put in light for night."
"Now let's not get too flash," I said, "it has to look just right,
traditional and not too dear - just plain antbed will do."
"You Aussies you so sensitive, but Jack, I trusting you."

I summered on the Myall Lakes and wintered at The Bay,
but when the days grew warm again I turned down Leeton way
to where the air is honey-sweet with peach and cherry trees;
I meant to do some picking for my friend the Vietnamese.
I passed an antbed tennis court as I approached his door,
then I was taken back by Nguyen's, "You much to answer for!"

The welcome friendly smile was gone, no invite home for tea,
his finger pointed out the court then turned to wag at me,
"For truth, that dead ant thing you pick, it quickly make me poor,
my lazy sons they all turn bad, no work on farm no more,
when pretty girls come here to play and do the antbed prance,
my boys have heads in fluffy clouds, or frilly underpants."

His face was blank, inscrutable, I played a dead straight bat:
"Well what about the folk from town, did tennis help with that?"
"Ah that was big catastrophe, they nearly drive me wild,
they come with all their relative and bring along much child,
they walking through the cherry trees and eating half my crop,
their children swimming in my dam I no can make them stop.

"The Apex Club they come to play but bring with them a keg,
before the sun is going down, they drink up every dreg,
much fistifights and bloody nose before I get them tame,
you guess which Oriental man is getting all the blame.
And tax inspector checking books, refusing all expense,
he no can understand fruit farm can need a twelve-foot fence.

"I learn to play and use two hands for chop and slice the ball,
they call me sneaky sheila name and make the loud catcall.
Then Missus Gallibrachio who last year had two twin,
she wear a naughty mini skirt, all husbands stare at skin,
it like an open powder keg and some wife throw the spark:
Go wear a proper dress, you tart, we no want see birthmark!

"Now councilors come call on me, they getting in my hair,
they want this humble orchardist to be their next town mayor."

Commended FAW Hastings competition, 1997
Commended Victor Harbour poetry competition, 1998
1st Prize Banjo Paterson poetry competition (Humorous Verse), 1998

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The Batman

He wears a bat, sometimes two,
on his walk around the oval.
He goes anti to our clockwise,
my wife and I, he and his bat.

This one's Alice, pointing at the bat
snagged on his crap-encrusted singlet.
She come to me with a busted wing,
and notes my wife's approving nod.
He thrusts his beer belly forward,
You can touch her if your want. I don't.

A lap later, as if we've never met,
I'm the Batman. Ave ya read about me?
Fox-face takes cover between his breasts.
I run a bat hospital. In me tent, over there,
pointing at the caravan park, now astir.
I withdraw to fortress silence. But my beloved
talks sonar, diet, habitat. Not rabies, of course.

A lap later, he's spread its membrane wing
like a market vendor displaying prize cloth.
They're very interesting, are bats.
I evade his gluey stare, watch the creature
re-wrap itself, fold away its cliché.
Five bats means five Chinese blessings...

We vacate the oval, awkwardly silent.
Some people don't like bats.

3rd Melbourne Poets Union, 2001
Published 'Sensoria' by Dangerously Poetic Press 2004

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Wollumbin Kangaroo

Wollumbin, meaning "Cloud Catcher", is the Bundjalung people's
name for what Captain Cook later called Mount Warning.

A squat of booyong trees
occupies a gully
on lower Wollumbin.

Their summer shadows float
on haunch-high grass, slap
at bare patches of basalt.

Through this portal
old man kangaroo re-enters

Even Bundjalung man
doesn't see the mountain
assimilate grey boomer.

Roo sprawls, ruminates
killingtime-dreamingtime, certain
Wollumbin won't give him up

until sun's dying release –
a breeze to stir fur, bring
smell of water, fresh grass, female.

Then he'll stand full height, twitch,
snort, scratch until the moment's right
to bound away and become the night.

Very Highly Commended, Leeton Eisteddfod 2003
Published by Kindamindi Press in 'Moving On with Giggles and Dreams' 2003
Published by FAW Summerland in 'Jottings' 2004

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Lady at the Park Swing,   Byron Bay

I take his hand and say,
"Let's wait our turn."

The lady standing at the swing
seems unaware of sea wind
whipping her brown skirt,
pleating it with shadows.
The swing seat goes down,
away and up,
holds horizontal for a heartbeat;
she welcomes it back with a smile,
down away and back,
eyes fixed on yesterday,
down away and back.

"But it's empty," says my grandson.

Her smile dribbles away,
she blinks her eyes into focus,
hurries off down Jonson Street
leaving the swing to squeak
down away and back
in dying arcs.

Highly Commended FAW Lismore 1999
Highly Commended FAW Lambing Flat 1999
Commended Max Harris Literary Awards 2000
1st Wannabee Publishing Poetry Prize 2000

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Backpackers, Byron Bay

Like other bundles that tumble
off the train, Anna & Lars, tagged
by hunchback shadows, cast about
for spoor in pools of platform light.
Then, like hermit crabs seeking shells,
they scuttle away to hostels.

Next morning's communal breakfast
is Thai stir & German sausage,
wet towels & drying cozzies,
Somebody's taken my spoon,
eddies of half-naked bodies,
a supermarket in grins,
the simmer of language soup.

Anna plunges with Nordic vigour
into Byron's bodysoul world
of psychics, readers & healers,
geomancy & craniosacral balancing.
She samples the modish therapies:
astro & dance, hypno & osteo.

Lars, true son to Aurvandil the Bold,
swops snow skis for surf board,
the slopes of Göl for Pacific rollers,
rides wild on shock-absorber legs –
the same flirtation with failure.

Anna, child of a Volva seeress,
tries Tantra, & Reiki, Satori & Shiatsu,
returns to Lars re-energised,
disappointed he can't see
she's rebalanced & reborn.

They scuba Julian Rocks, get hooked
by an underworld of improbable fish,
and pledge they'll pick avocados,
custard apples, whatever, to pay
for a dive on the Great Barrier Reef.

Whale-watchers fringe Cape Byron
but Anna & Lars laze like lizards,
watch iridescent hang gliders swarm
– moths around the lighthouse.
Landing flyers are travellers returned
and wearing born-again smiles.

Anna packs her crystal acquisitions:
Tiger Eye to soften Lar's stubbornness,
Soothing Amethyst for crowded buses,
Orange Calcite to remember his birthday,
Leopardskin Jasper to ensure fertility,
Rose Quartz for unconditional love.

In Alstonville orchards they pick up
a rash of insect bites &
a nest egg for their Queensland leg
then drift away under backpacks –
September was Byron Bay &
their packs are stuffed with tomorrows.

3rd Australasian Poetry Awards 2004??

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John (aka 'Jack') Bird invites you to steal, plagiaries and copy his poems.
He would prefer that you do not alter them, but hopes you enjoy them in any case.
If you do, please tell him; if not, please spare his delusions.

to start of poetry with john bird


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