Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 36, 1992
Postcolonial Fictions:
Proceedings of the SPACLALS Triennial Conference 1992
Edited by Michèle Drouart

Poems: 'The Possibility,' 'The Garage,' 'The Mind of God,' 'Steps,' 'In New Bangkok'

Dennis Haskell


To begin where dusk builds
storeys of red and blue
across the wind-ribbed river
and haphazard shags hang out
their washed out feathers,
by the vast, unoccupied water.
Exact details can be skipped.
The wind can shake inside you
thoughts fixed to bones
like hinges of the past.

The buses sigh from salaried city
to suburbs of refuge
on well planned roads
like steam and dry irons hissing over clothes.
And the people polite, whisper-eyed,
tired, momently stare
at the world that they pass:
its sandy streets, its scrub and
partly settled houses, bright brick
and the unfenced
mix of attitudes. Listless faces
reading papers, and imported romances
where feelings flow like shifts of water,
a way of bending
past and present
into a proper shape,
the past we've hardly had
and a present that happens
generally somewhere else.

Bussing to residential blocks
almost nothing is glanced
but the beckoning suburbs
of Australian reticence:
new houses, new slabs of flats;
at this hour of our history,
angular roofs go up
like shared, shining promises.
The wind rattles their gates
like expectations
hanging unsteady, clattering
into the ears late, and all night long.
To sit alone, to hear the wind sing
might make your mind unlatch,
swing free
from itself forever.

When the bus comes
to a brake squeaking halt
passengers get off at the necessary stop
get off onto dry sand
where startling daisies take root,
the decorative gravel
crunching underfoot, shifting
like a child's fear of himself
afraid he may blow away in his happiness
in a suburb, a self-conscious country
full of homes,
wind-frayed, dense with absence.

"That they have no earthly measure
is well knownÑthe surprise is
how often it becomes impossible
to tell one from another in memory."

("Sadness and Happiness," Robert Pinsky)

The Garage

is a museum, in a way,
life's most astonishing trick,
a demonstration that
things outlive their makers,
that makers become their things.

Entering the bare bulb lit shed,
a shifting of must, memories
of sawdust, and a stillness
absolute but for our presence.
To step in here
is to step into history,
at least into my own.
Unlined walls and joists;
the main collections
are invisible:
my father's warm actions
in this dingy place,
his hands fixed to the plane,
shifting slivers of timber
from an almost shining edge.
His actions
live on after him
only as objects, as oddments
of fibro, slices of masonite,
just begun toys and boxes.

But now the half-painted timber
goes untouched, the levels
and squares starting to rust,
the saws unoiled. Brown nails
sit firmly in their jars.
They will go

to leave
on walls, scribblings in pencil
or, occasionally, chalk: 6 x 8, 2" x 3" x 10' undressed,
and others, some assuming now
strange shapes, barely decipherable.
A carpenter's language
of tools and timber
and notes which imagine
wood and machine, finished
brilliantly made things.

There are no tricks.
It is built into our hands,
this intrinsic carpentry;
museum makers on holiday,
to look, or read,
is to make notes for the jobs
and pleasures we will create;
and when we go
what we leave behind
will be unfinished pleasures,
half-made boxes
and writing.

The Mind of God

In fear of the iron, inhuman rod
Nietzsche announced the death of God,
the rise of a new man: the irrepressible,
the self-willed, the super-human.

God dead, Russell's intellectual muscle
expressed a world that simply was. Now
Chaos is Design, how much finer the Designer
if in that mind we search for what we find?


A man stepped along the packed granules of Geraldton coast
beside the shilly shally of waves on shells, the smooth
and restless, ceaseless Indian Ocean. Walking is unlimited,
he thought, wondering which way to turn next, slightly bushed,
thought that on these otherwise deserted sands with their muddled
heaps of purple and black weed, the oddly mixed-shape rocks,
he might walk forever, into the salty promise of endlessness,
and know himself there, beyond wave and water, beyond grit
of sand, beyond the fast-darkening farms and gullies inland.
On the beach his footprints stretched as far as any eye could see,
reminding how once, as a child, he had wandered here
and coming back had met the track of his own footprints,
toes alert, purposeful, heels driven deep into the tawny sand
and thought with pleasure and surprise, "Is this me? Is this me!"

In New Bangkok

On daylight buses orange monks
and novices draped yellow as sunlight,
statuesque, stare
at the No-thought heart
of all things.

Behind its crystalline shrines,
those quiet lights
and effervescent water,
near Patpong Street the Manohra Hotel
is a large, white
torte of concrete and glass
iced with neon. To Thai eyes
from the street
its sheer face
is stark as fear.

Bangkok's bikes whirr and blurt,
blurt and whirr, smoking
through the rattled streets
like scythes, in and out
of pedestrians' knees, in
and out of pools of rain.
Through the long night
the streets manufacture
staccato thunder, as if noise
rained out of the sky.

For street women
child-lapped, hands cupped,
the West is a Saturn
surrounded by wild
rings of money;
"Don't drop baht
into their hands. It
only makes things worse!"
The terse advice seems right
and wrong
and both at once.

Only at night Patpong Street
sets its fierce, frantic
clattering and clamouring
market face
to Western eyes that meet
makeshift plastic
and canvas sheets
alert for sudden rain,
trinkets and ear rings, t-shirts and toys,
gold model Buddhas and specials
on cocks and cunts: nothing here
is not for sale.
Marketing talks:
all the strength of the West
is built on it.

In Buddhist Lent monks
must not be seen
between dusk and dawn.

The smudge of daylight
comes up slowly

and all the rain-filled, neon night
the Manohra Hotel
shines its fierce, unshakable
moneyed light.

University of Western Australia

New: 7 January, 1997 | Now: 15 April, 2015