Friday, December 29, 2006

Lane in the Broad Street

I lived along the dark water klong
when B-52's dropped their cargo
two small countries to the east,
and I longed for the silky legged girls
whose love songs floated
the fleshy hot night.

Three generations gather
street side on tubular chrome
cracked vinyl seats in
poverty's rec room
walled by the circle's banter,
laughter warm as before
on my evening of arrival
after thirty nine years
and still the game show glow
reflected blue in their faces.

I roomed here once
on the upper floor
dipping my morning bath
from the tall clay jar
shared with the families
beside and below
cool in the recess
behind the patina-ed red brown timber
wide teak eaves nearly touching
across the narrow lane.
Still it stands among others
shouldered aside somewhat
by newer frontage
of taupe coloured concrete
yet catching my wife's intuitive eye.
"Is that the one?"

A boy with a camera
was my neighbour
and still on my wall
his black and white gift
of the wicker hat women
scatter clustered in their
wedge prowed boats
ware laden with
bananas and shallots,
among the lidded kitchen pots,
the soup and curry
commerce of the day.
His name, black ink
proud in the corner.

Today I saw a tiny street stall cross
for sale among the neck chain Buddhas,
the lucky elephants, the long life turtles.
Another talisman against
the misadventures of the hour,
or perhaps the owner before me
paused to contemplate
the man who was dropped behind a stone
in another small country to the west.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


They all died
defending the Alamo
where my mother
nearly died too of
worry when I wasn't
very old and wandered off
among the tall plants.
But that wasn't Dallas.

In Dallas JFK died.
Before that
dad hunted a job
mindful of his own long dead dad
who once tried Dallas too
taking a 1920's train back
disappointed to Chicago.
In 1950 dad got passed over by
the big insecticide deal,
tried for a Dallas job, winced
and drove us east to West Virginia.

One rain driven day
the VW bug
I delivered to Dallas
filled with smoke
from a frayed wire
in the multilane rush
of westbound cars.

Today I hear my daughter has
found a 'splendid' man in Dallas.
Is great-grandad's requitement
alive in her excitement?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Transition Ephemera

In the first years
when the Hmong came
they sold their escape story needle work
black, pink and
Mekong River green,
long since replaced on market Saturdays
by cabbage, carrots and coriander.

Yesterday a more recent refugee
a shining face Sudanese
balanced her shopping bundle
with high head finesse
and grace of fluid hip
incongruent on the suburban footpath.

How long now before her teenage daughter
pleads embarrassment at mum’s old world ways?
And this legacy of transition also topples into memory.

Monday, December 04, 2006


'...substance of things hoped for...'

Three travellers come
at journeys end
to the house on the hill.
‘Illusion.’ says the first.
And it is.
‘Trap.’ says the second.
And it is.
‘Home.’ says the third.
And it is.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Chinese for Ear

The word
a squarish rune
with falling stroke
like a drop earring.

The sound
is rather like our own
part of speech
for part of head
by which we hear
remote linguistic past,
an ancient tongue
of common ancestors.
Or a false friend
who by mere coincidence
leads us to unwarranted warmth
of recognition.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


My first attempt at a villanelle . . . prompted by the Islamic assertion that no true prophet would allow himself to be victim of the humiliation of crucifixion.

How to Kill a Real Prophet
“they slew Him not nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them” Qur’an 4:157

He let himself be taken to be killed.
‘It must have been another man they nailed.’
A real prophet would have exercised his will.

‘Not my will, but yours be done,’ he said.
In the garden where he bowed his head
he let himself be taken to be killed.

What assistance can a victim give?
If he will die, how will his people live?
A real prophet would have exercised his will.

The servant king inaugurates his reign
with healing that accompanies his own pain.
He let himself be taken to be killed.

When betrayers drew a circle tight about,
a king, a leader would have found an out.
A real prophet would have exercised his will.

In a battle forshadowed by a dove,
in a scandal of humility and love,
he let himself be taken to be killed.
A real prophet exercised his will.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Daily Walk

On our road at dusk I once refrained
from the satisfying snap of a fallen branch underfoot
stepping over it instead, as it slithered away.
Inanimates snaked there too,
like electric leads we no longer uncoil
from the house on the other side
when the shearer comes.
They’ve built more houses further up,
newer ones with solar panels
and earth friendly toilets.
But still not so many cars
as to impede our walks
to restore computer starved circulation,
to the bounce of puzzlements, complaints
and the small joys of our day.
And pangs too. The wallaby we so enjoyed
was, one day, a heap of fallen fur
under inspection by the local crows.
The neighbour’s cow
loud with bovine lament for her calf
lately trucked away to a veal and leather destiny.
And always under the same tree it seems we
exchange a word with old Bill Budd
out with his new pup and the daily unstiffening of knees.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

View at the Edge

At the edge
-----------------the clown's make up
the razor nick skin of the man

Fast food/gas station/motel
-----------------make up the clone,
American gaudy,
LA to DC.

I, this oasis edge pedestrian,
alien at the terminus tide line of jetsam's
tattered plastic graffiti
most visible in Spring,
gravel chemical aqua with
snow melt salt line,
and beyond, hunched uneasily
the domestic weatherboard evidence
of this intersection ghost
chilled out
by the deep fat KFC heat,
bungalow cheap rent now,
a wrecker's lunch.

Three slumping halloween pumpkins
grin from low porch perch
pastel walls behind
blanched to near invisibility
apart from these infrequent footfalls
at the edge.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Self portrait

I pushed the oil portrait a bit further. I will probably leave it at this point and work at another image. I have learned a lot with this one. But sick of looking at my own face! :-)

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Which of the ten in holy writ
has most ‘small print’?

…Remember the Sabbath day…

Rest, it enjoins, for ox and camel,
goatherd and garment maker.
Each to their ease, basking in shalom.

To break Sabbath
it seems, is to oppress,
to steal hope and health
of a woman in the next tent
who stitches a new shirt for Moses.

Who makes my new shirt?
She seams in China, Honduras, Bangladesh.
Ask me tomorrow if I give her rest.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Further encouragement.

Just had a response from another local lit journal, "Famous Reporter". They want to put the poem Commandment in the new issue (No.34) They asked that I read it at the launch on December 7th.
It should also appear shortly on their webite:
It seems to be worthwhile to scatter a bit of seed verse about.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Pulling the Rabbit

Napoleon, old cat
yellow in the tooth
dragged two bunnies
half his size
through the cat door.
Last night he put his latest booty
headless on reserve
in the pantry, presented
neatly on an old cloth sack.
A fastidious cat.
The night before,
dead but intact
upon the kitchen floor,
a first light birthday greeting.
Will he finesse a third?
A hat trick rabbit cat?
Or will we get a bird?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Point of the Hand

After the heart attack, a man
opens an eye on the a train floor,
sees his own hand, as if never before,
delicate glyph line landscape.

From chicken wire and plastered rags,
my son sculpts a hand
extended toward heaven,
the pedestal a stump.
There it points still,
though by crumple of weathering years
it leans toward a point of its own.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Got word today that the Canadian Christian poetry site, Utmost, liked Cain's Altar.
They gave me second prize.

For Heaven's Sake

Two local boys arrested, hide
their faces on page one today.
Purveyors of ecstasy,
they’ve spread their gospel even under bail
and proximity of prison bars
pushing this year’s abbreviated heaven.

Matteo Ricci like other travelling carriers,
ignored threat of Ming dynasty dungeon,
not afraid to extol the ecstasies
of divine fellowship
back when heaven was a larger place.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Long ago we abandoned
the Jewish carpenter.
Strangely he still has power
to lend force to uncertain words
as we strengthen a point
with a slap to his face.
Jesus bloody Christ.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Mountain separated from bay in field of vision
by a paddock of four sheep, grass fat.
Therapy in tranquil motion
like a tank of fish beyond the windows.

At sound of cellar door
they squall by the fence
demanding indulgence from Marion,
who scatters oats and scraps of bread.

Every year they are led by the rattle of treats
to the man who will take their coats,
fearful, pressed in a small pen
December afternoon heavy with lanolin.

Once a large ewe toppled me
lunging with raised feet.
Bewildered afterwards they bleat
unsettled at shape of shaven mates.

Written just before our 3 ewes gave us 5 lambs. :-)

Servant King

I posted this earlier without the last 9 lines and new title. Comments that it seemed like part of something larger and not really "about anything" prompted the changes. This may now be a bit more resolved.

Dogged into place while still green
rough sawn and sharp scent heavy
now greyed and smoothed with years of tread
nail heads countersunk but unputtied
proud still where the wardrobe hid them.
Our makeshift tongue-in-groove
from strips of ply inserted in saw cuts
squinting in places with
pinpoints of light from the floor below.
In the mild longitudinal wave of grain
under foot, a hint of surfaces beyond the walls.

‘Young swamp gum dries flatter,’
said the miller, thick armed sawyer
from the road below the house
when he landed long blond boards
from the bed of his wheezing truck.
And they did shrink true,
less rippled than post and beam
of Tasmanian oak,
cell structure caving less
as they slowly hardened
beyond the driving of nails.

In the intervening years I learn
Eucalyptus Regnans
flourishes far from swamps,
scraping ninety metre skies.

Mornings, freshly from my bed
I press Pilates postured head
against the old growth hardwood king.
And on that regal timber spread,
tread the routine of my day.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Surprise Lambs

Twin lambs of Moby the sheep, less than a day old.

Monday, September 11, 2006


What alien craft disturbed
remote Australian marshes
rotor spewing mud, flattening scrub
in a wide arc?
A meteor, we later learn
has daggled a passage
to embed in rock below.

Stapled above my sleeping head,
between me and fleets of fiery suns,
a thin sheet iron cover clings.
Dark matter dreaming
beneath slipstream of galaxies.

Why are sides of houses more robust?
Ours, with stone and clay
is bulwark to little more
than neighbour’s gaze,
and occasional brisk sou’ wester
pressing the mortar.

They say that even daylight’s
comforting cerulean blue
recedes to endless black
a darkening observed by high flying pilots.
And beyond, the ancient flares
blind us to any sense of scale
and scatter sparks that sometimes
plummet to the earth as rock.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Saving Knowledge

A school girl recognized
the shore signs and persuaded
her family away from the retreating sea,
all safely inland when the tsunami broke.
Some schools don’t seem to teach geography, or
other subjects that could point a girl to higher ground.

Monday, September 04, 2006


My ‘about you’ lines
I read aloud
to the crowd who knows
for love of you
they’re me all through.

I went to my first pub poetry reading yesterday afternoon. After a glass of wine and a dozen or so readers, imagery stared to blur a bit, a smorgasbord for the already sated. Didn't try to read any myself as a newbie. Came away with the above idea.

Friday, September 01, 2006

News Item

Munch’s stolen Scream
was recovered after two years.
People wept with gratitude
to have their angst returned.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Seasoned Floor

Dogged into place while still green
rough sawn and sharp scent heavy
now greyed and smoothed with years of tread
nail heads countersunk but unputtied
proud still where the wardrobe hid them.
Our makeshift tongue-in-groove
from strips of ply inserted in saw cuts
squinting in places with
pinpoints of light from the floor below.
In the mild longitudinal wave of grain
under foot, a faint hint still
of hills and trees beyond the walls.

‘Young swamp gum dries flatter,’
said the miller, thick armed sawyer
from the road below the house
when he landed long blond boards
from the bed of his wheezing truck.
And they did shrink, surface truer,
than rippled post and beam
of Tasmanian oak support,
cell structure caving less
as they slowly hardened
beyond the driving of nails.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Approached by so many lips,
availability declared, arm akimbo,
hour by hour promiscuous,
receiving partakers indifferently.
And they at the touch, the wetness,
lick, sip, swallow their way to satisfaction.

Conveyer of collected rain, comfort soup,
abstemious green tea, seven dollar latte.
Stoneware stand-in for champagne crystal,
in serendipitous toast,
or disposable red clay empty of spicy chai
and tossed from Indian trains.

For months sequestered in dim cupboards,
pulled to light at a whim,
and joined to a tableside carousel
rhythm of lifting arms,
in syncopated motion and drained
as the conversational accompaniment subsides.

Mother’s rose bud porcelain shelved
edge to edge with designer cones
and supermarket cylinders
extruded by thousands from a China mould,
linage to mythical Xia,
shard of ancient Jericho,
Socrates drinking his verdict,
moist ring on a Pompeii counter,
‘remember me’ cup of
the freshly betrayed Christ.

© Steve Isham August 2006

Saturday, August 05, 2006


On a single line of DNA,
God tweaks a phrase,
a comma, perhaps two
in ten thousand years.

I wince when my poet friend
finds a ‘a sense of rush’ in what I write
‘not paying detailed/fastidious/focused attention’.

I resolve to revise glacially,
mindful even mountains of ice
slip quicker now,
leaving off centuries of their own revisions,
punctuating less, the valley stone.

There you have it.
My disclosure straddled
by two contrite metaphors.
I scrabble for an envelope,
to catch by 4 PM,
the last post of the day.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Signed Collection

three cursive links,
weighty vowels
pitted with old rust.

light orb,
ocean etched
in a dark script.

letter a,
jigsaw outline
in thick timber,
rough pine article.

a Braille of bumps
circles a porcelain cone,
and like an ellipsis, ending . . . .

nesting pots,
grey stoneware inscribed
with Thylacine glyphs,
conceal, three layers deep,
a cardboard copy
of the gold tiger once buried
high on a coastal cliff, clues
in pages we painted, spaded
from the earth years after
by a watchful sleuth.

© Steve Isham July 2006

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Heart Remedy

My doctor prescribed
50 grams of dark chocolate
three times a week
for high cholesterol.
Get the fair trade stuff, she suggested.
In the night I fumble
empty packets from the bin,
scribbling surfaces, where my pen
tries to unblock other arteries.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Neighbour Tom

The man next door was dead for days
before police undid the latch
and climbed the stairs to his bed,
a bottle empty of his first wife’s pain relief
and garbled scribble to travelling spouse
‘…you have your way and I mine…’

Boisterous and full of his garden schemes
Tom had driven us twice
to reach and sweep at Tai Chi.
His car did not appear again.
‘See you round’
taped to the sunroom door.

A week before we’re seated in a pub
to hear ‘Ukulele Junction’, have a beer,
rambling through cheerful gab.
Somehow I mention that I pray.
‘You pray, I meditate.’ he said.

© Steve Isham June 2006

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Inscriptions for God's Ashes

Smooth stone’s symmetry
raked to graded perfection.
Zen condolences.

Gong’s resonant note.
Other valleys echo too.
No one to hear it.

Road ends, empty house.
Darkness gathers in behind.
Make the best of it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Septic Tank

A tub of tiny monsters
take down the mess we feed them.
They’ve also an appetite for trees.
We send these down a tube
from the house alongside the mess,
in shape of soggy ply squares.
They may have devoured
a small forest in 25 years.
Just water spills to the French drain.

There were earlier occupants.
When I brought my class home for a party,
(I was a teacher then,)
a concrete box had arrived
new and inviting beside the drive,
an unplanned attraction.
Kids wormed in and out
and shouted to their echoes.
Later they reduced sausage rolls,
potato chips, ice cream, and cake
to a few crumbs and grease spots.
But still, with nothing like the appetite
of these other monsters.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Cain's Altar

Cain, arms strong as pillars
piles a cube house of stones, windowless
and strews his cumin and lentils
where the crescent moon glints
in his cold eye. Cain kisses stone.

Abel, unable to build anything much,
signals his smoke, pleading
to a broad glory box above.
Gets a jasper visitation,
cube bright as blazes, brimming
large, sun dimming
sky full of crystal diffusion.

Cain hates his brother
for his Big Light favour and kills, blood
upon red blood and goes saddled into the world
with sword like a moon, scything,
catching his harvest back
to the blackened cube, multitudes
circling, circling, kissing the stone.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Which Way the Wind?

One bitter night
blew in the draught
of captured Christ.
His cause is lost.
In force of gale
does Peter fail,
and swears,
"I knew him not."
The weather vane, a cock.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Flight 91

I look up from my book
to see stewards wrestle a big man into the aisle.
This is it.

A doctor identifies herself,
as the man on the floor gradually unstiffens
from his fit.

Friday, June 23, 2006

San Lazaro

Grizzled hair tight across a dark skull
he taps his way along walls
traversing De Chirico street scapes
bright and Sunday morning empty
near the LA airport.
‘How you doin’!’ voice robust, cheerful
when he hears me catch him up.

‘I have ten dollars in my hand,’ I offer,
‘do you know someone who might need it?’
not wanting to offend his pride.
‘I do.’ he said.

Later I find a small grocery
selling cactus pads among tomatoes and runner beans.
I buy a candle in a glass cylinder printed with
San Lazaro, the dogs licking his sores,
my souvenir, one among the several saints.

© Steve Isham June 2006

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Illuminated Word

‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ King James Bible

Angled obliquely from dim Victorian wall
where cobweb drifts from moulded ceiling
a varnished frame with flowered text,
GOD IS LIGHT, and tangled in calligraphy.
Words pinned like butterflies beneath the glass
far from fields of light where they might fly.
There see a man called Word upon a rutted road,
who steps from his abstraction like a chrysalis.
An image laden Word,
in complexion, breath and sweat,
in flesh, Light’s poetry.

© Steve Isham 14 June 2006

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

First Morning

Light’s first ochre daub,
brush of slivered sun.
Moist earth fragrant,
as first tea on tongue.
At first lap, up leaps cat,
where pencil broods
above a broad expanse.
First musing, first mark,
first unseemly word, evicted
by first diagonal slash.
So the world begins.

© Steve Isham June 2006

Monday, June 12, 2006


Oh, and another thing. On Friday, I added a new word to my vocabulary. Marion had fun this morning with a made up Kath and Kim dialog using the word. It lends itself to broad Australian pronunciation abuse. From the concise Dictionary of Literay Terms:
enjambement: The running on of a thought from one line, couplet or stanza to the next.
Vocabulary is so linked to ownership. I remember first thinking this when I went into a hardware shop while building our house, unequipped with the words for what I needed.
The thought came up again in the publishing of children's books. I think my first letters to printers were left aside by them because I did not know how to specify my requirements. Either they were baffled or thought that so ignorant a client might not be serious and could be a poor account risk too.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

What I learned on Friday

I spent a couple of very worthwhile hours with a poetry editor for a literary mag on Friday giving me an intense “poetry 101” experience. Here are the main points I took away:

• Identify prosaic bits of verse and work on them.
• Aim for fewer words. Check each word and phrase to make sure it is making an essential contribution.
• Preachy and pedantic is not poetry.
• Greatly curtail the use of ‘the’ and ‘of’
• Use active voice.
• Use particularity. Show, don’t tell.
• Put line breaks only where meaningful. Follow the natural rhythm of language: iambic pentameter, unless you deliberately don’t use it for effect.
• Starting lines with a capital letter is a generally disused convention.
• Poetry editors receive a huge number of submissions and among them quite a lot of poems about writing a poem.

I have decided to, even more than before, regard the poems already posted on this blog as works in progress and continue to rework them. I have done this to a few already. It also means that I will probably not be posting 3 times a week as I was before. Maybe once or twice.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


That controversial Jew
cast his seed talk and walked his work
striking with sandaled feet sparks so sharp
they lit a slow burn fire
ignited recollection and
exploded in the heart,
conclusion consummate.
This man cooking fish among the coals
is God among us.

©Steve Isham June 2006

©Steve Isham June 2006

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Foundation for the Extension

I’m not sure why
I like to dig holes.
Making empty is,
in some way,
quite fulfilling.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Betty's Illumination

Yesterday I put a safety pin
In mother's curtain
To hold the cord in reach.
By turning just a little in her chair
And extending
What for her is quite a tug,
She lets the daylight in.
Another light, already visible
Illuminates her face,
Shining past the wreckage
Of her fading flesh.
Is it happiness?
I cannot find another word
For what has now replaced
The intermittent years of discomfort and regret.
(At least in part.
And a firmer hope
Was always in her heart.)
Her neighbours down the hall
Nodding and smiling,
Remark about it.
Nor is she reticent to speak,
Nor yet too weak
To tell her faith
Her welcome home to Christ,
The Light ahead.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

School Teacher's Legacy

My teacher, Mrs Lawrence, though severe and elderly,
(Or so she seemed to me),
Had a passion for good writing, especially poetry.

I wrote a short piece once in class,
And read it aloud at her request.
She couldn’t have known
How much life time propellent
Was in her response.
“If I had written that myself,” she said,
“I couldn’t have put it better.”
This from a sparing woman
Strict to the letter.

Mrs Lawrence died next year
Losing a fight with cancer.
What I never will forget
Is how she praised my answer.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


My flesh is meat indeed.
My blood is drink.
"A cannibal feast!"
Some shrieked
And from him fled.
But some to this were led:
That Christ's human flesh, His very blood,
Nourishes our expectation:
Feeds us well.
And sending Gnostic lies to hell,
Gives us good hope,
Of bold resurrection
In carbon molecules of flesh and blood.
There the new wine sparkles,
Sweet with anticipation.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Tiny twitch of fur, hapless sugar glider
snagged by a fold of skin on a barbed wire fence
catches my daughter’s eye.

Its animated little head has bulging night-time eyes
and mouth full of fierce chatter.

Back from her run, she screws up her face
and makes short bursts of sound in imitation,
to show us how it went.

A neighbour she’d recruited is bitten on the hand
and gets his gloves to have another go.

When sugar glider scurries free, it shows no hurt,
and finds a tree.

© Steve Isham 2006

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Garments of Light

Garments of Light (hand painted etching) Marion Isham

With tongues of flame
He dances in the night.
Pentecost is past.
But still the light.

Steve Isham 2006

Saturday, May 20, 2006

How You Say a Thing

Greg Clarke was in Hobart last week just prior to the Da Vinci Code film release, delivering a lecture related to his book, Is it Worth Believing? In chapter 2 he says “Sorry…for not presenting the truth as we understand it in an exciting, attractive and believable way.” A further thought:

How You Say a Thing

A treasure in truth
Told so cold
It is not heard,
Lies tragic
Like the fabled beauty
In the tower
Unseen and never claimed.

Do I break the commandment,
Bearing false witness,
When I do not tell,
(With something like the art,
The heart,
The storyteller Christ
Can show),
The truth I know?

©Steve Isham 20 May 2006

Thursday, May 18, 2006

He No Longer Believes

Will you share it with me now?
Shall we walk together and rejoice
At your new-found poverty,
With all the angels gone?
Will you evangelize me here
And tell me how
The void, the outer darkness
Empty now,
Is some glad place
And full of promise?

Will we find enough to do
Distracted and seduced
By pleasures of the flesh and mind,
To pass these shadow hours,
Before we pass for good
Beyond all memory or account?

Surely we will:
The tide of time is high.
We are awash
With all that hums and glows.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Finding Fit

Putting words
among their fellows
in lines of verse
like stones in a wall.
selecting for shape,
for fit, for rightness.
Perhaps chipping a bit.
Stepping back
to survey the effect.
The satisfaction,
or not.
But no sore back.