Dennis Greene was born in England in 1949, then raised in what is now Zimbabwe. He traveled extensively before settling in Western Australia
in 1983. He has been, among other things, a soldier, a busker, a salesman, and a meteorological observer. In 1987 at the age of 37 he was
diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease. He retired in 1994, which allowed him to devote more time to writing. He is married with
two adult daughters.
Greene has performed at poetry readings and on television and radio. His work has been published in Westerly, Unfamiliar Tides (2002
Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology), Empowa, Inside Out, and Voices from the Parking Lot (an anthology of poetry and prose
which he edited for the Parkinson Alliance of Princeton, NJ). His work has also appeared on numerous internet sites, including Poetic
Voices, Oracular Tree, Comrades, Wordspace, Ironwood, Mipo, Shit Creek Review, and Chimera. For several years he was the
assistant editor of Poetry Downunder, a website, and then the co-editor of the literary website Numbat.
Dennis Greene's most recent book,
Here Be Dragons, can
be purchased by clicking the hyperlinked title.
Bring me the bastard’s head
her mother said, and Sal,
being a good girl, a nice girl,
and really not a half bad dancer,
took off one veil, and then
the next, and filled poor Herod’s,
well not quite his head,
with thoughts of who knows
what, and him just newly wed
and she her mother’s daughter.
Veil followed veil, breast breast,
until her navel followed by her
yes, well hell, no way to tell just
where things might have ended,
on the floor, the coffee table,
if not for John who, sent ahead,
now made his entry as an entrée
dead to rights and long before
he would have as a just dessert
Well may we say that might
is right, Sal knows it well.
She knows she might and knows
that if she does he will.
Thank God we’ve got the royals
at play to show us common folk
the way, the right, the wrong,
the prophets taken and the loss.
Now that we know
Now that we know. Now that the dust
and air, the nothing there, has been exposed,
now that we know what you’d have thought
we’d always known: that power grows
from our ambitions not our guns,
that smart bombs dropped in awe and wonder
burn and break us here below;
that each man’s grief is his to sow;
what do we know that Joshua didn’t know,
the day he stood, the trumpet heavy
in his hand, and in his head
the countless dead of Jericho?
So many children locked up in offices,
filed in grey cabinets, sleeping on pavements.
Hidden in alleyways, street gangs and solvents
so many kids still lost in the bush.
So many others out walking through minefields,
prayer-tagged and dutiful, death by the numbers,
hunted in Rio, starving in Africa, dead
on the doorstep in New York or Perth.
Hush now my darling, mummy is with you,
daddy’s arms hold you, grown-ups surround you
Hush-a-bye baby nothing can harm you,
One street from the city, one step from the bush.
Do not think badly of me
Do not think badly of me if I have to go
past where you have to stop
or if at times I seem to be in
some far distant country of my own;
do not believe that I don't want to be
where you are, for it is not so,
nor could it be when every joy I've known,
I've known through you.
No I would never go—given the choice.
I seldom tell you but you surely know
just how aware I am that every day
you have a choice—and chose to walk
with me along these roads I walk against
my will, willingly going where I am slow
to go, sharing a future we can only know
from ambiguous answers to half-asked
questions. I wonder if you really know
what strength your presence gives me.
And if in the far future there's a road
that I must walk alone in deepest silence;
then I will walk that road and know
your love walks with me. Do not think
badly of me if I have to go past where
my words all stop; our love transcends
the things we think we know, and while
I still breathe I will be whispering low, and
just below each breath, the words ‘I love you’.
Love what you’ve done with the place
I’m trying to write a poem about paint:
Well, that isn’t strictly true, the poem’s
about you, but how could I stand here,
fifty-plus, and say my love is like a red,
red rose, or claim that black, black, black
is the colour of my true love’s hair;
I would look ridiculous—and you
my love are grey.
Better we stay here, here where our life’s lived:
dust in our hair from rubbing down rough spots,
flecked with the colours of a score of redoes; yes,
yes, time for bed, but I’m still trying to write
about paint: how it sticks to the walls, how it covers
the things we brush over; how it makes nothing new
but still freshens the place up a bit.
How we keep several cans in the shed.
Depend on it old man.
Even as the earth
even with the brimstone burning,
there is joy in
this pillar of salt,
there is laughter
in its forming.
Old man take warning.
And you, the mother
of the Moabites, and you
the mother of Ben Ammi,
let your monument be
the cleft between your thighs.
Let each pillar tell its own story.
For Alan Bond
To own it is to run the earth
through your hands, is to hang
the earth on your wall,
is to touch the earth
with an intimate gesture—
there are hills that have died
under irises; nations that dream
of their corporate splendour—walls
that stand bare in their absence.
Seeing the moment,
the red-brown and the brown roofs
caught slipping down to the water,
I am reminded that
there being only this picture
I have no way to see,
the buildings crowding,
and the people crowding,
and the years of being led to the slaughter,
it all being behind me.
at John Paul II’s funeral
For those of us
sitting on the sidelines
no voice is needed.
each death an emptying,
each fallen wall
its own domain.
A long day I’ve had of it,
and a tiring one,
and little to show
but this loose scree
of words like dinosaurs;
the fossilised remains
of once great moments.
They tell me beauty’s truth,
but still words fail—what use
is it to me that Keats once wrote,
thou still unravished bride of quietness,
and tore the language from God’s
living throat. I fossick, find,
make space back of the truck
—say virgin girl
let's go. It’s time to fuck...
It’s love Jim—but not as we know it
Naomi Watts stares upwards
from the page. If she is here
can Kong be far behind?
If Kong is here can love
itself unwind, the brushed
silk scarf wound softly
round her neck, or pluck
the bruised silk blouse
from off her breast,
until embraced by half
a billion eyes, each one
uniquely mine, each
claiming love is blind,
she’s swept into the lie,
The House Was Hill
The house was hill and road and view,
it grew a tree in summertime;
it turned into a boat that sailed
and left me at the harbour’s side.
Now I’ve become a winter’s tale,
a twig that grows where trees have died.
I live inside grey slate on stone,
the house is empty, cold, and mine.
Prepare your soul for citronella nights,
for cane toads big as houses at your door,
for mozzies by the half a billion bites
for friends and rellies calling by the score.
Get ready for new moons that bring you life,
for old moons left in buckets on the shore,
for islands, each a symbol of delight,
some further out ‘or what’s a heaven for’.
I am no dancer of quicksteps.
Not for me the sure swift
rhythms of the streets, the office
tangos, the at home waltzes.
Not for me the paso doble,
I have no way with pas de deux.
I am the sigh of soft shoe
shuffles done in doorways,
the tap of a steel capped cane.
The cry of someone left to dance
in wilderness—the clink
of his ball and chain.
Gather the stars . . .
Gather the stars together, let them glow
in vases, stem the ebb and flow of tides,
the groaning growth of mountains, let them
gather strength in pools, or start the long
slow wearing down to being plains, make still
the movement of tectonic plates, the surging
power of magma breaking through the surface
clay; suspend the laws of nature for one day:
Mankind is playing Christmas games again.
Break up the tanks, let rifles rust away
scuttle the fleets, build silos just for grain,
make ploughshares out of swords and grounded
planes; suspend the laws of nature for one day:
Mankind is playing Christmas games again
Kings Park (Anzac Day)
Who knows if we still know
what is worth dying for?
The world will change
and change again,
the distant blue will fade
the mundane into infinite;
and we will write our children’s
names and call it glory.
Appeared in One Tree Bridge (The Lives You Touch Publications) and Beyond the Fence
Beyond the Fence
Here, on the inside,
where the land
enfolds the water,
and the wall
defines its ends,
we are contained
by dimensions of vision,
by the width of the sky,
reduced by passionate divisions,
to a small i.
Beyond the fence
the sky absorbs the eye,
and we are contours
in the flatness of old hills,
old roads that cling
to fading skylines;
in the yellow folds
of the yellow fields
we mutter with the voice
hold horizons in our hands.
Somewhere out there
the city knows us;
the wheatfields think about us;
the silos fill with grain;
and further south,
where oceans start and end,
One Tree Bridge
That first morning, hoping to catch the dawn,
we stepped instead into a world of mist
and dark green forest, mixed with the softer
greys of smoke from pot bellied stoves, and
the light green of the ferns along the river.
Taken by mist the road could not be seen,
though what remained of the one-log bridge
that gave this place its name moved through
degrees of sight right on the edge of seen,
unseen, just seen: a bridge into infinity, a lost
road, vanished, dreamed, now going nowhere.
And we, my child and I, being small and quiet,
watched as from drifts of mist the great trees
grew, regained their shapes, their varied colours,
their forty-metre stretch that touched the sky,
and took it in, each from our own perspective;
she from the bridge, I from a long-gone road.
Appeared in One Tree Bridge (The Lives You Touch Publications) and Beyond the Fence
Could that be all? That blood on hands,
dried rusty brown and blown away,
would take the power of the man
and simply end it — that dust once stirred
would gently settle back again, and not
reveal behind the faces of my sons
the riddle and its answer rolled in one,
the blind and silent futures as they come.
Offertory song for the new millennium
Give thanks to God for loving men and lambs,
for giving us this Earth to make or break;
give thanks for brains and hearts and blood on hands,
for things that mankind does for heaven’s sake.
Give thanks that we who once kept gods alive
with songs of praise and hopes of paradise,
who lit the sacred fires, sharpened knives
and slaughtered countless lambs in sacrifice,
no longer have the need to slit lamb’s throats
no longer say our prayers with holy smoke,
much cleaner using greed and Third World debt,
much simpler to say prayers with hijacked jets
and graft, corruption, bribes and well hedged bets,
indifference, lies, half truths, and outright theft.
Give thanks to God for loving men and lambs.
Thank God he’s not too fussy which he gets.
In this country of the blind,
where the one-eyed would be king,
and the bird-song in the morning
is the loudest loveliest thing,
they won’t speak to me of mountains,
(say the concept is absurd)
I can’t speak of stars or fountains:
beauty is a singing bird.
And the bird is soft and feathers,
note by note and piled on high:
in the glory of the morning
it alone becomes the sky.
Later we’d look and find her floating there,
hair short, cut like a nun’s, the clothes that bore
her up then dragged her down spread all around,
her father dead, her brother so far gone that all he’d
say was ‘too much water. Poor Ophelia’, or words
to that effect, but first, a reach too far, she came
with songs and flowers to the drowning.
She came complete, all in one part, so like the willow
tree she trailed her fingers in the weeping water.
A tree too set symbolically to save her,
and yet she sang sweet songs, snatches of tunes —
alas my love you do me wrong but who she sung about,
though we could guess, there was no saying.
She was a mermaid, part scale, part skin,
a fish in air, a woman in deep water,
an owl that once was a baker’s daughter
(how what we are becomes all we can be).
She felt a need to drown in water deeper than a puddle,
to trust the sharks, to breathe the deepest seas;
she drowned in air, then drowned again in sorrow.
There’s something about being underwater.
Not deep in perspex tubes watching the sharks,
but truly, madly, deeply under water;
the light transfused, you breathe the liquid in
until who knows if you are it or it is you.
Ophelia, mad, can find no reason in it;
can sing no version of it.
in any liquid
Drip, drip, the rain’s slow song, you are the earth again.
Did we just pull you from the drain to fill a ditch?
Did Gertrude whine sweet to the sweet,
did Yorick really move aside for this?
The shovel pours another blessing on your head.
The jester shares the joke, the limelight, and his bed.
undergoes an upthrust
Later we’ll put them all away. The shovel in its shed, the tears
that no-one cried, the prayers that no-one took the time to pray,
the things we thought, implied or said, these things we’ll pack
inside a play, inside a song we’ll give your name. Oh isn’t love confusing.
Deep is the ground where love is found; and worms have let the air in.
or apparent loss of weight
It seems the air weighs nothing. It seems to slip through lungs
as once it slipped through yours; we breathe you in and breathe
you out again, I feel the willow move in streams of air.
Do your lungs move there in the afterlife? Does your voice
use the earth as once we all used air? The air is still, and we
to the weight,
and to the task,
of being dead.
Goodnight, goodnight, my sweet Ophelia.
Goodnight, goodnight … It’s all been said.