Mark Allinson is a poet who was born in 1947 and raised in Melbourne,
Australia. After working and travelling for a number of years,
Mark returned to university and completed a Ph.D in 1989 in
English literature, and taught for six years at Monash
university, in Melbourne. Since then, Mark has taught
adult-educations courses in literature, philosophy and religion.
Since retiring from teaching Mark has been writing and
publishing poetry and essays in magazines and journals (such as
The Raintown Review), both in print and on-line. Mark has recently
published a chapbook of poems (MM publications, N.Y.) And
recently he has had a total of six poems in three poetry
anthologies, published by William Roetzheim.
The Big Dry
Worse than sudden flood or fire:
The wait for the rains to fall,
When a pallid crust of pungent dust
Spreads a ghastly pall.
And colour fades to shades of grey
As fields whiten and die,
Where wheat and grass with stalks of glass
Brittle beneath the sky.
When shattering light entrenches night
And thunders rattle hard
You hear no rain and when you wake
The world looks baked and charred.
You search for signs of frontal lines
In skies but clouds are rare,
And should one form you pray a storm
Might break this shell of air.
Harder to bear than fire or flood
The hardest weight of all
Is not to care as you sit and stare
And wait for the rains to fall.
Uniform Whiskey Bravo
They plug her in, raise a thumb.
Behind the whishing prop, a hum
Of starter-motor whirring till
Unmuffled stacks cough puffs of flame
With bangs that shake her silver frame.
A roar evoking primal forces
Pounding hooves of a thousand horses
Gravelly rustle of oiling gears
Thunder-crackling clanging bell-sounds
Barking of a dozen hell-hounds.
Now my boyhood Mustang’s muffled,
But still the thrill as her backwash ruffled
And stirred the pines on the boundary fence
Re-starts, and magically I’m there,
Rapt in Merlin-shattered air.
After Tao Yuan Ming (A.D. 365-427)
I built my small hut near the town
And yet there is no hubbub here.
You ask: "How do you keep the sound
So low, yet leave the air so clear."
I answer, "When the heart is still
A stillness blooms within the home."
I gather for my window sill
Chrysanthemums, and then I roam
In mind to wander southern hills;
The mountain air flows in my hut,
The sky is filled with flocks of birds,
And everything has meaning, but
The meaning lies beyond my words.
Last night I must have left the garden gate
Unlatched, for in the chill of autumn dawn
I woke, the yard shuddering—earth quake?
Friesian steers, their breaths fogging the air.
The lure of dewy lawn had drawn them in
After a long, yellow summer of dried hay.
Then, I saw with pain, it wasn’t the grass
They wanted—no!—but your billowing turquoise
Clouds of hydrangea! Flapping arms I chased them
Across the divoted lawn, bolted the latch
And surveyed the damage. Flower stalks stripped bare
As toothpicks! My dear, please forgive my careless
Error. Nothing can restore your ravished
Blossoms. But imagine how they tasted, cool
As sprays of blue snow after dusty stubble.
Tin roof, low trees, guy-wired antenna,
And a house seasoned as a violin,
Will whirl your mind to Vienna,
To the opera, when the winds begin.
Strummings of harps usher easterlies in.
Northerlies swing crabapple boughs to drum
And rattle snares on the cold taut tin.
Westerlies drone an overture hum
Bowing guy-wires with the cherry plum
And playing Haydn till the rains come;
Then some Verdi sighs and Bellini trills
As the gutters gush and the tank fills.
But when the southerly bluster breaks
Led Zeppelins crash and the whole house shakes.
Sorry, my friend, that I have not written
Sooner, but I have been travelling, far,
Over scored glacial plains where the bitten
Thornwood crouches beneath the north star;
Then farther, to where the seas roll like cold tar.
I sailed that congealing, snow-crusted sea
Till it set hard and ice snapped my boat's spar.
So cold it was, not a tear could flow free,
And none trudged that frozen desert but me.
When night condensed from the twilight gloom
I stumbled, numbly, unable to see,
My ice-thistled coat as hard as a tomb.
But morning has brought a fall of rain
Thawing my hands, so I write again.
When the power failed I shrank
To a face on a glass screen
Reflecting on the vacuum
Under surfaces of light.
For so long before I was
Hardly myself: determined:
The paradigm of engines,
Till the breakdown of silence.
Then eyes gazed into the black
Centre of myself and knew
This absence was permanent
And wonderful as the night.
That centre could never hold
Anything but anarchy,
Trying to constrain many
Voices under rule of one.
And the one who had been one
Died, and in dying gave birth
To my singers who sing now
Apart-together, like stars.
On Proust’s Madeleine
Sensual under strict religious folds,
The scalloped, spoon-held piece of madeleine
Is soaking up and swelling to retain
The faded blossom scent the warm tea holds.
Then taste, a rush of pleasure for which gold’s
A metaphor too weary to explain,
And far too poor a substance to sustain
The sense of treasure now the past unfolds.
Contingency, mortality, both fade
Beneath this bliss, like love, which is a joy
Vicissitudes of life cannot destroy,
Nor fears can worm a way nor doubts invade.
When taste and smell set our remembrance free,
A world thought lost may spring from a cup of tea.
Li Po’s Fire Poems
Some say Li Po burned
only his bad poems
freed them like fire-flies
to spark down the rivers
But that is all wrong.
I recall a night
of ice and frost,
high in a cave
in the Tai-hang Mountains.
Surely we would have died
that night, but Li Po
unrolled his best work,
read each poem softly,
then handed them
to the flames.
I remember one—
about a young girl he caught
praying to the moon—
the warmth from that poem
keeps the chill from my marrow
The Common Bond
[On the tsunami of 2005]
We seem to be so far away
From all these sea-born floods of death;
Sighing, giving, we cry and pray
As we watch scenes that catch the breath.
But all of us, in varying ways,
Know death may come to us like this,
In beds, on roads, or tranquil bays—
A sudden flood, and no last kiss.
They speak today of pheromones and genes
When trying to account for such a state
Most often seen in young folk, in their teens
Or in their twenties, signalling a mate.
They would not think a man turned fifty-eight
Should be a candidate for such a blast
Of chemicals, or genes, or luck, or fate,
To blow him forty years back to his past.
His family and friends would be aghast
To hear their wrinkled sage bay at the moon
And warble that he’d found “the one” at last,
And call him “fool”, or worse, “romantic loon.”
But they don’t know because they were not there
To breathe the lethal darkness of your hair.
In the 70s, in London, I lived for a while
In an old, cramped, single-bed room
Above the underground Central line.
Lying in the dark I could feel below
As the tunnel filled with passing strangers
Being carried home from a long day:
A faint rumble would grow till it quivered
Then shook the narrow bed like a tremor,
Blurring figures on the digital clock,
Jangling wire hangers in the closet,
Buzzing pill-bottles on the table.
And I thought of that cold, dark river
Of air below being pushed out ahead
Of the train, and manholes breathing out
That earthy, sour, underground odor
Into Soho alleys, as the rattling
Carriages clattered through echoing space
In the tunnel, down there, beneath my bed.
Some nights, awake in the early hours,
Long since the last train had passed,
I could still sense this dark space
Below the foundations of the old building,
Waiting under tons of earth and rock:
Nitre crusting the blackened walls;
Scrabble, plash and scuffle of rats.
And even now, thirty years later,
Living on the other side of the world
In a quiet country town by the sea,
Sometimes, sleepless in bed, I feel
The dark tunnel still below,
Echoing drips through an unlit night,
Waiting to carry more passengers home.
Crumpled feathers tumbled on the waves,
Part-interred in low-tide sandy graves.
High-tides flush and dig them up again;
King-tides dump them where they will remain.
Tangled bodies salted from the surf,
Shearwaters drowned and turning into earth.
Sun and rain will soon make hollow bones
Little whistles when the west wind moans.