How Not to Die

Mandawuy, given,
of Yolgnu people,
his skin name ‘Gudjuk’,
writing songs for his nation;

he was labelled, briefly,
‘Australian of the Year’,
his coronation late –
Gubba man’s idea.

Ill, but on stage,
with his band Yohtu Yindi,
his crown re-found,
in the grace of singing;

his voice, so loud,
again dream-gripping,
with a re-cast lifeline,
thrown by performing.

He said: “I am not dying”,
his beliefs in living,
he went, a sorry business,
to the Eternal Dreaming,

‘The Healing Song’ incomplete,
but he always sung the words,
connected “to mother earth
and the universe”.


“Racism is a disease… We’re all equal..
I don’t care what their colour is,
or religion….as long as they’re human..
they’re my buddies.”

Mandawuy Yunupingu
17 September 1956 – 2 June 2013


All I have left
is a shot of my dad,
his black hair
combed hard

over that
balding spot,
one I’ve yet
to fully match:

His flat-feet lifted
onto his desk,
showing his soles
at their best,

whilst holding, delicately,
a magnifying glass,
examining nothing
for the photographer.

Quite unlike him,
it appears, easily-posed,
a black and white essay
for the local print-news.

My father, once a copper,
then ‘a fingerprint-taker’,
here framed, last sight of him,
my footprint-maker.

Football Results. II

Nan, northern, small, from an earlier time,
she called the cinema ‘the flicks’,
with her Geordie spittle, forever an old lady,
behind bottle-bottom NHS glasses.

She sat on the edge on that elastic-sprung chair,
the three-piece suite, which we later inherited;
Nan sipped her occasional wee-dark whisky,
when visited, on a Saturday, by all her children,

but one – unknown – for her, always missing:

That secret she kept became her last honesty;
her out-of-wedlock mistake re-born,
with the final clearance of foreign nick-knacks,
mementos, of a life, without her first child;

he was long-removed from her early shaming,
steam-shipped, as an infant, to another world.
He left home before them, to that other place.
He died, the letter said, in an automotive crash.

I can still see Nan’s fag-suck lined mouth,
her skin, leathery, never once kissed
by her first child, his distance, his shipping,
beyond her long-sight, her failing vision.


Football Results. I

A slow, stab, flourish, and lift
of piccalilli – turmeric’s yellow twist:
This pot of eastern reinvention,
a bastard child of the Empire.

My pre-punk Nan, war-widowed,
smoothed it across the corned beef –
her fatty, but still flaky, meat solution,
shipped in tins, each with a key.

We sat, spread on the yellow sofa,
with our plates balanced,
watching Nan attend to her fags –
back then they didn’t give you cancer;

that room a fug of Silk Cut and Players,
exhaled in stylish puffs, I watched
their twists in the mote-sparkled light
as my relatives prayer-hushed

for the football results.
When my uncle spoke,
exposing his stained teeth,
we knew no one had won.



Nan had to move
from her council house,
the one with the cinders
and ash path,
a piece of which
we always took,
briefly embedded,
flesh-framed in blood,
in one of our scrapes,
after a trip, or push,
up to her door;
the sibling way of boys
let loose from a car.

The menace of
the shadowed alley
took us, echoed,
to her patchy garden,
where her hind-sloped,
disagreeable Alsatian
marked out our pitch,
which was surrounded
by a notional fence,
being badly strung,
held thin in my fingers,
almost cheese-wire.
The washing line posts,
the only things planted,
stood a ball’s throw apart.

Nan moved from there
to her new flat,
without the dog –
it being ruled against.
No path, instead,
grip-rippled ramps,
up, then switchback,
up, then switchback,
past ‘No Ball Game’ signs,
around the stray dogs’
piss puddles;
here, no patchwork
of grass to absorb,
no forgiving cinders
to fall on,
only yards of child
breaking concrete.


Your Charity Jump

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I am going to free-fall,
through thinned-out clouds,
a given, this booking,
for my charity’s pounds.

I shall be that speck,
strapped to another,
you may see me drop,
as I hurtle, pre-splatter,

completely committed,
to a complete unknown,
like us, also falling,
our future unbeknown.

We know, all we know –
that the straps will work,
and the ‘chute will unfurl,
and our landing could hurt.