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poetry by Jan Dean
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Six Persimmons

after Mu-ch’i: Sung Dynasty painter, 13th Century

A tone poem in freeform: six persimmons
in transition from firm and shiny
to dark and mellow.
Mu-ch’i used black and greys
yet they emit colour, like dreaming
a familiar room in black and white
and the hearth glows orange.

He made the creative act speedy.
Speedy as taking persimmons from a laden tree
that spilled onto the veranda of an old house.
I remember my mother’s enthusiasm
and the host’s generosity. Unforgettable
how astringency combined with squishiness
to coat the mouth in flour, warning me off.

A lifetime later I learn the sweetest
are the ones seeming past their prime;
wrinkled and overripe.
I think my mother and Mu-ch’i knew.
Skill, sensitivity and contemplating
the essence take time.

Time Travellers at Star City

Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party has gone
troppo—indoors for extended play—joined the throng
at Star City Casino. With boater hats thrown away
and singlets covered to rub shoulders
with Asian brothers, their out of focus faces whirr.
Flush from beginner’s luck they won’t be told
gamblers exit middle class going down.

On the way in, the sound of lapping water
brings familiarity. Chirr of pokies and an occasional
squealed response to bonanza replaces birdsong.
Those who pine greenery are placated
with palms whose fronds and tapered trunks bristle
like pineapple crowns. The faux sky twinkles
a Southern Cross. An Asian woman wheezes
I’ve been here yesterday, last night,
today, all day. Too long!

Critics say the Renoir-crowd backtracked
for a little Bosch-debauchery and went widdershins
losing joie de vivre along the way.

Dogs, About to be Fed

after Russell Drysdale’s Man feeding his dogs, 1941

Lanky as a tree
in a lean country, he lopes.
You can rely on him. Unlike sunsets
which promise rain yet never deliver.
The boss, his mate, the land, us; we’re all
painted with the one brush.

I told you, keep your coat on.
Stop whining. For a dog
called Speedy, you’re a slow learner.
See the sugar-bag squirm.
It’s bunny tonight, but you’ll earn it.

Our master keeps us because
we mirror him in spareness.

Night Fishing

One line would do it. I’ve been caught before
so I know the hallucinatory power.
Any lure would set me off
in furious fight to carry me through
the silence of a sleepless night.
Dangle temptation. Captivity sings.
Savour agony.

An empty wine bottle kept for its rich blue
on my kitchen windowsill whispers depths
of an azure bay. Fridge churns
a background continuum in harmony
with faint train grumbles making my waves.

Stars and streetlights gleam gold and silver
scales for my freakish underwater world.
On and on, streaming, dreaming
pinprick places on the globe.

King Edward Park

Newcastle, NSW

Leaf becomes long sheaf.
Needles bend, enclosing slender spears
which may be withdrawn and replaced
again and again. Shades of swordplay.

A fallen spread from Norfolk pines
durable as Bavarian fairytales.
Their branches are wings, prepared
to support snowdrifts that never come, creating
a year-round Christmas feeling. They offer
protection to sunken gardens and lawns
on their Pacific sweep, and vie with the gem
a rotunda, prim and doily-trimmed.

Here we may pretend being in the Nineteenth
Century, sipping tea with affectations
like little finger raised above the others tenderly
holding a china cup and speak with pursed lips
and cultured voices as we nibble sandwiches
garnished with brass-band relish.

Perhaps another tack: speeding
along the hill-climb track, serpentine
and perilous; daring and anticipatory
into the future.


In pointillist-painting-light black angels
fish my lake, diving to resurface
at a surprise-spot. When wet, with feathers
awry, they are scruffy, but super-sleek when dry.
I saw some sitting on a jetty with their backs
to me, recalling the boys and a dog
on a pier in Coles Funny Picture Book.

Self-possessed as women who fling back
their hair, they always choose commanding positions.
Sunning wings, one, more beautiful
than the Winged Victory of Samothrace
sat on a marker-buoy, a black-and-yellow column.
The rare sight of a flock in flight is a soundless
“Hallelujah Chorus” repeating the grand
horizontal gesture of the lake.

Cormorants feature in another movie of my mind:
A jade river ribbons through bamboo flurry
and insistent verticals of karst formations
with contours like a piece of wayward string.
In Guilin, China, the Sung dynasty scroll unrolls
men on rafts. Their cormorants are constrained.
Cords around their throats train them to catch fish.
At Lake Macquarie they catch your heart.


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