Andrew Burke: Five Poems


Awake from snoring away
hours of Spring afternoon
we sit reading in the kitchen at Mary’s
as waves of jazz piano wash over us
taut strings hit by velvet hammers at
Koln January 1975 bought bootleg
in Bali 1982….. re-aired in
Rockingham September 1988
tie our hearts together
measure for contra-
puntal measure…. hour
on sunny hour…. until
we fall into bed

and romp


for Mary Maclean

Many have been more exotic places, but this
you offer us, a taste of our land. The air
so crisp with chill we wear entire wardrobes
like hunters’ furs—jeans over track pants,
footy socks, beanies, scarves. Mary’s roo dog
does our hunting: an emu caught at the throat,
plucked and thrown whole on a cooking fire,
smoke full of singed feathers and flesh
stings our noses. We wrestle with tin-canned
standards in words the wind blows away. Huddled
round campfires morning and night, we go where
the sun breaks through as day unrolls. Breakaways,
mulga bush, a never-used dam a hundred years old,
this place of bleached bones and broken glass
queries our presence, unwashed, awkward on
its unpaved ways. Marrakesh, Katmandu—tales
of former hikes, but none so raw as this our land.
Whose land? Our week is up; we take away
film rolls, rusted horse shoes, ochre rocks.



The poem I wrote for her was for me—all ego—
That’s how I see it now: a masquerade party,
With me posing and knowing, confident confidant.

The imagery was measured, cut
From day’s marble of sun and shade;
And I spoke of her bejeaned arse like a boy

Saying things to shock his mother, cheeky,
Not downright rude. Cheeky too
The curve of breast—somehow the road

Carried my load, red motorbike’s roar
My mating call to her. It is so
Predictable now, looking back …

I cut away the glissando and the Boy’s Own
Symbolism, I cut out the pose and the poise;
I cut a page down to a quatrain. Will she

See me now? I’m in plain view, ego
Lightened by the light of years, a boy
Leaning on his bike outside her house.



There is a man who sits at the edge of the polluted pool
every morning when I put the kettle on and again in
the evening as I wash-up dishes and make a cup of tea.
All this evening there has been the droning sound of
a marital argument in Mandarin upstairs in
the Party Secretary’s unit, and now the slamming of
this building’s front door with its tricky locks. A moth
flies at the light as I enter the kitchen to make a late night
cup of tea. I’ll use the earlier bag again. I talk
calmly to the moth but it has flown up into
the extractor fan’s hood. No need for heroics, I say.
That’s when the front door really slammed,
even though I put it in earlier in this poem, eager
to get the job underway, to find the next poem. And
form? I often hope to burst into flame, to
whistle forth a libretto or a fresh example of
exotica, as I sit here in tee-shirt and jeans, late night,
typing on a laptop, my back to the window where,
just perhaps – and I will turn around in just a moment
when I’ve finished typing this – where, perhaps,
the next poem sticks its tongue out at me and jeers
in any one of the world’s many tongues,
Catch me if you can, catch me if you can.
There is a man who sits at the edge of the polluted pool
every morning and again in the evening. For all I know
he may be there right now, fishing in the dark, 11.38pm.



At 81 my mother asked for a cigarette
from the nurses’ station. They were
her cigarettes, monitored by the home.
She lit up, said she didn’t feel too good, and
went to the toilet. Her cigarette lay
in a tray. She came out, shuffling
in her fur-edged slippers down the hall
and fell straight on her face. Fellow
inmates held back, a nurse ran forward.
She had died before she hit the carpet,
her mouth open and surprise
in her eyes. Where she
had gone was anybody’s guess.
A priest arrived before her doctor,
a fact interpreted differently
by family and management.


Andrew Burke reading at the launch of his New and Selected. Photograph Miles Burke

Andrew Burke’s New and Selected poems was launched by by Peter Holland at Moana Hall Perth on Sunday 20th September 2020 and is available from Walleah Press. The launch speech can be read here A poet to hail and to treasure: Peter Holland launches New and Selected by Andrew Burke


Comments are closed.