Adam Aitken: Three Poems

The Far East

I remember the school ground:
eager to kill, I punched him, but gently, diplomatically,

Why didn’t I just
poison his sandwich?

Named the Inscrutable
I was angrier and more silent
than I looked.

In private moments I would
devise sermons on fear and fathers

in the voice of my mother.

Having never given up
loving you, you became
the template of my becoming.

After so much talking
so much cutting down of forests
to make the barricade

my mother just made more talk,
gesticulating to the Danish envoy,
who, beaten down by humidity,
could never enjoy

But in the long run
I came to accept that for my type
the Celtic poet in Game of Thrones
might decide to cut off our heads.

I share no need to fly to distant prisons
where a thug I could have been
stews on what it is that got him there.

Some days I’m so extreme,
in the sense of far away,
too far away to even think of trade,
like Marco Polo locked in a castle
on the edges of a distant green sea.

But on a sliding scale I’m
neither Oriental nor mean.
My tender presence brings you the key:

the gates open, at least an inch,
and the corridor sounds again,
with all the merchants of my desire
wanting a sale, offering closure.



‘Can I help
my beautiful father’
 – Emily Stewart

I wanted a father before midnight,
before I dreamt of him again, and where he might take me –
to islands and forests we had never seen.
To deserts where we were taken as aliens
and became the loved ones.

I knew if I answered the phone
my father would always have a new illness to share.
Illness was normal, almost predictable.
One day the illness was anger.
He told me bad things about my writing,
my writing was inaccurate, and
he was ‘seriously worried’
about the book I intended to publish,
and the fact he might lose a leg.
I was able to tell him to get better,
it was more than rhetoric, it was magical thinking
and that time he did get better, I mean, for a while,
in that semi-miraculous way he did.

A year later we sat in a hospital watching the tellie
and sharing a takeaway curry.

Wired up with morphine
our conversation improved.
He saw no Art in hospitals. But
art was there if you looked carefully,
he said, if you close your eyes and imagined it
you could see Art in hospitals.

Irony was our shared pleasure.
My father had his favourites, but
it wasn’t the male oncologist, who might have been
hiding his feelings,
but he didn’t seem to have any.
One has to accept the fact
that some doctors display autistic tendencies
that make empathy difficult.

When my father offered the nurse a chocolate
she shared an intimacy about her weight:
but it wasn’t weight she cared about,
it was sugar levels. There was a lesson in that
but he still tried to eat chocolates.
When she inserted the catheter, my father
seemed to submit his hand
to her full manipulation. She was delicate
and he took the needle delicately.

Across the aisle someone was taking her enemy leftovers
spiked with bile. I’d been cycling
in the Brindabellas.
I never admitted to a sick man
my VO2 and threshold power, my recovery rate.
This would not compensate for the fact that
I never won a single race in my life.
Who was a winner now?

In the end, when you’re in ICU
don’t be dumb enough
to talk fitness to your ailing father
or compare that to poetry.
Talk Buddhism, or Hinduism,
allow the staff to believe.

We didn’t argue, we both agreed to agree
more often, or not to say we didn’t agree.
We both enjoyed the fact that Leigh Sales
showed contempt for the evasions of a Minister.
Her toughness belied his fragility.
Irony again.

When I got home my wife was right, I had
oversalted the rice, and I will always
love her for telling me that.
Everything you can learn
you forget.


Sunlight on La Grande Rue

As the train pulled out of Nimes
sunlight was shining on the wrong place,
the seasons in reverse, the French
directionless again.

I imagined the sad traveler opposite
was a jilted bride from a tough
housing estate in rural Montélimar
weeping in spring…

I settled where the cellphone feed is best
where I lined up,
the parade ground of my desires waiting for orders
in a country of
affective disorder, but stirring

always, unbowed.

A little light in the right eye cures SAD.
In the near distance the Maritime Alps,
gloriously pale, so always that way
in the poems of René Char.

And though we haven’t melted yet
the sea is less an idea now
but a high tide on the edge of a vineyard.

In my distance:
the upturned bath and the three white horses
that graze eternally.


Adam Aitken lives in Sydney. With Mark Roberts he co-edited early editions of P76 journal. His last poetry collection Archipelago (Vagabond Press) was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and The Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry in 2018. His next book of poems, Revenants, is forthcoming from Giramondo Publishing.

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