Justin Lowe: Five Poems

On the South-West COVID Run

there is a tiny corner of the world
this one right here
that I have managed
to fashion out of nothing

like the sharpness
somewhere
between the blade
and the touch

the rest
is somebody else’s business
the prevailing wisdoms
the beaten paths

of the horse patrols on Copeland Street
whatever slow unravelling
is taking place behind those hospital doors
on the fourth floor sectioned off with blood-red bollards

in my world
the world of this poem
the sun still shines
the chimes still catch it and throw it back

from the clothes-horse terraces
and from somewhere else
outside this poem
a cloud of smoking shishka wafts

over the invisible lines
that dissect this city
that bring the horses to a sudden halt
as at a row of bodies laid out head to toe

on one side of this phantom line
the headlines speak in many languages
of lockdowns and random spot checks
on the other side of freedoms made somehow manifest

and here in the middle I sit
with my grim cargo
and my poem
waiting patiently for the lights to change

**

The Lost Parable

there was the parable
of the fish teasing the gulls
that never got written

it began
with the soft sough of the waves
that lulled its audience to sleep

and they would dream
their disparate dreams
of dark swells and sunlight shattering on the bay

and the moral would be lost
and the fish would go back to its swimming
the gulls to their angry squawking

hovering just above the waves
on their twitching wings
as though none of the elements really wanted them

and the world would fall deeper into its habits

**

Wagner’s Pamphlet
for Andrew Ford

otherwise
there was the far less engaging excuse
for her habitual tardiness

breezy imputations of undocumented hacks
shunning the turnpikes
her fox stoll dangling like an exclamation mark

the ghettoes dismissed as lyric conceits
stage props of the lower east side
no surprise that a Schoenberg turned atonal

nor that one of his many proteges
clung to the top of a Polish tree
begging the snow to cover his tracks

and when the Good Lord
duly obliged
our protege could not help whistling

(it was in his nature, afterall)

and so
the ones sent out to find him
duly found him

three bullet holes in the mist

**

The Tumble

all night a steady rain
whispering in the crab apple tree
its crone fingers scratching at the dark pane

possums scrabble for the one dry spot
like rolling thunder on the tin
in the morning I find the body of one

who could not manage the leap from maple to amber
went tumbling through the scree
a juvenile taking risks it wasn’t up to

I bury it with the others
in a quiet place under the cumquat
send it on its way with a few awkward words

I guess it woke like me in the night
ablaze with the miracle and terror of this world:
that I am still here at all is a miracle

after all my tiny slips

**

Dark Age

there was a time
not so long ago
you could always count
on a book lying open somewhere

the air smelled different then
like a hug from an old aunt
or a horse stamping the ground
but now

the books are dying
suffocating
starved of light, blind
without eyes passing over them

that’s why
if you listen hard enough
in a library
you can just make out

a gentle murmur
like a room
full of hostages
all bound and gagged

and when a child
happens to open a book
with her mother
say

at the big table

festooned
with rainbows and unicorns
you will hear a soft sigh of relief

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Justin Lowe is a poet, editor and occasional reviewer who lives in a house called Doug in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney where he edits poetry blog Bluepepper. His seventh collection, The Picketer, was released late last year, and his latest, Hall of Mirrors, is currently doing the rounds of publishers. He has had poems put to music by such acts as The Whitlams and The Impossibles, and has published widely around the world, most recently in Meanjin,  Verity LaBlue Nib (Ireland) The Cortland Review (USA).

Author’s photo by Photo by Joseph Matthews, 2021.

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