Alex Skovron: Six Poems

Freedom and flight: Susan Fealy launches Letters from the Periphery by Alex Skovron

Aubade, Allegro

‘The past is never where you think you left it.’
………………………………………………— Katherine Anne Porter

A line of light from a passing van sweeps the ceiling
like a blade. Something becomes.
The days have tumbled—a snaking row of dominoes,
history in disarray. And then an intrusion
of thought as the zeros clatter their alarum.
You tap the phone, tapping blessed silence. Lately
the gender of trees, the dance of isobars, monuments
shifting and foolish ships colonize
your obsessions. In a sushi parlour you overheard
‘Ah, yes, gravitas’, and the rhyme wouldn’t release you,
its satiric grin. Compulsive, you emailed it
to yourself, let it haunt the inbox unopened,
then a spark spoke up: Time is orthogonal, its walls sheer,
deceptive as glass, and the angles crawl
ever inwards and out, a meandros in four dimensions.
But the futility of this conceit washes over you,
sense collapses, and a police helicopter
is shredding the counterfeit quiet. You drift
downstairs—yesterday, where’s yesterday? A line from
somewhere: May the end hold memory not misery …

You stop, listen. A piano’s rhetoric has been looping
inside your skull: Sonata 18, that glorious leap
into bar 46—and gratitude lifts the hot urn, teaspoon
of brown dust, a quaver of milk. A bird, maybe
Beethoven himself, sweeps the window like a ghost.
You drum the keyboard bench, prepare to perform the day.

from Letters from the Periphery (2021), Puncher & Wattmann


Around the World

‘Like a medieval Latvian serf I wait
For something to wait for.’
……….—Mikelis Norgelis (Michael O’Loughlin, In This Life)

Sydney, sixteen and a half, I took part
in a chess tournament called the Riga Shield,
knowing nothing then of that fabled city.
Byzantium too was yet to traverse my page,
like poetry, and Prague remained
a station where we’d waited eight years ago,
in a wagon from Warsaw to Vienna,
for something that would arrive soon enough—
my first climb above the gorgeous clouds
of the Mediterranean behind a Convair
cabin window, front row, portside, right behind
the flight deck’s forbidden musics.
I did know something of the Baltic states
(Soviet Republics then), from Around the World:
some of its pictures brought me the shock
of the real, especially the chapterette ‘IRAN’—
brown print of two blindfolded figures
each strung slumped to a pole, labelled in Polish
‘Bestial execution of democrats sentenced
by the shah’s regime’. It sat opposite
a sample stamp and the silhouetted little map
of the country in question dark within its diagram
continent. I treasure that book, although
now of course I know: little changes—
in some places you can hang for mixing metaphors.
I was happy to mix chess with geography, both
I grew to love. They somehow seemed
to complement each other—and me, in my
consequential otherness. These days we’re cajoled
into splitting our differences, it wasn’t always
thus. But as I edged into 1965, newer skies
unfolding before me, sixteen and a half, that chess
of becoming (my games all zealously notated),
I too was balancing the difference—
between where I had been or never been,
and whatever I couldn’t know I was waiting for.

from Letters from the Periphery (2021), Puncher & Wattmann


My Wattle Princess

The twin steeples of the Cathedral stood out
above the treeline like stern monitors. Slotted along
neat channel-paths between the flowerbeds,

steel longchairs sat, brown question-marks,
their ribs curvatured into reposing valets and dames,
some elderly, some just old-at-heart, logging-in

perhaps to each other’s parkside fantasies
or lipreading the lurid pockets of orbiting joggers.
As good a day as any, and better than some;

but to one soul, seated beside a lone Cootamundra,
a remote, unreadable day. Indifferent she
to the dim cavalcade—and to this suspect co-sitter

studying her with fabled nonchalance from
opposite, next to a trim plantation of forget-me-nots.
No signal hers of any inkling or unease, no

scruple of desire to modulate to a remoter key—
still as a stone, her sock-striped ankles
loosely crossed, black jeans under a purple blouse

beneath a cardigan covered by a coat, boots black,
and any unexpected bonnet or a cap
missing from the reddish crop encircling her brow.

I have long lowered my volume to my lap
(The Saxon and Norman Kings, Christopher Brooke)
to memorize again that shadowy processional—

Egbert through Æthelstan to the Confessor Saint—
but I cannot turn back the gentle wavelets
lapping me across the pebbled sand: I find myself

oddly imprisoned by this remorseless girl I fancy
as some fallen princess hard at conceiving
her glorious reinvention or revenge—for alongside

that statelessness (it appears no less), a grand serenity
seems to command her features, and her eyes,
almost incomprehensibly, shine like a state of grace;

and despite the respectable pathway that divides us,
I want to stand, approach, be granted audience,
for I have now resolved she is a Queen, and could

with one breathtaking regal tremble of her wrist
reduce me to my knee to drop my head
and learn the tingle of her sceptre at my neck;

and as I arise, her eyebrow too will lift,
ever so slightly, o sweet conspiracy, to let me know
she will be waiting in her chamber at twelve …

But then, instead, she coughs—a shocking cough,
so rasping and infernal that I jump; then, scowling,
crisply flips a consummate one-finger salute

out of her garbled sleeve, spits out across our moat
a crude if ambiguous suggestion; and then—
she stood, brushed herself down, and hobbled off

in the direction of the stern Cathedral. And me, I fled:
back to my patient history, back to exiled
Unready Æthelred, wily Canute, his relentless sea.

from Towards the Equator: New & Selected Poems (2014), Puncher & Wattmann



Midnight dream. The bed swims beneath a roof awash
with the rid remains of hags and queasy clocks.

On the stead a pair of hungover jocks. The guests gather
all over again. The wedding canopy’s lid

is quilted with cartoons in black pen, pastels, and prints
of exotic family trees. Invitees lavishly grin, some of them weep.

A leering urchin passes, waltzing with a broom. Curtains
part, discreet. Soon the speeches will start, the blackening sky

and canopy refill, umbrellas are crisply arranged.
The marriage of pride and gloom. All manner of vows shall be

exchanged, while the uninvited clutter about in a forbidden room.
No tickets please. On the lawn, a slightly familiar singing

among contorted trees, a plinkle of glasses and a tlunk of plates.
Eyes crawl everywhere, looking for links. Sex and seduction

colonize the air, it’s a cocktail turn: he’s itching for some
fingerfood, she scans for drinks. Wait, is that the celebrant

pushing the gates, wearing her tinny sprinkle of professional joy?
Her golden tresses, the way she flings them, gorgeously. Oh boy!

(Among the rhododendrons, behind the drive, a churl wrestles
with a virgin’s brief, watches her arrive. Maybe now

the reception can begin.) But the celebrant isn’t: she’s merely
another guest; rumours fly. The sated couple from the bushes

remingle at the rotunda, offer each other the rosy eye.
On the balcony a tipsy-curvy secretary strips. The midnight dreamer,

disabused, notes how it really is clothes that naketh the woman.
She vanishes behind a vase. Everybody sips.

from Letters from the Periphery (2021), Puncher & Wattmann


The Old Song

(for Mal Morgan)

He wrestles the wind like a skater
…..struggling uphill
Umbrella bent she swims against the rain
My daughter rushes in with some new excitement
A spiritual virgin somewhere hits the hay

The seagulls rotate like a windmill
… the tropics
They re-enact a song as old as Babel
An opera-star whose mediocrity is staggering
Begins to comb his Gideons for a label

Dreaming of claret and the clotting
…..of his sickness
The lion consumes his morning-after hock
An architect of spears surrenders all his Gothic
His grounds become the flimsiest on the block

My son rushes in with a biscuit
… a bottle
And a photo of a twirling parade
The demagogue refocuses his single-lens reflex
A print is more impressive framed

We box in the rain like forgotten
Futile as midsummer skaters
At night we re-invent the same stuttering songman
Or hit the sack, full of coal and potatoes

from Sleeve Notes (1992), Hale & Iremonger & Golvan Arts, 1992



Bartolomeu de Gusmão (1685–1724)


I was no Icarus, yet I flew too high.
It was a week before Christmas that I was born,
gazing to Heaven, or so the legend went—
but it wasn’t because I was hearing the call of God,
or of Science; nor, as one scribbler insisted,
did I emerge awestruck at sharing my year of birth
with those three melodious souls across the Atlantic.
No, not music was to be my calling: I would quest
after an earthlier loftiness. And I would dream.
Francisco and Maria, devoted parents, sent me
at fifteen to the Jesuits at Bahia; but no seminary,
no Society could contain me. I sailed for Lisbon,
blossomed at Coimbra: I read Mathematics,
Physics, Philology, I learnt languages, mastered
the Art of Memory. And I thought. Already,
my callow studies in Brazil had hatched a device
whereby water could be lifted uphill from a stream—
my earliest success with levitation.


My chance epiphany was a soap-bubble
I watched floating up in the hot glow of a candle.
An object could be made to rise through heat alone!
I thought about this. King João listened when I claimed
I could make an apparatus walk on air. My first try,
a balloon of paper, burnt before it could fly; next,
a similar contrivance rose 20 palmos before servants
destroyed it lest the palace ceiling be engulfed.
But third time lucky: on the eighth day of August,
in the year of our Lord, 1709, before the King,
his Queen, Cardinal Conti (our future Pope Innocent)
and an astonished court on the patio of the Casa da Índia,
my bird rose—until the flame failed, and she dropped
into the Palace Square. The first flying machine
lighter than air! Our King was hugely impressed,
heaped honours upon me, granted me the sole right
to build airships, with death to any who dared
to copy my ideas. Even I thought that last a bit harsh.


By combustion, my balloon had raised aloft
a metal ball in a basket. It was a start. I continued
to refine my Passarola while drafting other designs.
I envisaged a vessel with wings, bellows, a tail,
wind-tubes and inflated globes. I conceived a craft
built around a pyramid of gas. So much to think of!
But stretching for clouds, I had grown too visible—
my inventions reached the nose of the Inquisition.
I was deemed a heretic; others called me wizard!
Burning my papers, I fled in disguise to Spain,
hoping for England. It was not to be.
Brought low by pernicious fever, I succumbed
at Toledo, unready and, alas, too young—
yet consoled by the splendour of my achievement.
After all, had I not conquered the miracle
of flight, three generations before those two
upstart French balloonists?—and who can reckon
how many centuries since ill-starred Icarus!  

from Letters from the Periphery (2021), Puncher & Wattmann

Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão, priest and inventor, was born in Brazil and as a young man embarked Lisbon. In 1709 he demonstrated that a lighter-than-air object could fly—long before the famous hot-air balloon flights of the Montgolfier brothers in 1783. His device became known as Passarola, from the Portuguese pássaro (bird).


Alex Skovron is the author of seven collections of poetry, a prose novella, The Poet (2005), and a book of short stories, The Man who Took to his Bed (2017). His volume of new and selected poems, Towards the Equator (2014), was shortlisted in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. His work has been translated into a number of languages, and he has co-authored book-length translations of two Czech poets: Jiří Orten and Vladimír Holan. His most recent book of poetry is Letters from the Periphery (2021). He is currently working on a new collection of short fiction in prose.

Freedom and flight: Susan Fealy launches Letters from the Periphery by Alex Skovron


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