•October 19, 2016 • 1 Comment


[This is part of the draft introduction to a work-in-progress called You Are Here. A Travelogue. The whole work is attempting to map deep time, big history, evolution, our common story since the Big Bang through the three big realms of the cosmos/matter, the planet/life and human history/mind. Not sure I’ll ever finish this project. Anyway, it all starts, or startles, in the meditative Now. The photo is of our farm dam at dusk, two shores of light and dark, yang and yin, beginning and end, above and below…held together by, one with, an expanse of aqueous emptiness…]


Here. Here now. Just sitting. Within the wordless, stillness, awareness, there is: breathing, rising, falling…There is change/no change, no inside/outside, no thought, no time. Emptiness. ‘The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return’.

There is, quietly, a shift, a ‘startle’, a distraction: thoughts, change, memory, sequence. Perhaps a bird call, then named, catalogued, a bird imagined. There is still intermittent awareness of sensations, thoughts, forming and passing like clouds in the boundless sky, waves on the boundless ocean. Clouds and sky, waves and ocean, thoughts and awareness, birdcall and sitting, forms and emptiness, both and neither.

Then, watching, awareness ends.

Is there a ‘cause’, a ‘reason’ for this ending? One does not know, unaware of why one ceases to be aware. Conditions have changed. There seems to have been a wave, a movement arising, a movement away from watching and awareness, a severing or dis-traction, a pulling into and away, a grasping (‘greed’) or rejecting (‘fear’), an identification with a sensation or thought. A ‘fall’ into ‘world’ and word.

So now there is an ‘I’, and this ‘I’ is what has merged with, has apparently become, these fleeting sensations, memories, thoughts. I have become ‘clouded’, become the rapidly expanding and interconnecting networks-of-networks of associations-and-responses, a network of apparently discrete ‘things’, a temporal self with memories, feelings, words and the ‘ten thousand things’ crowding in. A universe has arisen.

There has been a subtle ‘big bang’: together with everything else, I am the universe birthing and dying itself out of itself, the beginning of branching and exfoliating, changing, matter-body-mind and space-time self-organizing and self-evolving from and to some awareness, some ‘void-and-energy’, beyond time-and-space, beyond thought.

And now I am an apparently individual form of space-time bending back on itself, self-reflecting, thinking, writing, and my living body-mind doing all this is stardust born in the first stars a mere cosmic breath of 550 million years after the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago or in later exploding supernovas.

I now remember that the calcium in the bone of my finger typing the keyboard was forged in the furnace of early stars ten, a hundred, even a thousand times bigger than our sun. The water in my cells may have originally come from inside comets and asteroids that rained on the earth four billion years ago and produced the oceans, the source of life.

My brain began many millions of years ago in that ocean in some cellular or amoebic sensation that evolved further up into an invertebrate nervous system or a new vertebrate’s spinal column, moved all this up in the dance of evolution through the reptilian territorial brain, formed a lovingly hierarchical mammalian limbic system, blossomed out the abstracting bud of a primate cortex and self-reflective neocortex perhaps already in the first hominins just three or four million years ago or else the first homo species just two million years ago. Interiority has grown deeper, differentiating, integrating, encompassing more and more of the previous differentiations and developments.

However, my body-brain – including its thinking here written onto this screen ‒ is in truth not ‘mine’ but a collective artefact and expression of the universe, one even literally still informed by all previous evolution and history, still nourished and influenced by the first archaic bacteria living in my gut (the ‘microbiome’ and ‘enteric nervous system’).

I am a human being. I am a human individual born in the middle of the twentieth century, about 13.8 billion years after what we currently call the beginning of the universe in the Big Bang, about five billion years after the formation of our solar system and four and half billion years after the origin of planet Earth.

Now this individual is sitting at a computer writing this text. Three concepts in that sentence: individual, computer, writing text. Three concepts that each embody overlapping, over-determining, interdependent deep-time histories: cosmic, planetary, socio-historical, embody the majestic evolution of inorganic matter into life into mind/spirit.

This is ‘now’. In the transient form of this individual, the universe is stepping back a little and writing a text about itself on a sunny winter’s day in a house in a village in the southern highlands of New South Wales Australia on planet Earth on the edge of the Milky Way galaxy in what we, seeking orientation in the immense vistas of universal evolution, call winter 2016. To be able to do this, or for those bees to be still busy on the rosemary bush outside my study window, has taken the whole evolution of the universe. There is wonder, gratitude and joy in all this, in this tat tvam asi (That Art Thou), in the re-membering that is as normal as its forgetting:

And if I forget how many times I have been here, and in how many shapes, this forgetting is the necessary interval of darkness between every pulsation of light. I return in every baby born. (Alan Watts, The Book on the Taboo about Knowing Who You Are)

So let us begin the mapping of the evolutionary process of deep time. The fluctuations within waves within larger successive waves within even larger successive waves, seemingly going on for ever, backwards, forwards, never clear and distinct and separate but always overlapping, reverberating, refracting, retracting, merging.

Can we attempt to see the ripple of the present moment ‒ in-formed by and with past waves and pregnant with even larger future waves perhaps already drawing it out, co-forming it, as ‘chaotic attractors’ ‒ ‘backwards’ and ‘forwards’, ‘down’ and ‘up’, within the great waves of human mind and socio-historical time which contain within themselves the wider waves of organic planetary time which contain the even wider waves of inorganic cosmic time, and all of them contained right here and now within an evolved mind writing and an evolved mind, dear reader, reading?

The mind may tremble a little at the immensity of the task. And yet, such is our basic premise, all these waves are mere fluctuations, shining ripples, fleeting illusions of what we call ‘time passing’, change and ‘evolution’, on or within, out of and into, the deep ocean of the inexpressible Timeless, the Form-and-Emptiness, the mystery of the dynamic eternal stillness and its ‘startle’, the sheer ‘thusness’, ‘isness’, the ‘nowever’, say, of a frog leaping:

Old pond:
frog leaps ‒
sound of water

– Matsuo Basho (1644–94)

But not too fast. First, I do not ‘have’ myself yet, and neither do we. The inner cannot know itself without the outer, the enfolded implicate without the unfolded explicate. You have to go away to come home, lose yourself to find yourself. So there is a bit of journeying to do, a be-coming, a going-out-of-oneself into the world that is itself in the process of becoming, e-volving, of coming or bending back into itself:

I am. But I don’t have myself. Thus we are in a process of becoming. The ‘am’ is inside. All of the internal is dark in itself. In order to see itself, not to mention the surrounds, the self must go out of itself. Must get up and go on its way to see anything at all, see itself among its peers, whereby an ‘I am’, no longer resting in itself, becomes a ‘we’. […] This learning takes place completely in the external, it journeys within it, experiences within it, and only experiences its interior by means of this external. Humans in particular are dependent on this continuous journey outwards in order to even be able to come back to themselves, and thus to find within themselves that depth which is not there in order to remain within itself, unexpressed. In order to just become sensitive to itself, the mere ‘am’ has to dress itself in something taken from outside. Literally as well as figuratively, a human being is born naked in its own skin and needs alien garments to warm itself in its own proximity, indeed even to emphasize its very own existence. (Ernst Bloch, Tuebinger Einleitung in die Philosophie)

The Four Ages 4 – Earth Time

•October 3, 2016 • 5 Comments


[Last poem of The Four Ages suite, on old age (earth, winter). Photo a simulation of filaments of galaxies and voids.]


Earth Time

But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
– Walt Whitman, ‘Song of Myself’

Things are starting to sag.
I forget things that don’t matter –
pin numbers, names, manners.

The body hardens, loosens, begins to creak.
There’s clay in the stomach
and below is getting fishier.
It’s all starting to slide south.

I like small children
unless they’re neurotic.
I notice now the soothing power
around plants and trees,
the constant communication of cats.

I read the souls in people’s faces
like subtle palimpsests in old books.
Their bodies tell me sad stories.
I dislike mirrors, convoluted conversations.

Sometimes young ones come
to escape the adults and steal
puzzled glances at my eyes
burning out from crocodile flesh.

I know less and less.
There’s a frost on the soil
drawing down star force
into sleeping seeds. Sometimes,

there’s grace, and suddenly
a beautiful silence shimmers
like clear water
in which simple things breathe
and sway like seaweed
answering to some deeper current.

The glasses slide down the nose.
The spoon slips back into the soup.

Growing deafer, I’m now, at times,
surprised to hear, faintly,
the Source keening me home –
cold wires in the wind.

It is my last chance.

The Four Ages 3 – Water Time

•October 2, 2016 • Leave a Comment


[Part 3 of The Four Ages suite: Water Time (middle age, autumn/fall). Photo of milkman in 1940s London during the Blitz.]


Water Time

Midway this way of life we’re bound upon,
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
Where the right road was wholly lost and gone.

Ay me! How hard to speak of it […]

It is so bitter, it goes nigh death;
Yet there I gained such good, that, to convey
The tale, I’ll write what else I found therewith.

– Dante, Canto 1 of Hell, The Divine Comedy

There is a third one here now,
coming through the flames.
There is a child.

There is work for money,
a tool box, briefcase, mask.
There is a community
of dialogue on public things.

I stand on a concrete bridge
over the metal flow of a freeway
near a wood invisibly etched
by an acid rain and a voice says
no problem jumping
if the life of my baby boy
required it. This is new.

A reactor melts in the Ukraine,
an abstract cloud rains becquerels.
I stand in line for powdered milk.
There is cold rage at the masters
and oceanic release. This warrior
washes dishes, changes nappies,
shouts in streets, waters planted trees.

The voice becomes a shaft
from the stomach as I watch
the rebellions of spring and summer
refined into a deeper anger
in the crucibles of grief.

I would this anger too be doused,
the greed, the distraction
of work, words and the worms of worry.

Where to draw such healing waters?

Yet sometimes I no longer seek,
sometimes sense I’ve been found
perhaps, but don’t realise it.

The fruit hangs full on wet black boughs.
The air is getting crisper, clearer.

Is it time to harvest the autumn crop,
light the fire
and listen to the crows?

The Four Ages 2 – Fire Time

•October 1, 2016 • Leave a Comment

[Last post was Part 1 of The Four Ages suite of poems: Air Time (childhood, spring). This is part two: Fire Time (youth, summer). Photo is from Pina Bausch’s dance theatre production The Rite of Spring.]


Fire Time

The wrath of Achilles is my theme, that fatal wrath […]
Let us begin, goddess of song, with the angry parting […]
– beginning of Homer’s Iliad

I am always at the edge
of something. I don’t like it, but
I want a hero.

Now I am a hesitant hero,
hairy thighs, stubble chin,
semen-soiled undies, standing
at the traffic lights. Everything
is extreme: my heat, my coldness.

To feel myself I need another
body to hit or love.

This dark current down there
is pulling me away from home.
Home has become a cosy
green bottle. As the current
drags at the chain I fear
the breaking.

I rage for another body.
I get concrete. I get images
made by others. I seek mirrors
and fear them. I want
adventure, excitement, risk.
I get movies, video games, fast cars.

I rage for another life, another
horizon, I get job training
and haircuts. To drift true
to my current I must rebel.

My true home is utopia.
I sway in the flesh waves
of my sisters and brothers, alive
and in rage at the outrages,
the reasonableness.

My passion is burning
to find me but I just feel
the flames.

The Four Ages 1 – Air Time

•September 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment


[The Four Ages is a suite of poems in four parts dealing with the four stages of life, i.e. childhood, youth, middle age, old age. This is the first poem, childhood. These poems, written twenty years ago, were published in my last book of poems, a kind of poetic ‘memoir’ also in four parts, Cut a Long Story Short (2014), available online at the Sydney publisher Puncher & Wattmann for a very reasonable price. (Support you local poets, folks! Support your local poetry publisher!). The photo is of my grandson Ollie at twenty months, asleep and holding onto the first balloons he ever got, for dear life.]

The Four Ages

The poet no longer goes from myth toward poetry, but from poetry toward myth.
– Zoran Mišić

Memory loves to go hunting in the dark.
– Osip Mandelstam


Air Time

Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew up
Fostered alike by beauty and by fear…
– William Wordsworth, The Prelude Book First, l. 301-302

I am near the source.
I am innocent and cruel.
Shining, I see the radiance.
I don’t understand clocks.

I look up: Oh that balloon rising
air within air …. Please hold
that string tight, Mummy.

I bounce like a ball.
I sit under the table
listen to the bigs’ stories
of the bombing raids
as I stroke auntie’s nylon legs.

In a dark closet
the little visitor presses her lips on mine.
Later she loudly informs the bigs
my kiss tastes like tomato sauce.

I spend hours practising
faces in the mirror.

I go to school.
There is a clock and a bell.
I learn about sitting still.

I begin to look forward
to endings: Friday,
this term, this year, primary school.

My writing gets neater and neater.

On Re-Reading Milton

•September 17, 2016 • 2 Comments


[Poem I wrote about nine years ago inspired by re-reading the start of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Took the shot at a holiday house on the south coast.]

On Re-Reading Milton


Of Nature’s dying, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose forgotten image
Now we vainly seek among our baubles and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man-
kind restore us, and regain our blissful place
Now infused with an intelligence steeped in loss,
Sing Earthly Muse, that walks with us
Since the beginning when we arose from Chaos
And fell into our childhood like a dark comet
Into a darker sea, I thence invoke
Your aid to my adventurous song
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above the mount of dumb prophets
And the bushes that refuse to burn
Despite this warming and eternal drought
While it pursues a poetics unattempted
Yet in prose or rhyme to justify
The ways of word and world to man.


For how can we now deny that Nature
Is dying to Her former self, and where
Once reefs and rainforests were, a lesser splendour
Of virus, rat and roach now holds sway,
Or that the Tyger Tyger burning bright is losing
The forests of its night to palm oil or industrial
Soy, the deep pond’s mysterious pike
May be transgenic, as may that alpha crow or bull
That bellows out its excess to the breeder’s tube?
Both clouds and daffodils now smell of oil,
The soul and the world it is, both, sliding
Down into an earlier fear, that cannot leave un-
touched the word that seeks to speak their state.


What role then, now, for the poetic word
But of remembrance within and beyond
Our much dismembered states? The way Keats wrote
It may strike us like strange wording of our own
Highest thoughts, or as music that opens the ear
To birdsong and traffic, as an image to catch sunlight
On fibro or serried ranks of shopping trolleys,
The angled shadow a leaning broom makes on a wooden floor,
A writer, a character grow closer than father or friend.
Remembrance shimmers on wideness, and those multitudes
Of our inner selves that Whitman sang, human and non-human,
Animal, star and rock. Our brains computers, yet wired down
Into ape and crocodile, dog and snake: so all may speak
To each other as they dance together
In the poetic word and leave us contained
And whole, re-membered into the world
That speaks through our despair, as eternally
Dying and renewed as we.

First TV Generation

•September 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment


[Some personalized ancient history: growing up with and without TV in the late 50s/early sixties. Still thankful we didn’t have a TV at home. Only managed to not have one ourselves till our son was about ten years old. Photo of a family watching television about 1958. A bas le societe du spectacle.]

First TV Generation

The generalized use of receivers of the spectacular message makes it possible for the individual to repopulate his isolation with dominant images, images which acquire their full power only because of this isolation.
– Guy Debord 1970, Society of the Spectacle, 172

…as we all watched from our separate living rooms, it was as if we sat in isolation booths, unable to exchange any responses about what we were all going through together. […] I was chilled at the thought, realizing that these conditions of TV viewing, confusion, unification, isolation – especially when combined with the passivity and what I later learned of the effects of implanted imagery – were ideal preconditions for the imposition of autocracy.
– J. Mander (1980), Four Arguments For The Elimination of Television, pp. 26-27.

Eleven or twelve, the beginning of high school at Fort Street Boys’ High in Petersham, Sydney. You live in Haberfield, where your parents have opened up and totally ruined a heritage Federation house by removing the front brick wall, heritage-tiled veranda and path, back timber sunroom and grey slate roof and attaching the de riguer ‘migrant dream’ concrete façade with large window to the planted radiata pines blocking out the street, an extra flat to rent out at the back (made of second hand bricks we spent many hours cleaning) and the obligatory Sydney red roof tiles. The house then has a total of twelve rooms and they are rented out to German, Austrian and Chinese-Malaysian tenants.

We never have a TV. You go next door some evenings to watch. Polite, monosyllabic entries and exits. A dark womb of a lounge room lit only by the flickering screen. Plato’s cave re-visited. Utterly screen-absorbed, almost funereal silences of father, mother, adult daughter, son-in-law, ‒ your neighbours ‒ whose names, if memory serves you well, were Buchanan. As separated as our neat, fenced, suburban quarter acre blocks, we are now united in total isolation as we watch, a ‘lonely crowd’ in miniature.

‘From the automobile to the television, all the goods selected by the spectacular system are also its weapons for a constant reinforcement of the conditions of isolation of ‘lonely crowds’” (Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 28).

This may be the defining suburban experience: without a living community, delocalised, we are isolated consumers of the new 1950s corporate culture of consumerism.

You never see the Buchanans watching as your head is kept turned away sideways from the couch to watch Hollywood’s adventures like Bonanza (and names, real and fictive, you definitely do remember like Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright and Lorne Green), Hawaian Eye (Ephraim Zimbalist Jr. and Cookie, the young guy, the proto-‘beatnik’, always combing back his blond hair), The Fugitive (the existentially lonely and darkly scowling David Jansen, a kind of TV-canned James Dean), canned-laughter products like My Three Sons (the pop singer Ricky Nelson and, like Lorne Greene, another good, calm widower and father figure with the comforting pipe Fred MacMurray…) and I Love Lucy (Lucille Ball, that strong proto-feminist clown in the Mae West tradition, long before feminism’s Betty Friedan or Germaine Greer)…

A refreshing antidote to Hollywood’s synthetic characters are the old Cockney rag and bone merchants of Steptoe & Son, the only British product we watch. It is almost ‘Beckett and Pinter for the masses’, unsurpassable British humour at its Goon Show, Monty Python best. (The only scene I now remember: old Steptoe finds an old newspaper under the carpet they are salvaging. Squinting reading, pause, looks up with an oblique look of squinting recrimination at his son, pause, whines: “You never told me Gandhi died!” His son remains silent, merely raising his eyebrows and shoulders slightly as his face is filled with the expression of pained indifference that is his habitual response to his father’s constant accusations and recriminations. ‒ The phrase has become part of the absurdist or comic relief repertoire of our marriage). Their eternally repetitive, antagonistic father-son dialogues and tramp-Beckettian body language have you in such great stitches that it is all you can do to somehow heroically and unhealthily repress them for fear of disturbing that genteel Buchananian silence…

Apart from such a British working class and absurd-realist exception, what are all these synthetic Hollywood characters doing to our brains, these post-patriarchal male role models compensating for absent fathers, these modern ultra-nuclear families seemingly more alive than your silent neighbours next to you in a lounge room darkness in Haberfield Road, in the flickering cathode glow we stare into and are all hypnotised by? Are we ‘repopulating’ our isolation with the dominant images of ‘the spectacle’, in 68’s Situationist theory the form that Capital takes in late capitalism? TV has only been in Australia for about five or six years. Ten years after its introduction almost every household had a set. A veritable cultural revolution, only partly recognised. With the car, the key producer, product and symbol of post-war suburban consumerism. (And sharing all its social ambiguity: phoniness and cultural homogeneity on the one hand, the promise of almost classless universality and prosperity on the other). We are the first TV generation.

The British experience mirrors that of most industrialized countries, including Australia: “All ages, all classes, all faiths consumed it avidly […] By the end of the seventies the English people were spending an average of twenty-five hours a week watching television (over the whole life span, more time than they spent in formal education or at work). As a ‘leisure pursuit’ it crowded out everything else, cinema-going in particular but also sport and other outside activities. As an institution and an activity, television established itself as the most representative emblem of the national culture. It was classless and culturally universal in a way and to an extent barely approached by the press, the traditional arts, educational institutions, and political groupings.” (J. Holloway)

The TV entertainment is of course interwoven with the commercial propaganda of affluence, development, progress, consumerism, the “uninterrupted conversation which the present order maintains about itself, its laudatory monologue” (Guy Debord). All these family shows interspersed with the usual phoney-surreal washing powder, shampoo, processed food and fly spray ads in which things seemed more alive than the manically smiling plastic people extolling their virtues. Advertising jingles that (like the previous ones for Laxette and Aeroplane Jelly from the radio of your childhood) will haunt your neurons forever, the folksy fear-based minor brainwash firmly embedded…(Still today you will notice TV characters’ voices occasionally replaying in your brain when out working in your orchard or sitting on your tractor slashing meadows.)

Jingle 1. “I’m Louie de Fly, I’m Louie de Fly, Straight from rubbish tip to you…Spreading disease with the greatest of ease…”: this Mortein’s domestic contribution to the beginning chemicalisation of the environment manifestly manipulating germ phobias and covertly perhaps appealing to the fears of the dark, disease-carrying other that is the stock in trade of all authoritarian/fascist projections;

Jingle 2. This ad appeals to fears of another kind, male fears of personal image, of romantic failure or rejection. There is the cultivation of the male façade and adolescent sexual wish fulfilment in “Brylcream, a little dab’ll do ya, Brylcream, yer look so debonair, Brylcream, the gals’ll all pursue ya: simply rub a little in yer hair!” Seen psychoanalytically, there is something like a displacement upwards: the sexually potent hair of the head is rubbed with a white semen-like substance until its sleek bird-of-paradise shine attracts the enraptured females, the ‘birds’ or ‘chicks’.

You come at a set time, leave at a set time. An ideal arrangement: you receive an experiential education in the Americanised zeitgeist, the self-propaganda of the spectacle and the main genres of its pop culture industry, and yet cannot get too hooked. As you do, increasingly, on books.