Accidental Grace (1996)

Accidental Grace cover


Accidental Grace was published by Queensland University Press in 1996. This book is out of print. 

On this page you can read the following three poems from the book:

  • To the Islands
  • Man Washing on a Railway Platform Outside Delhi
  • How to Love Bats

To the Islands

I will use the sound of wind and the splash
  of the cormorant diving and the music
any boatman will hear in the running threads
  as they sing about leaving for the Islands.

I will use a sinker’s zinc arpeggio as it
  rolls across a wooden jetty and the sound
of crabs in the shifting gravel and the scrape
  of awls across the hull of yachts.

I will use the wash-board chorus of the sea
  and the boats and the skiffler’s skirl
of tide-steered surf taken out by the wind
  through the cliffs. Look—I don’t know

much about how to reach the Islands, only
  what I’ve heard from the boatman’s song
and from the man who walked the headland
  to find a place in the rocks free of salt

and osprey. But perhaps I can use
  the bladder-wrack and barnacle, the gull
wafting above the mussels and the bird
  diving back to the sea. Perhaps I can use

the song sponge divers sing to time each dive
  and then use their gasps as they lift
their bags onto the skiffs. Perhaps
  the seapool whispers of the sun-downers,

or the terns above the harbour are what
  the divers sing as they hold their
breath and swim the silent minutes through
  with prayer. I will use the gull’s height

and the limpet’s splash and the wasps’ nest
  hanging like a paper lamp under the pier
and the little boat sailing out. Even the
  fishermen lugging shoals over the stones,

even the sailors shift-walking the decks,
  even the end-blown note of a shell levelled
towards the horizon. I will use the eagle’s
  flight moored in the eyes of children

and the voices of men, the ones, they say,
  who’ve made it, though perhaps the purlin
creaking on its rafter, the gull squawking
  from the jetty, the wind calling

along the moorings and the notes the divers
  hear in the quiet waters of their breathing
as they seek release through the depths
  are all /I’ll/ know about finding the Islands.

Meanwhile I’ll use the sound of sunlight
  filling the sponges and a diver’s saturated
breathing in the lungs of an oarsman
  rowing weightless cargo over the reefs.


Poem divider


Man Washing on a Railway Platform outside Delhi

It’s the way he stands
nearly naked in the winter sun
turning on and off the railway
station tap. I have seen people
look less reverent tuning Mozart.
I have seen hands give coins
to beggars appear nonchalant
compared to the way his hands
give this water to his body.
Don’t tell me this is a man
released for a moment
out of poverty, a man who wants
the penance of each cold drop;
a man who wants the smell
of his neighbours to vanish
from his skin, who wants to taste
what is beyond the scum
and effluent of the village ditch.
And don’t tell me each drop
he takes to glisten his body
will never be neutral, though
he holds each clear spill
with equality. It isn’t just
the water. It’s the way his hands
take the water from the tap
to his body. It’s the way
he attends each pore. It’s the way
he decants the water back
and forth as if receiving
instruction for the repetition
of the names of God. And it’s
the way he knows his poverty
without privacy—and the way,
though the water is free,
he takes careful litres.


Poem divider


How to Love Bats

Begin in a cave.
Listen to the floor boil with rodents, insects.
Weep for the pups that have fallen. Later,
you’ll fly the narrow passages of those bones, but for now—

open your mouth, out will fly names
like Pipistrelle, Desmodus, Tadarida. Then,
listen for a frequency
lower than the seep of water, higher
than an ice planet hibernating
beyond a glacier of Time.

Visit op shops. Hide in their closets.
Breathe in the scales and dust
of clothes left hanging. To the underwear
and to the crumpled black silks—well,
give them your imagination
and plenty of line, also a night of gentle wind.

By now your fingers should have
touched petals open. You should have been dreaming
each night of anthers and of giving
to their furred beauty
your nectar-loving tongue. But also,
your tongue should have been practising the cold
of a slippery, frog-filled pond.

Go down on your elbows and knees.
You’ll need a speleologist’s desire for rebirth
and a miner’s paranoia of gases—
but try to find within yourself
the scent of a bat-loving flower.

Read books on pogroms. Never trust an owl.
Its face is the biography of propaganda.
Never trust a hawk. See its solutions
in the fur and bones of regurgitated pellets.

And have you considered the smoke
Yet from a moving train? You can start
half an hour before sunset,
but make sure the journey is long, uninterrupted
and that you never discover
the faces of those trans-Siberian exiles.

Spend time in the folds of curtains.
Seek out boarding-school cloakrooms.
Practise the gymnastics of wet umbrellas.

                                       Are you
floating yet, thought-light,
without a keel on your breastbone?
Then, meditate on your bones as piccolos,
on mastering the thermals
beyond the tremolo; reverberations
beyond the lexical.

                                       Become adept
at describing the spectacles of the echo—
but don’t watch dark clouds
passing across the moon. This may lead you
to fetishes and cults that worship false gods
by lapping up bowls of blood from a tomb.

Practise echo-locating aerodromes,
stamens. Send out rippling octaves
into the fossils of dank caves—
then edit these soundtracks
with a metronome of dripping rocks, heartbeats
and with a continuous, high-scaled wondering
about the evolution of your own mind.

But look, I must tell you—these instructions
are no manual. Months of practice
may still only win you appreciation
of the acoustical moth,
hatred of the hawk and owl. You may need

to observe further the floating black host
through the hills.