The Domesticity of Giraffes (1987)

Domesticity of Giraffes cover


The Domesticity of Giraffes was published by Black Lightning Press in 1996. A second edition was published by Picaro Press in 2007.  

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

  • The Caterpillars
  • At the End of the Day
  • The Clerical Angel

The Caterpillars

On the headland to the lighthouse,
a brown detour of caterpillars
crimped end-to-end across the road.

Poke away the pilot and the line
would break up, rioting,
fingering for the scent.
Put him back, they’d straighten.
You could imagine them humming
their queue numbers.

I’ve only seen such blind following
in the patient, dull dole queues,
or old photos of the Doukhobors,
the world’s first march of naked people.

I watched over the line for hours
warding off birds whose wings, getting close,
were like the beating of spoons
in deep bowls. I put a finger to the ground
and soft prickles pushed over,
a warm chain of hair.

This strange sect, wrapped in the sun
like their one benefit blanket
marched in brotherhood and exile.

Later, a group of boys
(their junta-minds set on torture)
picked off the leader.
Each creature contorted,
shut into its tight burr.
I could only stand like a quiet picket
and watch the rough panic.

I remember them, those caterpillars,
pacifists following their vegetable passion—
lying down in the road and dying
when they could no longer touch each other.


Poem divider


At the End of the Day

The sun is westering. Shadows litter
the streets. Now that the heat is gone,
the air’s expressionless. I search its
blank face for signs or recognition,

but the sun fading from the day
is like backing fading from the mirror.
The day lifts its touch
and my senses lose their assurance.

There is no comfort now in the city
that’s pulling apart, or the people
whose eyes change like dice.
I watch the landscape withdraw and recede

leaving me to consider the silence
through which I move.
The images are gone. I become
just a breath mark across dark glass.


Poem divider


The Clerical Angel

My voice is a dizzy altitude.
I dream all the robes
of my hair are tied up
in a pin of anniversary silver.

There are so many obese records
to flick through, to file
at a desk overlooking
the slum-end of the universe.

It's too bad for an angel
clothes stiff as lampshades
on a student's budget,
only a rope quoit for my hair,

God looking shabby in his
lab-coat, mixing chemicals.
I long to sing!—
but these days the organ-pipes

are test-tubes and bubble without variety.
‘Les Sylphides, Les Sylphides,’ I hum
while God shouts back to me
`NO! the sulphides, the sulphides'—

his face deadly as asbestos,
running me from beaker to beaker
frothing with esters.
I must wait out the hot bouts

of the beakers, or till heaven changes.
I'm Pianissimo, the angel,
dreaming of halos, not halogens,
of Haydn, not hydrogen,

of keytones, not ketones—
my angst is so many angstroms,
measuring milligrams for millenniums
and cursing the language.

All the chemicals in the air
have turned my hair (once
blooming golden under
the spotlights I’d sing for)

into locks gooey as mozzarella.
O! the days when the only
vibration that mattered was music!
The old gifts are lost.

Now an angel’s voice rasps
against music like a bunsen
boiling dry a dish of pure water.
I long for the old order.

I hear the seconds of my life tick off
into gamma-ray flak like a record
spitting off at the centre
after the song has ended.

And what does an angel do
when all he wants is music?
These days even the cherubs no longer
love their Cherubini.

It’s Pauli now
and the rock-music of the atom.
Planck vs Franck for the music
of the spheres.