• Dennis Haskell



Ahead of Us


In the black crow and owl hours

when consciousness should be

stricken with rest,

swift iron groans, inaccessible,

incomprehensible fright

jerk our thoughts half-upright.


Freight trains speak their barely understood language

in and out of deafening silence,

each turn of the wheel a syllable on the line.

We think of them as clambering wrongly

out of the night

but they belong; the spreading blackness is theirs

by right—we who semi-conscious

hear their wheel rumbling and high pitch horn

as dim, barely understood

shudderings and shrieks

are mere eavesdroppers on darkness.


Freight trains moan on the line.

What does their shaky language spell

and carry? What is its urgent load?

What refuses to dissolve,

its tongue determinedly calling us

into the determined dark?




On Not Flying

              A reply to Chris Kelen


The noise never stops wherever you are.

It spins feverish inside your head

with the gravity of the world,

its whirled obligations, roles, responsibilities.

Above the world you are taken into time

that is wholly relative. Here on the ground

it’s absolute, and absolutely resolute.

It determines our days. It hands out

our jobs, like a teacher at school.

It gives us this day’s demands, and

forgives no trespasses. Just do it!

Starting now. It gives us everything but itself.


And so I stay silent to friends, miserably silent

to getting ink on paper. We lay waste

our powers. I respond to emails, obey the phone,

take my seat at the worn committees, give seminars,

give classes, edit a journal, wipe the desk of papers,

stack the desk with papers, talk my head off

for what is, with irony, called ‘a living’.

Parsons once had those. Ink fixed on paper

will never be the world, the richness we recall.

We fly hardest who don’t take off at all.




On the Verge

                 for Kieren


The older you get

the more small things matter.


Get washing sorted, the dishes

stacked, the ironing board out,

plants watered, roses clipped,

the old table clumsily restained,

the junk dissected;

it’s suburban clean up time

and on each street’s verge

half the stuff of our lives

awaits collection.

In Adelaide, radio reports of Australia

bowled out again, in Israel fires, the eastern wheatbelt

licked by floods, WA’s

dusted in drought.


After, on the tip of the dark,

sitting alone at the café,

an unseasonable breeze

and surprising rain

skim the tables;

young people laugh past

to the bars, the restaurants, voices

tipsy and frisky

with anticipation, to them

the flimsy rain doesn’t exist.


A drab, nothing day in a way.


But this evening one call from my son

in Taiwan, to say he’ll be away

for five days—he wants me to know—

and all the small, mundane world

and everything it holds

suddenly sang its vivacious,

gracious, light-hearted mystery.