Tony Beyer

Nine for Du Fu


though no other nation menaces us
our young soldiers are at war

killing and sometimes dying
in a foreign country

far from the sight of their
mountains and rivers that shape the sky

or run incontestably down
through stones and trees to the sea


the nation’s troubles are its own
but so often blamed on others

nature worked out long ago
how the fern could stand alone

holding its green young
curled in under its fronds

where there is compassion
no child should go hungry


from this far away I still hear
my wife’s unshed tears

pain of being apart
a dark shadow between us

it may be more adult
to pursue the task that separates us

but my sorrow is that of a child
left behind a locked door


in this small country everyone
knows everyone or his brother

the educated ones who
flatted together in their youth

remember things about each other
now better left unspoken

except by candlelight after dinner
over a glass of red wine


above the feeding eels in the park
forked swallow tails dart

shadows on the water swifter than flight
and below where the water is clear

the sleepy curves of the longfins’ backs
and blunt twin-finned heads

are neither reflection nor silhouette
but the true register of eyesight


trees and the spaces between them
are what constitute a forest

a man approaching through these spaces
may be a friend or an enemy

how each of you speaks to the other
will likely confirm which

the ground you stand on to face him
will either way be soft with leaves


a garden is a forest we have tamed
where all but the beasts

in our hearts have been expelled
base envy    faint praise    casuistry

now occupy white-painted wicker chairs
around the table top on which

a jug of ice-cold water and four
garnished glasses tremble in the sun


the retired school teacher
long after dusting the board for the last time

still dreams of chalk and awkward boys
as an actor dreams forgotten lines

or when lightning splits the night
and thunder clatters down the roof

old soldiers stand to from their beds
groping the dark for absent weapons


whoever invented virtual bubble-wrap
which pops at a click of the mouse

individually or in pre-selected swarms
all over all quarters of the screen

with softer or louder reports
squeaks blurts available on request

came up with the perfectly absurd
consolation for the passage of time


the floor plan of the building
should be such that from the sky
it shapes the character for majesty

even a poor man’s hut or cattle byre
may shelter a sacred guest
as all who come alone and unarmed are sacred

Tony Beyer is writing and teaching in West Auckland. His most recent book is Great South Road and South Side (Puriri Press, Auckland 2013).

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