Norman Abjorensen


You take it from the top 
for the umpteenth time; 
you've forgotten the scene number 
but you're word perfect. So why 
the need to shoot re-takes? 
Something is missing. You’re   
too word perfect (if there 
can be such a thing). 
You whirl through the proceedings 
with a mechanical precision. 
It' s really too polished. 

There is no blood showing
beneath the skin.


The old actor who's played 
the part a dozen times. He can 
afford to drift off; his actions 
are fuelled by the heat of memories.
Automatic pilot takes over, 
guiding you up ways that are 
totally familiar. You are 
treading in your own footsteps.
You are living through a re-run 
of your life. This is how it 
was & still is. Will it continue
 to be so?


Autumn. You feel the temperature drop.
This time it was distinct. Summer 
didn’ t just slide away. It stopped.
The colours are garish, sharp edged. 
You hear the leaves fall 
with metallic harshness.  An air 
of uncertainty pervades the season. 
You feel uneasy about the coming winter, 
but you can't quite say why.

You turn your collar to the wind 
& feel a strong disinclination
to look behind. 



There was once a mystique. 
Everything you heard, all you learned 
served to perpetuate it.

On hot nights as a youth you pondered what 
you thought you knew.  Somewhere there was
an incantation that you would find; 
a spell to which they would succumb. 
Despite the concession to magic, 
you made the mistake of attributing rationality 
to the process so laughably referred to 
as natural selection. 

Can you select when there are really 
no choices? 
Might it not be 
more natural not to select? 
Is it compulsory to play the game? 

You play with diffidence: 
no one has explained the rules.  



When they sent you to dancing classes 
they were teaching you about life.
The progressive barn dance held 
all the clues. It was here that 
you found out that all bodies 
were not the same. Some would yield, 
others would not; some would lead, 
others would yearn to follow.
There were cold hands & wet hands, 
soft ones & rough. All this came 
as a surprise. You held them 
only briefly: never enough to test
a hypothesis, but merely to add 
to the aggregate of the unknown.
It was years before you connected 
the dance with life. 

All the others
had marched off into the night 
while you were left waiting 
unaware that the music 
had stopped forever. 


Who dares to dream 
conjures an enduring duality. 
The act of perception
is no longer a simple one. 
What is demanded is reflection:
but you have to know the mirror 
to trust the image. Engendered, then, 
is doubt. It becomes 
second nature to perception. 
You are censoring your senses. 
What you feel is being cross-examined 
by what you think you ought 
to feel. And what you think
you ought to feel is not quite 
what you think. And where are you? 
Who is the you in this labyrinth
of evidence and rebuttal? You are 
the judge, surely; but aren't you also 
the accused? Is it not you on trial? 
And who is prosecuting? These seem to be 
the very same charges you have made. 

The inmates are running the asylum. 
The court is full of madmen.


Dream. You' re falling 
faster & faster but 
still secure in the knowledge 
that you'll wake before you hit. 
You always do. Who has dreamed 
of the impact? You' re about to be shot, 
but you never die. You hear the shots, 
but wake before they hit. You dangle 
from the executioner's rope, 
but you wake before it's taut. 
Your cowardice pursues you  
into dreams. The pathos of your moral suicide
teaches you the fallacy of cowards  
dying many times. You appear naked
in public. What about the act 
of undressing? It is conveniently 
beyond recall, off stage.

The continuity is imperfect:
we accept our lives 
full of jump cuts.



You seek the solace of oblivion 
but it eludes you. You feel the weight 
of your body & wish you were only one 
but you are many, all awake. Within you,
you acknowledge the soul of the whore, 
but don't pursue the analogy too far.

The night stretches out before you, 
the murmur of your otherness 
is ceaseless; you are unable to silence it. 
Any attempt would be seen as evidence 
that you' re talking to yourself. 
So you let the night go with fears 
of madness. But edging all the time 
closer & closer to what you call reality.


You've tried to avoid the role 
of metaphysical accountant where 
everything is in terms of profit & loss. 
You have given this; they have taken that. 
Whatever the outcome, we have all fallen  
from the ideal; we have totted up the columns
of our tawdry dealings in humankind. 
We have sold that of ourselves which we 
valued most; we have bought that of the
other which we prized least. 
We have found humility in the market place 
where we are ashamed to be. 

We have been found guilty 
by our own rules.


There are no losers, no winners: 
all who play are victims. 
The rules are never revealed, yet you 
pay dearly for transgressions. 
Only by the game does the game become clear, 
but by then it's too late: the rules 
of which you were unaware 
have been used against you. 

What price are you 
willing to pay for victory?


Yesterday. The gateway through which emerged 
all you had become. Already it is receding 
in the dimness as you approach yet another, 
but you' re more encumbered every time. 
What place it is no longer matters; 
you have not stayed in any time long enough 
(but already you see the absurdity 
in seeking to measure an imponderable
in its own terms). Another door 
in the long corridor; 
a mindless odyssey with its own
internal logic. You tell yourself 
over & over that you know all this; 
yet you go on not because but 
in spite of. Your knowledge 
dangles loosely like a sodden parcel 
under your arm. You long to be rid of it.


How easily you don the garb 
of confidant; how deftly you slide 
in & out of commitment. What 
tangled webs we leave in our wake, how 
reluctant we are to look back. 

You have given so little, but you protest 
that what you have taken is small: 
you have taken only time. 
But is this not the least redeemable of all? 
This, of all things, cannot be replaced.

There was good faith, you argue 
(but you say it with little conviction).

What empty concepts we traffic in, 
what empty structures we inhabit. 

What emptiness we contain.

Norman Abjorensen is a retired academic and writer who has been writing poetry intermittently for more than fifty years. His work has appeared in Fling Poetry, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Poetry Australia, Words and Visions, Aspect, Idiom 23, Otoliths, Poetry d'Amour, and the anthology La Mama Poetica (Melbourne University Press, 1989). A collection, The Lives of Dwarfs, was published in 1988 (Fling). He lives in Ballarat, Victoria.
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