S. K. Kelen

Rabbit Shoeshine

He starts a landslide shooting a 
defenceless bear. ‘It is impossible 
for the red man to perceive honour
as we know it,’ the defeated general
says to his captor. But in the wilderness
forced to hunt and scurry for berries
the light moment holds until we cross
that river when we can be enemies again. 
Yellow Hair is a fool! Fighting slavery
fills you with truth. Incredible dogs
run yapping from the Lakota camp, 
Custer swims across the river.

Temple of Literature (Van Mieu), Hanoi

to the memory of Diem Chau

Walk down the quiet path,
pebbles worn smooth by Heaven
knows how many sandals.

The old stone walls, the few bodhi and
frangipani trees were enough to keep
out the traffic din and while Hanoi

choked on metallic air and sweltered,
here it was cool, the air sweet.
While my children played at Confucius’ feet

I read the English notes to the Chinese
script engraved on the marble stelae
held on stone tortoises’ backs: the names

and addresses of Vietnam’s ancient laureates
awarded their doctorates.
The ancestors’ art and scholarship

stay at the heart of everything.
Touched the tortoises’ heads:
good luck for future exams.

Beside the Great Success Gate
the old study pavilion was full of ghosts.
I watched a princely type and four consorts

step airily from a cloud above the temple.
They took a drink from the well of heavenly
clarity, and the young man sat, while his friends

reclined beneath a banyan tree and read poetry
about rivers, pirates, courtesans, wars
and the pleasures of nature and love.

‘The Emperor Le and his turtle story’
one of the girls says and they all laugh.
They should have been studying The Analects,

perhaps, preparing for the mid-year
examinations but they see they’ve been seen
look toward me and begin to scold,

but quickly fade to vapour
a white cloud floating into the sky haze
above the Temple of Literature.

The adjacent courtyards are alive: 
modern students read, sketch, paint,
play guitar, listen through earphones,

some recite poems to their sweethearts
or read with shy relish the English
translation of a popular banned novel,

an energetic couple play badminton.
We drank from the well of heavenly clarity.
Outside is Hanoi’s crazy traffic din

demon hot grime sweat clamour,
the laughing motor scooters
multiply exponentially,

the old slow bicycle town
vanished with the cool breezes.
Buildings going up crowd the sky,

the door to the world wide open
and what’s coming brings more
noise, smoke and pandemonium—

a cloud that stays forever.
Grey rain drops fell on Hanoi,
the old flags wept, remembering.

Lear’s Ghost Speaks To Edgar

So many times since the day he died, I'd met him 
in a different state of being: shade, phantasm, vision 
dream, floating voice or ectoplasm now as a vapour presence,
I spoke with once or twice before, he walks through the wall  
takes solid form angry like I'd never seen. Outside
it rained tears with blasts of thunder. 'Hey, hi,' I say
he grabs my shoulders, shakes me, whispers 
You have to stop the cussed so and so, his foul speech
makes his mother's soul weep and breaks her heart. So
desperate to say something that he speaks ill of the dead?  
We did everything to make that brat happy now
he torments us with his nasty words. Always a pest!   
While he derides and curses us we cannot rest
just shut him up or he drowns sleeping in his bed.Reality

Reality bends into itself, we think we're going places
but the highway we travel is a Moebius strip.
Allies bomb civilians in far-off lands
to free them: Irony is a grim killer.
There must always be enemies employed, 
deployed and supplied by the military industry—
they are targeted, destroyed and are replaced, supplied
then targeted. Our times are a dark story unfolding like an epilogue
for 1984, a novel by George Orwell (published in 1949) or
a final scene, overseas, the actors in a crazy Star Wars 
episode written on a CIA storyboard, the agents have paradise 
treasure in their eyes, monumental flames lick the sky.
Fight the latest menace. Safe home: relieved viewers
watch the tragicomedy with green-screen eyes.

Blue Monster (Forever Chemicals)

Breathing exhilaration, life is wonderful worth living, and giving your all; on this perfect clear sky day you know it’s true. But stupidities stalk you, a whining door opens and angry thoughts talk to your heart. The thoughts are bad friends who want to make you bear the weight of the world on your shoulders. Their words stab and mock with things you know you can’t do anything about, accompanied by a picture show in your day dreams, scenes of a trashed planet: parched rainforests turned to tinder burn, irradiated ocean and islands of plastic rubbish metamorphose into a living dead entity. See the future flash-bang methane and black liquid carbon belch out of melting tundra, combine with pollution poison the earth, water and air. If only you didn’t drive a car, make a mess and...Bushfires burnt out fifty million acres of forest and bushland, countless animals died in the flames, where the sky had been filled with bright flocks of galahs, rosellas and sulphur-crested cockatoos see only a few stray pairs flying. The birds you feed in the backyard never returned and smoke made the city’s air unbreathable for months. Scientists say this is the future beginning for everywhere, signs of humanity’s felo-de-se, evidence of the planet’s murder. Maybe Earth will evolve to be as hot as steamy old Venus or cold like Mars, a world that might have once supported life. Agitated mind becomes an echo chamber. Hear prophets’ voices chant Goodbye in many languages. A clear autumn day and leaves are falling. Will the end be fire or ice? Read the news of the dismembered horrors and sorrows of wars, poverty and destruction balanced by thought out stories about nothing really worth knowing with photos of scantily clad ‘influencers’ who stare with serious vacuity at mobile phones, take selfies, text a babble of self-centred reflection and celebrities confess their sins, ennui toward expiry; online titillation is a lousy sop when you’re breathing poisoned air. Sure, you vote for folks who say they’ll fix things and ‘make it better’ yet nothing changes for the good, getting angry and taking a stand is futile and depressing. The bad friends and people you have to know but did not choose to, drive you crazy when they just won’t shut up. Every person is a universe whose time runs out. Lunch at a seaside café feels splendidly sartorial, svelte, in love with another human, or not. Ocean breeze cools fevered mind, sipping a fine Chablis. Throw chips to the seagulls. Everyone should live like this. Beautiful automobiles park and proceed, a place with shiny, happy cars means luck's still running, and everything is fine, here, right now, this moment, a good time to say goodbye. Darkness tempts, and a wild Spartan kitten claws your beating heart. The way the world ends begins with a sigh. The taxi stops at The Gap, a tall cliff with a majestic view of the Tasman Sea too harsh to be 'beautiful', it is a windblown, cruel sublime: well frequented Sydney jumping off place where many lives end and the ocean waves wash the blood from starlit rocks. Thoughts and voices and dreams led you to this moment. Conversations dangle on the other side; messages arrive, full of whispering. The full stop waits on a sharp rock, but your heart where love lives speaks up. Your own speck of time in this life is brief and precious and the family waiting at home for you if they knew what you were contemplating to do would be glad you did not. You need to be there to help them grow up and with luck and hope, they will find ways to endure and brighten the future. The cab driver waited while you decided then said, ‘Where to now?’ When your time’s up the world ends soon enough.

S. K. Kelen is an Australian poet who has been writing longer than he cares to remember. His most recent books are A Happening in Hades (Waratah, NSW: Puncher & Wattmann 2020), and Love’s Philosophy (Summer Hill, NSW: Gazebo Books 2020)
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