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Kenneth Slessor

Cock-Crow

THE cock's far cry
From lonely yards
Burdens the night
With boastful birds
That mop their wings
To make response—
A mess of songs
And broken sense.
So, when I slept,
I heard your call
(If lips long dead
Could answer still)
And snapped-off thoughts
Broke into clamour,
Like the night's throats
Heard by a dreamer.

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The Knife

THE plough that marks on Harley's field
In flying earth its print
Throws up, like death itself concealed,
A fang of rosy flint,
A flake of stone, by fingers hewed
Whose buried bones are gone,
All gone, with fingers, hunters, food,
But still the knife lives on.
And well I know, when bones are nought,
The blade of stone survives—
I, too, from clods of aching thought,
Have turned up sharper knives.

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Serenade

THOU moon, like a white Christus hanging
At the sky's cross-roads, I'll court thee not,
Though travellers bend up, and seek thy grace.
Let them go truckle with their gifts and singing,
I'll ask no favours of thy cocker face.
Moonlight's a viand sucked by the world's lovers,
Captains and peasants, all that are young and have luck.
They take the moon. Nobody asked them to.
Let the musicians lout to thee for favours;
Personally, I have other things to do.

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Sensuality

FEELING hunger and cold, feeling
Food, feeling fire, feeling
Pity and pain, tasting
Time in a kiss, tasting
Anger and tears, touching
Eyelids with lips, touching
Plague, touching flesh, knowing
Blood in the mouth, knowing
Laughter like flame, holding
Pickaxe and pen, holding
Death in the hand, hearing
Boilers and bells, hearing
Birds, hearing hail, smelling
Cedar and sweat, smelling
Petrol and sea, feeling
Hunger and cold, feeling
Food, feeling fire. . . .
Feeling.

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Crow Country

GUTTED of station, noise alone,
The crow's voice trembles down the sky
As if this nitrous flange of stone
Wept suddenly with such a cry;
As if the rock found lips to sigh,
The riven earth a mouth to moan;
But we that hear them, stumbling by,
Confuse their torments with our own.
Over the huge abraded rind,
Crow-countries graped with dung, we go,
Past gullies that no longer flow
And wells that nobody can find,
Lashed by the screaming of the crow,
Stabbed by the needles of the mind.

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Crustacean Rejoinder

TAKE your great light away, your music end;
I'm off to feed myself as quick as I can.
You're perfectly impossible to comprehend,
I'm such a busy man.
Good God, haven't you got a circumference?
There's not a moment I can call my own—
My clocks, my keys, my wheels and instruments
And that fierce Ethiop, the telephone.
No doubt, it's very charming out in the sun,
But there are other things, you know. In any case,
I've got no time, no time. There's much to be done.
Thank God for this, my faithful carapace!

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Talbingo

'TALBINGO RIVER'—as one says of bones:
'Captain' or 'Commodore' that smelt gunpowder
In old engagements no one quite believes
Or understands. Talbingo had its blood
As they did, ran with waters huge and clear
Lopping down mountains,
Turning crags to banks.
Now it's a sort of aching valley,
Basalt shaggy with scales,
A funnel of tobacco-coloured clay,
Smoulders of puffed earth
And pebbles and shell-bodied flies
And water thickening to stone in pocks.
That's what we're like out here,
Beds of dried-up passions.

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Chessmen

CHAFING on flags of ebony and pearl,
My paladins are waiting. Loops of smoke
Stoop slowly from the coffee-cups, and curl
In thin fantastic patterns down the room
By cabinets of chinaware, to whirl
With milky-blue tobacco-steam, and fume
Together past our pipes, outside the door.
Soon may we lounge in silence, O my friend,
Behind those carven men-at-arms of chess
Dyed coral-red with dragon's blood, and spend
The night with noiseless warfare. Queens and rooks
With chiselled ivory warriors must contend
And counter-plots from old Arabian books
Be conjured to the march of knights and pawns.

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New Magic

At last I know—it’s on old ivory jars,
Glassed with old miniatures and garnered once with musk.
I’ve seen those eyes like smouldering April stars
As carp might see them behind their bubbled skies
In pale green fishponds—they’re as green your eyes,
As lakes themselves, changed to green stone at dusk.

At last I know—it’s paned in a crystal hoop
On powder-boxes from some dead Italian girl,
I’ve seen such eyes grow suddenly dark, and droop
Their small, pure lids, as if I’d pried too far
In finding you snared there on that ivory jar
By crusted motes of rose and smoky-pearl.

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Next Turn

No pause! The buried pipes ring out,
The flour-faced Antic runs from sight;
Now Columbine, with scarlet pout,
Floats in the smoking moon of light.
Now programmes wave, heads bend between—
The roaring Years go past in file.
Soon there's the Transformation Scene—
And then the Footmen down the aisle.
For you must wait, before you leave
This Theatre of Varieties,
Their frozen fingers on your sleeve,
Their most respectful 'Now, sir, please!'
Out in the night, the Carriage stands,
Plumed with black trees. The Post-boys grin.
The Coachman beats upon his hands.
Turn after Turn goes on within.

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