JOHN MATEER has published chapbooks in South Africa, Indonesia and Australia, as well as three book-length collections in Australia, the most recent of which is Barefoot Speech (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2000).

          for Martin Harrison

1.     Glass Words

Desire's flesh, like glass words,
alludes to memories that may not be our own.
Lost among streets named after heroes,
perplexed like temporality between twilit
minarets, a stranger proclaims,
denying history.

Like glass words, desire's flesh
is present in a monsoonal shower,
in the interrogative guffaw of lightning
that exhumes the city's bones
from under the cocked ears and pointing fingers
of satellite dishes, tv antennae.

Glass flesh, in the parallax error
of desiring words, envisages houses shivering
against lovers' fingertips, and reflects on
demonstrations that depart from religious places
to amass on grassy squares,
dissolving tyres into smoke.

2.     Graphic Images

Disarmed, the poet is speech
to the powers. Only
loanwords arrive in his mouth,
like placebos or wisdom teeth. The fangs
of a night are lightning,
though the thunder could be a Javanese dissident
or a cloud disguised as joy.

In speaking to the powers, disarmed,
he's wonder, and the silence nobody hears
is just one order of the only philosophy.

Disarmed, the powers having spoken,
whether through an animistic door
or the microbes of a kiss,
have conversed beyond all found images,
never having revealed their guilty selves
except as that.

3.     Ancient Noise

He used to talk to God, praying
(the speech that enters the void unguaranteed).
Every prayer, though, became a test
of reality, and the world in which the body dissolves
was an ear like the Milky Way.

He used to curse God, talking,
as though he were the author of the Ramayana
originating a poetic of anger,
having witnessed that hunter's
slaughter of the beloved bird.

(Righteous anger, then, was fierce extinction.)

Talking to God, he used to sing,
mouthing the absence of a jungle, mute,
and internalizing those spaces of industrial cities
in which everyone is recognized only in mirrors.

To those ghosts, as now so often to him,
all voice is failure, an ancient noise.


Often I say so much that I don't understand what I wanted to
say, hear or remember. I wonder how what you are seeing (…)
is changing your sense of 'an ending'
… The curtain descending
between us is like the gradual submerging of an inner ear.

I often say so much that I don't hear what I wanted to say,
hear or remember. Of course things are seen in the
sensory 'packet' in which we can see them - one sample - and things
go on otherwise than how they are seen
. That my voice is a metaphor,
a 'poem' if you like, noticed in a heard memory, a tonality,
and that THAT grainy voice is the Buddha's Silence -

That I don't say, hear, remember or understand what I often
wanted to say so much - Yet for all that I am of the opinion (I think
I am) that late Western industrial and post-industrial life is an
outcome completely congruent with a specific oddity in the biological
positioning of the species
… Where do you go from the top of
a hundred foot pole?


of realizing the meaning of everything you have said,
of witnessing exactly who you have been, each micrometre, each nanosecond.
Dust - the ash that you shake from yourself when you burn with light -
may be called 'fragments of space for the Western eye'.

            Who am I? asks the mouth. The ear does not respond,
            except in the negative, with oceans of sound. The eye asks,
            Is that real? And the skull, like all deserts, answers
            with a chilling breeze.

You, as non-believer, are a sentence left incomplete due to its grammar,
the whisper that evokes the subliminal noise and light that is pure.
As the tsunami of every instant, I am collapses into you were
while the clouds and the mountains identify.

            Who is that? asks the mouth. The ear responds, listening,
            with the attention of a blackhole luring everything elsewhere.
            The eye asks, Is it seen? And the skull, like all conclusions,
            is collapsed into a Moebus strip.



Anyone can walk this path where the eyes have no moon.
Who is to say there’s ground under your feet?
except the odd brick crawling like a knocked over animal.

There’s no light here only a dim sky hovering over the roofs.

Of the mouth that opens allowing the blackness in
(or the blackness out) your mind can only conjure
a vague angel.


Step carefully - there is a watery scattering of glass before you.


Have you never seen a mother sell an ulos for nothing?

Don't you understand that without a moon you too are ghostly?


Now, in the blackout, free of your silence,
you have turned onto a main street
and are starting to understand that there have been other ways...

(No, there is no music, few sounds.)

Though the sudakos prowl like illuminated cages,
all the people are hushed, calm.

Candles and lanterns are glowing in the warungs.

In the alcoves of restaurants and stark doorless shops
every shadow is as precious as Coke crates or the shrines of ancestors.


In a moment of pure blackness,
as this city narrows to an alley,
all around you, in gutters, ditches, potholes, the rainwater
is now been struck

like a huge bell

and you are waking: