Martin Langford


The Country Where Nobody Sings

The songbirds began here.

The first people sang.

The new people too —
they were still singing down to the war.

Then, bit by bit, we shut up.

Because all our songs were sung for us;
because songs were spotlights — and not invitations;
because we could not afford suffering;
because singers lived in a high-life of low-life elsewhere —

because we’d grown careful round meanings —

tongue-music dried into syntax.

For the kids, for results, for immunities:
we sifted conclusions — and tightened our throats.

Prose settled over our lives like a cloud of unbeing.

We would make ourselves still for the fine print,
and stare out at love…

Once there’d been tyrants in mills who’d admonished all singing.

We do not need them: we govern ourselves.

Now we always think before we speak.

Now that we care for our stories like courtroom exhibits.

Now we can find every reason — but reason to sing.


Eric and Annersley

Eric and Annersley never got on well —
the two dozer drivers who work
on Bob Danielson’s brigalow. They nod
when they meet and at lunch but they don’t say too much.
Eric’s the quiet one, hung on a girl who refuses:
while she’s in town, he’ll drive these.
Sometimes he spends half the day re-translating.
It makes him morose — to the point all the others think,
Fuck him — if he won’t respond to a well-acted tale…
So unlike Annersley, haunted by highways,
already itching to go. He’ll see this job
at the Danielsons’ through, fix up his ute,
and head outwards — a weightless momentum
and balance, till gravities slew. They climb back
on board and nod stiffly. Sometimes
they have to be careful — round uneven ground.
Mostly, it’s straightforward:
Annersley patient enough, but elsewhere;
Eric as distant as ever from light on her neck —
the small birds around them in panic;
the wreckage of torn root and dust mounting up as they go.


The Bach Chorale

They are practising a Bach chorale at Hermannsburg.

Unresolved triads float out past the she-oaks:
a music of journeys,
where each of the chords leads elsewhere.

It has sailed round the world as a magical hachure.

And now, it is out of the box.

Where will it go to tomorrow?

It pleases them, trying to please the good pastor.

They lean into cool, desert air, and they whole-body-listen —
singing themselves, so attentively, out of their lives.



Martin Langford is the author of The Human Project: New and Selected Poems (Puncher and Wattmann, 2009) and the editor of Harbour City Poems: Sydney in Verse 1788--2008 (Puncher and Wattmann, 2009). His new collection, Ground, will be published later in 2014.