Brook Emery


After the lassitudes of blue

the sun: now buttermilk,
now brimful and overflowing, suddenly fierce and red,

about to slip below the chipped and crenellated grime,
but shimmering for this last instant before becoming

those shades of pink that bless and surely must amaze,
dusk an uncertain premise, premonition which cannot last

much longer. The world is swaddled now in undertones,
the rhymes we chant to put an end to thought,

to all that is mysterious and temptingly unknowable.
To think about a mystery we must imagine it,

maybe as a labyrinth or maze, as forest or lantana stand
but not as nothing or the thing impenetrable,

                           that would have another tangled name.


Might belief be a word for something else, perhaps intuition,
the feeling, you know the one, of a presence in the room?

It passes by, you turn but nothing’s there except, perhaps,
a disturbance in the air, a wobble in the orbit

of a distant world, the glint in an oceanic vent.
Free diving is not entirely free: to go down you leave behind;

and coming back breath is an unremitting currency:
constrained air hammers for release, bubbles rise, burst,

or momentarily make transparent domes
which float the sting beneath. Nothing is defined

in all this visibility. How to make matter miraculous again,
wind a devil’s breath, silence a wing in the shuffling air?

Such commingling could be eternity, a beyond beyond all seeing
unravelling heart’s battle with time that curves and disappears

in pettifogging words. When day grows dark and unintended
is it better to sense or see? The externality of things, that is enough,

it admits of hidden roots, sap which rises,
bark that strips and burns, the complicated exchange of air,

                           even the whole tree that falls unnoticed.


Impossible to think ‘black’ or ‘blank’. To think any thing
that is not thing: black maw, black hood,

blank state waiting to be filled. Light is sifted through the clouds,
highlights then deflects. Close your eyes. The invisible

saying now, now, ‘you’, an insect on a lake, a moth on glass,
the stealth of ocean currents, waves that feather in the wind,

the merest touch. You open your mouth to cry and a bird flies out.
Another and another. They arrange themselves in rank and order,

drop like stones. The sea responds with holes. If this is it,
if there is nothing more, then nothing must be more,

what is not cannot be. Hold my hand. We are strange uncertain beasts,
rooted to this place, singing without conviction

until a landscape intervenes. We shrink against the hills,
are lost in the verticals of trees, the clutch and merge of waves,

                           our voices drowning in this curious light.


It comes from over there

Sometimes it’s over there, this grinding as if thought is changing
          gears. Is it getting closer?

Time to think. The vines that trailed the sandstone of the gorge,
          winter’s rope-brown truss. Where was that? Sun shines and is
          contradicted by an icy wind.

Speak. Get it off your chest. The three blankets too warm
          throughout the night, the dry bed of your mouth when you get
          up to pee. This is not what you wanted to say. What was the
          something else?

Binocular eyes. Opposable thumb. See what I can do. Focus. Pinch.
          Contain. The bee beats his wings until they multiply. Stop.

It all comes back. Like a great plane landing. A rush of sound that
          leaves you naked in an empty field.

Your eyes are bee’s wings, your voice, that reasonable tread, misses
          a beat. Somewhere a cuckoo strikes the quarter hour

but it comes out wrong. A curtain opens. The lights are on then off,
          off then on. Something small and black is hauled across from
          wing to wing.

You don’t think you’ve written this. The voice belongs to someone
          else. Perhaps it is ancient Aramaic. It walks down an alley
          crowded with fruit and secondhand desires, looks back only

I face the sun, feel him at my heels, the aimless twin, walk, pause,
          wobble. Arms like freighted wings scythe through cloud. It
          takes practice to ascend.

The road is a single note, a drone between incandescent and dim.
          You think you are becoming a cast with retreating eyes. Is this
          back of beyond? Is this stranded?


Perhaps the first thing I notice

is the sound of pages being turned.
          Crease, uncrease. Crack. Almost like a whip. This is pre-
          determined, but difficult to anticipate. That’s one. There’s

The second thing I notice is the way the paper is impressed, the way
          the pens are squeezed. This must be necessity. Sometimes
          pens dangle like cigarettes from lips in silent movies.

I notice eyelids. Visible because the gaze is on the intersection of
          pen and paper. The faces look like plaster, even the tanned and
          swarthy ones. When eyes are raised the focus doesn’t shift.
          This is concentration or some drug.

Eight rows across, sixteen down the length. Walls a lemon-textured
          grey. A clock lacks numbers and the hour hand. Suspended
          from the ceiling twelve independent moons distribute almost
          even light. This much is expected.

Now someone stretches her arms above her head, rotates her torso
          against a chair’s resistance, then pushes fingers through her
          hair, pinned and tied to stop distraction. This is still

Something about the silence is amiss. Yes, every cough or crack or
          scraping of a chair is startling, but beneath it all I hear a low
          collective hum as though, unorchestrated, every throat is
          growling. This is my imagination.

I think of a scriptorium but the analogy is wrong. I think of mass
          production but this is also wrong. I think of cryptographers,
          the word ‘enigma’, prisoners, turbines, cells, a multi-bodied

Schoolgirls taking an exam, an olive grove, a graveyard, an aviary
          of tethered birds, but metaphor seems beside the point as they
          are by each other, separate and linked.

I notice every other pen is soaking up the ink so letters disappear
          and pages are more spacious than before. Paper cracks, eyes
          are looking down, the red hand stumbles round the clock and
          little is accrued.

Twelve moons shine brightly as before but a hundred doves have
          flown from the rafters and released a cloud of dust. Shadows
          set to assume a shape are rising on one wall and the growling,
          it’s insistent now.



Brook Emery has published three poetry collections, and dug my fingers in the sand (FIP 2000), which won the Queensland Premier’s Prize, Misplaced Heart (FIP 2003), and Uncommon Light (FIP 2007). All three were short-listed for the NSW Premier’s Prize. Individual poems have won the Newcastle Poetry Prize, The Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize, the Max Harris Award, and the Australian Sports Poetry Award. He lives in Sydney.