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The Art of Autobiography

for Robert Adamson in Australia

 

i.

Currawongs
in wattled trees
run a song
from reel to reel

in slow reverse.
What I feel
I felt. Rain
hurtles toward
its source.


ii.

On work detail at Mount Penang
Training School for Boys, you built a road
to nowhere—bittern in the rain,
addressing stumps and clarts
with half-remembered songs.

Holy on! Holy off!
Learning time from appetite,
you made a half-loaf last
by rolling each pinch back to dough,
or “viper raising” [prison slang].

At night, you read What Bird Is That?
before the lights went out.


iii.

Now, in sight of Lion’s Head,
you cut the outboard engine. “Look,
a butcher bird!—which Whitely gave
the eyes of Baudelaire.”

To keep amused, we crush bits
of sandwich bread for bait
and fish for Tuti, cross-eyed cat
of porches, purring on the wharf
in expectation. Checking lines,
you lean across the gunnel and sort
a shadow flock from schools
of substance, jellyfish from cloud;
between them intervenes
a nest of fine white hair.

 

iv.

Further out than we will go,
breakers squander, recompose;
time curls back on time.

 

v.

Take a garfish caught
amidst uncertainties
of early fog
and wrapt in sheets

of Water Leaf
and say what chrome
of Customlines
has faded from its scales.

Distinguish frequencies
of short-wave radios
from the mimicry
of cockatoos.

Explain to those who ask
how white was ever false,
or how to mix
a perfect Whitely blue.

Then speak of things
that everybody knows.   


—Devin Johnston

Devin Johnston is author of Telepathy and Precipitations: Contemporary American Poetry as Occult Practice. His second book of poems, Aversions, is forthcoming in 2004.



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