Stephen Oliver b. 1950. Grew in Brooklyn-west, Wellington, New Zealand. Author of twelve titles of poetry, including: Night of Warehouses: Poems 1978-2000, HeadworX Publishers, Wellington, New Zealand, 2001. DEADLY POLLEN, Word Riot Press, Middleton NJ, 2003 and BALLADS, SATIRE & SALT - A Book of Diversions, [illustrated by Matt Ottley] Greywacke Press, Sydney, 2003. See: Work recently taken for: 3 AM Magazine, Aught, Word for/Word, Paumanok Review. Critique Review. Sidereality, The Bridge. He lives in Sydney. See: Stephen Oliver's interview with Will Roby / Word Riot http://www.wordriot.org His website is worth a hit: http://people.smartchat.net.au/~sao/
Sub-divisions ghostly as an architect’s sketch.
‘Thugs, street punks, require small
spaces for violence, a too expansive space gives
them nothing to hit against -
small-time suburbs and small boredoms,
off ramps leading nowhere but back onto the highway
the other way (rap is crap, you got dat?)
They stare at you hard, these losers, as though
somehow trying to get you in the rear-vision mirror.
KILL A WHITE sprayed on the Kentucky Fried Chicken
drive in - fuck that, FRY A BLACK is what I say.
They run at you out of mean state house kennels,
rabid dogs that bark abuse like a bunch of bandy legged
mongrels in striped trackies - asphalt niggers.
I cruise by this place once in a while hunting sluts,
sisters of these dead shits.
Droogs from the dungeons of middle-earth.
Don’t have much luck which is probably
good luck - sometimes I make it with some gross slag
if she’s strayed off her patch - like the public phone is
busted up and she has to walk a block,
‘Yo - hey girl’
(whatever) and then I gun off down the off ramp
back into the safety of speed and oily darkness -
I yell out the window,
‘Go fuck ya mother, bro.
Scum breeds scum - man, how I hate these spooks,
all that tribal bullshit dumped
either side the highway.’
Night thickens, stars blow about like used wrappers.
[First published, JAAM 19, May, 2003]
ONE NIGHT AT THE DUKE, c. 1969
One of those old-type natural fouled-up guys.
- Philip Larkin
Cochrane had been ensconced for
at least a year – well on the way to a 25 yr.
bender. I had yet to vault the bar,
grab a bottle of anything off the shelf
in an act of bravado –Maori Johnny,
Cookie, Kennedy, Girvan, – the regulars
and the drifters. Brian Bell already a
‘legend’ monstered Radio NZ News with
paranoid phone calls, verbally molested
women, then in tow with Dun Mihaka – the
Maori activist (who bared his arse
to the Queen ) a brief, obscure collusion.
A couple of white thugs entered the
Public Bar, stood at distance - waiting, Dun
excused himself to either beat up, or
be beaten up, gone for the rest of the night.
Later, at an post-pub party in Kelburn,
Brian bailed up some woman in the kitchen,
shouting, “I’ve sucked them off, yes! I’ve
licked them off, yes! sucked them off …”
over and over, demonic – by design;
agent provocateur. She stood her ground,
unphased and impressive. Years later, I saw
Brian, out of his environment, at a
Globe Tavern poetry reading – run by
Dave Mitchell. A voice from up back of the
bar, “I used to be a masturbator in Eketahuna,
until I discovered Hugh Hefner,” he
announced, apropos of nothing. I laughed.
No one else did. Mitchell glowered.
Who you turned the tables on is anyone’s guess –
as a kid growing up in Palmerston North,
you made your own explosives, blew up
neighbour’s back sheds - known at school as ‘Dr.
Stinky’ – tall tales and true from the legendary
past; eh Brian? A ‘boys’ own’ sexuality
that extended into adulthood – rumours,
(as shift worker at Tokoroa Paper Mills in the
early 50s) of your sexual involvement
with a couple of bearded, Canadian loggers … *
You latched onto the literary and literate,
rode the gravy train where it took you, foxy eyes
darting - the mad mind of an anarchist,
amoral jester, fantasist, accidental littèrateur.
Arch opportunist. Already, way outdated by
the time the 60s came round. For all that fearless,
beaten up in pubs by rugby players, bloodied,
leering like a ferret. Teeth bared: back for more.
June 5, 2003
* A tale related to me by the playwright, Warren Dibble, who first met Brian Bell on the night shift at the Tokoroa Paper Mills in the early 50s, and who witnessed first hand Bell’s priapic cavorting with the aforementioned Canuck loggers.
[from Ballads, Satire & Salt – A Book of Diversions, Greywacke Press, Sydney, 2003]
LETTER TO DAVID MITCHELL
We secrete ourselves behind
our mythologies – no question!
better mileage than hiding behind a tissue
of lies. History claims us, if we are lucky, in the end.
You made your mark then stepped
out of youth’s circle, away from that campfire,
and into the dark –
a shuffle amongst memory’s leaves.
Through rain the Sunday bell tolls over rooftops.
You’ve done it then – like the pied-piper of Hamlin,
walked into the hills of home, you and your tune,
a regular confederate attended
by innumerable ghosts, alone.
Man Alone. Last Man Standing.
The perfect patriot to the heart’s drum shadowed
against your past in mythic retreat.
Dead Man Walking.
Seems your soul got caught up in the branches
of that pohutukawa tree at Cape Reinga – hangs
there like a busted kite that no wind from between
the stars can rescue.
The ivory tower has become an oubliette.
The White Goddess unceasingly builds her
nest out of horse’s hair - the broken bones of poets,
in the fork of an oak or kauri.
Ego imploded: from epiphany-to-catatonia
in an instant: you saw your love as an unattainable,
The puritan spirit cried out aloud,
“No truce with the Furies”.
That imagined vertigo is the slow free-fall
of a sycamore seed spinning unseen
behind an abandoned church.
[First published, JAAM 20 November, 2003]
TO FEED A MOCKINGBIRD
In the low lying patches of the exhibition space, over puddles, pieces of broken paint. Stuck on bushes (seen from the viewing area) a flail of gilt-like papyri flecks, as if blown from a terra cotta jar, suddenly opened after 2000 years. Or a gloriously exploded window display, an Autumn catalogue suggestive of David Jones, Harrods, Bloomingdales. Yet shocking as a terrorist blast of church glass.
A galaxy of butterfly wing fragments. An impossible Ming mosaic. Mosque ceramic of spilling fountains and heavenly gardens. A banquet oriental and wafer thin in torn, tremulous, bits. An exhibit at the Indianapolis Zoo of spectacular butterflies; exotic, rare species, consumed by a mockingbird. Lone predator. Thief at dawn. Over a two week spell, avoiding capture, consumed a banquet of diminishing returns. A fabled feast. An alchemy of slow horror. Uninvited guest to a resplendent menu: (Heliconius sara) Small Blue Grecian, (Agraulis vanillae) Gulf Fritillary, (Anartia jatrophae) White peacock, (Ascia monuste) Great Southern White, (Asterocampa celtis) Hackberry, (Asterocampa clyton) Tawny Emperor, (Battus philenor) Pipevine Swallowtail, (Euptoieta Claudia) Variegated Fritillary, (Eurema Lisa) Dainty Sulphur, (Eurytides marcellus) Zebra Swallowtail, (Limenitis archippus) Viceroy, (Nympjalis antiopa) Mourning Cloak, (Papilio polyxenes) Black Swallowtail, (Phoebis philea) Orange-barred Sulphur, (Pterourus palamedes) Palamedes Swallowtail, (Urbanus proteus) Long-tailed Skipper,
(Venessa atalanta) Red Admiral, (Venessa virginiensis) American Painted Lady, (Caligo artreus) Owl Butterfly, (Caligo eurilochus) Forest Mort Blue, (Caligo memnon) Giant Owl Butterfly, (Heliconius charitonia) Zebra Longwing, (Heliconius doris) Doris Butterly, (Heliconius erato) Crimson Patch Longwing, (Heliconius hecale) Golden Helicon, and (Marpesia petreus) Ruby Dagger Wing.
In the days that followed this calamity, and after the Associate Press had, according to the principals of the chaos theory (that a butterfly beating its wings in the Northern hemisphere will cause a storm out in the Indian Ocean) flashed this story around the globe - a spokesperson from the Indianapolis Zoo remarked, ‘Our bird could have dined on any of these, but he did seem to have a particular taste for the “Blue Morphos” - a beautiful, large, and slow-flying tropical species.’ The mockingbird was taken far away beyond the outskirts of the city and released. Presumably home, at last.
[first published, storySouth, USA, 2002]
(Apres moi le deluge)
O France’s Gaullist government
Of President Chirac
Has made it clear to us down here
Nuclear testing’s back -
‘Don’t doubt I plan to detonate
There’s nothing you can do,
When deep beneath Mururoa
I set a bright flambeau.
‘In the sea depths of the basalt
Under the coral cone,
I’ll boil bombe à la fricassee
Within a pot of stone.
‘Elite commandos in dinghies
Do ceaselessly patrol
Round the 12 mile exclusion zone,
Round that petit-atoll.
‘We bombed the Rainbow Warrior
Our frogmen played the prank
In Auckland harbour blew her hull,
And so it was she sank.
‘We are a force upon the earth
And Greenpeace contests it.
France I say is here to stay in
Case you hadn’t guessed it.
‘O France’s pride is paramount
Therefore I do no wrong,
Don’t doubt I plan to detonate
Vive la bombe! Vive la bombe!’
France fell before the Boche’s boot
Which made of her a whore,
Chirac’s the New Napoleon
He’s on the march once more.
[from Ballads, Satire & Salt, A Book of Diversions, Greywacke Press, Sydney, 2003]
from DEADLY POLLEN
Circuit; right hand wise,
homage to the sun - as did ancient
Celts, Scythians, too - host to
the Milesians on their last leg to
Ireland as the first Celts castaway -
whose home precinct the Black Sea,
the right hand to the centre;
memoried in standing stone circles.
Yet homage to a sun as walking
pillar of fire, with hell for a coronet?
The world’s breath and mystery
end here, earth’s innards engorged -
sprawled redly coast to coast.
If streets had cobblestones
blood would flow in tatters - torn
flags to a revolution lost. Streets
smoothly ease to drains. The cut deep,
and blood wakes from its blackness,
crushed as berries in the runnels
of a wagon, oozes its oil from
the body’s casket - til flesh becomes
porcelain, perfect surface for moon,
ice, the glass-edged sky to play upon;
in silences deep as birch in the
bayoneting dark - and leaves finally
resemble paper money piled up
under the turbined lamplight.
A Public Works draughtsman
spent thirty years designing the City
Sewerage Reticulation System
he eventually hoped to escape through -
a masterpiece! A prairie dog would
have been proud of it. Complex of
accented runs, angles, drops, sluices,
pumps, ditches, endless unbowed
archways, treatment ponds breaking into
sunlight - the architects of Athens
would have been proud of it.
Only on paper - not one trowel lifted!
miles and miles and miles of it.
[from DEADLY POLLEN, Word Riot Press, USA, 2003]
Copyright Stephen Oliver, 2003