Anthony Lawrence

Anthony Lawrence Poems

A cold extraction
from the sacred geometry of the combs,
my tongue released
into the essence of destinations, arrivals,
and a process bellowed smoke reveals


This pliable, light-keeping amber stem,
fleshed with sea leather
and a hollow, reef-tapping cup

Where are they going? Where waterspouts lower their silver
taproots into the vanishing point of a Tasman searoad,
read the ocean's internal workings by what happens
on the surface, in ulcerous light, in the wake of a longliner:

It's as though the Continental Shelf
with its east-facing rifts and cliffs were visible;
as though the full-bodied waves that blow over it,

And now the storm is inside.

He holds himself,
in the manner of a man unsure of his body
and what it can do, under pressure.

For you there is more to the slow liquid dancing of my tongue
than working for sighs at the heart of your loins.

Each time I part the moist petals of the larkspur
and open the folds of the sealed spider orchid,

Watching Dennis Potter drink
liquid morphine from a hip flask
while being interviewed for the last time,

My father could whistle up a fox
with the bent lid of a jam tin.
Pursing his lips, he would blow the cries
of a wounded hare into cold Glen Innes hills,

Get your compass and your sharpest knife ...
- John Gorka

Wind shear over mountain grass
does not spook the feeding animal,

When you are seven years old,
lying in the back of a station wagon
while your parents play night tennis;
when the knowledge that you are going

My darling turns to poetry at night.
What began as flirtation, an aside
Between abstract expression and first light

Now finds form as a silent, startled flight
Of commas on her face — a breath, a word ...    
My darling turns to poetry at night.

When rain inspires the night birds to create
Rhyme and formal verse, stanzas can be made
Between abstract expression and first light.

Her heartbeat is a metaphor, a late
Bloom of red flowers that refuse to fade.
My darling turns to poetry at night.

I watch her turn. I do not sleep. I wait
For symbols, for a sign that fear has died
Between abstract expression and first light.

Her dreams have night vision, and in her sight
Our bodies leave ghostprints on the bed.
My darling turns to poetry at night
Between abstract expression and first light.

The pines are dark, with a bleed of sea mist coming through
the brush-worked texture of the air
to settle over the headland, where plaques have been
wired to a fence -
memorials to those
who came to the end of themselves
and closer to the sea, in a low cloister
between ti-trees and flowering acacia
a woman and her children are burying a dog -
one holds a spade while others lower things
a leash, a bowl, into the ground
and some nights I hear the calls
of the common brown frogs
dying out in timed, communal distribution
under the breaking velvet heads of bulrushes
and while I don't always look for wonder
in what I see, as I know it's often best to walk
to let that line of cloud be cloud
not the memory of what I saw in Naples -
Christ under a veil of Carrera marble - I understand
that observation can be just another word
for full immersion, or for skimming the tight skin
of a thought, that it's transformative, or passive
and when I try to choose between
taking the air and taking what I need
to use for later, for working the rhythms
of breath and blood flow into verse, I mostly fail
in my resolve to leave a scene alone
knowing what a glance takes in
will be changing already as I think of it
the way coastal air unspools
from the needled stem of a pine, at dusk
and how offshore wind makes a tearing sound
along the crests of breakers, yet
when observation becomes obsessive
it can overburden the senses and lead
to a depression in the well-spring of a thought or action
so mostly I walk, noticing
how the eye-patch on a male fig bird
turns a deeper shade of red when he faces the sun
or simply that a bird has my attention
and I'll wait to see what happens next, which might involve
moving on, or ignoring an arrangement
I have made with myself
by which I mean I'll put aside concern
and caution, take my time, and learn.

Blondin (Jean François Gravelet), 1824-1897
Despite the legs, varicose like branches
veined with congealing sap,
the hands, gnarled and knotted with disuse,
I could still conjure a terrible height
from the verandah to the lawn,
do a softshoe along the railing
then walk the length of the drive,
pausing to dig the stones from my palms.
The life of an aerialist is no worse or less
potent because the body is grounding itself,
weighted to the marrow with decay.
It is only the tools of my high-risk trade
that have fallen to redundancy: the cable
on which I travelled above the falls
of North America, the long pole I held -
an eagle's slow dark flapping -
they are warping and unravelling in the shed.
My retirement from the windy meridians
of balance and applause has refined
a discipline displaced by youth for the brief
flirtations I made with death and acclamation.
I've not forgotten the surreal heliography
of a thousand upturned eyes and cameras,
or the collective gasp from a crowd of mouths
as I wheeled a barrow stacked with knives
towards Niagara's roaring vanishing-point.
Once the wind rocked the barrow violently,
and knives flashed like slender-bodied salmon
falling back from an unsuccessful spawning.
These days I walk the wire in the high
and silent air of meditation. I can twirl
a blue umbrella, or wheel a box of blades
above the falls for hours - the cheers
and the mist still around me as I rise
then step away into the shadow of an elm.
I've returned in recent years to stand alone
at night behind the safety rail.
They've lit the falls with spotlights,
now white thunder is a rainbow veil,
with Beethoven's Sixth coming awkwardly
like muted weeping through the spray.
I rarely discuss my time in the air.
Talk is a tripwire on memory's corroding line.
Though, when asked to remember
the most difficult walk I've made, I tell
a story about my father. One night he came
staggering home through the rain into death,
his heart and balance quartered. I met him
at the gate, then carried him inside.
He was breathing hard the words I would later
speak like prayer above the water and the crowds:
I've been trying for years
to heal the private wounds of my life.


The hands
that left their heat and shape on his back
when he entered her
now hold a slice of watermelon.

She eats the wet fruit slowly.

The mouth
that opened wide and red when she came
now opens wide and red.

She wipes her mouth
with the back of her hand
as she does after spitting the seed.

Open the door.
Move to the desk.
Take the rubber stamp from its clip.
The stamp pad should be in the top drawer.
Then slide the desk's roll-cover up,
paying close attention to the sound it makes.
There, beneath the stapler.
Test the pad with your finger.
What does that feel like?
Does your fingertip come away blue?
Look at this.
A doodle on the blotter.
What do you see?
Press the stamp to the pad.
Now to paper.
Will the name be legible, or will the rubber have perished,
leaving a blur of ink?
Can you read that?
Now, take the cigar box from the top of the desk.
White Owl.
A fine name for a cigar.
Open the box, but don't look inside.
Use your fingers for eyes.


the desk cover made a sound like a window being raised
before he vomited over the flowers.
The stamp pad felt like his cheek when I touched it,
fearful he might wake.
On the blotter I saw a man laid out in a motel room,
dead two days,
attended by angels washing drugs from his blood.
The name the stamp made was his.
Inside the cigar box?
Pencil shavings, rubber bands, buttons, a wedding ring
(I recognised the burred edge
that opened my face one night in the hall,
and the oval of onyx,
cold as a thumbnail on the tongue),
dead cockroaches, and a key.
There was something else that could have been a badge
or a medal, and something sharp that . . .
Someone's coming.
Quickly, over here, in the cupboard.
Be quiet and still
among the wreckage of my father's things.

When you are seven years old,
lying in the back of a station wagon
while your parents play night tennis;
when the knowledge that you are going
to die one day comes though
the rallies, players' voices,
and songs from a dashboard radio
left on like an audible night light;
you listen hard to the faultless
workings of your life: your heartbeat,
muffled under a blanket; your breath,
painting cone-shaped plumes on the glass.
You trade sleep for the ache
of a nameless concept, and feel
the margins of your days begin to close.
You are not prepared for this.
You leave the car and look beyond
the capped, swinging court lights,
blurred by an attendant rain of moths
and flying ants, and you search
the sky for meaning. Linking stars
and smears of low, transparent cloud,
you find a wound in the side
of an overripe fig; a lizard,
its position on a stone betrayed
only when it blinks. But then
a tennis ball clears the fence,
a player laughs, and your parents return,
smelling of sweat and cigarettes.
When they ask why you're up so late;
what you're doing outside the car;
you've not the words for what you know.
On the way home, you lie down
and stare at the backs of their heads,
which are dark, then silver
in the lights of an overtaking lorry.
Your father turns the radio off.
Your mother turns to look at him.
They do not speak. You touch yourself
under the blanket, carefully,
and forget about death for awhile.
When the backs of their heads
flare again, you promise yourself
you'll remember that moment;
and you do, thirty-two years later,
sitting up in bed, when your wife's face
is lit by a car pulling into the drive.
In the dark again, you sense her
glance at you. The glance returned,
you ask if she remembers
how old she was, or what she was doing
when her first thoughts of death arrived.
When she doesn't answer, you say
Star, fig, lizard, and wait for the lights
of another car to print
the shadows of your heads on the wall.

A cluster of ladybirds makes a detail
from a cob of charred or blighted corn.
they enamel any surface
like waterbeads
containing a matchhead's reflected flare and death.

I part the leaves of the radish
and find carnage:
ladybirds, front legs
working into the sides of their heads
as if trying to prise tiny black helmets off,
the visors jammed with aphids
like stove-grills
wet ash has rendered useless.

Opening their wings, there are wings
beneath them:
an overcoat's tails
flipped back to reveal
the tails of another, smaller coat.

I take a ladybird from a leaf, imagining myself
as I did picking green and orange cicadas
like loud, vibrating fruit from trees when young:

held aloft by a giant,
pincered roughly
until the fluids broke from my eyes.

I hold it, because holding is what humans feel
they need to do to living things.
When I open my hand, it ambles
like a freckled naturalist
over the moist topography of my palm,
and I remember
a concert in a tree-lined square in Granada
at dusk: a woman fisting the silver
bellflower of a French horn; swallows
becoming their own shadows;
a ladybird negotiating the hairs on my arm.

Have you ever pressed the rim of an acorn's cap
until the rim collapsed?
Perhaps it was
the last note from a clarinet
returning from the walls of a Gothic cathedral,
or swallows, angling for insects
like semi-quavers over the trees
that had distracted me . . .
I'd squeezed the beetle between finger and thumb -
my wet skin smelled of decay.

Here in the garden, vegetables
are being mined by green grubs
one stage from white, erratic flight.
The old-fashioned spray pump I steer
like the design for a blade-and-wingless aircraft
come to life,
is blowing pyrethrum
like burnt fuel over everything.
The grubs rise into death,
globes of milky fluid at the ends of their mouths;
the aphids mobilise, then fuse
into a wart-like mound, their sucking bodies
outnumbering the black and orange dead.

for Robert Adamson
With a long-finned pike awash in a sealed bucket,
aerated and drugged from the walk, the light
from my headlantern isolating fox and catprints

like moulds for knobbed shells in the sand,
I stop for breath by a fed lake
to watch mullet sipping starlight from the shallows.

The protective calls of little terns rise
from pockets of dune grass to be lost
in the loud construction of a thunderhead

blooming south over the Manning. Flood and wind-
crafted sand has filled deep fissures
on the breakwall's land-bound tail, leaving

a stone spine capped with shadows. In a thin beam,
on shifting granite, I tread like a mine-sweeper
forgetting his trade, the bucket water slapping

as if more than a dying pike were there contained,
beneath the aerator's drone.
I count to seven - each second a mile

dividing a lavender flush of lightning
and thunder's pulse-displacing roll.
What began as one cloud over the river,

its lit dome stalled like the dubious miracle
of a risen man-o'-war, is now a fleet
of electric pavilions trailing indigo guy ropes,

moving fast as tidewater without borders.
At the end of the wall I lift the pike
from its glitter of scales and perfumed slime,

ease a hook through pewter-coloured skin, and cast it
flexing like a length of animated pipe
to dark water. Where it lands, the splash

is a brief, inverted cloudburst, or an entry point
from which no diving bird emerges.
There is no rain in this crackling parade.

I could be staring at a wire mesh ceiling
the tail-stems of bumper cars trace, the sparks
dying out in the hair of attendant riders.

Above me, the tall outlined iron of a disused light pole.
In my hands, a twelve foot beach rod -
its line runners, reel and oxidised winch

all good conductors. Now lightning forks
and flares without pause, its colours changing
like the mantle of a threatened squid.

Dangers begins with an irritating warmth
under the skin on my arms and neck, then
each follicle breaks into flameless fire

as static strafes the wall, fizzing over
trace metals in the rock, the pole, the rod's length.
I climb away, leaving a clatter

of carbon fibre, the pole charged
with an audible veneer, the headlantern
flying free to go out on a stone.

My footing gone, I fall through to a rank,
black space furious with rats
and blown bait bags, where I watch the sky

come apart, with thunder locating
the smallest of my bones
and a slide show of heads and tails

forming and reforming at my shoes.
When the storm swings inland
to black out Harrington, I leave the bunker

and return to the rod and gear. I find nothing
but crabs clicking under their helmets
on a shelf of stone. When I stand

and look back at the town, the hotel lights
are still burning, while on the beach,
as if a marker buoy had been grounded,

its one globe describing slow arcs in the wind,
someone is swinging a lantern
with no sense of urgency or alarm.

The kookaburra begets the sacred kingfisher
who begets the rainbow bee-eater
who begets the firetailed finch
who begets the forty-spotted pardalote
who begets the damsel fly
who begets the jeweled beetle
who begets a pentangle of reflected light
that falls on a colony of dust mites
who beget particles of skin
blown from a hand in a moment of wonder
at the hard beauty of mathematics
or more precisely the language used to define it
as when a bubble tree mutates into something
indivisible like the tail-end
of the mating call of a powerful owl
driven to the margins of fields
night-vision can take in
until the dead and the soon-to-be-taken
have been filed away inside
your windy demographic
until you have what you think you need
which is anything you desire and more
provided your assessments
are based on the knowledge that living
creatures have no correct lineage
when it comes to this
making of phrase and fable this
learning how to arrive and be prayerful and leave

Rain, and driving thoughts of rain, miles
and hours of it, inches and yards of light
and dark rain, where seamless cloud has been
stitched and gathered into a great undoing
of itself, in wind that brings its freeplaying ride
through a highland plateau down into the hair-
pinned, run-off green below Mount Arrowsmith
or Frenchman's Cap, whose faces have gone
to a full-blown curtain of angled rain
and its bright companions, ice and snow,
to make, under the button grass, a blackwater
seepage from a thaw that will come within days,
or less, here and there at rain-mined overhangs
flowering with spillage, and in Queenstown,
where a conveyor belt sounds like a mongrel
dragging its chain against the rim of an over-
turned drum, it is raining still, at the tail end
of a mining era, on the open-cut towns of Linda
and Gormanston, diminishing under seasons
of rain-blurred windows and the shells of cars
in yards overgrown with absence, on lakes
where the rings of rising trout are one
with the surface-pelting blanket of the rain,
clear and clean as the spittle of a local
weather-telling prophet who grinds lens glass
and peers at the sky from a roof, rain-hammered
and domed above streets awash with longing,
and further afield, near a moored houseboat
on Macquarie Harbour, an old woodcutter
is remembering rain as an all-night, fly-sheet-
testing wall of black proportions, and day
as much the same, with sunlight no more
than a rumour, with running silver on the chip-
flecked sleeves of his oilskin, and now, inland,
with no change to the long-range forecast,
at Cemetery Creek and Laughing Jack Lagoon,
it is raining, and the rivers are full, their dark
mirrors bubbling, and even the mountain-fed
torrent between two hydro-electric plants
- its peaks and lines like whitewashed milestones
tumbling end over end - is driving the blood-
made turbines with its own internal rain.

Anthony Lawrence Biography

Anthony Lawrence was born in 1957 in Tamworth, in rural New South Wales. He has worked as a stockman, fisherman, truck driver and teacher of English and Drama. He has lived in Western Australia as well as NSW, and now lives in Hobart in Tasmania. Lawrence has published five individual collections of poetry, Dreaming in Stone (1989), Three Days out of Tidal Town (1991), The Darkwood Aquarium (1993) shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Award, Cold Wires of Rain (1995), and The Viewfinder (1996) which won the 1997 NSW Premier’s Award for Poetry.)

The Best Poem Of Anthony Lawrence

Eating Honey

A cold extraction
from the sacred geometry of the combs,
my tongue released
into the essence of destinations, arrivals,
and a process bellowed smoke reveals
under the rooves of white weatherboards.
Taste this, I say, in your absence,
and I am prayerful,
despite the distracted presence
of a keeper and his son.
What I swallow is alive,
and applied to wounds
can be restorative, redolent
of the industry of gums
in the season of their flowering.
I love you, I do not say,
and turn from a netted man
and his village of imported queens
to smear a salve of honey
into the skin
on the undersides of my wrists.
When the man and his son have gone,
I taste myself, and return
to the place we have chosen -
a landscape hard-won and barren
of the constancy of love,
and I remember how we are measured
by what we do and say,
when no-one is watching, when alone.

Anthony Lawrence Comments

Shirley 21 April 2018

A Google search shows your site attributing poems to Anthony Lawrence that were, in fact, written by D.H. Lawrence. Please correct this error, thank you.

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