David George Joseph Malouf Poems

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The Year Of The Foxes

for Don Anderson

When I was ten my mother, having sold
her old fox-fur (a ginger red bone-jawed

From A Plague Year

A sign first in the sky, then other tokens,
but plainer, on the flesh. June's thirty suns
flared and we were tinder. Flies appeared
and bubbled in pools, their green gaze multiplied

The Fables

To interpret the wood you first must fall
asleep in it, feel
its breathing lift your ribs, turn
owls out of a pocke

To Be Written In Another Tongue

As for example, the language in which my grandfather
dreams now he is dead, or living,
muttered in his sleep. Clouds

Stooping To Drink

Smelling the sweet grass
of distant hills, too steep
to climb, too far to see
in this handful of water

Wild Lemons

for Don Dunstan

Through all those years keeping the present
open to the light of just this moment:
that was the path we found, you might call it

Elegy: The Absences

G.M., 1896-1964

Tree crickets tap tap tap. They are tunneling
their way out of the dark; when they break through,
their dry husks will be planets. Little sheep-bells

The Crab Feast


There is no getting closer
than this. My tongue slips into
the furthest, sweetest corner
of you. I know all

now all your secrets.
When the shell
cracked there was nothing
between us. I taste moonlight

transformed into flesh
and the gas bubbles rising
off sewage. I go down
under the mangrove roots and berries, under the moon's

ashes; it is cool
down there. I always knew that there was more
to the Bay than its glitters,
knew if you existed

I could also
enter it; I'd caught so deeply all
your habits, knowing the ways
we differ I'd come to think we must be one.

I took you
to me. Prepared
a new habitat under the coral
reef of my ribs. You hang there, broken like the sun.


Noon that blinding glass did not reveal us
as we were. It cast us variant selves
more real than
reflections, forms

with a life of their own,
stalk eye a periscope
that determined horizons, Doulton claws
that could snap of a thumb.

I liked that. Hence the deep afternoons
with pole and net, the deeper
nights when I went down after the tropic
sun. Hence too the Latin

names, a dangerous clawhold. I wanted the whole of you, raw
in defiance of breathlessness
or the power of verbal charms,
on my palm, on my tongue.

This the Place. I come back
nightly to find it
- still, sleepy, sunlit, presided over

by old-timers, waterbirds whose one
thin leg props up clouds,
the ruck of open water

ahead, and the hours
of deepening blue on blue the land wades into afternoon.
These then the perspectives:
matchwood pier, a brackish estuary
that flows on into
the sun, a rip of light over the dunes.

I enter. It is all
around me, the wash
of air, clear-spirit country. It goes on

all day like this. The tide
hovers and withdraws. Under the sun, under the moon's
cross-currents, shadows

fall into place
and are gathered to the dark. This hunt
is ritual, all the parties to it lost. Even the breaths

we draw between cries
are fixed terms in what is celebrated,
the spaces in a net.

Among mangrove trunks the fire
-flies like small hot love-crazed
planets switch on,

switch off. They too
have caught something. A chunk of solid midnight
thrashes in the star-knots of their mesh.

You scared me with your stillness and I scared
myself. Knowing
that everything, even the footsoles of the dead, where your small
nudged them, would feed

the airy process of it.
The back of my head
was open to the dream
dark your body moves in. I hunted you

like a favourite colour,
indigo, to learn
how changeable we are, what rainbows
we harbour with us

and how I should die, cast wheezing into
a cauldron of fog.
That was the plan:
to push on through

the spectrum to that perfect
primary death colour, out
into silence and a landscape
of endings, with the brute sky pumping red.

I watch at a distance
of centuries, in the morning
light of another planet
or the earliest gloom

of this one, your backward
submarine retreat,
as hovering across
the seabed — courtly,

elate, iron-plated —
you practice the Dance.
I watch and am shut out.
The terrible privacies!

You move slow motion sideways,
an unsteady astronaut:
step and counter
step, then the clash,

soundless, of tank engagement;
you might be angels
in the only condition
our senses reach them in. I observe

your weightless, clumsy-tender
release. I observe
the rules; cut off
here in the dimension

of pure humanity, my need for air
a limiting factor,
I look through into
your life. Its mysteries

disarm me. Turning
away a second time
to earth, to air, I leave you
to your slow-fangled order,

taking with me
more than I came for
and less. You move back into
my head. No, it does not finish here.

We were horizons
of each other's consciousness. All transactions
at this distance are small
blurred, uninsistent. Drawn

by unlikeness, I grew
like you, or dreamed I did, sharing your cautious
sideways grip on things, not to be broken,
your smokiness of blood, as kin

to dragons we guarded
in the gloom of mangrove trunks
our hoard. I crossed the limits
into alien territory. One of us

will die of this, I told myself; and one of us
did. The other
swam off to lick warm stones and sulk with clouds along a
regretting the deep

shelves and downward spaces,
breathing easy,
but knowing something more
was owed and would take place. I go down

in the dark to that encounter, the sun
at my back. On the sea-bed
your eyes on their sticks
click white in the flattened shadow of my head.


A dreamy phosphorescence
paddles towards me. The moon drowses,
feeds, its belly white, its tough shell
black. We are afloat

together. You are
my counterweight there, I hand above you
in sunlight and a balance
is struck. No, the end

will not be like this.
We belong to different orders, and are trapped
by what we chose. Our kinship
is metaphorical, but no less deadly for all that,

old Dreadnought; as if I wore
black and carried death clenched in my fist. I do
wear black. My hand is open. It is my teeth
that seek you in the dark. And I approach bearing a death.


It was always like this: you
broken before me,
beautiful in all
the order of your parts, an anatomy lesson,

the simple continent
our bodies broke away from.
Because you are so open, because
the whole of your life

is laid out here, a chamber
to be entered and stripped. You have nothing
to hide. That sort of power
kills us, for whom

moonlight, the concept blue,
is intolerably complex as
our cells are, each an open universe
expanding beyond us, the tug

of immortality.
We shall reach it and still die.
I will be
broken after you, that was the bargain

all this
a compact between us, who love
our privacies. I play
my part. Bent over you I dip my hand

in the bowl, I shake my cuffs, out in the open
and lost. Deep down
I am with you in the dark. The secret flesh of
my tongue enters a claw.

Because you are so open. Because you are.


It is your weight
that hangs upon me. How
to deal with it. Hooded, claws locked
to your body like a star

you drag me under
the light of this occasion
to others. I've dreamed you once
too often. So this

is what it is to drown, this suffocating
torpor, giving up to
the drug of, the drag of
the moon. Here in your kingdom

I feel night harden over
my skull. That we should have come
so far out of the dark
together. I try to drown

well, I hold my breath,
no thrashing. Blue, majestic,
you blaze in my thoughts. Displacing more
than your real weight, making less

than the usual disturbance,
you plunge and take me with you.
I go out
in silence, in full view

of waiters; having learned
this much at least; to die true
to my kind — upright, smiling —
and like, beyond speech.


No I am not ashamed
of our likeness, of what is in it that betrays me,
a smell of salt

backwaters, a native
grasp of the gist
of things, our local patch

of not-quite-solid earth from which the vast swing of the sky
is trackable. Night
comes on and I am caught

with a whole life in my hands,
in my mouth raw words,
the taste of so much air, so much water,

flesh. It was never to be weighed,
this dull shore and its landscape, water
poised above water

and all its swarming creatures, against the kingdom of cloud castles
we build with our breath.
But words made you

a fact in my head. You were
myself in another species, brute
blue, a bolt of lightning, maybe God.

Now all has been made plain
between us, the weights are equal, though the sky
tilts, and the sun

with a splash I do no hear breaks into
the dark. We are one at last. Assembled here
out of earth, water, air

to a love feast. You lie open
before me. I am ready.

Mulberry Tree Dreaming

Parachute silk comes spooling out of the mouths
of a silkworm factory; rumbustious breath
of the big tree's rebel stillness rocks the house.
Invisible rip-cords jerk, sing, take the strain,

In the Beginning

The table's there in the kitchen, where I kneel
on a high chair, tongue at air, trawling a slate
with pot-hooks; on the track of words; on the track of this word,
table. Is there instant, wobbly wooden,

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