Jane Gibian

Jane Gibian Poems

For Pip and Tom
The mistrusting mountains are silent
in their approval; grudging in their respect
for our clumsy efforts with the earth,

our movements minuscule like ants,
lacking the precision of machinery.
Skittish cows like plastic farm animals

are scattered from the hand of a child —
giant around the tufted ankles of mountains,
who are patient in their watching,

enduring the cloven feet of cattle, marking
their skin with tiny scars. Colonised amicably
by grass, the mountains observe it licking

the feet of trees in the undefined edges
of forest. They are grey with their brooding,
quiet in their mistrust.

Everyone gracious and composed; the party
at your ex-girlfriend's parents' place. Us girls
went swimming in our knickers, the air

steamy and languid; we laughed and shouted
with relief and teased the boys who wouldn't undress
and under the splintered verandah you embraced

me hard, as if that desperate passion might
defy death. Jammed in the car with the flowers
heading back in the late afternoon, all of us quiet

with exhaustion; at the wharf the thick green water
silent under the wooden slats. The dense bouquets
filling the little tinny, each of us clutching

bunches; a miniature funeral procession
chugging through the dusk towards
the unfinished house that held no vases.

with the day's end approaching,
how you stare so long
into this assemblage of flowers
is our uncertain secret:
their soft scarlet architecture
mesmerising in its solidity,
observing you like minor
stars, showering absolution
on your troubles: you are
the flowerbud straining open,
new crimson almost bleeding
through the tight green sphere,
till their quiet deaths unnerve
like half-remembered nightmares,
and the second hand never pauses
on the clock above the flowers;
you move lightly in the arc
of their hot velvet gaze

A predilection for stone fruit
sees a trail of peach
and plum stones in his shadow
You had traced him down
this discreet path to where
his casual touch
was six light insect
feet on your forearm

In the magazine you read about
the ten sexiest women
for April; they all live
in suburbs beginning with W
and wear impossible shoes

You hunt for modern equivalents
of One hundred ways with mince
and watch his hand become
refined under its wedding ring,
the fingers longer and nails less bitten

He coaxes your shoulders straight,
uncurling them with firm hands

but you were merely bent over
with laughter
Now your tongue forks into four:
one part for being good-natured
one for lamentation
the third part of irony
and the last for an imaginary language

You move to a newly-invented
suburb beginning with X
where you will use the four parts
of the tongue with equilibrium

On this slate-grey
autumn morning
the lake is
a churning sea
choppy & clouded,
the tortoise tower
rising still & ghostly
in the distant centre;
too cold now
for embraces
on the concrete
benches, but
starkly beautiful:
branches bend
to flutter
their leafy fingers
through the soupy
green water. In this
chilling greyness
ask yourself: if
your heart
was planted
what would it grow?
You imagine
exquisite blossoms;
a verdant tree,
but before you
can stop it,
your heart has
grown a plant
of strange flowers,
obliquely alluring
but covered in
thorns that wound
at a touch: the lake
stills completely
glassy like worn
stone & almost

look how the land here
warps reluctant to snap
back into the jovial rounded
figures of children's
drawings that constitute
some collective reality despite
a paucity of evidence

here the thick air aches
with the weighted alluvium
of memory clotted like souring
milk each figure
of speech derailing her
ties to the real some tenuous
thread of rotting velvet ribbon

and apathy stuns like concussion
as we sit before the postcard-blue
horizon watching time disintegrate
with a resounding click

waking at this half-lit hour you lapse
into the incredulous body
of early morning, cool with languor
& stillness
there is soon
the retreat into half-dream, your
semi-permanent shell following
the journeys of waking
with gradual daring

in this striated orb
your suddenly immodest body
is drawn to another: gravitates
towards the plane of his moving
in an almost collision of the senses

such precision now in the casual
singe of skins brushing

together with devastation when
the new morning splinters
open like surrender

that afternoon the past dragged
at your heels, trailing
in the wake of your footprints
and coating the door-handle
with a sticky substance

it has stroked your bony shoulders
with knowing grooved fingers,
melting into scuff marks
upon a wooden floor

this day;
when recollection
stabs like broken glass
into the palm when
your thumb is laced with mandarin,
the spacious scent ricocheting
through layers of time and
the clarity of vision
is unrelenting

in the spaces there is possibility. in your pockets
there is emptiness, plum-coloured and gritty.
the spaces between the words resonate

carefully; the signified leaks imperfectly
into its surrounds, words acquiescent
in their failing. the space is a trickle

of water sliding between dinner plates
stacked drying on the sink. the word
evades you, leaving only the space

around the small bird inside
the egg. on the next page
is another space for failing

or falling. then the word means
only the word; today green is no more
than greenness. in the spaces

there are possibilities. finding them
is learning to crack a melon seed
with your teeth into perfect halves.

easy silence
taking the bunch of keys
warm from your hand

just over there
both ends
of the rainbow

tiny winter apples -
she hands me dipping salt
in a scrap of maths homework

on the street of hairclips
buckets of pink crabs
boil in their shells

crowded streets at dusk
a single shirt dances
on the rooftop

outside the temple
buying a white bird
to set free

Around you is an infinite
thickening of chords; you grow
dense with pale scripts like
children's breath; a thousand minute
inflections from his voice
and eyes and hands, this
precarious uncanny balancing.

Each touch
laden with intricacies, continuous
as the crumpled yellow gum blossom
falling ceaseless to coat the drying
clothes, the damp red paint;
a subdued epiphany of slow-motion.

the harsh wind blows particles of red dirt
into your eyes; the farmers' rich topsoil
floating to the edge of the city's centre,
to you, in the fog of actionless thought.

Yellow pollen and the hearts of spring flowers
blow too, filling your chest with petals and grains
that swirl in the lungs' wheeze. Your yoga teacher
won't do the headstand today, his nose filling

like a drain. The fitful wind gives way
to storm, and rain lashes the window;
bells clanging listlessly. At the gym
people on jogging machines move

up and down in waves, as if fleeing
something terrible, their faces grim masks.
Van Gogh's sunflowers sway on the wall,
their black centres following your gaze

to the useless pieces of everyday life
gathered here on the table, impossible to sort
or classify: your eyes hold briefly a belt buckle,

a paper clip, an unread newspaper. You don't
resist the october wind, the larger plans
of red soil, the hearts of flowers.

Aus ihnen kommt mir wissen, dass ich Raum
zu einem zweiten zeitlos breiten Leben Aus ihnen kommt mir wissen, dass ich Raum
zu einem zweiten zeitlos breiten Leben habe

Then I know that there is room in me
for second huge and timeless life
Rainer Maria Rilke
Already you witnessed a vast company of crows
calling loudly, insistently, as they criss-crossed low
over the house, wheeling in slow arcs
like curves sketched in pencil, growing darker and heavier.

Calling loudly, insistently, they criss-crossed low
as you struggled to live two lives at once;
like curves sketched in pencil, growing darker and heavier,
in another room there waits a third life.

As you struggled to live two lives at once,
looking at your hand holding open a book,
in another room waits a third life, held by
a stranger's hand: thoughtful, uncertain.

Looking at your hand holding open a book,
a lock of dark hair marks your place
and the thoughtful, uncertain stranger's hand
holds tightly the book of torment and ecstasy,

where a lock of dark hair marks your place
under folded blankets of grey cloud.
In the book of torment and ecstasy
it was as if spring could never return.

Under folded blankets of grey cloud
when the night demons alight on your brow
it was as if spring could never return.
At dusk in the garden's sinister noctilucence

the night demons alight on your brow:
insipid pale nymphs by daylight,
but at dusk in the garden's sinister noctilucence
they are sharp across your vision.

Insipid pale nymphs by daylight, yet
you climb back into that small unfathomable grief
rising sharp across your vision,
its bitter, silken murmur almost soothing.

You climb back into that small unfathomable grief
wheeling in slow arcs over the house,
its bitter, silken murmur almost soothing
since you witnessed the vast company of crows.

in your mouth you roll and taste
the classifier for fruit, shaping
the rounded rising syllable
also used for fruit-shaped objects:

a ball
a bomb
the earth

and run your tongue
along the sharp edges
of the classifier for objects
with flat surfaces:

a letter
a photograph
the wall

feel then the graceful classifier
for leaf-shaped and leaf-thin things:
it is the leaf itself

a brutal wind sheets of bark
turning through the air
everywhere bull-ants and the smaller

scurriers of leaf litter
build their tower of words
searching for length along the spine

can you will the sky to clear
push away cloud with a breath
a wound in the eucalypt bleeding

red glass asks for small adjustments
to reason the older wound closed over
into a knobbled knee-cap

imperceptible changes a spider's skeleton
shed with care held firmly
in the mind lobes of ruby grapefruit

each segment a glistening thought
amongst the desire to hold

buds swelling
at the stubs of gnarled arms
the louche calls of twilight


From the skyscraper, looking down
on the backs of birds: we began
smelling the decline of winter
around then; in the vague flowery

perfume of no particular blossom
comes a prickling in the limbs
as if we were migratory animals,
the pull of an unwritten calendar

seizing the body, and you ached
to start the long journey anti-
clockwise around the globe,
the destination undecided.

We are above the birds circling
high over the city, light bouncing
off a plane's innocent pale belly,
invincible at this height.

1. Nested squares

What could be held in a month
of your calendar, in the pleached grid
of those windows, that spills out of mine
like water overflowing the rectangular

depressions of an icecube tray? A day
melts and stretches lazily into evening
in the sudden summer, and we place
our palms flat against the sun's captured

heat, coursing from brick walls along
each street: from here each day's
a window, lined up in a crooked row
like teeth inside a laughing mouth.

Flattened grass in the shape of our bodies
was still there the day after: we tried
to hold those days in cupped hands
but they trickled slyly through your fingers.

Walking past a window uncovered
to the night, that flash of someone's life
added to the inventory of sights
I collected to make you smile, an answer

to the compressed biography of postcards,
bound to the span of time in its nested
squares. Daylong we crossed disputed
territories, daylong I looked into

the battered rectangle of a pocket mirror
with its cracked corner and saw myself
divided. In the calendar's endless fretwork
you give each part of the day equal

thought; weight them evenly in your grasp,
until it's time to pull at a thread in the day
and watch it unravel behind us.

2. Helicoid

From the cracked bowl of the morning
rises a roaring sea in your left ear, the helical
pulse unfurling into time passages made

convoluted by fingers tracing a slow
orbit around a breast. Taking an old stethoscope
from the table you heard the loud whispery

edges of your heartbeat; listened for
the murmurous parts of that country
absorbed awkwardly inside, down

to the intricate whorls of your knuckles,
like distorted incense spirals. In this vessel
rests a memory of eating rice picked

three days earlier, smoothed grains
in the coarse capsule of a sack, so recently
bound in curved terraces of wet rice

stretching in tiers towards the horizon;
the taste of earthiness and pith sparking
tender florescence in the reverent

chamber of the mouth. With a word balanced
on the tongue comes simultaneously
its echo in another language, coiled

beneath, entwined with an older image;
the round edges of a biscuit tin decorated
with english birds: pheasants, demure

water fowl, a robin; and the helix of the present
winds more tightly; three inseparable baskets.

My mother told me always
keep your own bank account —
I called it my running away
account — I can't stand
his footsteps in the house
as I work; I have to walk
out into the fields where
ghosts from the goldmine shafts
hover amongst the weeds —
back then I was stronger;
with my first I went into labour
on the mountain slope,
and finished rounding up
the cattle — but he's very good,
gets his own breakfast
and all — yet sometimes
I can't breathe when his
thoughts drift through me
as I write —

Already you are cushioned unwittingly from tears,
and the quilt is an excruciating weight against the body:
devising meticulous plans for a departure, almost sanely,
makes a mockery of the carefully chosen nectarines,
the unblemished green capsicum on the benchtop.
A half-withered leaf on the footpath is perhaps
a greyish mouse: there is this or there is
nothing, or only something unbearable
like waiting for a sense of indifference
to everything; but the corpse of a gum tree
is shockingly white against the brown-
tinged pastures. Still, you hear
the left-hand voice of the fugue,
like a tide rising within us,
until all you can do
is retreat behind
your eyelids
and close
the door

The Best Poem Of Jane Gibian


For Pip and Tom
The mistrusting mountains are silent
in their approval; grudging in their respect
for our clumsy efforts with the earth,

our movements minuscule like ants,
lacking the precision of machinery.
Skittish cows like plastic farm animals

are scattered from the hand of a child —
giant around the tufted ankles of mountains,
who are patient in their watching,

enduring the cloven feet of cattle, marking
their skin with tiny scars. Colonised amicably
by grass, the mountains observe it licking

the feet of trees in the undefined edges
of forest. They are grey with their brooding,
quiet in their mistrust.

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