Big Turquoise Tobacco Tin

Someone in America sent me a big fresh tin of

American Spirit Tobacco

I had been straight and clean and sober for about two months

Like me, my friend in America had kicked the bullshit aside

And very kindly sent me all this tobacco

I peeled the silver seal from that big turquoise tin

It was all fresher than the freshest biscuits

This was in the Municipality of Brunswick

Where wild roses grow semi-domesticated around the

Wrought iron of clapboard homes

Jimmy is a troubadour and he lived a few houses up

Also in that house was Rob from Country Clare

From the same town as Dylan Thomas’s schizoid drunken widow

This was summer and for the most part everyone’s doors

And windows were always open, it gave Brunswick a coastal

Sort of vibe, although Brunswick, of course, was stitched into

A cobblestoned metropolis, windows and doors slouched open

I can see the breeze lifting the brown mesh on my front window

All the wild roses boiled into life all up the street

The fact that people usually had

Marijuana in one quantity or another added to the coastal feel

There was coffee in the kitchen, on a perilous stove

And often a cauldron of stew made by one of these drunken cooks

Rob or Jimmy

I took my big turquoise tin up the street and also a couple of

Tin whistles in two different keys

Jimmy had a small loud black accordion on the wooden kitchen table

And I confronted the stove in acts of balance and blowtorch heat

Their back yard was a tumbling meadow

Old couches blooming and a back shed where the leaseholder

A fairly righteous hippy who I didn’t like much

Made his own liquid fuel, true story

He was and is a genius and invented a synthetic fuel

That really works, but of course he was ridiculed on television for that

The coffee was some bitter sump – I have never bothered to learn the art –

I had a bowl of the drunken stew and rolled some of the American Spirit

A light and subtle taste, like the malt of an ice cream cone

Or the glimpse of a distant seagull

Jimmy zithered his guitar and would always say

“Hey Will, I’ve got a bit of a tune here” in a voice that put his own sense

Of importance in the world completely out of sight, like a broom

Behind a laundry door

He drank a lot more than most but never with any noticeable pace

He drank Abbotsford Invalid Stout and Jamesons Irish Whiskey and if he ever felt anything

Akin to urgency then I certainly didn’t see it

We pulled milk crates up outside and played some tunes

I played some waltzes with the offbeat spin on the left side

We’d play on the creaking stages of the local pubs, mainly The Cornish Arms

I was always dragging accordions onto pub stages

But with Jimmy there was never any distinction between show and kitchen jam

Between milk crate and barstool, he was, I believe,

The first truly Zen man I have known

I’d take flight from his place – maybe with that accordion

Which was lighter than my own – to brush up some tunes

Take my dog for long runs through the cobblestone lanes

Past the wrought iron fences, the picket fences and the

Ubiquitous pink, orange and white roses

Spark some incense and get some groceries from the concrete bunker

Of the NQR supermarket leftovers depot

The afternoon brown sunshine on the gritty bargain shops of Sydney Road

The dreadnought trams sliding north to Coburg and south to the city

In the evening, in fresh shirts, we’d gather guitars and half-written songs

Head down to the pubs and think about playing

There was usually lots of malingering around the pool table but

I’ve never been a pool player

I’d drink some cappuccinos and then eventually

There would be the usual tinkering around with the PA

The sound engineers were rarely offhand with their systems

If the pubs were quiet they’d still scurry around the banks of technology

And the dinky pink light would wince down into your eye

And we’d tread the boards


Now Jimmy he’s a father, he lives up on the coast

Where the surf is always pounding in

Like rows of white flowers

And this clean breeze coming through the window now

Is swaying a cluster of wild feathers festooned on a jewelled chain

It reminds me of Brunswick in summer


Will Swan



Plastic green bags, stretching membranes with eggplant

Grapes and some mangoes we’ll scalp in their own fresh gin-mist

Granny Smith apples barely held in their sack, in the alcove

Me barely holding the haul together with multiplied knuckles

Apples trying to roll back to their stalls like droplets of green mercury

Red golden Staffordshire bitch is a lick of flame atop the stairs

We’re both above the pit of fleecing tribal folk

Afghan faces floating up, transracial identikits

On some buzzing unheard news story

Mother and son DNA, hard and tight as a peppermint bullet

The clearest human faces I’ve ever seen

African rouseabout and general hand

Breaking up boxes, folding them into the bin vat

I used to do that too, so now I recall

That waxed fruitbox cardboard

Pulling out the big staples

Like loose rabbit teeth from an envelope

Squat grandfather, Indian, in tweed peak cap

Hauls his grandson up and presses into the stair below me

The child has a tomato which he hurls back into the pit

Grandfather is cool as a dove

No correcting, no admonishment

He’s good, he’s easy

When his daughter finds them and takes the boy from him

He regards the tomato, picks it up intact

Drops it into their bags

Outside of here, behind the eating houses

With their brown vein pipes crawling down the walls of alleys

Reek of rancid ligaments and juicy offcuts

A crimson pungency that could power a galactic freighter

We pass through human shoals as Korean Anglicans

With their tinkling band spilling out in the crowds

Sing some song with a hallelujah chorus (not the Leonard Cohen one)

Notes from a Casio keyboard have sewn a homemade net

They sing like little fisherman, their children hunched on stone steps

Their coveted carpark backing out onto an epic red brick wall

It blunts the blue sky in assurance of a city’s liberty

Then past the local Catholic base, more like a bureau

Candlelight you can taste, but out here it’s all exhausts and drains

Hairspray and Hong Kong pop and oiled tendrils of chilli

Along the way I buy a wooden Santa Maria de Guadalupe bracelet

Some pretty small armament of boiled raspberry sugar pearls

She’s another goddess amongst the marble beasts

Old ladies of Falun Gong:  quite mad and marionette

Two sleek and beatific dogs, gallon-headed with a cardboard sign

And a tin bowl, eating their pilgrim carrots and gazing out

From an aura of the devout – or the morphed

This place is fit to burst like a clown’s gut

Stuffed with fluffy novelty monsters and ice cream

These glazed toffee ducks, their heads speared hard and certain

In the dripping din of the windows

I’m waiting for them to start turning to the roar of a stringed carousel

Waiting for the tattooed Chinese carny to start peeling off tickets

In fat little sheets of powdery red fireworks wrapping

To sell us all salty treacle noise

In ten-for-a-dollar bunches of black exploding clouds


Will Swan

Shed at the Junction

His last days, the rain creaked and rippled

Around the tin shed

With the tap of a motor cooling

Or a fridge defrosting

The world out there smelled like a beach in a storm

All these leagues from the coast

When he tilted in the doorway

Taking in headfulls of endless misting air

There was birdsong like painted splinters flying

In a dawn as one with noon and evening

Out on the railway embankments, among gravel and trail mud

Seahorse clouds dangling over valleys

His existence was softly imprinted in catherine wheel shapes

As if outlined by a handmade biscuit cutter

He had seen no doctor, nor needed to

A sensation in his head, sometimes like

Mercury drifting in a spirit level

As if there was perhaps an old brass key

Stored under his skull

No need for aspirin, just the rain

Collecting his life in another tributary

Out there with the hosing tin gutters

The tarred wells reflecting telegraph poles

The rainbirds who were there from the beginning

Leaning back into it all, he let the rain soften up

The whole damn thing, no grudges, no pride

When his eyes open there’s a fine crafted box

Balanced on his knees

It smells of rosewood, distant depth and lacquer

His brass key is resting in his curled palm

And he opens the box, like we all will


Will Swan

Tao Beast

Tao Beast paddles across the floor to me

Looks up, now a monk’s formal noise

Like cocoa on an omelette:


And now.


I have rested my elbows on the Cumbrian sky

My gaze dancing down over Grassmere

The Tao Beast is looking up at me:

(              )


I have sailed Delirium Tremens on a carpet of lead

Have smashed up homes like I was gutting fish

The Tao Beast is looking up at me:

(              )


I have howled into boiling microphones

Have signed for divorce

Have heard ghouls mewling rancid from the plumbing

(              )


I’ve scarpered under cover of darkness

Tripped up on a dead friend in a hallway

Blinked at disapproval

(              )


I’ve watched a killer weep over coffee

Seen flamingos blaze on lunar dunes

Waited in the rain for Liquorland to open

The Tao Beast’s here, he’s looking up at me:

(              )


I stacked warehouse boxes with a Fijian

Whose cartilage and bone glistened through his knuckles

The first day of school was overcast and purple inked

I won the beer tankard that says

“Best Recruit in The Regiment”

(              )


Silence around the Tao Beast like the bright halo

In a tattoo of an angelic heavyweight

Just says:

And now

This sulphurous self-mythologizing

Is smacked away like the smoke of crushed pebbles



Will Swan

Catholic School Man

Don’t have kids, but if I did I would not

Trust them with that Catholic School son of a bitch

He’s addressing them now, it’s an Assembly

His mouth sounds like it’s crammed with little grey parrot tongues

They’re falling out sideways like maggots, or pellets of Silly Putty

He’s really drawing this whole thing out

It’s a big tease for him

Drawing out these stupid half-rounded vowels

Fancies it as some sort of Georgian English

Too many BBC costume dramas & a life festered with clergy

Slowly waving that hooked mouth around

Like silver gynaecological forceps

You hear the same affected voice coming out

From closet case radio men, the unhappy right wing bitches

This is a mouth that does not go down on women

Might as well be a lump of cement

All the small children are cross legged on damp asphalt

Like bundles of something agricultural waiting to be shipped

Now and again some sub-martinet whines orders to silence them

He’ll take this main son of a bitch’s place one day, he hopes

The Georgian affectation snakes into the day

If I had a duelling pistol I’d stand at right angles to that mouth

And blow it out fucking sideways

In a dumbfounding bell of heat


Will Swan

Radio Voices

Radio voices speculating under us all

Like aphids and crabs beneath our days

Over the golf tees that rot like teeth in dry earth

Like wild roses around cardboard wine casks

Even a damp murmuring through the lice

And the lapels of our coffins

Here is a photograph of us all around a barbecue table

These smiling hungry Australians

While I type this, most are still living, a couple have been buried

Ten feet out of shot is a dark country kitchen

A screen door that bounces on a pneumatic hinge

An early model fridge hooked up like a shrine

Souvenir dishcloths

A chart of farmyard birds sashaying in heraldic profiles

And a radio that lays down brown vines

Of rich deep speculations

And now, thirty years away, a neighbour stakes out

His children’s childhood with banter and instruction

His loose garden tasks mark out the evening

As the children stoke their small swimming pool

In a noise of weighted buckets

Underneath their settlement a radio hums like a black dead baby bird

With a charge running through it

Speculations inert and warm, held in faceless sweaty palms

Soon all of us lost under a hot greasy heaven

Fat sky of blackened oil and fried eggs running

Then a nebula whorled grey and aquamarine

Fading like a horse painting, epic

Over the lifeless plateau horizon


Will Swan

For an Absent Scarecrow

Jacaranda street clouds bounce with goldpaint finches

The chocolate dog of the morning revealed

By sunshine slamming up through tectonic gaps

Is washed of all the previous world by three days’ rain

Has been left his name and his smile, both bobbing like antennae

Soil of damp nutmeg

Refrigerated eucalyptus pepper

And the mantis face grasses

Plated in water

Droop-rising for an absent scarecrow


Will Swan