Bellbirds & Saint Michael

Bellbirds, a crop of mutinous bellhops

Singing projectiles of sharpened chalk

Blows of small porcelain

While indoors, Saint Michael descends

On his astronaut heart

Sword and eyes on the runway

In a turbine of feathers

From a cramp of holy rocket smoke

Leaving Saint George to his own exhaustion

And the raw cod stink of flayed lizard

While angels on talc feet step off the skyline

Like grey cats stepping off fences

Each one the weight of a hydro dam

A congregation sings to their livery


The goannas around here flex their fingers

Orb spiders in seashell armour of boiled biro ink

All pois’nous as eels in crucifixion

The bellbird calls make a lattice of flares

That if viewed from a satellite, spills out

Across the spiderlands of wilderness


Will Swan



So you’re floating on your black bed raft

On the lapping bayou of wet insect night

You can hear the tide against the tree line

Pooling up under streetlights

And that official owl out there, he’s a good man

But he can’t help you

Your mind bounces off the walls of

A life dumber than a clown’s dog’s trick ball

Hot pink and dirty in the smell of canvas

(Not that you would want anyone else’s

But that’s hardly the subject)

You pass out like a glaring rooster

Morning’s powerful toffee in patches on the walls

Squares of sun whom you recognize

As both of your dead grandmothers

You’d sensed them in the night anyway

Up now and eating cold salmagundi near a mess of a shrine

The naturally occurring type of shrine:

Haemorrhaging candles, feathers

Lanterns, an African child doll

And a small hook of a jawbone

Some resolute thing you found, rabbit or cat or possum

You decide to put your mind on ice

That pink-glazed and acidic thing

Sole source of more pain than a Krispy Kreme donut

You decide to put it on ice and you hope

That by the time it thaws out

In gnat bush cemetery or surging Pacific or wherever

You’ll be a jawbone yourself


Out into the toffee sun

A generation of tiger moths has been born this morning

And are thrusting like bishops in each direction

As far as they are concerned

They have just inherited the earth


Will Swan


We’ve all seen the long-toe dandy shoes

Since last century we’ve been seeing them around

But the corner of Pitt Street and King Street

Saw long-toe dandy shoes that were cobbled in the

Arena of Madness itself …


Short Man Syndrome

Budgie head, cheek wart slung like a weapon

Musket slug of a manly ring on the pinkie

Distressed denim shuffle

Cool cockatoo gaze from a brain so terrified

That it can’t let up

And in its desire to gobble all the entrails

Spilling from the world around it

His beak head slurps down a ton of bowel grit and sand

Along with all that dumb twitching tripe

But the shoes!

From a court of demons: he knew not what he wore-

Toes pulled forward by tongs

In lengths of molten LPs

Obsolete on a pedestrian

They rendered him horseless

And when the devil that wants them back shows up

Cool cockatoo will just glare impudently at him

From waves of aftershave

For if the atomic bomb of a forgotten cold war

Boils hot and whitens Sydney

Cool cockatoo’s brown watercolour spirit will forever

Stomp around the limbo on its short legs declaring

“I am the Permanent Ghost of

Captain Midlife Crisis!”


Will Swan

The Bishop & the Actress

There’s no need to be scared, she said:

I’ve slept paralytic in attics under sloughed skins of dust

With other people’s condoms stuck to me

Crawling down to suck warm wine from every vessel

Like venom from the pale dead thighs of dawn

Played for coins so spare and lonely they seemed hand-carved

The first and last of their currency

I’ve brought the driving rain inside with me

And seen their distaste like fog lights in their faces

I’ve limped

As street stall chestnuts, roasting, rippled my oesophagus

From nights of murmuring plumbing back into my own

Frayed dress of my own frayed vaudeville

And I am not scared to be lying here with you


(Rain fell on corrugated iron

Dawn was an indigo dragon

A powderkeg of instant coffee made a silhouette

In their small neat kitchen)


There’s no need to be scared, he thought:

I’ve humoured the meek and spruced, so desperate to belong

That they hang their Sunday Bests over anything I say

As long as I say what they want to hear

My mouth a radio set but not a radio show

They were an audience before they met me

(Whom they do not know)

And as long as the radio works alright

They can stay tuned in, and belong

And I know the Archbishop well enough

To say it all the way he likes it said

I bless their children, their grandchildren

The lumps of loud cells keep on coming

The baptism rite is simply turning on a tap

The swollen fruit of spermatozoa and ovary

Are things on a shopping list, miracles

Their wordless exclamations echoing in the corners

Under cold holy halogen lights

The hunkering perfumed alpha-parishioners

Bustling me and inflating like vicious plants

Boasting about their adult children, no need for salvation

No real humility

And nobody ever asks me how I feel


And I haven’t got a clue about the next world

But I can’t help but think it’s all just a simple resolve


They lay there warm and long burnt clean of fear

As the world formed in doughy Wedgwood blue

Pagan birds calling in the mist


Will Swan

Sump Habits

Petite canister of bus engine oil and sea museum specimens

Good to keep these smoked oysters around

Tidy boxed tins, cartridges of prehistoric protein

Crack ‘em in campsite sunlight flood

As bull ants with kabuki faces sprawl a scavenger tide

As the stoked morning fire holds last night’s sorcery

Crack ‘em in cities on cheap wine twilights

As generators hum in arterial rays

As humanoid sugar ants hide

Spoke ‘em with an alien fork, raise them from their green oil

Wash ‘em down with antifreeze, lees

And that mean vat run-off marked ‘wine’

You’re an adult, of some sort

Crack ‘em after your errands, your thoughts on walks home

Popping with insects, tumbling with vines

Inhaling these brown organisms now

Over the bare tin sink

Careful to rinse with a foaming stone stream

To be sure, shoot a bit of lemon dishwashing liquid on there

Now rinse again so the indelible golden-green oyster oil

Doesn’t stain the pages

Of this fresh, bright Avengers comic book


Will Swan


Who knew that a bowl of tripe could

Bestow a radius of amphibian peace

In the meaty sun and rattling rain here

The clouds once pitched yeast in the shallows

And blue and white sanctity tumbled up the river’s hills

Then set brittle in cathedrals of croquery

And in restaurants of warm blood

In lanes beneath the fortress

The folk dance like two-legged horses

To a box of accordion cassette tapes

Flaring like ribbons in the shadows

The grandmother in the chapel

Weeps with overcast Iberian energy

Another, in the shop of saints

Always half-unpacked and perfect in its darkness

She hums like her bare white neon tubes

All those coloured fires around each statuette

She lifts down Saint Isabella and places her

On the display case counter, handling her

As a signalman might handle a flare

And she throws me the conspiratorial grin

Of the liberated and says with upward inflection

“Ah, Santa Isabella…!”


Will Swan

We say in sugar what we can’t say in salt

Sandstone block church, quartz shimmers

Dense with rainwater

Lawn in a crew cut’s shearing, a spinach sanguine tree line

Three cockatoos prune it back in a hunger of cleaving beaks

Having hired themselves out to the Anglicans

They eat some space into an essential neatness

Between the Anglican god’s elements:

Here’s their mineral temple, their vegetative grounds

And these burly birds are their animal gardeners

The rain that stays- as though somebody is writing a symphony

Sheet music skies of wastebaskets and subtle rewrites

Yellowbelly motion of gutters

Vines crowding into drain mouths, speaking in concrete accents, saying

“The Swamp Thing is on his way…”

Some downpour has silenced a wet old fool

In his wet brown suit that he bought from

Wet Old Fool Menswear in the main street

And those who rise to disapprove the rain

By way of human noise for its own sake

Really shouldn’t

Because those who don’t feel stupid enough

To mention it, who stay quiet and trudge on

Past Atlantis sandpits

Past full grey bowls of potholes

Cement flooding in the glugging sheets of cave walls

They buy milk bottles and train tickets in choppy cheer

And back into the blue shadows, in tropical socks

They smell the ball snails cramping the drains like rivets

They can see all this summer rain, the reservoirs

The wet sandstone; they can hear the underworlds channelled

They know the endless summer rain reveals to us the waters

Of a muscular necropolis


Will Swan