half-arsed poem

you (we) did liberal studies, six semesters

citing Raoul Vaneigem across babbling cigarette smoke

and since then, skit around in retail & casual teaching jobs

looking vague in the cafes off the less-affordable bohemian strip

waving little virtual toothpick war flags on facebook

now & again

 

Will Swan

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The Great True Pilgrim of Hillsong

Giant billboard for a Samoan airline at this station

Sunny brown faces, a Chinese-Samoan pilot, blaring out of this rain

This train cable rain, warehouse rain

Hair-rinse-cloud-of-perfume-talking-to-herself rain

A stop I have known before, nasty pub

Near empty now with two tradesmen in dayglo out the front

True to routine – that their dialogue means they never actually talk

One grins sycophantic at the other with

Ski sunglasses on his head (in the rain)

Says “… good money…” as a mobile phone is drawn

And big arbitrary sums are quoted

The hockshop shutters drawn down

The computer shops with their signs in the vintage futuristic computer font

Have their shutters drawn down

Some former eateries are likewise sealed but I keep going

And there’s a linen shop and a large costume shop

Cult rubber masks in the window, the Star Trek Borg face spilling plastic wires

It’s a cold bleak day and a gentleman once of, I’m guessing, Turkey

With a good scarf and a blazer strides past the Wolfman & Borg & Freddy Krueger

Turning into the big linen shop lit shell-white by fluorescent lights

Now I see it stretching out, this town, it’s got some sizzle

Fishmongers and second-hand books and discount shops

And a hip hop shop with a fine barber’s chair in the window with

A haircut in progress and a photo of the proprietor

Pulling gang signs with Ice Cube himself

His whole set-up here projects the energy of those

Who don’t do things by halves

Then a mild male voice asks me “excuse me mate…

Do you know where Hillsong is around here?”

He is in dumpy tracksuit pants, cheap joggers

Loyal raggedy wife nearby

He is unemployed or under-employed

And he’s looking for the local base of evangelists incorporated

I tell him I’m just visiting myself and his face is open and trusting

The fuckers have him, and will be charging him

Selling him themselves, selling him some version of himself

 

I think of the great cathedrals, I think of that Cardinal on the TV

Incapable of argument, totally accustomed to obedience

Not caring what he actually believes himself

As his testicles eat themselves, as he maintains his title

Of the Protestants with their easy hiss of total falsity

Of the Church of Human Resources, Management & Marketing

Their congregational Friday night binges

And I’m not sure that Hillsong are much worse

 

Some of you reading this will think that I went in all poised

Bitterly delighted to find this lost soul, but I’m not actually bitter

About anything – or anyone – at all, Ferret Head!

Truth be told, my emotions are usually the colour of rain

When it’s raining, and the colour of sunshine

When the sun shines, and it’s as simple as that

So I continued down the street to an op shop and tried on sports jackets

While the radio played op shop songs & was jockeyed by

A self-loathing queen who tries to come off as all North Shore but who

Is aware that he jockeys a radio show which they like best

In western suburbs op shops

And I asked the old gals in there if this one looked alright and they said

That it looked really good, the Scottish gal said that I wouldn’t want it any shorter

So I got that for $14.50

Then I went to the fishmongers and got a big sweet trout

The fishmongers were just boys, an Islander and a Filipino kid

They were all good cheer in amongst their shoals of ice

Then I went into one of several Indian grocers

Spilling bhangra like a private function

Reminded me of England

Took a punt on a few packets of incense

Knowing you can’t go wrong

And the gods and beasts up behind the counter were

Ceramic cosmic blue and gaudy bright orange

Trunked and snouted, tailed and baby-lash eyes

Gouging into tubs of yoghurt and flailing golden weapons

Dancing indigo swampish glyphs between worlds

Spilling out with the bhangra like creatures of dream

From a sleeping child’s ear

 

Will Swan

Man Books, Girl Books

Slamming out trestle tables in a neon-glazed shopfront

A short lease in a small shopping plaza with a K-Mart etc.

The boss is gay, trim-bearded, from Sydney, named Brett but

Insists on referring to himself as “Bretley”

A rarefied talcum halo that suggests his family has

Born Again Christianity choking through it like a vine

He has that rude light which Sydney people seem to have down here

A lampfish light, loud in the depth

He’s in cahoots with these two Slavs who are brown & quietly fierce

Hidden in their parkas

They’re slamming the tables out at high speed

As if we’re hacking up murdered bodies

I’ve got a hangover like a charge of tripe laid up through my gullet

And the muzak shop next door is blaring muzak aimed at bodybuilders

Who drive mobile amplifiers, cold and piston-powered saccharine noise

Noise to slam down trestle tables by

Noise to live in neon un-death by

Noise to skulk into corridor toilets and piss alongside fishmongers by

The tables arranged, we hide them with butchers’ paper and

The lead Slav grunts from his big parka

“Man books!” (to the left) and

“Girl books!” (to the right)

So I slash open the piled boxes and the picture books about guns & motorbikes

And axe murderers and Alcatraz and cricket all go on the left, with some

Thriller paperbacks about ice stations and snipers and things

I slash open other boxes and the books about modern witchcraft

And Mexican family recipes and wheatgrass drinks and Tuscany

They all go on the tables to the right

 

Will Swan

The Girders

He’s the last of the shambolic, obese

Train-riding briefcase company men and he is the best

The headless lurk about him, deluged in sugar and ear-toys

But he of the chinless sickle swathe of custard fleisch

Clips his parade ground briefcase and sleeps

As dirty rays brighten through the carriage suspended

Above the brown river where one pelican continues to tilt in the current

Set centre in the liver surge

We are still, and the girders by the window are

Crusted with caramel in the expanding sunrays

And every warehouse fence is pinned somewhere beneath ivy

That piles in man-killing clouds like green magma

Right up to the river’s edge

The company man sleeps with his face above his jawless bulk

A vicar from Austen and Dickens

Squeezed into a can and lit up unconscious by a browned sun

Later, after errands of postage and groceries

I find myself coursing down behind the old part of town

Where these structural anatomies recall the distant city proper

Terrace windows fire their rockets of unwritten books

The darkness within them hidden like finished human lives

There are polythene flowers tilting in a pioneer graveyard

This whole part of town is a box of second-hand paperbacks

Above some back stairs, a New Zealand flag and

Spare parts rusting like clumps of undead vineyard

And the breeze is clear out here and uplifting in such a way

As you can look for elsewhere, like some questing goon

And most definitely not find

 

Will Swan

 

“I am a dolt of a man, easily made happy or even

stupidly happy almost without cause”

-Charles Bukowski

‘Make Mine Marvel’ or ‘How The Avengers Stayed Relevant… and Triumphed!’

Iron Man was a sleazy alcoholic. Captain America was a living, breathing, all-punching, all-saluting propaganda poster. Thor was a rock’n’roll man. Hulk was a rock’n’roll animal. In all their colour and pomposity, these knights were ubiquitous through my childhood, and probably yours as well.  Spilling out of their own sagas, they would sell Twinkies and good causes from within comics and would adorn pencil cases and pillow cases without. The new Avengers film has brought them all to life, brought them all together & brought them into this modern world. And the interesting point about this is that nothing seems tired.

But how is this so? Realizing the Marvel Universe with CGI was always going to be the easy part. But it wouldn’t be jaded of the general audience to expect these various superhero personas might be pretty dated.

If the Avengers were to Marvel what the Justice League of America was to D.C., then the Avengers were perhaps a little bit more of an odd bunch. The X-Men turned up waving their freak flag high; fanged, glowering and occult like refugees from some lurid circus war.  They were official oddities – virtuous monsters living in the shadows – but The Avengers were definitely legit. Having said that – and this comes across well in the film – they were always still an odder bunch than the clean-shaven, spandex-clad JLA, although that esteemed alliance also included a deity, a cashed-up vigilante genius and a living icon of freedom. You’d be hard pressed to put your finger on the contrast but it probably comes down to Thor being a goddamn longhair and Hulk being the messiest comic book superhero of all time.

That Captain America has survived at all is something of a wonder. But in the comics, he has done so via a process of earnest soul searching without losing the vintage charm that sets him apart within the milieu. For all his seeming quaintness, his resolve has been his defining aspect and his first enemies – his ‘natural enemies’ – were Nazis, after all. In the new film, he carries himself with the slight haughtiness that comes with him having such a highly attuned moral compass; his Norman Rockwell rusticity and upstanding Protestantism are celebrated, not updated.  His novelty ‘retro’ persona is drawn into focus by some collectable baseball cards and the touching awe of a baby boomer S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. It is Iron Man who openly disdains Cap’s righteous manner but, as in the countless comics, these two provide the focus for the whole Avengers phenomenon.

Haughtiness is not unique to Cap; indeed, Thor has always had a habit of using his own name at every opportunity; Tony Stark is aloof and, in this film, incessantly baits his colleagues; Hulk, traditionally, has had an extremely limited vocabulary but one that makes use of the name “Hulk” above all other words.  Most of the dialogue between the on-screen Avengers concerns them resolving their various raging egos within a group framework and it comes to blows more than once. But that was always the way within the Marvel Universe itself, for in the comics, EVERYONE has fought EVERYONE at some point.

In contrast to what the X-Men became, the Avengers originals were very much men (and women) of an Anglo America.  The X-Men ran across an international and ethnic spectrum that included everyone from Boston Brahmin to Jewish (including a Holocaust survivor) to you-name-it. The Avengers’ roster features pithy names like Rogers, Barton, Stark, Van Dyne, Pym, (though Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, was a mainstay). By contrast, D.C.’s stylized Watchmen are American Easterners of German, Polish and Hungarian descent.  Marvel’s foremost Irish Catholic character, Daredevil, is also their prime ‘street level’ hero and this is probably not a coincidence. Although hardly a veritable melting pot, the Avengers broad appeal is undaunted because they are heroic characters in the traditional sense, not social signifiers. Which gets me to the character of Black Window, aka Natalia Romanova, aka Natasha Romanoff, a character born of purely of cherished Cold War sexual fantasy. She is Catwoman-meets-The Man From U.N.C.L.E. She’s a KGB Bond Girl, a stereotype that found her way into Marvel almost obligatorily.  And yet in the new film, stacked as it is with cataclysm and unearthly thunder, it is Black Widow, an unpowered but supremely skilled character, who almost steals the show, memorably demonstrating the crippling power of duplicity against a seemingly omnipotent foe. As the most worldly Avenger, she shows a cool patience with her hot-headed teammates and balances several headstrong males with her own female presence.

Iron Man had been established with his own films and needs no re-introduction but the character’s appeal remains in his contrasts. Tony Stark has been variously cocky, petty, humble, honest and simply very brave and all these traits come across in the new film. I have the Iron Man issues that concern Stark’s rock-bottom alcoholism; it’s a memorable, gritty storyline that depicts him shaking and debased, unshaven and consumed by addiction and self-loathing. Re-reading these comics as both a superhero fan and a recovering alcoholic myself, I have come to appreciate the portrayal. In his pit, Stark’s alter ego is useless to him – Iron Man is just another aspect of himself lost, another source of shame – and his bleak decline is the same old story as for every other alcoholic. If the Red Skull is Captain America’s nemesis, and Loki is Thor’s, then Iron Man’s true nemesis is himself. He is symbolically surrounded by both a vast wealth and metal suit that do not and cannot change this. And then there was his admission of love for the irreverent and capable Pepper Potts, although he always had an endless supply of eager women on tap. Iron Man carries with him timeless themes of redemption and renewal.

So to wind it up here, best just to say that the good old Avengers have a LOT going for them. This whole blockbuster thing was never going to take off it felt like a reanimated franchise. The Avengers will continue to stretch off in various directions, from Marvel’s take on Thor’s Norse pantheon – perhaps the most detailed and enduring adaptation of mythology ever undertaken – to the shadowy, ambiguous antics of bad motherfucker Nick Fury’s all-seeing S.H.I.E.L.D.  It’s a ton of fun and always has been.

And now, let me say, despite the ‘Make Mine Marvel’ title of this ramble, I’ve got a stack of Batman comics to catch up on.

Excelsior!

Will Swan