This issue’s reading period coincided with my teaching at an intensive two-week residential workshop. I lost count of the number of times the participants said they did not ‘get’ poetry. After the usual dismissals (“Do you have to ‘understand’ a meal to enjoy it? Or a dance? Or a touch?) I turned softer. Would I truly be able to enjoy — and champion — poems that I received at a sensory level rather than cerebrally? Was I asking the writers do something I couldn’t do myself?
Fortunately Ion Corcos’ suite of poems fell into my reading pile in the midst of this self-interrogation. With the first poem I ‘got’ something of the uncertainty that the students struggled with. And yet, the poem is full of invitations; the reader walks into the verses as one might enter a foreign country. The sounds are new, the sights unfamiliar, the references removed, but rather than distancing, Corcos entices. The smallest of nudges and the immersion is complete. Later in the suite, Corcos says: ‘You speak another language; it doesn’t matter / that I do not understand it.’ And indeed it doesn’t. If anything, the language grows on the reader and with the reader. We emerge from the poem, amply rewarded, yes, but also disabused of the binary between the sensory and the semantic.
The other three poems, more rooted in the natural world, are unmistakably lucid, held together by striking images. On any other day one might reach for them first. But should you ever need a poem to demonstrate the elastic reach of poetry, I’d recommend ‘The Weight of a Sack of Rice’.
— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine
The Weight of a Sack of Rice
. after Zhang Yimou’s film “To Live”
To arrive in a place that is ransacked of the quiet life,
the way lines on a face contort, an empty vase falls.
Obstinate years to unthread the hardened traces
of geography, to reconcile with the part of me
I did not understand then, that I accept as part of myself
now: the topology of destiny.
The frogs, too, unlamented, will one day go.
At times I have had to throw dice, whether I knew it, or liked it,
to move on. The mortgaged path,
the insensibilities of thirst. The clamour of history
to approve the power of streetlamps,
install minions in the shadow puppet theatre.
And all that time, a mountain stood there,
sometimes green, or illogical, and other times,
a mirror. Yet how often did I pass it,
and ignore it, a door shut.
The weight of a sack of rice, the guile in a way
of thinking, that things are this way,
or ought to be. The weight of wanting a quiet life,
when all is geese and sheep and ideology;
a canary in a cage, on the ledge of a kitchen window,
its wings clipped, voice going nowhere.
How many times did I see a bird, then name it, measure it, lose it,
A woman reads, slowly, a page of a book,
shifts her eyeglass along the words she utters.
Outside her window, a walnut tree
draped in moonlight, a rook shuffling in a nest;
it takes only one leaf, a faint wing,
to open a door. When a stone is sun-warmed,
a cat comes out of its retreat,
sprawls in imperturbable silence.
A trowel is wedged, forgotten, in soil.
Night takes it all; this is one way to begin again.
As is to sleep, or become still,
the surface of a lake on a windless noon.
In hunger, a coot dips into water,
takes seagrass into its bill, emerges.
To drop anchor is not enough; it is separate
from the hand that releases it.
The woman reads into lateness,
understands that a tree resides in a time
longer than hers, that it reaches deep
into earth when it is thirsty, longing.
It Doesn’t Matter. The Moon is the Moon
The dilemma of a night cat: to sidle along stones,
or slip into the cleft of a fallen garage. It is winter:
a large pumpkin on a roof, torn moss in the gutter.
You are unaffable; I nod, hesitantly acknowledge.
In the garden, a wire fence, its lines indubitable.
Yellowing grass, spring onions, rotting tomato vines.
The low sun does not dry the ploughed earth.
You speak another language; it doesn’t matter
that I do not understand it. We both know that the moon
is the moon, that a wedding song – drums, a horn –
in an empty lot, is a lure. A jackdaw sways
over an autumn tree, fades in the evening light.
In the morning, the garage roof is covered in snow.
An Owl Not on the Branch of a Tree
A statue of an owl on a shelf, its body stout,
assured; still, it has no loose feathers,
no deep-rooted presence. Even if I never see
another owl again, I know that the figure,
eloquent, almost alive, is not an owl:
it does not dwell in owlness. It is a finger pointing
to the moon, it is the moon on water,
the two owls I once saw on a winter branch
as I passed by on a fast-moving train,
the owl I have never seen.
The owl, separated from its nook,
its wholeness breathing form into being – feathers,
beak, posture, alertness –
has been hidden in signifiers, photographs,
Alluring, yet not fully seen, the owl –
not observed as a bird, an animal,
a winged flutter onto a scurry in the night grass –
is lost. A brokenness,
unable to place before itself, its self.
Image notes: Kathakali maestro Kalamandalam Gopi putting finishing touches to his makeup. Ion Corcos first poem isn’t about acting or the world as a stage. However, the simplicity the person craves in their world seems to be a consequence not so much of the external world but from the many internally accreted layers of habit and once-pragmatic choices. Gopi-master does this willingly; the narrator in Corcos’ poem seemed to be far less at ease.
Ion Corcos was born in Sydney, Australia in 1969. He has been published in Cordite, Meanjin, Wild Court, riddlebird, The Sunlight Press, and other journals. Ion is a nature lover and a supporter of animal rights. He is the author of A Spoon of Honey (Flutter Press, 2018).