Born in 1943, Robert Adamson lives with his partner, photographer Juno Gemes, on the Hawkesbury River to the north of Sydney in Australia. Over the past five decades he has produced twenty books of poetry. He has been awarded the Christopher Brennan Prize for lifetime achievement, the Patrick White Award, and The Age Book of the Year Award for The Goldfinches of Baghdad (Flood Editions, 2006). His most recent book is Net Needle (Flood Editions, 2015). He currently holds the Chair in Poetry at the University of Technology, Sydney.
Listening to Cuckoos
Two unchanging notes; to us, words—always those high
elongated notes. Red-eyed koels with feathered earmuffs,
downward-ending notes that pour through a falling of night
coming over the distances, words that don't change.
The two notes remain, a split phrase, two words
meaning, not exactly a self—not quite, the first day of spring.
The moment of utterance, candour becomes
the piercing, whistled syllables. Penetrating the dark green
of twilight, the storm birds call, two notes, two words,
and cackle in the broken-egged dawn, in the echoing light.
after Georg Trakl
A pallid cuckoo calls in a loop
more insistently as afternoon fades.
In garden beds humid air
clings to the stalks of poppies.
Mosquitoes rise from layers
of leaves under grapevines.
A blue shirt sticks to your back
as you climb the ladder.
Thunder rattles a fishing boat's
canopy in the dry dock.
The storm silences crickets
chirruping under the mangroves.
Turbulence has passed.
A candle lights our dark room.
Outside, calm, a starless night—
then the flame is extinguished,
pinched between a finger
and thumb. In the eaves, at nest,
swallows rustle. You believe
the swallows glow in the dark.
Light daubs our skin with shapes—
the crushed petals of red poppies.
Sunlight scatters wild bees across a blanket
of flowering lavender. The garden
grows, visibly, in one morning—
native grasses push up, tough and lovely
as your angel's trumpets. At midday
the weather, with bushfire breath, walks about
talking to itself. A paper wasp zooms
above smooth river pebbles. In the trees
possums lie flat on leafy branches to cool off,
the cats notice, then fall back to sleep.
This day has taken our lives to arrive.
Afternoon swings open, although
the mechanics of the sun require
the moon's white oil. Daylight fades to twilight
streaking bottlebrush flowers with shade;
a breeze clatters in the green bamboo and shakes
its lank hair. At dinnertime, the French doors present us
with a slice of night, shining clear—
a Naples-yellow moon outlines the ridges
of the mountains—all this, neatly laid out
on the dining room table
across patches of moonlight.