Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Southbank by Petra White



When the system crashes, and the screens,
and palm-hugged
beaches that saved them,
crinkle out
the office tilts like a ship.
Small murmurs
of surprise, voices like children
who’d been playing in the shade,
shocked by sunlight,
flurry and subside.
The thermostat
shudders its seasons
of freeze and sweat;
furry square windows
seal in the boredom (a little man,
I’ve begun to suspect,
tweaks the levels each hour).

The quiet settles, doing nothing
settles, the sister of work.

The mind rises from its bubble,
and eyes unscrew from their
mid-screen float.
You rise and walk down the hall
like someone freed:
the woman who comes early
to work late sits darkly in her glass
as if waiting for a traffic light
to change, or an eclipse
in which nothing
is remembered, to end.

Time with nothing to smother it
creeps up like a mist from the river
and cuddles the office friendships,
emails caught mid-send, the million strands
of life rich as Pompeii.
Three women whisper in the kitchen.
Somebody laughs, someone else
cracks his finger joints.
Nobody stands and declares
All this was a dream, well, thank you, I’m off now!
Why should they? Over there a man,
pacing in his pod, has a deadline
as real to him as his wife.

So it starts again, you slip back
to your chair, the hard-drives
rev up in chorus, their
engines mingling with the rise-again joy
of humans working
with our without-purpose:
happy if we remember
whatever ten minutes before
fulfilled and/or consumed us.


time into money
that flits through our hands
faster than a solitary wren, faster than time;
houses, children, cars, dogs –
the self’s empire of proof,
menagerie of power, I am here.
Our time sold not hired,
our names as simulacra
show us up in our absence
on semi-partitions, brass-plated.
We forget, like monks, and serve
an abstract we must
not care too much for.

A prison of light, it dissolves
in the mind as you fork
home through traffic,
each former workplace that had you once
a sketchy edifice of neon,
you can’t quite remember
what was I there?
Our little day is rounded with
a commute and a sleep
a spend and a keep.


I am pleased to announce that Wayne Loy
    joins the Networks &
Infrastructure Team to give cover
    until Jill returns
from maternity leave. Wayne reports
    to me alongside
Jill, April, and Tarquin Dobrowski
   (in Sydney). Many
of you know Wayne already in his
    contract capacity;
I’m sure you’ll agree that he’s proved both
    able and helpful.
I welcome him to the team and ask
    your patience while he
learns many facets of his new role.


Out there they are bombed-to-nothing,
filed to one-sidedness, starved,
ejected by outrageous floods,
earthquakes with no sense
of timing or propriety,
but often a preference
for children in rickety schools.
Ears press down to speaking debris.
Is work a ‘necessary evil’?
Office workers lose approximately
two hours daily
reading news websites, ebaying,
chewing up email, fending off
fidgety distracted colleagues, scoffing
pink and yellow cupcakes.


Following on from the death of Bob Smithson
last Monday, Smithson employees world-
wide have been escalating messages of
sympathy, prayers and condolences, all of which
are moving and on a global basis I thank you personally.

Aptly described by one employee as ‘an icon of integrity, leadership,
philanthropy and business acumen’, Bob Smithson will be
sadly missed. The family are currently progressing options
for a public honouring of Bob. A nine-minute webcast
of the funeral will stream to your inboxes on Thursday.


The receptionist
who chills everyone is suddenly
being terribly nice, baking cakes, everyone
is suspicious –


What privilege
to put on a suit, walk upright –
since childhood
shaping ourselves
to be in the world: flourish up and work,
as the parents, the toaster,
house not falling down,
the family itself spun whole by years
of making, desires tamed and made to flow
in single file.
Each day a threat
by human rage,
a mother in the garden
smashing the family pottery –
and Heidegger said
only when things break down do we begin to see.


The paramedics come into the cafe –
jaunty in their blue and red uniforms, their solid black
police boots. Two espresso, their phones on the table,
antennae like the half-listening ear of a dog, they
dangle from the emergency that hasn’t
yet happened, that is less than a hum in fine air, she
with bright auburn hair, laughing.
He sits back, arms folded, legs outstretched like a man
who has the whole morning newspaper before him.


Skill tugs at the muscles, drives
the bones, the mind keen,
the child perfecting her scales,
blocking the din.

The child understands the adults,
ignores them, thinks she is innocent,
making herself. She reads
the dictionary, the bible,
dinnerplates of language,
at school dwarfs herself
with long words.
Priggish, pigeon-toed,
she walks her book in the schoolyard, stalks
blind through netball.

The thing we work for (rarely
work for its own sake) vanishes;
work persists, then too is lost:
the black hole of energy burns
through hands and minds.

A heaven somewhere,
a palm tree, a beach, a child, an apartment,
the quiet hum of one’s power
of being that flexes around days,
carries futures, saying
world is made for me as I make it:
small enough to garden by hand, large
enough to outscope me,
for I must not lose surprise: this illusion
I with my labour can sustain.


Elevators dim-lit, dark-polished all day
by a woman from Bosnia, cheerful as Sisyphus,

who greets you with a suicidal smile, her trolley
of rank cleaning products makes her sneeze,

fills her eyes with red wires; she apologises, grins.
She scales her never-done job, a moonwalker

trailing her cargo through the semi-mirrored
obsidian tangle of offices, herself glowing back at her.

You ride up with her, pin-prick halogen lights,
mirrored walls you vanish into, she polishes.


Through a fifth-floor window you can watch
the new tallest building in Melbourne being built
one gold brick at a time.

The city sprawls
in late-mid-morning, the workers
housed inside their work: time
is everywhere engaged.

The office a portal,
point of stillness from which the world extends;
a kind of sublime.

On the seventh floor the company director
muses on his monthly
email to all staff.
Three slabs of sky behind him, he faces
the fourth wall.
The football season is upon us
and business too progresses . . .

I went to a reading of young poets (under 35) here in Melbourne at the
Wheeler Centre to celebrate the John Leonard Press book Young Poets 
An Australian Anthology. And I heard some excellent work. Of course 
I invested in the book too. And then I read more excellent work. I hope 
to get permission from some of the other poets to post their poems, but 
to begin with here is Petra White.

Petra White was born in Adelaide in 1975, and lives in Melbourne, where she works
in a government department and is studying for a Master of Public Policy and
Management. Her first book of poetry, The Incoming Tide, was shortlisted for the
Queensland Premier’s Prize and the ACT Poetry Prize.
The Simplified World was shortlisted for the 2011 Judith Wright Prize in the A.C.T
Awards; and was shortlisted also for the John Bray Prize in the 2011 Adelaide Festival
Awards for Literature. Her most recent book A Hunger, was published in August 2014.
The Simplified World also shared the annual Grace Leven Prize for Poetry for 2010
with two other books, Patience, Mutiny by L K Holt and Phantom Limb by David
Musgrave, all of them published by JLP. In the Prize’s distinguished sixty-four-year
history, this is the first time that three books have been honoured together.

Jennifer Compton is this week's editor. She blogs at stillcraic. Jennifer was born in 
Wellington, New Zealand, but now lives in Melbourne, Australia. Her book Now 
You Shall Know will be out soon with Five Islands Press.


Kathleen Jones said...

Really like this one Jennifer. It makes you think about the way we live and organise our lives. Thanks for posting.

Michelle Elvy said...

I especially stanza #2 here -- all that time, light, power... and the "I am here" followed just a little later with the "what was I there". Sleep, spend, keep -- all really good sets of words and ideas.

Thanks for posting this one! Good to meet a new poet here. Will watch for more of these "young poets" too.

Helen Lowe said...

Yup, enjoyed the mix of insight and reflectiveness, grounded in a sense of "place" ie Melbourne.