Judith Beveridge has published four books of poetry: The Domesticity of Giraffes (Black Lightning Press, 1987), Accidental Grace (UQP, 1996), Wolf Notes (Giramondo Publishing 2003), Storm and Honey (Giramondo Publishing 2009). She has won many awards for her poetry including the NSW Premier’s Award, The Victorian Premier’s Award and the Judith Wright Calanthe Award. In 2005 she was awarded the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal for excellence in literature. She is currently the poetry editor for Meanjin and teaches poetry writing at postgraduate level at the University of Sydney.



 The Herons


Then the path wound down

to a browner place, to a river

where rain-grey herons slender as rushes

drifted off like camp-smoke.


I’ve only seen their colour

in a few opals baked deep in clay country.

When they stared, it was as if

their eyes carried on


through emanations.

One stood so peacefully

as if it saw and heard the single

far off, crystal note;


slender, rag-thin bird we called

blue Gotama. We crumbled a mushroom—

all we could call

sacred, yet common:


but they looked past all hungers.

So we trod quietly back,

left them sitting above the long

brown earthworm of the river


and our pile of useless

vegetable soil. They were

beautiful as blue veins in the wrists of monks

fasting for perfection.




The Caterpillars


On the headland to the lighthouse,

a brown detour of caterpillars

crimped end-to-end across the road.


Poke away the pilot and the line

would break up, rioting,

fingering for the scent.

Put him back, they’d straighten.

You could imagine them humming

their queue numbers.


I’ve only seen such blind following

in the patient, dull dole queues,

or old photos of the Doukhobors,

the world’s first march of naked people.


I watched over the line for hours

warding off birds whose wings, getting close,

were like the beating of spoons

in deep bowls. I put a finger to the ground

and soft prickles pushed over,

a warm chain of hair.


This strange sect, wrapped in the sun

like their one benefit blanket

marched in brotherhood and exile.


Later, a group of boys

(their junta-minds set on torture)

picked off the leader.

Each creature contorted,


shut into its tight burr.

I could only stand like a quiet picket

and watch the rough panic.


I remember them, those caterpillars,

pacifists following their vegetable passion—

lying down in the road and dying

when they could no longer touch each other.




Occasions of Snails




They slide out of the light

leave a chrome stain through shade on the brickpath.

Their excreta are milled like censer ash

as they wander aisles, scented paths,

crawl over ageing grasses,

bask in warm mud like the terribly poor.

They wander the earth

as if looking for St Francis of Assisi.




So many anonymous buds—

a bucketful from the lettuces and roses.

The colour of autumn’s loose litter—

they are aimless, evicted,

itinerant for the velvet luxury

of the orchid and lily.




The evening is cool, a cricket’s call

fills the ground like a slow cistern.

I bend close to the earth, watch a tiny snail

rock in the crib of a leaf.

A trail just visible where spiders are tooling lace.

It works the abrupt edge.

It is a couturier cutting away.

It will quickly feather this leaf.




As a child I squinted for their script.

I searched the vast twin prayeryards

of sunshine and wind.

I watched for their headlines

as if they were notices for the arrivals

and departures of angels;

as if they were the proof—

beautiful and brief—of anonymous flights

scrawled across the house-walls, down ditches,

on uncut grasses, on a splintery fence;

as if they were the tinsels of a local moon.




Now I am a gardener.

I make their landscapes deadly.

I make Golgothas in the garden.

And I have laid my poisons—

the mockery of diced stems.




I have pressed them to the earth.

I have trowelled them into the soil.

I have riveted their pastel to the bricks.

I have denied them soft altars, plush roads,

these trackers of unattainable softness,

these evacuees of needle-thin tracks

who never look back on their painstaking silver.




But look how they go—

beseeching the deities Gloss

and Lightheadedness; how they stroll

amongst mucilage and essences

as if in mystical consortium

with nasturtium and rose—

how they find the sane bewilderment

of a child wandering in her garden

with a rose in her head.

She curses her brothers

who drop them on cactuses,

turn them into sludge

and laugh them into sad weak bubbles.


Still, she remembers the hiss

of so many tossed into the ash.

Those winkled from their sockets by twigs.




Sometimes, when I hold them,

when they are immured

and smelling of lavender;

when they turn their dibbled heads

from my palms, I remember

those soldered paths

and this world’s exotic itinerary.

Again, I track their rubbled passages

(to the roses, to the compost).

They have crawled into eggshells

as if into temples, as if into light.




How to Love Bats


Begin in a cave.

Listen to the floor boil with rodents, insects.

Weep for the pups that have fallen. Later,

you’ll fly the narrow passages of those bones, but for now—


open your mouth, out will fly names

like Pipistrelle, Desmodus, Tadarida. Then,

listen for a frequency

lower than the seep of water, higher

than an ice planet hibernating

beyond a glacier of Time.


Visit op shops. Hide in their closets.

Breathe in the scales and dust

of clothes left hanging. To the underwear

and to the crumpled black silks—well,

give them your imagination

and plenty of line, also a night of gentle wind.


By now your fingers should have

touched petals open. You should have been dreaming

each night of anthers and of giving

to their furred beauty

your nectar-loving tongue. But also,

your tongue should have been practising the cold

of a slippery, frog-filled pond.


Go down on your elbows and knees.

You’ll need a speleologist’s desire for rebirth

and a miner’s paranoia of gases—

but try to find within yourself

the scent of a bat-loving flower.


Read books on pogroms. Never trust an owl.

Its face is the biography of propaganda.

Never trust a hawk. See its solutions

in the fur and bones of regurgitated pellets.


And have you considered the smoke

Yet from a moving train? You can start

half an hour before sunset,

but make sure the journey is long, uninterrupted

and that you never discover

the faces of those trans-Siberian exiles.


Spend time in the folds of curtains.

Seek out boarding-school cloakrooms.

Practise the gymnastics of wet umbrellas.


                                       Are you

floating yet, thought-light,

without a keel on your breastbone?

Then, meditate on your bones as piccolos,

on mastering the thermals

beyond the tremolo; reverberations

beyond the lexical.


                                       Become adept

at describing the spectacles of the echo—

but don’t watch dark clouds

passing across the moon. This may lead you

to fetishes and cults that worship false gods

by lapping up bowls of blood from a tomb.


Practise echo-locating aerodromes,

stamens. Send out rippling octaves

into the fossils of dank caves—

then edit these soundtracks

with a metronome of dripping rocks, heartbeats

and with a continuous, high-scaled wondering

about the evolution of your own mind.


But look, I must tell you—these instructions

are no manual. Months of practice

may still only win you appreciation

of the acoustical moth,

hatred of the hawk and owl. You may need


to observe further the floating black host

through the hills.






Something’s dead in that stand of trees.


Vultures circle and swoop.

Flies fresh from the herds

hum around my head.


I watch the maggots rise, cooking up.


Ants in tiny rows keep convoying

skin, tissue.


Even the moon can’t keep itself clean:

soap soiled by a dung-collector’s hands.


The carcass is a spotted deer’s.


Only yesterday, perhaps,

it was grazing among the trees,


its hide so much the colour of the trunks,

it would seem to be hardly there.


How many years have I journeyed?


Time. So much its own colour.


Death in every stand of trees.




In the Forest


So long in this forest—I hardly remember

my home. Though sometimes when I see

the pink reach of lotuses—I remember

the underside of my mother’s hands.

And sometimes, when I see a scorpion


jack up the green stinger of its tail,

do I think of my father’s lithe thumb,

gesturing. Sometimes the wing of an

insect, weighing no more than two

layers of lacquer, will make me count


how often I saw Yasodhara’s face

under the sky’s veneer. I’ve seen so

many lives born outside of reason; little

antennas poking through their cocoons.

Now, a praying mantis strokes the air


with a casual feeler, then tenses its legs

against the weather. How long will it sit

folded in upon itself, brave petitioner?

All day I bow to these creatures—

those who wait their cycles out more


devoutly than moons. But sometimes,

watching a butterfly emerge, I sense

my own eyelids flutter in the strange

puparium of a dream. O, I don’t know

if I’ll ever wake, changed, transformed,


able to lift on viridescent wings.

But as I watch, I feel my mind enter

a vast space in which everything

connects; and a grasshopper on a blade

of grass listens intently with its knees.




The Lake


At dusk she walks to the lake. On shore

a few egrets are pinpointing themselves

in the mud. Swallows gather the insect lint


off the velvet reed-heads and fly up through

the drapery of willows. It is still hot.

Those clouds look like drawn-out lengths


of wool untwilled by clippers. The egrets

are poised now—moons just off the wane—

and she thinks, too, how their necks are


curved like fingernails held out for manicure.

She walks the track that’s a draft of the lake

and gazes at where light nurses the wounded


capillaries of a scribbly gum. A heron on one leg

has the settled look of a compass, though soon,

in flight, it will have the gracility of silk


when it’s wound away. She has always loved

the walks here, the egrets stepping from

the lute music of their composure, the mallards


shaking their tails into the chiffon wakes,

the herons fletching their beaks with moths

or grasshoppers, the ibis scything the rushes


or poking at their ash-soft tail feathers.

Soon the pelicans will sail in, fill and filter

the pink. Far off, she can see where tannin


has seeped from the melaleucas, a burgundy

stain slow as her days spent amongst tiles and

formica. She’s glad now she’s watching water


shift into the orange-tipped branches of a

she-oak, a wren flick its notes towards the wand

of another’s twitching tail. There’s an oriole


trilling at the sun, a coveted berry, a few

cicadas still rattling their castanets. She loves

those casuarinas, far off, combed and groomed,


trailing their branches: a troupe of orang-utans

with all that loping, russet hair; and when

the wind gets into them, there’s a sound as if


seeds were being sorted, or feet shuffled amongst

the quiet gusts of maracas. Soon the lights on

the opposite shore will come on like little


electric fig seeds and she will walk back

listening to frogs croak in the rushes, the bush

fill with the slow cisterns of crickets, her head


with the quiet amplitude of—Keats perhaps,

or a breeze consigning ripples to the bank;

the sun, an emblazoned lifebuoy, still afloat.




The Shark


We heard the creaking clutch of the crank

as they drew it up by cable and wheel

and hung it sleek as a hull from the roof.


Grennan jammed open the great jaws

and we saw how the upper jaw hung from

the skull. We flinched at the stench of blood


that dripped on the fishhouse floor, and

even Davey – when Grennan reached in

past the scowl and the steel prop for the


stump – just about passed out. The limb’s

skin had already blanched, a sight none

of us could stomach, and we retched 


though Grennan, cool, began cutting off

the flesh in knots, slashing off the flesh

in strips; and then Davey, flensing and


flanching, opened up the stomach and

the steaming bowels. Gulls circled like

ghouls. Still they taunt us with their cries


and our hearts still burn inside us when

we remember, how Grennan with a tool

took out what was left of the child.






I’m sorting out the hooks in Grennan’s big old tackle box.

                      I pick one from the box. It has a sliced

shank, a rolled-in sports point, a wide gape and long bite.


I like the ones too whose points lie offset from their shanks

                      and those with sinkers like fisheyes

moulded onto them. This hook with a corroded point


and rusting suicide barb I name wild-beaked bait-giver.

                      This hook looks like the neck

of a little egret when the wind lifts a wisp of feathers


from its nape. This hook has a kinked shank and sickle

                      curve, so I call it ibis leaning

over the shallows. These two forged-silver, light-wired


bait-holders brazed together beautifully I call greenshanks

                      in flight. I know Grennan and Davey

would think I’m silly naming these old hooks, but what


else is there to do when you’re stuck in a boathouse, no fish

                      running, when the hooks’ real names

Sproat, Sneck, Big Bend, Model 20R are just not poetry.





                                                                             I have always loved the word guitar

                                                                                                        David St. John

I have never been bumped in a saddle as a horse springs
from one diagonal to another,
a two-beat gait light and balanced
as the four-beats per stride become the hair-blowing,
wind-in-the-face, grass-rippling,
muscle-loosening, forward-leaning
exhilaration of the gallop.
And I have never counted the slow four-beat pace
of distinct, successive hoofbeats
in such an order as to be called The Walk.
Or learned capriole, piaffe, croupade in a riding school,
nor heard the lingo of outback cattle-cutters
spat out with their whip-ends and phlegm.
I have never stepped my hands over the flanks
of a spotted mare, nor ridden a Cleveland Bay
carriage horse, or a Yorkshire coach horse,
a French Percheron with its musical snicker,
or a little Connemara, its face buried
in broomcorn, or in a bin of Wexford apples.
I have never called a horse Dancer, Seabiscuit, Ned,
Nellie, Trigger or Chester, or made clicking noises
with my tongue during the fifty kilometres
to town with a baulking gelding and a green
quartertop buggy. Nor stood in a field while
an old nag worked every acre
only stopping to release difficult knobs of manure
and swat flies with her tail. And though I have
waited for jockeys at the backs of stables
in the mist and rain, for the soft feel of their riding silks
and saddles, for the cool smoke of their growth-stunting  
cigarettes, for the names of the yearlings
and mares they whisper along with the names
of horse-owning millionaires – ah, more, more even
than them – I have always loved the word appaloosa.