Jal Nicholl lives in Melbourne, where he is a secondary school English and philosophy teacher. His poetry has previously been published in Retort Magazine, Stylus Poetry Journal, Diagram, Famous Reporter, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore and Shampoo Poetry.




Subtract the tangible,
these pebbles smoothed unseen
by god, by water,
by machine;
         let mortar
wear away the stone
of prison opened to the public,
and of private home.
split the frozen tun:
release the grapes inside,
the chisel is your tongue.


The Annunciation

The messenger appears, his face
a bright mask over sleeping darkness,
but hazy, seeming an actor in
the kind of dream you have when you know
you’re dreaming. He reassures her,
in his old-fashioned gold-trimmed livery,
his sanguine complexion, the cool blue
light he casts around him, speaking
tunefully; he has come to tell her
that, suddenly (although it’s hardly news
in heaven) she’s at the centre of
the whole plan of creation. Congratulations!
You have been selected . . . he begins,
ceremoniously reading from the letter
whose seal he’s broken; but at some point
as the speech continues he stops reading,
adopts a more intimate tone, as he folds
and pockets what you’d assume
was meant to be delivered, and concludes:
So don’t you dare tell anyone–
of course they’d never believe you–
but if you do and it gets back to me,
I’ll come back and there’ll really be news. She thinks,
Were I to ask the name of his boss–
let alone for some I.D., who knows
what might happen? Perhaps she screams
beneath the whoosh of dazzling wings and arms
that clasp her as he whispers like
a gale in her ear, the name of the disease
he’s giving her.
                 He’s gone, the light gone
From her blinded eyes–but the street
outside the window he came in is squealing;
revived, she can no more cry than sleep–
it’s the supernatural child who cries, already,
to force her to eat, though she’s not hungry;
and soon she’ll have to talk to it, soothe
it with a song, devise a story
to satisfy the world, and keep it straight.


Father in Heaven

A lookout over wetlands, like
a cattle chute against a closed gate
in an empty paddock–
See how the heron drops a moment from
his equilibrium, how ducks
dive astutely and with open eyes.
Feel the advance of shadows that will
flood the roads tonight like sand
a tussock facing the sea. Thus
speaks the one whose likeness
you are, pointing to fields impenetrable
to a bored child’s imaginary
hide-and-seek. But you’re well
above the horizon here, as never before
those views you used to try to paint,
though you had to lie down in sand
or grass to frame, for example,
a closed street in the pose of a nape and shoulders
turning to follow a face–
their own. This one who made you
ejected you from shelter, or you left
after a certain age, because
that too was nature. The same now turns
his weekend face on you, having found the place
agrees with him as much as he
with it. Ceci n’est pas un oiseau,
you say; but see how the bird goes its way
conducted by his definite finger,
sped by the name this gesture bestows
as the sun strikes its wing like a window, and
past this horizon, unthinking,
as if it really were.