Michael Sharkey

Michael Sharkey has worked in publishing and editing, and has taught literature and cultural studies at several universities in Australian and elsewhere. He currently teaches writing, rhetorical analysis and American  literature at the University of New England at Armidale, New South Wales. He has published essays, articles and reviews as well as several collections of poetry, the most recent of which is The Sweeping Plain (Melbourne, Five Islands Press, 2007).



The Demagogue Writes His Program


Nothing in writing so hard as the start
unless everything else in the work.

All of that countryside: where to begin?
In the forests he walked as a child

when the first buds appeared and the slow rivers surged
to the sea? Recollect bourgeois rubbing their eyes

at the unlikely sight of the sun, when the clearings were bright
as cathedral naves lit by the saints?

Later things: wandering lonely in crowds
to free libraries, galleries, parks;

all of those flophouse proprietors waiting
for cash that was never in hand?

Lyric fluidity won in the end
and he sang like a magpie in spring.


He watched the movies in his head
and wrote what the actors should have said;

the headlines’ chatter went in, too,
while cameras clicked and the tourists queued

at the door of his room: a modern mystic in his cell
reciting cures and casting spells,

a secretary taking dictation as fast
as a cobbler hammers a boot on the last.

He thought of the world to come, and smiled:
the final chapter would drive the fans wild.


Nothing To It

This is the place where nothing you’d think of occurs,
and repeatedly.

Visitors go down the stairs
to the valley alone:

there is no space for side-by-side travel
and no place to pause

till they get to the floor of the gorge.
Then they do not go far.

From the floor they cannot see the top.
From the top they could not see the place they are standing in now.

Now they can look at the lichen, the moss,
And the ferns.

Maidenhair’s perfectly still.
There is no breeze down here.

Fiddleheads, supplejack,
Bush-lawyer, past all those visitors:

gorse, angel’s trumpets, lantana, they met on the path.
Then the climb to the top. Till their legs start to ache.

And they say they saw nothing of note,
And they’ll never come back.


The Plaza of Hoon

The hoon is Australia’s gift to the world:
it was spawned at the nation’s creation;
barbecue sites and trolley-strewn malls
are its haunt; it is free of mentation.

Cowboy of cul-de-sacs, clearways and crescents,
it grazes on petrol and chrome;
it disguises itself as a slab of cold beer
that litters the place it calls home.

It travels in groups like a troop of baboons
giving tongue in the language of apes:
it eats and it roots and it shoots and it leaves,
and it comes in all genders and shapes.

Its ancestor spirits are convicts and oafs
from each class and each trade and profession;
it mates with a creature resembling itself,
and so it ensures its succession,

and having done that, it subsides with a grunt
to observe the career of its clone,
a dysfunctional loud simulacrum
without an idea of its own.

It’s a do-it-yourself sheltered workshop
where bigotry’s watered and fed
by talkback noises of overgrown boys
whose morals and ethics are dead.

So think of the people you cannot abide
when the time for gift-giving draws near,
and wrap up a hoon in the national flag
and send it away from here.