Stephen Oliver

It would be sacrilege to seek
   A clean place on the world map,
For you’d be walking forever
   From death to your birth and back.

Sex is the great public secret
   Which no-one can believe in -
What’s bargained for in pubs and clubs
   Is no more nor less than skin.

Television is our hearth-fire
   (A memory it is said)
And cars like wolves sneaky at night
   Are visitors from the dead.

Every image that you’ve thought
   Lived before you thought it through,
Freud is the sun and Jung the moon
   Yet the reverse may be true.


   (for Matt Ottley)

Let me tell an odd tale
   About Miss Eliza Lily,
She came from the western suburbs
   Of a harbour-side city.

Miss Lily, Dear Lady -
   And Wacky, the cockatoo!
Shared a drab, rickety mansion,
   (Walled garden and outdoor loo).

By most considered short
   At fifteen hands from head to floor,
She measured in the order of:-
   Let’s say about five-foot-four.

One thing deserves mention
   Like the ancient Irish Elk long dead
Earned Miss Lily notoriety: -
   A pair of hands grew on her head.

A dab hand on the harpsichord
   She played the Bandicoot Serenade,
Wacky on the breadboard beat time
   And danced the harlequinade.

She’d pose as the shaggy moose
   That ambled round mountain lakes,
She hid out back in Huon-pine
   By the garden-shed and rakes.

Her fame grew increasingly,
   You might say by public pranks -
She’d take off to the oddest spots
   Via bus-stops and taxi ranks.

In the Hilton Hotel foyer
   She’d often pose as a hatstand
Freaking out the maître d’hôtel,
   Next to the baby white grand.

She’d hike to the domain
   If the sky whipped up a storm,
She’d catch lightning bolts in her hand
   And hurl them about the lawn.

On Sundays she liked best
   To play ball on the Oval Green -
She used those hands to good effect
   As backstop to a baseball team.

The bus to Maggie’s Market
   Ran to time but the time ran slow;
Miss Lily counted red-brick villas
   By liver-brick row upon row.

Melons and muffins she picked
   Enough to fill a wicker-basket,
Wacky meanwhile hissed and spat
   On cats at Maggie’s Market.

Late at night she loved to jump
   And flap her hands as birds in flight,
Under the lilac moon would sing
   Delirious with delight.

Alert as a satellite dish
   The hands sprouting on her head;
The dolphin and the dugong sang
   Lullabies to her in bed.

O Miss Lily’s golden hair
   Glowed fiery in the setting sun,
She shared the secrets of the forests
   With boys and girls just for fun.

She told them of medicines
   In rainforests under a curse,
She told them of bark and berries
   That cured Asian flu or worse.

She told them of rivers
   That flowed to a silver lagoon,
She told them of the far away seas
   That rolled to the lilac moon.

One night the sky grew dark
   Then black and even blacker still,
Miss Lily sent the children home
   As the wind blew loud and shrill.

It howled on into the night
   And the steeple-bells rang madly,
It knocked chimney-pots into streets
   And behaved very badly.

High up on Mt Wellington
   Pylon cables came crashing down;
The one sole source of energy
   In that storm-tossed harbour town.

They called out civil defence
   Who thought themselves the best,
They even called out the bowling club
   Who woefully proved a pest.

The town mayor threw a fit
   And the councillors heaved a sob,
The townsfolk had enough and cried:

She took the broken cables -
   Clenched them in both her hands,
She fused the cable-ends together
   Where the lonely pylon stands.

She lit up like some beacon
   Much brighter than a movie star,
Household lights came streaming on
   And the mayor shouted the bar.

So by public vote all agreed:
If she considered this déclassé
   Wacky didn’t think it silly.

In the gallery she now stands,
   A sandstone slab in the Great Hall:
Her hands clasped above her head
   Next to the wombat Big as a Bull.

© 2002 Stephen Oliver

Stephen Oliver was born in Wellington, New Zealand and has lived in Paris, Vienna, London, San Francisco, Greece and Israel. He signed on with the radio ship, ‘The Voice of Peace’ broadcasting in the Mediterranean out of Jaffa and has free lanced as production voice, newsreader, announcer, journalist, copy and features writer. His books include: Henwise (1975), & Interviews (1978), Autumn Songs (1978), Letter To James. K. Baxter (1980), Earthbound Mirrors (1984), Guardians, Not Angels (1993), Islands of Wilderness - A Romance (1996), Election Year Blues (1999), Unmanned (1999). Night of Warehouses: Poems 1978-2000. HeadworX www.headworX.eyes.co.nz (2001), covers five collections of poetry and spans two decades. Stephen's poems are widely represented in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, USA, UK, South Africa, Canada, etc. His recent prose work has been featured in: Deep South www.otago.ac.nz/deepsouth [Contempt: A Survey] and Thylazine www.thylazine.org [One Day In The Life of Vicki Viidikas]. Stephen Oliver is a transtasman poet based in Sydney, Australia.

Email: [email protected]