poems by Ian Smith

Song as Axiomatic Password


Driving in rain, radio on, Moby’s Mistake,

the slow start redolent of regret then the beat

insistent as grief swoops, leaves me depleted.

I could have died a dozen deaths but lived.

Wrenched apart by a song. A song?


Edge of night I heard the iron cries of trams

remembering smouldering words turning dark.

This beat hammers nails in my caged heart,

too late, playing a wintry scene again,

a song not even dating from that time.

The sky god batters me, wipers losing it.

I would keep driving beyond bleared ache,

all the way to the tattered ghostly past,

a voice repeating my name, stanch regret.

Don’t let me make the same mistake again.




My father knew George Cook


My father who boxed overseas in the army

drove a trolleybus along grey London streets

when the war was over, electric connection

crackling and spluttering above in the rain.

He told me, just once, about a NSW boxer.

One thing we shared was sports heroes.


Cook caught his trolleybus home from bouts

carrying his boxing gear in a small bag.

Many years after my father’s death,

memory, like a rip to the solar plexus

from a time before our emigration, stills me.

I want to question him, see inside that bag.


I Google Cook who died aged forty-five

in Surbiton, far from the scent of eucalyptus

for an indigenous man who was smallish

to tangle with heavyweights, world champs,

all the big names across thirteen countries.

Why did he end up in Surbiton of all places?


He holds a barrel of beer above his head.

A newsreel with his bride, clue to Surbiton?

I wish I were privy to the post-bout banter

of that warrior and my father and his conductor,

wonder about expatriate lives, back stories, fathers,

streetlights in rain, the promise of a coal fire.






A conscience of rats gnaw in the ceiling

of this rotting house where the wind whispers,

the same wind that sweeps untended graves,

autumn days withdrawing with a shiver:

my fraught heart has hit the skids

because my lips shall never again

brush the down on a woman’s belly,

knickers where they fell in a room

draping the lamp with a soft glow:

the noise of market trucks quietened at dusk,

spilled lettuces pale runway lamps,

the dark grows swiftly this time of life,

town carparks emptying as house lights blink,

ceremonies of peace that mask chaos:

a chopper thrashes air high over my head

returning from another threat of disaster,

lurking disappointment never far away.






My idle gaze stops in shock at a concert.

In disarray, behind and across from her, I stare,

doing arithmetic, knowing it could not be.

The scent of old roses and tobacco

fills the hall as if in a small room.


I don’t remember the music playing that night

but now like to imagine it was Bolero,

sweet moan of released honeysuckle breath

building to that pulsing crescendo

then cymbal clash, echo’s climactic silence.


I elongate my neck to see more,

a voyeur peering behind curtain-crack.

It is her. Can’t be. Turn this way, ghost.

I know the sway of that hair brushing my face,

the chaos of crazy forbidden love.


Intermission took musical millennia to arrive.

Greeting friends, I lost her in the crush.

Did I deliberately stretch those minutes?

I knew this fragile affair would end

searching for her face one more time.

poems by Ian Smith

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