Peter Boyle lives in Sydney. His first three collections of poetry Coming home from the world(1994), The Blue Cloud of Crying (1997), and What the painter saw in our faces (2001) have received several awards including the New South Wales Premier’s Award, the South Australian Festival award and the National Book Council Award. His latest collection of poetry, Museum of Space, published in 2004 by University of Queensland Press, was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Award. A chapbook Reading Borges was published by Picaro Press in December 2007. The Apocrypha of William O’Shaunessy, fictive translations of imagined classical texts, is due out from Vagabond Press in May 2009. Since 2001 he has also worked on collaborative poems with Australian poet M.T.C. Cronin. A first collection of these collaborative poems, How Does a Man Who Is Dead Re-invent His Body? The Belated Love Poems of Thean Morris Caelli, is forthcoming later this year from Shearsman Press (UK). His translations from French and Spanish poetry include The Trees: selected poems of Eugenio Montejo (Salt Publishing, 2004), as well as translations of Federico García Lorca, Luis Cernuda, César Vallejo, Pierre Reverdy, René Char and Yves Bonnefoy. In 2004 he was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Award for translation.
Poems from The Apocrypha of William O’Shaunessy
Book III, VII
Half an arm’s length above me
mosquitoes tracing a zigzag pattern,
more beautiful than stars.
I watch the grey swarm’s
inexplicable drawing –
tiny masters of life and death,
(Erycthemios, Knowings, Book IV)
Book III, IX
three women, an old man
with a cart, two children.
two women, two men,
a young boy with a dog.
two years passed.
Flies zigzag on the air;
a stone lies
where it has always lain;
in a green space between silences.
Today, looking down on the plain
where three roads meet,
a white dove settled
on my shoulder.
There is only
Rain falls on dark roads.
Behind rough white walls
tears are endless.
In salt brine
olives best preserve
their sharp pure hunger.
Just above the level of the trees
two lightning bugs flicker their passage.
In the garden a single candle
shows me the path to the sky.
In the outer spaces of the world
the pure light awaits.
(Irene Philologos, A poetic journal of ten years in Boeotia)
Book III, XI
“The blue snail”
It does not offer
where it has dragged
its own sky
everything it touches
Over a stone bridge
all feet leave their own
residue of mud.
The vendors of bread and sweet pastries
stalls laden with beads and perfumes
mansions of the rich
sinking yearly deeper into the city’s
And before me
the white butterfly confused by the wind’s messages
the plum tree opening its fragrance of coolness.
(The Green Book of Ebtesum)
Book IV, XXX
The blind horse knows the scent of the world.
Walk with it slowly.
Rest your hand on its mane
so you may know that nothing is endless.
There was a river that restored the tracks it erased.
There was a pebble not touched by any journeys
left behind for you alone
forgotten in the hands of the sky.
Book V, VI
Among the Mountain People II
And it was a tiny hand reaching out of the soup,
the tender grasping cry of a flying fox
whose bones the old men were crunching –
and the bitter chill was still
around the oil-doused cauldron.
The fire blazed its monumental resistance to night.
How they laughed, the women,
seeing our startled gaze,
our lips dropped in disbelief –
they knew that even children of the forest rafters
don’t begrudge the passage of their still budding flesh
into thin broth.
This gliding that goes on when the last skin dissolves,
the tenderness of wild faces.
(Iannarchus, Poems written while travelling with the embassy of Antoninus to the Silk Kingdom)
Book II, XXVII
To the north
scatter the beads of water
gently scoop tufts of wheat
let the wind trickle
To the east
scatter the grains of dawn
may your hands be open
let where the sun is
“Shame on my head
on my eyes
Shame on my lips and tongue
Shame on my hands
on my walking
Shame of the seed
and of destiny.”
Again dip slowly your hand
into the grain sack
scatter what lives
what will live
“Grain of grains
dew of sea
fire that rises from mist
accept our shame”
lightly sprinkle the water
To the south
stand firm that the realms
of Four Heavens
may see you
scatter the grains
let the ghosts
know of your presence
scatter the dew of water
let the beads of water
rest on the lips of all people
let the thirst of the living
and the thirst of the dead
wait for the silence
to give you permission
To the west
eyeing the west as an equal
eyeing the west as a mother
eyeing the west as your child
scatter the grain
scatter the bright joy of water
kneel do not speak
wait for the light that rises and sets
to touch you
wait for the winds that come
from the lands of all the dead
to filter around your ears
wait for their voices to enter you
wait till their voices speak
wait till the words
are fierce and tender
wait till the words
tear at the sinews of pain
till the words slice
through forehead and skull
till the heart is open to all words
the earth is struggling to say
wait till their voices
wait till the silence steadies you
“I give back
I give back
I give back”
(Dawn Ritual of Purification for families and descendants of those who participate in slaughter,
to be used by all visitors who enter the Holy City of Kitezh)
Book III, XVII
He is coming,
the great poet of African silences.
Water is in his steps,
the great torrent
of water crashing though rocks,
water that slips and glides
through the locked fingers of children
dreaming of sunlight.
He speaks the soft rain of all seasons,
he speaks the fragrance of fruit,
the drawers and porters of water,
the skilled craftsmen
who shape and guide water
to accomplish all the longings of men.
He speaks the unspoken abundance,
the full granary’s ease, the floor laid out
for the ritual greeting,
In his speech lives the woman whose soft voice
tames all beasts,
who feeds doves and scorpions alike.
He knows the secret name smoke carries in its own language.
He understands night and speaks its infinite epithets –
he knows the twelve words for waiting,
the three hundred diminutives of sad.
And through his voice
flows great calm
and the five tones that unite
thunder and raindrop.
His voice is the child at five
and the woman at eighty.
He comes to renew our world.
(Thrasymenes, poet and archon of the Greek colony of Phos in Mauretania)
Book III, XXV
Nausicaa: You have come from far, and love
is a stranger’s right. But first
speak to me of the journey, of what news you bear
of places known only to exile.
For from strangers all seek a name or a word,
a presence, a gift brought back.
Osiris: Many wonders mark the earth.
Small fish that climb the sky and race across water –
I have seen their wingbeats dazzle the sailors at noon.
Or an old man bent above a blue lute
out of India, I’ve watched his worn hands
making the horizon at midday tremble,
settling the shape of sunset in lands
where the water-craftsmen dwell.
Beauty is the one word uttered by earth –
it is beauty I bring you.
(Fragment from “The handmaidens of Persephone” by Xeuxis of Anagoge)