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From: Vol.05 N.01 – Stick in a Thumb and Pull out a Plum: Poetry and Comsumption

Just Passing Through

by Stuart Cooke

It always starts out the same: wandering naked

through the apartment, worrying—where

has the day gone? (or: Where is it going to go?)

This time I’d escaped to the Broadwater

to watch the retreat of the tide.

I thought it would calm me somehow,

the wide estuary and the fingers of sand reaching into it,

and I thought I’d find something of myself there,

a part I’d forgotten in the worries of the morning,

and I’d produce a short, surprising lyric.


But this didn’t happen and, to be honest,

it rarely does anymore.


With these places I live in, I sit down to watch,

only to find them filled already

with anxiety about time to come. So I barely write a thing.


Really, it seems I can only get it—that sense of awakening, of sheer,

blinding perception before the onslaught of thought—

when I’m shocked by the new,

by its blast of conjunctions, of combinations

of colours and textures I’d never before imagined,

their sudden, dramatic expansion of what’s possible,

of what might reconstitute that strained pillar, beauty.

The new greets me like a fist.


I arrive in new places (say: a horizon spotted

with islands; a metallic lake

in the mouth of a volcano;

a forest of glittering skyscrapers by an ocean)

and I give in to them.

I want nothing more than to become them.

I would be this place, this beauty,

I would write it, tirelessly,

until being, until writing, were the breaths of the place itself.


But this only lasts a short while—a couple of days at most. What happens is that I keep remembering or recovering the origins of the new—that is, I can’t ignore the fact that the new is produced by its difference to somewhere else. I could no more be in this place than I could be a star. In these moments I tend to return mostly to eucalypts, to grassy plains, hidden rivers—things from the south-east, things that I didn’t come from but have seen often enough to feel like I did—because this new place here, this new world, I know it’s not me, it’s not mine. I’m just passing through.


I’m left thinking, from where am I? Or:

where am I?


Which is to ask, which place produced me?


Not those plains and not this estuary, either.

The fact is that even my heart, those suburbs pumping through bush,

I left all that behind, and whatever I knew of it, well,

it was a stolen thing, and it drifts through time, anchorless.


All these places, these streams of rock, awe, conjunction…

the new, it takes me under before I float back to the surface.


Where do I rest?

In this place, this misty burrow of frustration and worry?


A lot of my writing is probably an attempt to avoid the idea

that I’m floating away on time, that I can’t ever rest.

I see this estuary racing away, leaving bright noon sand, lighter thoughts,

but all the light’s from elsewhere, and the dark’s

always crouched in the wet grooves

carved out by currents.


It’s probably true that I live in the dark,

which has nothing to do with being unable to see;

I see candles burning,

they’re suns of worlds, suns of temporary worlds.

Published: January 2018
Stuart Cooke

is a poet and critic based on the Gold Coast, where he lectures at Griffith University. His books include Opera (2016) and Speaking the Earth’s Languages: a theory for Australian-Chilean postcolonial poetics (2013). His translation of Gianni Siccardi’s The Blackbird is forthcoming from Vagabond Press.

An Australian and international
journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics.

Plumwood Mountain Journal is created on the unceded lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to elders past, present and future. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the lands this journal reaches.