The text of Les Murray's poem is posted for the benefit of visual artists contributing to Poetry Scores' 2009 Art Invitational. Contributing artists will make work in response to the poem and title their piece using a verbatim quote from the poem. We will then hang the work in the space according to where in the flow of the poem the language chosen for the title appears. The Invitational is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 13 at The Luminary Center for the Arts.
THE SYDNEY HIGHRISE VARIATIONS
By Les Murray
1. Fuel Stoppage on Gladesville Road Bridge
in the Year 1980
So we're sitting over our sick beloved engine
atop a great building of the double century
on the summit that exhilarates cars, the concrete vault on its thousands
of tonnes of height, far above the tidal turnaround.
Gigantic pure form, all exterior, superbly uninhabited
or peopled only by transients at speed, the bridge
is massive outline.
It was inked in by scaffolding and workers.
Seen from itself, the arch
is an abstract hill, a roadway up-and-over without country,
from below, a ponderous grotto, all entrance and vast shade
framing blues and levels.
From a distance, the flyover on its vaulting drum
is a sketched stupendous ground-burst, a bubble raising surface
or a rising heatless sun with inset horizons.
Also, it's a space-probe,
a trajectory of strange fixed dusts, that were milled,
boxed with steel rod mesh and fired, in stages,
from sandstone point to point. They docked at apogee.
It feels good. It feels right.
The joy of sitting high is in our judgement.
The marvellous brute-force effects of our century work.
They answer something in us. Anything in us.
2. View of Sydney, Australia, from
Gladesville Road Bridge
There's that other great arch eastward, with its hanging highways;
the headlands and horizons of packed suburb, white among
bisque-fired, odd smokes rising;
there's Warrang, the flooded valley, that is now the ship-chained Harbour,
recurrent everywhere, with its azure and its grains;
ramped parks, bricked containers,
verandahs successive around walls,
and there's the central highrise, multi-storey, the twenty-year countdown,
the new city standing on its haze above the city.
Ingots of sheer
of columnar profit
tunnels in the sky
high window printouts
repeat their lines
repeat their lines
repeat their lines
bar graphs on blue
glass tubes of boom
in concrete wicker
each trade Polaris
fine print insurrected
tall things on a tray
All around them is the old order: brewery brick terrace hospital
horrible workplace; the scale of the tramway era,
the peajacket era, the age of the cliff-repeating woolstores.
South and west lie the treeless suburbs, a mulch of faded flags,
north and partly east, the built-in paradise forest.
3. The Flight from Manhattan
It is possible the heights of this view are a museum:
though the highrise continues desultorily along some ridges,
canned Housing, Strata Title,
see-through Office Space,
upright bedsteads of Harbour View,
the cranes have all but vanished from the central upsurge.
towering double entry,
Freud's cobwebbed poem
with revolving restaurant,
they took eighty years to fly here from Manhattan
these variant towers. By then, they were arriving everywhere.
In the land of veneers,
of cladding, of Cape Codding
(I shall have Cape Codded)
they put on heavy side.
The iron ball was loose in the old five-storey city
clearing bombsites for them. They rose like nouveaux accents
and stilled, for a time, the city's conversation.
Their arrival paralleled
the rise of the Consumers
gazing through themselves
at iconoclasms, wines,
Danish Modern ethics.
Little we could love expanded to fill the spaces
of high glazed prosperity. An extensive city
that had long contained the dimensions of heaven and hell
couldn't manage total awe at the buildings of the Joneses.
Their reign coincided
with an updraft of Ideology,
that mood in which the starving
spirit is fed upon the heart.
Employment and neckties and ruling themes ascended
into the towers. But they never filled them.
Squinting at them through the salt
and much-washed glass of her history, the city kept her flavour
fire-ladder high, rarely above three storeys.
In ambiguous battle at length, she began to hedge
the grilles of Aspiration. To limit them to standing
on economic grounds. With their twists of sculpture.
On similar grounds we are stopped here, still surveying
the ridgy plain of houses. Enormous. England's buried gulag.
The stacked entrepot, great city of the Australians.
4. The C19-20
The Nineteenth Century. The Twentieth Century.
There were never any others. No centuries before these.
Dante was not hailed in his time as an Authentic
Fourteenth Century Voice. Nor did Cromwell thunder, After all,
in the bowels of Christ, this is the Seventeenth Century!
The two are one aircraft in the end, the C19-20,
capacious with cargo. Some of it can save your life,
some can prevent it.
The cantilevered behemoth
is fitted up with hospitals and electric Gatling guns
to deal with recalcitrant and archaic spirits.
It rose out of the Nineteenth, steam pouring from venturi
and every man turning hay with a wooden fork
in the Age of Piety (A.D. or B.C.) wants one
in his nation's airline. And his children dream of living
in a palace of packing crates beside the cargo terminal:
No one will see! Everything will be surprises!
Directly under the flightpath, and tuned to listening,
we hear the cockpit traffis, the black box channel
that can't be switched off: Darwinians and Lawrentians
are wrestling for the controls,We must take her into Space! We must fly in potent circles!
5. The Recession of the Joneses
The worldwide breath of Catching Up
may serve to keep the mighty, slowing
machine aloft beyond our lifetime:
nearly all of the poor are blowing.
The soaring double century
might end, and mutate, and persist;
as we've been speaking, the shadows of
bridges, cranes, towers have shifted east.
When we create our own high style
skill and the shadow will not then part;
as rhetoric would conceal from art
effort has at best a winning margin.
The sun, that is always catching up
with night and day and month and year,
blazes from its scrolled bare face: To be
solar, I must be nuclear --
Six hundred glittering and genteel towns
gathered to be urban in plein air,
more complex in their levels than their heights
and vibrant with modernity's strange anger.
Sydney highrise photo from somebody's Flickr