Just This: Poems

Just This: Poems

by Brian Turner

ISBN: 9780864735911

Publisher Victoria University Press

Published in Literature & Fiction/Poetry

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Sample Chapter


    Epistemologies of Place

    There's a side to beauty
    that is sadness enduring.

    There's a belief in beauty
    that's peculiarly universal

    while unique in itself
    to this punter, or that.

    It's more the idea
    than the actuality

    of this place, not who
    had the idea for it

    that becomes a reality
    previously unimaginable.

    First there's the perception,
    then the journey towards

    understanding that comes,
    you're told, with empathy;

    and, finally, it's the where
    you know that refines

    the who you are. It's then,
    you could say, landscape's

    indifference in itself
    mirrors our impermanence,

    has no awareness of the dramas
    which, paradoxically, heighten

    and enhance the sense of the
    numinous in nuance and hue.

    In other words, you choose
    what it is that makes for piety

    and pleasure, and obligation,
    and how you measure such,

    and what is meant by home,
    and why, or whether

    you believe, before
    your time's up, that

    this big, unloved, untidy
    unwalled room is it.

    Improving for the Worse

    I come from New Zealand.
    Most people don't know where it is,
    or what it stands for. Good.

    Nor do most New Zealanders,
    if they ever did. Sad.

    All of us are islands, entirely lost,
    pretending we are not.

    What It's Like

    When someone asks you to explain
    what it's like where you come from
    you say you're still finding out,
    and it's not because you enjoy being
    vague, or smart-arse, a sophist
    if you like, it's just because it's true.

    This morning frost then fog-like smoke
    from a damp wood fire, then the sun
    breaking through in lamé-like patches
    until there's not even bandannas
    left on the hills, and order's restored:
    blue sky above incandescent snow.

    Goodbye Uncle

    When he said he felt as if
    he was going south in a big way,
    it wasn't the same as saying
    he was going down south
    where he was born
    and should have stayed.

    A friend took one look at him
    and told me he was buggered,
    on his way any day.

    Going south: that's what
    my father meant when he said
    I thought they were going
    to beam me up yesterday.

    Going south:
it's where,
    all our lives, we've heard
    it is 'behind the times', that
    there was 'nothing there,
    nothing to do'.

    Nothing there? Nobody home, eh?
    Just us, who they felt sorry for.

    In a Sponsor's Tent

    Once I set my mind to it
    it wasn't that difficult to be affable
    instead of distant, sombre, severe.
    As James Salter wrote,
    of his last moments at West Point,
    'I found myself shaking hands
    with men I had sworn not to.'
    And I thought, Why not?
    None are flawless, all
    are fated to fall. There is
    an immense brotherhood
    that one wishes to belong to,
    in spite of oneself, deep down.

    Soon I shall again wing south
    to that inalienable land
    wherein one's sense of solitude
    is thrilling and riddling
    for what it says about
    the us in me, the more we think
    of unexplainable things.


    You hear the wind
    before you feel it,
    see it harassing
    defenceless leaves
    and listen to limbs creak.

    The rowan's suddenly a mass
    of nervy red light, the agapanthus
    plots of antic asterisks,
    the tulips swaying back and forth
    like worshippers about to speak

    in tongues. The wind's a ferret
    angry in the grass,
    a cuff on the ear,
    an irritant tousling one's hair.

    Wind and Stars

    Stars do it for us, and yet
    when you read where another reckons
    'we notice ... the wind among the stars'
    you think that sounds a bit far-fetched.
    We notice the stars among the stars
    and their seeming absence
    throughout the day. Apart from that,
    what else? The way the wind spurs
    the clouds, and the way the mountains
    won't get out of the way.

    August, Ida Valley

    If you think about it
    you could say
    life is truth disturbed
    by fictions we prefer,

    and time wasting for some
    is, as Mary Wesley
    observed, 'going to bed
    with old Etonians',

    or not playing sport
    for money in the mad
    bad 21st of many
    similar centuries.

    Yet somehow, after
    the 10th snowfall
    since late April, it seems
    winter just won't go away,

    sheep still have nothing
    to eat but hay, and the
    few hawks left are unwilling
    to turn a blind eye.

    Snow in September

    Someone I've yet to meet
    is playing a violin in the snow
    in a field nearby
    and it sounds like Beethoven
    to me, and under the willows
    by the stream
    a young boy is weeping.
    When the music stops
    the boy will disappear
    as he does every time,
    every time.


    When you're in the sky
    the land's all over the place
    as if it's been dropped
    from a scary height
    and is still trying to
    work out how to get
    When on land
    the sky's always there,
    dressing and undressing,
    never short of clothes
    or room to parade them in,
    and always insatiable for air.

    November Snow
    (after Bill McKibben's Wandering Home)

    When snow is falling straight down
    on coarse grass that's already brown,
    the fire is fluttering,
    and some mezzo is singing

    a lament on the radio,
    it's easy to go with the flow
    of gilded memories ... of times
    that ring like rhymes.

    There's the smell of wood smoke,
    too, a frog's quavery croak,
    and a scent that can only be thyme
    whose aroma is near sublime ...

    and I think, when we say complete
    we don't mean tidy, neat;
    we mean order, what's appropriate,
    the sane, mature passage of fate.

    That is what we hunger for
    from youth to drear death's door,
    to gather a sense of relief
    equally as strong as grief.

    It's learning how to say goodbye,
    to bury the lies where you lie,
    to have made a certain private space
    that you can claim to be your place.

    (for Vincent and Helen)

    There's a warm breeze blowing down
    off the mountains
    now that most of the snow has gone.

    There's a song somewhere
    in the heart of every man and woman
    with the heart to sing.

    There's elation born of relief
    and the return of hope and grace
    in the flight of a hawk over Rough Ridge.

    There's beauty in the unruffled
    olive green and grey feathers of silver-eyes
    feeding on sugar on my schist stone wall.

    There's rivers and streams that are
    quieter again, and sheep and cattle
    whose stoicism never falters.

    There's the feeling exile's over,
    and that, for all its limitations,
    what's foretold has barely begun.

    Full Moon in November

    Orange and hearty in the fullness
    of another month gone round.

    There's tubular cloud couching the moon
    smirking above the Hawkduns,

    Venus bright in the tops of the birch
    next-door, the leaves of an oak shuffling,

    quelling anxiety; and across the road
    one bare streetlight set to shine

    until daylight returns. I go to bed
    with Fauré's Requiem playing

    in another room, moonlight milder
    than the frenzied importuning of stars.

    December Drought

    The grasses are wispy, the land's blond,
    rivers mere streams, creeks dry.

    Sheep scavenge, eat straw and stones
    and the edges show through their skin.

    Every bird's a rival by every dwindling pond.
    Winds chap and burn. Far off, clouds

    huddle in the ranges and deny us rain.
    At night the sky's black and sprinkled

    with all the stars this side of infinity
    and, miles away, in small-time towns

    and on parched farms, those you've never met
    gather to chant Abide, abide, abide ...


    The brightest star I can see tonight is dead
    so astronomers and physicists say,

    when explaining their understanding
    of matters to do with illumination and ...

    I wouldn't know, except to hope
    beauty's for everyone, one way

    or another; in the shapes of ducks
    flying across the face of the moon,

    or in the hues of bales of hay
    lying in paddocks docile in sunlight,

    in cirrus stretched over the mountains, in
    insects scritching in bone-dry grass.

    Just This

    'Find your place on the planet, dig in, and take
      responsibility from there.'
    Gary Snyder

    Affecting without affectation, like the sere hills
    then the early evening sky where Sirius dominates
    for a time, then is joined by lesser lights,

    stars indistinct as those seen through the canopies
    of trees shaking in the wind. There's this wish
    to feel part of something wholly explicable

    and irreplaceable, something enduring
    and wholesome that suppresses the urge to fight ...
    or is there? Ah, the cosmic questions

    that keep on coming like shooting stars
    and will, until, and then what? All I can say
    is that for me nothing hurts more

    than leaving and nothing less than coming home,
    when a nor'wester's gusting in the pines
    like operatic laughter, and the roadside grasses

    are laced with the blue and orange and pink
    of bugloss, poppies and yarrow, all of them
    swishing, dancing, bending, as they do, as we do.


    There's a bit battered
    wool-buyer's truck in Omakau
    that has painted on a plate
    hanging on the tailgate
    the words 'Nearly Honest Brent'.

    That could stand as
    a worldwide epitaph
    and for reasons
    I'm reminded

    of my father's
    last words to me
    which were not
    'I did my best', but
    'the soup looks good'.

    Put Down

    When you shot the horse
    you said you hoped
    it would go straight down
    and not stand there
    as if deciding whether
    to begin a dressage routine.

    And someone who claimed
    to know horses
    said the animal knew
    what was coming,
    the slash between its eyes
    like forked lightning.

    Moving Stock

    A curdle of sheep wobbles by
    leaving freckles
    and liver spots
    all over the road.

    On the Road to Wedderburn

    Snow and ice and a sniping wind
    so the dead hare's ropy-red entrails
    are sustenance for a hawk
    defiant in desperation.

    In the wind it's minus 6, minus 9
    an hour ago. The bird's close
    to going the way of the hare
    who knew the now but not

    the now we know. In the way
    one does for reasons of conscience
    and compassion, I swerve so as
    not to mow the bird down,

    wave and wish him all the blood
    and guts he can stand.

    In the Hill's Creek Cemetery

    Everything says tenuous here
    where neat edging and vases of fresh flowers
    are one way of trying to tidy untidy lives,

    and even the empty jars
    that shine in the morning sun reflect remembrance
    in all its kaleidoscopic fragmentations:

    love, affection, grief ... guilt
    about inattention when it was needed most,
    apologies not made, churlishness enjoyed,

    schadenfreude relished, and so on.
    What matters most can't be attended to now
    in a place where guilt and sincerity

    are determined to merge as self-indulgence.
    But never mind, if we're lucky the road to hell
    may not be paved with good intentions

    here or anywhere else, and,
    in a soak close by, a heron practises dressage,
    paradise ducks pretend imperious, and above us all

    a hawk masters disdain. Dry grass wafts.
    Serenity's hanging on somehow despite pervasive
    evidence of our mortality and, overhead, the wisps of cirrus

    that tell us a big nor'wester's not far way.

    Between Shingle Creek and Fruitlands

    Cast your mind back to the first time you came this way,
    the road windy, corrugated, dusty,
    the surface mostly the colour of yellow clay, cuttings
    stained with the leer of water seeping.

    On the left the ever-ascending slopes,
    the Old Man Range, white flecks
    in blue gullies near the summit,
    and your young old man wondering when

    we'd ever get to Alexandra, your mum complaining
    about 'the blessed dust', both of them
    cursing the 'washboard surface' and you thinking
    about the number of times she told your father

    that 'it didn't matter' when it clearly did. And that
    was the way it always was with them,
    it is with you, it is, period. Until, you might say,
    something happens that's never happened before.

    Like love came back and sent hate packing
    never to return, and peace of mind arrived
    like a dove from afar, decided to stay, and you
    no longer dreamed of what might have been.

Excerpted from "Just This: Poems" by Brian Turner. Copyright © 2013 by Brian Turner. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Brian Turner

Brian Turner

Brian Turner is a former businessman who for more than 20 years was the CEO and president of several companies that provided services for the life insurance industry. He’s been involved in numerous lawsuits both as a plaintiff and as a defendant. He explains how a $20,000 nonbinding arbitration award against him and his company unexpectedly and shockingly exploded into a $2 million judgment! He studied and researched the law extensively for the past 20 years. His conclusion is that everybody living in the United States today is highly vulnerable to a lawsuit that could easily wipe them out because of unpredictable jury verdicts and corruption in our legal system. His recommendation is that everyone must take proactive steps to protect themselves against lawsuits and to protect all of their assets. All of this information is clearly explained in a simple step-by-step approach in this guidebook. Brian Turner is an alumnus of the University of Illinois and he now lives in California.

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