JANET KENNY is very old. She has been an opera and concert singer, anti-war activist, editor, publisher’s researcher and food writer. Born in New Zealand, sang in the United Kingdom, agitated in Sydney and now watches birds in Queensland. Her poems have been widely published. She co-edited, compiled and wrote Beyond Chernobyl published by Envirobook; Her two collections of poems are This Way to the Exit (White Violet Press) and Whistling in the Dark (Kelsay Books)
Antal Szalai’s Gypsy Band in an Australian Country Town
The country concert hall is full
of old Hungarians who’ve come
from miles away to hear the thrill
of tarogato, cimbalom,
but most of all—the violin.
And what a violin! They say
that after he had heard him play
Yehudi Menuhin embraced him,
so deeply had Szalai impressed him.
When they start there’s such a shock
as though the world had run amok
sound rips around the walls and hits
the ceiling, strikes the metal parts
of doors and watches, and the hearts
of sleepers who have come to life,
and young again, accept the knife
of youth and pain; the lightning bursts
in every space and now it’s Liszt’s
transfiguration, Gypsy grief
and desperation, time the thief,
it weeps then changes with a bang,
to pure delight as high notes hang
above the hall so high they hurt
with panpipes conjuring a bird;
they’re old, this audience, and know
that this is love, the silent bow
that holds suspended all they are
then lets them down through sunlit air;
the gypsy and the bird are free
like them, they leave him thankfully
in songs and dances, out the door
to Queensland which they never saw
the way they see it now, with strings
to all the loved remembered things.
Fruit bats hang in clumps atop
the canopy. Plumb head-down drop
of screechbats. Nosferatu crops
of dangling-grippers shuffle out
on tight-crammed branches; poke to flex
ribbed, leather black umbrella wing
as prod displaces neighbour’s roost.
Stench circles trees in clouds of retch.
Night falls, then lifts of creatures streak
across the sky on ancient tracks,
air-trod by troops of foxbats, hot
to reach the fruit of memory,
wing wafts of time above the road.
Whatever happened to him
that man with the shopping bag?
You all saw how
he moved from side to side,
head erect, graceful,
as the tank moved,
trying to avoid
his intransigent blocking figure.
The driver was a man too,
and felt for this
stubborn stubborn man
who refused refused to
move and we watched,
hearts in mouths, never knowing
whether he lived or died.
What happened…what… what did happen
to that stubborn stubborn man?
Here for a flash then not. God, did you see
the streak of eyes, the fleeting blur, the space
vacated when you thought there was a face?
The silent grace where now a stolid tree
refuses to divulge just what it was
passed by its vigil. Four feet, two or none?
Grass won’t expose a creature to the sun.
Discretion in cahoots with beasts because
a law denies betrayal of the catch
to predators who watch but miss the track
till jaws or beak or claws make swift attack
when luck dismembers prey that met its match.
Each on its own united by the same
entrapment in an old sadistic game.
A scientific mechanism made
by particles that never feel afraid.
JANET KENNY is very old. She has been an opera and concert singer, anti-war activist, editor, publisher’s researcher and food writer. Born in New Zealand, sang in the United Kingdom, agitated in Sydney and now watches birds in Queensland. Her poems have been widely published. She co-edited, compiled and wrote Beyond Chernobyl, published by Envirobook. Her two collections of poems are This Way to the Exit (White Violet Press) and Whistling in the Dark (Kelsay Books)