Nothing much ever happens.
a muteness that lies down in darkness
cleanly parted before the drive of rain
settling behind the mountains
the sculpted gums have long been fixed to the grasses.
before the breath can transcend the body
the shape of the sun multiplying behind the clouds
what does happen carves into memory
with unparalleled significance.
a horse attempting to break free of its paddock,
and flailing its head madly upon becoming tangled,
skin taught across the wire.
Walking the paddocks I saw a dog attack a bird,
take its fragile body in its jaws and shake it.
it lay motionless on the earth, the shrill cry that shattered the grasses fleeting.
I wondered what it must have thought of when its throat was torn,
who must now wait for its return, the coming of only a longer silence-
death, as absence, has a permanence the skin cannot repair,
captured in any moment that passes beneath a perfumed rain,
I recalled your ghost, transparent in the open paddock,
a thin veil of fog beginning to leak from the frame.
A Version of Hell
I often find I am walking further from myself, deeper into the property,
fingers pressed against the throat’s basin to trigger an action,
the surface of my skin irreversible, my flesh starved of paradise-
I have shaped myself in ways I wish to bury beneath the present,
though unmistakably hell exists within the body-
it is written that dwelling within the inferno is the journey to become nearer
to faith, as I have not yet done
and I fear coming to a clearing centring the track
where nothing shines beyond
the compressed stomach of my life, like all perception, is broken
like waking amongst the grasses beneath the wires of dark rain,
all longing, all desire becoming a practice
where the self is only one version of hell-
always, I have things to look forward to
and pain to look back towards.
The Face of My Arms
But the past forms so naturally.
an overrun of trees, thick spirals of branches
assembled in the centre of the paddock
the silence disappears
or like a periphery of abstractions
a mind walks across the body in the farmland’s clearing
sits down, the body a landscape torn open
widening into distance
feels dark out here alone
already so full of hysteria
start with my arms
protruding veins of crumbled tissue
deadening the nerve ends
searching up and down
not for an image but an emptiness
the perpetual change stuns
in transfusions of a feeble red line
the point of beginning.
Still Life with Suicidal Dream
It is daybreak
the faceless sun ignores sky
houses are empty
I drive down Whittlesea roads
never change people cloned
rivets down my arms
no pain anymore mark of pain
I used to feel
always sounding in tremors
in response to eyes
road signs tell me what to do
where to go endless nowhere
continuing on through streets
boring never change
I dream of getting out
sleeping waking far from boring life
my forlorn head crushed
beneath the front tire who will drive over me
no one is aging people are foreign
this town an emptiness beyond words.
I prepared my flesh for its new life yesterday
steadied the crudely fashioned handles and pulled
the rip left sheets of scar tissue emptying
onto the carpet, a stain forming a puddle beneath
my naked white toes.
the torn opening widened into a hole where
my mouth had been, sprawled still across the
the scarred surface shed its habit and
abandoned its blemishes easily
falling through the circled and frayed furrows.
after the burning of dawn tanned the leathery
skin, the old body collapsed in a heap of bone
and sinew, each stage of decomposition
breathing through my sewn throat where breath
bled from my bare lungs.
in the building light I watched drawn wires
tangled across the line of pegs as I secured
the other flesh to dry out:
it fit better and wore itself in around
my glad eyes and abraded insides.
this was the beginning, the new became
normal before darkness could be heightened,
loosened into the clear shot of morning.
These poems are taken from The Other Flesh, available from UWA Publishing.
Praise for The Other Flesh
Robbie Coburn grew up in Woodstock, Victoria on his family’s farm. The Other Flesh contains many poems whose texture sings of being alone under the stars. It begins in stark paddocks with bleak greyhound runs, where his father has ‘blood dripping from his fingers from feeding the dogs’ and the poet responds with ‘I love all the things I hate about being here’, a line that brought Jack Spicer to mind.
This poetry comes from tough experiences; yet Coburn’s ‘raw mind’ creates an inner life that draws in the reader. We pass through a post-pastoral world and are pulled into a place where ‘the self is only one version of hell’. We discover ‘There is no fixed life form’ on pages of empty skies and empty roads, empty fields of memory, with a throat full of toxin, eyes being bottled by ‘sobered hands’ and where road signs tell the poet what to do. Out of this abyss Coburn creates some beautiful lines, ‘wind cutting through the tin’ where ‘dogs of sand’ run beside him. When his grandfather dies of Parkinson’s we come across this liberating image in the final line of the elegy: ‘grasses that flow gently when all breath expires’.
Coburn’s world shimmers with light as much as it burns with ferocity but these finely written poems are free from bitterness or anger. Here are two lines that sit on the lyrical scales, being weighed for balance: ‘the night sky is a blank, unbrushed canvas’ and then ‘a muteness that lies down in darkness’. When we open up Coburn’s paddocks ‘made up by the mind’, they are transparent, and yet they are created with a muscular craft that glows with alert intelligence. These poems contain deep loss and wonder, informed by the anxieties involved with a longing to unite with the soul of the beloved. Coburn writes ‘my flesh starved of paradise’ — this book is a record of his successful call to regain it.
— Robert Adamson
Robbie Coburn is the author of poetry collections Rain Season (2013) and The Other Flesh (2019). His work has been published in places such as Poetry, Meanjin, Island and Westerly. He is currently working on a new book of poems entitled Rodeo. Find more from Robbie at his website.