Robert Clarke was born in Darjeeling, India, in 1911, and as a boy moved to South Australia where he spent the rest of his life. Robert had a long involvement with Friendly Street, co-editing the No. 8 Friendly Street Poetry Reader, and having poems included in 18 Friendly Street Readers. He wrote 5 books of poems: The Dogman and other Poem, Segments of the Bowl, Thrusting into Darkness (1978), Walking to Bethongabel (1986) and Equanimity (1996). He edited A Window at Night by Max Harris, co-edited Verse in Australia 1958 – 1961 and was anthologised in Tuesday Night Live (1993)
“Like the Eastern Void, the ‘physical vacuum’ – as it is called in field theory – is not a state of mere nothingness, but contains the potentiality for all forms of the particle world. All particles are dynamically composed of one another in a self-contained way, and in that sense can be said to ‘contain’ one another.”
(Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics)
“The field is the only reality”
I am the thrush’s wings that press the air
to solid ground to bear me on. The thrush’s
song comes from my throat that cannot sing in tune.
The day delights me as a rose and night
relates me to the Void. Smudges of neb-
ulae on black, repeated in my flesh,
are circling systems filled with space that form
this tactile world to fool me it is real.
All things that move or do not move are in
this cosmic dance with me who cannot dance.
I am their breath and theirs is mine, and through
this wholeness I am born again though old.
And when this flesh comes to its death I shall
revert, divested of this ego, to the field.
From Friendly Street No. 6
Stranger In The Mallee
No, it was not the foreign blood so much
nor even that he wasn’t white.
There may not be an aboriginal in
the district, but there’s nothing wrong with black
or brown skin, if the occupant behaves –
but his was blue! Who’d ever heard of blue?
Nor even his freeness with the girls – the giggles
from the parked cars he didn’t own, the girl
no more than guessed at – after all, we are
an up to date community we hope –
and though Tom Forrest’s youngest said he was
the father of her baby, no one listened
much to that, the child was white, and all
the women, grandmas to teenage, loved him, and not
a man but knew the dangers of such talk.
No, it was what he said and did, or didn’t do,
the tricks and yarns – yes, lies – that made the farmers
and their wives so jumpy and confused.
It seemed a shame, for when he turned up first
every one liked him. Young and so good looking
he was polite and gentle, educated too,
spoke beautifully and knew the ways of whites.
No wonder the cow-eyed girls drooled over him.
Men even liked to have him around – strange, but
when he was there you had a sense of peace,
of being young and everything seemed good.
He had a way with animals, too. Wild horses
would stand for him, birds found his shoulder, even
the lizards gathered round, and once a snake.
The children worshipped him – a bonanza he was
for them, with his tricks and happy ways.
He liked to laugh, and did, and that was fine,
except his laughter seemed to flourish on
our worries – prices, costs and fears of socialism.
But tricks and lies can be too much. He’d been
with Gurkhas in the fighting at Gallipoli,
and he not more than twenty two or so!
His claim of having lifted up a mountain!
He never seemed to come or go, he just
was there, or not, and no one saw him travel.
Tom found him playing a flute behind a clump
of mallee, when Tom looks again, he’s gone.
It makes a man feel more than silly, it’s
downright unnerving. He did it to others, too.
Soon he was not invited as before,
nor welcome, though he frequently was there.
A coolness came, some used rough words, and threats.
He often stood alone, but not offended.
Then it began to dawn – he’d not been seen for weeks.
And never has been seen again.
Outward expressions of general satisfaction,
but inwardly a something gone, a loss
of what it’s hard to say. Perhaps he’d been
a mascot with his foreign cultured ways.
For all his tricks I liked him to the end.
He made me feel life’s more than work and worry.
He saw us at our best – the seasons had
been good while he was here, with heavy crops,
the wool clip never better, ewes lambed well,
the women too, the bits of mallee even
had more flowers than leaves: but prices terrible.
Prices are good now, but the land seems sour
and barren, nothing thrives, not even mallee.
He left no mark – just memories turning to legend –
except, perhaps, two things; the women married
now who were girls when he was here have dreamy
looks at times their mothers never had,
and no one seems to reach them then, least
of all their men. Then Forrest’s girl is gently
off her rocker, says the child is god,
the she’s a gopi, whatever that may be,
instead of milking sits all day repeating
Krishna, Krishna, until old Tom, who has
his worries, as we all do on the land,
keeps to the sheds to save himself from dropping
off his rocker too.
From The Friendly Street Poetry Reader
Knockabout Roughneck Things
How sweet the delicate dancing of
a waffling thistle down,
but I love, too, the broad blunt blade
of the knockabout roughneck sun.
So now I celebrate a frolic
of primitive intuitions,
the joy I have in grotty things
that worn-out prohibitions
exclude from verse: solidity
of unpersuadable fact
tough with the poetry of rocks
that will not give or crack:
the feculence of flesh, pared finger
nails like slips of moon:
exquisite ecstasy of de-
fecation that comes soon:
healthy stink that slams the brain
with startling bludgeon blows:
brief pain from which no threat of damage
or dissolution flows:
the squelch of finger paint, of mud
that slips between the toes:
the banging of a bell, or rhyme,
a sensitive hearing knows:
the sensuousness of anything
unpleasant that quickly goes.
These are the unsung joys of living.
Earth is not squeamish in her giving.
From Friendly Street No. 10