I have even among us the virus
Eating its way, lipping, complaining
In a multitude of cozening wheedling voices:
O Being is tender and succulent and porous:
Erect your four paternal walls of stone
(Gauleiten with burnished window-badges, no faces):
Checkmate the sun, the cloud, the burning, the raining,
Let deferential stars peep in one by one:
Sit, feed, sleep, have done.
Isolate the Identity, clasp its dwindling head.
Your birth was again the birth of the All,
The Enemy: he treads roads, lumbers through pastures,
Musters the squeaking horde of the countless dead.
To guard your spark borrow the jungle art
Of this hospital yard, stamp calico vestures
For H.M. Government, for your funeral;
And in this moment of beads let nothing start
Old rages leaping in the dying heart.
So we become daily more non-committal:
This small grey mendicant man must lean
Against his block of wall, old eyes rehearsing time
Whose hanged face he is. I take my fatal vital
Steps to the meal, the toilet, in worse than derision
Of his pipe craving a fill, of his monologue and rhyme:
Children who loved him, Bathurst, Orange, of green
Neighbourlinesses, of the silken and stony vision:
His faith-healing, his compassion.
But some little while ago it was all appalling.
He knew my footstep, even the pipe
Between blackened teeth hissed in its comeliness
As an exotic snake poising itself for the falling
Of heart’s-blood, tobacco; an ancient iron of unrest
Melted before his hopeful word of address.
Christ, how I meIted! for healing and faith were ripe
As Bathurst opening the gigantic West
Or Orange golden as the breast.
Francis Webb (1925 – 1973) was an Australian poet, widely regarded by his contemporaries as one of the most gifted poets of his generation.