Friday, April 24, 2020

Tug Dumbly - Morning Thoughts of a Sentimental Sociopath

Morning Thoughts of a Sentimental Sociopath

When did you last sleep
without your phone, 
in its viral halo?

You wake from a dream
of a greasy old steam engine
named the Orson Welles.
A cheerful dirty faced
woman engineer
pulls you aboard.

What can it all mean?
Everything and nothing.  

Your acts of Microheroism 
have earned a badge -
loving puppies and flowers,
not stepping on ants,
as selflessly brave  
as saving a kid from a shark.

But then you go and razz it all
by cutting a stranger on the street,
for the arrogant cock of the cunt’s head.

Where’s the consistency?
So much petty you can’t rise above.
What’s a psychopathic saint to do?

Pull prayer beads from the arse
like ben wa balls?

Sing a song of pity?:
‘I don’t wish to suffer
so I suffer proper and good
just turn and turn like a threaded screw
in a rotten piece of wood’.

You medicate on melancholy,
sauce yourself in black bile.
Fuck this rancid menu.

The sun’s a fried egg to be
spatulaed onto the plate of the day.
Just have some breakfast, son.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Tug Dumbly - Still Life

Still Life

The straightaway sad      
of a just vacated room   

the meekly crook’d neck
of the desk lamp, absolving

the collapsed grey veins        
of the carpet

the tired rape of the curtain     
ripped back over again

Mongol face of the power socket
starving to receive

light switch grimed 
with the history of a sticky fingered 

race to be leaving the scene  
with the burgled goods 

of last nights, last rites. Just a swag
of textured emptiness dumped behind.

They praise a good entrance.
A good exit is not so easily designed 

so say the little floating bananas
of motes, knifed in a sunlit slit

falling to communion,
a glutenless eucharist      

a patina of departure
in which to trace yourself at last   

this was my body, this my blood
offering up a plate of dust.

Tug Dumbly - How Many the Dead?

How Many the Dead?

Quantify them, like numbers matter.
The more pneumatic the better.
Or the worse.
Or at least the more impressively bankable.    
Think big and give the sad whistle 
a death camp train: six million!   

Numbers matter. Until they don’t.
Lear’s bitch daughters to the king:
what need you 100 knights?
what need you 50?
What need 25?
What 1?

Armenia, Nanking, still whoppers.     
Though Dresden’s quarter million
has simmered down to 25,000.
Does it cool the enormity?

Who’s telling the story here?
Whose interests served?
Police estimates of demonstration numbers
versus protester figures. Such disparity.

Xerxes Persian army half a million!
But beware of Greeks bearing grifts.
We wishful thinkers, we liars to a cause.
How many saw your band / exhibition / play …?
Yeah, right! 

How many in the blitzed town?
How many taken by the wave?
(‘no Australians are believed hurt …’).

Body counts read like pedometers.
Mall shooters try and outskeet each other
in competitive massacres, atrocity tallies,
crack new records in school / office / disco turkey spree.

How many gone in the Roman arena, in Pompeii?
The lotto winning corpse counts of Stalin and Mao?
These tallies, these trembling figures,                        
these rubbery dead. It matters 
until it stops mattering.  
After the first few dozen you scoop them out  
like slurry, weigh them by the pound. 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Tug Dumbly - Without Mystery

Without mystery the heart a husk

a piece of dull percussion
rattling with dried peas
metronomically beating a span
of desert sureties. 

A land lies beyond
sunk in undiscovery,
pristine, virginal, primordial,
a continent containing a flower, 
a plant, an animal, a lifeform,
to set an elkhorn
sprouting from the heart.     

Imagine it enough
to know that somewhere lies
a beauty unprized  
that we can never touch. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Reasons to Quit # 117 - Tug Dumbly

Reasons to Quit # 117

Take drugs and go to a cemetery.  
Who hasn’t seen Easy Rider?  

Fresh waves of Goth fledgers
night picnic on the grave
of another harbour drowner.    
An ice pipe by the light
of the silvery goon.
Tag a headstone, kick a cross,
pull the wings off angels.
All those quaint old rituals.

Kids these days …

In my millennium it was simple:
booze, pot, acid and speed.
Know your limits. Apart from that time
I crowned a New York triumph 
with a return to town
straight into the arms
of Grievous Bodily Harm,
Oxblood amphetamine
and a litre of off-duty Smirnoff.

It put the grin on, then wiped it off.

They could have dropped me
         from the plane straight
                 into the cemetery
                     over Newtown.

I taxied home
and woke the Sunday corpses
of my house with demands that
we instantly feast my return from Troy.

I wear the wounds still
from that psychotic picnic
bounding about the boneyard.
Though the memory’s just a sunlit gash 
of playing Lizard King reanimator,
bescreeching the dead,
rutting on slabs, getting impaled
on a rusty grave railing
but neither knowing nor feeling the spear
in my side till coming to in a bloody sheet
in Holt Street, like Christ three days dead
in the tomb
                 waking to piece together
the blackout
                 of his crucifixion party.

Ah, the hijinx of youth.
I think I was forty.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Canis Minor - Tug Dumbly

Canis Minor

Comes the phonecall
in the dead of night
that can mean only limited things –
wrong number, prank
another country
or death.

The phone it rings.

Death don’t wipe no muddy shoes.
Kicks in the door
spits on the floor
shoves to the front of the queue.

Someday the call will come
to break you harder
than any other.

And who will make the call?

This call wasn’t caught in time
as I tumbled from bed
with a headful of fog.

But when the news came later,
recalling the call, I knew
it must have been the dog.

Beanbag - Tug Dumbly


She said 'my heart’s a beanbag
people crash into for a while
before getting up, rested
in the cosy dent they leave behind.
But you’, she said, ‘you I like.
You’ll never fully disappoint me.
You’re like something good
that constantly fails to arrive'.

All Greek to Me - Tug Dumbly

All Greek to Me

The unbearable sadness
of a novelty singing fish.
The wasted life in a rusted wok.
The surrendered hope                
in a dumped exercise bike.    
The cry in the cracked slime
of a kid’s clam shell pool. 
All that broken, copulating
shopping trolly army.
And this just the start.
There’s more, so much more
of this gentle grating raw
that Sophocles never saw,  
because there was no Aegean K-Mart.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Tug Dumbly - Dedicated


I’m an inscription reader. I can’t pass a plaque on a bench without stopping to read it. Or on a bubbler, or on a tree. Any plaque will do. That torch out there? That’s me, brailing the dedication on the BBQ in the darkening park. Any park, in any country town, while the rest of you, let’s say, warmly chow down on heritage sweet’n’sour at Lee Fongs, third best Chine-Stralian joint in the place, and surely worth a plaque in its own ancient right.  

Go on, off you all pop to Target to get the kid some roller shoes, or whatever. I’ll busy myself climbing the cannon, or inspecting the Bofors gun in the RSL rose garden, or reading the Boer War memorial, or scanning the cenotaph, looking at whole male lines wiped clean – ‘Johnson’+, ‘McClean’+ … father, brother, uncle, son, all crossed off the roll, Dead Without Leave.

My eye scrolls to ‘F’. I’ve never once, anywhere, in the whole country, found my family name etched on a war memorial. Brings a lump of porridge to the throat to think what a courageless breed we are. Or principled. Or smart. Take your pick – skin-saving guttos, or peaceniks before our time?

I read inscriptions of any kind – old trophies, school honour rolls … and don’t take me to the cemetery. Not unless you can outbore the dead. I soak in every crumbling stone, cram my melancholy craw with every name, date and maudlin quote. The more pathetic the better. Child graves get me most, and the drowned, and the consumptive young, they’re a deadset onion to the eye.

Or we can go to the gallery if you like. But set aside a week, because I’m that plaque-reading freak who’ll pore over every single spidery note, on paint style, brush stroke and plein air technique. The Louvre, lover? Do you really want to go there? Coz you know they’ll find my corpse centuries hence, walled up, like a Poe tale, down in the catacombs rating Rodin with the rats. 

Look, this is a lovely picnic … but before the sack race, do you mind if I just duck off and see the breed of that tree, and which dusty mayor planted it in 1903? I need to know which whiskered alderman opened that bandstand, like a tuna can, and how long ago, and imagine who was there, and how, and why. Yes, I need to picture the crowd, those bonced-up ladies with parasols, those gentlemen baking like potatoes in the heat, hearing the speech of some rummy-red walrus of Empire, dedicating this or that Arcadian drinking fountain, donated by some mummy-collecting Victorian fop …

I think I read these signs to take a tiny pulse, feel History’s breathe.      

I no longer hold my breath about other people. I’ve quit caring how blind most people are to public stuff. The depth of their incuriosity has ceased confusing me. I’m blind to plenty of things they like, so fair enough. I’m trying to quit the missionising aim in general. Still, when I’m gone I wouldn’t mind a mention on a bench, have my name shat on by the odd gull, my plaque gently buffed by the cardiganed backs of codgers, who might once in a while say ‘him?’ What’d he ever do to cop a plaque? What did he make? Who did he save? …’

‘ … Now dentists, they should get plaques, eh Charlie? … Charlie? …’
‘Huh? Wos that?’
‘Ah, shut up and watch the waves.’

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Tug Dumbly - Great Expectorations

Great Expectorations

I catch bits of sport in passing, like a virus, on screens in medical centre waiting rooms, or maybe while queuing to pay for petrol. And what I notice, from just that small exposure, is a blizzard of spitting – of hoiking, hacking and gobbing. There are flecks flying everywhere. It’s like downtown Beijing, where spitting’s a big thing and you have to do the dance of the pavement oyster.

I did voluntarily watch half of the last rugby league Grand Final, partly for anthropological research, and partly to try and fool my nephew and brother-in-law into thinking I’m a man of the people. And in that forty minutes I saw enough phlegm to fill a skip. The field was treacherous with foamy little patches of footballer mucus, like it had just been crossed by a crab army.

I got to wondering if spitting was a tactic encouraged by coaches to slipup the opposition. Then I got into it, and started admiring the style of the spits and the flair with which they were delivered, which I found more interesting than the match. These spits were no clumsy scatter-gun sprays, but tightly controlled missiles, shot with an insouciance that was thrilling.

Spitting is generally not something you want that nice old lady on the street to see. For most public spitters there’s a degree of shameful concealment involved. But stick cameras and a television audience of millions into the mix and the picture changes. These majestic shaved apes were like garden sprinklers. Their spits were a touretteish part of some fluid physical continuum.

The camera would focus on a sweaty Cro Magnon head, its brow furrowed in concentration on the next crunch of bone, when phwit! it would eject another tight little wad, with the velocity and accuracy of a beautiful torpedo pass. It was all just so flowing and natural, unthinking as blinking, or opening a twist top with your foreskin before adding GBH to your date’s drink.

Most of us mere mortals can manage to swallow our spit. It’s already been in our mouth, after all. But maybe in sport, spitting’s a performative tough guy thing; a kind of animal kingdom survival mechanism, like the warning of a blown up puffer fish, or a jackal raising its hackles: ‘don’t fuck with me, eh bro’.

I’ve entered the age of the medical checkup, and have recently twice been to a medical centre for different glitches. The first time was to get my eyes properly tested. My gummy vision was still good enough to see the game on the waiting room screen. It was American baseball – just the thing, I thought, to entertain three legally blind Aussie pensioners and a sports phobic poet.

There was a lull in play, and the camera was focussing on some jock who was waiting to bat (think Tom Selleck, in Magnum P.I.). The commentators rattled off his stats and stud pedigree. I didn’t catch his name, but let’s call him Brick Whittler, of, say, the Amarillo Nutsacks. Brick was chewing gum like a bastard, but between every few chews – phwit! – he’d shoot a little gobbet of spit, like a sharply bunted baseball.

Chew chew chew – phwit! – chew chew chew – phwit! … Seamus Heaney couldn’t compete, and I had to put down my book of the master’s poems to watch. Brick had my full attention for the style and volume of his output. Patting your head and rubbing your tummy simultaneously had nothing on Brick’s cool mechanism: chew chew chew – phwit! …

It was the casual skill of Brick’s spitting which got me. It was well executed yet seemed so gloriously automatic, like he wasn’t even aware that he was doing it. I wished the commentators would stop faffing about Brick’s batting average and get down to dissecting his sputum trajectory, and all the honing that lay behind his seemingly throwaway style. This was spitting as iceberg principle. You only see the ten percent, not all the serious business supporting it.

I could only shamefully compare my own small spitting history with the elan of Brick’s beautiful game. I thought of the times I’d attempted a cool spit and misfired, to end up with a string of slag spider-webbed from my chin to a big oyster on my T-shirt. An embarrassing thing, especially on a first date at Bilsons.

A few weeks later I was back at the same medical centre. This time it was to get an MRI on a suspected frozen shoulder. I didn’t even bother taking Seamus Heaney from my bag, as my attention went straight to the waiting room screen. Today it was European football, or what I gormlessly called ‘soccer’ as a kid. (How quaint!) It was Utrecht versus Brussels, and I didn’t have long to wait before the glorious shower began.

While the Belgians put the phlegm in Flemish, it was the Utrecht striker Dirk Slotboom who rained supreme, with three exquisite on camera gobs, and lord knows how many off. He was almost matched by the Utrecht goalie Whim Landers who, during an injury time out, was shown nailing the goal mouth with a couple of beautiful white darts. I was annoyed when they called me in for my MRI. I could tell that Slotboom was working up a goodie.

I suppose spitting is a context thing. Bikinis and budgie smugglers don’t raise a brow at the beach, but a few blocks back from it they can start to look weird. Just so with major sports spitting. Even so, I wonder if spitting mightn’t extend to other sporting realms. Women’s netball, for instance. Or basketball, where spit could add some real frission to that polished wooden floor.

Or Wimbleton. Wouldn't it be a thrill to see Venus Williams hoik one up on court before the Queen? Or our dear Ash Barty cuss a flunked volley with a good hack. I know a bit of spitting could only pep up a game of chess between a couple of grand wizards. Checkmate … ah, hoik-tung!

Or extend spitting into other realms of public life. Parliament would be a buzz with Tanya Plibersek setting sail a golly across the chamber into the government benches. Perhaps spitting mightn’t be a good look for a kindy teacher. But can you doubt that a bit of a spit might have beautifully punctuated Seamus Heaney's poetry readings?

Sunday, February 9, 2020

the last word

the last word

Tug Dumbly - Containment Lines

Containment Lines

It's the grace and nobility of the man that get me, as he speaks of his three children just killed by a drunk. Though these aren't quite the right words. And although he has strength, it isn’t the lip-bitten stoicism of a bloke trying not to cave in on camera and spill himself in a salt flood. He has more, this man, some astounding epicentre of acceptance. He speaks of something irretrievable, but with this air of calm beyond ruin, like an old farm couple standing before the smoking remnants of their home, saying they’ll start again, and at least they still have each other, hey?

Houses and land regrow. But this man and his wife, standing before a crashed wire fence shrined with flowers and teddies, vined with rosaries, cards and photos, have less than a blackened paddock.

How does he do it?

Please don’t show him, I think. Don’t interview him on the news ... But he is mesmerising, with none of the scripted signs of suffering, none of the breast-beating grief to which he is entitled. This is something else. He smiles, yes actually smiles, as he gives a fingernail sketch of each gone child, perfect eulogies in a couple of lines. It’s the simplicity and beauty he says it with that catch your throat. But mostly it’s love. All this brokenness below, but the love and pride with which this young Lebanese-Australian dad speaks of his kids overrides it. It’s like he’s smiling at them on a school speech day, and contains them like a rainbow.

Actually, it’s mind blowing.

How is he doing it, how speaking, how breathing? But there is no bitterness visible for the drunk man who has done this to him, whose car left the road and ploughed through his life. That man is not part of this. There is something more pressing and powerful on the father’s mind, an ocean of loss to be shored by love.

Somewhere, the man who did this got up that day not knowing he was going to destroy lives, including his own. Somewhere the man drank and somewhere, three times over, decided to drive. And somewhere his decision met the decision of the father who somewhere told his three children and their cousin that they could somewhere go for a walk, as long as they stayed together. He said he wanted them to enjoy some responsibility, some independence and freedom. Just as long as you stay together, he said.

If death’s a dartboard, hit and miss, then that driver pricked the bullseye, which scored himself along with those children, and all their families, their parents, their brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents … and on. The circles radiate, pebbles on a pond, lapping out to friends and neighbours, teachers, coaches, shopkeepers, doctors, police and all the emergency people, and all the funeral people ... up into the hundreds ... and still the circles ride out, in concentric waves, to the people marking names absent from school rolls, and to the people making little clerical deletions from government screens, and out beyond to all the anonymous reaches and farther suburbs of people like me …

And we're now in the many thousands as the little sum of one driver, three times over, four children, continues to multiply in a masterpiece of fractal efficiency, into what won’t be contained and radiates out to a huge arena which still grows, to fit all those people who heard the news, and who maybe also saw the man interviewed and who wonder, like me, how does he do it? I wish he could teach me what he knows.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Tug Dumbly - Stone


Can’t leave a rock unfisted,        
a stone alone, but must  
Gutenberg press it to skin,                       
Cuneiform its text to palm      

of clay, weigh the cooled
magma tongue of a pebble
in wallet of flesh, wombed
like a coin in a vending slot

snailed to forefinger,
sprung to sinew
of the wrist’s slingshot,   
a siege engine drawn

like Russell Crowe full cocked:
‘at my signal, unleash hell …’
Go on, have a fling,
show us what you got -

the kinetic cleanse
of a raw chucked rock,
jemmying a rainbow,
pinchin’ gravity like a fat

child’s cheek, to crack a gum,
bounce from a pond,
be gulped like a frog
in the gob of a creek.   

There’s not always grace
but can be spectacle
to the Neolithic Games,
as two bushboys lob

sandstone clods from a cliff
into a Tom Roberts afternoon.             
Bailed Up
             they sail
                         the ravine
with the poxy aim
of a Berlin bombardier      
payload floating  
to the rock bed below

and oh the rapture as those   
golden chunks of honeycomb
explode in a violent crumble
of a most sweetly satisfying nature.   

Saturday, January 11, 2020


(apply liberally)

in the afterlife
there’s only Tug

didn’t notice the party was over 
that the rest of us were sleeping it off

here comes the dreamer
home to tell the forgetting

which is always where we are 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Tug Dumbly - Stick

I cop a nervous eye swinging
a stick down Glebe Point Road.
No menace meant, ma’am.
I can’t pass a nice limb
without fondling its physics.
Some sprite in the wood
invites me to pendulum thinking,
to pivot the wrist and dowse the blood
like a diviner
                    walk, swing, cane the thing
sweet whackulator
animating some balancing act
in my nature
nail that texture,
tongue with a thumb
that stubbled rough,
braille a bud, finger a groove,
get tactile as Barry White
with that Stick & Stickability
scab bark from its knee,
prawn shell it back
to clean white flesh,
to silken caress of a joint
duck-arse Tally-Hoed
or string it like a green bean,
strip a vein from a limb
down to callow bone.
No don’t be alarmed ma’am,
it’s just the thrill of the whittler
whipping a willow,
swooshing a gum club,
striping the arse of impertinent air
with a bamboo rattan.
I’m just mucking here,
golfing a coke can,
stabbing a chip wrapper
with the sticky beak
of my oyster catcher,
xylophoning a fence
in a small unlicensed show
of urban exuberance.
… unless it’s Bush we go
then Whoosh! sword bracken,
brokeback weed,
breaking bad a path through
that bleeding green fecundity
like Sinatra swinging hard
through the jungle with a
sharp tongued Lantana Turner.
And then when done
fling that stick
like it longs to be flung,
with the centrifugal begging of a dog,
end over end, ape-thrown bone,
ass-jaw boomerang.
Kiss my primal arse
with your sheeny cane
and Joycey ashplant, with your
prissied, bevelled mansmoothed bat.
Get me to grips with a good stick, with
where it all began.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Tug Dumbly - Popular Mechanics

Popular Mechanics
A calendar of grease monkeys
cheesecaked over bonnets,
popped and glistening
as hot oily nuts,
all sultry with jacks
and pouty with spanners,
in banana-peeled overalls
and virile bandanas, dirty rags
blooming from big easy pockets.
Here’s Manuel, Mr March,
at the hood of your hatch,
dark souling your manifold.
October is Mario, wheaten mane
of a lion, dripping gold
to tease your timing chain;
November’s Juan whistles
his eye along a dipstick,
a matador primed to sword a bull,
and no question Pablo, Mr May,
will drain your sump to the dregs
and refill you real full.
I like Gordon, Mr June,
a man for the cooler months,
overalled in green, a string bean
relic of the BP Empire,
furrowed head balder
than your flat spare tyre;
concave chest over speed-hump pot
and chicaning vertebrae
clapped close to the grind.
He Charles Bronson squints
from a face hard won
as your duco’s baked-birdshit enamel;
the keroed smuts
splintered deep in his thumb
say he won't steer you wrong
or sweet-talk frilly extras;
He’s in the game for love,
not glamour.
Whenever he resurrects your car
from the dead it’s like he sucks
its wounds into his own battered
body, like a shock-absorbing Christ.
He’s no Mustang, like Mr December,
but he’s a steady finisher,
and as he brushes a fly from his
cooling tea and peels a pink slip
for your bomby Corolla, you know
your nipples have been greased.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Gillian Swain. Collective notes, Last Hurrah #68

Collective notes, last hurrah
Gillian Swain

When the moment sits with the circle
things come to completion
the story turns
voice arcs
becomes distilled
note by note

and the voices are stanzas
all alone and slip across
the curl holds
and in the centre
the poem

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

‘How good’s the cricket?’
--- With apologies to T.S. Eliot (1888–1965).  The Waste Land.  1922.

Summer is the saddest time, cracking

Gums fall on scorched land, yielding

Despair and outrage, starving

Koalas beg riders for water.

September gave us hope, covering
Earth in surprising snow, feeding

A soil with little life precious water.

Drought overwhelmed us, coming in from the distant outback

For showers of rain; they prayed in vain uncertainty,

And went on in sunlight, around the Circular Quay
And drank beer, and texted for hours.

And when we were children, staying with the great aunts,

My husband’s, they took him out to a shed,

And he was not frightened. She said, Mark,
Mark, hold on to the barrel, and fire

In the mountains, here we feel free.

We read, much of the night, but go east in the summer.

What are the roots that clutch, what buds shoot

Out of this black grief? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken promises, where the sun beats,

And the charred trees give no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry beds plead for water. Only

There is shadow around the red rock,
(Note this is the Rainbow Serpent's shadow),

And I will show you something tragic from either

Your shadow at morning obliterated by smoke

Or your shadow at evening rising like fireworks;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.