Bill Manhire

Two Poems

The Beautiful World


You cannot reach the beautiful world.
It is everywhere and nowhere.
It thinks we do not know, but we do.


Once I glimpsed it. My sister
opened the door and ran through.

She vanished among the trees beside the lake.
The rest of us returned to our tasks.

The place we lived was not the beautiful world.
The beautiful world is everywhere and nowhere.

You cannot reach it.


I remember when I was little
my father said to my mother:

Que tu es belle!

I did not know what he meant.
I sat on the floor and watched my mother.

Then I heard him say: Your eyes . . . tes yeux . . .

For a moment my mother looked alarmed.

My father, too, looked alarmed . . .
he had been hoping to make her smile.


A book.

It arrived in a parcel.
A man brought it on a bicycle.
He knocked at the door and blew a whistle.

I read that book a thousand times.
It knew about the beautiful world.
Each time was the very last time.


House with piano. You cannot reach it.

House with stairs.
House with naughty children.

House with The Tennessee Waltz.
House with several fires.
House smelling of shit and toothpaste.

House with windows.
House with a garden –
flowers and vegetables – things that swim in the earth.


When I grew older, I worked in a factory.
It was a cold new thing.

We made large lengths of metal
into tiny bits of metal.

The metal made an angry sound
each time you looked at it.

But you had to look at it.


It was not her lovely eyes.
I think it was her lovely hair.

It was not the trees.
It was somewhere beyond the trees.

It was not the window or the lake.
It was the lake seen from the window,

there for a moment each morning.


There was a park in that city
where we all assembled.
One edge was the edge of the woods.

A man ran out of the woods, shouting,
and into the city, shouting.

Then the gunfire and the rain began.


The beautiful world is sad . . .
so all the travellers say.

People there grow vegetables,
They smoke cheroots
and keep a goat.

Otherwise they do nothing.
All day they dream about their dreams.


So much cold came out of the earth,
we could not talk about it.

Was there some way to make it stop?

Branches laid on the earth,
bits of metal, planks, old blankets.

But the cold kept on rising.
We shivered and could not talk about it.

It was in the wings of angels
in the graveyard where we walked.

It rose around my sister’s empty bed.

It rose around my father, who seemed lost.

It rose around my mother, who was gone.


Two men kicked down the door.
They shouted, then they stood still.

This is interesting, said the shorter one.

I was alone in the house.

The other man said nothing.
He walked quickly away.


It does not want to be beautiful.
It wants to live in a house.

But it cannot live in a house.

It wants a family.

But it needs too many rooms.


Then where are the birds going?
Where is the helicopter going?
Where is the sky going, with all its clouds?

Over here! we call. Over here!


Where our sister has opened the door.

Where our father stands beside our mother.

Where the trees have gathered to admire the water.


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