The dream of knowing

A behind-the-scenes tour stirs memories of childhood visits to the Museum for poet Peter Minter.

Peter Minter was one of five poets to present their work at Biodiversity and the Arts, a Sydney Consortium event held at the Museum in September 2010. This is his poem Science / Con-science, inspired by a behind-the-scenes tour.

Science / Con-science

 ‘…there exists an allegiance between the dead and the unborn of which we the living are merely the ligature.’
ROBERT POGUE HARRISON
The Dominion of the Dead

Back when I was young
at the back of whatever memories
numbered memories rubbling in drawers

The main thing back then
was a considerable afterthought,
a cabaret softlier in the blue velvet like wings
pinned in the middle, my memory
a fold in the crumbling flaw

Silence
is like science, as if they could be anything;
poetry is con-science, conscience, the dream of knowing
felt against knowing

As if embarrassed by my clumsiness
I remember how it was
when I was young, my favourite T-shirt
a purple hippo
boiling at the back of the bus like a joke

Epistemology descends
like dinosaurs descend into carbon,
Van Dyke glass eyes
looking forward to aesthetic past-times,
Gone With The Wind
another bathetic vanishing point
like boiling the head of a pygmy hippo

The cunning youthful warrior
chaperoning bitter fathoms from the sea
is so adroit, an echo of a distant tide
rolling through a canopy of rock,
a fine green fissure seeping wet darkness
pressed out as we watch

A state of nature is stated always as
the state’s nature,
mutually effable adults
dressed for work
in pale green forensics jumpsuits

All I can feel is the memory
of when we were younger, all of us
back in the day
like monarchs of the clouds
above the marksman’s range

I ride along the marksman’s carriage
rows of trees, poplars hung in heaps of earth
smouldering by the ruined factory
and its fantastic vaults,
the black crow’s unthinkable attributes
peering from ossified beams

Then I remember the albatross
excellent wanderer, exile of solace
our chaperone amongst shoals of plastic ice
jostling on galvo ledges,
every known bird
sealed in a polyethylene eyrie,
birds of a feather stuffed together

Never kill an albatross
especially the one that kills itself
by flying into ‘An Elm Tree in Paddington’,
the poem shredded by a keratin spear
solar wind sharpened daily
on sonnets blackened by chimney louts

An albatross that has never killed itself
is still living in my arms,
my arms a round of Antarctic sea
howling a gale of coho frost
through a vault of crystallised gold, milky jade

With Marco Polo I stand in furs
at the edge of the world, starlight flickering
fluorescent from our brows

Later, immersed in the sleep research facility
dead weather machine
I find the albatross I never killed
lying in deep frieze,
a fold-out map booklet
leading the way to a spinifex maze
secreting the last Paradise Parrot
& the last Thylacine

At the centre of the maze
I lie on my back on a platypus rug
thousands of mudcrabs scattering clouds;
perhaps a poem is a fold-out
map booklet, Epistemology
looking forward to aesthetic past-times,
gregarious and solitary

Overhead the albatross hangs motionless upon the air
and deep beneath the rolling waves
the echo of a distant edit
hoots and jeers,
a pair of unshipped oars

Behind the scenes
I think I remember that final morphology,
my finger tracing tenderly the bone
turning in the amber light.

Peter Minter


Brendan Atkins , Publications Coordinator
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