Big Bridge #9

Poets of Australia


John Tranter


        after Max Jacob

As the mirror ball turns and sparkles, a rainbow
of opalescent light speaks code along the spine
of the calcified skeleton in the display case, colours
that light up the haze floating above the crowd of drunks.

On the fringe, a gang of five angry women
whose eyes flash at the thought of a missed meal,
who spot a new guest, sizing him up
game, for a duel, fit to be hated or adored

and pampered for a while, dissembled with, then
skewered on a phrase or is he perhaps
the fiery devil they were each waiting for
stretched out on the divans, meat on the grill?

In another room palm readers with degrees
in Boolean logic solve the Travelling Salesman Problem
or the 'maximal clique problem' over a drink, then
turn to the plentiful supply of delegates

who have brought briefcases choked with fright:
a childhood spent sweating in a cupboard,
an adolescence that was a long fainting fit,
a marriage touched with torture, a garden of shames -

these victims wait shaking in the lobby where the waiters
circle with trays of pale green glasses, hoping to find
a new life in the lines of their hands, and rise above it all.
I asked the fortune teller why I seemed to be here,

and got no useful answer, except for his sudden
and surprising avowal of passion, which in my case
according to the logical calculations seemed
an investment without hope of a tangible return.

John Tranter is a leading Australian poet. Twenty collections of his verse have been published, including The Floor of Heaven, a book-length sequence of four verse narratives (HarperCollins 1992 and Arc, UK, 2001), Different Hands, a collection of seven experimental prose pieces (Folio/Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1998), Heart Print (Salt Publishing, UK, 2000), Studio Moon and Trio (both Salt Publications, UK, 2003). His work appears in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry. In 1992 he edited (with Philip Mead) the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry. He has lived at various times in Melbourne, Singapore, Brisbane and London, and now lives in Sydney, where he is a company director. He is the editor of the free Internet magazine Jacket, at

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