My last doll is dead.

I made it with a porcelain face
and body
A petticoat, a pinafore
I was trying to play
by the rules, play

but the porcelain became flesh
The doll stood up on its little legs
flexed its newly-made hands
grabbed at my hem
Its clean blue eyes looked straight into mine

I made an enormous prayer for it and recited it to the sky
I held my hands still
averted my eyes
Every one of me

the watcher
in the cortex
pronounced the doll dead
It lay on its back
eyes no longer

Someone in the right hemisphere
tried dreams in lurid 3D
The doll in a locked basement
sitting in tears on a metal shelf
among cartons of yellowed papers

But truth
is truth. My last doll
is dead. If I ever make another
it will not be a doll but something real.
I will have no more dolls,
no more Frankenstein creations.

the doll is weirdly heavy
I lay it in a ten-inch plywood box
Nail down the lid

A place for everything …
Maybe I can put the dead doll box
in the bottom of the cupboard with my dress shoes

I might want to wear the shoes again
one day

Maybe I can bury the dead doll box
in the garden

I want to sit there
see things grow

Maybe I can take the dead doll box
deep into the smoothpale tallness
of the wandoo forest east of the city
Dig its grave alone and weeping
among granite outcrops
and prickly dryandra

The ground there is hard

Maybe I can burn
the box, the body

To generate enough heat
I’d have to pile up all my books
my laptop my albums my guitar
sweet-and-sour power chords
skin-and-sweat backbeats
The sounds and all the words
all the worlds and certainly my dress shoes
My whole goddamn wardrobe
Douse it with petrol and
torch it

I’d glide away airy and lucent
like the music of Mozart or Haydn
The music of the Enlightenment
Of thinking
you have
the answer

Glide away lucent, a cellophane sheet
ready to be blown by the next breeze
wrap around the next gift

I would still be this bone and meat
these earthbound feet

I would find the box charred in the ashes
the doll intact
the dead eyes still blue …

Neither earth nor fire will do. I must
unbox the doll
sling it on my back
and walk
Leave the city, its little forest
Venture off the hem of the map
Discover the river coiled in the cleft
of the valley at the root of heaven and earth
Wake the grandmother who sleeps there

She will bathe the dead doll in the water
invite the winds to toss its hair
++++(like this like this)
carry its weight up a mountain (like this)
leave it exposed to be stripped by carrion birds
++++(like this like this)
and let its bones rest heavy
++++(come birds)
for as long as memory

From A coat of ashes


If I handwashed my clothes every day
I could meditate on the process.
Attain enlightenment while massaging
the fabric or something. I could have two

robes and wash one while wearing the other
or something. Perhaps there are different
enlightenments. Surely the laundry sink
one can’t be the same as the

sunlit mountaintop one where
you see all creation unedited?

And then there’s the Headless Way
one, which I did experience. You do
the pointing experiment, looking for
yourself as a thing. But you find,

instead, Nothing. You’re a naked aware
singularity — an infinite container.
It’s all here, you say. I am. Also,
I am Love. I shared

the link on Facebook and wrote
Katsu!  No-one Liked it.

From A coat of ashes

Katsu!  is a shout used by Chan and Zen practitioners to acknowledge or induce enlightenment.

A coat of ashes

I fell into conversation with an ash-smeared and completely naked sadhu …
— William Dalrymple

If I leave I will not order boxes
There will be no packaging tape
++++no moving men
++++no truck
I will take none of it

A blanket, a water bottle
A coat of ashes
A poem attributed
++++to the wrong author
A corrupt index
A broken database
A partial catalogue of songs
A blanket, a water bottle
A coat of ashes
A sky, a sun, a system
++++of monosyllables
The pure tone
++++of each electron
The pure functions
The math inside the atom
The muscles connecting
++++the trunk to the legs
The tendons connecting
++++the moon to the earth
The ligaments connecting
++++the brain to the bones
A blanket,
A coat of ashes

From my book A coat of ashes

The epigraph is from Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, by William Dalrymple, Bloomsbury 2010, pp. x-xi.

I cut my hair short

I take to the local
People Who Care
the slow cooker
the food processor
two boxes of unsewn fabric
seven boxes of magazines
the handmade drum
and the second

I sell the freezer
and the electric
turn out
of their pots
the seed-heavy herbs
quit trying to compost
and give away the bin

I dream my hair has grown long again
In the mirror I’m horrified