Thylazine: The Australian Journal of Arts, Ethics & Literature                                                                                                                                    #2/thyla2k-jh

The Poetry of Jennifer Harrison
Selected by Coral Hull

[Above] Photo of Jennifer Harrison by Bruce Day, 1997.

I St George's Basin Cunjevoi I Sea Tulips I Three Structures I Dunes I The Shark I

St George's Basin

In sea-grey cells, memory stirs, flows back
across a sandy ti-tree shore.
The black-rimmed eye of the gull is orange
round, but harder than the sun.

A whiting school darts beneath oars
like a sudden diversion of thought
flashing silver. Midway to nowhere
what business could be so urgent?

I glide through shifting weeds
my canoe ebbing to the sea.
Rain spills a jar of purple beads.
Cloud-scowl fills rock-pools with a lid.

Somewhere in memory a woman swims
in a boned hibiscus suit.
An old man hums
blue, colour opal, water-dipped.

Published in Michelangelo's Prisoners (Black Pepper, 1995)


I want less frailty
nature knows what I mean

like people, the creatures of the sea
have proper names and nicknames:

ascidians, sea-squirts, chordates

the backboneless primitives
cluster along Cudmirrah's shoulders

each has a rudimentary brain
an eye-spot, a mouth and an anus

each can breathe and feel
the foot which presses the sea from their bellies

their generic name, Tunicata, recalls
the shapeless garment Aristotle described

they are tough, these porridges
they survive the battering of time

they have filtered centuries of sediment
through orifices of abbe-like calm

attached as adults to rocks
(as children for a few hours free)

they drink the sea through a thousand gill-slits
and wash up after storms as tulips.

Published in Cabramatta/Cudmirah (Black Pepper, 1996)

Sea Tulips

Sea Tulips actually look like potatoes
small unpeeled earthy potatoes
under the wharf
or clumped along the rocks
at low-tide.

Hermit crabs are not lonely
nor fiddler crabs musical

The snapping prawn
won't hurt a fly
and the elephant snail is tiny.

Alzheimer's disease
does not correctly name
torn from visceral moss.

We place so much
in the hands of strangers
so as not to be confused with razor shells
or sentiments.

Published in Cabramatta/Cudmirah (Black Pepper, 1996)

Three Structures

Formlessness I will divide.
From decay will be growth.

Climate will fit the design.
I will not fall between the boats.

Here is the text
the oceanographer's map:

behind are the mind's
suspicious zones

ahead the ocean's
three-layered structure

1. the surface 2. the pycnocline
and 3. the dark isolate mass

below each poem
where sun cannot scatter its spectrums

and the Great White, austere as a ghost
slips across a shadowless floor.

The surface reflects an idea, a ceiling

made of words and names
and tidal countenances;

the pycnocline is a doublefold
of toughened skin

which feels and repels sadness;
and the deep ocean, scarcely moving

is a tail which keeps its balance
by all that is balanced upon it.

Published in Cabramatta/Cudmirah (Black Pepper, 1996)


Dunes reach inwards
into powder rooms
where voices muffled and trapped
slowly seduce the earth.

Dunes, pearl-pipes
sound out the voices of men and women
separated, their steps obliterated
by drifts of longing.

For faces unchanged beneath graves
the wind digs.
For faces reflected in night
the moon polishes the dune's silver.

Across the slipping face, rain
weeps, sinks, but is not lost.
In the dune's dryness
there is a nomadic snow.

In the dune's shape
a dusty child settles
to sleep, dreaming
of breasts weaning the sea.

Published in Cabramatta/Cudmirah (Black Pepper, 1996)

The Shark

Dawn unravels along the sky's spine
illuminating the quiet killer
whose stealth rivals the beauty of Latin.
Pale, limned, green cartilage
triangle ruffled like ribbon, softer
more casual than you thought,
the fin cruises the banks of Clarence.
Shocked from your fishing perch
you retreat to watch from the rock-wall
surprised by the gull's echoes of distress.
You are glad to be human beside
the sky, the stones and the water.
And the river is bold, loyal to its own
timeless, now, as a swimmer's held breath.

About the Poet Jennifer Harrison

Jennifer Harrison has written three books of poetry. The first, Michelangelo's Prisoners published by Black Pepper in 1995, won the 1995 Anne Elder Award. Her second collection, Cabramatta /Cudmirrah, (Black Pepper, 1996) was highly commended by the Poetry Book Club, Australia and her third, Dear B, (Black Pepper, 1999) was short-listed for both the 1999 Age Book of the Year and the NSW Premier's Award. She is currently working on her fourth collection assisted by a literary grant from The Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts. Her new work is inspired by Australian and European street-theatre traditions. She has lived in the United States and New Zealand and has travelled in the Himalayas. Jennifer Harrison lives with her family in Melbourne, Victoria where she practises as a psychiatrist.
   [Above] Photo of Jennifer Harrison by Bruce Day, 1997.

I Next I Back I Exit I
Thylazine No.2 (September, 2000)