a suite of tai chi & martial art poems,
the wudang sonnet series,
& set of haikus on the yi jing.
pat mcgowan mca (creative writing)
Other works by the same author
Ride A White Mare
Jade is My Stone
Mostly Friday Nights
The Shades of Paracelsus
The Drain Brains
TAO: Total Person and One World
Tales of the Dragon, the Bear and Other Wondrous Creatures
fomelhaut publishing 2016 sydney
© copyright pat mcgowan
typeset by pat mcgowan
published by fomelhaut publishing, 2016
with the assistance of lulu.com
Inquiries: [email protected]
copies available at www.lulu.com/spotlight/fomelhaut
visit blog at pjmcgowan.com
thanks dorothy cui for cover photo taken on zhongqiu festival 2016
to my tai chi friends
where ever you are
Table of Contents
This collection has grown organically over years. Many poems are the result of my creative writing study at the University of Wollongong in 2008-2010. The big exception is the haiku collection I wrote in 1999 while living in Moscow & whose inclusion makes this themed collection more complete.
When it comes to the Asian martial arts thing, I am a product of the 60s and 70s. I remember how, in the 60s, we were captivated by the Japanese TV series, Samurai, and The Phantom Agents. My father even took me to the Sydney Stadium to see the Samurai stars on stage. But it was the 70s show Kung Fu that lifted my interest to another level. This series was written by Ed Spielman who also wrote The Mighty Atom: The Life and Times of Joseph Greenstein, an exceptional book. All these shows spoke of a special personal power and skill that resonated with so many of us at that time.
It was a few years after the Kung Fu series that I went to a tai chi class. It had a dramatic impact on me and I found it easy to include the daily regime of tai chi into my lifestyle. In a way, it’s a bit like the empty cup that Lao Zi writes about: we make a cup from pottery but it’s the empty space inside the cup that we actually use. In the same way, the tai chi I explore every day is an empty cup but, over time, it can deliver so much in the way of health and wellbeing. We become stimulated to share only the best of what we know.
I named the collection after a tai chi move called ‘pick up the pearl from the bottom of the sea and lift it up to the boat’. I know there’s not much information online about this move but I’m sure it can speak for itself.
From this mountain,
I watch Atlantis,
a wounded champion,
crash into the sea,
swirl and sink,
rare bubbles escape.
As the shock waves disperse,
I look to the future,
penned in the blood of the past,
how to farm,
how to cook,
how to find peace in the pre-sent,
for the one and the many,
until it’s their time
to return to the sea
(fu xi is the legendary author of the Yi Jing Book of Changes)
sonnet to simon
Sorting and sifting for supreme ultimates,
in a hand’s wave, he draws the wind out of winter,
massages the sun into summer’s deep heart.
One poem is the inverse of so much prose, but with
nouns to announce and verbs to vibe, we may start.
Life is meant to be Lao Zi but not lazy, he says
in a voice that resonates right round the room.
Mixing a new batch of the most precious idea:
try, aspiring teacher and healer, to centre
and open beyond thought, word or action.
You must feel it. Let’s be easier on our selves.
Come to a conclusion of yin and yang yet?
He is the pieman, simple Simon and
in the end, as we always knew, the end is never nigh.
My first tai chi lesson,
we move and stand still.
Movement in quietness,
quietness in movement,
we breathe out to our feet,
hands and top of the head,
half feel and half imagine.
hands tingle, synapses spark,
through the creeks of our body.
He says it brings us into alignment,
in big and small ways.
no more crooked men, crooked miles,
sixpences and stiles.
Walking back home, I see flowers
poking through wrought iron fences,
and crumbling sandstone walls.
In my lounge-room, some MTV star
throws laser beams from his hands
and I know I’m lined up
with the whole world.
“When you can walk the rice paper without tearing it,
your footsteps will not be heard.” – Master Kan (Kung Fu)
Once upon a time, I, David Carradine,
dreamed I was Kwai Chang Caine,
with a bamboo flute,
drifting happily here and there,
from hollow wood.
without knowing who I was.
Flashback to a student
Suddenly I woke up
in a temple learning
and I was indeed David Carradine.
the way of the immortals.
Did David Carradine dream
Flash forward to news reports
he was Kwai Chang Caine,
of an actor died of asphyxiation,
or did Kwai Chang Caine dream
in search of one more orgasm
he was David Carradine?
boxer rebel 1
At fifteen, he drifted alone, after the flood
stripped him of family and home,
his village washed away in one dark, gushing night.
He housed an anger that banged on his liver,
and a fear his country would go the same way,
that’s why he started life as a Boxer,
a promise and a pledge to put the world right.
When they danced in a frenzy and fell on the ground,
Kongming, his ghost teacher, whispered to him,
till he jumped in the air, and rushed up for battle,
knowing no weapon could break his skin.
The flood went away and then came the drought.
He didn’t hate Christians or straight eyes as such,
but believed ridding them off was their magic way
to make the rains come. He still thought that as he fell
under a gunpowder shower of cannon balls and bullets.
(Kongming, aka Zhu Ge Liang, brilliant military strategist from Han Dynasty novel ‘Romance of The Three Kingdoms’)
boxer rebel 2
To be a Soldier of Justice and Harmony,
my childhood desire, rescue my country,
badly bent over from drought and old age
At twelve, I started Plum Blossom Boxing,
in one family for nine hundred years,
we flourished in every village and town.
I next followed a heaven-sent teacher
of an art known as Great Dream Boxing,
he taught us to see all things as light.
One summer, we flocked to the Spirit Boxers,
our bodies but clothing worn by the gods,
prepared for the fight to glorious death.
Officials, dumb like chickens,
kowtowing to foreigners, put up posters,
called us Bandit Boxers, to be slain like dogs.
Wounded but breathing, I mysteriously
survived, and took up Yin Yang Boxing,
to recover my health.
Now an old man, wrinkled with experience
and a long list of titles, I tell my grandchildren
stories of valour in those old Boxer days.
Lou Reed knows
how to stay cool on stage,
not like the The Beastie Boys
who keep a stripper in a cage.
Lou takes his tai chi teacher
as part of each show.
They work unhurried,
as an unfailing rule.
Once in tune, the feelings
soon flow, freely unfurl.
As each stands alone,
they seek and they find.
For them, it’s freedom,
terra firma and friends.
A little from here, a little from there,
fitted inside this funny fling.
It’s a fuel, it’s a gas, from empty to full.
As it finally falls, they’re fast on their way.
We watch and we play,
the fool of no fool.
yang the invincible
A busy office in Guangzhou.
At the weekly meeting,
local staff sit,
their backs straight, like ancestral tablets,
awkwardly dismantle every word
as I go over our client service charter,
even a video of the laoban in Australia
untangling our tagline: people are our business.
And yet, day after day,
face to face, and on the phones,
we struggle with those clients,
too many who rage behind the plate glass barriers:
too many red voices, loud faces.
I tell them about Master Yang Lu Chen,
who taught tai chi to the Manchus,
a short man with a watchful eye,
the manner of a reluctant guest.
With nets set up behind him,
he invited opponents, hour upon hour.
Challengers bristled in queues
waiting for their chance to dislodge him,
(reminiscent of our clients
around to the lift well outside our waiting room).
He leaned forward to meet some of his opponents
before steering them into one of the nets.
Others, he let them come to him,
and with a twist of his body,
flicked them backwards through the air
to be caught by those same nets.
he became known as Yang The Invincible.
The staff listen,
I see service improve
and my tai chi expand.
On a day of cicada song and scents of dry grass,
the villagers sit motionless in the shade of their huts.
Older Brother, in tattered shorts, leaned against the front wall,
turns his head to announce: ‘Everyone! Uncle Lu’s coming.’
Meimei, in a rough stitch red dress, jumps up and hoorays,
‘Yay! Uncle Lu, he brings us cakes and tells us stories.’
She scuffles down to join her brother at the gate.
The neighbour’s dog bristles and scrambles after her.
They watch the dog scoot down the dusty road barking
at Uncle Lu who stops and laughs up to the sky.
The dog snarls and bounds in, for his Achilles tendon.
Yelping, it quickly turns, and disappears into bushes.
Older Brother, solemn, folded arms, drawls:
‘See that. Uncle Lu used chi to repel the dog’s attack.
That stupid dog knows who the master is now.
Come on. Let’s help him with his bag.’
Soon Uncle Lu sits at the table with a cup of tea.
Meimei is crowding him: ‘What did you bring us,
what did you bring us from town, Uncle Lu?’
The whole house shakes as Lu laughs again.
‘One, moment, Little Mei,’ he says, making space
to lift his left foot up onto his knee. Searching
the skin near his ankle, he pulls out a tooth,
and thinks of that dog in need of more training.
‘Walk like a cat.’ Wu Yu Xiang
Bruce Lee, in a black Chinese suit,
prances around the ring like a panther,
it’s 1964, Long Beach, California.
He’s about to unveil the one-inch punch to the West,
a call to a new generation of dreamers:
they can be Superman too, with a little training,
plus it’s a finger wave at the USA’s military backswing.
The sparring partner, in white, stands tall and waits.
Lee rocks into position,
his fist one inch away from that partner’s chest,
he focuses, suddenly, a ruffle:
the partner is blasted backwards across the ring.
The television booms with too much bass.
Behind a haze of cigar smoke, Papa Sierra grates:
‘I’ll put my money on American might any day.”
His mouth, uneven, like a broken fence
lining a frontier farm in some B grade Western.
“Besides, it’s our boy, Cassius Clay,
who’s the heavyweight champion of the world,
Cassius Marcellus Clay.’
Yeah sister, I grew up in Adelaide,
My father did the odd labouring job.
He couldn’t read or write and had no trade
but wasn’t one to sit around and sob.
There’s many ways money can be made,
so he could feed his wife and the rest of us mob.
That’s why he took to bare-fist fights
behind the hotel. Saturday nights,
the stadium ran a program of boxing.
Once that was over, the crowd hurried out,
made its way down to the carpark clearing
to get money on before the first bout.
Barefoot, singlet and jeans, he’d be waiting,
deaf to the cruel taunts and angry shouts
They wanted to see him knocked off his feet.
He copped many blows, never defeat.
I’d walk him home, the eldest kid.
Swollen face, troubled limp; he never spoke,
any discussion was strictly forbid.
By the corner store, he’d light up a smoke,
pull out his notes and hand me a quid
for the next day’s ice cream and coke,
Not far from the house, he’d break his taboo:
‘I love your mother, what else can I do?
(first published in Tide at UOW in 2010)
She stands at a distance,
veiled loathing eyes.
Students, cross-legged at his feet,
shower in droplets of greatness
blissfully soaking them up
as he spouts on how to kill dragons.
She studied with him for ten years,
was his best student,
she knows every guile of the dragon
and the very best way to disable one.
Alas, she cannot find a dragon,
never found one yet.
He tells them it’s an art, it’s a science,
he sees out of the corners of his eyes,
eyes which radiate, as he waves his arms
webbed to his body by bands of energy,
and his body movements seem finely balanced
by an invisible tail.
Aha! At last,
she has found her dragon,
and relishes her first kill.
the pa kua teacher
‘It’s that killer instinct and it’s one thing we have got to get better at.’ Michael Voss, coach, Brisbane Lions
He hovers and swivels in all eight directions,
one or two strikes, a body is shattered,
a fight with him lasts a matter of seconds.
He’s fixed in his circle, pursue over there
what ever you wish, but cross this line,
invade his space, and he’s ready to pulverise you.
Already ninety and his health is good,
though his eyes are weak due to those months
when he stared at the sun, not blinking once.
Life on this fine edge is how he has thrived,
his record, so far, is fifty-five fights,
and fifty-five dead men he’s left behind.
It started with a contract his teacher and he signed.
Stay for twelve years, no leaving early or
teacher claimed the right to kill off the art,
an art that goes back to the book of I Ching,
the missing pages he knows by heart,
he’s both a cool scholar and a mad monkey.
His students train six hours per day,
crosses on the fence, lines made of sweat
as arms chop, like blades, this way and that.
Some leathered thug visited his house: ‘Old man,
I hear there’s a great teacher nearby.’ ‘I‘ve no idea…
…you fat slug,’ he murmurs, slamming his door.
I posted a parcel to Elizabeth, packed
inside was a city of words,
it dangled from the stars,
it tip-toed the earth,
like a UFO, draped with unknowns,
but with roads leading anywhere
you wanted to go.
After she opened it, she went all ape,
coffee cup, cutlery, table and chairs
flew across the room, as she
crazily complained about some pot-hole
patched with a tai chi symbol,
for her a conspiratorial masonic mash-up.
Sadly she missed
the eye of my creative delight, so
I’m not sending her
any more cities or worlds,
she can live inside
her pot-holed side street
with her stinky tai chi symbol
for as long as she likes.
The city can sit and wait.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,
about to open his pale, pencil-lipped mouth,
not dreaming of his fairy tale path to the Kremlin
or of desires to deliver the bedevilled people,
he’s thinking of his next class of judo,
gentle sport of life, with his beloved teacher.
A little naive, though not far from the perfect teacher,
for sure, he had more talented students than Putin,
he found himself jousting with new levels of judo,
a subtle art transmitted by word-of-mouth,
one-on-one, though not the chop for most people,
when he drew the ire of hawks in the Kremlin.
A Byzantine, sestina-like outfit, the Kremlin,
heard whispers in Petersburg of this teacher,
after the decision of the people
to turn a little known man into President Putin,
the minders were shocked, wide open-mouthed,
as he pinned Putin’s virtues solely on judo.
‘Let’s use this obscure Olympic sport, judo,
to reach behind the walls of the Kremlin,
we’ll tell the story from the horse’s mouth,
an extended interview with the President’s teacher:’
said the media in pursuit of fresh angles on Putin,
a desire to shift power back to the people.
Lacking that X-factor in the eyes of the people,
plus his odd pronouncements on life beyond judo,
the whole matter loomed as a crippler for Putin,
thought the savvy spinmasters back in the Kremlin.
He was, no doubt, a skilled martial arts teacher,
but best saved for instruction via hand to mouth.
‘Vovka, we’ve gotta shut his fuckin’ mouth:’
said these slick judges of the Russian people.
‘He’ll bring us to our knees, your teacher.
Can’t you see the judo hall is the best place for judo?
It’s your image we care for here in the Kremlin.’
With gall, they eyeballed President Putin.
He mouthed the word ‘silence’ like a deft move in judo:
we have enemies wanting to bust us back in the Kremlin
The teacher went silent, after those few words from Putin.
Opens the Wings,
we explore movement
up and down.
As the body sinks,
lift one foot
rise like the crane,
now do it again,
up to down
and down to up,
making a circle.
Al’s got his own tai chi,
it’s called currency trading.
After tai chi class one evening in ‘87,
over a Lebanese coffee in Rozelle,
his news that he lost eight million dollars that week,
puts us into a freeze frame.
‘Ah, it’s nothing,’ he says.
‘It’ll come back again.’
I visited Al in England
five years later.
Bloomberg blasting over breakfast,
we were talking about train times to London
when Al mentioned
he made six hundred thousand dollars the night before.
‘Anyhow, let’s get the bikes,
and we’ll pedal up to the village.’
a white crane
Young Arto studied a martial art,
the greatest thing any man could learn,
his teacher, Joko, claimed to impart.
Joko’s eyes scared all in his class,
they’d heard stories of him punching cows,
with an explosive strength none could surpass.
One day Joko pushed Arto into a routine.
Arto tried hard, but made one faux pas,
Joko slapped him for an ugly scene.
Arto told his grandpa, Kakek, a man of tai chi,
who got so upset. After stroking his beard,
he decided to confront this bully.
Next afternoon, Joko, in a booming shout:
‘What do you want, silly old one?’
‘If you apologise, we’ll have no fallout.’
Joko’s response reeked of venom.
but Kakek was in no mood to argue,
he had another stratagem.
‘Master Joko, that pen in your pocket.’
Kakek leaned forward, his goal not the pen,
but to press one finger on Joko’s heart.
Once Joko got home, a paralysis grew,
the corners of his mouth started to foam
and his skin went darker shades of blue.
The condition progressed, he lay on his bed,
they’d heard of Kakek, but never believed,
his friends and neighbours saw problems ahead.
‘You must see Kakek!’ All of them pleaded.
‘Get out of here!’ was Joko’s reply.
Early next morning, they covered his head.
yang wu dui
I saw it happen at Prince Duan’s Court,
the day Yang Wu Dui came to the capital,
as all in our school clambered to challenge,
Duan singled out his strongest man,
a boxer, a fighter of national fame.
Settled in chairs, the two agreed
to pit their right fists against each other.
I’ve studied the art, I know what goes on,
one less experienced sucks in the chi
and pumps out to the fist, with the aim
of dissolving his opponent’s resolve,
but Yang was skilled to such a degree,
still as a lake on a windless day, waiting
for the boxer to defeat himself: first, beads
of sweat showed, then his chair creaked.
When a piece of wood popped,
Yang calmly spoke up:
‘Indeed this man is a master, though sadly
his chair is not as well made as mine,
how about we all go and eat?’
tai chi hermit
All of them,
the whole hundred schools,
clutch at yin-yang like a pair of second hand crutches,
spin and get spun by the five transformations,
could never cover the oceanic gaps
that reach out in the eight different directions.
And twelve houses won’t ever be enough.
I laugh at their numbers and names
of schools, postures, masters
and random pet things.
Hackers, all of them!
for this one
supreme ultimate fist.
online master (junbao)
Tim, Thanks for the interest. My tai chi
is First Generation teaching from China.
While it does lead to serenity in
the mind, it can only do so after
quite a bit of practice. What I’m saying
is, there is quite a bit of sweat involved in
learning (real) Tai Chi. We build a foundation
of stretching and strengthening the muscles
and extremities to improve balance
and circulation. This is turn leads to
confidence, health, and long life. Western thought
has turned Tai Chi into a more mystical
practice, seen by westerners to be a way
to connect with the energy and peace
of the universe. This is not so in China.
To practice Zen, go to a monastery.
The name “Taijiquan” in Chinese translates
to “Grand Ultimate Fist”. Tai Chi is
and always has been a martial art.
That is the way I was taught it, that is the way
I teach it. While we practice the form slowly
in “tai chi time”, the applications
in real time are swift and exact. To quote
the Tai Chi Classics, “Do not worry
about speed or power. When the moment
needs it, there will be no fear of slip
or falter.” That being said, the practice
of Tai Chi is addicting. The body
begins to ache and bog down from lack of
practice. After a while, it is not a chore
to practice mid-week, it becomes a necessity.
As the body’s extremities begin
to “glob up” with stale Chi and stagnant
nutrients, it remembers Tai Chi from
Saturday morning and begs to be renewed.
The renewal circulates Chi, blood and
oxygen to the far reaches of our
extremities, filling them with spritely
quickness and life. Who hasn’t noticed
the curious feeling an hour or so
after class when you notice your body
feels alive, fresh and renewed?
This is what Tai Chi does.
gu ruzhang (1893-1952)
Homesick and tired of mushy burgoo
scraps night after night, money spent on whores
and coarse wine in Canton’s foreign quarter,
on their fifth or sixth loathsome lap
of south China, the exiled Russian circus
troupe cooked up a new enterprise.
The moustachioed ringmaster offered a prize
of one thousand pounds (his face red with ague,
and each second word a Tatar cuss)
to one who could bear three kicks from his horse.
Urgers waved passersby through the tent flap,
stragglers from every Canton backwater.
A slim, bare-chested man, in three quarter
length trousers, set off the gossipries
after stepping forward to a hearty clap.
He hailed from Song Mountain, this Mr Gu,
Iron Palm Kung Fu his one hobby-horse.
‘First, some conditions I wish to discuss…
…if after three kicks, I don’t concuss,
may I slap your horse on the hindquarter
in lieu of the loot?’ The Russians went hoarse
with laughter at how these Chinese comprise
such tragic folk. Without any argue,
they nodded ‘yes, yes, yes,’ plus a backslap.
These two on stage with nil overlap:
proud Arab blood horse and this hocus pocus
man, short, wiry, and so out of vogue.
The first kick landed. He gave no quarter,
as a few Russians whimpered with surprise.
But this was course one, the hors
d’oeuvre. As if but another of his daily chores,
Gu absorbed the next thunderclap
without much ado. The squeamish prised
open their eyes to see a hibiscus
bruise on Gu’s chest, the hoof’s hard quarter.
The third kick likewise failed to move Gu.
The horse owner stood cockily amid the ruckus,
Gu took a breath. One slap on the hindquarter,
the horse fell, eyes closed, her heart turned to goo.
He studied Chinese medicine in Alexandria,
once hallowed home of learning and knowledge,
and there became handy with the art of wu shu.
His writing was still an oracular dream.
After the Jesus years, he visited Rome,
sight of his signum ring, Caesar’s rare gift,
gave this man entrance through many doors.
A clutch of wrestlers, on hearing his laugh,
beckoned him to challenge. Without raising breath,
he put them to dust. Defensive or dumb,
none showed interest in his peerless skill.
It was later he drifted back to his book,
a book translated so many times,
you won’t read a word between the lines.
(wu shu is a generic term for Chinese martial arts)
The son of Mediterranean migrants,
black, curly hair and soft, dark eyes,
he pushed a squeaky newspaper barrow
along Redfern streets, after school.
He soon got tired of being rolled
and robbed, for a handful of coins,
dropped on his arse too many times,
one weekend he enrolled in karate class,
to stand up for himself and be strong.
As the inner city school years hurtled by,
his fearless front-footed style
took him to the national championships
and gained him a student following.
This martial passion stayed a hobby,
as he drove taxis in town through the day,
unfazed by the fools, in singlet or suit,
who, when they misread those soft, dark eyes,
thought they sat with some dumb wog cabbie.
Brandon followed his father,
a man who once described his own fighting style
as if he was water
filling an empty cup,
but too soon his body filled
a hole in the grounds
of Lakeview cemetery.
Brandon, still following,
talked about life as dealing with
one blockage after another.
It was on the film set,
when the gun jammed
before the murder scene,
(so let’s go over this again)
thinking they’d emptied the bullets,
one still stuck in the barrel,
when the director said ‘Shoot!’
Brandon took the hit
and made the move
to Lakeview too.
A drive of five hours, from airport to town,
I’m honoured as driver
to our guest gong fu teacher,
Frank is his name,
a man of high rank,
multiple national champion,
breaker of bricks with brawny bare hands,
a warrior who travels incognito.
We choose a truck stop café,
my car buried behind a line of B-doubles.
Square-body truckies clomp in and out,
open shirts, grizzled faces, missing teeth.
A bucket of ice water
wouldn’t break the cabin stupor of some.
Others shout across to old mates,
as we order our food and drink.
Frank tells me a little
about his family: his father, his brother.
We sit at a bench in high chairs,
eat, drink and catch up.
Meanwhile the café fills, is crowded.
A towering truckie with a sandstone face
grabs Frank by the shoulder.
‘Out of my way. I want to sit down.’
Frank, composed, flows with the throw,
stands next to me, continuing his story
about his sister’s success on piano.
The truckie glances at him, like a dog
by the road he thought he’d run down.
Frank ignores it, finishes his burger
and soft drink, gives a slight nod to leave,
sparing his art on the likes of such losers.
hello ms dolley
When an intruder broke into a woman’s home
he met more than he bargained for —
a combat fighter and roller girl,
who pummelled him into submission.
Karen Dolley, known as Foul Morguean
in the Naptown Roller Girls team,
was asleep in her home in Indianapolis, Indiana,
when woken by the sound of a male voice.
Dolley, 43, who is 168cm tall,
jumped out of bed,
turned on the lights
and saw an intruder standing in her living room.
Dolley, who learned medieval combat fighting
in the international organisation The Society for Creative Anachronism,
attacked the intruder, punching him about 10 times
and pinning him in her bedroom.
She reached for her gun in a nearby drawer
but accidentally opened the wrong drawer.
Dolley then grabbed a Japanese-style sword called ninjato
she kept by her bed.
She kept the intruder, 30-year-old Jacob Wessel,
cornered with the sword
and dialled for the police,
who duly arrested Wessel on arrival.
“I didn’t think I was getting good blows in
but my knuckles are bruised today.
Hitting someone like that,
it isn’t like the movies.
You’re expecting it to be louder
and see people jerk around,
but that’s not how it happens
in real life.”
As Dolley and the intruder waited for police to arrive,
he reached into his pocket.
She applied more pressure to the sword
and told him to stop moving.
“I’m really, really glad
I didn’t have to do anything more,” Dolley said.
“I know I could,
but I don’t want to do that.”
She learned how to use a sword in unchoreographed fights
using rattan swords
and fought against men much taller
and with 20 years’ experience.
“I definitely don’t need to work on my aggression, I guess,” said Dolley.
the one and only
He wanted a crowd, this wrestler,
for that implied money.
So his path to the ring was hewn by police escorts,
valets in bow-ties and suited bearers,
strewn with rose petals and ostrich feathers
and puffs of Chanel #10
(two bottles of #5 as he took no half measures),
With platinum blond curls,
and a body draped in sequins and velvet capes,
as the caller pinned him with titles like:
‘the sensation of the nation’
and ‘the human orchid’,
his entrance often lasted longer than the fight.
And when the crowd wanted more,
he started with words:
If I don’t win tonight…
if he messes up my lovely face..
I’ll cut off my hair…
I’ll crawl on my belly…
I’ll go and live in Russia…
The Gorgeous George extravaganza,
from pansy to Panzer,
was born in quieter moments, as a boy,
when he sensed his own greatness
despite lack of earthly evidence,
nothing but a feeling,
an invisible vision he could not then convey.
One day at a radio station, as he ranted and raved,
a shy young performer, who too sensed his own greatness,
sat puzzled at this oddity,
this man who strutted outside the box.
The wrestler, through glass, winked at him
and waved his finger
as he mouthed the words:
we’re making it come alive, my boy.
over his head
This George was Karen’s boyfriend,
a solid build, popeye arms and long legs
he always seemed toey, itching for a fight.
He jumped right in up the deep end.
The greatest sport of all, for this George,
was to wander down to Hyde Park late at night,
find a group, without any effort, and start a fight.
Never afraid, he’d take up to three at a time.
And there was the road rage incident
with the truckie, who chipped George on his driving
so George confronted him, rammed a beer can
into his face umpteen times.
We were unsurprised when we heard George died,
drowned after he dived from the bridge
along the main road in Kangaroo Valley,
George was in, way too deep.
the pastiche goes on
to Randolph Stow, student of Tao
The loved land breaks into beauties, and men must love them with tongues, with words. Their names are sweet in the mouth.
But the lover of Source is wordless, for Source is nameless:
Source is a sound in time for a timeless silence.
Loving the land, I deliver my mind to joy;
but the love of Source is passionless, unspoken.
Nevertheless, the land and Source are one.
In the love of the land, I worship the manifest Source.
To move from love into lovelessness is wisdom.
The land’s root lies in emptiness. There is Source.
The spaces between the stars
are filled with Source.
Source wells up
like warm artesian waters.
like forms of water,
it is cloud and pool,
ocean and lake and river.
Where is the Tao of it?
Before God is, was Source.
that mancunian humour
Pommy Pete was a reasonable man,
he prayed and he practised christian virtues,
was mostly good-humoured with his human fellows,
kept his british belligerence bridled,
tucked away, buried in memories of other places.
It was a halfway house in Wollongong, St Vincent de Paul’s,
a refuge, a respite for those men who’d strayed
way beyond the reflector strips lining life’s highway.
They were mostly compliant in their various measures of misery,
appreciative of a feed and a bed to sleep in,
even as they adapted to the air, stuffy and stale,
reeking of cheap aftershave and sour odours from the kitchen,
with doors slamming, television blaring,
water clanking in ancient pipes,
they sought to re-establish order about themselves,
an order which had deserted them, but yet they believed in.
Big Riz had to be pitied,
the way he rebounded between inside and outside,
for him, laws were trees to be shaken and uprooted.
‘What do you mean I gotta shift beds?’ Riz raged, one night,
dropping his shoulder into one of the meek
who was trying to slink past the conversation.
‘Riz,’ Pete explained. “It will be better if you move over there.
It’ll be more peaceful. For all of us.’
‘So I gotta repack my bag. And then unpack it again?’
‘It won’t take long, we have the time.’
‘Fuck you! This place is shit!’
It was less than an hour since Riz’s most recent tirade on the food.
‘I refuse to move.’
He dropped his arms, eyed Pommy Pete intensely.
He kicked the bedside cupboard over.
‘It’s your problem. So you fix it!’ Riz shouted.
This was all in a night’s work for Pete until…
…until Riz pushed Pete in the chest.
Pete steadied. Raised a hand, appealing for him to stop.
‘Riz, hang on. I want to show you something.’
‘Show me what!’
‘I want to show you how we used to solve problems back in Manchester.’
‘Okay! Come on!’ He stared. ‘ Out with it.’
Pete clocked him in the nose.
Riz slumped on his bed, numb to the world,
as he had long wanted.
thank you, champion volanko
in memory of Joseph L Greenstein
Volanko, chiselled rock, sat in the chair,
trimming his moustache, a black handle-bar,
in his own tent, a kerosene lamp-lit affair,
circus sounds afar, his steel eyes fixed the mirror
as he hummed a home tune which helped him prepare
for his next show as strongman, a champion, a star,
when, outside the tent, he spied a hand movement,
bloodied and bruised, an urchin boy in torment.
Yoselle, fourteen years old, was a tragic case.
The doctors, that day, had advised his mother,
he would not live to see adult days,
having the lung disease that killed his father.
Born three months premature, he was menaced
his whole life with illness. ‘Don’t bother
much,’ the doctor advised. ‘Give him a happy
childhood and soon he will join his pappy.’
Yoselle and his mother, from the doctor’s,
walked past the Russian circus and saw the sign,
a special show by Durov, the dog-tamer.
But soon, the boy wanted more than a canine
act. He joined those crawling under the tent-liner
for the next show, till a boot found his spine
and his head. Volanko couldn’t rest till justice
was delivered for this act of cowardice.
Volanko, back in the tent quizzed Yoselle
who shyly replayed the doctor’s advice.
‘Those bloodsuckers!’ His angry face swelled.
‘They tell everyone that. This is their practice!
Look at me. Once I was sicker than what you’ve told
me about yourself.’ He softened his voice:
‘Now, do you want to live, boy? If the answer is yes,
I’ll train you to be strong, but first I will show you
how to eat and exercise right.’
what do you do?
Patients come from afar to see Mr Chen.
he asks them to sit in his chair
and place their wrists on the table.
He listens with tear-drop fingers,
checking each pulse,
as he steadies himself,
a fighter ready to defend his crown.
He frowns, he smiles,
a composer rescuing lost songs,
often nods to himself,
a mathematician about to solve an equation.
At the end of the consultation
he gives his patient a list of herbs, some advice.
No one really knows what Mr Chen does,
he says it’s an internal art.
A sign on his wall reads ‘fee by donation’.
To make money,
he sells watches on weekends at the markets.
People like his watches,
they keep good time.
the wudang sonnets
This Australian read some amazing news
about Wudang’s tracts of unblemished green,
once home to the immortal tai chi muse,
paths rise through trees to blue vapour scenes.
It starts with intention, want to be there,
like a seed’s desire for alignment and light.
Got no idea how, or even what year.
Ready the mountain to enter my life.
I slept on the plane, I squeezed on the train,
moved madly along on a bouncing bus,
and that heavy climb, sweat-soaked and in pain,
gives way, at the peak, to huge wingspans of bliss.
Each journey’s two aspects, let’s make them clear;
start with the end, and the means will appear.
I question the art of poetry
as a way to convey experience.
Why does the wordmonger even try,
wouldn’t smiling in silence make more sense?
If an atom of time is a continent,
can a handful of words, scrabbled and stirred
get to the essence of one single event
so the pure voice of that moment can be heard?
Watch this wistful art blather like young vines,
one day we’ll have litres of wine to share.
Now, closing my eyes, I recall a few lines,
smile in my knowing that place is still there.
Poetry is alive while the poet gives,
ready to thrive once the reader arrives.
At the base, they face the mountain stair,
I stand in worn boots, by the inn’s shadow,
groups gather, friends, breakfast together,
I chatter and joke with my own echo.
Walks with others can be a distraction,
this is the place for cool contemplation,
not one to say no to good company,
I sip tea with a hiker named Connie.
I often converse with mountains I climb,
I listen to the wind, and love to reply,
the wind plays on my face, it revives me,
thicker with nature than in a long time.
I savour this friendship each hour it skips,
my walk with the wind as she darts and dips.
zhang san feng
Long live Zhang of the three mountain peaks,
leisurely roaming unfenced lands where
vagabonds lug their homes on their backs, and
civilisation in the palm of their hands.
Long-haired nobleman with mezzanine eyes,
re-turned to nature, the realm of the real.
He taught and he healed and he harmonised,
clutched letters marked with the emperor’s seal.
Strange tales of Zhang still abound today,
nitpickers of truth get awful irate,
they can’t appreciate the freedom and play
one gets twirling this ‘cultural agglomerate’.
True, we may never know what Zhang truly said,
his message lies buried in the unworded.
tian zhu peak 1
You can visit Wudang for days or weeks,
treasures cohered over thousands of years,
across its array of thirty-six peaks,
each breath, we reach out to further frontiers.
Springs babble, shutters click, vendors haggle,
voices, left side and right, laugh, sigh and sing,
feet shuffle and step, and plod bedraggled,
dotted by sounds of me rustling my maps.
‘Golden Hall’ lookout crowns Tian Zhu Peak,
translates as Pillar Propping Up the Sky.
Four characters in typical temple-speak:
‘Golden Rays of Light to the Whole World’
This place is home to citizens of dao,
in actionless action, gliding the now.
tian zhu peak 2
Summer on Tian Zhu Peak attracts big crowds.
Gazing at purple clouds, I wonder what’s up there,
lift myself up onto this short fellow’s head,
wriggling like a vixen into her lair.
I stand and stretch and skip over clouds.
Somersaults and rolls, I’m feeling so free,
no time to look back, and dare not look down.
Some white-haired man begins signalling me,
says he’s collecting a special cloud herb,
he asks what I’m doing, if I’m an immortal.
‘No, but living here would be so superb,
Any word on how this might be possible?’
He turns, with his herbs, and says: ‘don’t ask me,
you’re in control of your own destiny.’
See its seeds, circling points of laser light,
in a luminous flesh, dense and dilute,
flesh coated by skin so soft but upright.
Zhang style tai chi is Wudang’s finest fruit.
A flower whose roots reach back to the source,
it lives by the phrase: yòng yì, bù yòng lì,
a mantra perhaps, use mind and not force,
like mind over matter, but gradually.
Strength through softness sounds decidedly odd,
odd for a culture committed to might,
but the soft and slow and continuous plod
is the path to tai chi’s highest delight.
two kids on a see-saw, formless and form,
one hundred and twenty-eight moves to perform.
to the mountain
The mountain ranks as the eighth symbol
in the pre-historic ‘Book of Changes’,
a sign for late winter, called Keeping Still,
it’s hunchbacks, castles, apartments and tables.
Let’s celebrate mountains and their rare airs,
once places of worship, now climbed for fun,
let’s build our own mountain, and see who cares,
we can scale the heights of co-creation.
Build it on qualities like abundance,
beauty, clarity, delight, and energy,
freedom, grandeur, highest intelligence,
joy, kindness, love and magnanimity…
Now add to this list, amass more and more,
express superlatives, straight from the core.
to the yi jing
house of qián (the creative)
guided by heaven
you can handle the power
give it all you’ve got
first hints of darkness
I meet them as if followed
by the black of night
a backwards movement
to take a safe position
and launch an attack
not much happening
as inferiors ascend
I guard my true worth
we can see afar
astride a wooden platform
and also be seen
fruit falling to earth
breaks open with a thud
the seeds remain whole
sun above the earth
rising easily and swiftly
14 dà yŏu
realise your dreams
as stars in the night sky shine
house of kăn (the abysmal)
danger all around
can you play the ferryman
till the shore is reached
this bountiful life!
and oh, the different forms
always dressed in forms
in the beginning
when chaos reigns all about
work on the essence
we’re really cooking
as the pot bubbles away
on this endless task
execution is the key
without losing hearts
with light in your heart
and the way of good measure
you have abundance
36 míng yí
dark winter nights
I kindle the inner light
with sparks here and there
ready to attack
a powerful army waits
hidden in the grass
house of gĕn (keeping still)
a sobering thought
we must scale the mountain
step by step, alone
a small fire below
can reveal the whole mountain
in all its beauty
26 dà chŭ
within these mountains
stores of heavenly treasures
let’s share what we have
more to the top
is well and good for some, but
it weakens the base
two sisters at war
biting, scratching and kicking
under the same roof
with right intention
treading on the tiger’s tail
will cause you no harm
61 zhōng fú
the unknown force acts
as wind blows across water
-a truth to live by?
gently and firmly
trees growing on a mountain
no sudden movements
house of zhèn (the arousing)
no warnings given
claps of deafening thunder
he pauses, reads on
people are enthused
hearing familiar tunes
good leaders know this
movement from danger
a wave of relaxation
now, get on with it!
thunder rolls and the wind blows
the same as always
with force of no force
a shoot breaks open the earth
seeking out the sun
the unchanging well
no increase and no decrease
take care of the jug
28 dà guò
close to breaking point?
work your load to the centre
there you can manage
his thunder at bay
he defers to all her needs
and she follows him
house of sùn (the gentle)
the wind’s soft, gentle manner
enters all spaces
9 xiăo chŭ
the promise of rain
take success where you find it
till the big one drops
37 jiā rèn
clear relationships within
increase by sharing
thunder and wind are alive
arousing each other
25 wú wàng
as per heaven’s direction
like rolling thunder
21 shì kè
when you must succeed
it’s like biting through gristle
remain clear and strong
his mouth open wide
seeing what enters and leaves
you know what he is
the art of healing:
your energy flows freely
and you are settled
house of lí (the clinging)
the flames are dancing
clinging to their source of fuel
in formless beauty
fire on the mountain
flaring up big, then nothing
like the wanderer
wood turning to flames
warming sacrificial food
life given to Life
64 weì jì
with utmost caution
the fox crosses the thin ice
will his tail keep dry?
when needing to know
first become still and humble
and then you may seek
a warm breeze blowing
breaking ice, dispersing rain
here lies the oneness
whether early or late
they can resolve their conflict
or destroy themselves
13 tóng rén
something all can see
fire rising to heaven
house of kūn (the receptive)
a slow moving cow
who looks and listens with care
yet is never cowed
the winter solstice
as darkness reaches its peak
we celebrate light
meeting with greatness
the king approaches his people
with joy and devotion
take two opposites
turn them into each other
and what have we got?
34 dà zhuàng
when bursting with strength
and you are unstoppable
don’t forget justice
this hexagram guai
it’s a handbook on success
in six simple steps
clouds turning to rain
rain becoming clouds again
all in the right time
water on the earth
in numerous streams and pools
obeying one law
house of dùi (the joyous)
a beautiful lake
such fun swimming and sailing
careful not to drown
water sinks below the lake
spare your words, be strong
live in harmony
devoted to inner peace
sharing joys without
the game of courtship
Mountain takes Lake by the hand
a difficult stretch
between a cliff and a rockface
no fight and no flight
you’ll find modest ones
amongst kings and generals
not only the lowly
62 xiăo guò
a bird in the sky
we all need to keep going
but can’t do much now
54 gūi mèi
walk upon your path
as a marrying maiden
your end clear in mind
Introduction to prose works by Pat McGowan
Ride A White Mare (2016)
Marco Gentolini first discovers jade when he visits a Tibetan Buddhist Temple in Bendigo. This place houses the largest carving of a single piece of gem quality jade in the world. The jade was imported and Marco is curious why Australian jade wasn’t used. As a student journalist, he decides the story behind jade in Australia may be worth telling. Australia is said to have only low quality jade: black and dark green, with no translucent green or white which Asians value most highly. So the experts say.
On his way to the jade mine in Cowell, South Australia, Marco takes on Tom Owen as a passenger, a fellow down on his luck, mostly self-made, though a person with lots of quirky stories. Tom is a lot more cautious in his approach to life compared to Marco, a typical Gen Y-er who knows what he wants. As Marco and Tom seek out key people and key places in the jade game in Australia, they hear whisperings that naturally occurring white jade may indeed exist in Australia. Their quest soon becomes far more earnest and their odd chemistry allows them to follow a trail of clues towards a supposedly impossible goal. They meet dead ends and false trails, but between the two of them, they refuse to give up.
Jade is My Stone (2014)
Shipton Kingsgate of Riverwood is on a quest for his own special piece of jade, a stone with an illustrious history, even as the world challenges him in every way to discover the difference between true and false in jade, and also in people’s hearts.
While this text reads as a novel, its thirty chapters are also a collection of stories about jade, its beauty, its history and its addictive charm. The book itself is much like the box of jade pieces, both carved and rough, which Shipton at home likes to open and fondle from time to time, for the pleasure it brings him.
An odd collection of characters inhabit these pages. Some of them are in Shipton’s own family, plus his neighbours, and his mentor, jade connoisseur, Harbie Throwley who was taught by a blind man to appraise jade.
This book is a rendition of jade into words, of which even Shipton can never get enough, though of course, he can’t ever rest until he finally has the real thing in his hands.
Mostly Friday Nights (2013)
What happened on Friday nights in the Sydney suburbs in the seventies? Read these stories about Campbell and his mates from Campbelltown, told in the style of The Adventures of Don Juan though with not so many heroes. Most of the characters in these stories are preoccupied with getting out of it. If you weren’t out of it, you just weren’t there. That was the whole idea! Here is a set of stories that examines the powerful asking made by your average teenager in the suburbs back then, told lovingly from the perspective of one who lived to see the expansion of life in these places as an answer to so much asking.
WARNING: These stories contain references to the use of illegal substances, underage drinking, burglary, suicide, prostitution, illicit sex, gang rape, mental illness, domestic violence, bingeing on big macs, and sex in the back of a butcher’s shop. Read at your own risk.
Splitting Apart (2012)
The year is 2019 and the 83 regions of the Russian Federation are splitting apart. A team of six in a Canberra office have been asked to provide an urgent report on the issue for their Minister. As they strive to meet their deadline, the story of an office itself fracturing into pieces, as personal histories surface, unfolds to echo the crisis they are being asked to report on.
Best described as a discontinuous novel, this is a story told in six parts. Each part is told in first person by a different member of the team in Canberra preparing a report on the international geopolitical crisis of the break up of the Russian Federation. Nev, team leader, is ex-army, with a fixation on language for its own sake, and not real good at politics as it’s played in the public service. His number two, Vic, is an ambitious, career public servant who goes after what she wants. When Nev blocks Vic’s request for a transfer, she thinks she has some dirt which will put Nev in his place. But Nev falls back into old habits of no-holds-barred behaviour. The story begins with Taz, the youngest in the team, and the most unstable, in hospital after a workplace related injury. We also have Sammy, an F2M transgender, wanting to do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, to support her family. Quinn, a former musician who joined the public service by chance works closely with Wes who is dealing with some sort of chronic fatigue syndrome. They all have to work together. They are all living in their own world. These worlds blend together to relate a bigger story of the splitting apart.
The Shades of Paracelsus (2011)
A young adult drama set in Wollongong, Australia, this novel is about how the innocence and optimism of youth can be treated so shoddily, so contemptuously by the darker forces that sometimes drive big business today. Can winning ever only be about holding back the inevitable? This is a question both the good and the bad may like to ask themselves in their quieter moments.
Anna Waters, 17, is a smart girl from a good home who has a passion for natural medicine. Inspired by a medieval miracle worker, she wants to bring the people of her town to healthier ways of living.
Al Flanagan, 24, a smooth talking and super ambitious businessman who works for a multinational pharmaceutical company is not going to let some reckless young schoolgirl threaten his market share or career path. But how far will he go to protect his patch?
We all wish every David could overcome their Goliath. But let’s not get too romantic about this; sometimes the Davids of this world are just not patient or clever enough, or perhaps the Goliaths are just too strong. Hmmm. The Shades of Paracelsus is also a novel about place. It explores the Illawarra region of Australia, a place where the abrupt and unarguable logic of the escarpment meets the tireless expanse of sapphire waters of a pacific ocean. See how this place shapes the thinking of its people.
The Drain Brains (2007)
The darkies: untold kilometres of storm water drains under the town. With special places like the Cathedral and the Concrete Palace, it’s a world of mystery and wonder for kids who love to explore.
The Drain Brains: a secret gang of high schoolers who seek their adventure in the darkies. But they never go in there alone. And never when it rains.
Fish: the most unpopular member of the gang. Sometimes he can be a real idiot. He breaks every rule you could imagine and soon ends up in deep trouble. Can Fish be saved? Or will he pay the ultimate price for being an idiot?
Can the Drain Brains remain a secret as they struggle to save Fish? And can they win against the vile and evil thing they call the Bog Monster? Read the Drain Brains!
Pick up the Pearl is a collection of martial arts poems by a long term tai chi enthusiast. Noticing that those with a passion for tai chi and related arts are so deeply involved in their subject, so immersed in their study, so in love with where their art is beckoning them, they often forget that others on the outside know so little of what they are doing, of how rich it all is, so Pat McGowan decided to capture a few of these moments and experiences in verse form. You don’t have to love poetry and books to appreciate the mystery of how a character and story can be sketched in a mere one ot two hundred words and convey such timeless moments and experiences in new and surprising ways. And why not not use our language, put it to work and communicate better with those around us, not just information, but lovely thoughts, ideas, concepts and spaces. So this is a book for the lifetime tai chi and martial arts enthusiast, and also the idly curious. it examines a range of martial art applications and exponents, including karate, boxing, street fighting, kung fu, ai ki do, judo and ba gua quan. Pat McGowan is a tai chi enthusiast. He began his tai chi study in Sydney in 1980 under the renowned teacher, Simon Lim. With Simon’s encouragment, he completed an honours thesis of 'Tai Chi and the Best of All Possible Worlds' at the University of Sydney in 1983. He has continued with his tai chi to the present day. He also enjoys writing poetry and prose fiction as you may have seen in the front of the book. Tai chi is a physical expression of tao philosophy, it is all about connecting to the great source of all things which is our natural birthright and our natural way of being. Alas, many people disconnect themselves from source through resistance as if it’s some sort of virtue which they strive to impress on others. The fact is we only need to stop resisting, allow more, and our wondrous birthright will show itself to us as having been here all the time.