Sunday 20 November 2022

Five Poems by Ron Wilkins



Learning Jean-Pierre’s father living nearby had consumed it

every day for 70 years overcame my fear of unpasteurised milk

that first evening daring to break free of a lifelong prejudice

swinging my enamelled jug by its handle I passed in my great-coat

through the cloud of my breath down the road to the dairy farm

queued beside washed stainless steel buckets hanging upside down

on yellow pegs everyone peering deep into the vast dimly-lit barn

waiting patiently for the milking to be finished cows side by side

in their Alpine winter retreat a warm fug of shit piss straw

the breath of eighty masticating cows content as queen bees attended

like workers by the farmer and his wife with the dull thud

of rubber boots and a metallic clunk the two-handled milk can arrived

and with jugs full and the farmer’s wife smiling

with her handful of coins we dispersed like moths to the lights

of farmhouse windows in the attic my temporary home I set

the jug on the table and early next morning lifted the lid to find

two fingers of cream surfaced in the night the poêle à mazout

coaxed into life I smothered my porridge with the fresh cream savoured

the unctuous you could almost say fruity flavour

and wondered about all the other low hanging fruit I had never tasted

The silence between


     The village was usually quiet

after the twittering of the martins was silenced by the night

     occasionally a shouted altercation between our half-mad

bully of a neighbour and his trembling wife once

     the Welsh builder fired a gun from his roof to test it

and the patience of neighbours in the rue Saint Jean

     later denying to Monsieur le Maire he even owned a gun

but usually it was quiet at night except for the roar of motorcycles

     reverberating between stone houses and around the café

where drunken twenty somethings yelled and argued

     about nothing car radios sonic booming across the square

but usually it was quiet at night except for yowling dogs

     their sensitive ears assaulted by the cracked church bell

religiously counting out the hours but usually it was 

     so quiet that footsteps ringing on the cobbled streets

cut the air with particular clarity in the small hours

     stray cats soundlessly scaled high walls and wire fences

with astonishing agility one night awake at my

     third floor window I saw the filthy white tomcat emerge

from the shadow of the portalet at my finger nail tap

     on the window pane he stopped a full minute one paw raised

as if to strike a note on a black or white key eyes fixed

     on the score of my window a reminder that every silence

also holds a meaning before his mission recalled he blended

     with a shadow and the usual quiet of the village night



Activity in the village peaks approaching noon as if

a happening of some importance were to begin wafting

down the cobbled rues from open windows the aroma

of bubbling boeuf en daube from busy kitchens entices

the church to bell reminder of another dozen at a supper

in the carpark vehicles from nearby villages shuffle customers

split from the bakery queue in ones and twos artisanal baguettes

in hand to cross the square and vanish into homes of stone

from which the instant clinks of cutlery and plates the droll

drum of pots and pans proceeds until all sounds dull and fade

all motions cease and every person and his dog sink

into afternoon somnolence outside in solstice heat

the shadows shrink an eerie quiet prevails as if the village

were abandoned to plunder by merciless invaders where

throat-cut bodies strewn in the ancient rues would not

be out of place few remnant signs of life exist a sudden gust

picks up and twirls a page of newspaper bold geraniums resist

the dare to tumble from their window box white washing

waves from balconies and then…

a tractor motor throbs a motorcycle revs a car horn blares

as one by one half-woken villagers stagger into blazing light

thus ends the quotidian rehearsal for the resurrection day

Mayhem in the Rubens room


What are they up to, these putti

dancing around the lids of Roman sarcophagi?

Has the spirit of the deceased

slipped out to join a bacchanalian revel?

The breed, mercifully lost for a millennium,

re-appears—there is no mistaking them—

as early Renaissance cupids.


I ask, what can these chubby children

with their stupid quivers, bows and arrows,

know of adult love?

Unleashing passions willy-nilly through all creation,

selecting lovers by propinquity,

two easy shots, their job is done.

Capricious actions unhappily the cause

of ravishings, abductions, ridiculous mismatches.


And in the Rubens room,

walls hung with vast religious tableaux, rich reds and blues

and swirling figures in extravagant baroque,

I could only see the putti—

with ridiculous stumpy wings that could

in no way elevate infants so unpleasingly plump as these—

proliferating in every possible space,

but now forsaking carnal love

for religious adoration like the cherubim.


They are in bounteous supply as pairs and threesomes

at the crowning of the Virgin; and in tumbling riot

at the Assumption, waving fronds and crowns of flowers,

their unwelcome presence negating all religious feeling

—at least for me—

from the otherwise grand and glorious depictions.

And, I can hardly believe my eyes,

a pair of cherubs, arms entwined, showing prurient interest

in the martyrdom of Saint Liévin, a grisly vision

barely suitable for adults and definitely unfit

for little naked boys with wings.


How can viewers accept them with such equanimity?

Ugh. Even the name, putti, is coarse, unmusical.

A terrifying thought—what if heaven is full of them?




Although not a writer in the margins of books

I confess to be an avid reader of this singular art form.

I do write appointments in the margins of my diaries,

an only exception—

the one gifted by a Japanese friend

with images of vermillion gates of shrines, bold bamboo stands,

terraced rice fields, mossy rocks, raked sand

—so Zen, breath falters, the pen falls from my hand.


I scribble any notebook with writings and drawings,

an irrepressible and apparently vital habit. Half used

and scattered everywhere, I never refer to them again.

An only exception—

a notebook of pachyderm paper

made by a Sri Lankan foundation for the care

of elderly and disabled elephants. I imagine

men wheeling steaming dung in barrows, washing, pulping,

dispersing fibres caught and dried on screens

—then cut and bound into the paper of my notebook,

the sale of which has helped care for these remarkable animals.

Many times poised to write in this book, I’ve stopped,

unable to defile by words this model of recycling at its best.


Exceptional, too—

that a book unwritten and unread can speak

so eloquently, on love and kindness between so different beings.

Ron Wilkins is a Sydney scientist who has had poems published in Australian, American, Chinese and French literary journals. His poetry website is   His hobby is the identification of the more than 900 species of eucalypts.




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