Louisa’s poem “Twenty Ways to Greet a Tiger”, has been published and is available in Award Winning Australian Writing (AWAW 2011) by Melbourne Books.
The White Queen
I have lived in exile
Since they banished discourse
And made a decree
Of wordless purity
Minstrels come to worship
The White Queen
I too have loved her majesty
Yet I sing of leaves
The Angel proclaimed –
‘I gave up words for God!’
The Vagabond grinned –
‘I stole them back.’
Friend, swan of dark water,
I will remember this kind of freedom!
Above mountains close, yet unlike any we know here
I had not seen this path as one of many, after all, a way across –
and they will welcome you in their way,
for you have opened another door in the sky:
Oo Sa Gi.
Friend of dark wing,
I will remember your melody
of learning to walk in the air.
by all means, set your angels upon me –
would it please the sun that haloes outshine garlands?
strike with tithe, tut, taper,
while our kaleidoscopes whirl round the stars
for even as your virgin raises majesty from sleeping moons
to wrap you in wordless wings, yet rough satyrs stamp their tunes
and out on reefs the nereids shake salt-beads from their hair,
turn sea lions in their dark brine bed and cast to cliffs an endless roar of sand.
while on heathen hills, elementals spy, through dreaming trees
those divine marches of madonnas, sages, sibyls, saints, the white statues
and undaunted try to kiss the sun from each pious plait:
so Rumplestiltskin, running riot in haysheds and fields
spins a new century of golden rebellion.
Poem about Alexandria, by Louisa John-Krol
Reference: title-track of the album Alexandria
For Lost Cities (1997)
Once you have lost one city,
you have lost every city in the world.
Yet once you have loved a city,
every city is your lover.
I hear your dreams,
though your dreams are in no language I know.
Your anger, your poverty, your hope:
is it because our fences are collapsing that I may hear you
through the rotten gaps in the grain –
and know that you are real?
At night I sense your nearness: you have come
from troubled places of a world that has become
our little street.
By a thousand years
I will have been as new as you are.
I am as lost as the weakest of you,
as brave as the strongest of you.
Oh port of many peoples, you are my Alexandria!
Once I have anchored my soul to this port,
I may touch every port in the world.
To be in exile here is to be in exile everywhere.
Dear city, you have often shown me
the worst of yourself.
Your tips and factories catch in my throat
and disturb my sleep.
Your allegiance to a billion screens
makes me sick for my famelessness.
And yet, in the silence of books
and the song of a bird,
I have found a way into your century,
though you are almost over her now.
Fickle city, you have often abandoned us
for your casinos and saloons until,
in a fever of festivals,
you give yourself back to us,
however garish you have become.
You are my library of lost traditions.
Not quite gone. Like Lycidas, dead yet not dead!
We forge ourselves anew.
I do not know what we shall become.
written upon signing my first recording deal, with German label Hyperium
Swim alone Salamander; no waterbird knows who you are.
Is this your voice, or the dream of some migratory soul?
I wanted to cross a line –
Say the difference between one and a thousand was an illusion.
Now trembling before Invisible Processions
I raise my glass to exquisite self-betrayal:
Cast Alexandria to the Agora, our stampede
for Immortality in a godless age.
Now is the time to remember those who were greater.
Will I hear her cry out, like a lost shadow in the sun?
Hermes, divine deceiver!
Were I not born by your star, could I take this glass to my lips with less passion?
Better to smash this glass against the Window of Eternity….
Instead I pull life down into myself,
Hungry for contradiction.
Thudding like ripe paw-paw,
greener than emerald
a beast ran
with the shard of night inside it.
Nothing more sleek or sure
padded in and out of the moonlight with such
a Sleeper more awake than ghosts,
its smaragdine coat unaccountable to purpose.
Along its spine coiled a plait
(an end or beginning of a mane,
or tail folded to crown the head),
while through a mask of inscrutable power
two mighty jewels sideways shone.
And if, for the tip of an instant,
some far corner of the universe
should signal to those pupils,
would that flicker vanish like a pebble in a groundless well?
Or splinter into a thousand incomplete thoughts –
star clusters in a foreign stratosphere –
lodging themselves into curves and colonies of blood?
Sometimes those eyes did so alight
then darken next as suddenly,
I wondered what notion had been born
or whence it came.
The Valley of Seven Keys
by Louisa John-Krol
There were once Seven Key Makers, who lived in The Valley of Seven Keys. In that Valley were seven smaller valleys, each with its own Maker.
The First Key Maker was a merchant: he made keys for every occasion, keys to order.
The Second was a fighter: his keys were valued for their size and strength.
The Third was a healer: his keys unlocked any ailment.
The Fourth was a preacher (some said, a politician): his ideologies gleamed with public purpose, and you were the key to turn!
The Fifth was a celebrity: people came to him for keys to fame.
The Sixth was a thief.
But the Seventh Key Maker was an old man. He lived alone at the end of the Seventh Valley.
One day a child lost his way in the mist and shadow of the Valley. Or rather, it seemed that all the smaller valleys were the same – the Valley of Seven Keys. And so he came upon the House of the Seventh Key Maker.
Of the Old One he asked,
“Why do you make keys that fit no desire?”
And the Old One replied,
“What would you do if you found a hidden door, with no key to enter?”
But the little boy shook his head, wondering. He explored the House, as children do. First the kitchen, which was flooded with the smell of fresh-baked bread. The windows were a thousand tiny glass keys.
Next, a sunny studio, piled high with books, charts, maps, letters, sketchpads and manuscripts. Rolling with them were globes, kites, windsocks and astrolabes of every peculiarity. Paintings and instruments lay stacked by the walls. The cellar stairs were a tangle of tree-roots, winding down through centuries. Stalactite keys hung from the roof. Stalagmite nails sprouted from the floor. Sundials courted sunlight and shadow. Spiders spun lives between them all. The attic was full of clocks, cabinets and sea chests, each with its own lock. At length, the boy scrambled out through an arch of gold keys. He made his way down a staircase tufted with nests in which speckled eggs were coiled. He wondered if, at the turn of an invisible key, a salamander might be born.
Now he entered a forest of wind chimes, hammocks and mobiles through which birds darted. On a tree of golden apples, a firebird nested. The child guessed that if he wandered long enough, he would find every creature that had ever haunted the wild places of the soul. He shivered.
At last he came to a gate, which was locked. He peered through its rusty iron railing and the briar that poured over it, between orioles and oleanders. What he saw was another garden. A wilder, darker one. Then he saw, or thought he saw, another gate farther on, leading from that garden to another. How many more were there? It seemed as if this Valley were boundless and timeless.
After he and the old man had broken bread in the company of crows, egrets, magpies and kingfishers, they parted.
The little boy did not know it then, but as he turned to leave, a small green key – from a hand that was wrinkled, frail and freckled – slipped into his pocket.
And the Seventh Key Maker whispered after him:
“Who will hear of your marvellous adventure? Each Maker believes his key is the only one! But you came through their gates, didn’t you? And you only found me when you lost them; and you cannot lose something you never had. Few visit the Seventh Valley, for to do so they must pass through all the others. As you travel back, you will know again their desire, joy and pain. All are part of life’s mystery, whatever it is; for though I am a Keeper of the Seventh Key, I have never found any lock it fits, at least for more than one turning. Here, the locks are always changing. Whatever magic brought you here will shadow you wherever you go, even though you and I might never meet again.”
And shadow fell over the Valley of Seven Keys.
You can find the lyrics to ‘The Valley of Seven Keys’ on the page of Louisa’s album ‘Alexandria’
The Witch in the Wood
A tale & song by Louisa John-Krol, circa 1987
Accompanying the song ‘The Witch in the Wood’ on the CD Apple Pentacle.
“Wish us luck in the Hunt!” Laughed the woodcutter, kissing Anwin goodbye. He whistled as he passed the stake that he and six other men had built – little guessing the Hunt would be seven hundred strong! All the villagers knew of the witch rumoured to be living in the wood.
The Hunt went on; the woodcutter stayed away. Anwin grew bored, lonely, then afraid; once she hurled a broom across the kitchen screaming,
“Go on, burn her! Hitch her up on that stake so he will come home to me!” Over the next days, she tried to picture what the witch might be like… and a strange thing happened: Anwin began to long for the woodwitch, with an eerie serenity quite alien to the spirit of the Hunt. “Let them not find her before I do”, she decided. “For I want to learn the secrets of our wood: all the darkest, wildest things I was never allowed to know.”
Anwin’s first invitation to the supernatural was a tune sounding in her head. As she struggled with it on a rusty clavichord, every familiar part of her cottage was transformed into something sinister: a crow became a prophet; her baby, a faerie-child; an elm, the shelter for a castle; a bowl her cauldron; her veranda, a courtyard. The crow’s relentless tapping on the window changed to a piper’s beckoning march – and then, as in a nightmare, the beating of soldier’s drums: the townsfolk were coming for her.
There is a hunt that is ugly: a lust for bloodshed and conformity. And then there is Anwin’s search: powerful yet not brutal; simple, but never mundane; restless, yet oddly tranquil. If there is any difference between real and imagined things it is of no consequence. What frightens me is that for every seven-hundred and seven hunters, there is only one Anwin.
A quarter of a century has passed since I wrote the above words. I no longer consider magic to be above mundanity. No garden attains beauty without chores. However, one theme is perennial: the horror of bullying, in microcosms of modern inquisitions. Unemployment is a kind of exile; while for many eccentrics, outsiders, or introverts, keeping a job is as stressful as the fear of losing it. There’s also plenty of metaphorical ‘lynching’ in the arts, as every scene regulates its own code. As Frank Zappa said, we are all in uniform.
The Wombat and the Kookaburra
a fable from many cultures, adapted by Louisa John-Krol
A story, a story: let it come, let it go.
In Warburton, Australia, there once lived a wombat and a kookaburra.
Pat the wombat enjoyed digging, eating and sleeping. While nibbling roots and sedges by the Yarra River, he sometimes paused to nudge the soil cheerfully with his snout, snuffling and sniffing the summers. By contrast, Clive the kookaburra preferred hunting, laughing and bragging – loud and long – about his speed of flight. Even his cousin, the Kingfisher, he claimed, was no match for his prowess.
Now, folks in Warburton soon tired of Clive’s endless boasting, prancing and preening. So one day Enid the goanna dared Clive and Pat to race each other from Mount Donna Buang to Gilderoy. The Great Race was set for dawn.
Certain of his victory, Clive the kookaburra lost no time in inviting his most prestigious community leaders to watch him win. He ate a hearty meal, retired early and smiled himself to sleep as his peers chattered amongst themselves. Sometimes a few of them burst into peels of laughter, mocking all creatures that could not fly, including humans, but mostly furry little fat mammals who shuffled on all fours, like Pat. Unlike Clive, Pat did not take any particular care or make any spectacular fuss. He ate the same food as usual, partied late with his family in one of its humble, occasional reunions, drank a few drams of gum-leaves with the koalas and rolled a yarn with Enid before stumbling off to bed. So it was that when the sun rose, Pat was still snoring.
Enid slithered down into his burrow to wake him. Pat yawned, staggered into the light and lurched late to the starting line, dense, clumsy and bleary eyed. Clive was waiting. With an arrogant gleam in his eye that seemed to bounce somersaults along his beak, the kookaburra burst out laughing at his chubby, frumpy opponent.
“Ha! Cop a look at you! Still dreaming, dawdling and dithering? Wake up I say! Hello, anyone home down there? Is that a mat or a bat? A rat or a hat?” Clive was so busy taunting his rival that he almost missed Enid’s cue:
“Ready. Set. Go!!!”
With that, Clive sped forth.
Pat crawled over the starting line and flopped into a clumsy wobble. Clive flew on over creeks, lanes, sheds and paddocks. To his shock, when he looked down, there was Pat, directly below. The wombat lifted a paw and waved. How odd! Clive flew on, straight and sure as a spear… He glanced down a second time. Again the wombat’s face peered up at him. How could that bumbling ball of fur travel so far, so swiftly? So now Clive picked up his speed. He pierced the sky like a lightning bolt.
For a third time, Clive dropped his gaze down. Back up came a wombat smile.
Faster flew Clive, beginning to panic. There it was again! The accursed fuzzy face! He sailed as far as mighty Mount Donna Buang. Yet every time he checked, the fuzz ball was right underneath him.
Finally, with a rush of wings, Clive the kookaburra landed on a eucalyptus tree. He had never flown like that in his life. Where was his audience? No applause! Eerie silence. Exhaustion. Heat. Leaves hung straight down, limp and oily. Not even gum-nuts dared crack. To his dismay, at the foot of that very same tree sat a wombat, munching a stick of bark.
Clive did not think to ask if it were the same wombat that had started the race.
He did not guess that with each glance, he had seen a different wombat. (All wombats looked the same to him.) Nor did he know that rumour flies more swiftly than wings. Every wombat living along the race-line was in on the joke. Who would have guessed that a creature so shy, slow and solitary as a wombat could play such a trick? Of this we can be sure: no matter how long or loudly a kookaburra laughs, none are likely to take part again in such a Great Race.
A black cockatoo told me this story in the Dandenongs, and he is still keeping watch.
Success may depend on how we organize our relatives.
Perhaps you’ve heard the motto “slow and steady wins the race”, from Aesop’s fable “The Hare and the Tortoise”? That tale, where patience conquers speed, originates from Greece. In contradistinction, sagas of animals racing each other in Africa, Asia and Pacific Islands, resemble the one I’ve written here. For example, in Fiji, a crane and a crab race take up the challenge, and whenever the crane looks down, there is a crab buzzing in every hole. In a Siamese tale from Thailand, the Garuda (magical bird of Vishnu) makes his bet with a tortoise, who asks thousands of relatives to pass themselves off as himself, as far as the great mountain of the Himaphan. The Garuda returns, outraged, to his home in the Rathal tree. In Madagascar the race is between a chameleon and a wild hog. The cunning chameleon is carried in the hog’s mane! Maybe its motto is, “Let others do your work for you”? My favourite fable on this theme is by Baron Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, known as Lord Dunsany. He tells of a clever hare with no interest in racing. Crowds barrack for the tortoise: a dull fellow of “hard shell and hard living”. Later, when a fire is coming, they hold an urgent meeting to decide who should be messenger, to warn the other beasts. They send the tortoise.