S.K. Kelen: poems

  S.K. Kelen


  Attitude: Don Juan in the Shopping Mall

Let us fly to bounty land… — Aqua

Today’s Don Juan could be any of a million characters:
Mohammed Hatim a wayward son of the Mujahideen,
Doan Huan sporting a Da Nang pedigree, or Mario
Lanza living out a serious fetish for muscle cars, Jim Giakos
Many moons from the post office in Kiama and they
All love soccer — true — choose one or make your own character
Whoever, his forebears came by boat from somewhere
Migrants — survivors — refugees — settlers safely

Tucked in bed ashore the island of shopping malls
Now these families call Fortress Australia home.
Click an ethnic option. Call him Juan keep it simple
Who wants to be a millionaire? Our hero had an inkling
His place on the great wheel of fire reincarnated
By a poem,a poem reincarnated! Now wherever migrants
And natives gather, there’ll be Don Juan. Or movies
Or poems like this one with Don Juan hanging around.

Time for the shipwreck — a starfish on bleached coral.
Big island like Australia has plenty of coastal treachery
Juan’s boat hit a storm before he was even born.
Back home families and traditions were trampled in dust
Those who got out brought memories of homelands
Turned nasty: torture, hunger, every day some
Bad news, ruins, guns and weeping. The world
Turns its back. That’s the modern shipwreck.

Juan’s parents made it ashore and found an island
Of peaceful streets and shopping malls, paradise where all
Comers are welcome and there’s nothing between people
But a bond called mateship and the spirit of the ‘fair go’.
The past could be forgiven beginning with happy endings
In the brave new lucky country of the mall.
Thus into slippery times Juan was born a happy mongrel
Family background tick multicultural

Two centuries after the British boat folks washed ashore.
With his birth certificate Juan got a bicentennial medal.
Brought up by MTV in rap and gangsta lore
(Read baseball cap) like everyone he relaxed & watched
Each fresh war start with a bang & a whimper on TV
Washed it all down with beer and pizza. His accent is dinkum
Aussie but to many Juan was dark like a foreign country.
Not every where’s a mall, outside there’s a world

Incredibly sad — as seen on TV — huge swathes of continents
Where children search for shrapnel to sell for scrap
Where there’s no food on the table, where there’s no table
The nearest shopping mall’s a thousand miles away.
Here, on the island, the mall is everywhere.
The earth moves under Parramatta Road and the wind
Ruffles a bird of paradise’s tail feathers.
Traffic zoom drowns speech, outdoors

A sin of traffic exhales and the engines’ great hum
Fills every corner and the sky is beautiful toxic grey
You drive with the heart and drive till you’re done
So right to be a maniac — don’t go there — roadside
Doomed hands reach up from the steering wheel
— Juan left his chariot parked underground —
Inside the mall is safe and warm. Atoms vibrate
Molecules agitate and bring the blessed their reward.

Shopping’s a way of life except for the bored
Cashless kids the mall management tries to keep out
But wants them back to join in and spend they listen up
Flamenco muzak is ecstasy and like a dragon’s
Spine, the escalators rise, rise
And glide among the shiniest place of all time.
Up, up shining the way paradise should shine.
Fashion is as fashion does postmodern style &

Bliss grows fresh from the strawberry’s heart
Glows rockmelon, avocado and smoked salmon
For the masses, the fragrant mix of simmering meat,
Baking bread, hairdressers’ vinyl incense,
Happy roasting coffee beans, chocolate
And all the world’s icecream, kebabs and
Hamburgers’ crackling aroma you can eat the air.
There’s gadget apparition digital virtual electronic

Electric, mountains of myrrh, silver appliances
Raw pearls for faithful lovers. Come buy! come buy!
Say signs and glowing screens, sports clothes, shoes, mobile
Phones, cane furniture, over a million cds, and health’s accessories
Are all for love and family. Things. The escalators carry shoppers
To the dollar’s many possibilities. The mall is happy hunting, a
Gleaming chapel, farm and village magic well,
Radiant hub and sacred site: two hundred shops sell

What people want or can afford and the mall gives
Warmth and truth: tinsel music, indoor forest,
Pets, banks, books, cameras and food without end
Oceans away from the rubble and tents
And the magic goes home with a happy customer.
All the houses and flats are furnished, decorated
Supplied by the mall and all the homes add up
And make a giant house and whether his place or hers

Everything was warm, gratifying like making love
In a furniture showroom, at home the mall kept satisfying.
Sometimes Juan sells Pace and Ease in the mall’s shady corners.
He’s discreet, part of the mall’s culture. Now Juan
Works the mall searching for a pulse, gazing at blue
Windows when security stop and ask where he’s going
Where he’s been — times like this feel kind of low — he
Considers the happy fates of serious school mates

Good citizens populating new suburbs and interstate.
Explorers from the Middle East and Indochina.
They’d borne the souls of familycaring birds or mammals,
Not like a wolf. ‘Hey Juan!’ someone calls from a shopfront,
‘Hey Juan — your life sucks. ’Hanging round in the mall
Might suck. Being a nine to five loser really sucked especially
When you can be Don Juan spinning the wheel of life.
Bring it on, bring on whatever life brings. A robot moment

Calm robots squeeze up and down the escalators
Juan nods to robot acquaintances — humanoid
Ravers disguised as normal people. They haunt
The clubs where disco perfect grace keeps people
In touch with their feelings. In a healthy society
People think about sex once every five seconds.
Juan ‘s companions came and went — in a world
Where you grow up mainly so you can pay the bills

Juan was fine to spend time with, occasionally.
Pillow talk means you’re not dead yet and sometimes
It is good to be desperate. As with melancholy
You don’t need hunger to do desperate. In fact
A bit of cash means you can do desperate with style
Like Byron the romantic saint was wealthy yet melancholy,
And desperate to live life. He knew he’d be gone
Before completing his epic about Don Juan, a youth who

Loved to charm houses full of women whose names like
Aurora, Julia, Haidée, and Adeline were the many names of roses.
And on a hot night, Juan was cool as. Some push
Their luck the young punk Juan caught on shaky video
Sipping eagerly at love’s chalice. Angels shout delight
Dance the bulimic babes’ dance. Then the Botticellis’.
O veiled breasts o comet eyes, honey hush
There are souls and eyes and lush places to go.

Cabramatta Headline (shrapnel demons) haiku
Race relations success
these three Vietnamese boys
shoot up with skinheads
Apparatchiks might mention theory, ‘isms’ or morality
At this juncture ‘specially politics or the sacred cow of law
As Juan’s dad told him ‘always vote for the least worst fascist’
A hand of friendship: your government let refugees drown in the sea.

It’s way better at Aurora’s flat her underwear is simply magic
Signals the body and spirit are harmonious. Juan swoons, melts
Swears undying love. Who cares? A good time fully zonked
An eightday romp is a journey like any journey a trip
Upon which a youth might embark at the third
Flush of hormones. Writing a poem can be free or be
A kind of whipping, sweet torture of rhyme! The
Original Don Juan was composed in ottava rima,

A stanza of eight lines of heroic verse, rhyming
Abababcc, used here as a kind of primer to paint words on.
‘As useful as painting coral reefs,’ history growls in its cage.
Desist from the gentle reader stuff. Forget the paint and primer
Time to log on PlayStation® game Shopping Mall Don Juan 2010
The opening level sees Juan racing through a maze
Of streets talking behind hands, smiling like a butcher or
A therapist waiting while sirens wail around him.

You’ve got to figure out what he’s doing to proceed
To the next level. Passing through a twirling screen
Icon earns extra life and strength to fight on
And save the kungfu princess bride.
But first the car park, get in the car, turn the key
The noble steed Impreza gallops up the ramp
Beats the traffic six thumping speakers
In the doors & under the dash a 24valve injected

Powers alloy wheels, the engine’s grunt
Floats like a discotheque above curvy freeway.
Finds a place at the bar, spinning stars punctuate
Sees eyes and sees the soul smiling in the eyes.
Every time Juan steps on the pavement
He steps into a new car (dream option) a power girl
Hands him an orgasm in a tall glass. Now Juan has to interact
With his city’s myths — urban cowboy, tribes and gangs,

Witty lawyers, the town and country mouse, aliens (imagine)…
Best of all the Sincere Young Miss Who Brings Humanity
To a Man’s Monster Soul. Together, powers combined
They confront life’s disasters. Live happily ever after.
But Juan craved love the way a poem might dream many
Readers or a parched traveller chase desert mirages
And Juan found oases real enough, felt oneness
With his calling to see loveliness like a bird set free

By touch and kiss and share his wicked happiness.
Juan took care of himself and stayed alive worked out
Seriously at the fitness centre adjacent to the mezzanine.
As tensile as a loaded spring a nunchaku on a fling
…and he felt good, mind and body without fear
Every five seconds he thought about sex and
Juan’s mind made love with the atmosphere.
His goddesses are fine with most of this. Karen a sunny

Blonde florist brought breathless roses and camellias.
Kandy baked at the bakery. Kelly the indoor pet specialist
Say no more. Wendy had a room out the back at ToysRUs.
Cherry was Cafe Cognoscenti’s creamy gal. Lisa brought rustic
Charm from the hardware store checkout. Fan just hung around.
Svelte Lee Lin from the emporium undressed behind a paper screen,
Kathleen, a sandy haired beautician, was a dream outdoors in the rain
Poppies and tulips grew wild in Juan’s garden and kept life sane.

Like lions men should lead their natural lazy lives —
What happens when you reach the useby date?
When Juan was out of it he might philosophise —
Everything lives and dies, souls go on or end
You find out soon enough, and Juan had bodies to attend.
To wake at noon’s beautiful daze and hear high heels
Clatter down the hallway and not know who it is
Until she walks in the door is a happy state of being.

And remembers ah Lee Lin lovely, brilliant. The escalators call.
Driving to the mall Juan sees the troika of hairdressers
Who made New Year’s Eve such a treat — a shocker —
A hard body works harder with chemicals driving.
Superficial?It beats being Hitler or Martin Bryant or
A political jerk who profits from poor children crying.
Everyone here’s happy polluting the world
With garbage and dreams and with Nature dying

Juan knew it was too late to save the Earth.
You might as well enjoy the technology and the girls.
If you’re honest in life there’s no need for sincerity.
Romance, however, is always necessary.
Flowers, chocolates and conversation (sigh). Juan
Learned early from TV that puddles multiply the moon
And the white moon trapped by quiet lily pond
Distracts lovers them moaning full deep.

But when you swallow a karaoke machine — as Juan had —
Sparks fly, smoke and flames erupt, the microphone attacks
And tears your shirt off. A weekend of wrong choices
Read their eyes and hear their voices. Who want something.
This afternoon in the coffee shop Juan watches
Angels fall through the atrium’s glass roof their buckets
And brooms fell from heaven on his head. Graffiti
Swirled like a prayer, the rippling of her lovely hair.

Regarding the matter of Lee Lin’s brothers. Five
Big Brothers — old fable when billy goats gruff
Meet Aladdin. He met the guys at the club.
Juan’s life choices made for him: a fine soninlaw
Or painful ending, there’s nothing like a shotgun
Wedding to focus and give closure. Juan saw the future
Wearing a white linen suit and liked the look. He settled
Down with Lee Lin and worked for her family’s emporium.

Three years in accounts then Juan &Lee Lin flew out.
Lee Lin would run the family’s Jakarta warehousing wing
There’d been disputes and Juan’s doubtless charms
Could prove persuasive, pivotal. And Juan stepped
Up to the next level: a Jakarta mall pushing a stroller
Down a shiny escalator. Outside is hot & raining so many lives,
Beginnings and endings, Juan’s and Lee Lin’s hearts entwined
The world rose and fell around them, breathing.


I was entranced, the trance ended
Leaving me here in your presence.
Eyes meet and everything is warm
As the Magnetics play a little faster
And hips grind with an hour left
Till closing time. What was that?
Imagine a world of dead beaches
Apocalypse. The speedy air
Chalks up another loser &
Sweden’s dreaming. Yes it is.

  Ba Vi

The clouds are always there
ringing three peaks
busy with lightning &
thunder grumbling—
the place clouds are born
to water the fields
and forests of Vietnam.

You must be light as air
to receive a tree frog’s blessing
then take the path to the cloud pagoda
at the summit of Ba Vi
where a nun lives to tend the shrine
light incense sticks
and burn the ceremonial money
arrange flowers left by pilgrims
in offering to the clouds.

Quiet time, the forest watches over her
she meditates clouds until night—
sleeps on a cane mat before the sweet altar—
the clouds round Ba Vi swirl through the pagoda
wrap her in glowing vapour
make images of her cloud dreams
and if the clouds dream
they dream of her.

Sunrise, she gathers the flowers
left by daytripping pilgrims
and throws them to the clouds.

  Extreme Orient

A barge adrift the Perfumed River —
reclining beneath a parasol
is the courtesan Tigress waving her fan
— barge floats past village and pagoda,
houses and huts midst bodhi tree
coconut palm, flame flowers
bamboo forest, and flat green
leaves float in the green river
tangle roots and mangrove.
Her black lacquer fan:
a butterfly’s deepblue wings
unfold a painting of a courtesan
poised beneath her parasol
deflecting rain drops,
her barge adrift the Perfumed River.
The woman of the painting on the fan
fanning herself reposing on her divan
rocked by the river’s rice green water,
The farmers move water in the fields,
harvest love songs
to give the famous courtesan
who sees them with affection—
now she has her letters to attend,
the afternoon for reading and to practise English.
The rice rivers rock gently her divan.
Below deck is red silk and velvet bed,
a glass case shelving bottles of shampoo
from every country, freshly folded towels,
calendars signed by football stars
grace the chamber’s walls
and glowing with river’s love
her very odalisqueness —
she can sing the radio love tune
like a goddess, as strong as any warrior
lay serenely the river’s quiet, raindrop plash
the same scene painted on her black lacquer fan
as the fan she is painted on —
a courtesan beneath parasol reclining on a barge
rocked by the gentle river.
She sees pirates from the ocean
come up the river in the eyes of business men —
they sing from the banks of the Perfumed River
she is the one the tigers regard and carp swim after,
her fan unfolds a silvery painting
of a courtesan with a fan who from her barge
watches farmers work the land.
It is hot and they toil
all morning — buffalo with moon
horns take a bath in mud — she
watches them from her divan —
the farmers and the buffalo —
she lets fall her fan
and painted on it is the picture,
a woman holding a fan
seated pleasingly on a barge
the rain falling harder on her parasol
and the river starting to flow hard
attending her letters, she will read in the afternoon
and watch on the land the eternity farmers dream —
her fan like a butterfly spreads its wings
to reveal a courtesan who lets fall her fan —
it keeps going, fan after fan a deepblue butterfly
unfolding the painted scene — on the river a barge
where, shaded by a parasol is the woman
watching the same lovelorn men
harvest rice songs, the fan opens another
and another— fans within fans until the fan
where, in the picture above the courtesan
and the painted scenery
right up in the sky, an old spirit man
rides the clouds in a bathtub,
and plays a harp sparking thunderbolts
— a mischievous being powerful in the hands
of a courtesan — twangs the lightning
as he steps cloud to cloud
painted on the next fan up,
all the way up, up through black lacquered fans
one after another opening,
fans growing as they approach the world
of the woman on her barge on the gently rocked divan.
When he meets her the sky blacks out
he is a cruel storm. Pray Mercy
bless us with goddess tears on the Perfumed
River, hold back your blessed typhoon.
The courtesan snaps shut her fan,
swarms of deepblue butterflies and black moths
are drawn to her light
the river waves rock gently her divan.
A barge adrift the Perfumed River —
reclining beneath a parasol
is the courtesan Tigress and her fan
— barge floats by village and pagoda,
houses and huts saluted by bodhi tree
coconut palm, flame flowers,
bamboo forest, and flat green
leaves float in the green river
tangle roots and mangrove.
In the morning she bathed in the river.

  Fuel Injection

Admiring the silver trees
I feel so proud I planted these.
A white owl perched on the branch
of an elm tree, a person
like an owl can fly or stay,
what dreams make possible for some
a finely tuned car does for others.
There’s the toll we pay for running
engines filthying the atmosphere
the carnage is an undeclared war
all worthwhile when you hear
a steel heart’s multivalve purr.

Petrol head meets petrol head
and many permutations thereof
equals one kind of modern love
their heat and carbon emissions
are real life. Drive off to fight
for clean air, for road safety
and plant a forest on the roadside.
Like all my contemporaries
I’ve fallen for technology
(fleeting magic), know
fuel injection is a beautiful thing.
Admiring the chariots
parked beneath the silver trees
I feel so proud I planted these.


wild animals become divinely rare
their habitats wild homes are soft earth & tree
cannot flee before the bulldozer concrete
flame and smoke desert where only wheat
cows and crows grow where wild animals
and forests once — the garden remains
and domestic wildlife love that life above all
whatever shares the human cage —
the cat is all that’s left of the leopard
the snails who sip spiders’ milk
eat flowers they live as frogs once did

when it rains and just after — currawong’s flight
rained on — ooze & wattle’s blood — rainy sagacity
gracious eucalyptus casts its own light

Poet Steve Kelen, Hanoi, 1998.
Poet Steve Kelen, Hanoi, 1998.

Steve Kelen has been writing poems for a long time and, after a couple of years of drafting and making notes, is returning to active duty.


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