Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call

Poems from Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call (Pitt Street Poetry, 2013)

The book Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call won the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry in 2014. The judges’ citation noted that ‘[f]rom its range of technique and tone to its depth of ideas, imagery and emotion, this collection announces the arrival of a major new poet.’

Buy a copy from the publisher here.


Christmas is in the air.

You are given into my hands

out of the quietest, loneliest lands.

My trembling is all my prayer.


“Five Days Old” – Francis Webb


Poolside baby showers

herald the summer pregnancies.

Sweat caresses swollen knees;

mothers tally labour hours;

giftwrap is everywhere.

Christmas is in the air.


But by the time you come

first frost has been and gone.

A long walk brings you on.

I howl ten hours, a dumb

animal shocked at pain’s demands.

You are given into my hands:


all downy with the smell

of love, my warm wise frog.

Then: eight months of the black dog.

I crawl back from cold hell

that no one understands

out of the quietest, loneliest lands.


Now you seem newly-made

or is it me, new-born?

Chill fog melts in the dawn

and now I am afraid

of how much I can care.

My trembling is all my prayer.

‘Given’ won the 2006 David Campbell Prize for best unpublished poem by an ACT poet. It was also shortlisted for the Rosemary Dobson Prize for best unpublished poem by an Australian poet. It was later published in Swings and Roundabouts (anthology by Random House NZ, May 2008). Lines from ‘Five Days Old’ quoted by permission from HarperCollins.


Woman’s work

First stage

She rolls in an ocean of aching.

Her back creaks, a wooden ship in a gale.

It is beginning. Today is the last day of her life

and the first. She cries out with the toiling of it.

The tide sucks her bones apart. A pain wave

gathers and breaks, and another. Between them she floats

in a blind trough without horizon.

Breathing and bracing for the next; hearing her mother’s words:

‘there will only be so many’.



She shudders earthquakes. The land of her childhood

buckles and tilts. Her feet will learn new terrain.

Behind her closed eyes looms a huge rock, unmoving.

Her mind latches on. Her mother taught her

the name of the rock; she speaks it over and over.

The rock is in shadow. Trees and soil avalanche around it.

It stays massively, perfectly still.

The wind blows the sun backwards, into howling dark.

It blows down her throat and steals her breath.

The black rock stays. She can no longer call its name.

The wind dies with the moon’s rising. In pale light

the rock stares down, wearing a calm white veil.


Second stage

Down at her base it burns and stings;

bitter herbs; vinegar on an open wound.

The swelling splits her, cracks her like an egg

Her mother said ‘push into the burning, it is the only way.’

She does not believe she can seek more pain,

but the singers start the old chant, and she prepares herself.

She dares the fire again and again.

She is a length of steel.

She is becoming a sword.

She feels lightning, and tears like a temple curtain.


Third stage

A new body heaves from her into the light.

Exhaustion melts her. The women pass her the child;

the singers chant again:

Praise her, she has endured the great trial and renewed the life of the world.

She has crossed over, she is one of the wise.

Feed her a great banquet, bathe her in sweet water

 - for she has done the mightiest of things.

‘Woman’s work’ was included in the anthology Contemporary Australian Poetry (Puncher and Wattman, 2016).
No Bed

When love is on the wrong side of the sheets

romance must give way to expedience

and, short of coupling in the public streets,

all places serve at love’s convenience.

Beside stormwater drains; in fields of wheat;

in lifts; against a sturdy paling fence:

all fifteen-minute feather beds for cheats.

At best: the boardroom table; worst: the gents.

Yet all this grubby fumbling in the dark

does add a certain spice to things, and while

the rusting old rotunda in the park

may bruise and chafe, it has some outlaw style

– and with no place to spoon after the buzz

we can’t pretend it means more than it does.

‘No Bed’ was included in Best Australian Poems 2005 (Black Inc, 2005), edited by Les Murray.