Three Poems

Poetry by John Yau
The interesting reflection trick by Travis MacDonald. Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist.


Each morning, before a young suburban couple is ready to open their
eyes, they hear their upstairs neighbor marching around in boots, as if she is determined to get to the battlefield on time.

We are living in a comic strip, one of them says to the other, and know in three panels the ending will betray us, whatever shrinking gumdrop of hope we still have lolling on our tongue. The stomping continues. You cannot live in this city with your eyes closed, though many do and get along perfectly fine.

The upstairs tenant knows her pacing disturbs the young couple tossing and turning beneath her feet and smiles, thinking her momentary happiness is invisible to those who live on the floor below, and all the others who found a space in their hearts to mistreat her. The valley between what her body is doing and the mind is thinking is a book waiting to be written. I cannot keep this up, she says to her silent partner of indeterminate origin. Fatigue is an affliction that has begun spreading across her face, like mold in the basement of the county jail.

Tone Poem

During the night someone posted a sign on the wall next to the eyeglass dispensary: You must Eat a Raven Every Morning Before Breakfast. No reason was given as to why this consumption was necessary, nor were any consequences revealed. A few of us who lived nearby gathered in front of the imperative without greeting each other, riveted by the words for different reasons. Above the slowly swelling crowd another cloud loosened its tunic and fled to the East, where rafts of data were being stacked in a downtown parking garage.

The painter looked up from her palette, its rainbow of winter grays, and asked: what possessed you to start writing down this unlikely lullaby? Have you ever thought you might do better if you entered that garage, its bundles of verifiable information? Maybe you will find yourself at home there, among the pie charts and questionnaires. Even before ascending its many floors, you might even want to consider stopping at the shop next door; it specializes in porcelain plates painted with blue lines that make the potential customer see the suffering of others through a screen. Having come this far in your quest, the salesman will tell you the price of the object you are holding in your hands and say: Why else did you come to this evening’s portal?

The rest of the audience remains silent, unsure of how to answer this question, which they have never had to think about in in the company of strangers. A few sitting near the back of the theater begin fumbling for their cellphones, which have started to look like mushrooms, edible and likely poisonous. They are still there when the lived face of poetry pulls back the curtain and loses it smile, replaced by a Wanted Poster containing the announcement: “Every book needs to be written with a new set of pronouns.” No one confessed to saying this. The words written in the program were not the ones they heard ringing in their ears.


When the kangaroo patrol came for me, I knew it was time to surrender. You can’t argue with a kangaroo, no matter how smart and well-educated you are, how celebrated you have become for your oratory and wit. Your palaver will not save you from their handcuffs.

In the Crime Fighters Manual, under Section 6, article 4B, we read the following observation: Humor has no place in these meaningful encounters, whose dimensions have never been properly measured.

Kangaroos possess a highly sensitive set of olfactory receptors and will know that you are the perpetrator of the unsaid offense and must be apprehended and brought before the magistrate.

I not only went willingly but I bore no outward manifestation of resistance nor secretly harbored a grudge. I was smarter than that.

In order to fool a kangaroo, you must act like one. Or, if you are unable to pull that off because of some malformation in your outward casing or internal manifold, you must learn something harder: how to become invisible, to not be detectable when moving among the general population, even if you are in the backseat on your way to being arraigned, knowing in advance what the outcome will be.

In order to achieve this flexibility, you must practice astral projection; effective forms of splitting mind from body, accelerated neural dissipation into the ether.

The secret leaflet claims it is easier to attain this state if you are a poet, especially if you don’t do anything in public, like give a reading or voice an opinion about the delightful irises of Dada and why chance meetings are a candle inserted in the eye of an angel.

You can claim that you just came in from the wilderness, and that you do not know how many others are out there.

John Yau

John Yau is an award-winning poet, art critic, and curator who has published many books of poetry, fiction, and art criticism. He was the arts editor for the Brooklyn Rail (2007–2011) before he began writing regularly for Hyperallergic.

Travis MacDonald

Travis MacDonald is an artist and musician based in Melbourne. His deliberately understated works often feature a subdued palette and subjects that bridge the mundane to the absurd. They offer an idiosyncratic take on the more traditional genres of figuration and landscape painting. He draws upon his interest in art history, music and world events to present a memory: blurred, twisted and suggestive of a greater narrative, merging the personal and the universal.

Travis MacDonald was born in Bunnythorpe, New Zealand and currently lives and works in Melbourne. He completed a Bachelor of Fine Art at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2011 and has been exhibiting since 2009. He has been awarded the Gary Grossbard Drawing Prize and the Lionel Gell Foundation Drawing Scholarship. His work was featured in the 2018 Melbourne Art Fair and in 2016, MacDonald’s work was exhibited in Painting. More Painting at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. He held his first solo exhibition at Niagara Galleries in December 2016.