The Tin Wash Dish

Lank poverty, dank poverty,
its pants wear through at fork and knee.
It warms its hands over burning shames,
refers to its fate as Them and He
and delights in things by their hard names:
rag and toejam, feed and paw -
don't guts that down, there ain't no more!
Dank poverty, rank poverty,
it hums with a grim fidelity
like wood-rot with a hint of orifice,
wet newspaper jammed in the gaps of artifice,
and disgusts us into fierce loyalty.
It's never the fault of those you love:
poverty comes down from above.
Let it dance chairs and smash the door,
it arises from all that went before
and every outsider's the enemy -
Jesus Christ turned this over with his stick
and knights and philosophers turned it back.
Rank poverty, lank poverty,
chafe in its crotch and sores in its hair,
still a window's clean if it's made of air,
not webby silver like a sleeve.
Watch out if this does well at school
and has to leave and longs to leave:
someone, sometime, will have to pay.
Shave with toilet soap, run to flesh,
astound the nation, rule the army,
still you wait for the day you'll be sent back
where books or toys on the floor are rubbish
and no one's allowed to come play
because home calls itself a shack
and hot water crinkles in the tin wash dish.

from New Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2003), copyright © Les Murray 2003, used by permission of the author and the publisher.


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1The Sleepout

2The Pure Food Act

3An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow

4The Powerline Incarnation

5Employment for the Castes in Abeyance

6The Future

7Midsummer Ice

8Time Travel

9Hearing Impairment

10Poetry and Religion

11The Tin Wash Dish

12High Sugar

13On Removing Spiderweb

14Bats' Ultrasound


16It Allows A Portrait in Line Scan at Fifteen

17The Shield-Scales of Heraldry

18Tympan Alley

19Burning Want

20The Last Hellos

21Cotton Flannelette

22One Kneeling, One Looking Down

23The Margin of Difference

24The Harleys

25The Holy Show

26Music to Me is like Days

27Rodd Island Wedding

27Rodd Island Wedding

28In the Costume of Andalusia

29On the Borders

30The Annals of Sheer

31Ernest Hemingway and the Latest Quake

32The Images Alone

33The Tin Clothes

34The Moon Man


36Predawn in Health


38Starry Night


40Lace Curtain

41A Countryman

42In a Time of Cuisine

43The Pay for Fosterage

44A Study of the Nude

45The Knockdown Question

46Pop Music

47The Body in Physics

48The Climax of Factory Farming

49The Poisons of Right and Left

50Apsley Falls

51Portrait of a Felspar-Coloured Cat

52Explaining a Cheese

53A Shrine House


55The Meaning of Existence

Books by Les Murray