For many years after the Second World War, even into the 1970s, there were rumours circulating in Brisbane about a writer who might have been the real basis of the Ern Malley hoax story. His name – ironically, given the history of poets – was Jack Milton, and unfortunately he died not long before the infamous literary controversy erupted in 1944. A case of Queensland chauvinism? A then cultural province's desire to claim a role in a southern issue? Interestingly, Milton apparently had work dealings of significance with the American military, very prominent in Brisbane when the city provided Allied headquarters and was a national political centre.
The story went that Milton wrote poems during the war years uncannily like those which the Melbourne hoaxers, McAuley and Stewart later put forward as Malley's; it was even suggested Milton might have sent some of his earlier work to the cultural unit at Victoria Barracks where they served, and thus inspired them.
An unverifiable deposit purporting to contain examples of Milton's work is available in the Oxley Library in Brisbane, but the literary investigator might justifiably ask: Is this a hoax that will never end? Can anything to do with Ern Malley be trusted? Nonetheless there are six poems extant; they make fascinating, even perturbing reading today.
Flying Fortress as Feint
Dawn comes up not like thunder
Behind the Japanese ship ahead of me
As I rise in the pelagic air to skip my bomb under
Its wholly deferential black side.
We know the silence of the geisha is never a cultural fricative,
For gossip is everywhere and always a Cartesian ladder with wax rungs.
Did you think the only moderne assault
Was by the spirit of progress train,
Or Virginia Woolf, or the Ballet Russe? Herzen?
My tail guns explode hard upon her ship-parlour wall,
Gleaming, gold-brass shell cases fill the sloven’s unlikely kitchen,
This lutulent confetti from a dentist’s mouth.
I shall return.
After Twelfth Night
Only the fool says in his heart
That Friday the thirteenth is fearsome
When flesh topples as easily then
As the days of Egypt.
In these northern laneways of pandering,
This trigonometry of an awful amour,
No red bears come for acid dishevelment
But what wondrous Malvolio summons to his wick.
This rouge of a monstrous predicament
Saddles our tiny hour with the node
Of a tiny, monstrous suffering. Atalanta runs,
The erect stag falls. Christmas, under coral.
Kent to Jocasta
A hundred torches flame in a hundred alcoves,
And that is the part of me that is not a palace.
Will the blue nurses bring me their fabulous rustlings,
Their gunpowder cream, their vitiligo oil, their elegant non-malice?
The vein of truth in the dictator’s left hand
Is history’s varicose argument.
You are the wound,
And you the licks.
Upon the fridge of my expectations
The grandfather clock ticks.
They are great expectations.
What can I do in my darkness?
We are told that the liberty-bell of flatulence
Is really the deeper affray of art.
In your sweet dark sleep, your Sisyphean pretence,
Roll this way and that, my darling.
To fall through the air is no Icarian dishonour
When simpler fields are your awaiting fit.
This sea that sweeps up to you in these nether, ontologic waves
Is awash in petrol, waiting to be lit.
Got a light?
We knew the steel of the black Nazi Stukas
Was the iron of our Runnymede forebode,
The straféd streams of refugees
On a Polish road,
Our epoch’s flickering at the rear of Plato’s cave.
Metternich: Warsaw can never be a Field-Marshal’s impluvium.
Did we know the silver orient torpedoes
careening over blue Oahu water,
Were the fingers of direction?
A slowcoach Weltanschauung must pay a higher toll,
If the rise of the Asian bear
Is the answer that cannot be said.
Death is only a mild dishonour
In the ludic refrigerium of time.
Far worse the lubbard triumph of the shroud
When it comes, a treadwater phyllopod slime,
Amongst the houseling nominates of our space.
Linear winters must glow rubiginous, if a circular summer make.
Above pink coral, pale sharks thresh in turned-red water.
What Hobbes wrote on his parchment
Is down the Kentucky Admiral’s athletic hose.
Death struggle, on the intense littoral of our hopes.
Even the tomfool knows what the crow’s nest knows,
That the back is sometimes the front.
Song to the Air Force
The ways of the erectant air are our ways.
Don’t tell me, my sister, that if God had not wanted us to fly
He’d have placed such spiracular craft down in Eden’s Garden
Amongst its amorous and waxen, its exquisite fruit.
Orange pawpaw, green lime, purple passionfruit, aerial photography!
But the madrigal of the toucan is the secret dissent of the dove.
I came to the contemporary air without wings,
An amputee blue-back swallow grown into a martin,
Martin Marauder. Though I see your superfetant tresses in the brief
field below me, the blatant anatomy of a yellow year –
Your golden limbs and parting outward knees –
This swan for my Leda is hardly maneuverable.
And if I fly now into battle seeking lusty triumph
Or just the broken glass below and lovely rubble
Of fascist pagodas, say this, say only this,
His original sin was in his closed Panama Canal,
The stymied aircraft carrier of his dreams.
In the roar of the bombing run,
The rattle and clatter of the navigator’s knees,
The ludificatory winch of the bomb door,
I still hear your faithless kiss in the long corridor and passage
That takes less longer to walk than to explain.
Danger propellor! Danger more the part.
No man is an island, a great man once rendered,
With miseration the slow ox-herder surrendered
His distrainted beast. Diurnal matters!
Does the finest silver teaspoon ever suit
The eating of surly Gripe’s egg after wireless compline?
Who was Timon? Who was Richelieu? Slow diners all.
From the sky no island is illusional. You may call out
That you cannot, from your forest, see your antipathetic coasts,
But sleep-walking cures it. In the life that streams around us,
We find our edge. Yet the dormative guards awake.
On every pectose frontier of radio-direction, modernity’s manumit,
Beware the savage German Shepherd dog, and the French Requiescat.
Shortwave is the new, green-garden trellis
To keep a snail informed. Physophora ex lush vales.
And when a man by his double-horn physiognomy
Is brought with his bent penis before a lurid maiden, let no hick scorner mock.
What is more enclosing, yet more mobile, than a trail?
In our cold century, it is Marconi wires our rebarbative loins.
Jack A. Milton