A never ending hoax

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?

Ask them!

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?



Whereabouts: 1942


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.



Radio Snails


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

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