Depth of Field


They speak of Italian
and Afghan skies
as they travel
to the ends
of the earth
in search of dunes
and salted monuments
to admire
from every
conceivable angle.
They eat rice
from lightly
fired bowls,
drink soups
of unknown
and, fresh
with all that is
and new,
accept everything
pressed upon them,
in front of a star-
spangled bus
and their own
roving camera.

The Retired Barrister


He was dining out one night
when the conversation turned
to colonisation, justice, and 
trial by jury —
a subject he knew something about,
a system on which he had spent
valuable time, when he could
have been reading Tolstoy,
Dickens and The Decline and Fall
of the Roman Empire,

or taking time out in unexpected 
corners of the world like     Vladivostok,

and scenes drifted into his mind
from court rooms in Hong Kong
of juries which hadn’t listened
to him, hadn’t understood him,
had started off with the view
that the defendant was guilty
anyway, or they wouldn’t be there,
and were simply waiting for the judge
to give them the answer.

He swallowed his wine
and tasted futility.
”It doesn’t work!’ he declared.
”It’s a complete waste of time!
It’s the sort of seemingly
sensible process
that brought about the mutiny,
the opium wars
and fifty-five days at Peking,
and I ask myself now
was it worth it —
searching for the right phrase,
the piece of Shakespeare,
staying up until three in the morning?

I would say, 
“Members of the jury,
you may think the evidence
against my client
is overwhelming:
the fingerprints at the scene,
the confession at the police station,
the result of the identification parade,
the scientific evidence of Dr Wang;
but look at my client—
he is wearing a suit.
Would a man
who is wearing a suit
commit such a crime?”

And they would face me,
arms folded,
staring stonily ahead,
ignoring my arguments,
rejecting my pleas,

and the judge, who was writing,
would stop,
peer at me
and say impatiently,
“Get on with it, Mr. Griffiths.”‘



Stephanie de Montalk‘s first collection of poetry, Animals Indoors, won the Jessie Mackay Award for the best first book of poetry at the 2001 Montana Book Awards. Her memoir/biography, Unquiet World: The Life of Count Geoffrey Potocki de Montalk, has just been published by Victoria University Press.