I am writing this down, drop by drop, just as it falls from the sky ⸺ a gentle rain, again perhaps the start of a Summer storm.
Faint thunder detonates the distance and growls down mountains, triggering an avalanche of decibels.
Small, unopened sunflowers stare sightless up into the overcast atmosphere, while the heavens’ only sol-bloom shies blind-ed behind dense acres of cloud.
A whole world between words upsets a particle or two here and there of some absolute boundary inscribed in the dust; plummeting water sculpts tear-drop-shaped craters in sand-drifts banked along the road.
Now there is no eagle to stand the sky on end, and no fox to set its dirty orange fire to the gloom.
Suddenly, I am jumped out of my skin: all the fault-lines in my nature are analyzed both with and against the grain by a forked strike of instantaneous X-ray lightning and, almost in the same split-second, thunder deafens (and defines) the length and breadth of my fragile auditory nerves.
Lost in the moment, one large white cockatoo feather twirls ⸺ gloriously ⸺ back to Earth.
Photograph: 澳洲唐人溪：向日葵 Sunflowers, Chinaman Creek, Australia (2020)
i. Ice Kate
I don’t mind cold — but your language positively frost-bites. From the vantage point of my island-table at Caffé Habitū, I watch you over coffee work out in the rink opposite, shaving — with the steel blades in your boots — crisscross scars in the dumb blue-freeze. Later, when you join me, exalted and re-dressed in shades of executive blizzard, it’s the blade of your tongue you share, chatterboxing my criminal lack of cut-throat chill, my laughably lukewarm hopes. It’s only in the aftermath — you having punctually departed for the next inhuman Everest — that your clinical gift of bruises comes slowly to my senses through the thaw, and I am returned so much tenderer to the world,
this world you don’t know.
I barely know snow first-hand.
I saw it once in hills, punched with foot-prints;
kids slid on it on an old car-door,
sopping wet. There was no sign then
of its pristine symbol. I taught a Chinese student
whose name meant “Reliant on Snow” and another
in the same class called “Ice Cold” — they were both women,
both wedded to snow and its human meanings
on their birthdays, long before they had any idea
what they meant. . . .
In a second-hand Stockholm,
I find the dirty city snow dispiriting —
all that it could evoke is so far from realized —
I am burnt with its yearning but not healed,
walking in circles over other people’s footsteps
iii. Male Model in a Picture
Dressed in evergreen black, he duly outstands
Winter to the left of some European forest
clutching a brief case, as if in fact
he were on his way to a board-meeting of snowmen.
His tie must be stiff as a board. Ice-crystals form
between the long leather fingers of his gloves.
He cannot smile — his rugged,
pine-needle beard would only stab him if he tried
and he knows that blood (at best) in this world
can attract only business-like scorn. His mind
must be fourteen, fifteen degrees below by now,
but his thought never chatters. Come,
he invites, to my easy two dimensions,
to my hand-made, male cold. Come.
I go out late in the afternoon to pick up sticks out of the thin forest floor. As the dog circuits rabbit and hare scents in the tussocks, I conscientiously fossick, keeping my eyes firmly fixed on small timber the wind or bigger birds all of a sudden broke free. The hum in my head talks on and on and on steadily — sometimes I wonder about this chatterbox I’ve kept my mind stuck in for the better part of a life. Why will it never shut up? Who holds the lid down? The dog on the periphery meanwhile tests his world by wandering, breaking new limits in fits before he comes galloping at full stretch when I call him back to the centre of attention. Before we know it, the green bucket is virtually pleasingly full, presenting a satisfying bristle of Chinaman Creek’s local woods. He suggests with his usual puppy playfulness that he pull the whole lot out so that I can start my patient gather once more from scratch. No, I tell him, as it matters. It’s getting late and we must be ready for the depth of Winter with this fragile tinder crackle that lets the first fire-sparks go.
The upright piano stands like an empty cupboard of music
where a small boy holding balloons bigger than his head
stands talking story to a pulse in consciousness
and to the portrait of a fresh-faced Queen
in the deserted gloom of a daytime picture theatre.
We speak briefly, for contact more than content,
as morning sharpens its chill breath
against the fine-crushed gravel of the narrow path.
Violet-leaves curled in a sidelong shade
go on concocting a promise of Winter flowers,
and the berries bequeathed by dead elder-blossom
glint with prick-sparks of highlit gloss.
In a canyon of orange brickwork,
I recall for no reason the small shock of the sight of a yabby,
washed from a dam and drowned in sunshine,
dazzling whiter at the side of a road
than chips of quartz. Its albino husk
supported an almost perfect appearance of life
betrayed only by the fact of inanimate
absolute stillness. Near a main road,
as you guide me by hand against the traffic,
a breeze divides itself around my body’s tall building,
flawed by an age in love
with the wrong gold. Later, while cutting up firewood,
I notice how my sawing’s sawdust
imitates the falling sands of the hourglass:
the grains in their sift momentum
maintain formation against a full-strength wind,
half human voice, half inhuman noise
intent on scatter in the order of creatures
yet susceptible — oddly — to a melody’s skeleton-lilt.
It sends a cold shiver down through moonlight’s every room.
It is the shadow of a doubt.
Here, hunger has its phantom in the heat of a Summer night.
Dogs curl their upper lips in dream
at the scent.
Stars bristle visibly.
Meanwhile, crickets go on calling out their names over and over
as if nothing ever happens.
Photograph by Agriculture Victoria
So — here you are at the end of your health,
breathless — between ribs —for the first
last time in your life.
I can see now distinctly
that the sharp, black claws on your long narrow “hands”
would for me in the flesh mean gruesome pain,
or worse, and I wonder at the thick pads of skin
at intervals, like calluses,
on the underside of your massive tail: kangaroos too
have their thousands of secrets
they take with them back
to the Earth. At least
at last you died in the quiet of your own breath,
no victim of engines or the periodic cull.
At least at last
you were never mauled.
On a sheet of shade-cloth folded in two for strength,
we drag you away from the side of the dam
past a row of young trees instantly solemn at attention
out of the glare of relentless fox-
and eagle-eyed daylight. Death
and a radiant natural dignity
viscerally interfuse in the minutes-long lull
after your hastily improvised above-ground burial
when we still feel your weight, solid but fading, in the vivid dull ache
of our arms.
Photograph by Visit Grampians, http://www.visitgrampians.com.au
When he flags me down with his broad-brimmed hat,
I am half-arse-sore from my long shopping ride
down to the Little Red Apple.
“Come in, young fella,” he cries across my fifty-seven years,
his one good eye smiling past its lashes through the heat.
We stomp up the improvised bric-a-brac gangway,
embellished and slip-proofed with trimmed metal slats
to his wood-and-corrugated-iron farmer’s den —
he’s got the door propped open at full morning yawn,
as far as the rust on the hinges will go,
but my skin is baked like bread from the first instant I step inside
the hot he inhabits, perfectly unblinking.
“Take a look at this! Best crop in years . . .”
I hunker down on the rough timber floor —
a small part of me drawn to the fingerprint-intricate grain
in the nineteenth-century floorboards —
and admire a whole tall repurposed container
crammed full of larger-than-life potatoes,
on a grander scale than general nature intended.
Out of one corner, suddenly, of the suffocating gloom,
Lucky the Dog (his previous owner, a hard task master,
had threatened to shoot him) bolts over
and plunges his narrow head eagerly between the widely-spaced buttons
of my shirt, like the frenzied-clumsy lover I once was
and will never be again. Malcom growls him off
in his gruffest handler’s manner,
then swings down from a crude spike on the wall
a bag bulging heavily at the bottom
so that the plastic thins to the point of a transparent film, almost.
“There’s two of the buggers in there!” he explains.
I take a peek inside at the Earth-pale Goliath nuggets.
“Reckon this one’s about the size of your heart,” I offer,
impromptu. Quick as a flash he fires back, “Not quite that big”,
(but is he talking about his heart or the spud? —
I’m not quite sure). The bad news is
the prognosis on pumpkins is not looking too flash,
but he promises me a beauty if he can pull a few off.
As we walk the plank back down to his gate,
a mean air-blast blows up out of parched hills.
“No bloody good for the way you’re going,” he observes
drily. The solid shade of the two huge roadside gums
sizzles with the sound of wind as it shoves past the leaves
and the grating rasp of the vocal local cockatoos,
snow-white in the high branches as albino crows
and flaunting with gusto their sulphurous yellow crests.