Skirmish

 

Sunflower & Bees LANDSCAPE_21 MAR 2020

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)

Cold Spells

2019-06-24 Another Ice Disk

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.

 

ii. Snowtalk

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

impurely.

 

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
.

Gathering Concentration

2019-06-24 Green Bucket of Sticks TWO

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.

Dressing the Naked Eye

2017-08-14 Kindling

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.

Eastern Grey

Eastern Grey Kangaroo

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

Just a Moment with Malcolm

2018-09-27 Old Shed School's Road

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.

Heat-waving at 45 Degrees Celsius. . .

summer eucalypt jan 2019

They’re such sky-oriented people, geared to changing weather, sings Joni Mitchell in her song “Paprika Plains”, and since my move to Chinaman Creek, my orientation has shifted noticeably skywards, too. Especially in Summer.

The other day, I noticed a small bird sitting very still out in the backyard. It was a sparrow. We have a problem here with birds hitting windows and stunning themselves, but this one was nowhere near glass. As soon as I scooped it up in my palm, I knew it was dead. From days of intense heat.

And then there was the frog. Frogs here take shelter in the metal canopy that houses the outdoor blind, and sometimes they manage to get themselves squashed into unhappy two-dimensional replicas of their former living selves when we wind up the blind of an evening. I don’t know why they seek refuge in such an unlikely place, but I am grateful all the same that they manage to survive in such weather. This frog had one of its back feet caught in the tightly rolled up blind, and was making a very shrill, plaintive cry. I got up on a chair and tried to prise its foot free with a knife. When that failed, I tried a chopstick. But no luck. We were on the point of despair — the frog was still screaming in discomfort — when all of a sudden it jumped down from the canopy and into the fish pond. Thank goodness, we thought, it could still hop.

Yesterday, it was 43 degrees. Today, the temperature is supposed to reach 45 degrees. Celsius, that is. Actually, the sky at the moment is a bit murky rather than clear, filled with high-blown dust from the Outback. Flies crowd around the doors in buzzing swarms, trying to sneak inside, as the hot air takes hold. Strangely, heat seems harder to describe than Winter chill: I feel it uncomfortably close to my face, and there’s an unpleasant pressure at the base of the throat, as if someone were pressing a couple of fingers aggressively into my skin. I check the vegetables, and I make sure the bird-bowls are full of water, and then I head back inside. Even the handles of the tin watering-cans burn. But I still can’t form picture of that Summer sensation.

Earlier today, for the first time ever in my life, I saw an eagle land on the ground and take a drink out of the muddy dam.

I was reading a post on G C Myers’ Redtree Times WordPress site about plowing snow: Winter in America sounds arduous. I realized that for most Australians on the other hand, Summer is the testing time, when weather becomes overbearing and insists that human beings adapt to its exhausting regime. Unlike people in the northern hemisphere, for whom Summer provides a welcome relaxation of the Earth’s demanding discipline, in this place it is often a trial, a trial comprised of discomfort, thirst and the dangers of lethal snakes and destructive bushfires. Yet we have so many northern images in our heads of Summer as release that we are often extremely vulnerable to Summer’s torrid powers. We tend to hide from the realities that surround us, and kid ourselves that She’ll be right . . .

In The Great Work, Thomas Berry writes of a psychic energy that comes from an intimate alignment with place, an interior force that enables us to endure the difficulties of life and which grants us the necessary endurance. But such energy is only available when we commit ourselves willingly to the test of the seasons and accept the rigours of natural limits.

I think I have had trouble getting heat into my poems. Maybe it’s a common issue: in Summer, we can’t seem to remember the feel of Winter, and in Winter, it’s almost impossible to summon any sense of searing Summer. Something about weather seems to defeat even the best imaginations. But here are a couple of attempts . . .

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Notes from Melting Point

Red ants pursue acid paths over scorched earth.

In stiff mechanisms of grass massed rabbit pellets form ball-bearings of dust.

The hot-air lungs of a smoker’s breeze spin-dry fairy-seeds.

Wren song chips through chainsaw bark; calm is scored by the grind of a grader’s gears.

Trees shift focus into the fibres of their roots, listening at the tips for the drip of a drop of sweat.

In gaunt green mistletoe, a jezebel butterfly makes do in two dimensions, the palette of its underwings artificially colouring the landscape.

At this hour, a mouthful of water shuts down the world.

The rumble of distant thunder is a loud speaker — is it a long dash in proceedings or the promise of cool change?

Pools of shadow lengthen as they swim out past late afternoon.

To the drone of a light plane, a dusk hare jumps fur joy.

 

Summer in Winter: Patton’s Split-second Seasoning

As a frost’s smoke sheath whitens my breath,
and with the air’s sting-numb chill gloving both arms
and narrowly icing the gaps between fingers,
a swift Summer tremor of sunsettled glare
burns across the blood for a spilt
second: warning morning heat
stilts early up out of the ground;
the impeccable sky, with perfect balance,
stands on my head; and whirlpools
of birdsound percolate through the porous dry-grass realm ―
feel it thicken into something singing
my more than sad half-sense of this world;
all my open, close fears.

《唐人溪 • 喜鵲》

Magpie Image_9 MAR 2018

Photograph by Animal Spot (www.animalspot.net)

 Simon Patton 著

睇睇其外貌,澳洲喜鵲同香港同名嘅雀仔顏色差唔多一樣,身體嘅羽毛都係一半黑色一半白色,黑白圖案構成一種十分明顯嘅對比,同時又好似暗示佢嘅性格太複雜啦!實際上,真實情況真係如此。
Just from the way they look, Australian magpies look pretty much the same as the birds that go by the same name in Hong Kong, one half of their feathers black and one half white. This black and white pattern makes a stark contrast and, at the same time, it hints at its rather contradictory nature! Actually, magpies really are a contradiction.

白色好似可以代表喜鵲美麗嘅方面。我舊年買到一本名為《香港嘅傳統節日》嘅書本,其中有不少令我覺得零舍感觸嘅描寫,而最令我難忘嘅段落就係涉及到七姐節所紀念嘅織女及牛郎嘅描述:“一直到現在,牛郎留喺銀河呢一畔,織女又留喺另一畔,雖然兩人可以見到對方,但係毫無辦法溝通。只有一年一度逢到七月七日嘅時候先至有機會相見。嗰日,世界上所有嘅喜鵲就會飛向上天,用佢哋翅膀造成一條巨大嘅橋,以便織女走到丈夫身旁”。我睇,真正嘅愛情應該係咁樣嘅,擁有行喺幾百萬喜鵲翅膀上面嘅微妙感覺!
The white would seem to symbolize the magpie’s beautiful side. Last year I bought a book entitled Chinese Festivals in Hong Kong. In it, there are quite a number of passages that really moved me, but to me the most unforgettable one of all describes deals with the Festival of the Seven Sisters which commemorates the Weaving Girl and the Cowherd: “There they remain to this day, the Cowherd on side of the Milky Way and the Weaving Girl on the other, within sight of one another yet quite unable to communicate except once a year, on the Double Seventh. On that day all the magpies in the world fly up to Heaven and make a bridge with their wings for the Weaving Girl to cross over to visit her husband.” This is how true love should be, I think ― with the wonderful feeling of walking across the wings of millions of magpies!

香港嘅喜鵲叫聲嘈雜,唔係特別悅耳動聽㗎。澳洲喜鵲反而天生賦有一把非常好聽嘅聲音。平時,好聽嘅雀仔叫聲好似唱歌咁,歌唱般嘅旋律格外吸引人。澳洲喜鵲嘅好聽就截然不同,唔係唱歌而係一種令人陶醉嘅𠺘口聲!喺一般情況下,旋律係一音一音咁唱出嚟嘅,係由一系列單音組成嘅,不過本地喜鵲一開口就突然間創造出類此旋渦般嘅音樂溪流,好難分別出個別嘅節拍。用𠺘口呢個單詞形容佢特有嘅鳴聲或者容易使人產生誤會:講得更加正確嘅係,嗰種聲音類似係天堂下凡嘅天使𠺘口聲!我平時朝早五點鐘起身,嗰時全世界仲係黑蚊蚊嘅,乜嘢都見唔到,但係喺漆黑中通常可以聽到喜鵲喺最為陰暗嘅深處為黎明準備,唱出獨一無二嘅叫醒歌曲。
Hong Kong magpies make a rather raucous sound that is not very pleasant to listen to. But rather surprisingly Australian magpies are endowed by nature with an extraordinarily beautiful voice. Generally speaking, those birds with pleasant singing voices have a melody that is particularly attractive. However, the magpies in Australia are completely different: they don’t sing, they make a kind of intoxicating gargling sound! Ordinary melodies are song note by note, a sequence of single sounds organized into a unit; but as soon as the magpies of this place open their beaks they suddenly give rise to a musical stream of sound like a whirlpool, in which it is hard to distinguish individual notes. Perhaps using the term “gargling” to describe the sound this bird makes may give rise to misunderstandings: to be more precise, that sound is the gargling of angels in Heaven! Usually I get up at five in the morning at a time when the world is still pitch-black and you can’t see anything, but in that utter darkness you can often hear the wake-up song that the magpies have prepared for dawn, singing from the darkest depths of the night.

澳洲喜鵲識得發出好多唔同嘅叫聲,雖然最為突出嘅係嗰種仿效𠺘口聲,但係其實佢哋仲有三、四種其他嘅叫聲,好容易令到你以為係屬於幾種唔同嘅鳥類。自從我搬到鄉下間定居以來,我就慢慢開始學識邊隻雀仔會發出變樣鳴聲,經過一段時間之後就比較有把握唔會認錯,不過仍然仲有一啲「無主」嘅叫聲令到我冇法辨認出嚟。不過,終於有一日,我意識到嗰啲所謂無主嘅叫聲全部都屬於喜鵲:佢喺唔同嘅場所、唔同嘅情況下會唱出好唔同嘅歌,真係太不可思議啦!連年幼嘅喜鵲都有其獨特嘅叫聲,你一聽到就即刻知道年幼嘅喜鵲已經出現喺附近樹林裏面啦!
In actual fact, Australian magpies know how to make a number of different calls. Although the one that imitates a sound like gargling is the most conspicuous one, there are also three or four others that would make you think they were made by a few completely different birds. From the time I first moved to the countryside, I slowly began to learn which bird made which sound and, after a while, I could match the call to the bird fairly accurately, but there were still some calls that were “without an owner” and that I had no way of identifying. Nevertheless, I finally came to realize that all those ownerless sounds belonged to the magpies: rather miraculously, in different circumstances, and under different conditions, they sung different songs! Even young magpies had a special cry of their own, and when you heard that you knew at once that a new magpie had appeared in the nearby forests!

佢哋仲有另外一啲特殊行為。首先,喜鵲好似好鐘意喺地面行路揾嘢食,同烏鴉比起,佢哋行路方式零舍順利,一啲遴迍嘅感覺都冇。有時喺屋外觀察喜鵲時,我會覺得呢種雀仔太懶得起飛,短距離嘅路程佢哋差唔多每次都會選擇運用兩隻黑色嘅腳行過去,除非受到威脅時之外,就好少選擇飛翔嘅方式。
They also have a few other special forms of behaviour. First of all, magpies seem to like walking on the ground in search of things to eat. In comparison to crows, their manner of walking is especially assured and they don’t look in the least bit awkward. Sometimes when I am outdoors looking at magpies, I get the feeling that these birds are too lazy to fly ― over short distances they prefer to walk on their two black legs nearly every time, unless something threatens them. They seldom make the choice of flight.

Continue reading “《唐人溪 • 喜鵲》”

A Big Part of the Poetry of the World

2018-09-05 C'maine Shunting Yards Cropped

I went into Castlemaine today and I just had to take some photos of the small shunting yard near the station. Tracks, signals, empty wagons: they’re a big part of the Poetry of the World, to my mind.

When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike along the railway line as far as I could get. Of course, I always had to turn back without getting to an end of any kind. I guess, in my childish imagination, that pair of rails stretching all the way into the distance was a concrete image of ETERNITY. I had no idea of the meaning of “end of the line” then . . . One day I cut out an advertisement from the papers for train drivers: that was the job for me, I thought. Mum was horrified.

I was talking to one of the local farmers here the other day, and I happened to admire a huge gum tree near the road. He explained that a sleeper-cutter had come to cut it down decades ago with another nearby tree. Today that tree is a greying stump, but its neighbour survives because it grew too near to Malcolm’s house: the sleeper-cutter thought it might smash the place down. Now most sleepers are made out of concrete, so the job of sleep-cutting is a lost art, vanished forever from the repertoire of labour.

Yes, it’s an odd word, “sleeper”, when it refers to those huge slabs of timber that support railway tracks. I can’t help wondering whether we serve as “sleepers” in our own right at night. What mysterious lines run over our inert dreaming bodies in their beds, and what kind of freight gets carried on them by unfathomable ethereal trains to places we can’t even begin to imagine?