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)

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 . . .

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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.