Corellas

 

1.

Corellas forage at the northern end

of the beach, foam-coloured

with fluorescent stains

under the wings and pink on the nape

visible only when the wind

parts pages of feathers.

 

The eyes are set in a compass

of grey-blue skin, the right eye

confident that it is the centre

of some cheerful farce, the left

following the shifting periphery

of the flock.

 

The whole swashbuckling gang

roils over the sand

selects and rejects twigs

and strips of seaweed.

 

One bird stalls, listening

to a pale stalk poised

between beak and claw

 

then on, toiling over the dune

riding on bossy thighs until the sky

washes in under them

and they rise in shrill protest

 

in the air they are one wing

of bird twisting in the citron air.

 

2.

Immigrants to Whajuk country

they live in a cloud of hysteria

 

an ancestral memory

of a caged pet keeps them roving

 

their cries are updates

on the current shape of panic

 

loud with drought and fire.

 

They roost on the foreshore

to spend raucous nights

inventing a past, sharing

quips and homilies.

 

Like the crews of men

who fly in and out

from mine-site to city

their stories are the broken

ends of sentences

 

their shrieks announce

some wider severance

of time from place.

 

('Corellas' was published in Plumwood Mountain Journal Volume 4 no. 2)

 

The twilight observatory

 

1. The nightself

 

(i)

Your nightself has another name;

as soon as you fall asleep

the shift in nomenclature begins.

 

If you knew the name when you woke

you might be fearful, or prolific,

or wise, but you lurch into the morning

taking cues for identity from a table,

a shelf of books, a bowl;

 

you steady yourself on matter,

let objects dictate your movements,

use the light to distance yourself

and the other name

stutters back into darkness.

 

(ii)

After fifty-five years of sleep,

the last five of them poor

you conclude that the night

is as rich as the day.

 

Certain that you have been

granted audience with crows

dead geologists and philosophers

you try to stay awake

in one tiny fold of the brain

and end up waking tomb heavy

as if you’ve been taken in

for questioning over an incident

you have no memory of.

 

                       

2.  The first audience: crows

 

They sidle into your life.

 

A crow builds a nest

in the neighbour’s Marri tree

 

a ridiculous structure

a mess of twigs glued

together with air.

 

At dusk the darkness

seeps though the gaps

 

and empties itself

into the plumage of the bird.

 

(ii)

You hear a crow

outside the window;

 

it utters a name in a long

night rasp followed by two

accusations. There is a pause

 

before a second crow

repeats the charges.

 

The first bird flies off

ripping open the sky .

 

(iii)

Three days later, on the oval,

there are more crows than anyone

has ever seen;

 

they make a ragged circle

around one crow.

 

The breeze flicks their feathers

from deep blue to black

and back

 

the blunt grass is littered

with balled tissues and lolly wrappers.

 

The bird in the middle hunches

twists its neck

as if freeing itself from a noose;

 

it lifts into the air and flies

towards the remnant bushland.

 

The other crows fly after it, their cries

stripping the air of mercy.

 

You return to your desk.

 

 

3. The second audience: the geologist

 

He says his science did not prepare him

for death. More so the fieldtrips

 

alone or with solid fellows

also drawn to the mineral hunt.

 

Sleeping under the gravel of stars

the iron in his blood

clamped him to the earth;

 

in the desert his blood

developed a vermillion hue.

 

More so the driving towards

and the driving away from a family;

 

a life deposited in discrete

sediments. His wife introducing

him again and again to his children.

 

(ii)

The Geologist walks back

weightless into the desert.

 

Now that he is dead the land

no longer has mass

 

granite and basalt are resolved

into sound. Everywhere the rocks

 

have thawed and roar like cataracts.

Hearing is igneous.

 

The Geologist walks deep

into the thunder of greenstone

 

following the fault line

 

into the sunlit core

 

of the earth.

 

 

4. The third audience: the philosopher

 

(i)

The bees are gathering in swarms

in the darkness, in the place

where all dying species assemble

an ark of sorts

anchored just beyond

the atmosphere

where each animal

dies back into its idea.

 

Plato is the ark’s bee master;

his grief causes storms on Earth.

 

He realises that ideas need bodies

even these frail, striped bodies,

these transparent wings

still poised in flight.

 

(ii)

Plato regrets burning his poetry

he fears the magnitude of his act.

 

He apologises to all poets

for calling them liars

for suppressing their similes

and exiling them from his perfect state.

 

As mentor of an entire

civilisation he feels responsible

for the charred ideals of the West

for the ashen face of nature.

 

Now that he is beekeeper

on the ark of lost species

he smells the smoke

that drifts up from earth

as the conflagration continues

as metaphors howl at their suttee

as they burn like forests

 

and become extinct.

 

(iii)

When Plato burnt his poetry

he tore the parchment into strips;

 

words were severed from words

before he edged them into the flames.

 

They took light slowly, the fibres

singing, the paper turning into black

feathers, the shreds of verse

becoming birds, each one

a crow, flapping out of the smoke

complaining their throats

had been seared, finding

 

they could speak only

a few dismembered words

of poetry, choosing to live

in flocks & spend their time

re-constructing the broken

lines, each murder of crows

a tattered poem

restoring the aesthetic

 

the vision of a Republic

shaped by the necessary

order of words.

 

(iv)

Plato says the stars are migrating:

 

they tug at their moorings

 

tremulous, they unbuckle

themselves from Orion’s belt

 

leave their bright sacs hanging

like empty keepsakes & congregate

 

in the deep marrow of space.

 

 

5. The nightself returns     

 

(i)

Your nightself grows a memory.

                       

It is faint at first, more a sense

of the presence of what

 

has not yet arrived, felt as a hush

surrounding the body

 

as if an unborn child

is dreaming you.

 

This is also a type of darkness.

 

(ii)

The preoccupation with darkness

allows you to notice the predicament

of light: the way it shatters

as it enters the atmosphere

 

upbraided by dust, flecked by pollen

splintered by ice, coloured in rain

 

dispersed in endless reflections;

 

the way it stuns itself on the trunks

of trees, slaps into the sides

of buildings; the bruised

 

light of the world always

trying to comprehend.

 

(iii)     

Just before dawn

 

there comes the billowing

like a fine magnetic cloth;

 

light is cast and drawn

at the same time.

 

It seizes what belongs to it

 

these walls are nothing

this chair and bed

 

 a void

 

even your body is a cavity

into which light sees.

(Commended in the Newcastle Poetry Prize 2015)

Sisters, with cabbages

 

At twilight the cabbages

were still defending order

amidst the brawl of lantana

 

robust nubs rooted

in the sweating clay

that dyed our feet henna red.

 

In those days

there was always a redness

following us, staining

the concrete and carpets

 

even our sheets blushed

a flesh colour.

 

We looked up into a darkness

without scent or colour

 

the stars spotless

in a thin skirt of haze

 

and we believed for some minutes

that a star was expanding

growing towards us

 

that we would be caught up

in its old testament light

 

before our first boyfriends

pressed their hands

over our unripe breasts

 

we would be plucked

from our parents’ farm

 

but as the haze lifted

the star took its place

in the lesser mysteries

of a night sky

 

leaving us foot-maids

of the clotted earth,

the servants of brassica

 

knowing that our

miraculous nonage

was over

 

that we would enter

some greater mystery

 

and, desiring a blessing

we crouched before the cabbages

 

to cup their sturdy

heads in our hands, receive

their sensible oracle

 

before we walked

the red slurry of that patch

 

in a widening mandala

away from our childhood

(Tom Collins Prize 2016)