who could be eager
with filling the air with disdain
i’m not keen on falling into unfilled holes
when they’ve taken the money and run
i ask can we finally be of our age?
What do we do?
We hold back the darkness.
In other words, we fail.
Fail into night
Like perfect angels
Of diminishing light.
At least our battlegrounds,
What you know as sunsets,
spun to its finest skeins
with all the strands of the past
around a flimsy balsa stick
this soft numb form
is like life’s airy drift
the flimsiest tangle
the taste of becoming
the idea that sex
is about melting
under no one’s tongue
Coral polyps, like ashen fingers raised
in passing of a season gone too soon,
whiten as our politicians betray
both the Wangan and Jagalingou’s ways –
a gesture of ecological doom.
Coral polyps, their ashen fingers raised
trace the fine print of legislative phrase
revealing truths that we mustn’t impugn,
whiten as the politicians betray
our children’s future and reef as it weighs
heavy on the tide of rhetoric strewn.
Coral polyps with ashen fingers raised
conduct the coda of coal’s song of praise,
notes drift like silt over cities immune
that blacken as our politics betray.
In the North, as the island palm trees sway,
divers map bleached reef like marble hewn –
coral polyps, like ashen fingers raised,
whiten as our politicians betray.
Adani Coal Mine Approved
she dreams of making armour for the earth
a helmet to prevent the drillers from beginning
a breastplate so they cannot cut open her heart
greaves to stop the underground lines
breaking through to the watertable
it confounds her that anyone would want
to mine the Basin of Galilee
to make the earth a corpse to strip
back the muscle layer by layer
to let light in under all that rich deep earth
to groom her for profit burn coal embers
in the asthmatic air the heat increasing
to burn away everything for the emptiness
of waterdrained lungdrained flatlands
Let them eat coal not food.
for Diana Bridge
At the slow-gaited end of summer’s day,
dragonflies dart as precisely as needles
tatting the ornate patterns of lace-charts.
A kingfisher snatches a dragonfly midair—
holds it in its bill like an ampoule
of iridescent magenta ink. Slowly
an egret lifts—smoke from a clutch
of joss sticks. Koi sip at the surface, their lips
like the rubber rings of party balloons.
Another egret rises, legs trailing under
it long and thin as toasting forks.
A damselfly in rapid flight, a scholiast’s pen
annotating in margins, stops, touches
down on a lotus. Then a heron
with the calm posture of a Shinto priest
about to cleanse a shrine with prayer
steps suddenly towards an ibis
swallowing what its caught
from leaf pulp and bottom slime. I hear
the polyphonic tinkling of water, a tizwas
of insects soft-pedalling above white stones.
Remember Gujarat? Tidal mangroves were blocked
by bunds & embankments, Chinese MoU,
revenues from aluminium, polysilicon, animal feeds.
The Paris Climate, OECD delegates sipped their lattes,
declaiming coal dust, steam choking the fish,
bleached nuggets, burgeoning coral cemeteries.
We, with our winning smiles, tweeting environmental
charities, retweeting memes, protests, petitions, trending,
bracketed clauses in the draft agreement, spineless
politicians, Tourism Australia. Never mind Sir David
or Obama— we needed Murrawah, Amelia, Xiuhtezcatl
to sing the rewilding of grasslands, reefs, native title—
Who knew that Subrata Maity and Claude Alvares
defended the Mundra, or Mormugão Port in Goa from
pollution violations? The permits were not revoked.
When 10 per cent of robots lived in cities compliant
with WHO air quality guidelines, when the black
rhinoceros outnumbered the black-throated finch?
Nevertheless we sweltered, with news analysis full
blast, we dialled up air cons, we talked prophylactic
gene editing, from monkey to pig to Homo Saps.
We wrote dirges for the third world, prohibiting diesel
& motorcycle distributors, reversing neo-colonialism
with a corporate warrant to exhume the Galilee basin.
Everyone was abused; the state’s litigations, economic
futures, First nations, mind & memory’s quaint algorithms,
poems festering, composed in acid rain; volatile
Every dome we built is overgrown with tendrils,
They say the time to civilize our satellite
Is coming soon;
Architects and doctors, planners with their pencils
Design and theorize and calibrate
Thinking stops the blood, a mounting terror festers,
The leaving of a land is no small sacrifice
Even for us;
Seldom in the drunkest dreams of our ancestors
Could such an odyssey have been devised
We dare at last.
Trapped between the smell of history and stasis,
We plot a future where forgetfulness will cross
The crescent Earth;
Children we encounter (ours or something else’s)
Will seek in vain within their glossaries
The word for birth.
from Cap Coch
What a miner knows is in the air around him.
Its movement. Its fresh or stale. And in the rock
which creaks and settles overhead, which cracks
and falls from the coal face at the miner’s feet.
Where water runs, or not. Sounds, smells.
The flare of a lantern. Methane, invisible,
leaking from who knows where. Water that’s flooded
another working, dammed for decades, pressing
behind the coal face. You need to be able to read
the interruptions underground. An ancient
river bed where the accumulated
peat once washed out to sea. A fault in the rock
from a prehistoric earthquake. Always beyond
the barren rock the coal keeps going. One
old man will tell a grandchild about the darkness,
when he was twelve years old: your lamp goes out
and you can’t see your own hand. And how when you cut
under the coal face it comes away clean, sometimes,
smooth as a mirror, and on that shiny surface
a fern, each frond clear as the day it fell,
gleams in the light of your lamp, almost like new.
Where’s everybody gone? On the stony track
with unpredictable breezes swirling around
the minibus, we perch in our badly fitting
bright yellow safety helmets high
above the black chasm of the mine.
Impossible depth, impossible distances,
not a human being in sight. On the far side,
kilometres away, clanking and clumsy
as some ancient monster struggling onto land,
one big machine prods at the side of the pit.
Coal dust hovers around it. If that gets close,
the guide tells us, we’re out of here. You wouldn’t
want that in your face. Fields run to the edge
of the open cut: a miniature tree clings on
to its final months of life. There’s just one bloke
sitting in the cab down there in air-conditioned
comfort. Pretty much soundproof. That thing cuts
more coal in a day than a thousand men. The breeze
picks up. The cloud of coal dust eddies, rises,
begins to move towards us. Helmets off,
we scramble for seats. The bus grinds into gear.
In the pan your gravels crashing hatched their prize—
a brindle rush to hump my veins and fever up the leaf
that twisted in our fields. The guilt was white, my soul a sieve.
It boomed with bull to see the dust an avenue of spin—
and my brickhouse hazy as a reef, its aura built to scale.
I seemed to tap its skin.
Birth was the pits but this is mine. Rabbits swimming to shake my mitts.
A conveyor belt reaping into action, cries
rubbish rocks rubbish rocks
breaks up floodlight, its flesh
a stingray covered, uncovered.
magic, enters the bulldozer
its tyres dissolve
as from the rocks and rubbish
the camera conveys
naked and furiously sweeping
a path through reeds, pandanus
by the trucks and manganese
at her feet.
The old men spin like tyres covered, uncovered.
It’s the sixties, then it isn’t.
Let’s blame it on the times:
scattering before headlights
from mining trucks. Swaying tracks
arrest both lanes, dinosaur pads
wait for them to pass
before we can move on,
but the road is getting lean.
Buy a pen and I’ll draw
where money is born:
hole in the ground, catheter
seep from sepsis, drips through every
layer. We stand on filter paper:
nothing gets through
that won’t be discarded.
Chapters thicken like burns
and we carry stanzas home
with 5pm fidelity. Budget
for bliss. We’ll laugh all the way
There isn’t enough to strain
this season of sameness,
grilled up north out of sight,
but we’re filtering the bigger picture
through stones and stubs and strikes.
You’re out. There is life here, and it is wrapped
in plastic. A miracle of hauntings
and we have forgotten nothing.
The lines still run underground
and in rivers raw with split fish.
Taxation is no limit, poetry has no queue.
Dug up and dried out, we know
the solemnity of being bought,
but celebrate being paid for.
with a simple cross,
with the swiftness of grasslands
swindled for quarry,
for a beach of burning river sand
hatched by ophidian shadows,
a glanced lizard scudding
on the prismatic surface of water tension,
for the clean face of a wave
thickening with blackness of dolphins.
Wet money gurgles in a swamp
and the oligarch’s easement is guaranteed,
a hireling paid
to scrape and oil his armoury.
Fields of white stubble await the razor’s
grin, the ingress of blighted spirits,
a charring smoulder that reveals
dripping stalagmites of morgue,
dirt bikes yawing on the switchback
precipice past Turnaround Road,
all the young dudes on Maybe Street
taloned logging trucks.
In the underwater tunnel of the civic aquarium
the octopus leaned his wretched head
against the glass of his turbid pool
sucking on his breathing tube, like
a severed vein
so he could live.
He asked for his ocean. He asked me,
the daughter of the powerful race.
I was standing alone like a child stands
with her entry ticket in her hand.
No! No boom-town no brown current
no smoky vessel no swollen cooked mud
no slop shock no money juggle
no ghost bloom no blunt petrol hull
no smudge rock no possess.
Yes! Keep the lode under.
Hope for old flows to grow
polyp sponge weed
worm turtle dugong.
Conserve, do not stress.
Love the blue levels
the upwell the fluent spheres under
guyot gull sweep storm hover
sky green fluxes fresh flume.
Defend exoskeletons, broken hydro-forest.
Stop runoff overuse.
Don’t cut holes under clouds.
You new crown-of-thorns, go!
No short-term clever
no smoke-burn genus murder.
Keep us hold whole.
Let enfold of
north to south
whole blue current
whole source flush blood
Hope for whole country
not those who would strop
or cull reef.
Keep touch the swell deep course.
Loss is days
the traction of years deflating
so that a man, once a pearl in a dark mouth,
becomes sound’s flat plane.
The beating heart is corrosion,
Each mumbling moment.
Each frozen, irretrievable One.
Headlines could be the only things that matter;
the rest is just flesh, flow,
This sense that everything’s
the same and what I see – in the way
a tree emerges or an emu speeds – are the tips
of the freezing.
How to keep pace with the sun?
Never to falter. To be a cat curled
in the corner of a doorway, smiling dreamily.
Can the dream of shade
moving further out across the grass
ever be reconciled
with this tightening stiff of the gut?
On that note, how to follow a poet’s letters
to the memories of childhood
upon the streaked darkness, through which
I perpetually, always
without seeing, fall?
someone is digging a hole in me
biggest ever this time! wow!
I’m paying a billion dollars for this
(lazy billion, don’t you know)
the hole they’re digging in me makes fumes
smells bad, it leaves an ugly mess
kills everything all around
oh well – that’s me for self-esteem
I’m paying a million bucks
it’s like I’m trying to make friends
you’d think there was something killing me
and doctors had to cut it out
but it’s not like that at all
the hole they’re digging is a threat to life
people will die like flies from the smoke
we know because they’re dying already
from all the other holes in me
and in everyone else
you’d think it was a money spinner
but I’m paying to get it done
it’s true they’ve dug big ones in me before
but this one is the biggest yet
in fact it’s the biggest hole in the world
why is it they’re digging this hole?
why do I pay them to?
people ask what’s wrong with me
the hole’s to make a fire
it’s for a church of smoke
I’m doing it all for old King Adani
the peasant king
they’re digging the biggest hole in the world
I pay them to dig it in me
the sun must have burnt a hole in my head
this hole will be burning my pocket soon
I have to be insane
so many of me
backs into it
the wheel must roll on!
the hole must be dug
the biggest in the world!
this way I’ll burn till we’re all a lot warmer
they’re digging for what’s deep down in me
a billion dollars digging
I’m paying for this to be done
it’s a loan
but I don’t think I’ll see the money come back
none of the banks thinks so
none of the banks will lend to the king
but look at the ships queuing up for the port
they’re taking me away to burn
my fire will light up half the world
you won’t see through the smoke
don’t you point the finger at me
I’m not doing it
it’s my job
I pay for it to be done
and the sea is dark with it
nothing lives there
and the sky is smoke
my lungs and yours
we’re all going to burn so bright
no one will see through the haze
a billion dollars worth of burning
it’s the cheapest solution
you don’t want to pay more
not for a great big hole
I can’t help saying it again
the biggest hole ever!
they’re digging it in me
I’m so proud
you’d think there was something
we had to bury
more damage than ever before!
it’s because it’s so big
we just have to do it
if you want an omelette, breaks eggs
or you can stay out of the kitchen
let’s see just how high this sea can go
we’re making more ocean views?
everyone’s a winner
there’ll be more for everyone to swim
it’s the fossils who are doing the digging
we have to pay for it too
because, if they don’t dig this hole in me
they’ll dig in someone else
and that, my friends, would be very bad indeed
they’ll dig there anyway, they will
they might as well dig a hole in me
they say he’s a gangster
the big man with moustache
we’re giving the money
oh sage old king
just look at him
and see how wise
you’d be a fool not to have the hole dug
he’s offering to handle it all
only a billion!
that’s all we have to do
just give him the money
then we can dig the hole in me
they say that he’s done it before
but that can’t be true
this is one of a kind
the hole they’re digging in me
it’s the biggest one ever
lazy billion’s worth, I said
overseas, the poor, they deserve this great pit –
the dirty great hole they’re digging me
with this, they can choke to death in good light
such is the hole that they’re digging in me
they’re going to dig
you can’t stop them
how can you stand in the way of a king?
and the sea is coal
and the sky is coal
and your heart’s as dark as mine
you couldn’t vote for this sort of thing
I must really hate myself
to let them dig this hole like this
but isn’t it the gangster’s right –
to come to the end of the world
and be given my lazy billion to dig
to dig a hole in me?
we mustn’t say no to the future
there’s so much sun in Queensland
they’re digging a hole in me
I think that it’s time
to stand up and say
do you think
we’ll wake up in time?
from the First Movement, Inferno, of Franz Liszt’s ‘A Symphony to Dante’s Divine Comedy’
Destruction is bigotry.
Abandon all hope and you here entering
here entering hope the gate the heat the light
abandoned pit of generations of generating
the constructivist hope the thermal incite
to agony and pain strung out over last days
of ornamental snakes and the brisk flight
of black-throated finches, the gurgle of ways
of hope and divinity and a name like Galilee
and Wangan and Jagalingou peoples’ land says
what rights of hope what draughts will flee
the hollows down to the sea and reef made hopeless
in its wreckage and ash rising in clots of adjectives to the glee
of executives fighting for the impoverished — a caress
of largesse of hope of entering the homes of the poor
to make an epic for the world that will stress
rivers and bush and forests and coral reefs and the store
of past that is underneath that foots the bill of now
are merely symbols in an advertising draw-
card for gates and ye and the shrinking self for
all our global aspirations all our dynamic equivalence
our souls our atman our states of being a store
of carbon life-forms bonded over the pits
of cultural extraction of data over the gate
of wealth — great wealth — at the expense
of love as deep as seams as seems to grate
on the nerves of the lost who think they’ve found
their way to higher states to patronise the poor to freight
ethics on a conveyor belt to furnace to abandon
to build a case against the protectors of life of biosphere
and advertise hope of you and us the close the never distant tonnes
of profits all to the greater good the greater glory no fear
of insulting the very earth they walk on, rolling it resoundingly
beneath their feet abandon you abandon ye abandon clear
and present danger as hook to ward off protest so agonisingly
frustrating to the mission to make the gate to go back & forth
through gate to break the gate fast track desert belt accordingly
brigalow belt in grassland denial to report back ‘patchy’ — a dearth
of Acacia harpophylla in the target in the crucible (‘the polygon’)
such survey exonerations of Buffel grass or beneath the coolabah a mirth
a kind of light-hearted get-together a mug of tea on the station
a back-to-work a seize-the-moment and a wonder at the lack of ‘things
created’ as a reconcilable future. Come, don’t hang back, fashion
your own path to the river to cross the Acheron to wash away what clings —
Eucalyptus brownii cheap by the dozen abandon this rough-barked life & canopy
& memories of ye coal fires choking us cancerous hope we could see what sings
when such ancientness is dug up and entered burnt with impunity.