Last year’s floods surged salt
up the Yare and spilled through here.
I counted the starved, decaying pike
surfaced by so many losses.
Now I look for migrants
and while I scan you read to me –
abundance of mallard, greylag,
the pure-white belligerence of swans.
A tern holds before its drop;
re-emergence and rough dividend
of too-small silver flailing.
You are reading now of the lapwing,
the curved crest, that joyful cry,
of all its resident names: green plover,
pewit, pie-wipe, lappinch, chewit;
such fresh-water in your migrant mouth.
a penumbral eclipse that’s what they call it
that mix of shadow and light shade hidden
as if we are viewers at some entertainment
for tourists this is not the Egyptian pyramids
at Giza whose azimuth was calculated along the
desert plains no something even more humble
an Australian beach a seashore where the tide
sweeps in under the glimmering full moon
we will be in full umbra night’s shadow
and unable to see the penumbra of moonlight
our azimuth will not angle us to this eclipse
Why be afraid.
A fallen bird,
the dead bugs
in yellow grass,
Schoolchildren watch things pass,
Before these houses
filled the hills
grandparents tending the garden.
Or, before time,
chaos modulated into
civilising climate change,
what had we
shone with forests,
cycads were fountains.
Or, closer to home
along state lines,
oppressor and oppressed,
to an illusion.
What of it?
We observe the shifts
on colour screens.
to our fear
the gouging pain
and grudging antidotes,
what can they be?
We will leave too
and feel no more
like all before,
In 1923, bookshop owner James Tyrrell purchased the premises of ‘Tost & Rohu: Taxidermists, Furriers, Tanners and Island Curio Dealers’ – it was known at the time as ‘The Queerest Shop in Sydney’.*
Welcome to Tost & Rohu’s carnival of the unusual!
naturalists, articulators Purvey the shelves, cabinets
and shop-front façade. sea-shells in large variety Wonder open- mouthed entomological specimens and
requisites at what you do not know, what you do not have: bric-a-brac,
fancy work and flower making gewgaws, marvellous birds,
beasts and reptiles oddities prepared and mounted to order that are the queer
and strange discharge of a continent. Minutiae of curiosities furs, tanned revealed –
an assortment of mixed lollies: snakes, frogs, sharks’ teeth, black cats and Pyrmont rock,
jellied substances instruments for Oologists
and jars of white spirit floating preserves. Go closer, Lyre bird tails
gawk at creatures reassembled, enjoy the pantomime ladies’ muffs, circlets,
bags of nature re-enacted, exotic ornamentations, implements, woomera the dark stained
patinas boomerangs of clubs and shields –
invent your narratives of possession, snake skin tobacco
pouches romance and loss, stop and choose Emu cameos enchantment or terror,
mounted in life-like style by Mrs. Tost.
* use of italics denote fragments from Tost & Rohu letterheads and advertisements
Kristin Hannaford is a Queensland based poet. Her writing has recently appeared in Cordite, Australian Poetry Journal, Overland, Filling Station (CAN) and Trace (Creative Capricorn, 2013) a chapbook of commissioned poems exploring histories of Rockhampton. Kristin is writing a new collection of poems thanks to an Australia Council new work grant.
(Walking Katoomba to Mittagong)
for Alan Wearne
Their parents gone, we start
gathering around, the line
of a fortnight’s challenge-by-choice measured
in meals and scroggin, socks, blister-packs, fuel.
We allocate the group gear – bivvy sheets, billy can
and tarp – adjust our packs, compare
their weight. Studying maps one
more time and, measuring the route
(touch wood) set out.
Cliff Drive to Glen Raphael’s and Narrow Neck Plateau
where morning mist is spilling over
swampy heaths and packed pygmy-
eucalypts bottlenecking our postcard scenes.
Like marauding gang gang cockatoos
the kids start frivolous: Let’s napalm
these trees and snatch a view. We walk
into sclerophyll, the odd face
of sandstone and shale too sheer
for growth; the richer green
of watercourses and east-facing walls.
I look at maps, orientating my high spirits, teaching
navigation basics and joking: Into this measured beauty
as we soar … and it’s Chrissy cutting in:
C’mon ‘Corridor’, while rescue choppers circle
we’ll just bush-bash lost all day.
At last the end of Narrow Neck
and we climb the cliff line, down
to Medlow Gap and two hours more
to the Mob’s Swamp cave, our camp.
What bastard promised this would be our ‘easy’ day?
With sugar levels low, the careless
push for camp fractures certain tempers
so amidst some cranky laughter I readdress the rules,
motivating our final effort when freed of packs,
a coffee and a freeze-dried meal will make
the relief of conversation around
the fire at night, before the luxury
of an overhang’s dirt floor,
the Milky Way and the full moon lighting
its veneer outside.
We wake at dawn, or thereabouts,
a cold fog in the casuarinas
outside. Breaking camp a little later
than I might have liked we look
at maps, measuring the angles
of our route and set to climb
Warrigal Gap; contouring round
the western edge of Merrimerrigal
we traverse Mt Dingo to the Bushwalkers’
War Memorial – Splendour Rock.
Lunching with views of the days
ahead – the Cox’s Gorge, the Gangerang Ranges
to Kanangra Walls – a grasstree – Xanthorrhoea australis –
high on conglomerate rock collects
our attention like regimental colours
and provokes Smithy: Come off it Phil, it’s a blackboy,
a spear throwing blackfella, quick, let’s souvenir the shaft.
I sweet-talk the group with the adventure
of bush tucker and craft, a one plant supermarket:
spears, fire sticks, sugar, grubs and glue –
You think this is wilderness. It’s ‘Country’.
Readying for a long afternoon’s
steep descent past fruiting geebungs,
gums and sarsaparilla, turpentine, stringybark
and angophora, I keep the strugglers
near the front, sharing the navigating;
the distraction and group momentum carrying them.
On chocolate breaks the sugar gliders crash
in wonder; I look to trees, withdrawing, while drinking water.
Our way soon brings us to stands of blue gum,
with that aromatic eucalyptus trait and towering
marble columns peeling rough dark bark
at their bases: Ah, the stockinged pillars of Rivendell.
But, Shut-up ‘Corridor’, it’s Boaty chipping in, forget
the view, we’re scratched and tired. Yet as packs hit
the ground their grins shut tight –
one perfect snapshot view.
On dark we make the river flat and two ks
more to camp, in knee-high stinging
nettle and wet boots, to trudge
an hour more – a canvas castle
and our pit-fire star-vaulted hall.
That night we lay below the mountain,
creek side, like trout facing upstream, still,
against the flow and waiting.
At dawn we crossed Kanangra Creek
for two days climbing, then another with burning
aching knees, gingerly down. Our transit over
these Gangerang Ranges – Mt Strongleg,
Mt Cloudmaker, Stormbreaker, High and Mighty,
the Rip, Roar and Rumble Knolls – we debriefed
each night, grim if elated. Our camps were eyries
along the Gandangarra’s ochred line,
and as I spotlighted their middens
the kids mimicked me, hooting open-eyed;
at the campfire Denash (in parody) stoked the embers:
This is journey as metaphor,
the summits lighting with tolerance and testing
with fire. At last we climbed the Bullhead Ridge
and Cambage Spire down to the bushwalkers’ grail –
water running cool and clear over
river sandstones, cream and pink, the breeze singing
down kurrajongs and myrtles, casuarinas and figs –
our prize, the Kowmung Gorge. Setting a base camp, we swam
and explored: the Chiddy Obelisk and Red
Hands Caves. Climbing Mt Armour’s columnar basalt cap:
This perfection was valued
as limestone slurry I preached. The kids broke into
‘Love Is All Around’ whilst Boaty chimed:
C’mon ‘Corridor’, aren’t you finished
with yourself up there?
We stand about the fire tonight
and talk, in drizzle, joyful for
three days rest, the balm
of being wild. It ends
tomorrow, breaking camp, weighing down
our packs as muscles tighten.
Next day climbing, in rain, the Bolga Cone
and Axehead Mountain to Yerranderie, a silver city
ghost town built on lucky claims and bitter
strikes; a sanctuary with arsenic pools.
Late that afternoon, we find the lodge and resupply,
closing the door against the cold outside
as the kids collect each other with food and games,
drying around the hearth and cheering:
Tonight we sleep in beds!
Early next morning we leave Yerranderie
for King Billy’s Tree and a rock grinding site
where basalt was scraped to axeheads
and chert flaked by percussion into edges and points;
a scarring in Country sloughing (yet again) the terra nullius lie
as the kids sit foot-sore in quiet, learning from the land.
After, to savour their redolence,
we crush sassafras leaves by the handful
and walk on.
Fording the Wollondilly we seek sustenance
in scroggin, tuna and flat bread before climbing
the Wanganderries and down to the Nattai on dusk;
a casuarina-and-wattle-bloom gorge, so sandy poor,
yet teeming with scribbly gum, coachwood and silver-top ash.
We camp in a grove of ancient
paperbarks, stinging nettle cramping
us in. For five more days we make-and-break camps,
hiking on. Often we wade in the Nattai’s nourishing
brown flow, secure in water-proofed packs and maps;
as well (we joke) a resiliency born in blister-packs.
Our final campsite: tonight
the kids string their bivvies together
and celebrate tall stories: a thunder-and-blood
Black Panther and Cannibal Kev, the near misses,
their rolls and rolls of strapping tape. They prepare
each other meals, a billy of tea
and amidst rounds of song forecast
the luxury of their next fast-food.
The wind currs at the end of autumn. How the rain on the house is not an instinct. The road an aviary.
tarnished clasp of handle
the figure of water
with moments which disappear
She fingers and refolds his clothes. His shirt is a still arboreal light. It is the terminal colour of all leaves.
The fields widen to become the ragged edge of the future through each acre, the way a disused nest is most visible in leafless bough, a husband’s voice in its frailty and its distance.
her mourning hieratic
spun like an arrangement of leaves
her wizened hands
the way silence once
the rituals of water
The bounding footsteps on the stairs above her, an absence as indiscernible to desire. Memorial, cloudcover.
The tireless mending, the hem of her skirt through wet grass, awaiting the blades of hallow feathers.
a clutch of stones
a child’s toy
winter stars appear
in another’s mouth
She lives by a disconsolate gift, the shrived night, untethered seam.
Fenced yard of years burning, the weight of the axe in agile hands, the trill of a darning fire.
a wife clothed
in the weight of acres
a rosehip tisane
the bitter warmth of nourishment
He sows the household of memories; a sorrow which grows by stalk, sudden leaf, and branches.
And the fields, swathed now, at the withered table; cinched dark bulbs in the earth, looming.
the descent of light
his lone steed
a quiet shame
which masks his throat
The limbering fires they rely on for warmth, the rifting winds, and the ashes which flock over inherited fields.
She remembers her son on the shoulders of his father, legs churning through the air, a regal flight through the instincts of a body.
weight bearing on colors
in the last leaves of autumn
The mask of joy in bright distant townships, circling wild grasses, with clipped wings.
Snow geese wend and lilt off gilded fields, flying over the riven house, lifted in the wake of another.
leaving a doorway
the shuttered leap
a whittled toy rolling
on the stone floor
Rain, with its rending swarm, a widow and her alter. The field, and the silence of consonant feathers.
In the light reflecting off windowpanes, the dwelling of memory, that ragged animal joy.
his each breath
hobbled with loss
wreathes of distance
and the dormancy of beauty
His hand on hers, clothed in childhood, the twinning of limbs which till the land.
Daybreak fossicking in warren clouds, the scent of fire, the weight of bread.
her wild nourishment
before his morning
Thick-lipped glass jars, perfect silence broken before the meal, the rattle of dishes, a fledgling song, heard, when the weather holds.
The wings lifting that fall in thermals and arcing heaves,
single hours of sky that avalanche in streaming light
from mesas and peaks to the heart of matter and chance,
the seen and unseen heights that garden facts on the ground
for the mind falls with sunlight lifting in wings that thicken
with precision between openness and shuddering propulsion
through the genome of forgiveness for whatever failed to work
or became epidemic, fogged out, or what opened and spread
along impulse before drawing back, retracting into a landing,
for the current seven billion will sleep and then wake, sleep
then wake, each birth into longing that begins in the cells
where it ends, as light and dark will swallow what happens
with what never came to be, living sunlight that has let us
witness through lapses and stands what balances inside
its bearings, where palaces have been built out of capability
and stay maybe a handful of years before what was forgotten,
unknown, or far from sync bears down, the wings morning
and evening taking the current light into long-term alignment
of instruments of adaptation, the adjustment of intensity
to cellular discovery that goes on beneath this lifetime
in the practice of intrinsic worth of the interlinked species.
Lord knows it’s easy to fall in love
with cicadas and katydids, day and night
tuning me in to the Southern Cross,
soundtrack for Englishwoman Abroad.
Pollen-collecting clouds of native bees,
stingless, also sweeten my squeamish heart.
Harder to summon kindness for the ants,
a segmented phalanx queuing up on
the kitchen windowsill to come forage
for whatever looks tasty to an ant –
a whisker of catfood smiling on a spoon,
the tiniest lick of apricot jam;
a crust of raisin bread, the agreed HQ.
Or outdoors, crawling between my toes,
up my arms – an unacceptable degree
of wriggle – to bite down, unprovoked,
on tender flesh with practised mandibles.
The way they file so industriously
one behind the other offends my view
of things, anthropocentric, programmed
to Individual Freedom. I could
maybe learn some ant manners, division
of labour, cooperative spirit.
But my stung right wrist has swelled to the size
of a large library (if you were an ant) and
their creeping looks too much like words
appearing on a screen of their own accord,
words I can’t read, inverted, experimental.
I could be more curious, attend more
closely, study ant grammar, the conditional.
It’s a long path, aspiring to love the ant,
sugar ant, bull ant, even the yellow crazy ant.
Gentler to tread if I remember how they help
half the plants here in Australia
spread: the way a shift will drag a seed
to their underground nest, feed their young
and devour what flesh is left; leave the germ
to settle, in its own time, take root, long
after the ant employed in such labour
has ascended to wherever ants gather
to lie down and rest. And that’s, let’s face it,
before I even consider the cockroach,
its unforgivable nocturnal slang.
In the harsh noon the bellbird sounds its chastest note. Note
how ants sleep,
and locusts sleep: when they wake they forget what
they wanted to give themselves
to. Behave as in an imaginary library,
one that you carry through the bush, collecting overdue loans
with a beneficent
smile, and nodding at the phrase ‘search terms’. You
know what’s searched most. There
may be no god, nor money either.
Yet we work for both sunup till down. Some trace it back
to St Augustine,
but that’s hardly necessary (for us). You are one, and
will be two soon enough. There
are young red bucks, there are golden
does, there are sex-doves under the mistletoe. I call them hornets,
of naught. It’s a popular vein. ‘Get your thighs dirty.’
You understand your own body’s
music, not the rudeness of that company.
Anything that reminds him of fur,
anything that reminds him of clotted beginnings
in a dense litter of black and white.
The fleece recycled bottles make is mother now.
Answering his calls
I pick him up and his coat against my skin
becomes a part of what the night means.
I am not the philosopher
disturbed in the bathroom
at our unequal coverings.
And when I write on paper
in my dressing gown
he climbs my length abstractedly,
every placement of his paws
building an argument of its own.
The forty odd freckled ducks lived & died on water.
Like plain country folk dressed in blue-checked shirts
& dark moleskins, they were raised in the same town
& buried too, within its familiar, territorial limits. Or
Like a housewife knifed by a stranger in her kitchen,
Their deaths: some brutal transgression of the home;
A sticky, bloodshot lagoon silted up after three good
Seasons. Their weir consolidated its life-giving asset,
As if it was a colonial outpost counting out its last
Rounds; their reed camouflaged pond transformed
Into an unstable ammo dump. Their billabong; some
Balkan village about to be liquidated. Lead pellets fell
Through their skins’ crust; like how a coin-sized piece
Of neutron star would slip straight through the earth.
Al di là del casolare diroccato
dove da poco hanno eretto palazzi
e capannoni industriali
c’è un fiume che gorgoglia mite
la storia millenaria del suo moto.
In esso l’acqua è limpida
i pesci l’attraversano cullati dalla corrente.
Attorno tutto sembra procedere lentamente.
Gli uccelli hanno i loro becchi bagnati
gli insetti foglie rigogliose dove ripararsi.
Molti ignorano la sua esistenza.
D’estate con l’acqua del fiume
gli uomini rinvigorivano i campi.
Era magnifico quando
i bambini gli correvano accanto
e si poteva ascoltare in lontananza
susseguirsi delle lavandaie il canto.
Ora a nessuno più interessa quel fiume.
The River Next to the City
Beyond the dilapidated cottage
where there are newly-erected buildings
and industrial warehouses
a river gurgles meekly
the story of its thousand-year motion.
Its water is clear
fish swim through, lulled by the current.
All around everything seems to go on slowly.
Birds wet their beaks
lush leaves under which insects take shelter.
Many ignore its existence.
In summer with water from the river
men revive the fields.
It was magnificent when
children ran next to it
and you could hear in the distance
the succession of washerwomen singing.
No one cares about that river anymore.
|Two tall bright yellow murnong at the sandy track –
The young bow to the
The cycle (of the year)
Across the plains –
Where soon I find:
twining fringe lilies
salmon & plain
throughout the open woodland
in the isolated fragments of remnant grassland:
rare sites like exquisite stars
before they are extinguished
one by one
and the darkening sky of the red gum plains
That afternoon we tramped to the springs
brushing branches and dead leaves aside,
trading terminologies, looking
for tiny mosses sung up by the frogs
who hide and call from lucid pools,
remembering, hoping for new growth
to show them spring might come. We were clear
of the city, nearly free to breathe.
The lake was cold, the woods were bare.
We looked into useless, bottomless pools
where ‘crystal clear’ means ‘don’t drink here’.
Only our voices echoed; no birds sang.
The sun flickered low in the pines
like a dying wasp snagged in resin.
from Atlas Peripatetic
The native word was rind,
woody plants such as trees
overlay the wood and consists
in other words most of the stem.
Any small ship. Echoic,
specifics of the brain recorded—
—loudspeaker for bass notes.
Please note this inner bark,
this dry outer husk (from which
it is extracted). What scribal error
this unlikely etymology, by early
sources. Stronger and sweeter
words coined for the covering,
to low like a cow, to rend, to boast,
to cry out the bark of certain trees.
Whose skin by exposure to sun,
whose shells in a red heat, slips
or disappears. Skin, plates on fish
Where is the outer shell of the earth,
exactly, especially the gold edge
of Calafia. The uncertain pages
of a book—
—what falls from our eyes
Killing time, we find a stretch of sand
and wait for the sun to fade
in the bay’s rough curve.
So I tell you how I’ve learned
death is Daliesque—an elephant on stilts,
a camellia grown in the ocean.
How every set of eyes that met mine
something now gone.
Oshima sits quietly, just south of Yokohama.
Their disaster is two decades old now,
a story between mouthfuls.
So carefully you reply,
watching the water
turn solid in the dark.