The words, you couldn’t say, were put together particularly well, but because we sang them – well, flowers all around, buds in our mouths, electricity, harmony, nobility, any other ‘ee’ you can think of. We walked on the banks, or drifted down in the canoes, our songs a barrier against the darkness, for twilight was no more than a strip of oil on black mud. Then, reluctantly – especially the younger children – all of us took to the water, screaming and crying, the mullet jumping before us and the dark current gripping our boats. To add to the terror, flying foxes skimmed and splashed the waters about – were they drinking, trying to fish? – and we were just agile enough to avoid hitting a rock wall at the river’s jagged turn. Frightening, but it is always that way, we leave ourselves open to it, so that the thing we love, the river, will never become overly familiar, but what we have to grope through, unable to see the snags, the shallows, the rocks, sure we can be led to grief, overturned, clambering to the shore in darkness, shivering – yet we want it, or think we do, except – when we saw him, immobile, looming above us from the high bank, the arabesque of his horns, by that time there was the merest silver wash above the bank to see his outline, yet we felt he could see us more clearly, the angle of remaining light, the unknowable power of his eyes, how helpless you feel when you are seen and cannot see. And what we saw of him, the inarguable mass of him, the slow shift of weight as he refined his view, the weight of the law, always the law, and in that second we saw and knew that we were judged.
Brian Purcell’s poems have appeared in Meanjin, Southerly, and recently in Notes for the Translator (ASM/Cerberus Press), Australian Love Poems and the Red Room’s Disappearing project. For ten years he was the singer/lyricist for Distant Locust, touring Europe in 1991. In 2010 he founded the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival.