The Birds Just Withdrew (2019, Unpublished)

Acknowledgements

American Love Poem was shortlisted in the 2014 Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Competition.

Golden Bowerbird was shortlisted in the 2014 Manning Clark House National Cultural Awards, Axel Clark Memorial Prize for Poetry.

Counter-pastoral at 140kph was shortlisted in the 2015 Newcastle Poetry Prize and published in Connective Tissue – Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology 2015.

Barnacle was shortlisted in The University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize 2016, published in Tremble, The University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize 2016 anthology and published in the 2017 Best Australian Poems.

Night Parrots was shortlisted in the 2017 Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Competition and was published by Penny Olsen in Night Parrot (CSIRO Publishing, 2018).

Skull Hole Winton was shortlisted in the 2017 Tom Collins Poetry Prize.

A Japanese Airman Forewarns His Wife was shortlisted in the 2018 Grieve

Writing Competition and was published in Grieve Volume 6.

Koko Mourns Her Manx Cat All Ball was shortlisted in the University of Canberra

Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize 2018 and published in Signs,

The University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize 2018 anthology

In Account with The Public Curator won the 2018 October Hill Magazine Literary

Contest (USA) and was published in October Hill Magazine.

My Father on a Horse, Date Unknown won the Leon Shann Award in the 2018 Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Prize.

26th January – 6th February 1788 was commended in the 2018 Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Prize.

On the Death of Astronaut John Young was published in Westerly.

Killing One Hundred Wedge-Tailed Eagles was published in Southerly.

 

Contents

 

American Love Poem

My Father on a Horse, Date Unknown

In Account with The Public Curator

On the Death of Astronaut John Young

Stingless

Barnacle

Golden Bowerbird

Koko Mourns Her Manx Cat All Ball

Night Parrots

Killing One Hundred Wedge-Tailed Eagles

26th January – 6th February 1788

Skull Hole, Winton

A Japanese Airman Forewarns His Wife

Counter-pastoral at 140kph

 

American Love Poem

 

You saw your first cardinal, iconic American bird.

Maybe you’d just stepped out the front door of your

1930s depression era bungalow & its redness caught

your eye as you slammed the blue door shut & double

checked the lock, your fingers chirping from the cold.

A discordant winter colour, as if a laser sight ranged

over the dun landscape hunting for a kill & alighted on

that scarecrow’s bleak arm. In that instant, you were

Elizabeth, the pleasure of your breath’s intake loud

as a gunshot in a suburban street or a stuck water pipe

groaning from its heavy winter coat. I can picture her

pausing, stocking up on the bird’s palette, mixing oils

in her head to do the blushing passerine justice.

Coercing her colourists to shade its chromakey jizz

Just right. Dawn’s rosy crest as it wings over the horizon.

But that was not hers, but Audubon’s treat, capturing

a mated pair of cardinal grosbeaks in Birds of America.

You would have stood predator still, the house key

dangling from your fingers like a brown grasshopper

from a bill. It would have noticed you too, perhaps

marvelling at your own flaming nest of hair, a birder’s

Mexican stand-off, there would’ve been no retreat.

I know, it would have defaulted first, eager for breakfast

or to hop on with its job of establishing a seed fund

up & down your burnished Lawrence street. Or perhaps

you saw the female & so did Elizabeth; a much tougher

role in the wild – unseen heroines of species’ molecular

distribution. Maybe, you thought about how the past

is preened to make only some glow with satisfaction,

how males are usually displayed in primary positions,

perched at the top of their branches. You still would’ve

seen the red badges pinned to each shoulder of her wing,

as if true courage is facing down historical determinism.

You would’ve watched the cardinal’s departure flight;

noting her unique love affair with gravity’s weakness.

Perhaps, she gifted you standing there on the pavement

with a brief song, a few notes to take down with your

birder’s head. Your heart eventually would’ve glided

to a stop. After all, isn’t this what all lovers want?

To be checked off on somebody else’s life list.

 

 

My Father on a Horse, Date Unknown

 

sometimes the dead stop you from asking questions.

i came across this montage on my mother’s spare bed;

black & white photographs of some men in my family

loading wheat bags into a shed – my father on a horse,

date unknown. it is a long shot. he looks at the camera,

sleeves rolled up, bare feet in the stirrups, muscled arms.

up in the saddle, he splits a tree in the background in

half, so it appears that he’s sprouting wings of leaves

from his back; a horseman of the casual apocalypse.

on the left is a house, i don’t know whose & chickens

white as novae occupy the frozen hillside to the right.

it is the nineteen-fifties, age has given the sky above his

head an intense white corona as if a nuke has gone off.

is this coomera, my mother’s dairy? or dayboro where

his smile gloams out from beneath his grey felt hat?

my eyes, older than his ever saw, strain to see a ring,

as a pale shooting star slides down the horse’s nose.

 

 

In Account with The Public Curator

 

The letter is dated a year & a day after your father’s death.

One of those officious envelopes with a viewing window

as though looking into a miniature aquarium at the strange

life undersea; shapes of long-lived marine giants captured

against their will as you are, when you draw out the thrice-

folded receipt from 1979. It is your father’s final statement

of account & distribution, a document from the Public

Curator – a title so Roman that you can hardly believe it

even exists at all. You stumbled across it looking for

something else. A report card from school your mother

said she’d found & put on the spare bed. She tells you

over breakfast that she & your eldest sister have been

going through her things; suitcases full of crumbling

correspondence, newspaper clippings she kept of you

playing rugby league. She says she was never much

of a letter writer. You have that in common. You tell her,

the only items of value you want are her letters & ask

her not to throw anything out. You’re not comforted by

the look in her watered-down blue eyes. Her Parkinson’s

disease gnaws wormholes in her brain space like moths

at her lace curtains, weakening the woven structure that

was once so durable, thread by thread. You see it when

she talks, the pattern of her words, a silken slurry that

spill over the dining room table & then harden into a

silent tight cocoon. She loses a pill from the Advent

calendar of drugs she opens every day like a perpetual

Christmas card she nurses in her lap. It is blue & under

her elbow. One of the twelve or so hosts she consumes

daily. She says that her doctor had to change her dosage;

she couldn’t sleep, just kept thrashing about, her dreams

so violent as she killed countless strangers, transforming

into a dangerous woman by night, a forties’ femme fatale.

So, after breakfast, you steal into the spare guestroom.

Single beds adorned with their dolphin bedspreads,

the bedside table drawers filled with your old Sunday

School parables –The Little Sleeping Beauty gifted to you

in 1970, that tells the story of Jesus resurrecting a dead

girl.  In the book he is referred to as, ‘The Stranger’

& claims she is only sleeping. So, he tells her to wake up.

 

The family’s features are eastern, Jesus is depicted

as middle-class, white, perhaps a bit mid-western.

The girl has no name & just rises from her bed.

But this is only a childhood tale, a throwback.

You read the story out loud to your own children

as a joke & your visually impaired daughter poo-poos

the bit about Jesus curing a blind man; how bullshit

this is given the complexity of eye disorders & that

he wouldn’t have known what his problem was. One

miracle does not fit all she suggests. Scuppers The Sailor

Dog is safer territory; alone in his wrack & ruin,

tailored European. But you are alone in the room

when your fruitless search reveals a small envelope

of b/w photos; men hauling seed bags into a shed in

the fifties, your grandfather, the youngest you’ve ever

seen him before & your father smiling from a horse,

feeding the masses. There, beside the workingman’s

life series, you grab the opened letter, disgorging

its contents. Forty years after his death, you learn

how poor your family really were. How he died at

the Magistrates Court with two dollars in his pocket.

How his account with the National Bank of Australasia

Limited, yielded a meagre fifty dollars at his surrender.

You realize it’s a miracle this new evidence survived

at all, as you take a photo of your father’s final balance

sheet on your smartphone. Something he might’ve

equated with a spy’s tool kit, grief’s remuneration

being so futuristic as you slip this dumb revelation

back into its certified sheath, before your mother sees.

 

 

On the Death of Astronaut John Young

 

My family didn’t own a colour TV set until two years

after you’d flown the first shuttle mission; & then

only because mum remarried a sorghum farmer who

kept his little Hitachi set on top of the fridge beaming

like a lustreware vase or a magnetised beer opener.

So that’s why I was over at Thruppy’s grand place;

the first two-storied house I’d ever entered, huge

as a launchpad, walls as white as a spacecraft’s tiles.

Vertigo sucked me down as I passed the threshold.

The terrible awkwardness of our fringe friendship

set aside so I could watch my first launch in colour.

Millions of pounds of thrust that would shame day.

Flames in real orange. An original blue televised sky.

NASA was one giant acronym to a boy who’d spent

half of his life without a launch. Nothing in six years

since Apollo-Soyuz, the Americans investing in reusable

ships, powerless gliders that would touch down like any

Airforce fighter running on empty. Video cams zoomed

in on the giant black cathedral bell thrusters that vented

gas; booster pheromones attracting a televised audience

in the millions. Too many things were going on at once,

so computers muttered machine language to Columbia.

These powerful artefacts that I’d never get to touch for

another decade. I thought ‘software’ a new moniker for

underwear. Prayers & butterflies; all the clichés needed

to advise me of how dangerous it was. I didn’t even ask

if Thruppy was into space, or notice if he sat beside me

on his vinyl couch, (more luxury than I was accustomed

  1. to) or was outside on his BMX doing jumps. Trying to

get some air himself. Every time’s the first time if you’ve been

there or not. God speed John & Cripp his new set rattled off.

Emotionless countdowns hid fear of failure; what ifs?

threatened America’s main engine start after Vietnam’s

aborted mission. In the wide shot of the shuttle, with

twenty seconds to go, the Stars & Stripes appeared

faded as old graffiti on a bathroom wall. At t-minus

four seconds, the inverted magma spurt of rocket

fuel ignited Thruppy’s screen, followed by a titan’s

death rattle that gurgled from Cape Canaveral, shaking

the tinny internal speakers on their plastic mounts. I knew

that noise was the loudest we’d ever made as a species.

Talking back to god. Then, over the cumulus smokescreen

a voice, a son of Morrison urging, Come on baby! Go honey go!

Fly like an eagle! American thunder in the skies! You ascended

emptying a swimming pool of fuel per second John Young,

until some minutes later, Columbia morphed into the small

bright flare of a television set suddenly switched off.

 

 

Stingless

after Sylvia Plath

 

Black as SS, their lightning bolt back legs

were jacked up as though nature had given

them a free rear lift, trying to imbue fibreglass

toughness in their small frames with a snazzy

kit their neighbours might become jealous of.

 

This could’ve been why, on our return from

the homemaker centre, a rogue gang attacked,

jetting in on their invisible runway, that sweet

strip of magnetism from bee-sized ley-lines that

drew them to the new brood’s golden reactor.

 

They were in it for the power. The hostile takeover

negotiated a three-dimensional space in our garden

from the fishbone fern right up to our pink guttering.

Ten thousand obsidian carapaces formed a muted

twister; their anger’s buzz well below our range.

 

A miniaturized catastrophe, small screen viewing

so our kids could study the business. My daughter

made a film. They revolved in this maelstrom like

the end of a ghost film where the evil entities are

sucked back up into a green thunderstorm after

 

their spiritual angst is reverse-engineered by god.

We had to admire their motor skills; even though

locked in mortal combat, mandible to mandible,

the pugilists never knocked into another duet,

or threw a team off their double-helix routine.

 

We even thrust our hands into the swarm as it

performed its fast forward do-si-do, each black

molecule in perfect orbit with its partner. Nothing

touched our skin like in those old ads for Aeroguard,

where mosquitoes dared not land on the fist, soaked

 

with repellant. This violent microcosm didn’t

concern us. As the death toll mounted, I called

Ed & Glenda to have an emergency bee meeting.

They arrived an hour later with a trap hive, which

added another level to the multi-story apartment.

 

A kind of insect filter to syphon off the attackers,

the slave house had a bit of brood, some rudimentary

resin structure, some hapless workers split off from

their home. It was deliberately weak, but the fighting

swarm’s revolutions had died down like a spin cycle.

 

Most bodies lay on the ground below the main

entrance’s balcony; the fierce bee guards had won,

obedient to the end. Spartan even. They’d lashed

one other’s antennae in hormonal perfume, combed

through like olive oil in human hair on battle’s eve.

 

A crotch of bees had pressed up against the hive’s

mouth. a messy scrum. They died with little sizzles,

a match’s extinguished head. Burnt hair to ward off

spirits. Such an acrid death. A quaver’s dot on sheet

music to finalise a symphony. Notes so tiny our ears

 

missed the brood’s funeral march. Next the hive

turned into a veteran’s hospital as orderlies evacuated

the mass casualties. There was honour in the sacrifice.

they didn’t throw the bodies straight off the balcony

as we’d expected, but carried them down gently to

 

the black volcanic stones, to lay their dead to rest

in a burial mound. So classic. Lastly, two drones flew

straight up in celebration of the new replacements.

A victory flyover for the queen, who was balled up

in anxiety, inside her wax house, her mausoleum.

 

 

Barnacle

 

I cut myself on a four hundred

year old barnacle. It was my fault.

I strayed into its seaside territory

by mistake. The ocean ambushed

me in the beach’s narrowed alley.

Cursed in a language before blue.

Its wine-dark, shoulder-charge

knocked me onto its cobblestoned

street; my hand parachuted open,

launching like a grappling hook, but

gravity hid behind my legs & pulled.

 

Its edge opened up my palm neat

as a pay envelope’s promise. It

was part of a razor gang after all,

its cutthroat mates flashed shivs too.

Hard to imagine their cave hideout,

a distant cousin to the Himalayas was

once a mass of lifeless sea creatures;

fishbones, bleached coral, mother

of pearl, shell, grit rasped into smooth

particles by the tide’s kinetic sawmill

& risen as mountainous tomb.

 

Darwin studied them. Rubbed his

stiff fingers over their stars, old as an

Elizabethan dirk. He knew an organism

that lived so long, must know something

about morphology, longevity. Measured

their jagged coastlines, counted bubbles

that escaped from their miniature craters.

He cut himself too, proffering his own

blood for science’s spell. His revelation.

The simplest live longest, the complex

die sooner from too many moving parts.

 

Anyhow, my hand opened its red smile,

& rebirthed its salt back into the mother

country’s briny womb. My blood oozed

in hot waves, as the flap of skin undulated

like a polyp helpless in a strong undersea

current. This stigmata; blessed ultramarine

pain as though light itself filleted my flesh,

each beam a butcher’s knife. That was then.

The scar is bone white as the string of dead

coral & cuttlefish backbone left by a high tide.

My children’s children’s children, will see it die.

 

 

Golden Bowerbird

For ‘Chook’ Crawford

 

When the male golden bowerbird finally alighted

On a lichened giant, one thousand metres above sea

Level; he was tricked. He’d responded instinctively,

As though protecting his two metre tall wicker bower

From rivals, was just a rapid eye blink of sexual angst.

‘Chook’ had called him in; bearded like Odin, he held

Loki’s device, an iPod that overflowed with birdsong

Like a chatty Mt Lewis spring. Rigged to the palm-sized

Aviary by its sinuous tongue was a magic amplifier that

Grated out its territorial challenge. When he accepted

The trial, it was if all the sun’s warmth had magnified

Into a single yellow beam that wove through the forest’s

Dark crown, to rest, feather light on the branch’s head.

They witnessed a star’s birth under the canopy of space.

 

 

Koko Mourns Her Manx Cat All Ball

 

Her room has souvenirs children worship,

soft toys, story books & a cubbyhouse bed.

The zoo furnishes it with steel-framed chairs

& cupboards that can withstand earthquakes.

After all, she weighs as much as a youngish

mountain ash & has fifteen times her trainer’s

strength. Penny can’t imagine the sheer force

of will needed to countermand gravity’s sucker

punch when Koko touches her cheek; the

pounds per square inch of pressure that could

shatter a human’s femur like kindling does

for firewood. The high windows are from an

airy apartment or a church & bathe her in light.

Her living space is somewhere between kindy

& share house, but lacks the scent of friends.

All her sprawled stuffed animals; the maned

lion with its plastic-eyed caricature, bunnies

trailing floppy ears, don’t cut it by nineteen

eighty -three. Koko’s dolls are less than ape

she realises & asks Penny for something real

to love, pointing to the diagram of a manx

kitten. cat gorilla have visit. What’s been taken

from the rescue cat, Koko gives back with

tales of power, uses her new ability to nick-

name this creature, after the gorilla watches

the kitten fall asleep on her altar-sized chest.

A silver buoy caught in the swell of Koko’s

breathy black ocean; a grey snowflake that

vibrates to the deep notes of her throat’s

tremulous funnel. The great ape’s chisel-

headed finger strokes the cat’s head as its

spine snakes into its own wagon-train circle.

all ball the lowland gorilla decides. put on head.

The kitten lasts six months. Fixated on the

enclosure door’s broken syntax, one day

the half-grown cat slips between the crack

& disappears into oncoming traffic. Penny

chooses not to show Koko all ball’s body,

but grief has its universal signs. frown cry-

frown sad-cry-have sorry-have sorry-koko love all ball.

When asked about where we go when we die

Koko squeezes out the words, comfortable hole-

goodbye. A weight greater than her own mass

takes her then for months, her window now

letting in too much of the sad human world.

Koko shuns visitors, signs for the curtains

to be shut as in war; hurry drapes, hurry drapes.

She understands sorrow is not something

to be worn visibly; not an eye hat or a nose fake

some mask a human being might falsely wear.

 

 

Night Parrots

 

The ecologist’s hands seal firmly like an elevator’s doors

as he grips the night parrot in his fleshy clamp. His fingers,

twigs woven into a brown screen, a tight spinifex bunch

where the bird is insubstantial as trying to hold water.

Two of his digits form a tiny ox collar as they ring

the bird’s cotton ball head, another grips its belly

like a weight belt. For a hundred years the parrot has

drained out between extinction’s fist, an unstoppable

slow leak. He clutches it gingerly, a live grenade, or

how a fast bowler splits a cricket ball’s seam, the leather

of the bird’s claws resting lightly on his fingertips.

Sport for poachers, its location is another lost body

in the desert. He fixes a tracking device. For twenty-

one hours the signal chatters in night’s lone flock.

 

 

Killing One Hundred Wedge-Tailed Eagles

 

is what happens when you send your sons to ag college

in the eighties & now expect them to appreciate nature.

 

is a terrible feat of animal cruelty women wouldn’t commit;

murder being the top paddock set alight in a farmer’s head.

 

killing one hundred and ten wedge-tailed eagles

 

is not even very successful as juvenile eagles just move in

to claim new territory vacated by the executed creatures.

 

is a dog act by cowards who don’t understand that wedgies

rarely kill lambs outright, but mostly scavenge on the dead.

 

killing one hundred and twenty wedge-tailed eagles

 

is removing a niche garbage cleaner from a local ecosystem

thus leaving the carcasses of animals to rot & spread disease.

 

is something americans might frown upon with hindsight,

though they still poison their own national fauna emblem.

 

killing one hundred and thirty wedge-tailed eagles

 

is believing in outdated superstitions, like black cats are a

witch’s familiar & should be killed on sight by the diocese.

 

is why i am not a farmer & why it is so hard to generate

sympathy for country folk & their coal seam gas problem.

 

killing one hundred and forty wedge-tailed eagles

 

is being a complete dickhead who uses a baited rabbit trap

set up on a post to snap the dinosaur legs of giant raptors.

 

is not a very respectful position to adopt by people who

see themselves as ‘guardians of the land’, but do not share.

 

killing one hundred and fifty wedge-tailed eagles

 

is not valuing that, ‘our land abounds in nature’s gifts’, as they

clear more trees per year than south america, with their tractors.

 

is not a hard day’s work or even earning a decent living. it’s the

equivalent of trying to scare away ghosts by burning human hair.

 

killing one hundred and sixty wedge-tailed eagles

 

is a national disgrace, something from the nineteenth century;

paying a bounty on koala skins & killing six hundred thousand.

 

is a wowser move; language puts the dampeners on mongrel

colonial thinking like massacres are good for nation-building.

 

killing one hundred and seventy wedge-tailed eagles

 

is murdering someone’s sacred totem, but is understood by

them only if you feed the australian cricket team rat poison.

 

is a drop in the great southern ocean; feral cats kill millions

of birds each year & we let the japanese continue whaling.

 

killing one hundred and eighty wedge-tailed eagles

 

is a symptom of the anthropocene’s self-destructive behaviour.

as a france-sized pacific garbage heap reclaims the plastic sea.

 

is an ecological sinkhole created by tubbut’s misguided shepherd

syndicate, who only assist in the propagation of agricultural pests.

 

killing one hundred and ninety wedge-tailed eagles

 

is a jonestown moment for east gippsland. mix the pesticide

in with kool aid & batty religious beliefs & set all of them free.

 

is what arseholes do for fun. may eagles eat all their livers as

some keep memento skulls, puffing out their provincial chests.

 

 

26th January – 6th February 1788

 

We is off the stinkin ships. Marines swat

us across the buttocks with their muskets;

we has red welts the colour of them coats.

We is baptised new as we jump into water.

We clamber up the banks pulling ourselves

up by grass clumps, or each filthy bugger’s

net-long hair, thick as rigging rope. We can

see no bloody thing. We is kept in the dark.

We wants to get to land first. We use elbows,

smash faces. We fall onto the foreshore likes

we is shot. Heads spinning, we is drunk with

sea legs. We is salt burnt. We suck in raw air.

We scratch our sores, rub our itchy backs on

spiky tussocks as mongrels do. We is bad cur,

warlock, village bedlam. We stinks as opened

bowels, leave our soiled scent. We is not dead.

We is not all erin’s sons neither. We is italian.

We is lunaticks. We is spanish. We is ideots.

We is polish. We is children. We is sri lankan.

We is dyin. We is west indian. We is mad felon.

We has no woman for years. We knows them

officers, them navy ways. We hides in shallows.

We scales slippery trees. We sees the strange sky

lighten, pale with night’s death. We waits eleven

days for the warm girls to wash ashore. We grab

shovels, deadwood clubs. We look at what them

other pricks leers at. Them marines hit us hard,

but we is wild colonial boys now. We range this

port jackson bush. We glows in dawn’s red hole.

 

 

Skull Hole, Winton

 

Nature removes all signs of massacre

like a crime scene cleaner on their hands

& knees scrubbing endlessly, seasonally.

 

This drop off at the jump up, an oasis

of river red gums & ghost gums struck

like cemetery crosses into the gorge’s floor

 

& just as white. A descent from the red sand

plain lands where signs warn you about walking

too close to the cliff edge, how the cap rock

 

is loosened like memory; how the baking

summer sun & torrential rain hammer

the sandstone over their eroded rounds.

 

The joints in the rock, fault lines, black

as the hands of an analogue clock that has

stopped at the moment the bomb fell.

 

These cracks; the minute & endless repetition

of invisible forces that whittle away the strength

of bedrock, dilating space between chimneys

 

where orange stone crowns into the waterhole’s

theatre; skull-sized blocks that fall, beheaded by

entropy, by cycles, by time’s unnameable axe.

 

Flagstones that are worn down by the wind’s

panicked flight, a thunderstorm’s cleansing tongue,

dissolving sediments into brown sand, forming

 

a dry funnel; an antlion’s hidden coffin, but man-

size. Grey-silt, the dull vinyl of a body-bag sealing

the stolen dignity of the dead. Perhaps they

 

huddled here; the wet sand manacling their

ankles as they sank & burrowed as bodies

fought over the dwindling safe resource, or

 

perhaps some squeezed their children into

the small cave, waterfall-carved from the rainy

season’s tears that drowned the wind as it roared

 

up the gorge like smoke following a flue up into

a roof; a reverse waterfall with black lichened teeth

the drops falling upwards as men & women

 

collapsed like clods of soil into the drinking

pool, hiding under the brown water until

their lungs could take it no longer &

 

the sweet intake of fresh breath, the chest’s

balloon expansion met with searing pain

like looking straight at the sun; an instant

 

blindness of not-being, death just a moment

away, deflated souls stripped of their bodies,

now naked, the pain infused into the rocky

 

cliffs like red ochre, like tracing around

the hand of hate. A bullet’s carving, antithesis

to life’s nest, lead eggs poisoning the landscape

 

& those who weaponised history with revenge plots,

acres of overkill, brutal frontier justice, oxymorons

of wild west retaliation, brothers forced to track

 

brothers, gliding through spinifex grass, taking

pigeons as snacks for after, brushing past lancewood

whose thin leaves stood to attention like troopers,

 

like the condemned before execution. Screams

of short-billed corellas rising from the valley floor,

a white puff of smoke, a flock of pellets that

 

synchronised their flight. Yellowbelly fingerlings

& catfish suffocating as waterholes evaporate.

The flop of bodies fossilised by a silt death.

 

 

A Japanese Airman Forewarns His Wife

for Tetsuo & Asako Tanifuji

 

Do you desire earnestly/wish/do not wish

to be involved in kamikaze attacks?

 

We are the last divine wind exhaled

from the Emperor’s bleeding mouth.

 

Human instrumentality; my wife perches

behind me in the cockpit, her hair in a bun.

 

The engine whines like a dog that’s missed

its master for some months, lost then found.

 

Aluminium coffined; we are together again.

I bring my mother no joy; we married young.

 

The clubs are finished bruising my face. I

have my fighting spirit, Asako has my back.

 

There are ten of the squadron left; we took

an oath under orders that there will be none.

 

Asako’s voice gibbers like a ghost, she is scared.

I tell her how proud she makes her husband, 22.

 

In the event of poor weather conditions when

you cannot locate the target, or under other adverse

 

circumstances, you may decide to return to base.

Don’t be discouraged. Do not waste your life lightly.

 

The T-34s are factory fresh & glint in

the bloodshot light. They stretch for eons.

 

Our pledge is stronger than a star’s gravity,

just one piece would fall through the centre

 

of the earth. It is time to dive. The sun &

my wife urge me on.  We all bank as one.

 

We lived by a few days to see the atomic dawn.

Nothing we do is futile, everything has an end.

 

Our plane is obsolete. The tank rises like a steel glove.

Asako’s chin rests on my neck, as we burn with love.

 

 

Counter-pastoral at 140kph

 

Moree

 

The Nankeen kestrel’s wings fold upwards like a

space-conscious clothesline, or a russet umbrella

that surrenders to the westerlies, as it falls onto

the marsupial mouse’s light-weight chassis. The

raptor’s talons blur like a highway mirage & sink

into the paddock’s earth, rending flesh & dirt; an

excavator’s claw that overcorrects on a worksite.

White wheat stubble could be a field of low mist,

but there’s no moisture in a drought-blonde winter.

The Brigalow says The Lord is Near in stencilled letters.

The burnt wreck of a commodore is nearer, at a rest

area just short of Moree. Meteorite-coloured, a legend

would have the bird of prey brush its rusting hulk.

Fire-unique; this oxygen-rich planet is out to kill.

 

Dubbo

 

The young white rhino tests its Pliocene

strength against the slope of its mother’s

granite-boulder neck. They are grey lichen

on the evolutionary spur. Long in the horn,

somehow the large beasts survived our Rift

Valley outpouring, the rivulets of flesh-lava

which burnt jungle into blocks of savannah.

Now, the silver-flecked Venetian masks of

Apostlebirds, chatter underfoot, as they sift

through the African mammals’ straw; they

are rock solid. Theirs is the larger test. The

long, species ice-age melts in a poacher’s

microscopic breath. Colour of moon regolith,

the struggle ends in one animal’s dusty retreat.

 

Waikerie

 

The broken cliffs bare their fossilised teeth.

An ancient ocean bed dried out, time’s rehab.

Sand particles caught in a molecule snapshot

fused into something stronger with the texture

of a raptor’s bone-encrusted scat. Seashells,

brachiopods, the shallow sea denizens stick out

of the sandstone butte, rows of canines where

locals cut themselves. Way too much fun in Waikerie.

The enduro drivers party until 2am on the bitumen

carpark’s floor. Shirts off, they confront the danger

as one school. Their violence won’t be remembered,

only their form. Beer cartons lopsided as a continental

fault line & wine glass fragmented as mussel shell.

The sound of tyres on wet sand like breakers crashing.

 

Broken Hill

 

The wild hops will live out their natural lives.

The hoarhound waits patiently for its next bender.

Nightshade misses the pupil’s full moon dilation.

Obsolescent belladonna slips into a vegetative

fossil state; history is foretold by the weeds left

behind. Salvation Jane is someone’s Patterson’s Curse.

Little men brought these seeds to the saltbush plains,

chasing the silver lodestar that pierced the ridge’s

thumb like a splinter. When the veins ran dry

they drowned in their own blood sitting upright;

they were stone age those Cornish, myah myahs

were pre-fab burial mounds with wattle & daub lids.

We only ever get to see ten percent of the mind’s

workings; the earth remembers every ounce.

 

Mildura

 

It took two years for the world’s largest crude

oil tractor to shunt its way into the Mallee scrub,

moving at lava’s cooling black pace; its wheels

shod with broad iron snowshoes so it wouldn’t

sink under its own dinosaur weight. Forty football

fields a day were scythed down for the soldier

settlements around Red Cliffs, by four steel cables

thick as a man’s wrist that bled out from the machine’s

head like the lacquered plaits of a giantess. Hooks

grappled stumps as the metal wire shaved Malleefowls’

heaped mounds neatly, like cream skimmed off raw

milk by hand. ‘Big Lizzie’ was gutted too; her engine

bastardised into a rock crusher’s belly when she

outlived her destructiveness. The birds just withdrew.

 

Silverton

 

The stone hamlet hangs by a celluloid thread.

Thirty-five monochrome ghosts are all that are left

of Silverton’s rush; commons bound to their land,

the ethereal tape of local government has frayed

like old wedding lace under the sun. The freemasons

are gone; their superhero costumes adorn frozen

manikins, their powers restrained behind a glass

force-field. There are deeper powers at work here.

Horses share the bar with people, the Greek myths

are close to the surface like an ore-rich lode. The

Mad Max kitsch is rusting. The Feral Kid is a jeweller

in Sydney. The village is a touched up photo – one

of Stalin’s best. Buildings & citizens have been edited

out of the present. Low entropy is sterile as a film lab.

 

Lake Menindee

 

The speed of colour is a new parrot species

spied for two seconds out the car window,

but then diminishes like an escaped balloon

from a child’s hand. Without a good look at

its jizz, the little nuances in beak & cere, it goes

unchecked on the life list. Or a grey grasswren

that blurs across the sedan’s bonnet, escaping

death like a stalled vehicle’s engine that sparks

into riotous life on a level crossing. Or the tan

checkerboard of a square-tailed kite’s breast,

lost in the overexposure of its bullish cousins.

Or the strange pied bird that doesn’t fly in dips

like a black honeyeater, but Stuka plummets into

the saltbush & belah; the desert’s pace is red.

 

Cobar

 

The earth is crowned with a space-junk diadem.

Every so often, a pearl-bright satellite breaks

from the cluster & falls, shining like a seam

of silver ore in night’s mine. The atmosphere’s

a forge that heats up the super-adventurous alloy.

The planet raises an eyebrow as gravity grabs

the pliable body by its throat. Meteorites

curve downward like a cocktail dress that slips

to the bedroom floor. A sonic boom is speed’s

audible orgasm as pressure waves build then collapse.

Everyone watches the video that night, as dishes

mushroom in the dark farm of the trailer park.

No celestial union is secret anymore, no husbandry

is safe, as the town bathes in this fiery afterglow.

 

Wilcannia

 

Ravens judge the distance between oncoming

traffic & road kill with advanced avian math.

Wing & beak calculate lift as the corvids hopscotch

out of death’s way with a child’s grace. The mulga

bears shoe-fruit, every eviscerated roo is UFO evidence;

a hills hoist in the middle of nowhere is a jerry-rigged

emergency beacon. Feral goats are the only witnesses

to close encounters. Bible-old, they instinctively move

to higher ground when objects threaten to pull over.

In Wilcannia everything is locked down, bar children

who play chicken with Winnebagos on the A32,

cutting the national artery’s living tissue. They catch

rides on a campervan’s spare wheel; scooters political.

Horns scatter sparrows; not kids of the third kind.

 

Brewarrina

 

The fish traps make Jericho’s pale walls seem

freshly rendered. Two thousand generations

of hands have whispered the stones into river

crop circles. Aliens marvel on the Darling’s banks

at the persistence of mythical endeavour. Sisyphus’s

labour personified in the rock pools sunken at odd

levels to catch flood-prone yellow belly, whatever

the river’s mood. Children crouch & play imaginary

games on the oldest human invention. White-necked

herons patrol the weir’s battlement. The blocked off

Barwon is a springe, as pelicans scoop up fingerlings

in their bills’ pink windsocks. Brewarrina’s shops are

dammed with plywood. Time keeps a tight budget.

Fish were a currency once, scales glinting like coins.

 

Walgett

 

It’s an impasse. A cultural stalemate.

The highway’s gutters littered with empties;

an artillery barrage’s spent shell cases or

a no man’s land where glassy-eyed bodies

lie tossed by death’s drunken rage. Liquid

pride is a distant mirage that dries before

you can ever reach it; some Min Min light

that keeps exact pace with your car.  Shire

Councils too poor, too bothered by water

politics. A seventy-five kilometre roadside

installation, authentic outback experience.

It’s all your perspective. Not rubbish, but

in a hundred years, part of an antique bottle

display in an octogenarian’s dim fibro-cave.

 

Lightning Ridge

 

There’s an invisible margin between a mine

& a tomb. They drill into the earth’s giant

bone to extract bluish-green & blood-red

marrow, existence’s wet & succulent sheen.

Chalk-white middens dot a moon landscape.

There is terraforming; notes from the underground

as jackhammers vibrate with a tuning fork’s rage.

They carve out oubliettes to imprison dreams.

Practice for a lunar existence; first they live in

the ships that brought them here from distant

worlds, then they return to Cro-Magnon fears,

living in craters to keep warm. They follow

ossified water that eons ago took on a new form.

When the seam runs out, the habit stays strong.