An initial review of John Kinsella’s The Wound.

On page 63 of The Wound we read: “A language as inarticulate as struggle for voice in the poem.” This is an unexpected line from the greatest poet ‘Australia’ has germinated. My biased opinion of course, but an opinion I’ve held for a few decades, and an opinion that has galvanised year on year. Kinsella is ‘Australia’s greatest poet’, not because Kinsella doesn’t just write great poetry, he lives poetically. By that I mean he is as thirsty to understand the universe as he is to fight for universal struggles. He does more for poetry than he writes poetry, and he is more prolific at publishing than Peter Dutton is a racist fascist.

In this context I’m left to ask myself if the line about finding voice is perhaps false modesty? Well, who hasn’t sat on the freezing cold porcelain after forgetting to lower the toilet seat in the middle of the night? Yes, even the greatest have false starts, hiccups and doubt. These days Kinsella is as comfortable with his dickheadness as he is with his apparent self-righteousness.

In the introduction (yes there is an introduction, thank fuck) to The Wound, Kinsella highlights two kinds of wounds that drive the collection. The literal wound, which is the violence inflicted by humans on other humans, animals, and the environment. And the ‘conversational’ Wound that is a response to the literal wound. Kinsella believes that poetry is a pacifist solution to the injustices that he sees going on in the world. The Wound is post-attack, pre-rehab and pre-scar, if you will, and the poems seek to explore that specific time period.

He uses the works of Build Suibhne and Friedrich Holderlin to facilitate his “pacifist response to conflict”.  I must admit that I have not consulted those works for this initial review. I’m sure scholars and fans of Kinsella will find the cross-referencing fruitful. His open relationship to past poets reveals an intense desire to make make poetry relevant, to show that if he can be moved by poetry then you might be too.

Kinsella is fond of writing poems and collections after other writers, and especially poets. This strategy provides a sense of tradition and history to his works, but it also enables a lens from which we can survey the past through the perspective of a living poet. The appeal to, and translation of older works sparks an interest in those works, and the context in which those works were created.

Kinsella stresses that “I am not Sweeney … he is a bestiary.”(pg10) This is true, as throughout the first book the poet does refer to Sweeney in the third person. Compounding this idea, the titles are action descriptors of the poems, not semantic abstractions of the feel of the poem. Nevertheless, the Sweeney trope does provide the poet with a kind of freedom, an alternate-eye-perspective on the events that are witnessed, so he can test his ideas against a Middle Irish Romance and use that as a sounding board for his morality and art. The Sweeney conceit provides a fluidity, and lightness and airiness to the narratological aspect of the poems. The ornithological alter-ego can fly across the landscape and survey The Wound. In this sense the ‘I’ of the poems co-habitates the bestiary. Check out ‘Sweeney the Vegan’ for a fine example.

The events and their places are multivariate. Having read through the book a few times, I think it’s safe to say the first book is preoccupied with activism, and the second book entertains a metaphysical detachment to place, bordering on spiritualism. Given the two books are in conversation, we can then also assume a dialogue between the activist first book and the cosmological second. We can then assume that they inform one another. For to share in a certain cosmology implies a shared view of the world, and hence, a shared form of activism even in the most subtle behaviour. Be it the products we buy, the jobs we refuse, how we choose to live and so on. You don’t have to be on the barricades to be active.

Book One:

Having had some exposure to the period in which some of these poems were written – particularly the Roe8 protest poems, I have experienced the way in which Kinsella builds his poetics: a belief that the small gesture of the gift of poetry, if given the space to gestate, can and will connect the past and the future in important, significant, ways. Ways that cannot be usurped by any outside influence:

Claim the glory of a grey wagtail – yellow bird –

So rare in winter even twitchers

Will say ‘mis-sighting’, ‘missattribution’,

When you know you’re right.

Accept the wisdom of the two-pot

Screamers, welcome the blowback,

‘Or worse’, a foreigner – accept ex-

Communication from entire townlands.

p.15.

 

The poems speak from the outside, trying to find a centre. The centre is facilitated in the freedom found in playing with imagery. Freedom in creating for yourself. The concerns are repeated and emerge in different contexts from different events. The patterns are evident, yet resist systemisation, though they do not shun the possibility of systemisation. The key is to preserve the poetic voice as an act of resistance, to hell with concealing process:

Refuge is the key. Refuge is where

no creature will be killed by us for flesh

but will make its own way – fences down

and passages no rite de passage condescended by us.

Almost three decades have passed.

I have learnt not to proselytise, and this

song is not a commandment. My song

is still a lament, and I perch high

on the old York gum that lost a limb

in the last storm – I hear the owl

homing in on its prey, and have nothing

to say against its way, knowing it’s not my way.

p.20.

 

You will not feel ripped off or jaded by any of these poems, they all stand on their own, and the Arc Publication editors fine tune Kinsella’s mastery of  language. Every poem has taken time and wisdom to reach an apex, to consolidate a passage – and I challenge all those who winge that Kinsella haphazardly publishes everything he writes to prove there’s a dud in this collection. When you read a lot of Kinsella’s reviewers, you get the sense that publishing too much poetry was a bad thing in the first place. As if drawing attention to injustice through art was and/or is a bigger deal than actively working to stop those injustices in the first place.

Arguments about aesthetics are a waste of effort if you agree we as a species are headed down the wrong path, that we are creating a worse world for future generations. The Wound, in any case, is a triumph of both aesthetics and proclamation, and if I sound like I am defending Kinsella for his approach, I am. If you’re more worried about the sustainability of your literary journal than you are about the sustainability of anthropogenic pressure on the environment, your wires are crossed. We can do both, I hear you respond. Are you doing both? I must ask. The Wound asks:

 

Listen, says the hermit, Hear the vanishing call of the vanishing

Quail-thrush, hear the dogger’s vehicle come back from his killings,

Hear the deceased dingos calling the moon down to the treeless

Horizon. You are haunted, the hermit says, You are haunted

By the toxins falling from the mouths of demagogues – angry

Whites who cherish the idea of DNA, swilling from chalices

Of pure hate, rallying around their flags gifted to them by the warfare

Of their ancestors. You are haunted by the chiasmus of the pass rising and falling – plain      to plain – at sunset, the Major Mitchells

Coming in to find a stand of trees on the burning edge, bound down

By the renaming they’ve had imposed on their own language,

and on the language of those they’ve coexisted with for so very long.

p.45

As you read these poems, and if you get into them, you might feel a call to arms, a shared sense of released frustration. Yet you might not know what to do with that frustration. You might not feel that the injustices that Kinsella sees are the same injustices that you see. The thing with Kinsella’s art is, he doesn’t let you off the hook. This is not a Roger Waters’ concert. You don’t get to go home having felt like you’ve done your bit.

I was reading the collection on the train from Perth to Fremantle, stopping between each poem to look out the window, at people, and to check my phone. When I got off the train there were about ten cops with a search dog looking for people with drugs, I’m assuming. Their presence at the station was enough to make me uneasy. A cynic, I was questioning their strategy: at 10am who were they going to catch? I recognised one of the cops from the Roe8 protests. And I was quickly reminded of that ordeal. Everyday citizens at loggerheads with the executive because of a bloodyminded and vengeful legislature:

 

Sweeney Contemplates a Display of Force by the Police State 

Distant now, and working out how to make a return, how

to embrace

the wetlands and detrack the machines, Sweeney flew low

through the rain

of grasshoppers rising up from the denuded plains, late crops

shaking

their seed onto the scorched earth. I will return to the coastal plain,

said Sweeney loud to the parrots, loud to the crows, loud to

the mulga

snakes, loud to the grasshoppers. I will stand with the

protectors against

the troops of the dictator, against the builder of stadia and

his wealthy,

uncouth mates. I will stand against their class pretensions,

against their

sporting codes which read a little like the bishop leading an army

against the heathen. I am a heathen, Sweeney told the blue sky

stretched to breaking point; I am old as the earth but can’t

even perch

on the outstretched branch of a York gum without feeling

guilt. But I will fly

down to the marri, to the blackbutt, to the banksia, to the

zamias and grass

trees and ask if I might perch temporarily, temporarily to

watch over

the souls of those who dwell there, who know the stories,

who connect

constellations with earth itself, who can unpick the codes,

the fever

of growth, schematics of belonging. Red-tailed black cockatoo

will guide me in, give me strength. I will ask to join the lines,

speaking

my ancient tongue of respect. I will tell the police they must

listen

to the ground through their feet, must listen to the whispering

coming out of the bush where there are as many worlds

as night reveals, spreading its sheet, a future unfurled.

p.50.

 

If I were to make one criticism it would be that some of the endings, for me, are ambiguous and therefore detract from the viscerality (is that a word? Let’s make it a word) that makes the poems hypnotic and powerful. But I’m just being picky to pretend to be balanced. This is a serious review after all, and my ‘career’ as a poet depends on my reviews.

Book Two:

I’ve always liked the poems of Kinsella’s where he’s up to something, where the poetic ‘I’ is acting in the world, be it building rock cairns or throwing a rock to decide where to plant saplings. They make me feel like I’m there:

The woods are closed

till February the eighteenth,

being private woods.

With too much in me,

I want to get between

even the bare trees,

even where there are ixodidae

that spread Lyme disease.

I will be wary, and bare

little skin. I do not want

to attract or disturb ticks.

And it is not ’tick fever season’.

I will have a better chance

in this demi-cold. I’ll be out

of the cycle. Freelance.

p.76

We know we are not in Australia. Australia doesn’t have woods, and they don’t get ‘closed’.  “With too much”, he goes for a walk to try to shake out whatever is overfilling him; to walk out his worries through the ground. But he’s drawn to the closed woods, to where the blood suckers seek to spread disease. He is caught between his desire to be away and being aware of the ticks. The danger of the ticks is overblown. No doubt Kinsella has been bitten by many a tick. It’s the danger of nature he wants to draw our attention to. By covering his skin he creates a scenario where he can do both, to find an accepting middle ground between his desires and present dangers.

‘A Celebration of Peace’ and ‘If From the Distance’ book-end the second book. Perhaps the two most metaphysical poems in the collection:

But I have my eyes and ears peeled,

listening beyond the deathsounds, waiting

to catch the late-early calls of the riverbird.

It sticks around through winter, making

the best of what’s on offer. Generations

of conflict along these narrow banks,

the poisoned grasses, the long gone

common reeds. But I am standing

in for you in this celebration of peace

talks – the conniving of Munich

to let death stop in Syria, a bit.

God has decided on unity.

A shell burst antiphony.

p.67

While reading The Wound, I kept checking my phone for social media updates, and other messages. Every time I read another poem I felt more attuned, somehow. More where I should be, doing what I should do. I became more aware of my habits. Kinsella’s work is primarily preoccupied with observing habit, both in language and body. Habit is what makes character. Habit also underlines hypocrisy, and where consciousness of our impact on nature (human and non-human) is contradicted by our actions. Kinsella suggests this is where we should be headed, could be directing our investigations, not cowering from our foolishness. The entrance to art is through our hypocrisy:

The afternoon stuck at its centre, unable to dilate,

Retract into the island sea of desire. Accept, take

Her happiness into your hours, drink in the sun

And deny melanomas usurping its generosity,

Lifting truths out of us to grasp hands with grain

In the silos, to promise season after season of growth,

Only to be overcome by the fumes of pickling,

The distance growing between us and the dirt.

And so my absence is an enunciation

Of your isolation in the world! I love you,

But can’t know all there is left,

 

A line missing from the final poem? What does that mean? The book finishes on a comma. A playful comma after the weighty previous lines, designed to disorientated the reader.

Some final thoughts. Poo and shit. It’s great to see Kinsella finally embrace a relish for poo and shit. I’ve been writing about poo and shit since the mid-90’s and was starting to feel isolated among the literary glitterati. Kinsella, like many great poo and shit masters, can go from poo and shit to complex abstractions without skipping a beat:

 

Fist shakings are salutes? It was like the 1936

Berlin Olympics. Or the Nuremberg Rallies. If Sweeney

Was crass for saying it – out of touch with the zeitgeist –

Then he would likely be damned for mentioning the New Guard

or the Fascist Legion or the ribbon cutting on Sydney

Harbour Bridge. It wasn’t a big shit he’d dropped,

But it was obviously pungent – Aussie flag bandannas

Were now covering eyes as well as noses and mouths.

They are veiling themselves, said Sweeney, wistfully

As his shit incited the patriots to fight among themselves.

p. 38.

 

9781910345979

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The Day of Dave’s Funeral

On the day of Dave’s funeral I was the sole passenger
on the bus from Fremantle via Coogee and Henderson
to Rockingham. A shotgun splatter of grey-white clouds
floated inland from snake infested Garden Island
And, being a Saturday, not a single engine revved
inside the engineering sheds, or even at the Coastal
MotorCross Club. Smoke pulled upwards and outwards
from the tall stacks which were the only signs of movement.
Having a look around Rockingham? yelled the driver,
looking around the corner in the mirror, through steel mesh.
No, I’m going to Dave’s funeral, I said.

The driver then turned his two-way off.

There must be funerals everyday, I thought, as we crossed
a railway and passed the place that collects grass trees
before they’re demolished for another suburb, they grow
a centimetre a year and some are three metres tall
and have more than four heads forking skyward. I had
taken the wrong address and missed the service,
but I remembered Dave pulling an all-nighter at the Nannup
Rec. centre, chatting away sombrely, always wearing shorts,
as dozens of bikes needed fixing in one way or another.

At the corner of Read and Leghorn I used the toilet
in Hungry Jacks, chatted to Tony on the phone,
then walked across the road to sit in shade and wait
for Alison and Wayne to arrive, so we could go to the wake.
While some people were smoking cigarettes
before going inside for a Whopper, seagulls stalked the huge
cars idling in the drive-thru. To my surprise, on the concrete footpath
between on my feet, a half melted ice block sank
into its own puddle, and was catching broken yellow flowers
from the overhanging gum tree; seed pods shook side-to-side in the breeze.

 

Centre for Stories interview

Hello,

Please make yourself a cup of tea and/or coffee and listen to an interview between Robbie Wood and I at the Centre for Stories on the 11th of May 2017.

This interview is the most comprehensive I have been part of to date; discussing walking, poetry, environment, music, ecology and death.

Link here: https://media.sas.upenn.edu/pennsound/groups/Aust-Po/Centre-for-Stories/Quinton-James_Poetry-in-Conversation_Perth_5-11-2017.mp3

Cheers

 

Oceanman

*A poem from 2001! Not going to ‘edit’ it*

 

 

Finland’s pride: a school of fish fighting the wrath

Of a bears claw. It sat strongly above the rapid

Scooping & swallowing. Frustrated, the red bear

Got a small feed, but not enough for the winter.

 

Dragging herself through the snow, along

Rows & rows of fallen soldiers, she searched

For his hands. Tormenting every torn palm that

Would give him away. My great grandfather was never found.

***

The note with the photo reads:

Juho Aatami Alanko

Born. 24. 12. 1901. Eskola, Finland

Die. 5. 2. 1940. Russian War.

Left Wife Tyyne Lemip;

Children Pentti Ensio.

Olavi Johannes

Liamli Irene

Miala Inker

***

With a pocket of copper & a head of dreams

Olavi, 17, headed for the land of heat &

After deserting a mine, headed west to fish.

‘The Flying Fin’, a 25ft cork, bouncing around.

 

You gave yourself to the sea.

You gave your soul to the ocean &

Knew it better than English. Deep sea

Sunrise, the land calling your return.

 

Every coral lump for hundreds of miles

Hiding crays. I imagine you out there, closer to

The wind than any other human. Your legs made of salt.

Screaming and laughing at storms as if you’ve hit your funny bone.

 

You were the ropes

Foot long crays the norm

Without echo sounders

Envy of all the skippers

***

Well-off and handsome, the call of the land was too strong.

The setting sun; you headed for the pub & drank & drank.

Shouting every man there & a hit with the ladies,

You fell in love like a shot of vodka down your throat.

 

The sea meets the land. Water closing its eyes on the shore,

Tearing away at the sand, hoping to play.

***

Buying a bigger boat & naming

‘El-de’ after you daughters, Elvi and Deanne

From your Abrolhos Island humpy, the jetty stretched out

To the edge of the channel, over the sharks

 

Talk of the war, the old days meeting

The flashest cars, new TV’s; your temper

A drunken storm disgusted with the wardrobes of

Never used make-up, hand-bags & shoes

 

Engrossed by the smell of sea & bait

You became trapped in a pontoon,

The water closed its eyes on the shore for the last time

Saunas of alcohol, a washed out vagabond, laggard green.

***

As a child I remember playing snap on your back porch

Spoiling me with ice cream and soft drinks

It was the first time an adult awoke before me

You gave your self to the sea, Oceanman

 

Underneath the grapevine sitting in dawns golden light

In an air of contemplation and regret

Beside you, we ignored death & you mumbled

Something about the coming day

 

Finnish hindering your speech, my childish mind cursing our connexion

You wanted to tell me something that I wouldn’t understand

Digging up your vege-patch, you showed me the ways of carrots.

***

Coughs of blood vomited your sorrow

A heart attack, you’re pulsating flotsam.

Hundreds of people said goodbye

I didn’t know the words to the funeral prayer

 

& Mistimed the amen. I stood at the foot of your open grave missing something –

I felt that if I jumped in, you’d whisper wisdom to my heart.

 

IMG_5010.JPG

Ten Years Gone

10 Years Gone

The troubles began on distant shores,
before you were born, and then you stood
on the brown and cream shag pile
in the hallway of the Mosman Park apartment,
I could see you in the mirror as I brushed my teeth
you had the courage to tell me you loved me
and that was all, the world didn’t end,
cars didn’t break down, your first born son
was in the living room, barely one,
and his mother was loving him, trying to be your number two.

I’ve gone through every cupboard and drawer
tipped all the tubs and shoe boxes on the floor
certain, in some way, I’d written more,
all I found was the dirt track lined with brown-wheat-weeds,
like a bull banksia you high five
the forty-five degree Greenough trees lying down,
path, ditch, cut, path, ditch, cut
the lump in your throat, the boglands
the infinite beach filled with suburbs
your foot stuck in a rabbit warren
and your sons may have been too old
to not have been affected by your absence,
that’s the synapse that says one more drink, just one more toke, one more drag.

When I climbed Mt Ventoux, Mt Rintoul, Mt Cooke,
climbed to temple number twelve,
anywhere the body wanted discomfort to cease,
the thought of you arose,
not in a I’m doing this for you sense,
no, more of you would love this shit, you arsehole,
and I also questioned why the person who I had spent
a third of my life with still said I was a mystery to her,
why all conditions lead to cessation,
and why we need to make more of an effort to use the gifts you left;
the bees have taken over a whole room
of Gary’s house, there’s enough honey to fill a Kombi:

Do you know that tomorrow
is the ten year anniversary
of your suicide; when I wake up
I shall wish you every happiness.

Strip Mining Song

Which key should we sing in?

They’re not listening, John,

no one wants to hear us sing,

the alternative register strategy

hasn’t worked, has fallen on deaf ears,

swooned as the wandoos timbered

and the stage lights were flicked off.

 

By headtorch I sing to you, John

pushing thighs and knees

through xanthorea and zamia leaves,

they’re groping, ears pricked

this pragmatism those billions seem to have,

but not us, no one is listening

the low rumble above the echoing frogs

that’s the tune the piper plays,

the reversing excavator tooting

in the glow of ALCOA’s Huntly operation,

snotty-gobble and dryandra

glow white in the headlamp halation

as I make out, barely, a trail,

a darkened, flattened track

in the controlled burn forest

where no animals live anymore

and I can sing as-out-of-key-as-I-wish

and no one is there to ask:

which register are you coming from?

 

Pellucid stars, please, please

chart some kind of direction,

Canning Hut to White Horse Hills Hut,

walking seventy six k’s, sixteen hours

for John, whose soul is lashing out,

the feet discoloured, bleed:

nature is a language can’t you read?

 

 

 

The One

I was on Queen Street, Walyalup, eavesdropping philosophers

with their gyrating index fingers, their circle of life gestures

when the time had come, was as overdue as I was hesitant,

to witness the damage, to see what The One had done.

 

All my friends remained, protecting Beeliar wetlands

while I took my backpack and vanished, cross-crossing

Te Araroa rivers and mountains, as The One tore Tuarts into tiny pieces,

and ‘the other one’ fell to the ballot box.

 

From overseas, I knew the areas being bulldozed,

I’d seen the footage, the photos, and I read the reports

of southern bandicoots skulls being crushed

beyond the vets skill; I knew polysituated distress.

 

My friends were being pepper sprayed, pinned down and cuffed,

threatened with tasers, arms twisted behind their backs

laughed at for their views, subjected to background checks,

while the police took glee in their repression.

 

Ropable, strapped to a mind mast, violent fantasies

played out through my feet, and streams teased out my rancour,

as I was traumatised by my own indignation; the violence

kept cropping up, kept pace with The Ones deathly indifference:

 

The One comes, as two tawny frogmouths take to the air.

In all cases The One and I face off, in a clearing

the bucket’s jagged bottom lip thuds into my chest

then drags my bloodied body in the dust.

 

I ignore the hits and pretend they do not hurt. I smile even.

When The One tries to attack again— I stand my ground

and give The One an ultimatum, I say: you have two choices,

you either doze off, and we move on, forgiven,

 

or you try to rip out that casuarina and you will burn

from the inside, sweet sugar in your tank as the green rises

like a rash on your yellow paint. You, The One, hear me,

you have no idea of my rage, of my burning flesh about to explode.

 

 

As I walked on Stock Road I was thinking of still borns

and saw the footbridge where banners were dropped

the odd seven hundred year old balga shaking the breeze

near the temporary fences orange ballasts, nuytsia floribunda-flower coloured

 

Their plastic presence a different kind of parasite

sucking the emptiness into the whirlpool, dotting the boundary

like medical sensors, this land, comatose,

on life support, defying the philosophers gestures.

 

Do you really think she’ll pull through? I hear the singer ask.

The repairs appear plausible

where you can rationalise, where a linearity exists; topographic

as piles of pulp snake up the aperture

 

burning the grey sand, our leached soil

where Mainroads contractors do donuts

across The Ones ribbed prints

where I wish the finger deep chevrons to pointed to a conclusion

 

and the baby cycads unfurling like hand puppets

represent actors in a non-apocalyptic script—

where there are no borders,

where there’s interconnectedness, where the water runs clear.

 

Beside Forrest Road, tribute to our Premier’s legacy,

What’s left are the remnants of that planners doodle

road after road, doubling up traffic hallways

the duplicates, as if building roads was like stamp collecting,

 

Triples, quadruples, off-ramps, cars and trucks

Bumper to bumper to bumper to bumper

Taking us to witness the natural disaster we’ve created

To see the snow before our fumes melt our brains.

 

I was walking on the footpath that leads to Provincial Mews

Where there’s a sign that says keep fence up to protect regrowth,

when something metaphysical, an in my bones feeling

cropped up, a thought from ‘who knows where’:

 

This is where they were really tested,

where the kings men had their doubts, this place marks a time

when they knew they had lost, that The One,

had become self-referential, powerless and obsolete.

 

Then I saw the raven’s ice age eyes, the sky is not as blue,

and a hair comb lying in the dirt, and I expected to be yelled at

I expected the police state, with their uniforms

to be here, protecting the The One from the protectors,

 

I expected to see Uncle Ben giving a hoi to supportive drivers,

fist pumping the air, I expected the intolerable heat burning

our disillusioned faces, I expected tears, but not that many,

as the force of the struggle started to drift, departed without saying goodbye.

 

On the western end of Malvolio where so many were arrested

And the poems were read to the police, and the guards shat in the bush

where Neville and I handed out the asbestos fliers, I ran into Colin,

who’s court trial is coming up, going for a spin on his pushy,

 

‘MainRoads have been in there today’, he said, ‘doing burn-outs’,

Bogged, no traction, the contours now exposed,

the tyres half submerged, and the gum nuts

bitten by parrots, and the banksia husks sucked dry by bull ants.

 

This is where?—what? What? Where is this?

This craziness summarised in adjectives—

after seeing the blue tarp over the lame horse

someone says it’s not that bad, the native wisteria lurching mulch-pile-ward

 

Bungle Bungle-like, the brown cones hang from invisible wires

This is where we had to deceive the guards,

and run through to assess the damage

This is where the fence is tessellated with cotton string,

 

the paper love hearts long gone.

This is where the woody pears flowered for their last time,

As if they knew it was their last time.

This is where we used to walk freely, before the fences went up

 

and now, after The One smote the thin wedge of bush, smote us,

we can walk freely once more and find the place unrecognisable,

alien, like someone who went missing, and returned decades later

and only someone like Sally had never forgotten.

 

This is where eleven hundred of us smashed down the fence

and took the power back for an hour— Yes, we were a headache.

Yes. And then the peons marched single file up the runway

to listen to Jesse and Ewan sing Ro-oe Eight, Whi-ite El-le-phant.

 

This is where the attack dogs forced us back, while Jacinta

climbed a giant marginata, and I wish we carried the dying trees

to the perimeter, where the contractors felt the fallen

had no use, and the mulcher could not reach their bark.

 

This is where Shona got too big for her own boots

and they arrested her by deception, and she learnt the art of deception.

This is where John read The Bulldozer Poem

and Piers made videos and dust entered their lungs, and they lost their voices.

 

This is where Liz came to see what the fuss was about,

to be puzzled by Steve, and Doug and my apparent emotionlessness,

at our drought stricken tear ducts, as The One

gasped when in reverse then ripped out banksia after banksia.

 

This is where the razor wire and generators were set up

and the floodlights were pointed at Diedre and she told

everyone enough was enough, for the tenth time.

This is where Kate and Kim chatted while Ted was up a tree.

 

This is where the wattle birds’ chook-like guffaw rattles

and MainRoads were a presumptuous—

laying a limestone driveway so The One could enter and exit

where a magpie squadron, untouchable now, pick at the track.

 

This is where Wazza was given a move on notice,

After he asserted his right to protect his culture

With the spirit of his ancestors Wazza spoke from his heart

And with the spirit of his ancestors Wazza spoke from his heart.

 

This is where The One smote the feet of Emma’s friend,

before she striped and held them off with her nakedness.

This is where Chris was carted off horizontal

His arms gripped by the cops, his resolve never tested.

 

This is where the Police State threatened to knee cap me

and now my revenge phantoms return, and The One

and I face off once more, but the skirmish is interrupted

by half a dozen red tail black cockatoos taken on the breeze.

 

This is where black hessian used to trap animals flaps freely

and the balga rise rhizomatic—

their resilience tested again, as if this were just another day,

just another mimicry for us to take cues from.

 

This is where Pheobe, the candlestick banksia carrier,

held the torch, clipboard under her arm, gave me her number,

and told me to call her if The One arrived, and as

as she paced up the rust-red pathway, I lost that number.

 

This where Dodgy Steve was arrested as I hugged Caroline,

in the high yellow weeds, and said goodbye, and she yelled

over my shoulder at The One, at the uniforms: we don’t own this land,

we’re looking after it until the real owners return.

 

I run into Colin again, he says three days after the election

there were people wandering around everywhere, now there’s hardly a soul.

Yet when I close my eyes, I can see the footprints,

the cautious steps of those readjusting,

 

letting the monitors and snakes slither across their feet,

letting the sub-soil pulse up through their ankles,

mycelium shapes throbbing in their skin. I cannot see The One.

I once thought I was attracted to nature because it had no opinion of me,

 

Yet this is the place, this is where I was on trial, and the land spoke.

I do not belong here, I will never be able to call this country home.

But I do have the authority to stop those who seek to destroy.

This is where The One’s finger deep chevrons direct me now.

 

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Featured image and above image by Colin Leonhardt: http://www.BirdseyeViewPhotography.com.au

The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry

Was lucky enough to have two poems (Little River, and Ode to C.Y. O’Connor) included in The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry.

The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry is a comprehensive survey of the state’s poets from the 19th century to today.

Featuring work from 134 poets, and including the work of many WA Indigenous poets, this watershed anthology brings together the poems that have contributed to and defined the ways that Western Australians see themselves.