Poetry

Autobiography

Come in, dead Emily.

Judith Wright, ‘Rosina Alcona to Julius Brenzaida’

 

 

All these lines we funnel, have need of.

The dead trouble us to live, and that can’t

resolve into images that don’t latch on

where ghosts wish for the tactile.

It’s where I procured the word ‘sullen’,

and it inhabited or infected

or leavened my early poetry –

another (who?) victim of vocabulary, affect,

and compliance of syntax.

This open-sky

dungeon of colonial heritage – trapped

with the sea at your feet, even inland.

Such lovers as struggle in private games

only able to meet in lines stretched

out from natural materials, the machinery

of war and violence. It’s all dispossession,

which makes the components no easier,

no more tolerable.

Manufacturer’s

default settings, our hands on the wheel,

these truck-heavy roads we risk our lives on,

adding to the complement of waste,

unravelling of flora and fauna.

Here, it’s ‘crimson fields’

and mock freedom.

The greatest song

ever written is June Carter Cash & Merle Kilgore’s

‘Ring of Fire’ as sung by Johnny Cash – I knew

this at four, song recorded in my birth year,

and I listen to it now at Jam Tree Gully

fretting at world’s end as the dry

invokes the burns with permits,

the fallout of dead rain,

knowing I have loved severely

and with ignition where fire must be suppressed

most of the year – where Tracy and I counter

our presence with prayers

neither of us tell each other.

What is this house

but a vast collection of books on a hillside –

a repository for the conversion of memories

into inanimate whispers we stir to life?

And

the fiery cunt of the world, the fury

of mating that made the spectra

and resisted the chains

that bankroll & ratify

the death cult of official

records.

We don’t really

need to know who Rosina Alcona

and Julius Brenzaida were, just stepping

out into an effusion of weebills & thornbills, ecstatic

with the possibility of rain four days from now,

measuring their lives in prospectus. We are fanatical

in ensuring no contamination from zone to zone –

so no Yorkshire moors soil is carried in on our shoes,

nor, really, in our heads, nor in the pages

of multiple editions of Emily’s poems.

But Gondal resonates with sleep,

messing up the rigour.

 

These poems

we made our way through,

whose lines remembered

come out at strange moments – moments

unaligned with what’s actually going on,

rubbing up against ordinariness.

We love

the complexity of magpie talk

& interpretation

because interaction

is so direct, intense –

the community

redefining family for us, too: beaks

so perilous, they’d tear a ‘demon’s soul’

as much as the delicate songbird’s

nestling.

Early warning system –

to survive the threats we make

rhizomes in dirt & rock where moisture

is so deep bores are needed to bring it up:

but we leave it down there, surface

memories.

Each day eaten

by transport, by moving particles

across a spectrum of surge & exhaustion

& hope. Those trigger words

of critical faculties.

Emily,

obsession has nothing to do with themes

but everything to do with consistencies

only you and your collaborators

know. To break out

into the apostrophe, and refuse

medicaments.

 

Makes sense

to me as trees vanish across

the valley, excused by the contrivance

of calendars.

All of me, for what it’s worth

outside the market economy, is in the shed

bark of the York gum – ‘Yandee’ if it’s okay for me to say

(words can’t be taken at a whim, but need to be earned

within the conceit I am working here – to be clear: the Noongar

peoples have the rights of their own language, and I’m

not infiltrating via the bullshit conventions

of making lines of verse) – and in the bronze

tending copper-green sheen beneath, the fresh treeskin

waiting for the next rough layer of growth,

and those limitations

the English-language botanises. Emily, we’re

stuck on the far sides

of the same synapses

in this. Me, anti-

royalist, lost in the miasma of empire: yours, sort of?

Its consequences?

No ‘empty world’

to contain this pain, to fill with the effluvium

of being carried along by traffic, compelled

to move or perish.

Each day I study the wasps’

mud cells, made from dirt and fluid

though all our throats are dry.

Nothing marvellous in this – but

I have loved-ones to tell, and that doesn’t

obviate a spider’s slow death

inside the darkness

where eggs hatch.

These stories

we tell to add up to a world

we might inhabit.

 

That’s why:

thinking of the water tank

down to last rungs, and/or a small

repair job on a hole worn into the gravel

driveway – steep, narrated by ants.

That’s why the call,

the reliance on where you’ve been

where you were. Are.

 

 

Author’s note: I have been writing ‘Emily’ poems since I was eighteen. This poem is one possible ‘end’ to thirty-seven years of searching away around her ‘fragments’ and ‘narratives’, which are about imagined worlds of selves, turned in the local. That something so far away in the imagination can rest so strongly on a physical experience of a particular place intrigues me. In the elisions of ‘the line’, a poem might draw so much into its vacuum, and Emily Brontë’s poems have always done this for me. The poems I have written over the years have been dialogues, diversions, escapes and confrontations with Emily Brontë’s originals. It’s the process of configuring an often threatening world that is intensely physically intrusive, and to which we physically intrude, within a shared narrative that protects us from ourselves that entices me. Stories are told as an act of survival, though elegy lurks (the status of ‘hero’ is more dubious than we might think). But in all of this, we venture into self-confrontations that are difficult to keep/maintain whole. For me, an opposite politics of world — mine being anti-imperial — but still a politics of interiority that I try to follow through the dark and shining places.

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