Poetry

Qualifying ode to experience

‘The world is all that is the case.’

Wittgenstein

 

but not a newsfeed, not really...

 

A person isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

When the termites swarm over dry tracts

after sudden wet, after deluge, after the rise

of moisture mocks the dryness and threatens

caltrop as the only viable greenery, they –

winged termites – reconfigure locality,

at least for the shake of their wings,

such casual attachments to limbs,

quick to shed as the pheromones

are dished out – flight is not

as wonderful in itself, these crappy

flappers who will chance upon the best

outcome, from ground from nest to lovely

rotten wood surface ripe for mastication

and digestion and a new colony. It’s

not wonderful being inside the bad joke,

but the act of experiencing and telling

is – in the circumstances – a display

of the joke being on one’s self.

 

A termite isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

What’s left after the swarmers

have expended their moment, when

heat has set in to sap the dry, is the event

of black house ants removing wings

and the deceased from window frames.

It would be carnage but it’s really

a ‘clean-­up’, and we overinvest

our role, having a householder’s say.

Irony is the radar showing a storm

where there is none and failing to warn

when one comes down like endgame.

A poor workman blames the tools?

This technology of experience, of setting

out to set roots anew, a conflict of tenses.

But wow, seriously, things are burgeoning –

where out of the months of dry, out of ashen air,

has all this life come? Praying mantises,

dwarf skinks, gerygones, all ecstatic and meticulous

in the frenzy of flying termites: the coming

out that is cataclysm and wonder, and I’ve

nothing meaningful to add other than, Hey,

we too are overwhelmed by water – drinking,

washing, soul-­soothing water. Even erosion

can be a terraforming in the novelty,

and old scripts recycled to make new sense.

 

A bird isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

A heavy rustling outside – I expect

a monitor but it is a heavily pregnant

bobtail swaying side to side as it sweeps past,

that deft and heavy-­slow quickness, that extra-­

curricular knowledge and fine-tuned awareness

to other observers – immersion, frequency,

everyday familiarity. Knowledge systems

at variance, at synch when necessary

for those on the ground? Semantics

can mess up the description but not

the allegiances, the vast memory

of experience: ticks under scales,

in ears, clustered, and yet the moisture

is stirring the shaping of organs, fast. Consciousness

is the vast release of energy consuming galaxies.

A person isn’t a noun or an abstract noun

and nor is an animal or plant, or the earth,

so that leaves objects made to be admired,

and we are none of these. It’s an echo of the crux

of a praying mantis’s front legs, the mimicry

of its capturing. Such blanks in ontology

are links in the conveyer belt, the rare earths

of storage that lies about time, about species.

What motifs grab the crags of speech, settle

in the softest places of the mouth, flicked

by the tongue? Turn the sound down on one

of the three television stations you can still

receive – there is no intention to update

technology – and in the lip-­synch dropout,

in the delay between shout and sound,

the grark! then sound off and picture

staggering along, to listen to the grark

graark...rrrrrrrrr....rrrrr...grark...grark...

of the owlet nightjar, super-­audible despite

the terrifyingly high easterlies that mock

all the labour and exploitation and hype

that went into making that movie...nightjar

perusing same locale as usual – by the great

tank now recharged up to the algal-­leak eye,

the visionary crack that brings spiritual

clarity in its pragmatic outcomes: daybirds

often gather to drink in the eminence of heat

of concrete walls, the friable air, but do nightjars

venture there in the way we hear them make

contact with windows and flyscreens, picking

off swarmers and solitary insects drawn

to the artificial light? Recurrence is not motif,

but maybe I compensate for the lake of channels,

the flawed vision, the disrupted soundtracks?

No, it’s always been like this: it’s my birdbrain

reaching out to voice other perspectives,

but them being little to do with flight or feeding.

 

An owlet nightjar isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

To whom and why in the spread so many deny,

the address to a fallen tree they felled indirectly,

to the house settling where the swamp was

excavated? Each degree, each distraction –

the sun overwhelms and holds our senses

as source and aim of our apostrophes,

arrangement of song we are swept

away by. It’s glib in the recording studio

if the noise of commerce can’t be accounted

for, cancelled out. These textures of visible song,

mostly felt through the skin, but also as idea

of bird and word, the having been there, experienced.

All lucked out, something like ‘atrabilious’

and the egg-­kick of the cuckoo can add up

into a compulsion to augment our murmurs.

 

A person isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

Please don’t think this any less hallowed

or holy for the secular nest, for the lack

of role-­players in costumes leant by restraints –

here there are doses of belief that don’t fit

and run against sap, making claims

that ruffle the feathers of birds losing

their mates, or corella flocks brought down

from the skies, scattered bloody over paddocks.

 

A corella isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

I can’t give you anything and I can’t take

anything from you, objective corellative: cloudy,

it burns harder and deeper and the search

for a cure gains pace: out of love of one another,

and for profit. The rub, just as thunder and lightning

is made, tilts entire agglomerations of people

towards a solitary figure in a field, on a mountain,

staring into a chasm. Volcanoes ring the edges,

fiery even in extinction. From a land of conflagration.

You don’t get to write about termite galleries

once and move on, unless you’ve saturated

the world in toxins so deadly they measure presence

in decades centuries maybe in a sense forever.

So I get outside and clear along the front

of the house between path and slab – raking

away the leaf litter, letting mimetic grasshoppers

and praying mantises move away at their own

pace – quick hop, then hop back...scissor leg

anglepoise lamp posture to take me on, and I retreat

from the mantis, whose eyes consume me. Motifs,

refrains and that strong bloody wind agitating

dust and sand as I scrape away to keep the slab

above ground clear from a heavy swell, from tubes

for termite surfers to house consciousness,

to plan their galleries, to climb higher into walls

and the wood of books, the grotesque intrusion

of the written word, the picture plates, the facsimiles

of languages from the Mediterranean, ruins from

ancient Ireland, Sanskrit, Persian from Persepolis,

poems in exquisite calligraphy from the T’ang

Dynasty – all in this house perched on the side of a valley

where the eroded has been eroded further down

to consequence, to words of bodies and rocks,

where termites build across the divides making truth,

recycling, translating, transcribing, undoing, restating.

And also say, over, mimetic gumleaf grasshopper,

mimetic gumleaf grasshopper mimetic gumleaf.

 

A praying mantis isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

And then the sound of preta-­conflagration

the sound of deathgrind the rain of sparks

the reign of terror the grinder on a summer’s

afternoon the wind to carry the embers of oblivion.

 

A person isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

In the breath of the world is the breath-­destroyer

that should never have been – locked away in tissue,

prodded in labs, the level 4s that dot the planet

as distillations of hubris. There are many

manifestations of stockpiles and isolation,

but trade and travel won’t let anyone go:

humans traversing in machines is mass

death for animals. Birds chewed up in the sky.

The chokehold of smoke, of pollutants,

the failure of respiration as well treats

the sky-­lungs as membranes we can pass

through and through and though. Impunity.

The unpleasant interruption to an idyll.

 

An animal isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

Wings everywhere – wings looking for their

matching partner, to pair, to make possibility

for renewal, redemption. To be taken on to lift

again, brown filaments, curved ends of a fan,

animal tissue leaves that flitter around if a page

is turned, a creature passes, stirring. Wings

everywhere, after the fact, gradually carted

away by ants of all sizes, taken back under-­

ground in different circumstances, different

kinds of tunnels, different chambers – but still,

that earthy smell, that air so close and absent,

that spiracle to trachea that bloodless journey

of oxygen molecules under, under, and wings

of ants will form for nuptial days as well –

different wings, their wings, falling everywhere

from their bodies, their bodies made in part

at least from termite corpses collected from

the swarmers, the wing drop. Wings everywhere.

Heard a pied butcher bird at the limit of its range –

pushing its voice and its geography, pushing

mimicry to undo the patterns embedded in your

memory. How many times have we heard the pied

butcherbird around here? Not that many, not really.

It covered the rufous whistler, grey shrike-­thrush,

magpie, and, approximated in a deeper voice, a gerygone!

The position of the sun in the sky – sun path – tilt –

arc – is the tuning fork which I notice is becoming

a characteristic of jam trees here – curved forks

enlichened, more than sharp isosceles, skinny triangles.

The curve that lures the pied butcherbird to test its range.

 

A pied butcher bird isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

Something scrabbling in the south-­west corner

downpipe – a reptile unable to climb back up

to the gutter, the roof. Scrabbling. The only way

out given the shiny interior’s resistance to clawing,

is through the trap – the ground-­level outpipe

for debris. I open it to air, and even in heat, sludge

of the storms spills out. I hope the reptile will

find release, escape. Otherwise it’s death and rot

and into the Great Tank to disperse amongst

the house water. House we occupy. I am fairly

sure it’s an ornate dragon, as we see them rarely

here and another is on shadecloth near the wall,

just down from the roof. Offspring...partner?

Ornate dragons colour and blend, favouring granite.

 

An ornate dragon isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

And out there for a full viewing for first time

since days of storms after drought and then high

hot winds from the east, I am dismayed to the point

of agony to find five old York gums brought down –

two to the base, another falling and uprooting another,

all the small hollows characteristic of termite-­eaten

old York gums torn apart, and owlet nightjars lost.

It is the collapse of a city, the changing of time signature

here – yet again, yet again in profound way but never

as profound as the slicing up into lots, the making

of ‘Coondle’, the fencing and ‘opening’ for livestock.

There is no post-­trauma, it is ongoing, and this felling

by distressed nature seems more than a caveat. Much more.

I cannot rewrite what has been rewritten, I am the vacancy

of a signature, an unofficial signing-­off on the report.

 

A fallen York gum isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

Even out here it’s hard to believe people speak

of those ‘already ill or old’ as the bulk of the dead –

the hideous relegation of life to a table of stats,

to bracket creep of age. All roads lead to and from

a reassurance that consoles the numinous body,

the survivors, the Logan’s Run futurism,

the jolt of social media and dislikes dislikes!

 

A person isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

How can any ode remain immune to what

is going on around it – the spread and the fear.

And to thwart anxiety the bluffers deploy ‘panic’

as a weapon, as a tool of ostracism, rather

than working with empathy – take the

Easter lilies risen after the storms, and the first

opening of this ‘invader’ fallen fast, neck broken

by weighty bird or roo hopping past, but still

searching for the sun through the shade.

You could never set a clock by their appearance,

and now less than ever, but their appearance

shows the contraindications of a chronology

imposed on the land as if it’s immunity

to challenge, as if it was always going to be

this way – as if the Serenity Prayer

is the complete answer, whatever

the context. Don’t worry, it stays

with me, but it’s never infallible.

But I did notice in the warp of post-­dawn,

amid grim stats of infection and bodycount

across the globe, a curve in the valley I’d never

really noticed before, and it was uplifting.

That an ongoing colonialism has bent ground

to its wants is not in question, but it’s not recent,

though a firebreak has been carved through

the depression and its rise, but I feel the upraised

palm gesture laid bare by clearing is something

deeper and of greater duration in its making,

and says something beyond survey-­husbandry

and is a guide more expressive and less prescriptive

than ‘old-­world new-world’ spatiality.

I pause and rest my gaze in the upturned palm,

the contour so close I had ignored without volition.

 

A person isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

An echidna has moved through and unearthed,

torn open, broken into the broken trees and dislodged

termite galleries, has supped deep into dying trunks.

Earth is jumbled moist to dry and crumble and reset.

An echidna has moved through the wing-­fallout,

traced and broken open, extracted, reset, terraformed.

 

An echidna isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

No reflex in the making of this ark poem,

not moss quivering before the gnashing cut,

not now, but far back, or further back...but

pop-­up forest in paddock already in agony

is different...different from (not ‘to’) old

growth persistence, distant, not seen out

this window and probably fewer and fewer

naturally occurring holes – tunnel vision

that blooms beyond cells of the human

brain, outside neural pathways, in the sap;

the resistance of moss on the ash trunk

in a growing realm of fire on fire on fire.

This intervention in composition, this drain

on power, this call for words fuelled as if

they answer and give more when they can’t.

And I weep looking out – here at point

of composition – at the breakage

of old trees, the swathe angling down

valley, reconfiguring Jam Tree Gully

which is more than a concept,

it is an obligation and thornbills

are the present continuous, the ongoing.

 

A forest isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

Out of the abuse and trauma and theft

and massacring you can’t take on voices

of the dead the injured the hurt the affected:

it is not yours to document but to offer

restitution in material ways, maybe spiritual,

but not to write something you will benefit

from even if it’s a Good on you for uttering

a truth. Other voices have a right and a need

and you can listen, and act, but not tell.

Corrective stories still bristle with story-­

telling as if it’s a way through: audience

says it can’t be when that audience

sits back to read, sips on a drink,

takes in a sunset after placing a bookmark.

 

A people isn’t a noun or an abstract noun.

Still the thornbills, still the seed gatherers

gathering when the seed is thin on the ground

and some has sprouted after rains to die off

in the new dry, barely beyond a low grass.

And now the mutations, the L-­types and S-­types

that are geographically inclined, demographically

requisite, their own little bigotry in sun and rain.

Here it has dried so quickly again, but thornbills

work together to gather, though at the end

of every moment of feeding action, it’s their

own beak and their own beak alone that plucks

a particular seed from a cluster. This is no

analogy, no ontology, however much observation

pulls us that way especially when alone, isolated

or semi-­isolated, holding what we have to hold.

And near the little finger of my left hand

as it acts to make letters – gentle strike of key

to type to shape words I see written in thought

ahead of sight ahead of speech to erode a narrative

into an imaginary page...it is not real, not

really, is it?...near my little finger is the partial

silk-­enwrapped shell of a ‘swarmer’, the vomited-

on and broken-­into corpse of a swarmer that kept its wings,

a small spider – hard to identify – upside down above it,

digesting, symptom of its symptom, refrain in the pulse

of my our-­world, our collating of senses and recall

and loss – when the termites swarmed over dry tracts

after sudden wet, after deluge, days and days ago

now, days back when this ode began and experience

could only fall away, unbalance, seed-­twist

away from its cause, take root to pull up short.

And yet, the qualifiers are to be heard

and seen and sensed brushing the skin

if waited for – sometimes, should, possible.

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