Walking Through Walls

(replacement house after fire)

This new house is a skeleton on another skeleton. 
It’s as if the old house still exists in this space.
I walk through its walls.
I stand in the bedroom beside the old bed. 
If I close my eyes I can look out of the old window 
at the vibrant plum tree and into the eyes of cattle 
that have since become meat. 

It’s odd. 
The memories dissolve into reality:
the cool concrete underfoot
the quietness of double glazing and fine joinery. 
The wind flutes across the chimney
louder and longer than the old one. 
It’s a sad sound, like mourning. 
Well, of course there is mourning. 
That prior life is just below the surface of now, 
all the lost things, the sunlight 
on the bathroom wall, for example. 

But, lets face it, 
it was trouble, that old building, 
with its moving joints and broken things.
This new one is attaining soul 
slowly but surely. 
One makes a home by sleeping there.
And the presence of the old building, 
its warmth, and the love in its crevasses, 
are still there, just out of sight 
and sometimes, I walk through its walls.

Afternoon light, bathroom, old house
Petals on floor, new house
Morning light, old house
Erma and my shadow, morning light, new house

New House, Three poems

New House 1 

The hollowness of a cave, our voices resound in all of its corners. This summer sunlight streams in, as blinding as the darkness of mind, catacombs remembered, all the lost libraries and bones, skulls as clean as this new house where we tread with our charcoaled feet, ground memories, things you can’t place or find. Never mind. We bring the stuff of a life: cushions, slippers, doonas, the hard backed chairs, wooden spoons. What to do now? How to think? How to clear the charcoal from the mind? Hang pictures, place trinkets, bury self in days of solitaire, wait for the cloud in the fish tank to settle. There is no fish tank, that’s a metaphor, but there is a lot of dust. The topsoil is lose, windborne. That is true, but it’s also a metaphor. 

Come now heart of mine, settle down here, you have been walking through miles and miles of charcoal and bones in glaring sunshine. But now you are home. Now you can draw blinds, close eyes, rest your head on feathers. Sleep. Dream. Wake. 

Here, another game of solitaire?

New House 2 

I don’t want to whinge because everything is hunky dory. It is. Couldn’t be better. Probably this agitation is a habit of mind and will pass. But I don’t want you to think that when it’s over, it’s over. There is still cutlery to put away, and other trinkets, and the mind is a vast cupboard. Where did I put the chopping boards and how did I end up with so many saucepans, none of which work? But look, here comes another saviour bearing pots that do. Thank the living for saviours. I plan to become one soon. What else is life for? 

Come, saviour, my friend, my loved one. Have coffee more delicious than ever before from this new machine. Sit down here on this new old chair. Help us fill the beautiful corners of this building with what it is that makes a home. Laughter is good, but if it’s too early for that, then love will suffice.

New House 3

At home in a house made of some unknown material that you could take a blowtorch to, I briefly mourn that I can no longer say, ‘my little wooden house’, but what’s gone is gone. My dead stand behind me with their hands on my shoulders. They instruct me to loosen the muscles in my neck, to lean towards the sunshine like it’s a friend, to take what’s now and make poetry of it. Poetry, according to my dead, is life in black letters, and they crave it. Even the dead have desires, they tell me, and instruct me to live as if I would die next minute: that alert, that open, that excited. They say it is lovely that I once had a little wooden house. They say, tell us one thing that is not made of earth, and instruct me to take the house that is made of unknown materials and live in it as if I would die next minute: that alert, that open, that excited.

. . . . .

My mother’s friend used to say of her, ‘The trouble with Topsy is that she doesn’t know when flowers are dead.’ Like mother, like daughter. I’m rather enjoying playing house.

A year and a bit ago I began this record of the life of one fire victim and I feel the need to see it through. I can’t speak for anyone else, not even my husband, because when you’re close with someone through a trial like this, you do a lot of surviving. As a couple you try to support each other and you also try not to bring the other down. So sometimes you don’t share everything. It’s a delicate line to walk. Of course we’ve walked like this before, Ervin and I, when our son died for instance.

But I feel some obligation to continue to plot this path of recovery on this blog. As I said in poem 2, everything is fine. We all love happy endings, and our story has a happy ending. But there are still the vestiges of trauma, certainly in me, and I suppose it will take a while to heal. Perhaps endings are like the fringe on the end of a rug, not clearly defined.

Moving into a new house is just plain weird! Every now and then I wake up and realise this is MY house. I tell you, it feels weird! Good, very good, but weird. We need to grow into each other.

I feel as if I need to continue to talk about this stuff not so much for me, but for other victims because the expectation is that everything will be fine as soon as you move into your new house. But each experience is unique and we all need to support each other even when the reactions are unexpected.

I guess what I want to say is, life is messy, so don’t expect too much of yourself. Just take it as it comes and do what you need, even when it’s not what others expect. Find a way to express it and someone to talk to about it. Also listen to others. Have compassion and zero expectations. Accept.

But I guess that advice holds true for any situation in our strange human lives, and any minute now I, also, will heed it.

Home

Dear Friends, I am bone tired. Happy and in our new house, but bone tired. I guess it will pass.

The house is very beautiful. Hana (our daughter) has designed such satisfying spaces and angles. It’s all white and soft grey and pristine.

This building was built with such love. Yes, it’s all new and modern and not remotely rustic, (like our old place was), but it’s also cool and warm, quiet, and has a sort of gentleness, like a warm hug from a stranger.

Three of our grandkids came a couple of days after Christmas and, while their parents helped with unpacking and reassembling things, they went hunting for treasures in the dirt and then painted the walls a little with their exuberant small hands, but I’m not sorry.

Yesterday they got so blackened from our charcoal soil that they had to have a bath before they went home, a very exciting happening because their bath at home is leaking. Small, and lovely joys.

I can’t tell you what it’s like to be truely home. Settled and earthed. I do feel like I can rest now, though I am still a bit awkward and restless. Perhaps there is healing to happen. Perhaps I need to find out who I am, now, because there are things that have changed. I really feel like I have been through a threshold of some sort, been remade, like the myths tell.

After the Great Undoing

After the great undoing:
time spent in timelessness,
the  body doing its body things, 
the mind away on business,
the heart a bruised petal from a rose 
that bloomed only days 
after fire had burnt it brittle. 
The will to life, so strong, so strong. 

I don’t know what I’ve been since then
or what I’ve done
but now I have a roof and walls.
There are windows that open and shut.
My body has a place to belong 
but the wind howls across the treeless places
and whatever I was before, I’m not.

The shamans speak of this. 
The initiate is torn asunder 
and remade from bits of feather and bone
tatters found amid charcoal and ashes,
blood of earth, hair of grass.
‘Before’ is made of memories pasted 
into a story that changes with the telling. 
Useless, really. 

So you bring the one who always 
wanted to be you and you make

you. 
And then you begin the work
of ‘after’.

Her heart blew out but she survived. Before she was raw clay. Through the fire she got bisque fired and now she is strong. There’s a metaphor, if ever there was one.

I just wish all the ‘total losses’ could be in their homes soon. We are quite early among them, within the first ten of sixty (or so) who intend to rebuild, and it feels sad to know that, to know so many are still grating their noses against frustration. We have been so very lucky.

Have I sung the praises of our builder on this forum? Alex Barnard of Barnard Constructions is a big heart, a good heart. He is also very clever and brilliant at organising everyone. Way back at the beginning he said he would have us in by Christmas and anyone who knew anything shook their heads in disbelief. Then we had rain and more rain and a bit more rain. Everything was delayed. Then the sky’s cleared and they had a really good run at it.

But in the 3rd week of November we had a sudden COVID shutdown here in South Australia. It was meant to be for a week. Alex said, ‘It’ll take a miracle to get you in by Christmas now.’ I said, ‘Oh well, never mind. But miracles do happen.’ Two days later the Government announced it was opening most things up again because the shutdown was based on miss-information, and Alex rang me and said, ‘You have your Christmas miracle.’

South Australian Christmas Bush. These flowers always graced our Christmas table when the kids were little.

And it is a miracle. They all worked so hard on it. Builders and tilers and cabinet makers and electricians and solar power specialists (we are off grid), landscapers, floor grinders, painters, plumbers, civic workers digging ditches, you name it. Four or five teams all working on different things at the same time.

Sometimes miracles are made of determination and organisation and graft.

With the help of some good friends, family and a couple of removalists, we moved in on the 24th.

Here we are. Grateful. Incredibly grateful.

And tired. But look. It’s nighttime. Here is a comfy bed in a lovely room in a beautiful house that gets more cozy each day. Here is my sweet man. We settle and soon, we’ll sleep.

Tanka Sequence, Spring 2020 (plus fire recovery update)

having been 
burnt to its roots 
the parsley thrives 
and I take it 
as a metaphor

the wagtail 
on its wings of frailty 
expresses 
in its flight 
something like joy 

sometimes 
my dead mum comes
wearing a sun hat 
flowers and secateurs 
in her hands

the heart 
that breaks and breaks and breaks
until 
there’s beauty 
even in that

a seedling weed
it’s virility pushing 
towards seed 
what will I plant now
in the burnt garden of my heart

these happy flowers 
of the onion weed 
nod their heads 
and here I am with 
my murderous intent

twittering 
out of sight
some unknown bird
about its business 
of eating and loving

following 
the heart’s happiness 
I find 
I quite enjoy 
hanging out washing

that I am earth 
lying here on it 
gazing at the sky
sometimes the mind 
needs rest, and so …

.

By Sunday, we will have a roof on the structure that will be our home! Lock up next week. Wow! It looks enormous perched on the hillside on its piles of excavated dirt. With the partly enclosed veranda it is a slightly larger floor plan, but is actually a little less tall than our old house, but because it has no trees around, it sticks out like … a new build on a bare hill. The old house nestled in like it wasn’t there. It was, in fact, just as visible but no one noticed it. Now we have people saying, ‘Dean called me out to the veranda the other day and said, “Look over there. We can see Ervin and Belinda’s new house.”‘ They always could because I looked, standing there one day.

The veranda will be able to be closed with shutters, if it ever has to face down flame again. Otherwise we would have to shift anything flammable inside, not something you want to have to do while running.

Today we will finalise choices on the kitchen cabinets. On Friday it was choosing for the bathroom. All I can say is I am glad I have our wonderful daughter managing all this, and managing me and holding my hand when confronted with a vast array of possibilities, tiles for e.g..

A3 is a good size for thinking. Sticky tape helps too. In fact my brain feels like it is held together with sticky tape.

recovery update

For those of you not on Facebook, an update. We have foundations!

At this point Ervin and I made a special trip up there and danced on them.

We even have frames!

Ervin looks out our bedroom window

I hit rock bottom about a week before the foundations. I found that I couldn’t teach a workshop that I was booked for. I just did not have the space in my brain, or the energy to write the learning materials. So I pulled the plug.

The workshops were meant to be about haiga and haiku, a very rich subject.

The relief was enormous and everyone understood. Later one of the participants said, ‘Thank you for reminding us that it is right to look after ourselves first, when we need to.’ Well, thank you for being so kind, but in reality I had no choice, I would have wept all over everyone, and no one would have learned anything. But what she said is true and I hope many of us are realising it.

Then we got the foundations and like a metaphor, I suddenly felt grounded.

I can tell you it has been a year from hell but also an incredibly rich experience. My faith in humanity is restored. People are rich in empathy. The human race is made up of individuals and most have good hearts, even though our culture, lately, doesn’t foster a sense of community, it is still there.

And the earth is doing spring all over the show.

The Cruel Girls

            After Mothers and Daughters by David Campbell

The cruel girls I hated 
are over sixty
Their brash beauty 
stolen 

by time and daughters and demons. 
Grief has tainted their coffee 
and love 
has softened their eyes.

Barbie in the process of becoming a fertility goddess. There are always sacrifices.
Here she is scrying in my own dead mother’s face mirror.

For David Campbell’s poem

Turn off your sound before you go there because Poem Hunter has automatic recordings of the poems read by a computer, and that is a fine way to RUIN a poem. Horrible. But the poem is one of my very favourites.

The Bag of Grapes

Eventually I read the small print 
on the bag of grapes and saw
that they came from America 
and suddenly my desire for grapes 
diminished. 

It wasn’t politics, it was trade 
that soured the grapes. 

How, this year of years, 
with California burning again
while I my nails are black 
from weeding the burnt soil 
of my Australian home,
can grapes wing their way at altitude 
from the other side of the world? 

How is it not illegal, while the earth burns?
Do you think you’ll escape the effects of global warming?
Do you think it is simple?
Do you think will be solved by air-conditioning?
Do you think that COVID is not a product
of the works of man?

Workers and old folk and babies die from a disease 
that is a direct result of clearing forest for farming. 
Wild animals are stressed and they shed viruses.
Is this not simple enough for you?
Do you need to blame politicians?

Forget plandemics, People. We bought 
this disease in the supermarket 
with food we couldn’t live without: 
fruit in winter, frozen cheapness. 

Here on the burnt lands
the wild herbs of spring are especially fruitful. 
I call them weeds 
but bring some home for the soup.

.

This picture has very little to do with the poem. It just shows part of our place. The soil of the vegetable garden didn’t burn. It had a lush layer of Warrigal Greens, (a native edible fleshy ground cover) that probable saved the soil. In the autumn, because we couldn’t live there, I planted a few flowers (the everlastings) and greens and apart from some limited weeding let them fend for themselves. Most of what you see here, (calendula, parsley and geraniums are either self sown, or growing from unburned roots.

Morning with Blackbird

The blackbird has begun the business of the day 
pecking, pecking, and wagging her tail. 
Actually it’s a male, black with a yellow eye
but they all look like females to me, 
like busy widows. This one 
is inspecting the potted plants for bugs. 

Daylight pinkens the clouds. 
I have come from my morning ritual
of singing the world to health. 
That means you. 
Yes, there is fear and there is disease. 
Other people seem like a chemical weapon
but we still have eyes, and we still have hearts.  
We stand on the same earth and 
for better or worse, we breathe the same air.

Did you know that bits of your molecular structure 
are right now zooming through me and mine 
through you? It’s all so much wholeness actually. 
I send you good feelings. I send you love.
It doesn’t feel like a hug but you can 
take it and wrap it around yourself anyway. 
It’s warm and strong and it holds you 
for as long as you want and no longer. 

The blackbird feels it. 
See? She lifts her head.