Chimney Blues

When the wind plays flute 
with the chimney 
it sounds mournful

like keening. In this country 
of charcoal and crows
it sounds appropriate. 

But the rain 
beats its percussion onto soil 
and things grow. 

I hear a bird that I don’t recognise and I rejoice. 
Another bird is here in the burnt lands!
Slowly things grow and animals come back. 

Our human hearts grow new flesh 
over old wounds and 
we stop picking at the scabs.

But everyone loves a sad song
and Blues are the only tunes 
the chimney knows.

Apparently it moans because it is so long. No I don’t have roses growing at this time of year. This was taken not long after the chimney was installed in January.

Fire Recovery, Ongoing

Dear Friend

I’m sorry that you still limp
down the corridors of pain.
I turned back and held out my hand
but it turns out we were
in different worlds by then:

you, in a bureaucratic nightmare
with mud on your shoes,
me, weeding on a hillside in a sun shower
getting wet, amid daisies.

What can I do? I bend my ear
to the daisies and they tell me
this is the time of my healing.
The earth works constantly
on becoming fertile, and I must
look forward, not back.

But, my friend, your nightmare of pain
will end, it can’t not, if you keep walking
one step, at a time.
Therefore keep hope, keep hope.
I’m waiting for you on this hillside
amid daisies.

Moss and Running Postman (Kennedy Prostrata)

This poem was written for people who lost their houses and are not yet rebuilt.

If you think that the fires were a long time ago and that people should be ok by now, you’re wrong. Some of us are, but do not judge others on the luck and support systems of a few. The majority of people who lost their homes are still struggling, daily, with bureaucracy and mud and shortages caused by the building boom. Among other things. Did you know there is not enough wood? Welcome to the future.

It is very hard on these people to struggle like this. Ervin and I had it easy. Relatively. The Recovery Center was still running when we moved in to our new house. They had helped us in innumerable ways. But in March that was closed down. And now the only other form of communication, a facebook page, has been shut down too. We were told at the beginning to expect that recovery would take five years! We were promised support by all and sundry.

It is very hard to watch these people suffering, knowing what they’re going through, and knowing they have no support, knowing the federal government promised support that was never forthcoming, knowing they go to the mental health group that was supposed to offer free counselling only to be told “But the fires WERE eighteen months ago.”

I feel privileged and my heart aches for them, but there is nothing I can do. I am not an advocate and even if I were, I wouldn’t have the energy. Plus I think it’s important for me, now, to follow the path of healing. Since I can’t help others whose shoes I have been in, then I need to heal enough to do the work of the future. I hope my work will make the world a better place. Who knows?

Presently of my work now is outdoors: trying to control the weeds, cover bare earth, plant habitat for the birds and animals who I dearly hope will come back and breed here again. I can now count our birds on two hands. Crows, magpies, cockies (three types, including correllas. Shudder. Their first act was to severely prune my freshly planted apple tree), thorn bills, shrike thrushes, willy wagtails, and blue wrens. I think I hear Wattle birds. And that’s it. And that’s two hands. But where are the nectar eaters? Well, where is the nectar? Hence all the planting.

The bush part of the block looks beautiful. Last year’s weeding helped.

The use of the daisy in the poem is because they are some of the pioneer species after fire. They put down decent root systems, draw nutrient up, and add to the build up of humus. they increase the fertility of the earth and create habitat for other species to sprout. after a few years, I am assured, they begin to dieback and other elements of the bush take over. Now, I’d prefer that they were yam daisies (and there probably are some), but if dandelions and cape weed are cloaking the earth in the interim, good.

There are still major things to do, like making an all weather track to the top of the hill, fencing, putting in and plumbing a bore, (and that’s been a bureaucratic nightmare.) But my tiredness and struggles are nothing, nothing, compared to the problems of people who are still trying to build.

I have survivors’ guilt, it seems to me.

No shortage of moss. And no shortage of these little fellas, some of which are huge, and whose common name is Laughing Gym (Gymnopilus junonius)
On dead pine wood

Crow’s Nest

This house is build on the footprint of one 
that burnt when all this country burnt. 
Oh Crow, we humans were different 
before. We were innocent like animals,
waking each morning to sunshine 
or no sunshine. The only complication 
was the mind playing with its abacus. 

Well, we are still simple, sound of body, 
but with burnt edges, the mind a chaos
of new growth and charred wood. 
But Crow, what we were before, we’re not. 
Is that why you surround this new house 
with your songs of life? Yours is a dark beauty
but your vision of life springing from death 
is as true the magpies’ who melody about love 
in the skeleton trees on the ridge.

. . . . . . .

Another crow poem. There may be more from now on because:

Before the fires Ervin fed magpies. We watched generations grow up, witnessed the shifting power structures when a dominant pair died, were entertained and delighted. One year we even raised a baby. We were magpie people.

Since coming home (and it does now feel like home) no magpies come. Crows have taken the space, they come for the meat morsels, they sit on the railings of the deck and drink from the birdbath. So far, and surprisingly, they have not crapped there.

Magpies fly by with indifference. 

I don’t understand much, but, for the want of better words, it is like the totem of the land has changed. 

We have changed. Perhaps when you traverse the threshold of trauma something essential changes. For some unknown reason it seems apt that crows would be the dark messengers of growth for me at this time.

Brain Tree

In my brain is a tree. 
Its trunk is the brain stem,
its leaves are thoughts, a myriad of them, 
many that look the same. 
Its roots spread out along the byways 
to the very edges of me where they take in 
air and sunshine and sustenance.
The trunk divides in two, one leader 
in each half of my brain, and in each, 
amid the complications of branches is a crow. 

They sing. 

Now, you may not recognise the voice of a crow 
as song because they’ve had a bad wrap, 
but they sing of sunshine and wings, grubs, 
the dank delicious flesh of the freshly dead, 
and they sing of love and babies, just like we all do. 

And what they sing with, is air, like the air 
on the intricate surface of our skin 
or in each alveoli of our lungs, 
the air that courses through 
all of those byways of brain and body, 
and trunk and leaves. 

No wonder they sing. Wouldn’t you?

THERE ARE TIMES WHEN IT IS WORTH STANDING AT THE BACKDOOR LOOKING LIKE A MADWOMAN AND DRUMMING AT THE SKY

If, when you see the eagle pair making their way across the sky with the rudder of their wedge-shaped tails angling slightly according to the updraft, and you take your drum outside and beat it for them, and if you climb the rise to better see them circling away and keep drumming, they will know it is for them and will come circling back and hang in the air as still as the rabbits who watch them. They will listen for a while as the drum sings the heartbeat of Other, and then they will loft away in the circles of their life with not the slightest beat of their wings, and your heart will be big enough to fill the sky, and the drum will speak for a while to it and the sky and the sacred earth underfoot.


. . . . . . . . . .

Talking sticks (rhythm sticks also) that I made for two of my grand sons

. . . . . . . . . .

How truely marvellous to have this eagle pair frequenting our valley.

For those of you wondering how we’re going, we are settling into this lovely house. We are learning which light switch works which light. We come home and step inside and it feels like home. The ghost house behind the tangibility of this one, is fading to sadnesses, rather than being omnipresent. I am given to occasional howling and the odd day when I can hardly move, but what can one expect.

Most days I get my hands in the dirt. We were given quite a lot of succulents, a few fruit trees and a few natives. A team from Habitat for Humanity came and planted them and mulched them with tree chippings. They worked so hard, barrowing the mulch from the bottom of the hill. I am SO thankful. It made a huge difference to the summer, controlling most of the dust, not to mention helping the plants. I have been shifting some of the succulents to make the design easier to get around with the hose. It is true, proven even, that earth is good for the psyche. We rather badly need decent rain, and once we have it, the autumn planting of natives can begin. Habitat for birds, that’s the main aim.

Last week we had the fireproof roller shutters installed on the front verandah. It is the last big thing. There are only a very few things to do on the house now, small tinkering jobs.

And here is another piece of loveliness about birds. Before the fire Ervin used to feed some shrike thrushes who are all called ‘Bob’. You can’t tell the Bobs apart, you see. Well, one of the Bobs was very game and would come into the lounge room and sit on the door and make his ‘take notice of me’ whistle, and Ervin, who was very well trained, would take a little meat outside for him to eat.

After the fire, in those stark days when we were all trying to deal with the broken trees and rubbish, our neighbour asked us about a little grey bird who liked to hang around when he was working. We thought it might be one of the Bobs, but weren’t sure. But when we moved in, that little grey bird started coming into Ervin’s new studio space. Sometimes he wouldn’t even touch the meat that Ervin would dutifully put out. He was just there for the company.

And I can tell you there is a Mr Bob, a Mrs Bob, and a Baby Bob!

Lessons from Plants

(after The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry)

Sometimes, when I despair at this view,
this wide and beautiful view that once
was the intimate domesticity of trees,
I go and lie down under
the blackened corpses of giants,
amongst the groundcovers and mosses,
the lilies and the weeds, and I feel
their thrum of life, their steady growth, their
complete lack of judgement or grief, and I think
that I too could be as simple as that, and I too
could just get on with growing.

. . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . .

It’s a long process, fire recovery. Before Christmas I was involved in an exhibition at Fabrik called ‘Regenerate‘. It was gorgeous, as their exhibitions usually are. I had some art works in it, some brown paper bags on which I had drawn little things that I had noticed during the year since the fire. And I wrote and performed a poem about keeping on going through this long and involved process of recovering your life. It was not just for those who had lost tangible things to the fire, actually, but for everyone, because the whole society is suffering a level of trauma after that year, 2020. I made people cry. Great. Job done.

But anyway, the process of thinking towards that poem had me thinking about the word ‘regenerate’. It is a word we often think about when we think of the bush after fire, but I felt the word was not quite on the mark somehow. I thought, ‘This growth isn’t RE-generation. It is completely new.’

I think that is worth thinking about. We seek to get things ‘back to normal’ because we are uncomfortable. But what if we can create something new that is better than what was normal in the past?

Here’s to that.

Eucalyptus seedling and moss

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.