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.

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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.

Dragon’s Breath

Cudlee Creek Fires, December 2019

la    la   la 
packing a few things 
in the line of wildfire

erratic wind 
with embers, ash, and birds
fleeing

to the west
the billowing smoke 
of our undoing

my dead mother lights a candle
‘there’s not so much darkness…’
she says

crumpled buildings 
the grandchild’s face
is white with shock

from blackened trees 
the charcoal lament 
of crows

how the very air 
hurts the throat
black lands

metal kitchen knives
standing to order 
in the ash

how delicate
the forty years of journals 
in leaves of ash

celebrating 
any life at all
inch ant 

dandelion
its face like a spring sun
first flower

with eyes that are not wary 
a kangaroo in the burnt land

tears —
they don’t solve anything
fire fungi

through the counting 
of losses
starlight

for months
walking like a mummy
through the gardens 
of kindness

all the good hearts 
help us through this
I tear my skin on a stick

covid fear 
I look at my hands

weeding with tweezers
so long in the wilderness 
the wilderness is in me

this grant, that grant
we put our life back together
bit by bit

tired as a wet rag 
I’m sick of it all
twenty twenty

shards of 
a five hundred year old ceramic jug
its glaze still green

as if the world 
prepared for this
I hold the ones I love

.

Still trying to make sense of it all by heaving it into art. (By the way, to me, the word ‘art’ means all art forms, including poetry.)

I call this a haiku series but many of them don’t quite stand up as haiku. They don’t even stand up as senryu. But that is irrelevant. They say what I want. As is the case with all my haiku, I will probably continue to tweak them over a period of, well, the course of my natural life. Perhaps those that fall short will get more refined, or maybe will fit even less into the so-called traditional structure of English language haiku. Do you care? I don’t. I want them to carry the source feeling to the reader. That is what is important.

I wrote a series like this after the death of my mother. I think the form suits that weird out-of-yourself feeling of trauma or grief, when you are sleepwalking awake. You see the world in great clarity, but it is like you are completely detached.

a stranger’s nail polish
the magnifying glass 
of shock

And re the recovery, things are going extremely well, not that it means I can stay out of bed all day. Hana (my daughter) has finished the plans, and they are through council, and we have signed a contract! Various grants, not to mention the amazing generosity of souls like so many of you, who gave to our GoFundMe, and other more intimate ways, and less intimate ways (Red Cross for e.g.), and the insurance, have meant we can build a lovely little house, with two small studio spaces.

It will be built to a higher bushfire rating than we are obliged to do. (Effectively, we want a bunker.) It will be off grid, powered by solar. I hope one day to augment that, if we feel we need it, with wind, because if it’s not sunny where we live, it is almost certainly windy! Going off grid, for us, is not a lot more expensive because of the cost involved with getting re-connected.

And some more super-exciting news! We may get a grant that will allow us to build two small shed studios on the slabs at the bottom. It’ll be just like old times, without the junk!

Mentally, I must tell you, it is very hard. There is just so much to think about all the time, so it is exhausting. I am on a few FaceBook groups and everyone feels the same. What we need is to hug each other. It is not the best time to need hugs. I think it is normal after any grief to be tired though. Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t the subconscious just wanting time to process. Many ordinary people are going through this as a result of all of the changes of covid, and I feel for you all.

As for us, one step at a time. Our gorgeous builder hopes to get us in by Christmas!

first mess
in a dreamed house
the detritus
of paper stars

Changing Colour

In the years before fire stripped me bare, 
I was so confident that I used my colours straight. 

Red was red or vermillion
occasionally slumping towards maroon. 

Yellow was the colour 
of a child’s crayon-drawing of the sun. 

Green was backlit grass in the morning
replete with a magpie listening with his feet. 

Blue was the sea or sky 
or the eyes of my dead son. 

Even that 
did not strip me bare. 

I still had to prove myself or something 
make money or fame. 

I was still carrying 
my mother. 

These days I am as pure as a teardrop
and there are many of those. 

There are many of those, 
washing, washing. 

By now my colours are so muted 
they hardly know themselves. 

Still, dandelions know their true colour, 
as does the sky between rain squalls. 

There are a million different greens 
pushing up through the char. 

And red? Will you ever forget the colour 
of fire?

Pain BeGone

When I was a kid, the last of five, I was sometimes a bit slow tucking in to whatever goodies were on offer. Apparently I used to say in a plaintive voice, ‘Poor me, gokka none.’ (poor me, got none). I think that is quite hilarious and often, when I feel sorry for my self, I say, ‘Poor me, gokka none’, and end up laughing.

The other night I was given (somehow) the instruction to release pain, to disassociate from it. I think I was beginning to define myself according to my pain, according to the weariness and depression associated with All This. As if I want to recognise myself as a person in pain, as if I want other people to recognise me as a person in pain. Why? Habit? Unconscious insanity? Do I want people to feel sorry for me? Why? Perhaps to get something? Sympathy for example, or stuff.

Really, everything is ok for us. Things proceed, we will have a house soon enough, and for goodness sake, it will be new! I get to choose tiles! I must keep my head out of suffering so that I can actually enjoy this once in a lifetime opportunity.

We have plenty of stuff. We even get to give things away because, for example, we may have enough cups, but then someone turns up with a cup or cups that are more beautiful, or that are given with such love that it will always shine from the object. So we receive these gifts and send the ones we with less desirability back to the op shop.

The instruction about pain was that, if I am to be of any use in a world of suffering, then I have to release my attachment, not only from my own pain, but from being consumed by the pain of other sentient beings. Nurses and other medicos learn this, eventually.

Anyhow, the following morning when I got the weeps, I had my first practice of sitting outside my pain, and it was very instructive to have a part of me observing. It took a lot of the heat out of it. We will see if I remember this lesson next week. But, for those workers in psychology who care for me, don’t worry. I do intend to cry when I need to. (Like I could stop!) I am not setting myself up to sublimate pain or be forever wounded.

Here is a Goddess figurine created by the melting glass of some window or other.

(Background artwork by Edward Bassingthwaighte)

How amazing that destruction can create anything at all, let alone beauty! Of course it can, in this universe that (inexplicably) creates order from chaos, and (more explicably) chaos from order. In my art, especially the last abstract exhibition, I explored this. Creating chaos and pushing it towards order, and vice versa. Something that is truly ordered is often as boring as a politician’s rhetoric. It sits on a very thin line and is easily toppled towards chaos, a state wherein it is much more interesting and fertile.

Perhaps this is the lesson of covid, and the other disasters that have and will befall us in this era. Perhaps we, as a species, had become too ordered, too complacent, too greedy for an unsustainable normalcy. Perhaps, if we are to thrive, we must shake up our norms. And I don’t just mean politically. I mean personally also. Face your pain, embrace the disorder in your life, be with the discomfort, and transcend it.

New Me

I tell you, it’s really weird! I found myself looking into the little camping fridge that we’ve been using while we wait to get a proper one, thinking, ‘What did I like to eat?’ It’s like I have forgotten the most basic things about who I used to be before All This. I mean I know the essential me hasn’t changed, but the one that creates a life for the essential me has no idea how to go about it. 

I don’t know if this feeling of disjointedness is common after trauma. I wouldn’t be surprised. 

It feels like I have crossed a threshold, something like a rite of passage. Things I’ve read over the years tell that, during such a rite, one is stripped from everything that makes the person; the ego is dissolved; often the body is mutilated in some way, (sometimes metaphorically), so that the person can not forget that he or she is not the same as before. In many traditions across the world (read Joseph Campbell) this same complete disassociation, from the known self and from the everyday norms of the culture, is emphasised. The result is a clear person who can remake herself in anyway she wants.

So I’m going to become a megalomaniac. Kidding! I certainly hope this will make me a better and healthier person, more useful to my community of earth, nature and humanity.

In the meantime, the new fridge has arrived and I will have to go off and work out what to put in it.

wanderer
tattered wings tremble
in bitter wind

Winter Solstice 2020

The dark time of year. 
Odd things are black with frost
but, below bare trees, 
the earth is sapping green. 

Weeds spring in autumn here 
when rain comes to seared ground. 

With water as fresh as life 
I take vitamin D and watch 
the light change on this 
cloud-spangled shortest day.

Perhaps I’ll never again desire summer
when the hot winds swirl our fear with
tinder leaves, when plants bake brittle
and feed fires with tempers unheard of. 

It’s hard to celebrate all of that 
but give me your fruit pudding 
and your evergreen hope 
and I’ll deck them out 
with paper stars.

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(I sat down to write a hopeful poem. Sorry about that.)

Post Fire Haiga 1

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Some parts of our block are very slow to recover. It even burnt the soil, of course. Our border is obvious now. The other side is green. Weeds mostly, but still.

We do have a beautiful patch with native lilies, legumes and other things.

Grow Babies! Grow!