Why Choose to Dance, Grandma?


Why Choose to Dance, Grandma?

My child, there is nothing else
to be done about the world
and its horrors.
There is war here, drought there,
There’s flood and fire and famine

and there’s not a lot that you and I
can do about it. But when
there is something we can do,
we had better be ready.

How can we stay ready when
each day the plight of others
and ourselves
settles in our gut like stones.
We can suffer it, let it weaken us,
bind us, eat us whole.
Or we can dance.

We can dance and we can sing
and we can draw the good
energy of the earth and the wide sky
into ourselves, fill ourselves
with joy and love
and that’s how
we can stay ready.

My Drum with Swallows

Almost everyone to whom I read this poem, gets it. I consider it a gift, to me and to others. If it is useful to you, take it. If you feel it is useful to others, fell free to share it. I would prefer for it to be attributed to me, but if that gets lost on the way, I won’t have a conniption. I think we all need to find our joy wherever we can. We need to stay healthy, especially given the levels of trauma we witness everyday.

The idea isn’t new. I have heard various versions of the need to find joy in order to stay whole in the face of trauma. One is attributed to Native American people who continued to dance and find joy even through the atrocities they suffered.

For me, personally, still recovering from the trauma of the fires two years ago, it is important. I’m trying my hardest to find joy. I’m very serious about it! I’m even working towards a solo show on the subject. How is that going? Well, there appears to be a lot of black ink. Any minute now I’ll lighten up.

metamorphosis —
what is lighter
than a butterfly

Mind you that Lesser Wanderer is sitting on our house that burnt. Dark and light, dark and light.

(My drum was made by the master drum maker Tamaryn at spiritdrum.com.au
The exhibition, which will include my poetry and performance, will be in the cellar door at Tilbrook Estate winery, for SALA, in July/August. Whether this butterfly image makes the cut, who knows.)

yet another fire poem and more exciting news

To Fire.

You came to me one December morning.
You taught me how to live with nothing,
you old nothing-maker.

You are all consumption and digestion.
You are heat, wind and embers,
but I didn’t get that close.

When I left home that day, my life
was as buoyant as a fish in water.
When I returned there was no normal.

I don’t know how to
finish this story. Maybe
I never will.

We can’t live together but I can’t live apart.
I rely on you, being, as I am,
made of plants that are made of you.

And I like to warm my bones in winter.
But sometimes
you’re a little close for comfort.

Stick to the sky, please Friend,
or in the hearth behind closed doors.
I want to love you from a distance.


. . . . . .

Perhaps this is my Christmas tree?


The middle paragraph of this poem is the crux. It seems I am stuck with this subject, for now at least. Probably there are unresolved issues in my psyche. (Really? You think so? says my psyche, who is often sarcastic.)

Oh well. Dear Reader, forgive me for being boring. It is the nature of trauma, apparently, to rehash the thing again and again. My sweet husband has answers to trauma: living in the moment, quietening the thinking, etc. He tries to encourage me to be light hearted. Perhaps in time.

In the meantime Christmas is doing its number. I have been busy, writing poems. On the 11th, Illuminart will launch a light show on the buildings of Mill Square. It is called Flocking Together. The animation (which will be delightful) includes a long poem that I wrote for it. (16 minutes, recorded!) I haven’t seen what they have done with the animation since before the words were finalised but when I did see it it was sumptuous, colourful, a feast for the eyes. Local kids were invited to do pictures of birds and these hop in and out being just gorgeous. Exciting!

It will show in a loop every evening from 11th till 23rd December, sunset till midnight. Three of those nights you would need to book, even though they are free, because of music on the 11th (details and booking link) and Christmas market, (details and booking link)

And then the 12th, I will give a poem that I wrote for the official turning on of the lights at the Oval in Lobethal. I wrote this poem for the hearts of people. Just a hint, there will be no fireworks that night. That’s good, in this town, at this time. There will be other spectacular instead. UPDATE! The first night of the lights’ concert on Sunday 12th is ‘postponed’ due to ‘covid uncertainty’. Everything else is still on, including the lights in the town and the Illuminart ‘Flocking Together’ wall spectacular (with my 16 minute poem) is still on 11th-23rd as stated above. Details about what else is on here: Lights of Lobethal Festival. ‘Postponed’ means it won’t be on until December 2022, apparently! Personally, I would call that ‘cancelled’. That choice of word is funny! I only just got a surprise resolution to an internal problem in the poem that no one else would have noticed, about an hour before finding out. I’m glad it got resolved before I found out. I can happily put it to bed now.

Here’s an aside. Some years ago, before the fires that so changed the lives of people in this district, when the fireworks for the beginning of the festival started (we could see them from our place), the cattle in the next paddock began rushing down the hill towards the road. As usual when there are fireworks, all around me birds were making alarm calls. I thought, ‘Those cows are going to rush right down onto the road.’ A stampede, I thought. But when they got to the corner of the fence, they rushed up the rise towards the fireworks and stopped on the crest of the ridge. They were rushing to get a better view!

A Poem, a haiga, and update

95% of which you thought yesterday

There’s a spring blowfly making noise of silence.
This house is so quiet that one’s thoughts
bounce off the white walls.
It’s a house of light
and I am a little stone of grey
solid and apparently still
but with of all my molecules buzzing.

The fly settles but I keep buzzing.

I have grown used to worrying
used to having a million things to think about.
Sixty thousand thoughts a day apparently
ninety five percent of which you thought yesterday.
I make lists: plumber, council, water department ,
the friend who needs support.

I make lists to get them out of my head:
those saplings too close to the house,
the whipper snipper, what plants where,
are the pumps primed? I need to make
my five minute fire plan, back up my info to the cloud.

The lists don’t work, the molecules keep buzzing.
Only the blow fly is silent.

. . . . .

. . . . .

The tyranny of the mind. Apparently some people can shut it up. Or rather they practice meditation for forty years and eventually the mind gets bored with itself and quietens down. My husband keeps giving me how-tos, none of which work. Well, of the 95%, I’m pretty sure none of the thoughts in the poem above go through his head. Recovery is my job. That’s ok. Not a lot of use having two heads thinking about these things, it just leads to arguments.

But there is a lot to think about. Actually, putting them on paper does help me. And what I said in the poem about having got used to worrying is something I think about. When will it be done? Will I know?

Regarding recovery, and our life now, it is very good really. The busyness is not that bad. Ervin works away on sculptures, and woodblocks mainly. He is good when he is active.

I spend the better part of my time outside, weeding and planting things. The weeds are beating me, all going to seed at once. Never mind, I have most of the place free of fumitory and cape weed, and that is something.

And the garden is a profusion of growing things. The first photo above is from June and the rest from today (October)! They’ll enlarge if you click on them. My way is to put heaps in and see what grows. I’ll be watching closely after we plumb the new bore in. We had it drilled a month ago or so. It is 60 metres deep, has a good flow rate and is a bit salty. 1400 ppm. Apparently I should be able to grow ‘most things’, whatever that means.

After the fire I said I would come back if we got a bore. Water is integral to trying to keep a house safe. When it is finally plumbed in, I may be able to rest. From then on it is just the management of plants.

I have done a number of other newsworthy things since my last post. Exciting things. But they will have to wait.

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.

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