Roots delve into the earth and draw up moisture creating alchemy with sunlight, to grow leaves and flowers that drop back onto the earth where worms and beetles eat, create energy, and shit.
This fertile world created by sunshine and water and shit. Also in the secretive earth, fungi make connections and break things into smaller and more useful particles.
They, in their season, send their weird fruit above ground where humans with eyes can wonder or eat, creating good clean human shit that flows into byways where other forms of life feed and are nourished.
It’s full of marvels, this world, and we humans in the burnt lands, whose minds are damaged by trauma, could do well to remember that soil is being made.
Perhaps in the secretive unconscious some fungi of change is transforming the trauma. Perhaps we just need to wait, like the earth, for fertile soil to form, and for its fruiting.
The counsel says, go find a tree. Address it as Guardian and ask it for teachings on how to grow and be strong and to serve a life greater than one’s own. I think of my burnt trees and weep. But then I think of the few recovering ones of how their roots delve in the earth, how they stand strongly in their foundations, how they have survived their challenges are damaged but growing still, how their seeds sprout and flourish in the millions, how they could re-Eden the earth if we let them.
Oh Tree, my heart aches for your pain and for mine. May I be as steadfast as you. May I, too, find fertility in the char. May I, every day, breathe of the air and the sunshine and be nurtured. May I, again, grow strong and cheerful, living in the shining, living in the shining with my roots in the good earth.
The book contains most of my poems since the fires that razed our place. Moving, apparently; important, some said; but I don’t think it’s miserable. To be published by Ginninderra Press
I am working on an exhibition to go up in Tillbrook Estate’s new and beautiful eco cellar door. Annabelle Tilbrook is organising it. Last SALA, on the walls there, she showed her instagram record of the winery’s ‘recovery’ from the fires. ‘Recovery’ is in inverted commas because it sounds like past tense to me, whereas recovery is still very much a struggle for most, including them and me.
Anyhow, Annabelle was encouraged by how people stood to read the stories, and asked me to put poetry on the wall. She was hoping for some more lighthearted work, encouraging and community oriented, a little less one dimensional than most of us, who went through this fire, have become.
It is time for this, in many ways, certainly for me. But to go anywhere near that, I had to clear myself. Thus this book. The visual work, (which does, indeed include poetry)also contains some cathartic work. Well, how could it not?
The book will be called ‘Echidnas Don’t Live Here Any More’ and the exhibition will be called, ‘Echidnas, Any Minute Now’. It will show for SALA, opening on 7th August at 2.00 PM. Put that in your diaries, Dear Folk. I will also give an artist talk and a poetry presentation on 21st August. Here’s a link for booking for either of these. Free, of course! They would really appreciate booking for catering purposes, especially for the opening/launch. The book will launched at the same time by the wonderful Rachael Mead, who also did the blurb.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
. . . . . .
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 theIlluminart ‘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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.