A Garden Begins with Violence

A garden begins with violence:
fire or the hoe, a cleaning out, a smothering,
a clean break from the past.
But after the violence, intimacy.

Hands that spread seed, tiny packages of hope,
or that cradle a rootball as gently as
a parent washes the head of a newborn,
tucking the roots into the soil and crooning.

Most days, lately, I work over the brassicas
(cabbage and broccoli) wiping off the eggs
of the Cabbage White Butterfly or squishing
the caterpillars with my loving hands.

Violence and love. Yesterday I found
the empty chrysalis of a parasitic wasp. They flit
through the garden right now, drinking nectar
and laying eggs into the bodies of caterpillars.

They will feed from those bodies until they cut their way out
and settle to spin their own chrysalises.
Meanwhile the caterpillar is so changed by tending them
that it spins extra protection and guards them until it dies.

Today I watched the mating dance
of two Cabbage Whites. She settled on a leaf
and spread her wings flat, her black dots like a beacon,
while he flittered and fussed.

She will lay eggs of a dubious fate.
The butterflies are plentiful, the caterpillars are plentiful,
the wasps are plentiful, the host plants are plentiful.
Everywhere violence, everywhere love.

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!

Foot over Foot

Oh Pilgrim, the way of life is long:
sometimes joyful, sometimes hard.
Still we walk, foot over foot, foot over foot,
sometimes into chasms or over rough terrain,
through storms and buffeting winds.

Sometimes through meadows
abundant with comfort and flowers,
butterflies and soft sunshine.
Enjoy it, smell the flowers,
lie down there awhile and rest.

Above you: the sun, that fire of fires
round which our small lives turn.
It dries our tears and grows our food
the friend of winter hearths
the friend of hearts
the spark of life
companion for the way
sunshine, starshine.

But one can’t laze in a meadow forever.
We rise and walk
foot over foot, foot over foot
carrying our spark of life.
We fall down, we get up, oh Pilgrim.

Oh Pilgrim, the way of life is long
breath deep of air that is laced with stardust
that is stardust, as you are stardust,
as you walk on stardust
foot over foot
lightly
on this path of stars.

You are not alone in your dark nights.
Beside you, companions walk:
foxes, owls, roos and people
We walk together trusting the earth
to meet our feet.

You have stepped through fire,
and you have survived.
Sure, the going is hard
and terrain will be rough for some way yet.
But you have survived and
you step forward, foot over foot.

Oh Pilgrim, surely
you can trust yourself by now?
Surely, despite your wounds,
some of which reopen and weep,
surely you can trust the healing?
Surely you can trust yourself in this world by now?
Surely you can trust
this world?
It has got you this far.

Step forward, step forward,
step forward in
this moment of walking,
this moment and no other,
oh Pilgrim.

This moment is free from the past
with its grief and wishes.
It is free from the future
with its worries and desires.

It is just this moment and no other
through which you step
forward
on stars
foot over foot.

contemplating innocence / this year of / after

. . . . . . .

This poem was written for and performed at an exhibition called Regenerate at Fabrik Arts and Heritage, at the end of 2020, nearly a year after the area was ravaged by fire. I wrote it specifically for fire victims who still to this day have a long way to travel before they are healed, though I think it speaks to anyone who has experienced trauma, Covid, for eg. or loss.

Performance poems often don’t translate to the page, but I think this one does ok. It’s interesting that most performance poems are very much about the presence of the performer, but this one dictated that it did not want me to meet the audience member’s eyes, so that they could take the poem to themselves in a private way. Beforehand I explained that to them, and also told them that the meadow is a metaphor for their life before, or rather, their memory of their life before. Because when one is trying to get one’s life back, it is very easy forget anything that was not perfect, but it will never be the same anyway, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. In any case better to aim for the best it can be, rather than for some lost thing.

And it seems that the mental health of people in trauma is nurtured mainly by one thing, and that is to be in the moment in which one finds oneself. There is so much to think about when trying to get one’s life back together, and the past is full of sorrows. Mentally, one is busy the whole time. There is no rest and the only way to get rest, and to find joy, is in the moment. Simple things, like sounds and scents, what one’s own hand feels like. These are the things that nurture us, in times of stress.

And simple things, like the face of a flower:

reclamation / (1 2 3 4 5) / of the space between / earth and sky

. . . . .

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.

To Aim (a poem)

A child draws the string of a bow
—concentration in practice
nothing but an arrow’s flight.
Someone please tell her
to look along the shaft.
Someone please tell her to be
nothing but aim.
She can live her whole life like this.
No one needs to tell her
to get out of the way
to give up the self to the process
but someone please tell her
that aiming is all there is
and once the arrow’s released
it’s done. Everything else
is in the hands of the wind.

. . . . .

The drawing is of two of my gorgeous grandchildren. I don’t know if I’ve come close to the intensity in their eyes.

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?