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.
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.
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.
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.
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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?
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.
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’.
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.’
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.
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.
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.