New House, Three poems

New House 1 

The hollowness of a cave, our voices resound in all of its corners. This summer sunlight streams in, as blinding as the darkness of mind, catacombs remembered, all the lost libraries and bones, skulls as clean as this new house where we tread with our charcoaled feet, ground memories, things you can’t place or find. Never mind. We bring the stuff of a life: cushions, slippers, doonas, the hard backed chairs, wooden spoons. What to do now? How to think? How to clear the charcoal from the mind? Hang pictures, place trinkets, bury self in days of solitaire, wait for the cloud in the fish tank to settle. There is no fish tank, that’s a metaphor, but there is a lot of dust. The topsoil is lose, windborne. That is true, but it’s also a metaphor. 

Come now heart of mine, settle down here, you have been walking through miles and miles of charcoal and bones in glaring sunshine. But now you are home. Now you can draw blinds, close eyes, rest your head on feathers. Sleep. Dream. Wake. 

Here, another game of solitaire?

New House 2 

I don’t want to whinge because everything is hunky dory. It is. Couldn’t be better. Probably this agitation is a habit of mind and will pass. But I don’t want you to think that when it’s over, it’s over. There is still cutlery to put away, and other trinkets, and the mind is a vast cupboard. Where did I put the chopping boards and how did I end up with so many saucepans, none of which work? But look, here comes another saviour bearing pots that do. Thank the living for saviours. I plan to become one soon. What else is life for? 

Come, saviour, my friend, my loved one. Have coffee more delicious than ever before from this new machine. Sit down here on this new old chair. Help us fill the beautiful corners of this building with what it is that makes a home. Laughter is good, but if it’s too early for that, then love will suffice.

New House 3

At home in a house made of some unknown material that you could take a blowtorch to, I briefly mourn that I can no longer say, ‘my little wooden house’, but what’s gone is gone. My dead stand behind me with their hands on my shoulders. They instruct me to loosen the muscles in my neck, to lean towards the sunshine like it’s a friend, to take what’s now and make poetry of it. Poetry, according to my dead, is life in black letters, and they crave it. Even the dead have desires, they tell me, and instruct me to live as if I would die next minute: that alert, that open, that excited. They say it is lovely that I once had a little wooden house. They say, tell us one thing that is not made of earth, and instruct me to take the house that is made of unknown materials and live in it as if I would die next minute: that alert, that open, that excited.

. . . . .

My mother’s friend used to say of her, ‘The trouble with Topsy is that she doesn’t know when flowers are dead.’ Like mother, like daughter. I’m rather enjoying playing house.

A year and a bit ago I began this record of the life of one fire victim and I feel the need to see it through. I can’t speak for anyone else, not even my husband, because when you’re close with someone through a trial like this, you do a lot of surviving. As a couple you try to support each other and you also try not to bring the other down. So sometimes you don’t share everything. It’s a delicate line to walk. Of course we’ve walked like this before, Ervin and I, when our son died for instance.

But I feel some obligation to continue to plot this path of recovery on this blog. As I said in poem 2, everything is fine. We all love happy endings, and our story has a happy ending. But there are still the vestiges of trauma, certainly in me, and I suppose it will take a while to heal. Perhaps endings are like the fringe on the end of a rug, not clearly defined.

Moving into a new house is just plain weird! Every now and then I wake up and realise this is MY house. I tell you, it feels weird! Good, very good, but weird. We need to grow into each other.

I feel as if I need to continue to talk about this stuff not so much for me, but for other victims because the expectation is that everything will be fine as soon as you move into your new house. But each experience is unique and we all need to support each other even when the reactions are unexpected.

I guess what I want to say is, life is messy, so don’t expect too much of yourself. Just take it as it comes and do what you need, even when it’s not what others expect. Find a way to express it and someone to talk to about it. Also listen to others. Have compassion and zero expectations. Accept.

But I guess that advice holds true for any situation in our strange human lives, and any minute now I, also, will heed it.

Home

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’.

Her heart blew out but she survived. Before she was raw clay. Through the fire she got bisque fired and now she is strong. There’s a metaphor, if ever there was one.

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.’

South Australian Christmas Bush. These flowers always graced our Christmas table when the kids were little.

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.

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

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!

Post Fire Haiga 2

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By the way, I didn’t rip this growing beauty from the earth. I found it on our driveway and moved it to this piece of bark for the photo. There are a number of different fungi at last. Including these:

They are growing near the mycelium of Pyronema Omphalodes, the fungi that only fruits after fire. Is this the fruit? Anyone know? Please leave a comment.

Just back from a little non-essential travel

Except maybe it was essential. We managed to squeeze two nights camping in before things get too tight. And I assure you it was good for my mental health.

Hand held, as far as I could twist, hence the horizon tilt.

We went to one of our favourite spots, a conservation park near Keith. This movie is of dawn on a little hilltop which has been saved from mining by a rare native mint bush. The park includes disused quarries and the first night night some hoonie types making skids and dust. They were not isolating, is my guess, but they were having fun.

Strange times we are living in. I can’t bear the face of our Prime Minister. That’s part of why we ended up camping because we didn’t hear his speech about parks closing. Lucky weren’t we! A ranger came but because there were only two of us and because nobody camps there much, he let us stay. He was such a nice man. He would have loved to see Solastalgia the exhibition. I showed him the beginning of my poem before it cut out from lack of data, and he took the address so that he could watch it later. We had been talking about interconnection from a distance of about three metres. Social distancing is larger at the best of times out there.

There’s no Covid19 in Keith yet. No toilet paper either. But there were cleaning products.

Mostly we are ok. A bit up and down. I noticed while camping a slight distance from beauty that used to feel when I was depressed. But nowhere near as bad or as often. And I have tools these days.

I’m a bit worried about other people though. The situation is a bit like a trauma for lots of people, because there is so much fear. Granted, we are yet to see the worst of it, here in Australia, but I wonder if the degree of fear is sensible. Fear is insidious. Wariness is great, carefulness is absolutely necessary, but fear is really bad for your health, especially over long periods. It can become PTSD that way. I think the obsessiveness of it is lifting. It must. Some humour coming back into social media, I’m pleased to note.

It’s really important to take care of your health. Get some exercise, preferably enough to raise a sweat, it releases those endorphins. Do nice stuff, watch nice stuff. Enjoy yourself as much as you possibly can. Remember your mind is not caged. This is a recipe for all times of course, but especially now.

Love in a time of Coronavirus

Wow! How fast is all this. First thing I want to say is, stay clean. Wash hands, hair, clothes, door handles. Stay hydrated. Warm liquids are good apparently. Eat your veg. Get exercise. Breathe. Relax.

Yep. Like I’m doing all of those things. Well, I am doing most of them. The ‘relax’ one has been beating me though. We have been shockingly busy. That happens when you pack the better part of your worldly goods and move houses. Not that there’s many worldly goods. They fitted into our van. Too many for it to be easy though. Especially when your partner’s art requires bulky tools.

(For new readers of this blog, my husband and I lost our home, studios, and all of our possessions during the Cudlee Creek fires on 20th of December last year. Covid is in South Australia for the first time and no one understands it or it’s implications.)

We have moved for a while to a beautiful little shack in Middleton belonging to friends. The kids wanted us to isolate from the grandkids to try and keep us healthy.

The shack is just gorgeous, warm and cozy in a welcoming way, painted gorgeous rich colours with the quirks of a beach shack. We are SO grateful. It feels safe. Not sure how long we can stay because the owners are doing it tough too: adults trying to work from home, kids at school, but one of them trying to do year 12 with next to no internet access at their home. Here at least you can usually get three bars of phone coverage most of the day. Not in their part of the Adelaide Hills. There are some shocking black spots in them thar hills.

As for us, we aren’t going very well. I think I’m taking on the anxiousness of the world. This is the closest I have ever come to panic attacks. Also I feel pitifully sorry for my self and can’t stop crying. Walking in all this sea air helps. But I feel completely groundless. Like a vagrant. Which I guess I am. Homeless. But at least, presently, and unlike many, I can pay the bills. Also I do know that it will pass.

Ervin is feeling odd because he had a cataract operation eleven days ago and so has one eye that works and one that doesn’t. Needs glasses for reading and sunnies but his bifocals are not right. In fact none of them are right. We may fix that next week. Or he might need to have the other eye done quickly. Depends on whether his brain can adjust to it all. Don’t really want to go anywhere near a hospital at the moment. Also he is incredibly tired all the time. Heart specialist says he’s ok, so I guess it’s just the situation.

Apparently the worst of the psychological problems after trauma hits at 12 weeks or so. Yep. I have done amazing things in that time. But I really would like a home. I did expect to still be in my little house in the country, with my little veggie garden, when the pestilence came.

Because I’ve been expecting it. Actually let me share a poem:
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Our Hold On the Planet
after Robert Frost’s poem of the same name

Robert Frost in a hey-ho mood
Nature is enamoured of mankind,
a little bit in favour, one percent or so.
His evidence is how our numbers grow.

Are spawned more likely, a fungus, a disease,
or that’s the way I see it — clearly,
in sharper focus now no mist can rise
below the baking sun, the hollow sky.

Crops die, ice melts, temperatures soar,
whole populations starve and some with more
dole out just a little, just enough
to make them feel most generous.

Meanwhile factories belch out the smoke
on which the world proceeds to choke.
If I were Nature I don’t reckon I’d be pleased
with my disease.

I’d be thinking to diminish human numbers —
perhaps the odd small natural disaster?

(That poem is in my latest book, Not Looking for Signs that I put together for the exhibition just past. It was published in a Friendly Street Reader a couple of years back too.)

The thing is, in that last paragraph, originally I wanted to use ‘perhaps a tinsy bit of pestilence’ instead of ‘natural disaster’ but I couldn’t do it with any poetic elegance.

My education o biology says you can’t have an exponential growth of a population without a crash. And I’m afraid 3% (expected Coronavirus outcome) probably won’t cut it if we keep using up our resources and shitting in our own backyard.

But! The canals of Venice are clear, with fish and swans! And in the four weeks prior to the 4th of March, CO2 emissions were 200 million tones less than they would have been! Perhaps that is a hiccup in the scheme of things. But why can’t we create good outcomes?

And also. What about kindness? Ervin and I experienced such kindness as a result of our losses. It was so heart warming. In this society now, we have a huge number of people doing it tough. It is shocking. They will be in shock, in trauma. These people will be changed forever. But one of the ways in which they will be changed is that they will develop compassion. And given that greed is one of our biggest problems, it will have some good outcomes. Also there will be more anger about the obscenely rich. Things will surely change. It only takes enough people,

There. I feel better now. Nothing like a good venting with a little post apocalyptic opptimism, to do the job.

But before I go I would like to say sorry. I’m sorry for anyone who ends up grieving because of this damned disease. And I’m sorry for everyone who is having trouble making ends meet. Please be kind to each other. Yes, we have to keep our distance. But let’s greet, let’s look into the eyes of each other (even perfect strangers), smile, and say, ‘I hope you are ok.’

BTW. Our place has been cleaned! There’s GOOD news. Not before some dogdirt stole the only thing of value on the place, our water pump. Some people! Never mind, let’s all believe in karma. How amazing though! The land is clean. No human stuff. (Except concrete, a small garden shed and the metal terraces of my veggie garden.) It is a great relief.

Why has the writing stopped?

Why has the writing stopped? I’m pleased to say it’s because I’m sleeping through the night. Therefore no time or solitude for writing. Soon though, we will have a room of our own and then hopefully we will be able to do more. I’m really wanting to write and Ervin is absolute bursting to start work. We will go this week to pick up stuff for woodblock printing. Presently it’s all he wants to do. You’d think photography would be more possible, but there are only so many burnt trees one wants to photograph, I guess. Plus it’s not really his style.  

Remains of an old tractor tyre.

Over all we’re getting on ok. I’m still crying over random strangers. He’s still trying to talk about anything but. Or telling people how great it is to have a fresh start at the age of eighty (and there’s truth in that.) That’s fine. What’s it like? Well, one could say its a tad inconvenient! There is a lot to do, talking to and registering with all of the different agencies that might help or give a grant or advice. Then you have to sit down and fill out forms. My small business and all of its losses for example. There are grants to replace equipment and stock. Although someone had told me about that earlier, it had not actually gone in. So now I can apply. I feel far from ready to begin all that, but hopefully I will once we are a little more settled.

It all feels like an extended whinge to talk about and that’s probably another reason why I haven’t been blogging. 

On some of the trees the regrowth looks like lichen

On the plus side. Next week I do a drawing, a huge charcoal drawing on a wall in Building 21 at The Woolen Mills in Lobethal. This is for an exhibition that will open on 15th of February at 6.00 pm. The show was first talked about in March of last year and was pretty much in place by the time of the fire. 

The subject (get this) is ‘Solastalgia’ and solastalgia is the emotions one feels at loss of loved environments. In Lobethal, the heart of the fire grounds! There are going to be some amazing works. I was invited as a poet actually, and luckily had my work well underway prior to the fire. I collated (and wrote for) a book of my poetry called Not Looking For Signs. At the time of the fire it was already at the publisher and I had written a poem to perform for the show. The performance piece is just over five minutes and I only had to change a couple of lines! 

Behind Evette Sunset’s work in progress, my wall! There is Ervin and the Gallery director, manager of Fabric, Melinda Rankin. How great is this space!

I have the last proof of the book in my hand! I am very pleased with it.The twenty illustrations that I did for it sit on the page beautifully. I hope there are no mistakes that I can’t see because I don’t have time to put it in front of another set of eyes. 

For the drawing I want to to use the charcoal from our place, a sort of transmutation, I suppose, of all of that char. Though from experience, natural charcoal can be frustrating to work with, so we’ll see if I stick to that part of the brief. I think it will take me the better part of the week. 

The opening is on the 15th Feb at 6 pm. Details in this link: exhibition details

I will also do a poetry reading and present the performance piece again on the 7th March at 2.00pm and 15th of March, not sure what time. I will correct this once I know for sure.

I have half a desire to bring a number of the charred logs into the gallery actually, but I also need to be mindful of my limited energy and of how the audience feels about charcoal. Presently it’s the enemy, though it will make beautiful biochar in the long run.

The other day when we were at our place, I found some pyronema omphalodes. It’s a fungus that forms a bright orange sponge mat that covers the ground and looks amazing in all of that black. It only grows and fruits after fire, which makes you wonder, what has it been doing for the last forty years? Also what have I been doing? Should I not have been burning? I certainly think so, having recently found out about “cultural burning” the aboriginal practice of regularly and judiciously burning the land. I so want to know more about it. There is so much to know.