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.

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

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.

Tanka Sequence, Spring 2020 (plus fire recovery update)

having been 
burnt to its roots 
the parsley thrives 
and I take it 
as a metaphor

the wagtail 
on its wings of frailty 
expresses 
in its flight 
something like joy 

sometimes 
my dead mum comes
wearing a sun hat 
flowers and secateurs 
in her hands

the heart 
that breaks and breaks and breaks
until 
there’s beauty 
even in that

a seedling weed
it’s virility pushing 
towards seed 
what will I plant now
in the burnt garden of my heart

these happy flowers 
of the onion weed 
nod their heads 
and here I am with 
my murderous intent

twittering 
out of sight
some unknown bird
about its business 
of eating and loving

following 
the heart’s happiness 
I find 
I quite enjoy 
hanging out washing

that I am earth 
lying here on it 
gazing at the sky
sometimes the mind 
needs rest, and so …

.

By Sunday, we will have a roof on the structure that will be our home! Lock up next week. Wow! It looks enormous perched on the hillside on its piles of excavated dirt. With the partly enclosed veranda it is a slightly larger floor plan, but is actually a little less tall than our old house, but because it has no trees around, it sticks out like … a new build on a bare hill. The old house nestled in like it wasn’t there. It was, in fact, just as visible but no one noticed it. Now we have people saying, ‘Dean called me out to the veranda the other day and said, “Look over there. We can see Ervin and Belinda’s new house.”‘ They always could because I looked, standing there one day.

The veranda will be able to be closed with shutters, if it ever has to face down flame again. Otherwise we would have to shift anything flammable inside, not something you want to have to do while running.

Today we will finalise choices on the kitchen cabinets. On Friday it was choosing for the bathroom. All I can say is I am glad I have our wonderful daughter managing all this, and managing me and holding my hand when confronted with a vast array of possibilities, tiles for e.g..

A3 is a good size for thinking. Sticky tape helps too. In fact my brain feels like it is held together with sticky tape.