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.
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
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.
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.
. . . . .
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.
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.
The performance poem I wrote for the exhibition, Solastalgia, at Fabrik, in Lobethal. More details about this series of exhibitions, here.
The drawing is mine, drawn with charcoal from my burnt home. It ended up being about 13 metres long on the beautiful wall of this gallery. It is as ephemeral as my home apparently was, and will be washed off that wall eventually. But all kudos to Melinda Rankin (director of Fabrik) for facilitating it.
Also kudos to all of the people involved in the exhibition, especially Jo Wilmot (creator of Solastalgia, The Exhibition) and Evette Sunset who said I mentored her when it was the other way around. We all learn from each other anyway, so who needs labels.
This morning a Brown Treecreeper
tapped on the window.
‘Wake up!’ he said.
But I was already awake because
he’d been tapping on the mirror
of the van in which I’d been sleeping
since it was light enough to see.
Perhaps you don’t know the Brown Treecreeper.
He hops around on the ground,
quite game, pecking at goodness knows what,
tiny things, insects, ants.
And he shimmies up tree trunks with his weird legs
as if there was no such thing as gravity.
Anyhow, when he tapped on the window beside my face,
he said, ’Wake up! It’s time to wake up.’
And added, as if it was unimportant,
‘Wake up to this beautiful world.
Save it. Save us. Save yourself.’
Looking to create a single line of poetry, (or find one of my existing ones) to be the last line of a three line poem, the first two lines of which will be written by other people who also don’t know what the other lines will be.
These are some of the possibilities that I’m contemplating. But don’t they look great as a group? I keep rearranging them. If I’m not careful, they will become an actual fee verse poem. Just now they feel like a number of small poems, but I really only need one line.
I am preparing to produce an embroidery of the line as part of a collaborative exhibition, called Gardens of the Heart, a brainchild of India Flint. I’m not sure how many people are involved but lots and from all around the world.
The participants have been allocated a line (one, two or three) and are asked to embroider dots at the beginning of their line to denote that. Once they have all arrived they will be sewn together into three lines and each poem will be hung in space on clothes lines or some such (in March 2019, at the Lobethal Mill). Flowers will also be hung in the space.
Here is a link to the Facebook page. India is contemplating closing it soon, as the embroideries have to be posted by 22 December, but at the moment it’s still open to join in. And here is India’s website. Her work is wonderful in the full meaning of the word.
(The embroidery above is by my mum. At least that’s what she told me. My older sister said, ‘Surely not! She never showed the slightest interest in embroidery.’ I told her how I was forced to hand-stitch a pair of underpants (read bloomers) when I was at school while the boys did woodwork, something I am still sore about to this day. Perhaps this beautiful thing cured my mum of the desire to ever embroider again?)
I’d better decide on a line and get onto it! If you had to choose one of my lines above, which would it be?