How to know that there is a thing called holy and it is small and close and sleeping
You will still feel her fingers in your palm;
the knuckled memory of her heart will hum
and echo slow as you make plans to build
a shrine to her in the spaces where she pressed
her cheek against your neck, stitched her fingers
to your chest and with an ocean calling
through the window, ebbed herself to sleep.
Now, the house at rest, her breathing, steady
as a pulse, comes humming through the wall
and carried on a vein of air now threading
down the hall to where you find yourself
waiting for the earth to turn beneath you.
In a minute, a single breath will stall
inside her throat, will gather itself, swelling
as a wave to break and exhale itself as song
and it will take a feat of will to not sing back
and wake her. You’ll tell yourself to sit instead
and sift through your agnostic language
for some vague approximation of the note
now spinning prayer wheels in your throat.
We round an oxbow slowly,
the prow holding a line drawn for it
by currents we don't yet see.
She leans over the edge,
brushes fingers through water,
lifts her hand and watches pearls form
on the ends of fingers,
sees them grow, then quiver,
then fall back to the source
and for a moment there is only the river,
the prow pushing through it,
the physics of time and this.
Our centres folding over
in the slow mechanics of how
a bend in a river's flow will pinch at the bud,
how water will wear through landscape,
will grind upstream rocks to powder pressed
slow to the bend and excise its own appendix,
casting off its own stray,
leaving the discarded waters
to still their sinking bones,
the fish to wonder where time went to,
and pressing always on,
to a dark and waiting sea.
From the mesa the town below
was just another map of itself,
peeled back skin pinned by eucalypts
and leaning fence posts,
the river dry a spine dissected,
edges fraying into ghosts of Elysian Fields.
From the east the thunderheads rolled in
heavy and crackling,
magnesium flares sparking,
lighting up the sky’s belly and
drums, drums and drums.
We were golden jokes,
strange shapes in stranger places,
mermaids high and dry.
You, proof of a lower case god,
a driftwood cathedral bell tower rung,
singing for the slick and honey wet.
Me, opening my copper throat with flints,
to drink the sky from red and flashing gills.
We sat, sails flapping and jaws reaching as
the sky broke open overhead,
the storm clouds, waves following each other in,
throats popping and gushing,
the rain, molasses thick and wine dark,
falling over itself to get to us
before we drowned in air.
Bay of Fires
The bay appeared first as a limb reaching inland
then blew out into brilliant expanse, the ocean
lit in blue. We watched it turn silver, then to stone
and then to blue again as the sky made up its mind.
You, my blue heart, plucked questions from the sand and
answers from moss that grew across the knuckled stones
on the shore and stained the rock pools red and you stood
atop it all, declaring your tiny self monarch of all things.
Your kingdom, a shining arc of water named for fire,
a granite foreshore bedded down with colonies of mussels
and a beach dotted with stilled black bundles of feathers
and disassembling skeletons.
The glass clear water, still carrying in the bodies of fallen
migratory birds following the same ancient clockwork as we do
when turning silver, or in attempt to learn the myths
of the grand ‘return to place’, find something resembling
comfort, or if not at least our own ends in landscape,
falling heavy as prayers, awed by the distance we have come
to be offered up, to throw ourselves in rapture
at a beach as stunning-white as the pale and final horse.
Up, Up, Up
You find yourself complaining that your back
-bent by nothing but the dead weight of your head-
is too old and sore to bend when she lifts her
tiny hands to you and asks you to lift her high.
And there you are- struck dumb and wondering
if your father remembers the last time he
lifted you, whether he knew that this time
(this begged for one more time) would be the last.
And you think of how one day when he is old
and frail and thin with ghosts, you might yet
bend to carry him, from a hospital bed perhaps,
into the fading light, or down into the earth.
And you think of all the lasts that
punctuate this thing that is your life
as she lifts her hands again and your aching
back bends and you raise her to the light.
We, such stuff as dreams are made
it’s true sometimes,
a day will end like this:
the river swelling as the tide
the sun slouching down
below the ridgeline,
light unstitching the horizon.
the shadow of a hunting hawk
spiralling a thread of air
above the headland,
waves singing quiet through the water,
golden light washing your hands.
your daughter carrying
a bucket full of shells she plucked
from the low tide line,
she’ll spill like jewels
across your palm,
and you, for once with no desire
to weight these things with any
meaning but their own,
for once with nothing
in your head but
In which the Derwent River turns out to be haunted
When looking for traces of yourself in landscape,
go to where the water comes in diesel slick
and meets the city, linger at the dock under a grey sky,
watch the morning cruise boats loading their cargoes
of champagne, oysters and the middle class,
see the pewter clouds above, rolling off the shoulder
of Mt Wellington, shrugged off like some trivial thought,
and the child sunk somewhere high in the boughs
of your family tree will come to mind,
a ghost conjured by your own, as a bundle
of still grief wrapped in linen, cast in a shroud
weighted with shot, and buried at sea,
imagine a mother’s loss as a suddenly softened belly,
the promise of a new life distant yet in lands still warred for,
and of another child born from the same womb on the same voyage
who would live, blood still running a loose thread in your veins,
wonder what songs were sung as the bundle was cast to water,
how quickly a body sinks, how eulogies are just long iterations of
one question and how quickly a story can bleed out white,
decide then to remember more clearly and start writing a poem,
under light breaking at last across the Derwent,
the gulls above wheeling and knifing finally east,
the tour boats backing off the dock,
the slow shapes in the water moving out at last.
Monument to Hubris #3 Spiky Bridge
You may have come through hail and sleet
(praise be to climate control),
brandishing your maps,
guided by digital gestures,
marvelling at landscape and
the remnants of territory,
having struck the correct pose
at Spiky Bridge and imagined
convict bones ground into the mortar
but when the wind hit you side on
at the crossing and the wheel kicked
in your hands conspiring with the slick road
to throw the hired van in a just sufficient slide
to remind you not to lose yourself in metaphor,
is the closest you will get
to finding yourself, a wreck of
twitching meat and metal,
lowing at the bottom of the gully
while Major de Gillern barked
and whipped the convict boys above
and built a road across your bones.
What we fell into
the thing moving through us was called tide
our hands slick with silt
mud sucking us down deep
skin snagging on the broken ribs of mangroves
drowning joyful in each other’s humming bellies
when the tide drops
you’ll see us in the sand
a perfect tangle of bones
plucked clean by holy crabs
clacking red claws at the sky
you can’t tourniquet a river
if you’re smart- you don’t even try