For Paul Collis
I was doing the dishes looking out the window into the night and wondering whether these two groups of kids in the park were about to start fighting and then they turned towards the cottage, towards me, and their shouts grew rhythmical, and louder. and then I realised that I was peering at them, that through the broken blind they could see me peering at them, and that the meaning of the hole in the window above Paul’s head was a stone, and that the meaning of the cage around the cottage was a stone too. I stepped away from the sink and went into the lounge, where Paul was hunched under a blanket, listening, and I went in there as though excited or seeking an explanation.
after we picked up the rubbish around the river my father’s back was aching, and when my son woke in the night with a sore stomach I began to be afraid, thinking of the dirty nappy I’d seen but not touched in the hollow of a rock. I am a rubbish pick-upper, Theo said. We are going to Japan but we are not Japanese. in the morning he was well, and in the late afternoon I walked back along the Ngunnhu through warm stripes of light and shade. where the pelicans had lifted together to wheel across the whole bed, here a single egret, and then a single pelican circled low, attendant to a point. ears. there’s a kangaroo in the river, alive and alone among the weeds.
in Bourke I drive through a give way without slowing and then I end up on the wrong side of the road. my father drives through a give way without slowing. my husband, driving, ends up on the wrong side of the road. at Toorale Station the wind gives a most gentle welcome, and then it strengthens, insistent, entirely steady.
I like the work it’s not as angry as I expected. Brewarrina to Narromine corpses and loose cotton. swathes of large trees uprooted by flood. I like autumn leaves. empty fields stacked with white bales, dry creeks, dry rivers. lone roos, small emus alone or in pairs, high fences, fur and bones. what you see is a stone smash in the window. I like sparkling water slipping down over the weir. there’s so much potential there. we can clean up the point of view. the car could be damaged. I don’t know why I saw it up ahead I didn’t swerve. it’s about the technique. our roadkill too fat to drive over.
what are we going to pull some bags out. out of the water that’s living the rocks. fast in slow. are we going to be hands in there or what. whether it’s moving. don’t know the smell. don’t know if we’re sick. crusts on the rock. white, bright green. slow hairskins. letting out or letting in. part of an animal or water. on its whole way around. and whether we feel that that is moving. the rock, here, and the water that comes back
kind of time. like an animal is thirsty and will drink. to say, evaporation is not waste. all the way around the vast until same water same rock a kiss oh hardly moved. so what are we going to dig cans out. get cut. to one side or another of a skin. dig how far down the drying mud. to more. to where we feel better or sick. like what’s alive. like anyone who makes their home in a can. and anyone who lives in plastic bags. being disturbed. feeling cast. and what are we going to go home. step outside of anger, the sun. date some carbon. put a finger on it, what we’re being told. come back. hardly move. and put hands in
into glue. fish banked dead beneath the weir. stones smashed to mud. let’s go, say it. get washed. say, I’ve got an answer and it’s ornamental. we slip our pond. we’re gasping. we thrive. take five minutes and run the river backwards. spend a long time on this aesthetic and watch out it’s not finished. lock your river. hold close the stones. we’re casting rosy children to dive and swim, fair girls’ feet in the rippling brim. floating parts in contagious velocity. and sucking the air, rank and sweet, nitroglycerin.
This poem was written in the towns of Bourke and Brewarrina, unceded lands of the Barkindji and Ngemba peoples of northern New South Wales, Australia. It responds, in part, to the collapse of Murray-Darling river system under the pressures of drought, climate change, and the mismanagement of water resources, which has been ongoing since British colonisation – problems that have recently seen the Brewarrina fishtraps, one of the oldest known human-made structures, run dry for the first time in living memory. The final section quotes Henry Lawson’s 1891 poem, ‘Song of the Darling River’, and references recent fish kills and the dynamiting of the Ngunnhu (fishtraps) for the construction of the weir.
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