Bowra (2013)

 

Bowra

 

(i) Balonne Highway

 

Every couple of clicks dark patches inked the highway

As if the evidence of some historic war had been rubbed

Out, leaving only a blackened stain on the blood-fired

Bitumen, no one would ever claim. The good forensics

Didn’t need to be collected here; where the circular saws

Of semi-trailer wheels cut up kangaroo bodies, but never

Bothered to hide the pieces. Vertebrae lay twisted, like

The plastic rifling on cheap spumante corks leftover

From a twenty-first birthday, when bodies bloated, as

Though the sun’s juvenile breath inflated them; a party

Joke recycling the furry-clad wine bladders. These they

Swerved around, lest the residue at the bottom of the

Sacks leak out, the car zigzagging through its drunken

Obstacle course; its refusal to walk down the white line.

 

 

(ii) St George, 1981

 

His buttery-coloured raincoat jogged around the St George

Streets as though it were an oversized molecule of black

Wattle in bloom, or a cloak made from the tiny neck feathers

Of a million yellow-throated miners. He was shedding layers

Of winter fat, to make weight for the Under 40 kilo, junior

Rugby league carnival. Dressed in Stormtrooper white jerseys,

Bowl haircuts wedged onto their heads as if beer aficionados

Had capped their skulls with child-size bottle tops; the twelve

Year-old boys jogged onto the field, crimson Vs branded onto

Their chests for victory. At his billet, there was awkwardness

Over mealtime, bolognaise he could only stare at; his cheeks

Matched his uniform’s bloody witness. He didn’t remember

If they won more games than they lost; his raincoat sagged

In its sweaty corner like a conquered boxer after the bell.

 

 

(iii) Bollon

 

The spotted bowerbirds hopped over the graves of Bollon’s

Heritage dead like unpaid funeral mourners who refused to go

Home. The pink spot on the back of the males’ heads, bobbed

Like faint laser sights, as the midday sun scoped them out from

Behind the Cameron clan’s final rest. The pitted headstones read

Like a pre-immunisation blues record, as too many children were

Laid down in their first decade along Wallam creek’s sandy bed.

What did the bowerbirds glean? What bright objects could they

Possibly pull from the cemetery’s pallid title. Time-washed,

All colour had drained from the tombs leaving them Tunguska

Bare. The graveyard’s skull boasted a buzz cut of winter grass.

Did the modern Cameron’s still bury there? In the river red

Gum shade; where a pair of ringneck parrots twisted upside

Down, regurgitating life into their crypt of deadwood.

 

 

(iv) Emu

 

They came on it at lioness speed pounding into Cunnamulla;

Wheels clawed at the bitumen’s offal-coloured spine as they

Cut a defensive curve around its pentient hulk. An adult emu,

Kneeling in the left lane of the Balonne highway & facing west

As though near death was no experience at all to the winter heat

Or mid-afternoon magnetism that attracted it to the road’s strong

Pole. Its hair-like feathers waterfalled to the bluestone surface in

Stringy curlicues, as if some incorporeal transformation loomed.

Such a human posture, but they were at a loss as to whether the

Primitive bird stooped in reverence or defeat. Whether some buff

Jackeroo had staggered it with a high tackle in their Bundy 4×4, or

If old age was delivering its final rites & it had dragged itself across

The red dirt on its scaly fish knees to the outback version of the

Elephant’s graveyard. The difference being death wore flannelette.

 

 

(v) Cunnamulla, Sandhills

 

The tourist brochures didn’t lie, they created a special prison

Camp on leased enemy land & changed Geneva semantics so

Their captured imaginations were outside of humanitarian law.

There were sandhills, mini-red Sahara dunes just 50 metres back

From the caravan park, where tourists flopped in camp chairs

Like tired English monarchs wilting under the Eastern sun.

Bits of ragged cardboard perched on the sand, as if they were

Lost pieces of a giant’s jigsaw puzzle, their edges baby-chewed.

The smell hit them first like a child’s unexpected blow; the wind

Lifted up something unmistakeably dead from the long grass at

The track’s crumbling edge. Something crossed between a bird

& a wild sheep, all mop-hair & rotting bones; some flood-soaked

Carpet rolled up & dumped. A second emu carcass finished them.

Sick of the undiscovered country; death scared off the little birds.

 

 

(vi) Cunnamulla, Allan Tannock Weir

 

As they skidded to a halt on the gravel, two half-mad, half-tamed

Domestic geese laboured up the Warrego’s gentle bank & barked;

Guards of the Allan Tannock Weir, the white capes of their wings

Opened & closed like great palace gates, sending light scattering

Towards their feet. Where the brown river water spilled over the

Weir’s straight razor edge, white necked herons perfected their

Medusa’s art, merging into the concrete spillway as though their

Toes were mafia-cemented to this damp industrial scene. Further

Up the river gangs of black cormorants surrendered enmasse in

Dead gums, spread out on separate limbs, their hands held up

In wet resignation. It was here that the throb of V8 found them;

A techno chaser beat at their backs, overpowering all birdsong.

It revved a different conscious state as the guardian executed a

Ritual donut; his territorial dance raising a red sail in the sunset.

 

 

(vii) Grey Falcon

 

Lived up to its birding nickname; ‘Smoke Hawk’ as it cut just above

The red-pebbled ground, crossing over Bowra’s main drag, a white

Blur missile launch from beneath the air’s wing, or some accelerating

Ghost. He only saw a fraction’s glimpse, just happened to turn about

Face, as if on a military whim, or if some line of thought jagged his

Eyes sharply to the rear like a hook drives a fish counter current;

The time it takes to aim a rifle, or a bullet sent on its killing streak.

What he witnessed was a classic ground strike, a low angling attack

Run at some feathered target, the compact ‘M’ design of its wings

F-111 folded, manoeuvred the raptor deftly through the thick camo

Net of mulga and casuarina, as though it were mist parting before

A mountain’s deadly peak. He dared not blink. It was over in seconds;

An orgasm’s death, the blinding retina burn of flash photography,

A shower’s steamy contrail when an opened door lets the breeze in.

 

 

(viii) Bowra, ferals

 

Cut open a feral tomcat’s stomach & you’ll find a miniature

Land shark at work; congealed masses of yellow centrepedes

Like thick twisted noodles stuck to the inside of a feline pot;

Or spotted nightjars that mirror stumps of grey deadwood,

So invisible that humans stub their eyes on these pseudo-logs.

Dunnarts & hopping mice that end their fast-forward lives

In a cat gut’s cavernous cinema. At first they thought it was

A feral pig, one of the hairy breed that churned earth near

The homestead digging for morsels, but through their bins

They watched it transmute as it sashayed along the dirt track;

Ocelot-sized, a tabby that stalked them behind the branches

Of a green-grey mulga bush as they pulled up. No bounty for

Pelts, no kangaroo skins & meat for some foreign gullet, only

A fierce territorial ambition & a driving range of appetite.

 

 

(ix) Tony

 

He woke before everybody else; a bushman who camped

Beside his old Landrover, beneath a body-bag-sized navy

Tarpaulin. The Robert Dessaix of bird watching. A thin,

Clean shaven ascetic face, skull-cropped white hair, an

Autodidact who contemplated the nature of existence in

The pre-dawn blue. Stumbling for kilometres over the mud

-dark land, his journey out was for the sole joy of his return.

The rising sun would glow at his back; morning’s spotlight

That illuminated the mulga bush clear as a plasma screen.

Cameras only encumbered him. Instead his mind snapped

Perfect shots of birds, his ear recorded songs never heard.

Like the time he stopped for a pee beside a dirt road near

Hungerford & his urine flushed a pair of night parrots;

Their low, erratic flight mimicking the panic of his heart.

 

 

(x) Goondiwindi

 

The birds petered out like the puffballs of cotton that bordered

The highway; landing lights that guided them into Goondiwindi.

A boundary marker’s nightmare, the fine, wispy tufts crumbled

Into nothingness as though they were speech bubbles imploding

Or shoals of pale krill combed into the dead stalk baleen of winter

Grass. They were trancers coming out of the zone; their heightened

Focus receding from the crazy flocks that had clutched at ironbarks,

Their claws, a bumped needle scoring a record’s grooved, black skin.

He steered with his eyes; was warned to keep his mind on the road

As their car jerked with each radar-lock on feathers, or leered to

The bitumen’s can-opened edge, to better inspect the patrols

Of red-rumped parrots, that sat & dismantled seed heads with

The ease of troopers stripping down guns. At the caravan park,

The sun lowered its awning & dusk folded over them like a wing.

 

 Bowra book review by Nicholas Powell 27th June 2013.

QT News article 11th April 2013.

 

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