Poems in this collection were previously published in Australian Poetry Journal, Australian Poetry Members Anthology 2015, Bimblebox Art project website, Connective Tissue 2015 Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology Cordite, Clubs and Societies Red Room Project, foam:e, fourW, Idiom 23, Ipswich City Council- Ipswich Poetry Feast website, Island, LinQ, Meanjin, Plumwood Mountain, Now You Shall Know 2013 Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology, Sotto, Social Alternatives, Speedpoets, The Age, The Best Australian Poems 2017, The 2017 Montreal International Poetry anthology, The Weekend Australian and Westerly.
Golden Bowerbird’ was shortlisted for the 2014 Manning Clark House National Cultural Awards — Axel Clark Memorial Prize for Poetry.
‘Soldier Parrots’ was longlisted in the 2014 Ron Pretty Poetry Prize.
‘Eel-tailed catfish’ was longlisted in the 2015 University of Canberra’s Vice Chancellor Award for Poetry.
‘Counter-pastoral at 140kph’ was shortlisted in the 2015 Newcastle Poetry Prize.
‘Guadalcanal’ was shortlisted in the 2017 Montreal International Poetry Festival.
Many thanks to all the poetry editors who support my work through publication, particularly to the Red Room company for commissioning my work for their ‘clubs & societies’ project.
- Albert’s Lyrebird
- Wedge-tailed Eagles
- Bunya Pines
- Strangler Fig
- Vic Hislop’s Shark Show
- Sacred Kingfisher
- Beeble Gas
- Eastern Bristlebird
- Regent Honeyeater
- Darling Downs Earless Dragon
- Spotted Tailed Quoll
- Red Shift
- Double-Eyed Fig Parrot (Coxen’s)
- Superb Fairy Wrens
- Indian Mynahs
- Black-throated Finch
- Bush Stone Curlew
- Unicorns Cross Here
- Golden Bowerbird
- Freckled Ducks
- Powerful Owl
- Orange-bellied Parrot
- Eel-tailed Catfish
- Bufo Marinus
- China First
- Great Barrier Reef
- Ellison Reef, Mission Beach
- Flat-headed Catfish
- Satin Bowerbird
- Counter-Pastoral at 140kph
- Scarlet-Shouldered Parrot
- Soldier Parrots
- Yakka skink
- Ornamental Snake
- Maureen Cooper’s Quilt (Bimblebox Nature Reserve)
- Southern Boobook Owls
- Night Parrots
- A Scrub
- At Play with Grey-Crowned Babblers
- Brown Booby
- The Hunted
- Lord Howe Island Phasmid, Land Lobster
- Grindle Road
- Selfie with Dolphin
- Bee Fleeting
- Snow Geese
He whistled to her & like an inquisitive dog
The bowl of her head angled, a satellite dish
To receive the new music. She was muttering
Away in some mimic’s foreign language when
He stumbled upon her; a woodland Pokémon
That evolved the power of water & then slaked
Some deeper desire in him. The brown, rusted
Stovepipe of her tail feathers swung back &
Forth, as each great scratch of her garden fork
Claws ripped the humus open like rotten cloth.
As he fell, he noticed the bathtub-sized granite
Boulders were covered in grey lichen squares,
Cool & treacherous as damp flannels on a tiled
Floor. Momentum snared, he heard her scream.
A Trojan War had passed since he last saw one.
Oracle elusive, it had tracked him like a prophecy
Or some shadowy ninja as he hiked at Lamington.
Then it had melted into the forest floor like a fat
Witchetty grub, a curled white question mark of
Memory he could only find again if he dug deeply.
He picked himself up, mud stigmata slashed across
His palms as he retook the track, his partner shaking
Her head at the plunge of birdmen. Or that his cry
Had become a lyrebird’s sound effect. Recorded for
Posterity like he was the endangered animal, a loss of
Pride’s habitat. Their black ship of extinction hauled
Up on nature’s beachhead, time caulking their voice’s
Hull; faint echoes of crackling bushfire & corroboree.
Vic Hislop’s Shark Show
Chunks of friendly green coral arranged like garden path lights
Offset the pink froth of photographs where white pointers roil
In death & whale flesh ecstasy. Walls, rough with decades of
Newspaper clippings are busy as a shark’s mouth, as Vic returns
Annually to defend his territorial waters. For each gullet he
Slits open he changes the future; stomach contents prophetic,
Generations of turtles, whales & dolphins indebted to the dark
Eco warrior. At knee height, a porpoise sticks out of a tiger shark’s
Dead maw like a rollie balanced between the lips of an elite grey-
Clad soldier. Its thuggish grin remains, black poker chip eyes
Dealing fear. Another two tonne monster hangs over the roof
Of a Morris minor like some engorged surfboard, the metal
Buckling under the weight of its killer reputation. Jaded violence
In every corner of this seaside grotto; a temple to a dying race.
The shark show’s centrepiece, the refrigerated great white has lost
Its childhood lustre, its grey streamlined bulk wilted like a pressed
Flower rediscovered after thirty years between the pages of a book.
A failed scarecrow of its former power. Its raging gums blackened
& shrivelled like some diseased oak tree; memory’s fungus ossifying
Its natural majesty. Modern science has not stopped it aging. The skin
Around its gills flayed open, as if it were a cardboard box left overnight
To the appetite of morning dew. Its hibernation has not been kind. This
Dread Tutankhamen of fish preserved in its frozen tomb. No Snow White
In her crystal coffin stasis, its face has yellowed, its kodachrome expression
Still captures blind anger. Only its teeth have remained white & sharp,
As if they were cast in evolution’s forge from steel that can never dull.
Still, they file past this Lenin of the deep blue, respectful parents & kids
Brought up on tall stories; wipe condensation to get a better view.
It is a dirty old story.
Of a boom & bust cycle
Beyond the scale of anything.
Earth, an over-oxygenated fish
Tank burst with nutrient growth.
The original hothouse skyscrapers;
Carboniferous gods that thrust
Themselves like a giant’s beanstalk
Up through the world’s wet roof.
Giant ferns unwound like contrary
Clock springs, the cogs of their spores
Spun over the forest’s damp floor
As green fibrous assassins choked
The life out of titans, millennial wise.
Time, the eternal miner
Chipped patiently away
At the world forest’s rich
Vein. Spent eons loading
New atoms into the trunks
Of lifeless trees as though
Presents were being stuffed
Into a Christmas stocking.
It was a Frankenstein morph
In reverse, a transformation
Of the living into the dead.
There was a smell of methane
As the Earth’s fist squeezed
& the black putrefaction began.
It was searched for
Like a cardiac surgeon
Sniffing out a heartbeat.
At first ungainly, where
The flicker of a pulse
Registered at the surface
Of the Earth’s thick skin
Like an Adam’s apple’s bob.
It was witnessed protruding
Through creek banks like a weft
Of femur erupting from a shattered
Leg. Then, the vivisection began.
Black marrow sucked out of the bone
Like breath out of a lung.
Then the desire was to go deeper,
As if pumping one body full of chemicals
Would cure the disease that appeared
In everyone else. So they went at it; a gold
Rush hysteria as needles pin-cushioned
The earth’s dark suit. A voodoo curse
Bringing pain to the body’s deep flesh.
They brushed aside relatives who moped
Around the old fence line & dug for their
Lives as though they were children, mining
Crab tunnels with a wild irreverent glee.
Never minding where the vortex of sand
Flew, which locals were upset or whose eyes
Watered, as grains bit into a delicate few.
It is like cutting the fin
Off a blue shark’s body
& throwing the bleeding
Trunk back into the water;
To die by sluggish drowning.
A useless thing choking on its
Own being. It is trawling by
Impossible numbers or cutting
Off an iceberg’s tip, to harvest
Slush for a short-lived cocktail
Party. A drunken yield for refined
Tastes, that loses sight of the ocean.
It is clearing an entire forest in order
To build a temporary airstrip.
It is the mistaken language of a child
An innocent’s trick, mouthing ‘beeble’
For bird; the meaning crystal clear
As a water table left untapped, but
Its annunciation polluted when the time
Comes to extract. This is a body without
The need to resuscitate, a set of lungs
Without the desire to inflate.
It is the breaking of a hundred million
Year old pact, the thieving of a fairy-tale
Giant’s coal sack. A boom & bust cycle
Beyond the scale of anything.
It is cutting off a dirty old story before
The narrator reaches the punch line.
For Judith Wright
Gravity is rolling her particles into a child’s spit ball.
Like a student chewing paper in the classroom’s dark,
There is something unlawful about our decline & fall.
In her honour, eucalypts shed their clothes, drop bark.
She has already touched the universe’s filigreed edge.
The red shift galaxies shine singularly as flame trees
In a distant quarry; their blooms are a well-kept hedge
That borders our knowledge; doubt swarms like bees.
She had long been a part of it; her hand me down cells
She returned to the sun’s up-market store. A dying star’s
Decaying gift signalled the blow of her heart’s iron bell;
As her last breath vanished like the atmosphere on Mars.
She is monumental now; as though there was a Marathon
Mound of ancient Greek heroes piled up inside her head.
She was the flint of eco-consciousness that was fiery born,
When she struck at the builders who cleared out the dead.
Still, the Earth sucks in its belt-line & gyrates its middle age
Spread. Forests recede like hairlines thinning out, as the hand
Of progress combs through them. All that’s left is hollow rage,
As small groups of creatures turn & make their final stand.
Judith. Her poems are etched on the trunks of scribbly gum.
Insect mouths chew through the grain of her poetic field.
As they kill, borers translate her words into a universal tongue,
& hollow trunks of eucalypts drum; never yield, never yield.
Double-Eyed Fig Parrot (Coxen’s)
Cyclopsitta diophthalma coxeni
Look for the tell-tale signs of our existence.
Half eaten purple fruit dark as a shark’s eye
Or the bruised thumb of an adult human,
That falls with Newtonian grace; an invisible
Thump; a musket ball falling onto the forest’s
Soft eiderdown floor. Gravity dents the fabric.
A small emerald feather starfishing in a hiking
Boot’s artificial lake, like green ink released into
A beaker; its fuzzy tendrils unfurling like a foot.
If your close encounter is more than this, if you
Have spied the fist-sized parrot skulking in tree-
Tops, or looked into its beak as it shears sugar-
Laden skin; you have written a rare communiqué.
A love letter so personal, it ignites at the touch.
Unicorns Cross Here
There is true north; there is the far north; then there’s
The deep north. Cook, possibly bemused by this tropic
Irony, his twenty-foot fibreglass effigy fully decked out
In his eighteenth century finest; red coat, white Captain’s
Hair wig & pallid stockings, blue fleet commanders’ hat
Advertising the Tradie’s Bar. Towering over Cairns like
Some erect Gulliver at attention, hands folded behind
Him like a small boy in an expensive gift shop, his crab-
Hard skeleton ridged with finger length spines, as if after
Two centuries his legacy is at last coming to reflect his
Environment. Like the spiky stem of a giant rainforest
Palm, his prickly countenance expansive as his working
Class thirst; ambition slaked by exploration, his origins
Foreign as this new continent of hot & muggy dreams.
Exiting Cairns, the white possession’s semantic legacy
Thrives in the historical names of rivers & creeks, as though
The bloody transition of the victor’s language is a fecund badge
Of municipal honour to be worn on the sleeve of the state’s
Cracked bitumen highways. The ancient bureaucracy somehow
Blameless in its generational absence: racist discourse clocked
Off & down at the pub; Chinaman Creek, Blackfellow Creek, quirky
Throwback titles to some ambiguous sense of place; perhaps
Named in honour of their once upon a time cultural presence
Along these mangrovy waterways, now disappeared, the lack
Of context unsettling, as reports of Deep Creek’s beheaded croc.
A contemporary settler payback for a family pet taken, a terrier
That stopped to drink one too many times from a sacred spot.
A gruesome totem to appease the mud-caked, Lord of the Flies.
Through the silk thin mist, sugarcane fields stand as Roman armies
At the end of empire. Forlorn, thirsty, they occupy the flat ground,
Blades held stiff as they form up, row upon green row in perfect
Drilled unison. A thousand years of domesticating iron has tamed
The wilderness. Axes bite deeper than words, saw teeth whisper in
Death’s white noise. On the hills behind them, the rainforest seethes
In undisciplined chaos; disordered ranks thrown back in confusion.
Strangler vines criss-cross cedar chests like bandoliers of rope ready
To scale the camp’s irrigation ditches & red earthen walls. By mid-
Morning civilisation’s haze has been burnt off by the sun’s kerosene
Lighter. Magpie geese guard the paddock edges. The crests of Great
Egrets rise like centurions’ horsehair plumes, as they take flight to
Encircle the square formations. In the pitched mêlée between nature
& progress, the battlefield scavengers always wind up the fattest.
Naïve warning! The crystal caves of Atherton are not real caverns
Of unique crystalline formations home-grown over a millennia of drip
Drying minerals hung from their hills hoist sediment; filled with black
Crevices where microbats huddle together like a Scotsman’s sporran
Or a witch’s pouch bulging with fangs & wings. Nor is it a proper
Natural landmark on which Dutch tourists can climb up to take
A better photo & perish in their ironic attempts at immortality.
It is a tourist simulacrum of the glittering caves; amethyst crystals
Large as dragon eggs imported from conquered lands like Aztec
Gold adorning a plunging Spanish neckline. Next door they’ve
Opened up a fossil shop fast tracking a new Moroccan industry;
Where Devonian sea floors are spaded up like squares of fine
Grass from a turf farm & polished until they gleam; modern
Vanities that were pre-ordered, half a million years ago.
Port Douglas’s stinger net is aptly named; for it is tourists who are stung.
A council security smokescreen; box jellyfish hang like toolies on the edges
Of Four Mile Beach’s swimming enclosure, threatening postures barred, their
See-through chests stretch like aerodrome windsocks inflated in a cyclone.
They pulse fear, but are merely the venom vanguard of the holiday season
As nature cracks this problem & employs its latest nano technology; irikanji
To infiltrate the nets, a bio weapon smuggled into summer’s secure terminal.
Orange-footed Scrubfowl scratch up the sand like children, unperturbed by
Their killer reputation, while in palm trees, rainbow lorikeets speak in their
Language of smashed stones. They grate out the story of a woman who,
One day while swimming in the enclosure, went to fish out a log that she
Noticed bobbing inside the net. As she swam over, the trunk submerged.
The locals, smug in their survival knowledge don’t swim here; in these man-
Made aquariums, where scooping out estuarine crocodiles is a weekly menu.
The Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher drags its long, white tail feathers
Through Julatten’s sluggish ring of air like a prize-fighter trailing spittle
After a knockout punch. Its twin struts belong to some other era
Of wartime aerodynamic experimentation; a P-38 Lockheed Lightning
On its ground attack run, finishing off Japanese airfields, diving through
The jungle’s camouflage net to avoid detection. It’s a skywriter; the plumes
Of its continuous white dash, a game of hangman across the forest’s page,
As males spell out their need for love. Perched, its tail flick is a courtship
Gear stick shift into fifth; evolution’s smooth mechanism rolls on, oiled
& preened to perfection like military dress. Its red-orange bill bursts like
New Year’s Eve fireworks, as white streamers shoot out over the creek’s
Cobblestone alley, a V- Day celebration for the end of seasonal conflict.
Contrails that split the azure sky in their flypast salute. Bandleaders;
They twirl their feathery batons as spring’s victory parade marches on.
Crocodile paranoia inundates the wet tropics every rainy season,
Fogging the tourist mind. It all started in the 80s, one New Year’s Eve.
Thirty years of population recovery. A midnight swim in the Daintree,
Toes brushing against something rocky under the black water; the fleeting
Touch providing little warning. The cool water relieving night’s stickiness,
Caressing her body like falling into freshly washed sheets. Then the violent
Waist grab, the drugged brain trying to justify the burning sensation. First
Thoughts of a male friend’s poorly timed practical joke, his sex-charged
Fingers too eager, pinching into her hip’s soft flesh. The wildfire spreading
Over her skin like the aftermath of an all-day tattoo. Her body flipped over;
The enormous strength pulling her under the dark tow; a father throwing
Their child around in a pool. The frantic half-breath never enough.
The searing of the lungs more painful; the syphoning away of last air
Mocking the agony in her side. Her first & last drink of the new year.
The wild horse crossing sign has been graffitied; its black ear extended
Into a unicorn’s horn by some witty local. Neither, do the speed hump
Signs fare any better, the dark half-moons transformed into smiley faces,
Black holes, flying saucers & peace symbols, as though having to slow down
Is somehow made more bearable if changed into the fantastical; like giving
The finger to an impatient P plater barking from behind you on a hundred
Year old, one lane, wooden bridge. The imagined world is shifting; it’s easier
To spot a Southern cassowary behind a wire fence at a jungle zoo, though
The crowds are drawn to reptilian danger & ignore this megapode at their
Peril; the disembowelling clawed toe like a cocked gun at extinction’s head.
Above 850 metres, Golden bowerbirds build stick skyscrapers; the largest
Penthouses in the rainforest. This pattern is recognisably human; to carve
Out territory for yourself & to pass on phoenix genes to your children.
This we all cross: in the true, far, deep north, all life is selfish by nature.
For ‘Chook’ Crawford
When the male golden bowerbird finally alighted
On a lichened giant, one thousand metres above sea
Level; he was tricked. He’d responded instinctively,
As though protecting his two metre tall wicker bower
From rivals, was just a rapid eye blink of sexual angst.
‘Chook’ had called him in; bearded like Odin, he held
Loki’s device, an iPod that overflowed with birdsong
Like a chatty Mt Lewis spring. Rigged to the palm-sized
Aviary by its sinuous tongue was a magic amplifier that
Grated out its territorial challenge. When he accepted
The trial, it was if all the sun’s warmth had magnified
Into a single yellow beam that wove through the forest’s
Dark crown, to rest, feather light on the branch’s head.
They witnessed a star’s birth under the canopy of space.
The forty odd freckled ducks lived & died on water.
Like plain country folk dressed in blue-checked shirts
& dark moleskins, they were raised in the same town
& buried too, within its familiar, territorial limits. Or
Like a housewife knifed by a stranger in her kitchen,
Their deaths: some brutal transgression of the home;
A sticky, bloodshot lagoon silted up after three good
Seasons. Their weir consolidated its life-giving asset,
As if it was a colonial outpost counting out its last
Rounds; their reed camouflaged pond transformed
Into an unstable ammo dump. Their billabong; some
Balkan village about to be liquidated. Lead pellets fell
Through their skins’ crust; like how a coin-sized piece
Of neutron star would slip straight through the earth.
The cane toad has put the troll under the bridge out of work.
Mary Shelley’s nightmare wore a thick leather coat of warts.
Frankenstein was just one reanimated corpse; 200 million
Of him would’ve sent shivers through any ecologist’s pulse.
Both were bred in labs; both were conceived by scientists
Who dreamed of elemental things; of pumping life back
Into sugar. One beast was bipedal & had long legs that
Pistoned mechanically as he stalked toward his victims.
Evolution has gifted the swampy vanguard of the other
With longer front legs; they suffer from the rapid advance
Of arthritis. The golem killed with hands that crushed his
Victim’s throats like we’d squash a cardboard toilet roll.
The gremlins kill by being threatened; or eaten, their
Glands go hyperactive & excrete their milky poison.
They corrode the inside of snakes & goannas quicker
Than salt eats away at metal on the coast. These sacs
Of toxin sit on both sides of their shoulders like pus-
Filled rugby pads. Frankenstein’s bolts are screwed in
Too on the opposite sides of his neck & clamp his head
To his throat. Both of their skins can look brown, grey &
Mottled, as if these ghouls are camouflaged for the grave.
Both species come out at night & will frighten you alive.
By day they mostly hide; the toads hunch in wet crevices
Under logs, while the phantom lies in his free hospital bed.
They have few natural predators. Humans try to kill them
But even after a rain of golf club blows, they’ll be gone by
Breakfast. They can both absorb damage to their bodies
& reanimate it seems. This classes them as mostly undead.
The cold affects them; one stumbled off into the snow
To die alone like Oates, the other expires in the freezer.
One was the result of pure fiction; toads a scientific horror.
An imported fact that spread rapidly like an acid spill across
A flat bench top. The experimental giant’s story is a classic.
1930s biological thinking is classic experimental stupidity.
The scientists though, are never out of work. Their job is
Expanding. They’ll have to delve deeper than the toads can
Burrow, into the damp recesses of their genetic structure &
Disrupt sex pheromones by zapping them with electricity.
They’ll try to destroy the female monsters, fearful of this
Potential species, or sterilise the male population natively.
Frankenstein was neutered too. No amount of galvanism
Could raise his bolt, his sex glossed over like a Ken doll.
If you see them, you must report them to the authorities.
They kill dogs, local fauna, & humans who make soup
Out of their eggs. They’re only trying to find an identity
In this new place, but it’s our way of life they threaten.
They were modern Prometheuses, those scientist-titans
Who sought to give farmers the secret of pest-free sugar,
But upset the natural equilibrium & birthed a creature
Beyond all reckoning. This is a gothic tale of creation.
‘We should not call this land our mother, but our grave.’
They are busy creating human impact craters that
Dwarf Wolf Creek & that can be seen from space.
They are busy terra forming the Earth into its coz
Mars, stripping not its magnetic field, but its guts.
They are busy with their dozers & chains clearing
The trees, the termite mounds that store carbon.
They are busy doing deals & if they can’t do deals
They are busy using their money to fund the party.
They are busy looking after their short-term profits
& damn those long-term ancestors & old songlines.
They are busy downplaying their residual impacts
They have ‘offsets’ to compensate for their big hole.
They are busy creating new jobs & new infrastructure
The black-throated finches will exist on half an acre.
They are busy securing Australia’s future by exporting
To China first. There’s no profit in living in the past.
They are busy making workers fortunes on long shifts
But not there to pick up the pieces of smashed families.
They are busy making plans to go to Mars and mine it
Where there are no trees & no black-throated finches.
They are busy, flat out, run off their feet, flat-strap, under
Pressure, backs to the wall, hitting deadlines, digging in.
Brigalow: an Extinct Pastoral
It was shaving a giant’s hairy body to reduce friction
& speed things up. Each fracture of a Brigalow trunk,
the taut string of a Jarowair songline snapping; ancient
wires curled into a foetal position as the D9s chewed
through acacias like witchetty grubs weakening a tree’s
hardwood core. Local councils paid up bounties to clear
‘scrub’ into the 80s. They strung a necklace of iron pearls
between two dozers; manacled violence, like nineteenth
century convicts kept under guard. The machines clawed
through six million acres, rubbing against bark, leaving
a scent trail of oil & diesel, as though they were some
type of ancient megafauna revisited; extinct, buttery-
furred thylacoleo, carnivorous in their vast appetite.
Then their kitchen knife shiny blades scratched out
the jagged stumps that leaked blood-amber & later
hardened into ruby stalactites & froze to the broken
lip of the forest’s open mouth. The rich, alluvial soil
ruptured like a freshly dug mass grave, as the tree-
pushers tossed black wattle bodies into loose piles
& burnt them. Genocide’s sleight of hand perfected
on nature first. Trees as numbers. Dozer drivers
saw straight through their bee-yellow badges, their
earmuffs silenced the forest’s death rattle, made
the weary farmers bomber-pilot resilient to raining
down destruction. The ovens were crude fire pits
that melted down acacia sap like looted gold, so that
it pooled tawny in this open furnace’s charcoal bed.
These chains of being breaking coffee-stained teeth
of white ant hills that housed avian clay diamonds.
The Paradise Parrot, a smashed green, red, & blue
panel in the Darling Downs stained glass window.
The termite mounds rose like a child’s best castle
or miniature gothic cathedrals built of sand & grass,
masticated & stored in the climate-controlled fridge
interior. These insects stowing carbon before there
was a price put on the planet’s bushranger head.
The shotgun entry-wound sized nest holes blasted
into mounds by the birds, as though evolution had
manufactured the perfect cavity for humans to
dynamite these architectural wonders of the insect
world. The cool pyramids sawn off at their bases;
cut down like pseudo-trees or scooped up in the rough
hands of front end loaders & rolled into tennis courts.
The ignorant paddocks of youth where natural beauty
was witnessed in the solitary survivors of cultivation.
Coolabah trees surrounded by seas of grass, trunks
twisted like the wrenched skin of a ‘Chinese burn’ or
New Holland nymphs caught in a transformative act;
god-frozen as punishment for their greenest pride.
Half of them ringbarked by pink-flared galahs, their
stringy layers hanging off their limbs like a child’s
Band-Aid half picked off an arm or leg, undecided
about its ability to help heal the body’s dying flesh.
The understory broken by iron & fire like a rebellion.
Exotic grasses chewed down to their stubs by sheep
& cattle until even these conquerors were themselves
usurped by cereal crops & water-boarded cotton.
Hoofed animals who sacked the land’s fragile temple,
magnifying a historic benefit to the monocultural god.
Agriculture’s sublime gerrymander; the fascist knowhow
of combines & seed strains & harrows that clear-felled
the Brigalow belt. Soldier settlers of the 40s carrying on
the good fight to the Qld frontier, carving order out
of the dual forces of chaos; heat & drought. Trobuk
tanned, or Kokoda lithe, digging into their prickle farms
like a cattle tick into its host, head down, immovable.
Not the weather, not the banks, not the rising water
table that pulled salt skyward like a crystalline sunrise,
or the earthen heave of an underground atomic test.
Humans pushed the envelope of entropy: remnant
vegetation ensconced on Oakey Creek’s banks,
where wind & animal erosion dusted off eons
of silt from the fossilised skulls of diprotodons.
Fist-sized eye sockets stoppered with black mud.
Brigalow, now quarantined to rocky slopes like
the survivors of a flood catastrophe, or reduced
from its diverse wealth to begging beside highways.
North to Townsville, south to Narrabri, west to Bourke
& Blackall, the silvery-leafed acacias retreated meekly
into history’s hothouse. Their decline & fall predictable
as any overstretched empire’s, barbarians shutting
the gates on revegetation; reserves & hillsides
the last refuge of the disappeared. Ninety-five
percent of the black-trunked forest anchor-chained;
a billion victims of Bjelke-Petersen’s Frankenstein
invention, his iron umbilical bolt that connected
ex-war surplus gun carriers & enfiladed the land.
The Mallee’s murdered twin brother buried west
of the Great Dividing range & never seen again.
The countless bodies gone missing in the gidgee;
Darling Downs Hopping-mouse, White-footed
Rabbit-rat, Brush-tailed Bettong, Long-nosed
Bandicoot, Greater Bilby, Bridled Nailtail Wallaby,
Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat & Eastern Quoll.
These protein gradients dropping away without
a sound, as though they were regrowth suckers
poisoned by 24D. An extinct pastoral still being
energised as a red hot column whence fly the sparks.
Black wattle burning on a six million acre farm.
Great Barrier Reef
They say it’s the length of Japan, if that group
Of home islands was stretched out beside the
Queensland coastline; a great lung of Poseidon’s
Branching from the continent’s spine of white
Beach, exhaling microscopic spores into the sea’s
Vast cavity. Atlantean sunk beneath the Pacific
Ocean’s mythic blue abyss, the living tissue is
Larger than Cook’s England, as legendary as
Arthur’s Albion & as treacherous as Lyonesse.
After all, it conspired to hole the Endeavour.
Along the brain-corrugated reef, light harpoons
Into water translucent & smooth as Murano glass.
Photons lobotomise; calm waters protect volcanic
Nibs of mountains we call islands. The reef is a
Front gate; white picket fence that keeps out sharks.
You can make out clam bunkers shut fast against
Riptides that blow subterranean wind in their faces.
Here, the wet metamorphosis of garden caterpillars;
Black & yellow striped nudibranchs, inch over polyps
That house migrants in their hundreds of thousands.
It is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon ultramarine.
A billion generations have crowned its hard teeth
Before we came down from the trees. Here, time
Is measured in the millennia that green turtles have
Spent heaving their way up beaches to deposit their
Golf ball-sized capsules. Or how barnacles cling for
The length of the British Empire’s reign upon a rock.
Such perspectives diminish our enterprise; as bulk oil
Carriers slide carefully around the razor-edged reefs;
Like a sapper probing for mines in the Afghan sand.
The rich organ now wears Asian funeral white. Its
Cancer the antithesis of black Western mourning.
The technicolour algae depart from their luxury posts
Like passengers on a stricken liner, leaving ghosts in
The shell. The sea is on a slow boil. The coral is dying
Its emphysemic death as parts of the great lung collapse.
It is falling into the shade of bleached whale bones as
Pieces of brain wash up on the beach; a tidal keepsake.
No need for a glass-bottomed boat to sail the future.
It is a scab on the ocean’s leg that is best left to heal.
Ellison Reef, Mission Beach
The colonies should be immortal & outlive us
but more than half of them are dead; victims
of crown of thorns thuggery, chiv-clad bullies
who creep up on their targets & shank them.
Their terrestrial enemy is deadlier; sugarcane
alchemists who’d love to transform limestone
into fertiliser, or suck up oil like a yabby pump
gulps wet sand. Sewerage pisses down gutters
of coastal towns & sediment runs from eroded
riverbanks clogging up the reef, like saltwater
up its nose; rainforest lies bent from the human
cyclone. In 1967 a funeral notice was published
in the coral-white paper. Spawn-words ejected
like typeset letters mating on the coast’s page.
The catfish doesn’t know
that it swims in muddy water.
That is our conceit, to try & match
its experience with ours & call its home a river.
We swim like a dead battery dumped
in a stream, our intelligence has corroded
our connection to the energy of things.
Our brains spit & fizzle under water
like aluminium thrown into a microwave.
To the mouth with fins, it may as well
be trawling over a vast liquid tongue;
for taste buds stud its body
like the beginnings of pustules
on a plague victim or gooseflesh
that erupts when the neck is licked.
Each pimple tastes the fast wet molecules
for chemical scents, for food that flows
into its wide rabbit-trap maw to be
swallowed whole, caught in the iron cage
of the fish’s gullet.
The flat-headed catfish is also a beardman.
It sports a double row, Guy Fawkes mo,
six barbels that curl at their pink tips
like a new fern.
These electrical-tipped appendages
seek enemies like Tasers & grope like hands
touching the river’s bed for information,
the same way boys will search out golf balls
sunk to the bottom of a water trap with their feet.
A lightning jaw blows up this parliament of mud.
Larger ones will shoot up a fisherman’s arm
like a long winter glove.
The catfish’s eyes though, are of no use.
They are black & dead as trench coat buttons
decaying in a field of sludge.
Although we try to pin it down
with human tropes, the catfish
is alien as liquid methane or a
planet where it rains glass. This fish
exists in its own universe.
He has a collector’s craze-addled eye for
finding beauty in junk. What others toss
away he’ll repurpose; consider it chic. With
a small blue flower in his mouth he croaks
& dances as though he’s a lawnmower that
doesn’t have quite enough choke, as his wings
punch up at 45 degrees like a sabre jet’s injector
seat, or the hip doors of a concept car. His call
is that of a WW1 shell shrieking in its final mad
descent. It should terrorize, but instead draws
onlookers, who watch him pick up a twig & plant
it in his wicker man bower like a national flag
on the moon. This is his jizz. To act all rebellious
teenager, but still keep a clean room.
for Nathan Shepherdson
their white belly
merges with light,
falling electric snow.
down; a fast bullet
enters & exits a pane
of glass falling with
honey’s spoon grace.
a snowflake melds
with its blizzard
until indivisible from
the surface it melts;
all quiet under ocean.
sound trapped, insect
in amber. ears useless,
ground down tiny over
millennia, gills not slitting
into bones until a noise’s
speed no longer makes
distance in the blue world.
salt water is not ocean
as is tasted. a fluid
battery sends electrical
pulses. charges fish
until solar panel scales
spark with energy.
they can detect auras.
smell the diffused signals
borne by water molecules
that spread, a tarot deck
of hunger sliding across
the sea’s dinner table;
conjure up a red future.
one drop of blood
in a million parts of
water, they will come
if the wet wind blows
in the right direction.
they can find a clear
contact lens on a glacier.
their snouts are Franklin’s
perpetual kite experiment.
blows from a cobbler’s
hammer have dented
their heads, they hunt
by electricity, they detect
tiny ball lightning in
a fishes’ berry-sized
muscles. the ocean
a liquefied grid, a
field of nippy particles.
an apex predator’s
thin bakelite purses
that clutch to the sides
of reefs & shoals; amber
necklaces that decorate
a current’s sinewy neck.
embryonic fluid ruptures
spills into a greater sac.
longlines’ jagged teeth
hook young, a by-catch.
fin’s reverse fontanelle,
the flesh doesn’t heal.
times past skin wore teeth
& dorsal fins radar shaped.
devolution; toothed frames
shrink to denticles that spray
on skin, rough plaster walls
disrupt borders between shark
& ocean. they grasp seawater
glove-fast & torpedo bodies
slip through tension breaks.
blademasters skills honed
by sticky shark grips & fine
cut leather boots. ‘shagreen’
sandpaper from dog-fish
polished ships’ best wood.
bicycle reflector jammed behind
retina boosts night vision. military
goggles worn by elite frogmen see
colour at depths where none exists.
ten times light collects on apertures;
pollen clings to a bee’s leg. ghosts
rise from midnight zone’s dusky
graveyard. sharks descend coffin
straight; spiracles pump salty water
direct injection into eyes & brain.
oxygen thins in reverse atmosphere.
black space weightlessness, bodies
equalised with gravity share joint
stuff. five gill slits blow curtains.
lateral lines sweep seas;
mine detectors beep
when objects grow denser.
surfboard seal cut-outs
mimic flippers & fibreglass
duende. submerge, caudal fins
flex, a giant’s fist pump &
cartilage tuning forks vibrate
through shafts as taste buds
tricked. first bite for info.
next bite for keeps. jaws
realise mistakes, head bang
& tear at war music. third
eyelid shuts in mute defence.
abundant blood, dining
room prey, erratic finger
movement wags in their face
during pelagic mealtime.
they take it personally &
mouth opens in warning.
cave stalactites’ cusps, sharp,
pointed; muscles rise to
the threat & predators
face off, frenzied speech
no participant remembers.
brains overload on slight.
flesh liquefaction, then
whirlwind unwinds its passion.
the roof goes. convertible
fins sheared, corrugated sheds
in cyclone. farmer marked,
long queues slide into salty dip,
tails fall into bloody bucket.
a torp’s dead weight when
engines stall. steerage gone,
sleek fuselage dips, downed
sydney minisubs & pacific
planes sink into an abyss.
production lines hook a
dark future; their broods
human length; kursk sailors
clench rusted wrenches.
forty somethings’ fear
spawned seventies celluloid
gore fantasies. knee-high,
parents don’t swim further,
their children human shields
for angstcination. in breakers,
still water, unlucky death roils.
spearfisher, snorkeler, sponge
-diver, pearl-grabber, surfer-dude,
bather. tire-tread scars run over
backs, sand depressions don’t
blow away. nets & baited hooks
map annually the kill count war.
one hundred million jaws close.
Counter-Pastoral at 140kph
The Nankeen kestrel’s wings fold upwards like a
space-conscious clothesline, or a russet umbrella
that surrenders to the westerlies, as it falls onto
the marsupial mouse’s light-weight chassis. The
raptor’s talons blur like a highway mirage & sink
into the paddock’s earth, rending flesh & dirt; an
excavator’s claw that overcorrects on a worksite.
White wheat stubble could be a field of low mist,
but there’s no moisture in a drought-blonde winter.
The Brigalow says The Lord is Near in stencilled letters.
The burnt wreck of a commodore is nearer, at a rest
area just short of Moree. Meteorite-coloured, a legend
would have the bird of prey brush its rusting hulk.
Fire-unique; this oxygen-rich planet is out to kill.
The young white rhino tests its Pliocene
strength against the slope of its mother’s
granite-boulder neck. They are grey lichen
on the evolutionary spur. Long in the horn,
somehow the large beasts survived our Rift
Valley outpouring, the rivulets of flesh-lava
which burnt jungle into blocks of savannah.
Now, the silver-flecked Venetian masks of
Apostlebirds, chatter underfoot, as they sift
through the African mammals’ straw; they
are rock solid. Theirs is the larger test. The
long, species ice-age melts in a poacher’s
microscopic breath. Colour of moon regolith,
the struggle ends in one animal’s dusty retreat.
The broken cliffs bare their fossilised teeth.
An ancient ocean bed dried out, time’s rehab.
Sand particles caught in a molecule snapshot
fused into something stronger with the texture
of a raptor’s bone-encrusted scat. Seashells,
brachiopods, the shallow sea denizens stick out
of the sandstone butte, rows of canines where
locals cut themselves. Way too much fun in Waikerie.
The enduro drivers party until 2am on the bitumen
carpark’s floor. Shirts off, they confront the danger
as one school. Their violence won’t be remembered,
only their form. Beer cartons lopsided as a continental
fault line & wine glass fragmented as mussel shell.
The sound of tyres on wet sand like breakers crashing.
The wild hops will live out their natural lives.
The hoarhound waits patiently for its next bender.
Nightshade misses the pupil’s full moon dilation.
Obsolescent belladonna slips into a vegetative
fossil state; history is foretold by the weeds left
behind. Salvation Jane is someone’s Patterson’s Curse.
Little men brought these seeds to the saltbush plains,
chasing the silver lodestar that pierced the ridge’s
thumb like a splinter. When the veins ran dry
they drowned in their own blood sitting upright;
they were stone age those Cornish, myah myahs
were pre-fab burial mounds with wattle & daub lids.
We only ever get to see ten percent of the mind’s
workings; the earth remembers every ounce.
It took two years for the world’s largest crude
oil tractor to shunt its way into the Mallee scrub,
moving at lava’s cooling black pace; its wheels
shod with broad iron snowshoes so it wouldn’t
sink under its own dinosaur weight. Forty football
fields a day were scythed down for the soldier
settlements around Red Cliffs, by four steel cables
thick as a man’s wrist that bled out from the machine’s
head like the lacquered plaits of a giantess. Hooks
grappled stumps as the metal wire shaved Malleefowls’
heaped mounds neatly, like cream skimmed off raw
milk by hand. ‘Big Lizzie’ was gutted too; her engine
bastardised into a rock crusher’s belly when she
outlived her destructiveness. The birds just withdrew.
The stone hamlet hangs by a celluloid thread.
Thirty-five monochrome ghosts are all that are left
of Silverton’s rush; commons bound to their land,
the ethereal tape of local government has frayed
like old wedding lace under the sun. The freemasons
are gone; their superhero costumes adorn frozen
manikins, their powers restrained behind a glass
force-field. There are deeper powers at work here.
Horses share the bar with people, the Greek myths
are close to the surface like an ore-rich lode. The
Mad Max kitsch is rusting. The Feral Kid is a jeweller
in Sydney. The village is a touched up photo – one
of Stalin’s best. Buildings & citizens have been edited
out of the present. Low entropy is sterile as a film lab.
The speed of colour is a new parrot species
spied for two seconds out the car window,
but then diminishes like an escaped balloon
from a child’s hand. Without a good look at
its jizz, the little nuances in beak & cere, it goes
unchecked on the life list. Or a grey grasswren
that blurs across the sedan’s bonnet, escaping
death like a stalled vehicle’s engine that sparks
into riotous life on a level crossing. Or the tan
checkerboard of a square-tailed kite’s breast,
lost in the overexposure of its bullish cousins.
Or the strange pied bird that doesn’t fly in dips
like a black honeyeater, but Stuka plummets into
the saltbush & belah; the desert’s pace is red.
The earth is crowned with a space-junk diadem.
Every so often, a pearl-bright satellite breaks
from the cluster & falls, shining like a seam
of silver ore in night’s mine. The atmosphere’s
a forge that heats up the super-adventurous alloy.
The planet raises an eyebrow as gravity grabs
the pliable body by its throat. Meteorites
curve downward like a cocktail dress that slips
to the bedroom floor. A sonic boom is speed’s
audible orgasm as pressure waves build then collapse.
Everyone watches the video that night, as dishes
mushroom in the dark farm of the trailer park.
No celestial union is secret anymore, no husbandry
is safe, as the town bathes in this fiery afterglow.
Ravens judge the distance between oncoming
traffic & road kill with advanced avian math.
Wing & beak calculate lift as the corvids hopscotch
out of death’s way with a child’s grace. The mulga
bears shoe-fruit, every eviscerated roo is UFO evidence;
a hills hoist in the middle of nowhere is a jerry-rigged
emergency beacon. Feral goats are the only witnesses
to close encounters. Bible-old, they instinctively move
to higher ground when objects threaten to pull over.
In Wilcannia everything is locked down, bar children
who play chicken with Winnebagos on the A32,
cutting the national artery’s living tissue. They catch
rides on a campervan’s spare wheel; scooters political.
Horns scatter sparrows; not kids of the third kind.
The fish traps make Jericho’s pale walls seem
freshly rendered. Two thousand generations
of hands have whispered the stones into river
crop circles. Aliens marvel on the Darling’s banks
at the persistence of mythical endeavour. Sisyphus’s
labour personified in the rock pools sunken at odd
levels to catch flood-prone yellow belly, whatever
the river’s mood. Children crouch & play imaginary
games on the oldest human invention. White-necked
herons patrol the weir’s battlement. The blocked off
Barwon is a springe, as pelicans scoop up fingerlings
in their bills’ pink windsocks. Brewarrina’s shops are
dammed with plywood. Time keeps a tight budget.
Fish were a currency once, scales glinting like coins.
It’s an impasse. A cultural stalemate.
The highway’s gutters littered with empties;
an artillery barrage’s spent shell cases or
a no man’s land where glassy-eyed bodies
lie tossed by death’s drunken rage. Liquid
pride is a distant mirage that dries before
you can ever reach it; some Min Min light
that keeps exact pace with your car. Shire
Councils too poor, too bothered by water
politics. A seventy-five kilometre roadside
installation, authentic outback experience.
It’s all your perspective. Not rubbish, but
in a hundred years, part of an antique bottle
display in an octogenarian’s dim fibro-cave.
There’s an invisible margin between a mine
& a tomb. They drill into the earth’s giant
bone to extract bluish-green & blood-red
marrow, existence’s wet & succulent sheen.
Chalk-white middens dot a moon landscape.
There is terraforming; notes from the underground
as jackhammers vibrate with a tuning fork’s rage.
They carve out oubliettes to imprison dreams.
Practice for a lunar existence; first they live in
the ships that brought them here from distant
worlds, then they return to Cro-Magnon fears,
living in craters to keep warm. They follow
ossified water that eons ago took on a new form.
When the seam runs out, the habit stays strong.
Extinction is a kind of bizarre stocktake.
Units low in number are not reordered,
but with doomsday quickness hoarders
buy up, until the very last items sell out.
Every species has its shelf life. The bird’s
use by date was 1927; it has been expired
for eighty-seven years, a rotten end to a
popular product. Collectors kept the empty
bottles, stuffed them with sawdust & tied
them all up like sticks of dynamite rigged
to a rail bridge. Taxidermy is a 3D photo
of the dead. They’ll perch for eternity; wear
beads for eyes, medal ribbon on their chest
& on their shoulder, a scarlet epaulette.
Science lessons spied on them for eighty years
without actually seeing them. Classes of short-
lived students studied biology under immoveable
beaks. Sixteen birds in a square Victorian case;
walled up behind old-style glass, globed with air
pockets like insects trapped in an amber dome.
The vanguard of the forces of mass extinction;
a light cavalry brigade’s reckless charge against
a Russian position, or captured weapons laid
at a dead King’s feet. Twelve are common as
disciples. Four are holy relics of biodiversity’s
religious heights. Two breeding pairs, bonded
to the box’s midriff on branches of tied green
wire. An ornithological trellis, where gentry
adorned their curious wealth, or a Christmas tree
decorated with baubles of gaudy parrot-life.
A steampunk trophy when taxidermy was popular
as scrapbooking, the birds eternity persevered
in real-life poses. Snap-frozen by a romantic age
that hastened an island feathered apocalypse.
The graziers knew them as Soldier parrots, these
war veterans who took in their military jizz,
perched atop dozers that snapped off Brigalow
at the ankles. Sentries stood to attention on termite
mounds guarding eggs mined into ant nest hearts.
They mimicked parade ground drills, chests out, they
puffed & swaggered their way into oblivion. Farmers
were bullies – kids kicking over sandcastles, not
realising their strength hurt others. Palaeontologists
guffaw; 99.9% of all known species have gone dead.
There is a giant burrow that is bottomless,
a pit that will warm a billion creatures if dug
for a hundred years. You are stretching the limits
of your species, we can take the extra heat; but
you lack one hundred million seasons. Our form
outdates yours. We have the experience of hotter
times, you have earned nothing. The dark brown
stripe down our back is a landing strip at dusk.
Diamond shaped scales hide our ears, but you
are deaf to the world’s moan. You have not heard
the wind through box trees, the squarish leaves
scratching at the air like claws in sand. Or breeze
pooling through a warren like sighs lost from a
throat. We live in your tiny mines that went broke.
They have carved up the Brigalow forest, etched
out strange designs in the dark leather of its belt.
We sense in the burnt bottom of the pan; gidgee
scrub encircled by roads, railways & stock routes
that pick off mobs of trees like a shooter’s quota
of roos. At night, giant mines blend with the sky
into one wide, black ocean. We emerge in the cool
as the young frogs bubble up from groundwater;
toads we bite, turn the armoured hulks into sacks
of fluid, but the froglets hop into our jaws & rest.
We taste your red. Your engines radiate in waves
of heat, but our fangs do not hurt them. So we hide
by day in the tunnels of deep soil cracks, under the
tip trays of fallen logs. We slither out of your holes.
Maureen Cooper’s Quilt (Bimblebox Nature Reserve)
The coal temple’s curtain has been ripped asunder.
A deposit the size of Germany lies dormant, a fallow
dragon that on awakening will fire up its hot breath,
its stench wilting barbed wire grass like an incendiary
bomb melting the stalks of men’s eyes on the Western
front. Embroidered birds & marsupials are a truce flag.
A royal sigil, as if the nature reserve had a divine right
to exist. A pennant that signals either advance or retreat.
A blanket to wrap the wounded in, a hoisted sail that
catches the nearest drift, if favourable winds pick up.
In Mackay the quilt is taken down like a crushed enemy’s
insignia; a toppled golden eagle in a black & white film.
Machines dig, machines stitch too; humans appliqué
tininess to the bigger picture. The future wins a raffle.
Southern Boobook Owls
His book book cry was so close it could
have pealed inside our kitchen; as if some
poltergeist had tapped twice beside our ears
on an enamel mug, or a doomed sailor struck
his wrench on a bulkhead. Torch-lit, I bungled
the kids onto the back lawn, where we shone
our dull yellow beams up into the fig tree’s
submarine darkness, first picking out the male,
then a metre along the branch, his female lead.
He repeated his deep notes, a lusty bugler whose
clarion call was greeted with a growl of approval.
He moved then at the speed of night, the flurry
of wings more a scuffle, than a feathered union.
Extinguished, the owls fled from our light.
The ecologist’s hands seal firmly like an elevator’s doors
as he grips the night parrot in his fleshy clamp. His fingers,
twigs woven into a brown screen, a tight spinifex bunch
where the bird is insubstantial as trying to hold water.
Two of his digits form a tiny ox collar as they ring
the bird’s cotton ball head, another grips its belly
like a weight belt. For a hundred years the parrot has
drained out between extinction’s fist, an unstoppable
slow leak. He clutches it gingerly, a live grenade, or
how a fast bowler splits a cricket ball’s seam, the leather
of the bird’s claws resting lightly on his fingertips.
Sport for poachers, its location is another lost body
in the desert. He fixes a tracking device. For twenty-
one hours the satellite beeps in desert’s space.
Neat as an Olympic diver, the moustached kingfisher
splits the brackish water, feathers luminescent tracer.
Akira watches the bird resurface, a fingerling in
its beak, long & silver as a newly crafted sword.
On a branch overhanging the creek, it is devoured
in two quick moves like a rifle bolt being cocked.
The bird scrapes both sides of its bill on tree bark;
a soldier cleaning his bayonet on a bit of canvas.
His splash is small too. Like Mbarikuku, he is holed
up in the mountains, forced ever upwards by the jungle
& the Americans who swarm over the island, killing,
overrunning Henderson airfield like an invasive species.
Akira digs in, an endangered species, conceals
his pillbox to look like a fallen tree trunk or nest.
The Corsairs make matchwood out of his gun pit.
He alone survives the bombardment. There is no
fire. The rainforest smothers any flame with its wet
blanket. Bones split like the trunks of downed canopy
giants that have collapsed under their dead weight.
Greasy sunlight patterns over him like camouflage.
Akira cannot hear the kingfisher’s call. His god
is ringing a Shinto bell in his head. It rains.
Purple berries rest by shell casings.
The bird’s perch is a charred hand.
The only blue streak he sees
is the red dawn surrendering to day.
The marines are coming for him.
Akira lets the leeches drink their fill.
At two thousand feet above sea level
the zoologist stumbles over a mystery.
He estimates that it is coffin deep,
tooled by human hands. At the bottom
are bits of rusting metal brittle as feather
bones. The trench is a good observation
post to look for the bird. On a stump
overhanging a creek, he spies a male
preening his molten medal head,
blue wings like a Pacific island ad.
The kingfisher has telescopic sight,
but the mist net floats like gun smoke.
He thinks of DDT & thin eggshells as
he hears; ko-ko-ko-kokokokokokokoko-kiew.
For George Bender
You will only ever own the top six inches,
if you can call it ownership; to some it’s more
a stewardship, a steering of all the elements that
you need to get right; the weather, enough rain
to plant or grow grass for cattle, bores that won’t
run dry when the season does, firebreaks that will
halt a bushfire like a brick under a wheel, soil that
is rotated to perfection, salinity that can take its time
choking a paddock with its briny hands. Silage pits
that double as emergency funds, molasses and straw
mass graves that keep underground for years
like an inverse cicada, waiting for the poorest
conditions, drought-death, to be reborn as feed.
Mice and locusts that plague the rare fat seasons.
Chinchilla gets the geographical kudos, but this is
more Wandoan, a little more north, a little less known.
A sacred six inches, something knife-blade deep that
barricades a grazier’s mind into a Eureka Stockade
of bullish resistance. Six inches that make a farmer
refuse to leave the land and die there; than break
like a joint in a rock along the thin sandstone coast.
The earth is a tenement block; you own the top unit,
the government rents out the flats beneath. Bad risks,
they destroy the furniture, put holes in plaster walls,
and leave in the middle of the night. They even strip
out copper wire, such is their addiction. Leftovers by
the bin swell and stink like cattle carcasses in a dam.
You can light the kitchen water up like an oxy torch.
The magpie parents introduce their fledgling to us,
an ash-grey fuzz, their blood-curdling calls keener;
the snicker-snacker of their bills scraping the fence
like a blade sliding home in its wooden scabbard.
Our backyard is a safe house; no dogs, only a timid cat
that the corvids push out of the way to its food dish.
The juvenile just flies in short bursts, its tail feathers
stubby, half-formed, making it a manx of its species.
Our son watches it perched on the metal cricket stumps,
where its relatives have left it, to go get something to eat.
Six whiskers are sewn into the base of its beak, fine
as the black thread a doctor uses to stitch wounds.
There is only an empty clothesline between the two
children. The most powerful pull of spring is trust.
light a great
into a point
on time’s anvil
that all pointed
in a thunderhead
in a black
root, leaf tip
like lit fuses
with life’s ink
of leaves as
and drank it
away into night
a child’s tongue
ice block green
split like lips
in dry summer’s
like straw bails
healed a wounded
by a many
of first peoples
who rode out
get it right
of horses, oxen
of poison and
of god’s disease
of soldier settlers
myth and saws
that killed it
of min min
like dry twigs
of exotic plants
like union jacks
by axe, fire
and sold into
of fossil fuels
a last post
left no trace
into food chains
of weak government
by earth’s fist
a bad debt
for climate change
of hopping mice
lives lived out
of stringy roots
by the sun’s
sun’s iron lung
of few survivors
a hard rain
of a single
skull found like
of fantasy lives
cats and foxes
of red eye
by the roots
of black dung
on a battlefield
of snake eyes
of scales rustling
over dead grass
of eye blink
of venom’s tea
scoffed like cakes
ball of death
out termite nests
for pale eggs
strike for better
of soldier birds
to a lowly rank
a torture rack
of pretty pollys
at Jimbour House
to Royal Society
the bead eyes
a lidless death
as feathers fade
of empty nests
of lesser bilbies
could be taken
a single skull
of a wedgetail’s
bristling pike nest
lord of the flies
life with rocks
and easy fuel
like a centuries’
old coal fire
that just bust
paid to locals
for new roads
to a stressed
and blow outs
a gas genie
of locked gates
of rivers where
like a napalmed
gas that ignited
in the mouth’s
At Play with Grey-Crowned Babblers
The grey-crowned babblers pry secrets from the trees.
Their scimitar beaks carve grooves in the scaly bark’s
trunk, like finger holes in a wooden instrument. They
tap out a note & listen as white grubs vibrate in their
dark cases. The crescendo is a larvae drawn out of its
wings to raucous applause. Nature has thought it best
not to make them empty nesters; keeping the kids close
to home rather than cutting them free, cooperation is
survival’s tenor. Around the Titan shed, the eight birds
play follow the leader, chasing the maggot that squirms
in a parent’s bill. It is a jovial community, one that you
could be lost in; but you dare not look or turn around,
for fear your movement will end it. The chirrups that
crawl up your back & infest your head like happiness.
For the Brown Booby, wind is solid as ground.
Fast air molecules hold them in place; an invisible
plinth rewards the seabirds with an advantageous
vista of high tide. They are juvenile delinquents
testing gravity’s authority. They want to steal.
These hunters are sailors’ souls cruising Urangan’s
wooden pier, coveting the bream that bend light
like lipstick mirrors of a morning. The shorebirds
wear a yellow gloss around their bills. Undersides
are mottled cream & brown like a light fixture
where moths have died & form a shadowy base.
One folds its wings back like an umbrella closing
& punctures the sea in a neat dive. They conquer
the ocean too; scaling this liquid mountain.
When old age bends them in half like
a weightlifter who fails in their final snatch, or
when a premature road accident renders them
some cyberpunk kudos, they’ll return to their
cruel sea of pixels; they’ll remember how life
struggled under their grip, when even severed
in half the dying power to stay alive, the bunch
& spring of mutilated muscles, prevailed over
their weak utility god. Their wide arms of victory
will become another lonely appeal, a tiny gesture
when compared to five hundred million years
of evolution’s own drunken game of hit & run.
The time will come when they will be the hunted,
not hunters, but prey to the greatest medium.
The grey & white feral tomcat was lynx-sized,
as it strolled along the sandy road’s graded edge
with an apex predator’s swagger. Our car didn’t
disturb it from its loose tracking. It sauntered off
after a while, into the cypress pine’s & she-oak’s
green needles like those tales of mysterious black
panthers in Wales or on the English moors – zoo
released when their overlords fell into debtor’s jail.
It was just a glimpse, but the creature’s casualness
unnerved us, its huge furred chest, beyond anything
of its domestic cousin; its appetite for killing native
animals; its smugness in being a new expansion in
these million wild acres. Its arrogance in extracting
the last resources out of this delicate, dry landscape.
The humus was thick as a featherbed. Three
metre long millipedes hid beneath the brown
fibrous sheets, sensing the rich earth shift, in
its eternal revolutions, in the millions of years
it took for the giant roots to grab a purchase
around rocks & bear their trees to the fir green
aurora, beanstalk high. The only era they ruled
in size our insects; arthropods that could detect
the softest scrape of a spider with the mass of
a human head. All there was to do was grow.
Fifteen percent more nitrogen was rocket fuel
for life; an explosion of gargantuans, fallen logs
had the diameter of tunnel mouths, dragonflies
flew with an eagle’s dominance. Fateful then,
how their terrible growth would one day fuel
our own enlargement & the planet’s end.
Lord Howe Island Phasmid, Land Lobster
We fled from terror. Black rats migrated onto
Lord Howe from shipwrecks & we fed their
ravaging colonial instincts. Without contradiction
there can be no life, so a thicket of us hitched
a ride on driftwood & by the mercy of the moon
we managed to find landfall; refugees who had
turned themselves into sticks. This sheer peak
was almost barren, but for a scraggly melaleuca
shrub which had like us, held the gate against
the fittest surviving. We were rescued again;
years later, still a small outpost on the edge of
civilisation, our shit led you to us. Surely our
near miss is a cautionary tale? Don’t you see?
There’s no captive breeding program for you.
A bull bar is a ute’s clenched fist. There
is no prestige left in its silver colour. There
is no classic style to death. The killing floor
was outside, late at night between the men’s
& women’s prisons. He could imagine the
inmates asleep in their cots, whimpering as
he drove off the road & into the grassy gutter
blasting into the radiant mob like a steel bolt
into a cow’s forehead. The force felt inside
the cab was equivalent to smacking a face.
The high humidity suspended particles of
roo, clotting night’s air with smell of fresh
blood, like a stained tinted window. Death
was not instant. Seventeen times he floored it.
Selfie with Dolphin
Their fingers were polyps that caressed its flanks
as it floated over humanity’s reef. Or the dabbing
of its mother’s nose against its streamlined beak when
first air was breached. There was no mixed sonar signal
that bounced back & said there was deep water ahead.
This wasn’t a beaching; a photo op. Selfie with dolphin.
Water retracted from its fat like the low tide going out.
It’s a mammal that breathes air was the collective stoush.
It was passed around like a wineskin. As everybody wet
their lips, hands reached out as if a saint was passing.
They who discovered it dead; their faces sunk like Jesus’
up on the Cross. The tourist who’d carried it the most
put it back in the waves, as if the sea could resurrect it.
It lives now in news feeds; its pixel cells never drying out.
the pain has remained constant
when everything else has diminished
honey mailboxes sat out in wooded paddocks
little stuccoed apartments or mental institutions
where crazy dancing was welcomed
men in white suits & fencing facemask mesh
carried lamps that spewed out smoky magic
visible grey carbon cast spells of calmness on
legions of erratic antennae. insect dopamine
receptors blocked by the elemental drug
dying bees watched by tomorrow’s scientists
grounded flight crew crawled in undignified gait
the opposite imagined for us; soul if it exists
whisked up into the air, a fart released from
a yellowed body mimicking a bee’s end
they are absconding from the planet’s giant hive
one day the lazy buzz in the tops of eucalypts will
only be heard on recordings; children will imitate
their noise like they do for dinosaurs, not really
knowing what made that sound, sound so real
the bee yards are going the way of their ship cousins
numbers are down, no more virgin queens are ready
for the role of royal abdomens elongated as the English
coast. a province the insect empire loses to barbarity
the workers have closed in & are balling her
the afterswarm of onlookers at the playground
where a bee sting choked the life out of some poor
kid. there was always one story of this happening
growing up. we saw more dead bees than children
they are as gifted & as dangerous as cells.
a beard of humanity hangs from the earth’s
face; the hive is heating up. there is a dearth
of sweet stuff, so robbing frenzies wrack
the third world, steal all their honey stores;
weren’t we all africanised before
if there is brood in us we will not leave
native bees outnumber them but do not sting
fly-size & black, they were here before the
european bees were introduced, domestic stock
bought over to cut songline chemical trails
an exoskeleton of greed grows over some
their faces are made of chitin; they are drones
they use drones to control the queens, mating
with hornets; crossbreeding raiders that pillage
mandibles snipping worker’s wages in half.
when you kiss someone your lips are a bee-space
apart in the frame of your entwined combs
first comes the nectar, then comes the honey
then comes regent hand fed on royal jelly
even humans like insects, started small
there is the great pacific slumgum, the
galilee basin slumgum, hiroshima slumgum
nagasaki slumgum, chernobyl slumgum,
fukashima slumgum, ok tedi slumgum
bophal slumgum, great barrier reef
bees were the first flash mob, washboarding
out the front of their homes spontaneously
& in unison, the choreography of a hundred
million years of cryptic insect line dancing
a ritual of the home all creatures praise
everything should be queenright, but it is not
they are never satisfied in their mind’s colony
they swarm over the new years’ sales like guard-
bees over an intruder who doesn’t smell right
sheer weight of numbers cooks the wasp
when the bees leave, we shall also go
only our fossilised forms will remain
dead grey cities, the pressures of our
own swarm will turn our sappy lives
into history’s unbreakable amber
I cut myself on a four hundred
year old barnacle. It was my fault.
I strayed into its seaside territory
by mistake. The ocean ambushed
me in the beach’s narrowed alley.
Cursed in a language before blue.
Its wine-dark, shoulder-charge
knocked me onto its cobblestoned
street; my hand parachuted open,
launching like a grappling hook, but
gravity hid behind my legs & pulled.
Its edge opened up my palm neat
as a pay envelope’s promise. It
was part of a razor gang after all,
its cutthroat mates flashed shivs too.
Hard to imagine their cave hideout,
a distant cousin to the Himalayas was
once a mass of lifeless sea creatures;
fishbones, bleached coral, mother
of pearl, shell, grit rasped into smooth
particles by the tide’s kinetic sawmill
& risen as mountainous tomb.
Darwin studied them. Rubbed his
stiff fingers over their stars, old as an
Elizabethan dirk. He knew an organism
that lived so long, must know something
about morphology, longevity. Measured
their jagged coastlines, counted bubbles
that escaped from their miniature craters.
He cut himself too, proffering his own
blood for science’s spell. His revelation.
The simplest live longest, the complex
die sooner from too many moving parts.
Anyhow, my hand opened its red smile,
& rebirthed its salt back into the mother
country’s briny womb. My blood oozed
in hot waves, as the flap of skin undulated
like a polyp helpless in a strong undersea
current. This stigmata; blessed ultramarine
pain as though light itself filleted my flesh,
each beam a butcher’s knife. That was then.
The scar is bone white as the string of dead
coral & cuttlefish backbone left by a high tide.
My children’s children’s children, will see it die.
In antiquity there was no explanation for gas.
It was the foul breath of the gods, or worst
a half-human, half monster hybrid; a chimaera
that spewed flame in a grotto near Olympos.
These creatures lived underground, in slimy
aquifers where reputations displaced as myth.
Now, they have stirred the beast from its lair.
Thunderbolts of sand & mana blast at their
caverns. A titan slaughter. Hot, pestilent fumes
root through fissures like molten bronze in a
sword mould; a blowback against their creators.
Flames burn on brown water; in fear not seen
since Vietnam. The fighters have shark teeth
& red tongues. The gods fuel our machines.
The snow geese are landing as lightly as flakes.
Their pink webbed feet dissolve perfectly as jelly
crystals into Butte Lake’s reddish bowl. Their legs
drive down like cocktail stirrers energising atoms.
The water tingles as ten thousand tired birds swirl
from the snowstorm’s playful wrestle. The point
bird is the first to quench; the long white glove of
its neck bends like a Queen’s wave as its rosy bill
scoops up Berkeley Pit’s unique terroir of arsenic,
cadmium, cobalt, copper, iron & zinc; enough zest
to liquefy steel. Death is not instantaneous like lethal
injection. The flock’s punishment is a liquid lunch of
burnt throats & festering gizzards, graphic as Owen.
White bodies float like foam on top of a hot drink.