Ambushed by bees, I’m stopped at my father’s favourite
bivouac. While I’m bucketing water to save
what’s lived on long after him,
through a whirr like warplanes, drought shudders petals down.
My father in the last foggy weather of his life
had no breath to speak of who he’d been before.
He would pause, puffing, under the tattered camouflage
of this native frangipani, this domesticated rainforest escapee.
In my mother’s garden, the hymenosporum flavum tangled perfumes
of laundry and jungle. Away from its true climate, it alternated
between sending a high tent pole to the stars
and draping its torn canopy of green from side to side
before sucking out of summer heat a crinoline of blossom,
each crème brulée flower a semi-tropic explosion of scent.
Halfway between kitchen and chook-shed, house and first fence,
my father leant here on his stick, the last half of his lung
sucking in Toowoomba frost to mix
with Port Moresby mud …
The light and hope of a lifetime before that
bloom only in photographs, a black and white silence
where he is thinner, tall as a mast no family has yet
strung its sails on. Before he settled with us
he knew thirteen years of childhood, twenty-five years
in banks from Bourke to Dalby — and a war.
Then the ledgers of his bachelor’s experience were audited,
filed away, signed off with copperplate neatness
I longed to emulate, aged ten. Too late
I read old letters, fragile as the petals of these flowers,
learn from their faded khaki-cream of medals for rowing, a yacht
a cyclone claimed … float this youth over a clearer lake
than the sea I remember swelling inside him,
that tubercular tide where every day he launched
unromantic armadas of pills. Six months holiday is all I need,
he’d dryly say, heading for hospital not the Barrier Reef.
Years after his death, this is where I find him:
under the native frangipani. At his old bivouac
I hear his voice — and scent-bombardments
stop my breath.
- 102: GAMESUBMIT with J Maxwell and R Green 101: NO THEME 10COMING SOON with J Kinsella and J Leanne 100: BROWNFACE with W S Dunn 99: SINGAPOREwith J Ip and A Pang 97 & 98: PROPAGANDAwith M Breeze and S Groth 96: NO THEME IXwith M Gill and J Thayil 95: EARTHwith M Takolander 94: BAYTwith Z Hashem Beck 93: PEACHwith L Van, G Mouratidis, L Toong 92: NO THEME VIIIwith C Gaskin 91: MONSTERwith N Curnow 90: AFRICAN DIASPORAwith S Umar 89: DOMESTICwith N Harkin 88: TRANSQUEERwith S Barnes and Q Eades 87: DIFFICULTwith O Schwartz & H Isemonger 86: NO THEME VIIwith L Gorton 85: PHILIPPINESwith Mookie L and S Lua 84: SUBURBIAwith L Brown and N O'Reilly 83: MATHEMATICSwith F Hile 82: LANDwith J Stuart and J Gibian 81: NEW CARIBBEANwith V Lucien 80: NO THEME VIwith J Beveridge 57.1: EKPHRASTICwith C Atherton and P Hetherington 57: CONFESSIONwith K Glastonbury 56: EXPLODE with D Disney 55.1: DALIT / INDIGENOUSwith M Chakraborty and K MacCarter 55: FUTURE MACHINES with Bella Li 54: NO THEME V with F Wright and O Sakr 53.0: THE END with P Brown 52.0: TOIL with C Jenkins 51.1: UMAMI with L Davies and Lifted Brow 51.0: TRANSTASMAN with B Cassidy 50.0: NO THEME IV with J Tranter 49.1: A BRITISH / IRISH with M Hall and S Seita 49.0: OBSOLETE with T Ryan 48.1: CANADA with K MacCarter and S Rhodes 48.0: CONSTRAINT with C Wakeling 47.0: COLLABORATION with L Armand and H Lambert 46.1: MELBOURNE with M Farrell 46.0: NO THEME III with F Plunkett 45.0: SILENCE with J Owen 44.0: GONDWANALAND with D Motion 43.1: PUMPKIN with K MacCarter 43.0: MASQUE with A Vickery 42.0: NO THEME II with G Ryan 41.1: RATBAGGERY with D Hose 41.0: TRANSPACIFIC with J Rowe and M Nardone 40.1: INDONESIA with K MacCarter 40.0: INTERLOCUTOR with L Hart 39.1: GIBBERBIRD with S Gory 39.0: JACKPOT! with S Wagan Watson 38.0: SYDNEY with A Lorange 37.1: NEBRASKA with S Whalen 37.0: NO THEME! with A Wearne 36.0: ELECTRONICA with J Jones