At the Sidney Nolan Retrospective, 2008

1 March 2017

It stretches past the vast windows
to the Domain, the Harbour, the Cahill
Expressway and its fugue of inner
urban motoring, all the way back

to Nolan’s desert, posted with
Robert O’Hara Burke’s focusless eyes,
azure, intense, a mad cosmology
sitting in back, scanning the edgeless

horizon for anything – primed
for fellowship among the nation’s hopeless,
enbosomed causes: Ned Kelly, nude,

a trap-sprung hare on the gummed riverbank;
or, on horseback, carrying his rifle,
and affixed to a stamp, the cumulus

pouring through his letterbox head;
or Ern Malley, ribs skeletal beneath
his uniform, epaulettes of the undead.
He’s poetry’s revenant. Above the yellow

ochre country and cranking machinery
of Pretty Polly Mine: is that the night
parrot, or a washed-out black cockatoo?
Its claws are colonial-era throwbacks,

curlicued iron lacework, obsolete contraptions,
repeated in the wire-frame weather-vane
atop Sheehan’s Agricultural Hotel.

And there – a great heron sifts yellow mud
along the banks of the pale broad murk
of the Murray. What’s it got its eye on?


Notes:
Based upon the work at Sydney Nolan’s 2007 AGNSW retrospective.

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