From Garden to Gallery

By | 1 March 2017
In the Garden I cross the threshold of glasshouses
seeking succor with bromeliads
whose leaves are banded
with scales, like blotting paper, to inhale
this morning’s fog:

outside I meander amongst upright
natives: one is shaped
like a pine but with large
glossy leaves and globular masses,
like pom-poms, of yellow and white flowers
brewed long ago, I am told on a sign, against
colds, vomiting and diarrhea; another stately elder
has large prop roots once weaved
into nets and dilly-bags, the strips
of bark chewed
into slings and tourniquets; while another
upholds a central cabbage, eaten raw
or lightly cooked, with the fronds
and flower bracts recycled
constructed containers:

in a cycad grove
I bare witness to ancient symbiosis –
coralloid root structures hosting
blue-green algae for nitrogen – and I read
how highly toxic seeds were once
de-husked and chipped into bite-size pieces
in a pounded baptism administering
coarse smelly flour:

before these gardens grew
asbestos was composted
in a cyclone’s ruins
and I mull over a buried fibre’s bloom:

the gardens and gallery are linked
by a Larrakia Dreamtime Walk
where dot-painted signs award
canoe trees, delicacies and the raw
stuffs for baskets and mats; and amidst signage
warning against camping and public drinking
our countrymen gather
a mountain of casks, prizefighting
and swilling their losses:

in the gallery I enter ‘After Afghanistan’,
another remote colonised community,
where trauma is scraped
and bandaged onto boards; where foot soldiers
are removed of their packaging
and left flailing, broken
and captured on a gallery’s walls; and with eyes
clenched against the blinding expectation imposed
from inside I wait for the seepage
of blood from thighs – a self-mutilation
like the latex collected and heated from milkwood.

In response to a day at the George Brown Botanical Gardens, Darwin and Ben Quilty’s,
After Afghanistan, Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

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