The Salience Network [Street Scenes, Heidelberg]

By | 15 May 2023

We are walking daily now. We are stepping out at the inter-
section of Cape & Brown where a bristling fir tree is
scrubbing tense from the sky. Presently I’ve never seen
so many walkers, so many dogs on leashes and sun-glossed

puffer jackets swimming in autumn’s glare. My son
in a stroller, bald head capped in out-of-season sunhat,
sporty in white-and-navy stars. My daughter on foot,
hopping and idling by pink-hearted daisies.

In the allotted hour, the cones of the fir tree—once
slim green hats—fatten into brown globes, expansive
as eyes. Like reverse fireworks, a flock of cockatoos
descend from the sky to plunder the woody scales,

shred spiked branches. Fanned bracts over blue-
toned pavement where we begin our morning walk
and needles rain down upon the heads of passers-by.
We are walking and I am scanning footpaths

for trip hazards, driveways for reversing cars. Leathery,
dogbane oleander leaves. Chalk-coated berries
appealing in purple skin. Prepped for danger—
future’s proof in the quality of my attention.

Uncertainty is unbearable until I take it out for a walk.
Like a dog I am showing it a garden of artificial grass.
Next a garden of satiny acanthus. Variegated lawns.
Vegetable patches scrabbled with herbs, starred lettuce

hearts, Italianate latticework. Everything a threat.
Everything real and growing sideways. Our neighbour’s
fir tree so close to the house that its branches press
the fringed glass like a heartsick giant looking in.

Avoiding people, their radial breath and quilted jackets
exhaling on the verge. I want to be a myna marking
territory with plumed fisticuffs, rinsing air with song. I eye
my intention. Bare teeth beneath non-woven fabric.

Wearing a mask I can still taste cold and sweet. Last year
is over. The year before last is over, is returning now
in streets that curve like wood after years at sea. At the peak
of Hawdon, the vista spans the Mercy—crossed,

brushed white—where my children were lifted from me
in blue-lit clouds of relief. Year of the ground glass
lung. We are grinding scales and bracts beneath our boots.
We are watching a magpie come to rest on the branch

of a tall candlebark, honeycomb a sweet tune. Next year
a truck will misread the road and reverse into this tree,
splitting its trunk like parting the earth. A man will be
trapped beneath a halo of muted leaves while the driver

sits wailing on the curb. The driver is wrapping his arms
around his torso as if he is shattered timber. We watch
the splinters rain down upon the heads of passers-by.
The streetscape is changing again. We intrude like thoughts,

plant the wrong things. Vines imperil saplings. Dog-like,
I detect menace beyond a fenceline. Beginning at
the fir tree which shakes its sharp eyes, gathers its birds,
we are walking the street we will walk again.

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