There’s a complex certainty in coming home.
It keeps on, something like faith – shakes the red dirt
shoulders of the Maranoa and prickles up a spine
of Ooline trees to the west. I have not travelled nine
hours here bearing sorry words, because this poem
has long been carved into the palms of my hands.
This is not the place for absolution. Not here, where
clay plains repeat with the smell of ashes and burning.
This is a wasteland for sepia-drenched stiffs, and crows
tossing gunfire emptiness with bullet-point eyes. I’d
rather drive through this molasses-thick heat, away from
ancestral fossils. Out here, Mandandanji feet know the earth
and I am only a stranger – a tightly clenched prodigal
alone with the pull of regret behind my rib cage.
Out of the car, I fall hard into my own body.
There’s a fanfare building in the mess of my chest,
at first – the dull insignificance of white noise, a bedrock
for more obvious sounds. Ghost movements about the old
homestead’s bones as daylight’s axe splits the dawn.
A tin mug, filled rough from the bore – a timpani
to ring out a father’s cut-throat kind of loving. Cattlemen
have such little cause for conversation and I never knew
how this land could colour your blood, ink your
shadow. How it could spark like live wires across the
fence post props of this old town; mouth dropped down
at one side – beaten to chalk dust by heat. Still, a strange
beauty glows in small town geography. And even here
by Oolandilla Creek (where nothing is particularly beautiful)
something bigger burns through me – leaves white light and
saltbush scars, my fingers moving along the same lines as yours.
At the back of the cemetery, I sit by you, wearing cobblers’ pegs
and eating plums from the Amby store – wondering if your
constant absence was just your version of a blessing. But it’s easier
to understand all this out here, when the land continues
before you’ve even noticed it begin; the quiet flow of the
Maranoa River pushing on, emptying slowly into the Balonne.
At the artesian spa in town, a trio of boys hold a fourth
under water, til he thrashes like a hessian-bagged red-belly.
There’s not a soul in Cambridge Street after midday, as a
B-double truck rumbles over the bridge. From a clutch of
belah trees, a black-striped wallaby appears, turns to outback
coral then dust. I think of your headstone, weathered to ghost
text and about the blinding nature of recall and bloodlines;
about how the walls of this dam always seem to hold, even when
the avalanche comes – and there is nothing else left but bones.
- 96: NO THEME IXSUBMIT NOW with M Gill and J Thayil 95: EARTHCOMING SOON with M Takolaner 94: BAYTwith Z Hashem Beck 93: PEACHwith L Van, G Mouratidis, L Toong 92: NO THEME VIIIwith C Gaskin 91: MONSTERwith N Curnow 90: AFRO AUSTRALIANwith 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