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.
1 February 2016