Being a neighbour is fraught at any time, but in a time when suburbs, states and families are being isolated from one another, it is even harder. As an Australian, being part of an island nation has much impact on how we view our own place in the world, and in this time of reminding myself continually that “no man is an island”, I have turned to this theme for the third and final installment in my video poem series, “And who is my neighbour?”
It’s been a delight to collaborate with Asher Graieg-Morrison who has supplied music for each of these films. Check out his rich and textured work here.
I wrote this poem yesterday for the third installment in a series of videos about being a neighbour. As I wrote, I was contemplating the prospect of my Melbourne suburb being the next to go into lockdown. Little did I know that today the whole city would be put back into lockdown. So I’m posting the poem today, as my city prepares for six more weeks inside. I look forward to sharing the film with you when it’s finished. Stay safe.
Curtains are borders between me and the street. Next door is an unseen checkpoint away; Other postcodes have police blockades And I count the days until my home is the same.
By the bay we watch Numbers, statistics, localities named. Quiet suburb whispers its fears. No scapegoat to name, only
The innate mistrust of the island state That says, "I choose who comes here." How did this come here? What conspiracy brings us cheek to cheek
With the airborne griefs that plague all humankind, save us? This happens Only on TVs, never in 3d Where it reaches out with power to grab.
And does it console to know that, Somewhere, over oceans, others suffer Far worse than us? Hardly. I must view you up close to take comfort in your distance.
When I open curtains, my neighbour crosses street, Crosses seas, to land at my doorstep, breathing, "It's coming; you're next. The only place left Is our father's house, and we must share."
Strange to be flourishing so far afield; its home is equatorial, tropical, not here, among suburban paddocks, with a straight line down to Antarctica. Yet, while silver birch weeps and quince decks boggy ground with its midwinter yellow, this Malaysian friend greets me with loud, audacious pink, asserting its brilliant right to exist, here, far from home: fruitless, pointless, its only purpose to be, to glory, and beautifully so.
Can I sit attentive to the voice of many waters and yet move, serve, respond?
Can I act, responsive to a world of burning rubble and yet listen, stop and breathe?
Full of many things, I forget to choose the better part. Caught in mindless bustle, I catch eternity in the friction that grinds to a hault. O bless the failure that drives me kneeward. Bless the gravel that stirs up my knees to stretch and rise.
Reduced to its skeleton, the tree remembers days of birds in bowers, leaves atwitter, branches bent with the weight of fruit, and now bent with the wait of days when flourishing's a memory.
But still the soil nurtures. Still the roots draw deep and branches in their stasis grow in strength. Still rosehips bud where flowers did and the eagle, grace in his pinions, takes twigs and plants them atop His rising hill.
Son of man, speak to the bones. Speak to the longing marrowed in bones. Speak more than the mere promise of seasons: speak deep to the riddles of blood and bone earth. Son of man, shall these bones live?
Winter sets in, rubs his damp feet all through the laundry, wipes his everwet hair with each handtowel, breathes ice on my windscreen, cries soggy complaints on my feet.
And somewhere we are lost between fire and candle, lost in the long, slow ordinary that yawns in between. Days blink; you miss the moment of daylight, the chance to dry out and be.
Only blessing spans the gap between now and the length of days you long for, creeping up to you in beggar's clothes, with a leper's lips and the nagging daily reminder that you are caught in finitude, built to stretch in timelessness, bound by time, to give of time, to bide time, to abide.
It can be hard to capture emptiness with words, but often that is the primary emotion that I bring to my poems. This poem is a prayer that I wrote originally as the final part of a sequence of poems inspired by John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”. The final track of that album is so sparse it can hardly be heard at times. This is my attempt to set that emptiness to words. The recording was produced for the online launch of Les Feuilles Mortes, with Ashlea Ephraums, a talented young performer, reading.
Buy Les Feuilles Mortes at the Lulu store. All profits go to Tear Australia’s COVID-19 campaign