Listen: the almond has something white to announce...
Tiny white heralds like angels burst
from coronawinter barren branch,
whispering, echoing, promising.
The time is slow
but gives glimpses.
The promise is faint
The season's sure
that waits in the whispers.
Truer than winter, truer than spring:
the eternal soon.
What the day brings is anyone's guess:
Students in masks, temperature checks at the front gate,
But what else? Prognoses and rules change by the minute;
What yesterday was harmless today may destroy.
Brave new day that has such features in it.
And so, the day lying open
Like a box, like a question,
I rejoice to see vermilion horizon
That smiles on the locked-down and the risen alike.
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:
its only purpose to be,
and beautifully so.
Can I sit
attentive to the voice of many waters
move, serve, respond?
Can I act,
responsive to a world of burning rubble
listen, stop and breathe?
Full of many things,
to choose the better part.
Caught in mindless bustle,
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.
My brother's face is not my face;
His eyes see things mine do not see,
And when I try to take his place
I'm stuck in his alterity.
I do not know what he has known.
I do not think his thoughts with him.
His father is my father. Though
He is not me, he is my kin.
Each other face I daily see,
Each gaze that pierces into pride,
Each face is still a mystery,
A space I cannot climb inside.
And yet I must begin each day
Before my brother's other face,
And hear my unknown sister say,
"Thou shalt not kill" with silent gaze.
And I must stand before a One
Who is not seen, with unseen face,
And yet is like all-knowing Sun
And stands in hated Stranger's place.
Against expectation, this
Spartan clipping makes spring flourish more,
this cutting back to bones,
to bare knobbly knuckles makes
growth more abundant when it comes.
And so we bear
the naked cruelty of these bare days,
against all experience,
barren winter feeling,
the buckling in our bones that wants to fall.
Reduced to its skeleton, the tree
remembers days of birds in bowers,
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?
Love, sensing Self flex muscles,
Circumvents the question, takes a detour
Along a Jericho road,
A thoroughfare often taken, seldom observed.
Love stretches the story out,
Beyond expectation, beyond our trust,
Defeats its stock of righteous men,
Then surprises with a foe.
Love befriends the enemy,
Gives face and heart to the hated one.
Love helps us up the donkey's back,
Carries us safe, far from home.
Love takes flexed muscles, unflexes them,
Unwinds Self's tautly wrought syntax.
Wrong question, Love says. True question is:
Whose neighbour am I?