Fire is the colour of the eastbound sun
lighting the face of the dusty sky.
Ash is the colour of this roadwork black,
of tarmac where the plane lost flight.
Red is the colour of the traffic light,
gold the colour in the new day’s eye,
and ash to ash is this road we drive;
no dust be lost today.
Suburb has its own time.
Nestled just beneath city’s scheduled view, it sits
when city runs. It holds
deep memories and secrets, left
in garages, holds hopes
in council offices. Roadwork
punctuates the day’s first lines.
Promises in orange signs declare:
something soon is happening. Prepare.
You may have left your lunch behind, may have left
the drive too little space to breathe.
Watch out for traffic. Slow the start
in day’s suburban street.
Slow the beat of self-knowledge,
slow the heart to blink awake.
We also came across the seas, my people:
Romans, Vikings, colonials, the lot of them,
convicts and scoundrels, emperors and ne’er-do-wells.
They came and they saw, they usurped, or were sent.
You came like us, to this lucky country.
You came in hope. We take it from you.
We also heard of the boundless plains;
we, my people, did not like to share.
Advancing ourselves, your foul was our fair.
Fences excluded; excluding, we fenced.
Tall hedges, tall stories: we made our own glories.
You came here for freedom; we came to rule.
I do not recall the home we came from.
You carry yours as a scar, and the ones
before us both know every hill’s name.
I must steal this to call it my own;
I squander what never was mine, and you look
through bars at the freedom we feast on. Our hearts
are never at home.
Did you know that Melbourne has a Brooklyn?
Mostly factories, but behind the freeway
Nestled amidst houses there’s a church, in
Low-ecclesiastic cream brick. Today
On my way to work I saw it, vacant
Being Wednesday. But on Sunday there’s family.
And I smelt the Spotswood Vegemite plant
With its playful chimneys; a child might be
Filled with yeasty dreams to live there, growing
Up on that street where happiness ferments.
My first home was a tambourine, singing
Its jingling sounds in south Queensland silence.
So I’ll write here for these other unknown homes,
For everywhere that’s never had a poem.
The city is quietly occupied, the day protected –
as though something must be done.
Watch a screen by all means,
but first gather friends,
and walk to the shops to lubricate the day.
Or hit the streets, if you choose –
to enjoy unexpected sunshine, and the hum,
like a ball hissing through the sky,
of a city in agreement.
Deeper meaning is lost, yet perhaps we still glimpse Sabbath:
a quiet acceptance that today we need not be boss.
Whatever sport we make, however we will spend
the lost hour of this night –
rejoice now in daylight,
in a moment which can neither be bought nor saved,
yet beckons the endless holiday,
the game that can only be won.
Why do I walk on tiptoes when I first step into icy blue?
As if my waist
must stay above the lapping line,
caution will keep me safe in this task
which infants undertake with glee?
The slow preparation,
the gasps as underneath we plunge:
all this is ritual, and we are drawn to it
as ducks to streams –
salt or chlorine always say
Summer, whatever the temperature of air,
however pervasive the shade.
And here bamboo lines the pool, and palm
fronds droop like willows thirsty for drink:
the scene is stamped, Paradise
in shades we are trained to recognise.
Not all is familiar or belongs:
pindan dust falls to blue floor
and outside smudges the bitumen.
My coast is not this coast;
the sun sets for me the other way.
Though strange the air and stranger the days,
all water says, I am home.
Upside-down-like, you bulb from earth –
your beauty breaks in root-like branches.
Spindly fingers reach to sky,
gaunt and stretching, delicate,
your certain trunk a monument,
a stout and stolid testament
to passing years, millennia.
Shedding pods to paint; a home,
yet prison; sacred; den for slaves –
drawing, standing, reaching out –
a sign for us of hands which hold
in spite of everything.