Poems

After a Study of Lizards

When I wake, the red gum tree has elephant feet
swollen at the base of its trunk, as if an elephant stopped too long,
its feet embedded in the fertile earth; and the rain that poured
last night, that sprouts roots on things that stay,
bound its feet to the underground.

This has happened before, but no one says anything;
one day the spell will be broken. I warily climb the trunk,
but do not feel the rest of the animal hidden inside the bark.

Its branches have fingers that reach to sky
for the blood of sun. I soak up the heat.
Leaves whisper together, murmur that they’re feeling trapped,
stunned in a nakedness they wanted all along;
to be part of the world without having to think about it.

Noisy miners congregate on nearby limbs,
rouse each other’s angry little spirits, create a colony
of eyeballs.

I won’t back down. The tree is a place for me to find eggs,
my scales for courage. I like the black cockatoos that sit stately
on the uppermost limbs. They growl like lions, fly the sky
as if they have been flying since the dinosaurs.
It’s like the sun is a candle, snuffed out

by the ocean at dusk, while below little people relight it
ready for dawn. At night ghosts flutter with insects,
bees tend love, and the trees bring the African plains.

Elephants, lions, and in the distance, Mount Kilimanjaro.
I have been listening to humans for too long. I have a hard skin,
but inside I am soft. I find new ways of seeing;
the tree is really an elephant; an elephant is really a bird
that mourns; a bird is really a bud escaped from a tree.

A Spoon of Honey

I thought coming to a barren mountain,
sheer cliffs full of shadow,
the lone eagle, dry cuts on the slopes,
I thought that I would find
the truth.
If I walked beside
stone walls, picked up fallen rocks
and looked beneath them,
that I would find my name.
A spoon of honey,
a corridor underground
full of goats and sheep and dogs,
rooms of people hiding
for months and months,
only to surface
when the shouts and barbs had gone,
to set up home, again,
but I found nothing, only a bee
escaping through dull stones;
and that was enough to remind me
of what I had once seen,
of how I once lived underground, hidden
in another place.

Traveller

The blue of a stone,
like the cobalt stoplight inside the bus
when I was young,
the ceiling of the Greek church in Rose Bay,
the green sea.
The stone is not heavy;
its blue always shifting like the sky.
Nothing is permanent.
When I was young I thought red
was my favourite colour, but I was never sure;
I didn’t know how to choose,
what I would say about myself
when asked who I was. Now, I say
I don’t have keys anymore.

Black-headed Ibis

Stands on a ridge
in a sodden rice field,
its long, downcurved bill
probes into mud

sifts out
worms,
frogs,
insects

staunch body
soft like a cloud,
black legs anchored
in the bog.

At dusk it flies
to roost,
flaps its wings
white against the blue-black sky.

Ithaca From a Ferry

I passed Ithaca on a ferry, stared
at the island, to find something more,
a reason to visit. It took Odysseus years
to come back home; I knew
that I could come back again; I
thought that many times.
I walk by limestone seas, tufts of thorns,
but I cannot find the
feelings I once felt. Swallows leap,
boats lie still, and the mountain
stands above like it will never fall;
but the wild goat is no longer stranded
on the bare island, I have not walked
along the cliffs,
and I have only seen one eagle.
When I passed Ithaca I stared,
wondered what it was, if I was wrong,
but I knew, I knew what Ithaca meant,
and that I did not need to go.

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