Maps

Until January I had never heard of a P2 mask. Now three of them sit in my wardrobe just in case. The air outside is the worst in the world, the media keeps telling us, as if this has really put Canberra on the map. If we drew such a map, the only symbol should be that of a lung, shaded pink in areas without thick smoke or smog, and moving through various shades on grey. In the centre, we would draw a huge black lung, pierced by the giant flagpole on Capital Hill, letting out a stream of toxic gas, into the toxic air.

Every year, around this time, we’re down at the coast, swimming, surfing, birdwatching. South Durras is a tiny village, nestled between the lake and the sea. A place where lorikeets eat nectar and kids still ride bikes without helmets. Tiny fibro houses emphasise that nature is more important here than architecture; they are only places to retreat to when the beach is too hot.

But this year, and late last year, we have only seen South Durras on maps. Fires Near Me charts the growth of enormous blazes, bearing down on many villages along the coast, and further inland between Canberra and the sea. I keep the page open, check it every fifteen minutes, although it couldn’t possibly be updated that often, The roads to get there are closed, and what use would I be down there, where there is no connected town water? All I can do is check the maps, and facebook posts by those still in the area. The RFS. The one shop in Durras. Friends of Durras, a conservation group. A live blog run by the Batemans Bay Post. Then back to the maps, as if my gaze can somehow stop the killing fire.

Last time I was in Durras, we went birdwatching, and saw red-browed finches, tiny active balls of fluff, with bright stripes of crimson near their eyes. Like fire, I thought, a thought that now makes me ill, as I wonder how many of these little birds have been lost to the enormous blazes. Small birds can’t outfly a fire. My copy of Birdlife Australia’s magazine arrives, with the black-throated finch on the cover, the one that lives where the Adani mine may be. The red and black finches merge in my mind. I check the maps.

Canberra has been lucky in not burning. In 2003, people lost lives and houses when a fire burnt into southern suburbs. I walk around, trying to breathe the luck, wondering if this is the taste of the future. I won’t take the dog out, as it’s too hot for her, and she’s not young. People are told not to run air conditioning that sucks air from outside, as the air inside would become too dangerous to breathe. Our fans, though, only circulate what is already inside. Another record falls; the hottest day ever recorded in Canberra at 44 degrees Celsius. Too hot to go out and try to breathe. Better to stay inside with Fires Near Me, to see if the dark line on the map has moved.

I am ashamed that I focus on one tiny part of NSW, given that the whole country seems to be burning. Kangaroo Island loses half of its koalas, ones that do not suffer from chlamydia like many on the mainland. People are missing in most states, some presumed dead. Firefighters work to exhaustion. Some have lost everything, and who didn’t applaud the woman in Cobargo criticising the Prime Minister for doing nothing for her community, which has been through a number of crises?

And yet, when I’m alone with the computer, it’s one small part of NSW I check on the maps, where I own a holiday place. If it burns, we’re insured. If it burns, we won’t be homeless. Fires burn everything, but class still comes into it. But it’s not finances I’m thinking of, but black cockatoos and finches, possums and wallabies.

One day, during the acute crisis, I walk outside and know that something is different. It takes a few seconds to register that the difference is the small area of blue, showing between the clouds of smoke. Are we so adaptable that we forget what has been usual until a few weeks ago? Do we reset our internal maps so quickly? Usually Canberra’s skies are blue, even in Winter, when we wake to frost. Is the clear blue to be gradually eplaced with this hazardous air, this grey blanket that stings the eyes and throat? I am conscious of every breath as an effort, and go back inside to hibernate through the Summer.

At the moment, my house still stands down at the coast. I try and write poetry about what’s happening, to bring words to bear on this disaster, to map the losses in small, telling lines. But how to capture the full dread of what is happening now, the Fires Near Me, and the worry that we are setting ourselves up for more such disasters in years to come, the Fires Yet To Be? How to map the future, the future that may be, the longitude of possible loss? I cough and check the maps.

beach

As I sit and constantly look up the spread of the bushfires, particularly on the South Coast of NSW where we’d usually be around now, I thought I’d reflect back on all my publications and readings this year to take my mind (and lungs) off the smoke. Here we go:

Participant, Living Studio, Belconnen Arts Centre, late 2018 (November) onwards. Reading at Centre, 12 March (star poems) ‘Living the Studio’.

Poem ‘On the couch’ published The Canberra Times, 2-3-19

Poem ’Two stroke or more’ published Not Very Quiet 4, March 2019. Read it at launch.

‘The Ashes, 3150 A.D.’ published Eye To The Telescope 32, US, April 2019, ‘Sports and Games’ edited Lisa Timpf.

Poems ‘Mining time’ and Excalibur’s Lament’ published in The Rhysling Anthology (US), 2019, edited David C. Kopaska-Merkel

Poem ’Transformation’ published The Mozzie, April 2019

Poem ‘The creature runs through the ice, pursued by Doctor Frankenstein’ published Cordite 91, Monster issue, edited Nathan Curnow, May 2019.

Poem ‘Freckles’ published Sponge, Issue 5, New Zealand, May 2019

Senryu ’turpsichore’ (deliberately spelt like that!) published The Mozzie, Volume 27, May 2019

Reading poem ‘Fry up’ for special event, Poetry. Science. Women: Celebrating the Amazing, Smiths, 17 June, 2019. To be published in Axon.

Poem ‘Mawson Expedition medicine chest, 1911’, written on commission for National Museum of Australia about that object in the Objects Gallery. To be read at Museum event in June (2019) and published on website.

Shortlisted ACU Poetry Prize, July 2019, theme ’Solace’. Published in chapbook.

Reading Manning Clark House, July 2019

Poem ‘The Ashes 3152 AD’ republished The New Zealand Cricket Bulletin July/August 2019 No. 597

Review Jack Charles: Born-again Blakfella by Jack Charles with Namila Benson published The Canberra Times, 31-8-19

Haiku ‘Aliens declutter’ published Scifaikuest, US, August 2019, Edited Teri Santitoro.

Reading at The House (ANU) August 2019

Poem ‘Mountain Pygmy-possum’, renamed ’Snow and heat’, in Mountain Secrets anthology, ed. Joan Fenney, Ginninderra Press, 2019. Read it at launch in Blackheath, Blue Mountains, November 2019.

Poem ‘The dusky grass wren’ published Not Very Quiet Issue 5, September 2019, edited Tricia Dearborn

Haiku ‘Angels picnic’ published in The Mozzie, September/October 2019 (received November)

Panellist, Conflux (Poetry) and also interviewed by Kaaron Warren for another panel, October 2019

Review of A Sharp Left Turn: Notes on a life in music, from Split Enz to Play It Strange by Mike Chunn published The Canberra Times, 26-10-19

‘The Most Loyal Servant and the Peas’ (story) published Antipodean SF, No 254, November 2019, and on radio show (my reading).

Review of Never Say Die: The Hundred-Year Overnight Success of Australian Women’s Football by Fiona Crawford and Lee McGowan published The Canberra Times 9-11-19

Review of Absolutely Bleeding Green: The Raiders Story by David Headon published The Canberra Times 23-11-19

Review of The Institute by Stephen King published The Canberra Times 24-11-19

‘Fry up’ published Axon: Creative Explorations, Vol 9, No 2, December 2019

Review of Maybe The Horse Will Talk by Elliot Perlman published The Canberra Times, 7-12-19

bigstock_Pen_4267530

I’m happy that I’m doing quite a few reviews again, as it keeps you on your intellectual toes (now I’m picturing a brain in a tu-tu) and encourages you to think about how each book promises something, and whether it lives up to those implied promises. I really enjoyed reviewing the history of the Raiders and the history of women’s football in Australia; all I need now is a cricket book, and AFL.

I’ll definitely try and keep the reviewing up next year.

Next year I’ll be having two books published, both poetry.

Have a great Christmas, and let’s hope that there is still an inhabitable east coast of Australia after the next few months. (And SA, and WA, too.)

Tuesday poem: Future lungs

December 9, 2019

Future lungs

Everyone mining air
and everyone a canary —
the future is coughing.
Invest in inhalers.
King Asthma ascends —
his sceptre
a smoke cigar.

PS Cottier

travelers-lured

I’m sitting in Canberra at 11am, and it’s almost like twilight because of all the smoke in the air from the bushfires near Braidwood, and possibly even from down near Batemans Bay. We may be having a foretaste of the future, when even the bravest firefighters (like those we have now) won’t be able to put out the climate change induced fires.

There may be no more telling the kids to ‘leave that computer and go outside and play’, because they might find breathing a tad difficult.

Still avoidable, but only if we did something serious about tackling climate change. The Firefighters Union knows what it is talking about.

….
Laugh’d every goblin
When they spied her peeping:
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Demure grimaces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel- and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter skelter, hurry skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes,—
Hugg’d her and kiss’d her:
Squeez’d and caress’d her:
Stretch’d up their dishes,
Panniers, and plates:
“Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries,
Bite at our peaches,
Citrons and dates,
Grapes for the asking,
Pears red with basking
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs;
Pluck them and suck them,
Pomegranates, figs.”—

peaches

That extract tells of Lizzie visiting the goblins in an attempt to save her sister, Laura, who has feasted on the goblins’ fruit. I find it fascinating that the wombat is mentioned in this poem; the goblins’ appearance is not limited by mere geography. A ratel is a honey-badger, by the way, also found far from England (except in zoos). The full poem can be read here.

The use of verbs alone from ‘flying’ to ‘mowing’ sounds modern, somehow. This is one of my favourite poems. It has been analysed so much, yet remains fresh as an addictive peach.

Skiing for the first time is like…

…strapping a fake pelican’s bill to your face
and being told go fish, go now, go quick!

And the sardines are fifty metres below
and the waves are all like Teahupo’o,

but icy as the Atlantic, not tropical Tahitian,
so you can’t feel your new prow because it’s frozen

to your nose. It’s growing, speedy as Pinocchio’s,
this aberrant beak, and you wish that you had lied

and pleaded stomach bugs or swine flu or Death,
who now looms, laughing in pink fluorescent pants

urging you to push off, go now, go quick!
And you gaze down, down to the white fields

soon to be strewn with your broken, severed legs,
punctuating cold pages with exclamatory pain.

Whoosh!!

PS Cottier

demon-pursuer

‘Skiing for the first time is like…’ awarded second prize in the Cooma Feast of Poetry 2009 (Adult open section). Published in Cooma Feast of Poetry chapbook, 2009.

Just a follow up from the mountain themed entry last week. But I have never skied; too much of a wimp, and too little snow. The nearest I’ve been is on a sled; a bit like the guy above.

UPDATE: I previously posted a link to a review I wrote of a history of Australian women’s football, but a reader has informed me that it’s behind a paywall, so I have removed it. So skiing is the only sport here!