Utterly arrival

July 2, 2020

utterlyarrival

Very happy to see my book Utterly in the flesh, straight from Ginninderra Press. Utterly has many poems about the environment and climate change, as well as more personal concerns. It can be ordered here (dispatching from the 13th July). Or through Amazon, etc.

My second book during the virus lockdown, although things are gradually getting back to normal in Canberra. I will be holding a physical launch for Utterly later in the year, probably alongside Monstrous (see last post). It’s hard to plan anything at the moment, although we are having a much easier time here in Canberra than parts of Melbourne (not to mention various other countries).

Regardless of the launch situation, it’s a wonderful thing to hold one’s own book!

April was the cruellest month

I miss the pub noise
Society contracts like a fist
Old people dying in dozens
Languishing/anguishing/wishing
Australia pulls up the biggest draw-bridge
Too many whiskies, no balancing gym
Idiotic President’s bleached tips
Only me and the spoilt dog
Novel coronavirus drags

PS Cottier

little-jumping-joan

I just returned from my first meal outside the home in quite a while; some restaurants, cafés and pubs in Canberra have opened for up to ten people. Curry and beer never tasted so good! May has to be better than isolated April.

The title is reworked from TS Eliot, who reworked it from Geoffrey Chaucer. Illustration by Kate Greenaway, courtesy of Old Book Illustrations.

(Is a spoiler warning necessary for a book as old as The War of the Worlds? I don’t think so, but you are warned, anyway!)

Thinking about the virus, I remembered the end of The War of the Worlds, where bacteria are our best friends, defeating the Martians. It’s a great passage which I thought I’d post, although I’m not so sure that there are no bacteria on Mars? ‘Our microscopic allies’ does seem a strange phrase in the current climate, but it makes total sense in terms of the novel.

And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians—dead!—slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.

For so it had come about, as indeed I and many men might have foreseen had not terror and disaster blinded our minds. These germs of disease have taken toll of humanity since the beginning of things—taken toll of our prehuman ancestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed resisting power; to no germs do we succumb without a struggle, and to many—those that cause putrefaction in dead matter, for instance—our living frames are altogether immune. But there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Already when I watched them they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain.

HG Wells The War of the Worlds

War_of_the_worlds_illustration_pearson
Warwick Goble

Between

March 19, 2020

Between

8th March 2020
Women’s T20 final, Melbourne

A perfect night —
the MCG swarming
with yellow and green bees,
flocking and buzzing and singing,
mixed in with an Indian blue.
There, I finally saw
what T20 is good for.
85,000 of us, give or take,
to watch 22 women,
bowling, fielding, swinging.
The cake was iced
as our team lifted the cup.
Then we danced to one Perry —
Ellyse, alas, side-lined,
spectating just like us.

After the fires,
where we couldn’t breathe,
and before the virus
locked so much up,
we sang and yelled and clapped.
Such lively peace between
seeming endless fires,
and a tiny foe, unseen.

PS Cottier

MCG

Already it seems like a different world from just on two weeks ago, when I was down in Melbourne for the T20 final. A brilliant performance by the Australian team. Katy Perry and the dancing cricket bats. A packed MCG. And now events with over 100 people are basically banned.

Australia had just had the worst summer in terms of bushfires, and now, looking back, this great night at the MCG seems a moment of poise before we fell over into the world of the virus. So glad that I have the memory of this night! And I can’t wait for ridiculously large crowds to reappear.

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