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

Passing beauty

It’s moving, just ahead
of the player’s most clever feet.
Every four years, we fill a cup,
then pour it out, a month of dreams.
Was it just last week that Bergkamp
flicked with orange elegance,
side-footing space and time?
No, he is long gone now,
off fielding fifty years.
Others follow. Messy time
melts beauty, remoulds it,
casts it always anew.
It never ages, constantly fired,
as we fade, we watchers,
yesterday’s players, passing.
Twenty sips at the cup
will fill a lifetime;
held safe in keeper’s hands.

PS Cottier

Boots.jpg

This poem was just republished in Boots:A Selections of Football Poetry 1890-2017, edited by Mark Pirie of New Zealand. As Mark has it up as an sample from the book, I thought I would also republish it here. It was first published in Eureka Street here in Australia.

The book contains poems from New Zealand, England, France and the Netherlands, with New Zealand being the home of most. It is well worth reading for the diversity of approaches: biographical, political, elegiac (mine, for once!) humorous and historical. A lovely present for anyone interested in football.

It can be ordered through Lulu through the publisher’s website (HeadworX Publishers). Boots is an expanded edition of a previous collection first published in 2014.

Faith took a holiday

He hitched down the Hume, or up;
he didn’t tell me. Faith has no fear
of murder, or everyday sleazes
and their boring imprecations.
It’s the ones left behind
who tend to fret. What if,
we say, and perhaps
as if perhaps isn’t Faith
flipped like a decisive coin,
standing on his head.
As if as if isn’t
closer to for sure
than some might like it to be.

Faith rang me from Melbourne,
(so it was down the Hume)
and said he wanted to look around
a bit longer; catch the trams.
He too remembers
the excellent days of conductors,
with their magical brown bags.
Even Faith feels regret
at the passing of old days;
the spinning of so much
towards the expansive sun
of interconnected drivel.
There is a grace
in not knowing too much,
he said, though Faith would say that,
I suppose. That’s his job.
A kind of conductor
unseen in any tram,
on any route, whatsoever.

Faith will return soon;
I can hear the jingling
just at the edge of thought
and the tune is one
I almost remember.
The brown bag of my
restless, overloaded brain
awaits his presence,
and will sling itself, eager,
over his patient arm.

P.S. Cottier

flew-trunk

Like a lot of the world, I’m suffering the post-US election blues, and almost didn’t post this week.  The clever amongst you will have noticed that it is Wednesday, not Tuesday, and the weekly schedule has been disrupted.   But poetry is fairly unstoppable!

For my overseas readers, the Hume is the major highway linking Melbourne and Sydney. Canberra is just a wee drive from it.

I have no idea why Faith is male in the poem.  Perhaps it was some association with Christ? And my phone has just died, which has me longing for the ‘interconnected drivel’ which I decry in the poem, even if I’m avoiding news sites at the moment.

Glassy eyed

She wraps herself in air, mere
scent and breeze and rumour,
and perches on the nearest branch
to hear the evening’s chat.
Invisible, except when the youngest child,
not quite doomed to prose,
holds a kaleidoscope to open window,
bored with the inexplicable gush
that parents call a conversation —
a strange animal dressed in beige
that sometimes flares to angry orange.
And amongst the leaves of glassy,
clipped punctuation, caught in a cylinder
of found poetry, the girl sees a pellucid
curve, bending towards the house,
and knows it to be outside the scope
of parental chat or cunning toy.
A shimmering crescent perched
between the eucalyptus leaves,
the eager figure bends towards the hum,
a stingless bee, muted hint of dragonfly.
Shaking her toy and her mousy hair,
the girl turns away, back to the easy
world of solids, and lumpy certainty.
Outside, a quiet sigh augments the wind,
and gossamer wings unfurl to flight.

P.S. Cottier

floats-gracefully

You can’t have too many fairy poems, in my opinion.  Well you probably can, but I quite like this; and it’s nice not to always be writing angry poems about politics or climate change or mass extinctions.

Are fairies an endangered species?   Discuss in two thousand words or fewer.

Last Thursday the second launch of The Stars Like Sand occurred in Canberra. Novelist Kaaron Warren, pictured here, did the honours, and spoke of her love of poetry, despite not writing it herself. She compared it to those without the skill watching someone crochet or knit, and distributed woollen bookmarks. Another ten poets read, and they read beautifully.

kaaron at launch

This is a photograph of Philip Salom, who launched the book in Melbourne. He spoke of play and ‘pataphysics, that is,”the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments.”(Jarry)*
philip_salom

Alternative pedigrees. Different ways of being. Garments we put on. The sinuous muscles of poetry. Lines of knitting. Each launcher took a different direction to describing a book that tries on different worlds.

I am in a state of mild grief now as the book that was once a near endless possibility, is now a thing; a physical object that has its own place in the world. It is what it is (subject to interpretation) and it is no longer mine. What once existed into multifarious complexity is now rendered actual. That’s always a bit of a bummer, even if it’s also a delight. It’s a bit like the difference between hearing a joke told for the first time, and hearing the same joke again. Something is lost, isn’t it. Something that leaps in the mind and the body at exactly the same moment.

But what a misery guts I am being; mulling over mental gruel rather than Pantagruelling! I should be revelling in the joy and enjoying myself! It is, I think, in many ways, a wonderful book. But it seems that some of us are more attuned to loss than achievement…even if we like funny poems.

I certainly enjoyed meeting my co-editor Tim Jones for the second time, as opposed through working through the aerial guts of Skype, with its weekly digital farts. Here is a photograph of Tim listening. He is much better at that than I am. He is listening to the wonderful Joe Dolce read his poem at the Melbourne launch. Tim has a new post about the Canberra launch too, at his blog.
joe_and_tim

We have forwarded the list of poets’ addresses to the publisher, so all contributors should receive their copy soon. Thank you to all the poets who contributed, and also to our two wonderful launchers.

And because I am vain, here is a photograph of me; on a high, reading my poem from the book at the Melbourne launch. My hair was much better at the Canberra one, though…
penelope-2

Now I am going to revel in The World Cup for a month. In another universe, Australia will be winning.

*Spellcheck kept trying to render ‘pataphysics as pasta physics, by the way. Love those alimentary lineaments.