Tag Archives: Black Saturday

Leaving the mountain

I cannot smell the smoke
but above me the sky is tangerine
or perhaps blood orange
Why do we so often seek edible metaphors?
Unlike the fruit
this sky contains no moisture

 
In refracted light
we load life’s cargo
mine is quiet
womb-wriggling stilled
by adrenaline
my son’s red-slicked face
too fearful to contemplate
we calmly pack the car

 
I leave you now
your misguided hero’s carapace
impervious to my pleas

 
I toss the woollen blanket inside
a stupid, careless gesture
its ember pocked fibres
your shield from glass-melt heat
there will be times I wish
I had taken it with me

 
The car noses out of the driveway
it could drive this road itself
on this surfeit of molten tarmac
we travel alone,
our descent slowed by a water truck
its load splashing, a liquid hypnotist
each pearled drop a promise
fluid counterpoint to peripheral flame

 
I glance to the right, for look I must
this fiery thunderhead inhales
sucking my lullabies from the air
it would inhale the car
but for the firmness of my grip
we reach the town but do not stop

 
smoke flanks that bitumen ribbon
I have threaded fire’s needle

Advertisements

Bushfire poetry on Radio National

This afternoon Radio National’s program Poetica featured an anthology of poetry in response to bushfire.  Many of the works are deeply evocative of the experience of wild fire. Jordie Albiston’s ‘Six Black Saturday Squares’ frame the story and are beautifully crafted. Lisa Jacobson’s ‘Girls and Horses in the Fire’ never fails to induce tearpricks in my eyes. Others feel as though written by outsiders, spurring me to better express my insider’s view. Listen to the program, have an opinion and share it with me.

Front Door. Collecting the thoughts, words and images of those dispersed by the Black Saturday fires.

Front Door, a new online community arts project is underway to engage those dispersed by the Black Saturday fires. Creating ways for those living distant from fire-affected areas to communicate has been identified as an important gap in the bushfire recovery process. We do not know the stories of many of those who now reside over a broad geographical area. They remain unheard amidst the dominant paradigm of ‘rebuilding’. I know some people who have left  fire-affected areas have felt invisible at times and have not known how to find others in a similar situation. We hope this project will go some way towards improving this.

Front Door is a website that will encourage participation by suggesting projects for people dispersed by the February 2009 fires. The first is to take a picture of your front door and tell us what it means for you. With each new project there will be an example to act as a guide or inspiration.  I am curating the site. The project will allow people to participate openly or privately. As much or as little as you like. Using words, images…whatever!

How to participate?

www.frontdoorproject.wordpress.com

Please feel free to circulate this information with anyone whom you think might be interested. And please visit, our door is always open…

Epicormic growth

It is three years today since my life, and those of so many others, changed forever.  Anniversaries provide us with an opportunity to reflect. We remember the 173 people who lost their lives. We remember the homes, livelihoods, communities and ecosystems lost or irrevocably changed. We remember our anguish, uncertainty, fear and grief. We remember the love and support of people both local and distant. We remember the heroes both sung and unsung. We acknowledge that there will always be a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. We reflect on our lives following the fires. Our journeys, if you will.

Look at the trees. They are recovering but they are not unscathed. The land is healing: at its own pace, in its own time.

Today is a gentle day. It is cool. The sky is overcast. The wind temperate. A good day for growth and healing.

 

Epicormic growth

From a distance
we appear unchanged
as the timeless hills
shaped over millennia
impervious to disaster

Travel nearer
witness our charred trunks
framing new vistas
silent eucalypts
we stand testament

Near death
we hold our losses close
our stasis perilous (if we stand still…)
survival uncertain
without leaves we cannot capture light

Tiny silver-green shoots
erupt from blackened bark
our epicormic growth
unfurls impatiently

Soon the burnt land
is greenly festooned
our striving growth
a parody of what is familiar

With time
our branches strengthen
we approximate normality
those silver sentinels seen from afar
our reminder
our loss

Our eternal optimism
our growth, our saviour

Narrative reinvention

Much has been written about heroes, especially men, in the wake of disaster. Societal expectations are such that this is the role expected of men. Not all men are heroes. Some women are. Research and feminist analysis of gender roles in response to Black Saturday has been conducted by Women’s Health Goulburn Valley North East. An e-book detailing the stories of 21 women (including me) can be found at http://issuu.com/womenshealthgoulburnnortheast/docs/beating_the_flames. The formal report ‘The landscape of my soul: Relationships after Black Saturday’ will be released soon.

Narrative reinvention

The way you tell it
we had an infallible plan
your foresight
arming us against catastrophe
and your efforts alone
prepared our home
against calamity

The way you tell it
your quick thinking
saved the day
you rescued us
and we escaped
ahead of the inferno
while you remained defiant

Unashamedly
you reinvent the narrative landscape
cast yourself in the starring role
paint me with passivity
render me invisible

Your truth is
the shrieking wind
hurled flames through the air
you fled, fought and survived
flesh seared
mind incinerated

You weave a fantastic tale
by which you hope to be judged
inside is just self-hatred
and in seeking to repair
your tattered psyche
brush me with your loathing

I understand, even forgive
but this is not the way I tell it

The beginnings of a short story?

The last Express Yourself writing workshop was held yesterday. I wrote a poem about the memories of my five year old son. It may contain the kernel of an idea – or it may be a sow’s ear Why do we malign the sow? I must investigate the origins of that expression. In any case the poem as it currently stands is not fit to share. Our second exercise was to describe a journey, which I uncharacteristically undertook in prose. Arnold Zable felt that it might be the beginning of a short story and suggested that I use the ‘daring’ approach of moving to the second person when discussing my ex-partner’s role.  Weave the story of my escape from the mountain with that of the relationship – and, indeed, a second escape. Here is what I wrote yesterday – clearly it’s a draft. What do you think?

Leaving the mountain
The air escaping the back of the car is even hotter than that around us. And that air is the hottest I have ever felt. Sweat evaporates before it has even thought to exit the glands on my skin. I cannot smell the smoke but above me the sky is tangerine or perhaps blood orange. Why do we so often seek edible metaphors? For, unlike the fruit, this sky contains no moisture – only refracted light and ominous promise.

We load the car with tubs of photos, dutifully packed before the first day of tremendous heat and sinister wind. I cannot lift them. I am spent from a morning preparing for such an eventuality. The pump stands primed, ready. Hoses are uncoiled. Buckets, mops, torches, radios and countless bottles of water are positioned around the house. Clothes are ready. The plan is on the fridge. Preparations made, we calmly pack the car.

I am breathless. Belly swollen, the baby due in a mere three months. He is quiet now. My son is at my feet. He has finally stopped screaming, his face slick with shiny red goo. The remains of the placatory red icy pole offered him. He has been woken from his nap. He is tired and frightened. I have no time to comfort him.

Now I plead with you to leave.

I have never been happy that you wish to remain. Your misguided masculinity. Your sense of self bound up with the notion of being a hero. And yet, you are so unprepared, your psyche unlikely to withstand the coming inferno.

So I must leave you. Photos, laptop, a few toys and clothes jumbled in the rear of the car. I throw the woolen blanket out of the boot. A stupid, careless gesture since its purpose is to protect us from radiant heat if trapped by fire. When the blanket is found five days later, ember burns pocking its blue check, we realise it has saved your life.  There are times that I will wish I had taken it with me.

The car noses its way out of the driveway. It could drive this road itself.  I say no goodbye, do not look back and head into the uncertain.

Women and Black Saturday

Women and Environmental Justice BEATING THE FLAMES Escaping Surviving Black Saturday.

I am honoured that Women’s Health Goulburn Valley have used a line from my poem ‘Gossamer skin’ as the title of their report into relationships and domestic violence after Black Saturday.  The e-book Beating the Flames documents women’s stories of the fires, demonstrating that women played an active role in protecting their families, property and community – often alone. I await the report ‘The landscape of my soul: Relationships after Black Saturday’ with interest.They are inviting submissions of stories, art and poetry for inclusion on their website.