Three Poems from Australia

May 24, 2017
Geoff Whalan, “Mistletoe Bird (Diaceum hirundinaceum),” Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve, Middle Point, Northern Territory, Australia, November 8, 2015
Geoff Whalan, “Mistletoe Bird (Diaceum hirundinaceum),” Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve, Middle Point, Northern Territory, Australia, November 8, 2015

Graphology Endgame 55: Adjustment

We have nothing and everything to do with this adjustment.
Don’t expect a palinode here — I recant none of my accusations.

The mistletoe birds rife in the gully, beaking the pink translucence
of mistletoe fruits, feeding their young circles against triangles —

not so long ago the slaughter done to them by eagre farmers
wanting to kill off the ‘parasite-spreading’ birds.

We’re seeing more of them, and even a rufous whistler
hanging around, curious over the mistletoe birds’ excitement.

It’s the end of nesting season. I said to the rufous whistler —
eyeing off a branch and holding back his glorious song —

I am not incapable of recanting when I am wrong,
but I try to avoid making false accusations in the first place.

He looked dubious, but sent no message back to central
about a dystopian future, though so many trees are dying-off

despite all the rain. Thick and rare summer rain has brought
plumes and mushrooms and clouds of herbicide onto paddocks,

gardens, parks, road verges, the long paddock — with taints of love
we breathe this largesse, the red of an abstracted mistletoe bird

adjusting, twitching, feeding its young quick smart.
And to add fuel to the fiery little breasts — the swallow-like

flight from jam tree to York gum. I claim an over-
hearing of great clarity: Helen, you were not

to blame, and never once did I speak
your name in vane — corrupt

ears wilfully mishear.
Honestly, this was said.

And my ears
are pristine.


Painted Button Quail Epiphany

This type is faint as the mechanical machine
translates my thoughts to the field of the page,
painted button quail pair foraging just outside
on the first day of spring imposed on this world.

Seven years since I last saw and recorded a pair
of quail here — stubble quail then. And when
Tim called quietly through our door this morning:
Quail! I said, Surely not, surely bronzewings?

But there they were, scanning and picking
and preparing to nest close to the house
as force-field against feral cats. That’s an
informed hunch. And so we all watch them

figure-eighting the shorter grass just outside,
just in view, and they look up aware
and pull back then arc out reconnect and continue.
It’s all in this, Tom, your mother passing

into the contemplative spaces of the northern
hemisphere. Let her rest assured that painted
button quail here will be respected as her sons
respect badgers and other creatures

where she connects with all that makes us.
The type is faint on this old machine as I work
the keys quietly as possible, its sounds merging
with bark clicking against phantom and living

limbs alike, a slow breeze and vibrant quail
making a hemisphere, a nest, to join all
difference and let the world rest in its cradle,
quick sure strokes melding feathers.
Not only camouflage but reverence.


Laid Bare (post-deluge)

A layer of topsoil gone,
and movement forced is shown,
and a lack of right-of-movement
imposed — stones now pinnacles,
inclement traversals,
light polyphony, stranded
between in sugar ant world,
stalks down to roots
weird as the peepal tree
of time we read of here,
once visited, written into.
The wash-away takes
liberties you didn’t
know you had.
Now the roots
of the dead & living
are aerials whose
signals are faint,
barely taking in.

John Kinsella’s most recent volumes of poetry include Drowning in Wheat: Selected Poems, 1980–2015 (Picador, 2016), Insomnia (W.W. Norton, 2020), and Brimstone: Villanelles (Arc, 2020). His new memoir is Displaced: A Rural Life (Transit Lounge, 2020). The fourth volume of a poetry collaboration with Kwame Dawes, In the Name of Our Families, appeared with Peepal Tree in 2020. He is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, and emeritus professor of literature and environment at Curtin University, Western Australia.