Glassed with cold sleep and dazzled by the moon,
out of the confused hammering dark of the train
I looked and saw under the moon's cold sheet
your delicate dry breasts, country that built my heart;
and the small trees on their uncoloured slope
like poetry moved, articulate and sharp
and purposeful under the great dry flight of air,
under the crosswise currents of wind and star.
Clench down your strength, box-tree and ironbark.
Break with your violent root the virgin rock.
Draw from the flying dark its breath of dew
till the unliving come to life in you.
Be over the blind rock a skin of sense,
under the barren height a slender dance...
I woke and saw the dark small trees that burn
suddenly into flowers more lovely that the white moon.
That time of drought the embered air
burned to the roots of timber and grass.
The crackling lime-scrub would not bear
and Mooni Creek was sand that year.
The dingo's cry was strange to hear.
I heard the dingoes cry
in the scrub on the Thirty-mile Dry.
I saw the wedgetail take his fill
perching on the seething skull.
I saw the eel wither where he curled
in the last blood-drop of a spent world.
I heard the bone whisper in the hide
of the big red horse that lay where he died.
Prop that horse up, make him stand,
hoofs turned down in the bitter sand
make him stand at the gate of the Thirty-mile Dry.
Turn this way and you will die-
and strange and loud was the dingoes' cry.
So here, twisted in steel, and spoiled with red
your sunlight hide, smelling of death and fear,
they crushed out your throat the terrible song
you sang in the dark ranges. With what crying
you mourned him! - the drinker of blood, the swift death-bringer
who ran with you so many a night; and the night was long.
I heard you, desperate poet, Did you hear
my silent voice take up the cry? - replying:
Achilles is overcome, and Hector dead,
and clay stops many a warrior's mouth, wild singer.
Voice from the hills and the river drunken with rain,
for your lament the long night was too brief.
Hurling your woes at the moon, that old cleaned bone,
till the white shorn mobs of stars on the hill of the sky
huddled and trembled, you tolled him, the rebel one.
Insane Andromache, pacing your towers alone,
death ends the verse you chanted; here you lie.
The lover, the maker of elegies is slain,
and veiled with blood her body's stealthy sun.
The song is gone; the dance
is secret with the dancers in the earth,
the ritual useless, and the tribal story
lost in an alien tale.
Only the grass stands up
to mark the dancing-ring; the apple-gums
posture and mime a past corroboree,
murmur a broken chant.
The hunter is gone; the spear
is splintered underground; the painted bodies
a dream the world breathed sleeping and forgot.
The nomad feet are still.
Only the rider's heart
halts at a sightless shadow, an unsaid word
that fastens in the blood of the ancient curse,
the fear as old as Cain.
Once as I travelled through a quiet evening,
I saw a pool, jet-black and mirror-still.
Beyond, the slender paperbarks stood crowding;
each on its own white image looked its fill,
and nothing moved but thirty egrets wading -
thirty egrets in a quiet evening.
Once in a lifetime, lovely past believing,
your lucky eyes may light on such a pool.
As though for many years I had been waiting,
I watched in silence, till my heart was full
of clear dark water, and white trees unmoving,
and, whiter yet, those thirty egrets wading.
The small blue Arab stallion dances on the hill
like a glancing breaker, like a storm rearing in the sky,
In his prick-ears,the wind, that wanderer and spy,
sings of the dunes of Arabia, lion-coloured still.
The small blue stallion poses like a centaur-god,
netting the sun in his sea-spray mane, forgetting
his stalwart mares for a phantom galloping unshod;
changing for a heat-mirage his tall and velvet hill.
Beside his heavy-shouldered team
thirsty with drought and chilled with rain,
he weathered all the striding years
till they ran widdershins in his brain:
Till the long solitary tracks
etched deeper with each lurching load
were populous before his eyes,
and fiends and angels used his road.
All the long straining journey grew
a mad apocalyptic dream,
and he old Moses, and the slaves
his suffering and stubborn team.
Then in his evening camp beneath
the half-light pillars of the trees
he filled the steepled cone of night
with shouted prayers and prophecies.
While past the campfire's crimson ring
the star struck darkness cupped him round.
and centuries of cattle-bells
rang with their sweet uneasy sound.
Grass is across the wagon-tracks,
and plough strikes bone beneath the grass,
and vineyards cover all the slopes
where the dead teams were used to pass.
O vine, grow close upon that bone
and hold it with your rooted hand.
The prophet Moses feeds the grape,
and fruitful is the Promised Land.
What is the space between,
enclosing us in one
united person, yet
dividing each alone.
Frail bridges cross from eye
to eye, from flesh to flesh,
from word to word: the net
is gapped at every mesh,
and this each human knows:
however close our touch
or intimate our speech,
silences, spaces reach
most deep, and will not close.
The eyeless labourer in the night,
the selfless, shapeless seed I hold,
builds for its resurrection day---
silent and swift and deep from sight
foresees the unimagined light.
This is no child with a child's face;
this has no name to name it by;
yet you and I have known it well.
This is our hunter and our chase,
the third who lay in our embrace.
This is the strength that your arm knows,
the arc of flesh that is my breast,
the precise crystals of our eyes.
This is the blood's wild tree that grows
the intricate and folded rose.
This is the maker and the made;
this is the question and reply;
the blind head butting at the dark,
the blaze of light along the blade.
Oh hold me, for I am afraid.
All things conspire to hold me from you–
even my love,
since that would mask you and unname you
till merely woman and man we live.
All men wear arms against the rebel –
and they are wise,
since the sound world they know and stable
is eaten away by lovers’ eyes.
All things conspire to stand between us –
even you and I,
who still command us, still unjoin us,
and drive us forward till we die.
Not till those fiery ghosts are laid
shall we be one.
Till then, they whet our double blade
and use the turning world for stone.
When I was a child I saw
a burning bird in a tree.
I see became I am,
I am became I see.
In winter dawns of frost
the lamp swung in my hand.
The battered moon on the slope
lay like a dune of sand;
and in the trap at my feet
the rabbit leapt and prayed,
weeping blood, and crouched
when the light shone on the blade.
The sudden sun lit up
the webs from wire to wire;
the white webs, the white dew,
blazed with a holy fire.
Having known war and peace
and loss and finding,
I drink my coffee and wait
for the sun to rise,
With kitchen swept, cat fed,
the day will quiet,
I taste my fifty years
here in the cup.
Outside the green birds come
for bread and water.
Their wings wait for the sun
to show their colours.
I'll show my colours too.
Though we've polluted
even this air I breathe
And spoiled green earth;
though, granted life or death,
death's what we're chosing,
and though these years we live
scar flesh and mind,
still, as the sun comes up
bearing my birthday,
having met time and love
I raise my cup -
dark, bitter, neutral, clean,
sober as the morning -
to all I've seen and known -
to this new sun.