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John Wiley Sep 2020
The bush track north still calls
with its endless gibber plains
and bull-dust,
punctuated by the occasional ridge
of red sand hills,
or a dry creek bed,
or rock outcrop,
or a desert mountain range,
thousands of years old
from before human habitation.

I’ve known and loved
the inland desert country
all my life it seems,
though interspersed
with periods of
rural and urban living.

For some time now,
I’ve said the age of eighty
would be my last bush trip.
This was to have been the year,
but plans change.
“Covid” has intervened
with closed state borders
and travel restrictions.

I was preparing “Henry”,
my trusted off-road vehicle,
for the opening of state borders,
when a brain seizure occurred,
from an invasive melanoma.
Successful neurosurgery
and now other treatment
has followed.
I am blessed, still here,
treasuring every moment
of the life that I have left.

“Henry” has a new owner,
who has fallen in love with him.
He will still go bush,
but no more bush travel for me;
(no driving at all for some months, if ever).
The bush track north must ripen to
a rich and treasured memory.
Some recent happenings in my life appear to have silenced my muse. I need to address the situation by writing about it and apologise for imposing this on you. Hopefully this will nudge my muse back into life.
John Wiley Sep 2020
Lean,
a shock of greying hair,
eyes as clear as the mid-day sun,
a hand so steady
that he could smoke a cigarette
down to its ****, unstubbed.
“Old Mac”.

I had known of him
since childhood,
when my father had
told us of
this legendary Scotsman
he had met out bush.

Some twenty years later,
back in the bush myself,
Mac was still there,
true to my father’s description.
“Old Mac”.

Engaged initially
to care for indigenous groups
at risk from atomic testing,
he had continued on
as consultant, adviser, friend,
to the old men of the desert.

Sometimes you would hear
that he was coming –
sometimes not.
Mostly he would just appear
out of the desert,
stay for a few days
and then move on.

At times,
he would visit for a meal,
but never to stay,
always sleeping
in the back of his truck –
his “boudoir”.

Eventually
retirement came, and death -
with plans for
Mac’s ashes to be scattered
by a bush cleric,
in the land where
he had lived and worked for so long .

But fate
or perhaps Mac
prevailed.
A shoe-box of ashes,
an elusive cleric,
a rugged bush vehicle,
and a rough bush track
found  Mac
scattering himself -
“Old Mac”.
John Wiley Aug 2020
The old church was a wreck,
just bush timbers
and lime washed bags
with a few sheets of iron on the roof.

The only person
we ever saw there
was a drunk
with delirium tremens.

Karaknya and I
went there one day,
cut a mark on our thighs
with some broken bottle,
exchanged blood
and rubbed in red desert dust
up above where it would be seen –
our secret.

The mark has faded
over the years
but is still there.

Our lives
took us different ways,
to different places
and we lost each other.

I had always meant
to renew the friendship
some day – sometime,
but somehow never did,
even after I found where Karaknya was.

Perhaps I was afraid of what I might find
or just unwilling to take the risk.

Whatever,
Karaknya has gone now.
Just the scar
and the memory
remain.
John Wiley Aug 2020
My little sister, my twin,
You were beautiful they say,
perfect, but dead, still-born,
strangled by my navel string.

My mother grieved for you
all her life,
never knowing where you were;
perhaps a hospital incinerator,
perhaps an unmarked grave,
perhaps unacknowledged in the foot of a coffin.
They all happened back then.
We have searched but never found you.

You are on our parents’ headstone now,
a memory without a name,
but there, a treasured memory.

Me?
We have twin grandchildren,
girl and boy like us,
now young adults.
I take such joy in them
but grieve too
for what we might have known.

My little sister, my twin,
You were beautiful they say,
perfect, but dead, still-born,
and all my life
I feel that I have lived for us both.
John Wiley Jul 2020
We buried an old friend yesterday,
in the midst of virus restrictions.
It was outside,
just a few of us,
around the grave,
rugged up against the winter wind,
each maintaining distance,
no touching,
no handshakes,
no embraces,
just being together
to acknowledge our shared loss
and celebrate a life well lived.

A son, the only child,
had been allowed to cross
a closed state border.
Others could just observe
by live streaming.
When all was done
we lingered awhile
to renew acquaintances
and reminisce,
but then
were moved along
by grave diggers with
a yellow tractor
and a load of earth.
Over the years I have been involved in many funerals but will especially remember this one.
John Wiley Jun 2020
The first time I saw one
I was walking by the creek,
a mere glimpse
in a path-side shrub –
black and white with a flash of yellow –
there for a moment ...
then gone.

Now it seems
I see them everywhere -
in our garden
or on bush-land walks,
flitting between plants
or hanging from a bloom,
sipping nectar
or devouring some minute insect.

But still
the sense of privilege remains,
an avian blessing,
a glimpse of life –
black and white with a flash of yellow –
there for a moment ...
then gone.
The New Holland Honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae) is a small Australian bird - quite common but sometimes hard to spot because of its highly energetic, flitting behaviour.
John Wiley May 2020
Old gum
by a dry creek bed,
so long I’ve known you
and yet I haven’t -
can’t.

How can I know
of the ancient people,
custodians of our land,
gathered in your shade,
to sing the timeless songs,
share the timeless dreaming?

How can I know,
with the early explorers,
the challenge – fear –
of an unknown land,
its vastness beyond experience,
challenges beyond belief?

How can I know
the hope
of the early settlers,
lured by good seasons
then destroyed
by drought?

Old gum
by the old dry creek bed,
I have rested in your shade,
wondered at your knowledge
and am indeed blessed.
Gum trees are quite special to many Australians including myself.
This poem is to a particular old gum by a dry creek bed in the Flinders Ranges that I have known and reflected on for many years.
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