Footprint

These are the poems by the Well Thumbed Poets read on Saturday 7 September at Well Thumbed Books, Cobargo, to music by violinist Elizabeth Andalis.

The event raised money for Far South Coast Animal Rescue and Wires.

The copyright to each poem below, other than the prologue and epilogue, belongs to its author. The prologue and epilogue are composed of a single line from each of the poems, arranged in different orders.

 

Prologue

I jump, startled
my feet want a path
Grey, oh grey, and so elegant
comfortable in its own fur
But how the birds loved that tree
sending a message
I know a street artist.  She works alone
A backdrop of a thousand greens
She sheds her leafy tears of many colours
That was a gentler time
while in our sleep we learned the song the world sings
The silence will be pierced by a solitary call
waistcoats striped with lightning
Like lemmings, the human race races
I have been the stars
I tell you this to break your heart
before it is too late

 

At home in my worm farm

I jump, startled,
A screeching voice of terror
Emanates from amongst
The slippery tangle of tiger worms.

Pink, variously long or perhaps short,
The worms relish their job
As they writhe and dive
In a legless dance of decomposition.

Pumpkin and persimmon
Brocolli and banana
Carrot and kiwi
Tomato and tangerine

Discarded by one
A tasty morsel for another

Layers of soiled cardboard and newspaper,
The worm farm heating system,
Conceal a pair of frogs
Camouflaged as rotting vegetables.

Screeches alert my foraging hand fork
As it digs,
Separates
And inspects.

Don’t skewer me, don’t mutilate me
A little frog at home in my worm farm.

—Kate Taylor

 

Flight of the heron

Of all the colours that we know, grey
avoids scrutiny and hides behind the rainbow.
On nature’s palette, grey’s sheen is amplified
by textured light and cloudy days.

I was wearing a beanie to hide
my undyed bed-hair
when I saw a white-faced heron this morning.
The still bird extended the culvert railing
vertically; grey ornament against
oneiric fog hovering across the black water of the lagoon.
Grey, oh grey; so elegant!

Dawnlight gathered at the edges of the morning.
The lagoon, the fog, the bird, were still,
I held my breath.

Sensing me, the heron turned its fine neck,
dark grey flight feathers rippled along stretched wings –
lift off!
I turned my freckled crepey neck to follow her flight.

—Linda Albertson

 

Where is the map to your heart, dear Earth?
where is the plan?
my feet want a path
unhappy with the mall and air con
with the violence and disrespect.

My hands want to cradle the River
caress the Forest
record the Songs
in summer autumn winter spring.

What meaning in this brown land
the seasons of the old country?
this island of red rocks and deserts
ancient soil and monotremes
shy footprints signalling the way.
malls obscure them
factories deny them
rivers dammed and forests logged
obliterate them.

I walk the mountain
not true
the mountain walks me,
step by step breath by breath
I climb the naked shoulders the arched back
the plump breasts of the mother of the stars.
currawong keeps check,
lyrebird darts across the track
breezes whisper
leaves swish bark yawns
a bound a hop a clatter a chuckle.

At the tors Spirit Wind
whips the shawl off my body
plucks the hat from my head
teases probes pierces my Heart Story.

I bow to the timeless arc
of Law and Wisdom
of Rock and Ancestors
of grace and learning.

Sacred Mountain
sister muse mother creator
clasps my hand
evokes transformation.

—Sandra Taylor

 

Footprints

more high rises
along the pristine coast
Country mourns
remembering a time when
softer footprints roamed this land

forest giants
now a graveyard of stumps
despite the protests
I say “No” to a receipt
at the checkout

logging trucks
loaded up with corpses
lumber past
ringtail possum family
flees to my backyard

tree hugging …
as Koalas have done
for millennia
and now … as if their lives
depend on it

bags and bottles
washed up on the beach
a witches brew
of plastic waste
to curse our modern lives

coal fire stations
belch out power to the grid
gasping through the smoke
why do we struggle to quit
in this sun drenched land?

our heavy footprints
decimate the coral reef
as the oceans warm
can we escape the boiling pot
before it is too late

—Rachel Colombo

 

Cape Woolamai vignette

The gang of honeyeaters
prefer the smaller birdbath
sluicing themselves until
they’re even more vivid –
waistcoats striped with lightning,
small white rims
to their black eyes.
We sit and type, sighing.
In the doorway comes
ocean air scented with ti-tree,
leaf-mould, desultory barking,
the rush of cars on the road to the surf beach.
Now from a bush, ceaseless scolding
which we richly deserve.

—Kai Jensen

 

At this point the poem ‘Lead’ by the great American poet of nature, Mary Oliver, was read.

 

Drought

A ghost gum prays for rain its fingers reach…
gnarled and scarred from its weight of years
its memory of the seasons visible for all to read
deep fissures in its trunk witness fallen branches
sacrificed to drought
and thin twigs are the stark remainder of a spring
that burned into summer without the promised rain.

This tree started its life in softer times
when water flowed down the gully
when the scrub and trees held moisture in the soil
to soften the summer’s blast of sun.
That was a gentler time.
Now the sun’s naked rays singe new leaves
as they open trusting tender growth to light and air.

Some branches witness the good years
then the tree could bury its young roots deep
moist soil nurturing strong young branches
long and slender, growing tall in hope
being the best tree it can be
its exuberant shape surviving
as a slim reminder of good years.

Stripped now of foliage
its coarse outer bark hangs desolate
waiting for the next parching wind to strip
and distribute it, back to cracked earth
perhaps to provide shelter for small beings
to complete their life cycle.

The yawning cracks in the earth wait for moisture
the baked clay resists blowing loose in the wind
but will not resist the life-giving water
that will turn it to soft mud and wash it into the rivers.

The ghost gum prays for rain its fingers reach …
miming its silent, urgent, prayer.

—Jennifer Hawkins

 

Full Circle of Fire

The fire licks at dead dried leaves
blackened and shrivelled by its deadly caressing tongue.
The flames’ comforting warmth seduces more branches to bend to its will.
It flows across the ground, strangely reminiscent of a tidal wave.
But these lapping waves are white hot.

Orange fingers claw at the base of trees
searing talons biting deep.
In the burnt-out areas smoke wafts through singed upper limbs
wrapping itself around the trunk in a deadly sensual embrace.
At the fire face startled creatures scurry in smoky chaos
entrapped, enfolded, as the cloak of flame is drawn one upon the other.

When it has gone and all is quiet, at peace
majestic giants with their icing of soot, inner hearts untouched, will yawn,
stretch
awaken from their sleep sprouting golden growth.
The silence will be pierced by a solitary call, then another
and another, each coating over the former, blending to make it whole once more.

The cleansing, death, rebirth, has come full circle.

—Leigh Crowe

 

At this point ‘The Cicadas’ by Australian poet Judith Wright was read.

 

but the train has left the station

I am Earth born and steadily returning
dirt under my nails
dirt etched in wrinkles and seams
dirt leaf web in hair,
roots entwined with stringybark and kurrajong
limbs braced cradle nest feather egg
animated by wind and lightning,
a Song in my heart
a poem in my Soul.

danger is real, threats ever present
truth terrifying
scalding hearts and minds.

islands of plastic expanding
soil leached of promise
artesian waters meet fracking
forests cut sliced into chips
women beaten children wronged
madness in place of common sense.

I am not alone
in this feral forest community
of feminine and masculine,
as children we arrived
now wisdom visits.

wallaby thinks not of place or belonging
comfortable in its own fur
claws perfect for scratching
picking lemons
pulling up artichokes
nurturing baby.
wallaby is not human
and I am animal
not animal enough to Know place
to belong
but animal enough to be Kin.

moon set
boobook poses the question
bandicoot squeals, ants on the run
pobblebonk sings the rainsong.

change is upon us
denial is fruitless,
humans play catch up
but the train has left the station,
some do not hear the whistle
some lay down on the tracks
others nap head pressed against the glass,|
no matter
it is what it is
our Mother will decide.

—Sandra Taylor

 

Colour Cacophany

Sweeping ‘cross the canvassed land
Brushstrokes filled with feathered hues
Galah pastel pinks and greys
Rosella reds and azure blues

Large white daubs among the trees
Cockies topped with flicks of gold
Crimson coated royal green
The king of parrots to behold

Black cockatoos swooping low
Trailing tails yellow-streaked
Flamboyant colours splashed around
As flocks of rainbow lorikeets

A backdrop of a thousand greens
Spicks and specks of blue, yellow
Purple, green, crimson, and gold
Shades from nature’s palette flow.

—Rachel Colombo

 

The following poem replaces the recited poem ‘In the wrong place at the wrong time’, which was removed for personal reasons.

 

Last chance

  1. Burning bush

In June the first cold week
and our maple tree catches fire
goes up, all at once, an orange blaze.
Currawongs cry out in wonderment.

Maybe it’s the last cold spell
before the greenhouse door closes
the permafrost rotting
the ocean going sour
bleached coral where the reef once was
storms, famine, wars, collapse
or even worse.

So let’s admire it while we may
this tree of flame, Biblical
that burns and is not consumed
and if we listen, speaks.

  1. Revolver

Hey, says the tree – let’s all play
Russian roulette

and just to make it interesting
let’s put five bullets in the gun

so we have one chance to live.

The empty chamber
the one with no bullet

is the chance
that pretty much all the scientists are wrong

or that someone will invent a way
to cool the planet down

while we keep burning coal
running our big petrol cars
flying to Europe
buying out of season asparagus from Peru

electing climate change deniers
growing the economy
growing the population
as though there’s no tomorrow.

We’d rather play this game
than anything

much rather play it
than change the way we live.

  1. God’s eye view

So it’s goodbye mother Earth
we’re casting off the lines

edging away from the space station
we look down one last time

on the layer of blue and white
the only place for aeons

where we can simply breathe
it looks good from up here

good but very thin
a little layer of blue

and white
curving out of sight

as we turn towards the blackness
and the infinite night

hoping to find a place
at least a little like

the one down there
the only one we know of anywhere.

—Kai Jensen

 

Would you shed a tear for a lemming?

We
are just another species.
Like lemmings we leap from the earth
to colonise another place.

“Hey everyone,
its better over there:
more room for the endless business
of ‘getting and spending’.”

Like lemmings,
the human race races.
Lucky for Mars
we die in the attempt.

—Sarah Gardener

 

Natural

I have been a wild horse,
Running for freedom
Escaping the pain
Needing the distance
Then circling back, snorting and sweating,
Checking you are alright, despite our battling.

I have been oceanic,
Deep waves of opening and closing,
Depths of feeling I had never plumbed – from rage, to joy, to peace,
From belonging to fury, to passion.
Lapping water in delight,
Swimming into the tempest
That was you and me.

I have been my garden,
Unfurling into new forms, dropping colourful leaves, to await in cold chill
The arriving sun, the growing impulse,
To lift up my arms and sing to the sky!

I have been this sleeping dog,
Faithful at the feet of my own life,
Committed to giving me company,
Partner on walks round lakes and farm,
Known and unknown lands.

I have been the sky,
Opening to the invisible rays,
Spaciously looking out on summer emerald grass,
Breathing into the vast,
Lungs and heart uplifted into blue.

I have been the stars,
Dancing my way through chaos,
Essential energy path soaring through galactic realms,
Driven by love into becoming and becoming,
Over and over,
Mind beyond matter,
Knowing beyond eyes,
Stillness behind movement,
Space beyond emptiness.

I am a natural woman,
In love with the nature of existence.
Take me deeply life,
And hold me in your arms
As we melt into the joy of this day.

—Virginia York

 

Stringybark Stand

She stands there alone.
Strips of bark hanging
like a hoary old dancer’s tattered dress.
She sheds her leafy tears of many colours.

Bark, rough
Cracked
Peeling.
Telltale signs of her withered old limbs.
Now tossed back and forth in a tormenting dance with the wind
those beseeching arms reach out in prayer
seeking release as her torso groans in pain.
A puppet on Nature’s stage
performing for a greater power.

Body twisted and torn
her inner core bleeds.
Thick, crimson tree blood trickles down her thighs,
testimony to the brutal assault of the storm.
In defiance she plants her feet
deeply rooted in the rich warm soil.

With each gust her limbs move away as if turning her back
cowering in the wrath of the storm
Then suddenly spring back, repelling
defying the storm’s demand to submit.
Rejecting its claim to supreme power.
The storm, tiring of the game moves on.
Gentle breeze now soothes her aching limbs.
The tree sighs, shaking her tousled leafy crown
softly swaying her sensual body.
Mocking the beaten storm.

She has withstood flood with its cancerous rot
the searing talons of bushfires
the bite of snow and hail
the fury of the storms.
She has stood proud and tall for hundreds of years
resisted and defied all adversity and hardship.
She still stands now
an example to us all.

—Leigh Crowe

 

Night song

There has been an owl
Hoo hooing his night song.

There has been a wonga
Stuck on its one note songline.

There has been a mother wallaby
Feeding and anxiously protecting her new joey
In the early morning frosts.

There have been horses running up the cold hill,
Snorting near the bedroom,
To rouse me from my dreams.

There has been a deeper new quiet in this valley,
Only gentle songs of day and songs of night
Mark the time.

Is it in me
Or is it new
Or is it always there?
And just finally my eyes can hear all the songs,
All the joyful festival of nature outside my walls.
My heart can taste,
My ears can remember.

There has been a sense everything is trying to tell me,
sending a message
To be still.
There has been a calm deeper place
Making me walk slower.
And enjoy being alone,
Wrapping up in happy solitude.

The clouds are telling me to float free,
The crackling fire reminds me there is passion,
The mandarin trees are showing me seasons change,
The camellias softly open and fall,
Reminding me everything passes,
Even beauty.

There has been a sense I am to watch.
There has been a voice telling me to listen.
There has been a palpable rightness rising in the forest
Quietly making new joy.

Again tonight
There has been an owl
Hoo hooing his night song.

—Virginia York

 

Street artist

I know a street artist. She works alone and calls herself Nature.
She doesn’t want me around but I
like to stare
into her installations. Her rainforest depictions are alluring,
as winter’s rotting wood is to the acid yellow fungal blooms.
It’s hard to feel innocent when frost’s teeth
leave bite marks on my white eyeballs
and Nature holds a grimace on her face.

—Linda Albertson

 

Epilogue

Like lemmings, the human race races
before it is too late
I tell you this to break your heart
I have been the stars
That was a gentler time
A backdrop of a thousand greens
my feet want a path
waistcoats striped with lightning
sending a message
The silence will be pierced by a solitary call
I jump, startled
But how the birds loved that tree
I know a street artist.  She works alone
She sheds her leafy tears of many colours
Grey, oh grey, and so elegant
comfortable in its own fur
while in our sleep we learned the song the world sings.

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