Kate Noakes: Four Poems
COLLECTED IN 1968
Here’s brown wood, hard wood, curved –
her boomerang carved with strange
cross-hatchings and marsupials in chalk;
a weight in her hands with the power
to carry her back. Magic. She thinks
of the aborigine boy who made it
squatting under a ghost gum still,
his hands tough from wood, from work.
She’s moved across the planet, but not
back to source, afraid of rebounding,
turning time, asking her little girl self
what she might do, or be, or say.
All she has to do is let the boomerang
take her back decades to the red land,
scent of eucalypts and, in the right season,
mimosa. Her feet in the back yard grass,
she’s watching bees work the clover.
Dew wet, she walks the path. In minutes
it’s dry. Curious. She’s lost her way. There’s no
turning now. There’s only onwards
across a re-found land, vast with possibilities,
almost too many to be provisioned.
Only she will see an emu jogging beside her,
that mob of kangaroos – a streak of iron
crossing the road ahead, or out of nowhere
a flight of galahs, in these precise moments.
She wants the kind of sun that draws tar
from telegraph poles, closes heavy curtains
and prises windows open; the heat
that makes sense of mother’s beauty rest.
Her mat rolled out on the classroom floor,
she wants nap-time in the semi-dark.
Drifting. Knowing all the while the sun
is roasting the rust on the train carriage
in the playground and it’s not her class’s day
to voyage on its cracked leather – disused red
stinking of oil and the dust accumulated
from a desert the size of a continent.
Feral camels sway in aimless caravans
of never-never Nullabor, passed emptiness
and stands of dried spinefex,
where there’s no decent shade for sleep.
A compass pointing to the way things are
and a pile of salt, the lick of it from her skin
in the dry heat of the car as it journeys
to the hinterland. Tarmac mirage. Red towels
around nakedness, soaked and dried
in twenty minutes or is it ten? No aircon
this decade, and what exactly is the point
of a salt-pan? Dehydration and whiteness
covering the land. For experiment only,
she tastes it and drinks the canteen dry.
And it’s still too much to speak. She’s tipped
Smarties onto the polished back seat of the car.
Colour-coded in lines, they’re melting, red first.
The drive-in is not always black and white
or a film, but a metal slide so hot
it can flay skin, even at dusk under the shadow
of the giant screen and through her nightie.
Tired play. The grown up hours are all talk,
after which you have to unhook
the speaker from the half-closed window
and not pull away with all those words.
SONG OF THE HIGH PLACES
My friend sings of sugar pines
thousand year honey crystallized
on cones and the method
for toffee apples.
She chants of pitch pines
and centuries of sweetness
filling old places and new, brown
markers for the scent of tar.
She choruses lodge-poles
for their split-ease and clarity
acres left to dovetail and cabin
the decades to come.
She hums of bristle cones
their staying power and strength
as wonders for the next millennium
and the next, and on.
She calls rivers past bishop’s pines
bends light through piñions
whitens air dumb
and conducts it all.
Come, she says, sing with me
you know the tune, remember
the harmony of needle
resin and new September rain.
IT IS THE SCENE OF THE NIGHT SWEATS
The neap tide pulls at Santa Cruz’s soft cliffs.
Slips of yellow clay slide.
Gathering mussels at the autumn equinox
might be forage too far.
‘Count the waves’,
a man yells to his long-armed son.
In no time their blue nets are almost too full
to haul home today’s special.
Staffa’s cliffs are hexagonal columns,
solid against the black tide swelling
to a dead end in the cave.
I hold my daughter’s hand tight as we step
over the go-no-further chain and brave
the wet basalt in search of the mythical spider.
A boom of sea snaps my brain.
What was I trying to do?
THE CURATORS’ LUNCHTIME GAME
Today we’re in the old galleries,
their patrons’ names picked out in gold
– lord this, sir that.
They show badly-lit dioramas
of native life – dusty sand-digging people
in shocking wigs.
We’ve agonised over these
but kept them to explain colonial
and other ’isms, geno and other ‘cides.
In the next room, the troublesome
collections of too much nature,
the once glittering males
butterflies and bugs
complete with our joke
– a toy Volkswagen pinned besides
a horned stag beetle, fierce black
and faded. As for the birds
stuffed into cases
we all have our favourite men
in this paradise of other-worldly feathers.
One question is what to preserve.
Let’s play a game of museum fire
– rescue one thing, what’ll it be?
I’ll pick a white parrot from its twig,
for a cockatoo’s sulphur crest
will add colour to the blank space.