The Straight Road Inland
1. LIGHTNING RECEPTIVE IN THE WET SEASON
i. A Crocodile’s Daydream
ii. Entry Into Thoughts of Freshwater Crocodile Via Two Rivers
iii. Signs of Motherhood In Human and Crocodile
iv. To Touch A Baby Water Buffalo
v. Egg Theft At Crocydylus in Darwin
vi. A Crocodile Appears At East Point
3. COASTAL CASUARINA RAIN IN THE SECOND SUMMER
4. TROPICAL GARDEN IN CONVERSATION
5. SECRET BIRD COUNTRY, WOOMERA ROCKET RANGE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
6. EDITH FALLS; EVERY DAY THIS EARLY MORNING LIGHT
LIGHTNING RECEPTIVE IN THE WET SEASON
The smooth pale hand of lightning shuddered through the clouds. Was it trying to give me some signal from itself or merely pleading;
I am lightning, oh god,
I am the shuddering trembling sheets of lightning: ‘It’s okay to be what you are,’ I said.
The electrical current came jolting through the brain of the sky, the sheet white light darkening the green open hand of sand palm, lighting its blackness up;
[ a giddy spider / dazed ].
Such lightning all the way from the Equatorial hot belt of the planet couldn’t help but be itself.
Throughout the day it had backed-up sweltering above the mangroves, stickying the atmosphere from here to the Annaburroo Billabong, where the pale lotus lilies rolled around their droplets.
The sky shuddered the way my heart did, when I saw you looking at me.
At first my eyes were serious with hard acting, but too quickly fell into romantic love’s sugary depth.
[This would never happen out along a beach in a landscape].
I was here to relearn love’s first lesson. You asked, ‘that look you just gave me, do you really mean it?’
I guess I did in spite of myself, although you didn’t deserve it,
but what the heck.
I’m making no apologies for my ability at tenderness, or even the absence of it,
or even the disappointing lack of rain, or the fact that lust joins hands with death and including but not ending with,
the dreadful almost maddening weakness of the shuddering lightning.
All night it tries to tuck us in but perpetually withdraws the sheet.
I turned to him, ‘you can love me if you want to, it’s really up to you.’ My thoughts turned rocky like the beach.
I was heading out of the Darwin harbour,
a lapwing intent upon its dreaming.
In the end he didn’t love anything,
…and I flew away to be with the crowd of flying foxes, common little ferals just back from Jabiluka,
gripping to palms with clean moist claws and stinking up the place with their swabbing brown eyes and bandy brown-winged legs.
A lone fox flew amongst the palms. ‘Go and find the others,’ I said.
‘If this night wont wrap its arms around you, find safety in numbers, regenerate, be fruitful.’
Christmas beetles shudder metallic gold and flee the branches.
Mosquitoes roaring upon the night, singing blood before the sun has set.
The lightning chains are connecting the hands of the big clouds.
It’s jagged string around their flat white palms and billowing knuckles.
…All the sleazy month I’ve been out in my car, cruising for the vicious chains, but it turns out to be another false alarm…
Instead flat white sheets with the flicker of an orgasm.
The old beach casuarinas and pandanus begin to shake and
sway on the edge of the dunes,
go on, go on, go on.
The black cockatoos long cries into the building thunderheads south of the equator, tell of a strange land.
The clouds spend all afternoon building up into opaline structures.
I’m flapping my arms under their breeze, the cockatoos cries have given
The sheets are lifting, parting the clouds like flickering hands.
Go on, go on, go on, bring you energy to the waiting land,
that is still now in anticipation of the big wet rain.
The monsoon is solid curtains of water, blanketing the rapid creek.
Crocodiles moving into the tide to feed are still and relaxed,
a sea snake spirals to great depths.
The whole town is torrential. Before rain the land has gone as far into the earth as it can get, into its flat dry hope, more receptive up north in the month of October. It is so needy that it aches with its lips parched dry. It has no shame in its need to be fulfilled.
Go on, go on.
Movement occurs in the big leaves with the first few drops.
The spiders slip through and enter houses for the night. The mangroves oily heads open and begin to seed along the beach where the tide comes in, thunder washes up its back. The ocean further out is jamming with light and sound. Tonight I walk my dogs in the big storm.
Frogs are shouting the wet wet, the wet wet, the wet wet. It’s opaline.
i. A Crocodile’s Daydream
The Top End is long dry/long wet – ‘the land of two summers,’
Crocodiles have seen them [both] through eyes unblinking,
they have seen the rains bringing
the spectacular lightning displays and threat of cyclones,
I have asked myself the question, why write at all? Crocodiles don’t write. In between eating and breeding they daydream in mud.
[Why not just do that?]
They may dream the place because I think the whole place is a dream.
The mud is also a dream with only the mangroves to hold it together. That’s the closest I can come to this so far. I think that by living like this, the crocodile slows down time.
Crocodiles are one of the hardest animals for me (a warm blooded mammal) to interpret. Even the Merten’s Water Monitor is easier. They swim along the banks of the rivers all through Litchfield
propelling their green black bodies through the streams by their tails.
When I was there they fought over territory and food. They did human things. I was amazed at how they read my simple signs. I need to think more about crocodiles, but doubt if I’ll ever know what they think about. Hence a some writing about assumptions:
ii. Entry Into Thoughts of Freshwater Crocodile Via Two Rivers
The rockface that hangs high in its own humidity has dislodged itself into a yellow eye, sliding into the water with a parallel splash, the great thorny cliff face snout, freshwater teeth as cut and crooked as a river’s edge, the warm brown river looks so inviting, the smooth murky water,
where we stand is solid land.
Our entry into rivers further south is at best always awkward, my white feet cut and bruised on surfacing rocks, the sticks on my ankles, the warm gooey feeling of muddy water entering the crevices between my toes, my dirty fingernails, things probably yabbies or shrimp that nibble the legs and buttocks and then depart within the flash of a cool current,
so far north,
you are almost in crocodile dreamtime;
the great food of your body has arrived, you are the submerged organism and the river remains simply to feed and surround and feed, and the uneven places beneath the water, apparently hungry, present suddenly, begging for stumbling and a clumsy lack of river knowledge.
Meanwhile I have other ideas,
I scramble and want no one to observe my entry, soon I will be safely in the rivers centre, born into this area which is Morphett Creek,
its riverline sky building walls of electricity, clapped on by thunder,
its uneven rapid cool and warm currents, its oily black gum leaves.
iii. Signs of Motherhood In Human and Crocodile
I looked into her far eyes for the signs of a mammal to draw out.
I found spider, swamp, cycad.
Within minutes it was ancient and she had departed,
without movement to that land.
Her nostrils like figs that draw and expel moisture her
yellow eye slashed by yellow water of the wet season in Kakadu.
iv. To Touch A Baby Water Buffalo
You saw a baby water buffalo, you thought
[ how close do I get without touching it? ]
without it minding to be touched. You came very close.
Its four hairy hoofs in the edge of the river, it stood face down as you approached it from behind, as if it were drinking there, cool
and wet and solitary in the shade.
Then you were so close you could touch it:
[ …I can’t believe I’m touching it… ]
then it fell down.
It had no head.
This is crocodile territory at the edge of the water.
Retreat and take nothing for granted. Baby water buffalo, my sister.
She is with [crocodile] now…
is a long way from the nest of your warm-blooded home,
the shape of your language.
Her feet and belly, she is families, and generations of cycads and geologies of granite away from your knowledge.
You almost need a telescope to probe her mystery.
Instead, we go for skin because it’s simpler, pretty.
We decorate ourselves with the agony of the infinite place, too frightened, too hopeless to explore.
And acknowledge her human qualities, her great mysterious equality.
v. Egg Theft At Crocodylus in Darwin
She came at them again, and the broom came down with a crack to her snout, and then the steal bar, and then look out
she’s coming again/ up through the water, where the other young crocodiles only cringed in the sticky density.
It sounded like a broom whacking concrete.
The men’s legs crossed and uncrossed like sweating sticks. LOOK OUT she’s threatened, nasty.
Shes just given birth, she’s young and very stressed out.
She has failed as a mother, and failed at her life as a crocodile.
All the captive crocodiles at the Crocodylus Farm Research Facility have failed to be what they were born to be. They are skin belts and wallets…
…and the glazed crocodile claw back scratchers with the nails painted red, have failed to be crocodiles too.
[What am I to do surrounded by all his crocodile failure and all those other animals who fail to remain alive by the millions? WHAT AM I TO DO in a world so full of animal failure? There is no place for me here].
If she had given birth in an estuary and then they beat her and stole her eggs, there is the stupidity. But the fact that she gave birth in a concrete pit surrounded by all the others in the farm,
is the great sobbing voice in my heart.
All the oval eggs soft on the concrete, crushed by her own claws still connected by the membrane.
She has as much hope as the cows, who try to hide their calves in the straw on dairy farms.
It was the pathetic site of this mother and her first birth…
When the men slammed shut the cage door, victorious again, she was the only croc out on the concrete.
stressed, defiant, not a thing budged
that I could recognise in her ancient
Her smile stayed as crocodile, her stare transfixed, only her breathing with hard leathery panting: her sides in and out slowed right down
until she only drew the breath of the rotten planet
into her body every so often.
There seemed nothing left here for any of us to bother breathing in. Yet sometimes the only thing left to do is breathe.
[Where will she go and where will her babies go?]
I can tell you that they are farmed like pigs and then shot in the backs of their heads. I can tell you that the tourists and the rich and the working class on holidays, have grown tired of crocodile products, jerky, claw back-scratcher and belts and now the latest purse made from stingray skin. It’s all the fashion, my gentle angel of the sea.
She was beaten [not defeated] with an iron bar, her snout jammed down on her bloody tongue, her teeth cracked down hard on the smooth concrete.
C’mon babe, that’s the way.
The manager and his assistant [well] out of the public eye.
She wanted their skinny bony hairy legs and last night’s beer in their guts. I wanted her to have that too, in exchange for her precious eggs.
My claw was reaching for the gate when the assistant’s broom was thrown down, awakening us all. I think she saw it too, [although I cannot be sure].
She with her reptilian eyes on her stolen eggs, as they were passed through in a red plastic crate lined with straw. Her smile that stayed the same like
a dinosaur a cat,
grinned like a billabong.
The long slow tide of her powerful tail, her bleeding face and nostril,
[it was her first birth]. The woman in me felt her ferocious mother instinct. I looked for a woman, she replied with a broom handle set into her expression. I’m sorry my sister, so sorry.
vi. A Crocodile Appears At East Point in Darwin
A cloud the shape of a crocodile passed beneath the full moon at East Point. Never smile at a crocodile cause he might fall in love with you.
Rebecca pointed it out [she sees things like that] and places them in our minds, our landscapes.
I cannot forget, that whatever I am doing in Darwin
that down Macmillian’s road
across from the Berrimah police station
at the Crocodylus Facility, the beautiful pearly emerald skinned crocs
are living their life in concrete pits,
with computer implants growing as fast as the moon,
their tails thrashing stagnant ponds
and potted palms, sweeping whatever they can aside, like the tide drags driftwood and destroys it.
I call upon the blankness of my mind, the numbness of my emotions
to pull all thoughts of pained reptiles away from my thoughts.
[Never smile at a crocodile because you might never stop crying].
Even the giant captive cassowary, the dumb caged mouth harking water
placid, docile cassowary,
that dreaded darkness closes inside, as dark as the daintree
invaded by their planetary blue, red comb, wooden head, claw. We drink captive at the pool, as graceful as prayer. Please, I finally ask the giant spirit bird, who is the icon of zoo wasted life, don’t take me there.
COASTAL CASUARINA IN THE SECOND SUMMER
The casuarina rain has come to the second summer
along the northern beach at Nightcliff.
The beach is exposed to the wind,
the equatorial sun and white cockatoo, who’s beak cracks the casuarina cones, ancient acrobat,
the lookout’s claws dangling on the edge of the rain cones,
the shower of needles brings in coast
the green mist
from the box jelly fish surf,
the mango seeds are rotting in the driftwood,
they couldn’t take hold on Rapid Creek,
the rain of needles mystifies the green is breeze,
they rain in the wind,
they sound out the gentle showers in the humid season,
they are rain needles when it is dry
and now the sea eagle is totem,
he comes gliding and soaring through the raining needles
of the casuarina tree, he comes, his distant ocean eyes
and wave cap head and pine cone breast, he is a bird of coasts,
of the tops of the monsoon vine forests
and their heavy pungent energies,
he is on the edge of the world
of the fruitbat before dusk,
knowing of the gould’s goanna,
gecko, dragon lizard and fish.
He is fish bird.
When I was standing beneath the light green rain of a coastal casuarina
the soaring sea eagle came,
his focused glide above the dry hanging cones and raining needles.
The needles have given the ground is cool brown carpet. The rot and warmth to the casuarina cones, warmth and growth to them.
All warmth and growth to them!
All the casuarina forests along the north beach. May they grow and shower the needles. The wind in them, the dry rain.
TROPICAL GARDEN IN CONVERSATION
The tropical garden is in conversation. I walked down my driveway and was dive-bombed by a big caramel grasshopper the size of my forearm.
My hand reached down to grab the wrought iron gate.
There was a bearded dragon lying across it. The bearded dragon lizard looked at me. I looked at the bearded dragon. Excuse me,
I’d like to shut the gate now.
Tasks take longer to complete in the tropics. [Apparently, more neighbours than down south to contend with].
I was just about to slip on my shoe
when a speckled gecko chased a fly out of it.
Then a big six legged huntsman hopped like crazy through the louvers in the loungeroom. It almost fell in my soup!
Fucken Hell, Look Out!
I dropped the phone.
The huntsman was obviously in a hurry, having lost one leg per day for the past two days to the gecko community on the front verandah.
It must be hard being a spider with eight legs, let alone six.
The geckos were merciless hunters.
The rain is slashing through the leaves, chopping them to shreds.
Those big leafy plants think that they can just grow all over the place in the humid air and sun and shade, proliferate like crazy, held together by their shallow roots,
orchids, epiphytes vines fungi
and remain here.
The wet season has her thoughts on this.
So you think you can stay in Darwin and get away with it?
The equator speaks its instability and awesome energy from the waistline of the planet.
Then when that big monsoon storm comes
the trees get dressed up in their fragile gowns of leaves.
They toss their shoulders around, wave their slender hands and dance like crazy all over the goddam garden,
more wind than plant.
I say make up your mind you crazy forest. Are you going or staying?
I’m afraid if they go then I might as well go too.
The table was blown away leaving a trembling rodent beneath
before the eyes of the cat.
That’s the most unstable sky I’ve seen all season,
in misty ribbons
spinning like firecrackers.
When the first drop hit my arm I brushed it away like an insect.
The sky is rushing along above the land and when it stops big buckets of straight down rain.
Rain like wet hair furiously combed out and the head of a thick old mop dipped in dishwater just pounding the earth.
The temperature has dropped by half.
The ground sings, fuck you this is all for me.
The plants hold onto their roots, their leafy braids. Dance like ferals at a groovy nightspot.
The green ants who bite potential intruders all day arses up and vicious are very quiet in their boxed leaves.
They could drown in a tenth of a droplet.
A black cockatoo talks to thunder.
When the thunder replied its shuts up its hard little beak.
It appears that rain like this is a very exciting thing.
A frog that seems to remain in exactly the same position in my garden since I arrived here four weeks ago, starts to scream out.
[Are you all right?] I ask.
Darwin is clinging to the coast like a saturated fruitbat.
‘Yeah, I guess so.’ A town so friendly that it replies.
The big wind positions my voice then slams it into the driveway once,
and finally throws it out to sea…
The mighty cyclones are conspiring there.
SECRET BIRD COUNTRY, WOOMERA ROCKET RANGE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
This is secret bird country, after rain.
The feathery tree by the painted rock told me of it.
The marble sky [blue succulent] grew simply bigger,
began to store moisture.
The low green trees were pretty, all spikes and feather.
They protect the leaf and flower territory,
half petals inside the spikes or grown feathery,
in the heat extreme, as if they are giving up,
like a dehydrated crow the land gaps with its beak hanging open.
Its charred black and red out there, I feel sympathy for it.
It waits for my tears as it waits to drink, to receive,
It’s still and resistant,
yet when the lightning comes, it pants with the pressure,
with the terrible thirst it had forgotten about.
Suddenly it opens its fists, uncrossed it legs,
and scatters its protective centre like seeds and no longer resists.
The sun directly overhead.
The circular shadow surrounds the plant.
The intensity is always midday. It’s midday country in mid summer.
The plant the sundial, the midday clock,
it’s so hot.
Fucking birds, bastards, I can’t see them. The mouth of the land is a gaping skull.
The borewater ground sings in the nostrils like gas, the pink red clay edged with salt.
This dust cries out silence.
It edges the salt lakes, pink and orange with scent.
Rich, it is so rich…koori words…the birds sing it, they sing it in, territories,
glad small birds in the distance, south australia zebra finches
…tee tee tee tee… the rain, the obviously friendly galah, pink in the gums, the rain is luke warm,
these plants, these birds may have never had the cold touch them,
the cold is a theory like the fifth dimension,
…tee tee tee tee…
The glad small birds in the distance, through the dead wood and the pretty green scrub, the blues and greys, lightening marble – aqua blue and succulent, on the moist red dirt,
this quiet arid land has received rain, the birds are squawking territories, galahs in the higher trees,
the birds are deep mauve
more distance is required from the listener, here a repetitive call, there a low-flyer, camouflaged,
The red dirt has tricked us all, it is after rain,
…after light rain the Dresley Creek has flooded its banks and its receding with swallows dipping into it, the rain has ran its rich course and smells like roots, enter my breathing passages like pollen, the ants are back, slowly and more relaxed, the moisture trap, the land swelters guards its moisture and utilises it, the streams run away to the west leads
into the terrible waste,
into the land too harsh to receive,
in the sudden downpour the water is wasted, the secret birds cannot be seen, the trees are whistling, as the land would have sizzled and whistled at its first drops,
first gigantic drops,
and low down like a dogs belly, along the floorboards,
a hot tail at the Glendambo roadhouse, followed by lightning,
a quick light flash like a twig of electricity,
the thunder is upon the caravan roof, hot lighting reaching out,
the hot dry wind blows in the ions,
and land ‘out there’ from eastern outback South Australia,
along the sheep’s back and the back of the fox,
the thunder is upon the caravan roof, the fox burrow,
And the wing of that pretty desert parrot,…which we cannot name.
jitters the feathers of mulga trees,
makes them tremble and shriek for rain,
shakes through the spikes, passes the dead grey wood,
blankets the bird call for seconds,
the wind has picked up,
has plucked that birdcall from the air and taken it elsewhere,
Chestnut – Rumped Thornbill – [look up its colour in Simpson and Day].
Then another bird, quiet trumpet, trilling.
The land is talking upwards through their breasts and beaks, their tiny eyes all the long day, the road trains pass,
Tourism: the nearly deads the newly weds, my eh holden, pass by the quiet country after rain
and its secret birds,
will never come by this way again,
say goodbye to the shifting dune, the name of ant you never knew, the sting of the scorpion never felt, and the land that sings upwards, shrubby and deep after rain, deep with repetition and bird-song,
four notes: ta ta ta ta….ta ta ta ta…ta ta ta ta….weemmmm, trill.
the breeze grows warm, the salt lakes further south west have sent it here, warm breeze with the moist baked clay in its language, the breeze is the language of baked clay,
of kangaroo carcass entering the car windows and entering the cabin to hang around in there,
the contours of the bright hot shrubs, dotted by trees broken up by dull sky, many rocks stained clay red, the place goes about its quiet foraging,
peace and business by the road, the cars come and go, leave the secret bird country to its cycle, its quiet tirelessness,
the secret bird societies, or are they trees,
shrieking and trilling at the rainy weather from the north,
from the cyclone country, or
are they trees speaking, speaking birds, speaking holy,
birds simply growing from the ground up, their tiny rooted legs, hoy hoy hoy hoy hoy hoy…the direction, the green parrot flying north points that way, my life is alive, it takes that route north and northwest,
that’s what that koori guy from Port Augusta called the Stuart highway he said, ‘sister, that magic carpet will take your car all the way to Darwin, good luck’, his name was Keith:
it points that way,
towards the straight road, the cyclone country, nudging the red ochre coast of Arnhemland,
‘that one girl has come here to touch the land,’ the birds said,
down at the caravan park Keith told us, ‘take the rocks from burnt creek and they will lose vibrance’, will shine less brightly,
do they depend on the surrounding energy?, and why is the clay deep, so deep and red at sunset, in sunset country?,
Dresley Creek: shone from light rain, here the zebra finches: 3 pairs checked us out from a tree, the small birds cranky and distressed, chasing off crows, bright and black and striped in the branches, eyeing off the dry creek turned into rain receptive focus and rivulets,
EDITH FALLS; EVERY DAY THIS EARLY MORNING LIGHT
the 6.30pm light climbs up through the red granite from the back hills and touches down into the sandy river beds
Every day the helmeted Friarbird,
pokes her prehistoric head through the pungent scarlet gum and the flowering rock grevillea is tasting the light like a lizard.
This is the early morning light settling down on the back of a baby dragon lizard,
this is the trees wake-up light,
the new time of scant woodland that clings to the edges of the cold sandstone gullies, these roots searching the air for soil,
this is the light that the roots of the native fig never come by,
their mornings in the dark Cutta Cutta, where ghost and bent-winged bats shoot up from sub terrain spa caves to the entrance each night at 35 miles per hour,
this is the cave Cutta Cutta,
where a man went own to test his manhood with the serpent asleep in all her rainbows wrapped around her on dry cave floor,
this is the light he saw there,
he saw calcite like stars like the cave had its own lustre, there was a universe of pythons and bats,
Cutta Cutta out on the limestone country where the ocean has back tracked,
we follow the roots to the new cave roof that is being formed,
to the wake-up light of the sandstone buffs,
this is the light
of the honeyeaters dipping down into nectar with their needle beaks, the nectar of the scarlet gum, orange and yellow flowers,
this light has covered the stone and coloured it,
it has captivated and activated lizards and birds and
has sang the long necked turtled and catfish to sleep,
this light will only pass through the valley once, in all eternity,
it will never be the same light tomorrow or a second from now,
the valley changes before the lizard has blinked on the rock,
you cannot hope to capture much of it,
you are the only small animal on this section of rock who thinks of all the light you have never experienced in this place, before you can understand,
the flash floods
of the wet season
surging and scouring
through the gorge,
here the uncurling of pandanus and turkey bush in bloom,
here the restless rubbery eggs of long necked turtle,
the skeleton of the friarbird diminishing at the base of the tree.