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Grass Notes

ISSUE:  Summer 2011

1. Presentiment:

did it come in the bark of a dog
in the eucalypt air,

the marsupial faces tilted, listening,
or the ghostly skin and the foreign hair,

the savage laugh and the whisky breath,
a surveyor’s peg in the hunting ground,

in the ring of iron on stringy-bark,
weeping grass signalling the sound?

Or did its shadow advance like a breeze
in sailcloth, a speck on the broad Southern Ocean

observed from afar through a squint of unease
a hand shading the eye’s apprehension?

2. Notes on a Watercolour

(Miss Cleburne’s View on the River Derwent, ca. 1870)

Perhaps she wore a crinoline and bonnet—
the landscape mostly as it is today,
late light striking the rocky shore
in much the same way.
You can see that she was fond of what she saw,
the way a she-oak’s grey will break apart
to gold and purple; brown rocks
cluttering the foreground.
She made no concession
to nostalgia’s green longing—
her native grass is bleached of colour,
bush and distant ranges’ varying mauves
mark out shade’s intensity; she understood
a landscape reticent about its beauty
and painted what her eye saw.
Of the scene beyond the parchment
we can only wonder what her scrupulous eye
saw or did not own to seeing—the gentle slope
at her back rising to empty kangaroo and emu ground,
the mother-of pearl middens at her feet
eroding, compacting to lime.

3. Cemetery

How do they sleep—the ghosts
in their wrought iron cots
beneath wild grass and pious inscriptions?

high-collared gentlemen
in Sunday-best,
jaws clamped on history and dirt,

their chalk arms crossed through the dark tatters
of close-cut woollen tailcoats
and a resolute century;

the hooves of their horses echoing still
to a hankering hunger
for property, property, property;

and the wives in the rags of their funeral bonnets
cosseted in pantaloon and heavy petticoat—
all of them listening, beyond the post-and-rail

enclosure of the graveyard, to the lamentations
in the soughing she-oaks, the sorrows
in the gentle waters of the channel.

4. Man-Trap, 2008

The locked shed, like a family album
is a storehouse of memorabilia.
In its sea chests and barrel trunks
the folded intimacy of cambric
underwear and cross-hatched copperplate;
buckskin breeches, cameo, Kashmir
and shoe buckle. There is a top-hat,
a lady’s reticule, a brood
of tarnished coppers and a complete fit
for the boiling, whitening, mangling
and pressing of cloth.
Hooked on the wall, among
a miscellany of rural curios
for fencing, felling and tilling,
like an oversize rabbit snare,
a mantrap, mounted on an iron cross,
its cruel teeth clamped
to hairsbreadth precision.
On the cleared plain of rye grass,
a windowless shed,
padlocked, barrel-bolted.

5. Nest

In this silvereye nest
scarcely bigger than a hen’s egg,
the landscape is synthesized.
Moss lines its bowl,
green as the slopes
on which Friesians loll
like jig-saw pieces;
there is pale human hair
and some strands
of dark horsetail,
sheep’s wool
plucked from barbed wire
woven among rye
and barley grass, strands
of carded turquoise,
    and blue marine,
stolen from a washing line—
a colonial history
cupped in the substance
of this little vessel.
And in its structure,
its deft warp and weft
and basketry of wallaby grass—
the domestic architecture
shouldered by the women
to whom this pasture
once was home.


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