This piece is about 7 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Jaya Savige and Jacket magazine 2007.
Gnats phit like nanojets.
at sunset, stonefish gather
in the stagnant lagoon.
Koels lurk in the locus amoenus.
Ferns point at odd angles.
I must leave this place.
Needles carpet the grey sand,
the branchlets and spiky wooden fruit
of the Coastal She-oak –
it is like treading on poems.
Dawn parade of warrigals,
a mother and her cub
up and down the streets
of our sleepy suburb.
They have been awake
since the island gave birth
to the sun, would be
wandering here even if
there were no streets,
and will hopefully return
to a bower in the scrub
where we do not matter.
The lightning is someone at the door,
or the ghost gum around the corner.
The birds have ceased.
Before rain commences,
the wind climbs into a statue over the sea.
Dusk’s walls close in
but even the bluest dune
cannot take me where I have to go.
Last night I asked for you
among the constellations.
Something blinked through
the lenses of my cold binoculars.
Prompted by the cursor in the sky
I typed your name into the shore,
but did not know the postcode
of the ocean. Instead I dug for pippies
that pop up at the moon’s party,
where I stayed until dawn,
escorted by ghost crabs
patrolling the soft glass beach.
The last of the sun cleaves the haze over Toowong,
setting off the North Quay Hotel’s apricot exterior.
Tonight we gather, two hundred thousand strong,
on the banks of our river, from New Farm Peninsula
to the Southbank Promenade, the Eagle Street Pier
to the balconies of Kangaroo Point apartments,
to witness pyrotechnics shriek across our Jacaranda sky,
bright chemical posies bursting high above
the river into bloom, gigantic gold chrysanthemums,
dazzling silver dahlias, a brief garden of light
luscious against the evening’s cosmic loam.
Scattered across the darkening river below
an armada of leisurecraft anticipates the spectacle,
jetskis, dinghies, chartered catamarans, yachts,
as packs of expectant pedestrians cross by the floodlit
Edwardian sandstone of the Treasury Casino.
Tonight the city is alive! We take part in its thumping
pulse, its furor, simply by crossing at an intersection.
With each emphatic report the faces on the promenade
swim into light, our entire mob is illuminated,
camera phones aloft and desperate for a spectacle,
the riverside lit up like a Chaucerian manuscript:
hats, singlets and thongs, kids in Adidas,
Billabong or Bonds, racing through the crowd as
if part of its kinetic expression; blokes in football jerseys
sporting faux-hawks, courting girls in spring dresses,
chuffed with the significance the evening possesses;
frocked-up Goths, cats with tats, librets and ’fros;
some in surf shorts, others in skate shoes,
most in loose cotton shirts. As our river
smoulders, children are hoisted high on shoulders,
and spry grandmothers compose text messages.
I imagine the view from the Channel Seven helicopter,
the soft waterfalls of fire cascading off the bridges
looking as though the river has slit its brightening wrists –
while far below technicians hover, monitoring the barges,
and we like cockroaches, recovered by each torch
retreating into the dark alcove of evening.
For the grande finale, the sublime act of an F-111
lacerating the night sky with monstrous celerity.
At Mach 2 the air can’t make way quickly enough
and the ensuing sonic boom sounds like an explosion.
Those on the so-called ‘boom carpet’ below
cop the brunt of every single decibel,
a wallop across the scone from a sonic Mont Blanc –
an audible experience beyond frisson, incomprehensible,
and the whole world wobbles. Overwhelmed tots
teeter in the gutter, others lunge for mums,
as lovers comfort one another unconvincingly.
A family of possums trembles beneath a table
deep in the Botanical Gardens; ferns cringe,
fruit-bats flinch, and the bougainvillea clings
with ardour to the pillars of the award-winning
Energex Arbour. Even the river’s waters wince
from this deafening paragon of efficiency,
awe enough to shock our river city.
On summer days, when Brisbane needs to let off steam,
the sky swells in the west with stygian indignation,
and thick bellicose clouds muster above Toowoomba.
When the storm hits we forgive its freak initial peal,
its first true release, because the first stock-whip crack
of even the most remorseless thunderstorm
seems always in proportion to the heat. Then, one might
see a German Shepherd start, and cower beneath a bench;
lightning wreaks havoc along the coast, splitting eucalypts;
abandoned prams become tangled in the melaleucas.
Imagine, then, one of Brisbane’s bruising storms, rolled
into a single, preposterous instant of pure bombast...
So the jet subdivides our subtropical sky,
a hot supersonic knife, a scintillating Valkyr
eating the air before it with a terrifying appetite,
then dumps its flammable payload and flicks ignition.
Its infernal tail illuminates the buildings of the CBD –
Hitachi, Chifley, the State Law Building with its mock-
Gotham top, the Mercure, the Suncorp Clock –
and for this brief moment the monoliths appear
as moonlit mangroves snorkeling back to air.
The fireworks continue, fantastic, coruscating asterisks –
but somehow war is closer now, and each report sounds
more and more like ordinance, even to the untrained ear.
Now, I see a terrified toddler grip his father’s beard,
and cannot help but think of their counterparts in Baghdad.
And this might be the thing I take from here.
Coupled with the simple thrill of military muscle
tonight I get a glimpse into the mighty game,
a game that’s played beyond the speed of sound, and bears
little poetry; a crack I’m whisked off through, to a scene
I recognize from tv; but brought closer by this
to true military brutality – loud, glowering, resplendent –
than by any episode of Foreign Correspondent.
Earlier this afternoon the six ace pilots of the perilous
Roulettes finessed their bold red jets in close formation,
taking it in turns to tumble about the skyline
and perform capacious loops low above the parklands.
But the boom of the blistering long-range bomber
erases their discretion from my memory...
The first year I saw an afterburner, I was strolling
through ANZAC Square, oblivious of the festivities,
and thought our sleepy city had been woken by a raid.
I suppose it’s unsurprising that our frolic of noise
and light seems a dead ringer for hectic combat.
I wonder now if there are any others
who’ve made the same mistake, and misconstrued
our carnival for a tactical strike. Like scuffling
siblings whose parents cannot tell if they’re fighting
or just fooling around – are we so fickle?
On my way finally to the North Quay Hotel
I come across the John Oxley memorial.
If Oxley could see this city tonight! I envisage him
dozing under the shade of the Moreton Bay Fig
beside the white gazebo atop Highgate Hill;
then waking to gaze from that modest vantage – at palms,
at mango trees and the plateau-like Poinciana,
at the six-storey Hoop Pines in the old backyard,
and from there to the countless new apartment blocks
shooting up all over West End, like junkies, high
on the golden goose of real estate –
surveying the inner city, from the Milton brewery
to the red-brick church on Red Hill, eastwards to Hamilton,
where industry moved after the major floods...
But Oxley! To truly get the gist you have to get into
the thick of it! Come! Know the sweat that drips from
a mum pushing a pram across the Victoria Bridge...
Oxley, sunbathing by the faux beach at South Bank!
Oxley, tending a BBQ by the Nepalese Pagoda, swigging a can
of New and contemplating the Kathmandu original!
Oxley smacked-out beneath Stefan’s phallic skyneedle!
Oxley casually rollerblading on the promenade!
Oxley climbing the Kangaroo Point Cliffs with his fiancée!
Chain-smoking Oxley on a marathon craps roll at the Treasury!
Oxley’s parked-in Hilux at the Imax carpark!
Oxley pissing up with the board on the Kookaburra Queen!
Oxley fornicating beneath a Moreton Bay Fig!
Oxley watching all this through a telescope at Mt. Coot-tha!
Oxley writing to Governor Brisbane after locating the river
to the effect that it would be of immense benefit
to the colony if they were to establish a settlement on its banks.
The rest, I guess, is history – since the ’74 floods,
what a recovery! The ’82 games, the ’88 World Expo,
and now, South Bank, in all its urban-planning glory.
Wandering home that night, heavy with reconnaissance,
I cut through Musgrave Park, and dwell upon an anecdote
from Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland
(taken down ad verbatim by his dutiful daughter, Constance)
about an indigenous woman and her son,
and their unique interpretation of a shooting star –
and compose this sonnet while I walk:
It fell through the night a brief moment
carving a slight arc with its bright tail.
She let forth a low, prolonged lament,
from the recesses of her soul.
Her distressed son, head nursed in her lap,
knew then his wound was fatal.
His mind was already taking
its first steps on the long journey.
Upon fleeing the scene the culprit had
unscrupulously dropped his fire-stick.
Both mother and son beheld the divination.
So unmistakable was the omen
the others joined instinctively in her lament.
Loudest were the older women.
(This poem was first published in The Australian Literary Review Issue 1 Volume 1, in August 2006 )
Jaya Savige’s recent collection of poems, Latecomers (UQP 2005) was the winner of the 2006 Kenneth Slessor Prize (NSW Premier’s Prize for Poetry) and the Thomas Shapcott Prize, was shortlisted for the Judith Wright Calanthe Award and the Judith Wright Poetry Award, and highly commended for the Mary Gilmore Prize. He received a university medal, and holds a Master of Philosophy from the University of Queensland, Brisbane. He is the poetry consultant to the Australian Literary Review, and a 2007 writer-in-residence at the B.R.Whiting Library, Rome.
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