Days of the dead

                            After every war
                            someone has to clean up.
                            Things won’t
                            straighten themselves up, after all.

                            Someone has to push the rubble
                            to the side of the road,
                            so the corpse-filled wagons
                            can pass.

                            Someone has to get mired
                            in scum and ashes,
                            sofa springs,
                            splintered glass,
                            and bloody rags.

                            Someone has to drag in a girder
                            to prop up a wall.
                            Someone has to glaze a window,
                            rehang a door.

                            Photogenic it’s not,
                            and takes years.
                            All the cameras have left
                            for another war.
                                                            Wislawa Szymborska, ‘The End and the Beginning’ 

Grief and dread as fighting escalates in the northern hemisphere; old patterns emerge and the oppressed, eaten up by rage and sorrow, walk the paths of their oppressors. Protests and counterprotests erupt all over the world. Everything feels heavy – even my hands as I write. To be in this awareness is like depression – it becomes difficult to imagine that change can come. And it's eclipse season again – first the dark moon covers the sun, then earth’s shadow covers the full moon – lights of our nights and days devoured and voided. Here anxiety builds and is built, winding tighter. Hatred and division are generated in the leadup to the referendum on an Indigenous voice to parliament as we too learn to ‘flood the zone with shit.’ Fires break out and the worst of the heat is still to come.

With lengthening days, all the business of the season goes on. Bees are so loud in the flowering spikes of echium that I keep looking around for a swarm though it’s still too soon – perhaps. Bright sun alternates with squalls that unfurl from elaborate, curling cloud-script written all over the Southern Ocean. Through hailshowers, blackbirds sing, though their nest outside the window is raided, abandoned – quoll, rat, snake? I didn’t hear any commotion, day or night – would I sleep through it? 

The pardalotes don’t call so much now – they’re probably sitting on eggs. I’ve found out that, at breeding time, these birds get around in little flocks of up to six (last year’s young?) who help with feeding the nestlings. There are four adults in this group – at first we thought there was a second pair and, because they weren’t being chased away, we put up another nest box for them. But all four yelled threats into its entrance in case it held newcomers, so we’ve taken it down.

Light comes earlier and stays longer each day. At dawn, shadows of leaves and buds make lacework on the wall. Hawthorn flowers in the hedges, pungent zieria and yellow pomaderris in the forest understorey. Sweet chestnut and hazel and linden leaves appear at last, and the red chestnut comes into bloom. Raspberries and blackcurrants and blueberries and strawberries are flowering. Plums and cherries already have pea-sized fruit and the apricots are nearly full-sized, though a long way from ripe. All this, while a hemisphere away, cities and their surrounding gardens and groves are razed.

And – in response to the near-distant sorrow? – B dreams that three golden ducks fly straight to her where she sits. They land and climb onto her shoulders to rub against her face and neck; she feels the warmth of their bodies under the cool satin of feathers as they twine back and forth around her like cats. From the heartmind, consolation, a promise that life seeks us out; from its mysterious source, it can return to heal the bombed-out spaces.

No state is steady. Though the aftermath remains, every war does come to an end when, eventually, we’re too exhausted to put conditions on peace. Then, even for those whose lives have been devastated, the sense of being ground down, consumed, begins to lift (over decades? generations?) and the desire to go on and flourish emerges. Life puts out is tendrils, sends up its shoots when the smoke clears.


                            We’ll need the bridges back,
                            and new railway stations.
                            Sleeves will go ragged
                            from rolling them up.

                            Someone, broom in hand,
                            still recalls the way it was.
                            Someone else listens
                            and nods with unsevered head.
                            But already there are those nearby
                            starting to mill about
                            who will find it dull.

                            From out of the bushes
                            sometimes someone still unearths
                            rusted-out arguments
                            and carries them to the garbage pile.

                            Those who knew
                            what was going on here
                            must make way for
                            those who know little.
                            And less than little.
                            And finally as little as nothing.

                            In the grass that has overgrown
                            causes and effects,
                            someone must be stretched out
                            blade of grass in his mouth
                            gazing at the clouds.
                                                            Wislawa Szymborska, ‘The End and the Beginning’ 

But in such a time as this with so many buried in ruins of their houses and apartment blocks, in the ruins of hospitals, how can we call on benevolent ancestors now that the Days of the Dead are here? Let the ones stretched out in the grass that has overgrown causes and effects nevertheless remember and pray for all those who have died on every side in every war. Unless we learn to have mercy on bodies and souls, the veil between the worlds thins on angry ghosts, hungry ghosts that hunt us down the years.

A low-pressure system forms in the Bight and spirals south around the island, bringing easterly rain that rolls in, soft, weighing down the new grass, showering from overhanging leaves with every breath, every flick of a bird’s wing. In the middle of the night, a band of storms passes through, and I’m woken by flashes of lightning, red through my closed eyelids, ever closer and almost continuous. Not rockets. Thunder shakes the window frames. There is no direct hit nearby. In the morning, everything is washed and steaming, though the mountains are white and more snow falls there in the freezing wind.

In the vegetable garden the last cauliflowers and cabbages and kale from winter plantings lift their great silver-green leaves, heraldic as fleur-de-lis, jewelled with droplets. We pick the first peas and broad beans and T settles tomato and capsicum and eggplant seedlings into mulched beds in the polytunnel. Asparagus shoots push up. By the front door of the house, lily of the valley and irises and solomon’s seal come into flower and the first flush of roses begins. All of it can be smashed and burned, and all of it is eternal. Slowly we waken into the heart of things.


Michael Lewis. Quote from Steve Bannon on ‘flooding the zone with shit’ in 
        ‘Has Anyone Seen the President?’ Bloomberg, 9 Feb 2018.

Wislawa Szymborska. ‘The End and the Beginning.’ Miracle Fair: Selected Poems.
        Trans. Joanna Trzeciak. WW Norton, 2001.



Popular posts from this blog