Author's Note These two poems are on fire in Australia. The subject of the first, “Australian Inferno”, is the fire of this summer, which has already burned about 80,000 square kilometres, killed 500 million creatures and, with no major rain predicted, shows no sign of abating. The second, “The Gathering Host”, was published last year in The Blue Nib and Verse-Virtual. Only one year later, it seems strangely, tragically, prescient.
The familiar blue sky has disappeared. Through smoke haze the sun rises and sets flouro pink. The drought ridden, heat saturated, continent blazes. The temperature rises to 48C. We venture into its sledgehammer blow to fill up the sandstone birdbaths. Hundreds of birds congregate around the precious water. There is no profligate splashing. The friar birds dip their slender, curved beaks, rise to swallow, then dip again. From the gleditsia’s pendant branches hundreds of rainbow lorikeets drop to the precious water in iridescent flutter. I think of those estimates of 500 million animals lost. I see again the woman rushing through a firey landscape, ripping off her shirt and wrapping it around a burnt koala. Someone posts a video of hundreds of kangaroos going hard up a smoke-filled hill. There are challenging images of horses and cattle lying prone in burnt out paddocks, behind them a backdrop of blackened trees. The trees grow thickly and are burning. A fire truck moves along a fire trail. Someone says, Better get that fire blanket up, mate but as they fumble the trees erupt, an ember storm envelops them and flames leap thirty metres above the trees and rush at the road. Keep going, Bob, the same voice says, his voice filled with tension and encouragement. The word comes to the little coastal holiday towns. It’s too late to pack up and go. There is only one road in and they are hemmed in by spotted gum forest. In surreal night-in-day light, holidayers and locals huddle together on the beach. Fire rages to the dunes, leaping and roaring, crowning high above the tree tops. Even the grasses on the low dunes burn. There is an audible gasp as a house explodes. A helicopter dumps a load of water on it but there is no diminishment of flame. Flames are everywhere. It seems as if these scenes have been filmed through a deep red filter. At midday it is as dark as night, blackness surreally saturated in red. The wind is howling and the sea surges and swells. A man, a tough guy used to hardship, flees with his family in his boat. He wears goggles and a mask. His voice is usually the flat intonation of one used to hiding his feelings. Now it bristles with unadorned emotion. The fire front’s just come through. Faarrk. I hope everyone’s just farking…Faarrk…Fark the houses man. Get into the water. It’s farking chaos. Watching those scenes of apocalypse, I can’t not think of the post inferno chaos and what will we leave for future generations. Seven billion humans inhabit and share with other life this finite blue planet. Is it possible to find a way to live on it and with it, or will humans, following visionless leaders, continue to grope a blind, indulgent way, squabbling, scapegoating and consuming until nothing is left but warring remnants locked in ferocious conflict over the charred remains.
The Gathering Host
Australia’s jewel is burning. All along the rugged, mountainous south-west coast of the island state of Tasmania, rain-forests, once a tangle of towering trees and vine, stand dry and vulnerable. The host has ceased its gathering. Now it attacks with a roar. It overpowers the King Billy pines. It plunders alpine garden and rainforest. It gathers to scale the Walls of Jerusalem. Its front line stretches for 1600 kilometres. What stops it turning towards the populated east, raging through farmland and city, burning down to the water before jumping channels to conquer the islands, the sapphire splints off the mainland gem? Only the wind which refuses to blow. But still, it smoulders in the deep gorges and blazes through button grass and rainforest. Northwards, over the vast continent, the land bakes under 40 C heat. The Darling River runs dry. Where only algae blooms in oxygen-deprived ponds, a million fish lie belly up and stinking. Starving roos die of thirst. Koalas leave the trees in search of moisture. The land pants and cracks and subsides. The fear of summer spreads as heat wave follows heatwave, blanketing the inland, surging over the Great Dividing Range, oppressing the white sand beaches and the curling blue waves. Still fools wave lumps of coal in Parliament. Still powerful politicians live in denial. Still the hollow men stuff their headpiece filled with straw into their dry cellar. And I ask this. Is this the way the world ends? Is this the way the world ends? Is this the way the world ends? Not with a bang. Nor with a whimper. But with a mighty conflagration?
©2020 Neil Creighton
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