2 poems by Julie Manning

MAPLINES

From our town on the Divide 

we made a yearly pilgrimage to coast

an open car with no mapline 

for plateau tumbling into scarp

a forked drive in biting air, though forest 

trailing scarves of mistletoe

crowded saplings culled of light 

seeds crows took as evidence of life.

We climbed the lookout lost in fog. 

I held other backs in case the track gave way 

beneath snaking cuneiform

the distance between mountains learned  

by birdcall ricochet. Locals knew 

inhabitants – ferns and riflebirds, 

black wallabies masked with shadow 

revealed by telephoto. 

My nightmares-house invented cloud,

dry lesions, thirsty storms – 

a mostly dead creek ringed with cairns 

for bearded dragon bones. 

Even silhouettes of tree ferns 

are scaled in blood-moon hue.   

The midday sun turns neon pink 

on catastrophic days. 

I’m ordering a water tank in shades of eucalyptus, 

seven thousand litre prayers instead of rain.   

MUSHROOMING WITH MY FATHER

With sunrise in our hair, still

in pyjamas, our coats catching 

as we slip-stepped through

serrations of fence into gully erosion, 

we carried zinc buckets 

and followed our father

into thistles and over

machinery parts, mystified

by the directions he rasped

around his cigarette.  

It took a long time for dark 

to ease into light, as I walked, 

always last, my sister ahead

in a halo of blonde, my father 

raising a hand, saying ‘mushrooms’.

I’d stay back and watch them 

race up a hill, their bodies

a kind of cuneiform on the terrain,

then kneeling in grass, the way

a wild animal is soothed

with measured, slow movement,

I’d slice the margin between cap

and stalk, flipping them easily 

with inherited skill.

When our buckets were full

we’d return to the car, leaving

talk for later, concentrating

on shadows that still clung 

around knee-deep furrows and 

culverts in creek beds

we’d invented as waterholes.

Driving home, I’d repeat names

to myself of familiar signposts – 

Bundarra, Castledoyle, Kentucky –

setting my own compass needle

for home, where the trophies 

were fried to a buttery sludge, 

each betraying the scent of earth 

and cow-trampled grass as they fell 

from saucepan to plate. 

About the contributor

Julie Manning is a poet, visual artist and lawyer. She was shortlisted in the Peter Porter Poetry Prize (2020) and longlisted in the VC International Poetry Prize (2019). Her poetry is published in Australian Book Review, Cordite and Overland Journal, and she is working on her first book of poetry. 

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