DOWN IN the saltmarsh along the lake’s shore,
A single egret leans among grasses – who are
What persistence looks like, a weary brown uproar,
A long time coming – and she is a furled flag
Of surrender, as if she’s given up reluctantly
On giving in. From well before I woke in the mouth
Of dawn beside you, the butcherbird’s unrelenting call
To arms – or perhaps it’s to prayer, it’s hard to say –
Has been flaying the peace of morning more peaceful yet
With phrases full of violent intent. Three swans, scored
On the water like three black notes in the composer’s
Finished phrase, swim between the fingers, poised to play
Them, of three roughbarked apples. Farther out, a pelican,
Trawling morning waters, gets himself an education
For a breakfast among a school of bream. A single
Shag runs a straight dark topographic line, a grace
Note, north to south, across the shallows. Friarbird
Cadges cigarettes against the raucous outcry of
The wattlebirds. The call to arms of butcherbird
Cries on. Magpie lark and sheoak, paperbark and sedge
And nesting herons: the whole morning rises up against
What cannot be endured: the ping of emails coming in
Like ordnance, lines of thought at odds with what
Sustains the earth and oils the peaceful engine
Of the heart. Sometimes you find yourself
At war. Most often with yourself. This morning
It’s the wrens at war with solitude in the grass beneath
The trees. Sometimes war’s a song you have to join
And sing until it’s sung. Sometimes peace will not
Endure until you find a boat and cross a world
Of other people’s seas to talk some violence down
By doing some yourself. Until it ends. Until you break
The lines of killing thought and spawn a space for love.
Sometimes peace cannot be kept by keeping it; peace
Keeps those who stand for what peace makes. No sure lines
Defend against bad moves time wants to bust –
Not the rows you harrow in the rusting fields; not
The lines your people’s feet sing up walking
Your country awake; not the lines of hope, the rope
That swings your children gaily in the orchard of your eye.
And on these shores a hundred years ago, the sea
Washed up a dozen foreign feuds and currencies and fables,
Whose morals called you away. And so you left
The factory, the dinner table, the field, fifteen
Thousand reasons not to go, but nonetheless,
A war to end all wars to join, and so you boarded
Boats and sailed. You fooled yourself you went
For fun; you said you went for Empire, for Honour,
For six weeks’ tops. It was for years; for some, it was
For keeps. For war will maim or murder no matter
Why you think you go. No matter that
You didn’t pick the fight or field. No war
Can end all war; no peace will ever hold.
But it seems right to thank the souls who try.
Flight would fail the birds, you feel,
If few birds chose to fly. And peace would
Fail if no one said a word for it or held its lines.
And here today, we lie along this closer shore
In grasses, inside the privilege of peace
Our private wars, my love, have won.
And now you break a pumpkin scone, like bread,
And cast its several pieces, like the Lord himself,
Upon the grass. Nothing comes to claim it until
At nine the sun breaks out, and a wattlebird
Comes in shyly for the kill and soon word
Will be scent among the other birds and beings
Who comprise a peace we keep so deep it threatens
To end all war. Three swans swim the lake again, two herons
Make off with the afternoon, and in the sheoaks older
Voices sing. And all the words they sing become the shore.
FOUR RESERVOIR TANKA
DO YOU THINK the rez,
This reluctant wetland, cares
That I come among
Its crestfallen timbers, late
And incapable of love?
I REMEMBER, then,
Another day when two hawks
Spun the shallows still –
And a squall of firetails, their
Voices an ember attack.
AND ANOTHER: dusk
A musk across the water’s
Mouth. Woods upended
In the weir, and the dog wild
Among small birds like lament.
THAT DAY one scrubwren
Flew too slow for cover. I
Stood while, in weeds, she
Schooled her wing to work again.
My heart, the briar where she flew.
WHY YOU’RE HERE; IN CASE ONE DAY YOU NEED TO KNOW
- DON’T OUTSOURCE your Self. You are
What you’re here for. You are where
You need to go and why and how. And
You are the company you need to keep.
You are the way you need to wander
And you are the place you need
To make, and not just for yourself.
- TO COME TRUE IS WHY
They sent you; to see off your fears;
To outsmart all you keep thinking
You know; to grow clever as a tree,
Holy as the bluest light, old as rivers,
Useful as a stone temple in the soft-
Spoken mouth of a valley ten thousand
Feet up in the highest range of hills
Earth knows how to find. You are
Here to find out why you’re here—
Just you, just now—and why you’ve
Been given just these hands and only
So much to hold onto. You’re here
To fall back all the way, if you can,
Into the beauty you arrived with, the
Beauty you cannot quite convince
Yourself you carry, for the world
Is often ugly when you look there
For yourself. And you’re here to die
Back out of others’ bad ideas of who
You are and what they reckon you’re
- YOU’RE HERE TO LEARN
To walk the way that only your feet can
Teach you. You’re here to find a way
To reach in and draw from the wound
That weeps you the sting that sings
The hymn of how you alone can heal
A small piece of world, beginning where
You are, the way it hardly knew it
Wanted healing. You’re here to work
Out how to dwell in your life, at last,
The way the note the bell will strike wells
In the bell. How it waits. How it rings.
- YOU’RE HERE TO DIVINE
The world a bit, to walk the god in you
Out with you, to make your moment
On earth worthy of the suffering it costs
You. And those you love. And the earth.
You’re here to keep coming undone, to
Keep opening, like an answer toward its
Question, like sound toward silence, like
An echo toward a voice, like one toward
Another. Like water, you’re here to run.
You’re here to throw the light that only
You can throw. Like a shaft. Like
A blanket. Like a party.