Kinglake undone

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Lamentations

I.
 
Ah, look how the township sits solitary that was so full of people: look how she sits
     like a weeping widow, the town that just yesterday! sat queen of Murrindindi, and
     of the Great Dividing Range, that sat jewel in the crown of all Melbourne.
Black is the only one here: black is the only one left: whichever way we turn it is
     black who meets our eye, black who shakes our hand, black who murmurs
     nothing in our ear.
Can you believe it?
Do you believe what you see?
Everything is missing now, there is no movement in the bush: everything is gone
     and there is no bush.
Flora, fauna, family.
Gone.
How has it all come to this?
It has all come to this: the township is gone into dissolution, she that breathed free:
      she has no breath, and she is dissolved: up between the mountains, and down
      between the hills, and in between the hours of the day.
Jehovah, even the soil is vanished into air, become as a vapour into the sweet
     summer air: and the ground that we tread is powder to our foot: that is black,
     that is dust, that is black and dust, that is clogging to the sole of our foot.
Kinglake and the ways to Kinglake do mourn: all her gates are desolate: her hilltops
      sigh, her soil is afflicted, and she is in bitterness black.
Look! all her beauty is departed: her trees are become like hearts without pasture,
     and they are gone without strength in the moment of the day.
Murrindindi is without strength, without sound.
Nothing is moving, there is no movement in the bush: nothing is moving and the
     bush is soft without sound.
O! Kinglake is fallen into the hand of the fire, and she is removed: the black is in
     her hair, and in her skirts: the black is in her memory, in the just yesterday! of
     green.
Prayer has not prevailed: from above and from below the firestorm is come: from
     the north and from the south the firestorm is come, and the township is come
     down wonderfully.
Queen of the ranges, and of the Murrindindi Shire, Kinglake is undone: she sits
     silent without lover or friend: she slumps in her blackened skirts: she slumps in
     black dust: she slumps in her black that was green.
Remember her green, o! you that pass by: behold, see if there be any pain like
     unto her pain: recall your own sorrow, and magnify it: make of your own sorrow
     multiples of many: and multiply the many again.
See your own sorrow and unshut the door of your heart.
Turn your back on the place that is spared, and face unto the black of Kinglake: for
     she is in the midst of distress, and her sighs are manifold, and the heart of
     Kinglake is faint.
Undo this thing: turn it back!
Victoria, Victoria: unburn this black queen of ours!
 
II.
 
Ah, today you are bringing your baskets to Kinglake.
Bread and meat are in your baskets: you are bringing them to Jehosaphat Valley,
    and to Masons Falls, and to Kinglake National Park.
Children are in your cars: you are bringing them with your biscuits to picnic in
    Kinglake.
Driving up the mountain, you stop to snap shots of flowers, and of the forest, and
    of Strathewen far below: and of Melbourne, farther below, that is covered with
    cloud in its heat.
Each leaf is shining, as if it were of a garden: each leaf of each tree, within each of
    the habitations, along the road that you are driving with your baskets and
    children, all the way to the place of Kinglake.
Ferns in fern gullies stand solemn beneath the trees: beneath the sanctuary of
    green arms, in the pleasantness and the coolness beneath the tall trees, either
    side of the high winding road.
Green is the palace of the queen of Kinglake.
Her skirts hover in the heat: her holy relics glim: her sceptre holds over the land.
Insects and tiny creatures whirr between the moments: birds swing and switch
    between the hours of the day: from within the cars, with the windows wound
    down, you hear the insects and the creatures and the birds.
Jehosaphat Valley is right: before the shops of Kinglake, before the bakery and
    the pub and all of the shops: just before the town of Kinglake you turn right.
(Kinglake is sleepy on this Saturday morning: Kinglake is asleep in the heat.)
Leaving the cars in the leaf-covered car park, and the pleasures of picnic in the
    leaf-dappled cars, you gather the children, and walk down to the valley: you
    walk into Jehosaphat, and clap your hands saying This is the valley of
    perfection of beauty, that we call the joy of the earth.
Messmates and mountain ash and mountain grey gums lean high above: the
    trees do not creak: there is no breeze: the trees do not creak today.
Nimbly you work your way with the children, along the narrow path: you know
    where to go: you are going to the place where you sit and are quiet: the place
    where the lyrebird shudders his harp and sings for his plain-tailed mate.
Over there: you whisper the children: you walk off the path and into the bush, to
     sit in the bush, to sit with the children and wait.
(Quiet.)
Picture the creature as he picks out a path, as he circles his hen who scratches
    the earth: and sings: song after song, all the sounds of the bush: song after
    song in the place in the bush: in the bush of Jehosaphat Valley.
Rustling and clacking his scabbard of feathers, he rattles his tail: he raises his
    tail, and sings.
Silence returns, and you walk with the children back to the cars: through the
    tabernacle of trees, the cathedral of green, back to the cars and the pleasures
    of picnic awaiting you back in the cars.
Then driving again, toward Masons Falls: along the long road, past the Kinglake
    shops, past Bald Spur Road and Bowden Spur Road, past the pine plantation,
    and along the long road: past the raspberry farm and the strawberry farm,
    and down into Masons Falls.
Under the cover of leaning trees, you carry your baskets: you hear the leafy
    sounds: under the canopy you hear the trees lean in the heat-riddled breeze:
    the stillness is gone and the wind is come through the trees.
Victoria sizzles: you clap your hands saying Kinglake is the place to be.
 
III.
 
Alas! we are the people that have seen the fire, on this day of days, on this
    seventh day of the second month of the year.
Alas! it has led us, and brought us to darkness, and delivered us not into light.
Against us has it turned: it has turned with the wind, against us all the day.
 
Behold! our flesh and our skin is become old: it has made white of our hair,
    it has broken up our
bones: it has builded against us, and compassed us with fear: it has set us in
    darkness, as they that be dead of old.
 
Caged about: we cannot come forth: it has made our chain heavy.
Crying and shouting: our shouting and crying is stifled.
Crying and shouting: our shout and cry is unheard.
 
Down at the falls, it has enclosed our way, with smoke and flame and falling
    trees: it has made us
deaf and blind.
Down at the falls, it has made our path crooked and closed.
 
Embers fly on the white wings of corellas, and on the black wings of cockatoos.
Embers screech on the backs of swift wallabies, on the backs of slow wombats,
    on the backs of
each creeping thing.
 
Flames set the messmates as marks for an arrow.
Flames set the messmates alight in the dark.
Flames set the world alight.
 
Gravel and stones are in our mouth: we are eating of ash.
Grit and smoke are in our eye: we are seeing of ash.
Gaseous vapours are in our lung: we are breathing of fallout and ash.
 
Hell is arrived on its chariot of fire: let us lift up our heart with our hands unto
    heaven.
Hell is come: it has covered us with cloud, that our prayers should not pass
    through.
Hell is here: it has made of us refuse in the midst of cremation.
 
In fear, our eye runs with rivers of water for the destruction of our home.
In terror, our tear trickles for the destruction of our home, and ceases not,
   without any
intermission.
 
Jehosaphat is burning, with fire, and with all the vengeance and imaginings
    of fire.
Jehosaphat Valley and Masons Falls burn.
Jehosaphat Valley, and Masons Falls, and all of the places along the long
    road, burn.
 
Kinglake is burning, with the devices of fire.
Kinglake is burning, with the devices of fire: and with all the vengeance and
    imaginings of fire,
Kinglake burns.
 
Let us call to one another in the bush, on the dam, with our highest and
    finest voice.
Let us crawl to one another on the coals of hell, and find comfort in one
    another’s arms.
Let us cleave to each other on the floor of the bush, and on the floor of the
    flaming house.
 
Multitudes of trees burst with multiple explosions of sound.
Many and loud are the explosions now, in this moment between moments,
    in this unholiest of
moments in time.
 
Now is the moment between the hours: now is the day of fire.
Now is the moment, between the message and the warning: now is the
    day of fire.
Now is the moment, when the fire gathers height and opens its many mouths.
 
O! we are its music: we are its terrible song.
On the wings of the fire, we sing out our terrible sorrow.
On the tongue of the fire, in the throat of the fire, we sing.
 
Quickly! the notes rise in the pyrocumulus sky.
Quickly! the sounds fall to ground.
Quickly! the song sounds: and is sung.
 
Pray: pray for Kinglake.
Pray for the bush and the paddock and the town: pray for the sky and
    the ground.
Pray for the possum, the ringtail and brushtail: for the koala and the grey
    kangaroo.
 
Remember to pray for the spider and the skink: the goanna, the gecko, the
    pink galah.
Remember the rosella: remember the snake: the heifer, the horse and the
    brown-speckled hen.
Remember to pray for Kinglake.
 
Sit in your chair and turn on the news.
Sit with your family beside the radio, in front of the television news.
Sit with your friends, and all of the ones that you love.
 
Tell them you love them.
Tell them a story.
Tell them the story of love.
 
Understand the story of firestorm and flame, of north wind and southerly
    change.
Understand the story of drought and of fuel.
Understand, and understand: and understand again.
 
:    Victoria is altered.
:    Victoria is burned.
:    Victoria is not, can not be the same.  
 
IV.
 
ah / how is the green become dim / how is the most fine green
    extinguished
    today you are bringing your baskets to kinglake
behold / all the soot is poured out in the top of each street
    as if it were of a garden
children faint for sorrow in the top of each street / the young and
    the old lie on the ground in the streets
    kinglake is asleep in the heat
dogs are vanished / even the crow and the fence-post is vanished too
    the trees do not creak
everything is missing and we cry between hours / who is escaped /
    and who of us all is remained
    children are in your cars
for our eyes have yet failed / in our watching we have watched for a kingdom
    that could not save us
    you stop to snap shots
gone is the queen of kinglake
    is the palace of the queen of kinglake
here she crawls like a crone in the dust / clawing the dust for her sceptre
    her throne / rooting about for relics as holy as home
    who scratches the earth
in the time between moments she is come to her end
    rustling and clacking
joy lies black in the ash of each street / beauty lies black in the ash
    solemn beneath the trees  
kinglake no more welcomes / she cries / depart I am unclean / depart depart
    touch not
    song after song in the place in the bush
look how she crawls like a crone in the dust
    before the shops of kinglake
marvel as she claws like a crone in the dust
    before the bakery and the pub and all of the shops
never has she been raised as low as this / that was full overthrown in a day
    the wind is come
o / just yesterday
    you whisper the children
queen of all melbourne / she was greener than green-stone she was whiter
    than milk she was more ruddy in body than rubies or blood / her polishing
    was of pearl
    you clap your hands saying kinglake is the place to be
pity she that is widow today
    picture the creature
rejoice not in her ashes or streets / laugh not along her long road / smile not
    on her earth that is black
    this is the valley of perfection of beauty
save all your mirth for another
    that we call the joy of the earth
today is the day of the time between moments / today is the time that is come
    quiet
undone is she undone is she
    quiet
vanquished is she / on this day of the day of fire
 
V. 
 
Remember, Victoria, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our loss.
    (we remember Murrindindi)
Prepare yourself.
    (we remember Murrindindi)
Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our place is turned to dust.
    (we remember Murrindindi)
Nothing moves in the bush that is gone.
    (we remember the bush)
Gone is the shrill of the butcherbird, and the noise of the noisy miner:
    (we remember the butcherbird and the noisy miner)
Lost is the wattle and the fern:
    (we remember the wattle and the fern)
Departed are the marsupials, and the marsupial young:
    (we remember the marsupials)
Empty are the gullies that were full:
    (we remember the gullies)
Undone is the mountain:
    (we remember Kinglake)
Forgotten is her song:
  
Jehosaphat is Jehosaphat no more.
 
Hold your map to your hand: consider the colours, and compare.
    (we remember Murrindindi)
Inspect the landscape that was.
    (we remember Murrindindi)
Bald Spur Road is barren and black, its houses are become as graves:
    (we remember Bald Spur Road)
Coombs Road is black, its homes are become as graves:
    (we remember Coombs Road)
The children are orphans and fatherless, the mothers and wives are as widows:
    (we remember the fathers)
Music is ceased, our dance is turned into mourning:
    (we remember the music and dance)
Quiet is the air:
    (we remember the air)
Silent are the streets:
    (we remember the streets)
Alone sits the queen, and
    (we remember Kinglake)
Kinglake is no more Kinglake.
 
Victoria: remember Kinglake.


Jordie AlbistonJordie Albiston is a Melbourne poet. Her sixth collection the sonnet according to 'm' won the 2010 NSW Premier's Prize.

Topic tags: New Australian poem Lamentations, about Kinglake and Black Saturday bushfires, by Jordie Albiston

 

 

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Existing comments

So soothing your lament,and recreates the emotion and impact the firestorm left in our hearts.

Words are not enough they say,but you have captured silent words we speak or hear in our darkest times.

A truly beautiful piece.Thankyou
Catherine | 21 June 2011


Thank you, thank you, thank you. Every Tuesday I open this poetry page in some trepidation, although I usually enjoy it. But this is right out of the ordinary. Long life, strength and good health to your pen or keyboard of whatever you use.
Jim Jones | 22 June 2011


A stunning piece, Jordie.
Anne Elvey | 24 June 2011


How beautiful.
Coral Wrona | 25 June 2011


Just saw this for the first time, Jordie. Stunning work. Your masterpiece as far as I have seen. Thank you. Such dignity bestowed on little high Kinglake and region.
Bill Wootton | 12 December 2014


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