I: Brand Highway North
As angles travel, haystacks refract hectares,
bales become ziggurat temple stones,
sandstone drums for columns never assembled.
Here speaks the international currency of straw,
a coppered steel dialect, whose accent sounds
Devonian here, Australian in Essex.
In Dongara, Morton Bay Figs form the arches,
tracery and trunks of a half-completed nave,
scaffolding removed from all promise and purpose.
North of Badgingarra, hills as dark as sodden moors
beg chapels, a hardy leather pelt stretched tight
over the country's bare, sharp bones; the puncture
of one post and it will rip and spill white sand,
scarecrow in a storm, bleeding straw.
II: Mount Magnet Road East
Further north, the land is prised open, they say,
valleys regurgitated. Mountains bleed into sea,
flesh hung from trees charred by their own shadows
black hands held up against the sun. It may all be true,
for hear now, in the distance, this prophecy: the night's
chandelier, crashing over a black marble table.
So savour these last wheatlands, where slopes carpeted
with golden grain's choral glow still flap and crack
like hot sheets, outcrops burnt back to the blood-red bone,
fired limbs of blackened stone. Here the war has been
refined to contour lines, visitation stories of dearth
and deliverance Jeremiah might have believed;
here is hope, discrete, unspoken, but lightly inscribed
on slopes by slender post and wire, faith in invisible rivers
stripped down to watermarks etched on tablets
between dusty trees.
In the deli's dark and sullen sanctuary, tourists
congregate, lured by the promise of everlasting flowers,
buying sour communion wine, while in shuttered shops
and shrouded rooms in every fibro cube the dry town
keeps watch on the rock at its skirt, where Hawes
once dreamt black and white might kneel to rub rough stone
against their cheek, and weep. This lost moment
still stalls the day and haunts the night, this lost chance
to take things further still runs under this skeleton
of a town, a stubborn silver trickle, waiting to be found.
I like the names, the recitations,
the desert moon, the gait of camels,
the wild men with their beards and honey,
the women with their well-used names,
the olive groves, the stony mountains,
the mystic, intermittent rivers.
I'm scared though of its discontents,
the sound of thunder minus rain,
its liturgies and long divison.
I hear the wisdom in its singing —
despite the tumult of the priests,
their formulae and incantations.
The latter half has calmer paths,
is easier on horseback —
milder hills and more oases.
The dialects of both I find
still buzzing in my ears,
a kind of tinnitus perhaps.
The older on, it's said, is filled
with what the wind subtracts from stone.
Each village, town or city bears
its metaphoric ring.
From palaces to hovels,
everywhere without exception,
the literal is not enough.
There is a background susurration,
mainly heard at dawn.
It moves there as a sort of whisper
not unlike the wind,
a sense of something not yet named.
They offer me their foods:
one half with its prohibitions,
the other with its loaves and fishes.
Their litanies and chronicles
sustain a single note.
The meaning's in the sound alone,
resisting all translation.
Every time I ride there now
the maps seems less familiar.
The risk of vanishing entirely
along with sweat and saddlebags
cannot be ignored
though still at dawn I find myself
riding back across the border,
the sigh of my uncertainties
widening with the light.
everything that is was spoken
no other way to light but these hands
I hear the call_____ice river running
smell the border_____smell of it passing
all the names are mine
you're talking to the sky again
clouds round on things, on thought
dug to get to_________somewhere the dark is true
in some head there's still_____anything glints_____we see into
an edge is always shining, cleaves
here's a cast fishing_____flag dredged
the sky is well gated_____hardly a chink
cast off the dice and the venom
this thimble's depth sea
goes up_____with one spark
the coffin grows into a tree
stars alight at my stop
here's the dream_____in which sets sail
love and the springtide_____strangers singing
see ourselves in the river, the mirror we quaff
nothing our own hands raised
it's the future — far as the blue of frayed edges, paws
the other trying to get in
time returns to the clock's shell
to the sea which bore it
time takes the heart in entrails down_____the moon in burlap
___ we swallow all there is of time
from where you have fallen still a way to go
and heaven_____that vanishing coin, speck
blue as it was all those ages back
the dead whom we've loved
in the bones of the soul_____go with us
they do not require_____the silence of prayer
they do not know_____which way we carry
what is it eyes shine with?
some channel where the static's true
in bitter woods_____Pray, Lord. We are near.
a glut of track led_____day blind dice to try
pray to us God_____you might still get through
there has to be some free will left_____might allow creation
flower and stone
as one towards another grown
in nakedness_____water between
so the eye must seek out meaning_____its prey
cliffs beetle brow
so far down in the dream_____day will never get there
It's the alcohol that makes me white
the magic of intoxication
suits my dreaming fine
I want to be civilised.
The harder I drink the whiter I get
O how I want to imbibe
like a gentleman
get home to the wife every night.
Working hard for the man
kids don't want to go to school
up at dawn every morning
might stay home on welfare
do a course — certificate IV
teaching something white and airy.
I want God to make me white
and rich and fat
next week we get royalties
as well as welfare cheques.
No more blackeyed payback wives
no more paedophiles
alcohol does not make love
we out here all alone
come in and lose your chains.
Sing and dance wildeyed
in blackout dreams
I want to drink like I want to die.
They put me in their gaols
the back of their divie vans
they beat me good and turn me black
from lack of alcohol.
I see the sound of moonlight
striking water in the night.
As the white inches from my blood
I become aboriginal
as a matter of evolution I am
The leaves fall
one day at a time
serenely they lay me naked
in a fourth dimension.
Unentombed and resurrected
God appears within the landscape
without any bright colours.
The brightest colour of them all
Everything is round
the storylines in circles and cycles
the owners and the owned
are the same thing.
Nobody speaks in straight lines
it is considered rude.
What owns me is round.
If you go from here to there
you should walkabout a bit.
The best hunters know the cycles
of the hunted.
the land itself
which owns me
which caused me
breathes in an out
like a horse's flank.
From day to night
the climate walks around the tides
from where my gods come to speak
into which my dead die.
They are always near
flowing through my veins
as bright as the brightest colour
over which the sea folds
like a shroud.
Mick Ringiari a.k.a. Patrick McCauley
Graham Kershaw (pictured) was awarded the 2012 Blake Poetry Prize for his poem, 'Altar Rock' (above). The judges described the poem as 'marking a place where understanding and forgiveness are oases amidst a maelstrom of doubt, where poetry presents the final word'. The other poems presented here were highly commended by the judges. All the shortlisted poems can be read on the website of the NSW Writers Centre.
This poetry also is included in the Blake Prize Art Exhibition, on display at the S.H. Ervin Gallery, Observatory Hill, Sydney, until 16 December, before touring other states.