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After the fire



Selected poems


Queensland Prelude

After the fire

they found a nail preserved in glass,

and piles of dust and ash.


After the fire

this place lost its memory

of trees cleared, a slab hut,

of fences, a verandahed timber house,

and a circle of orange trees.


After the fire

they sift through the ashes

for memory’s sake.



Boxing Day at Gerroa

Smoke today was in the air,

scratching at the eyes and nose.

The declining sun was tomato red,

burning from a hundred fires,

grieving for a land turned black.



Gerroa on vacation.

Black is in this summer:

black togs, black tops, black caps.

black crows pick at yesterday’s scraps;

black oyster catchers, red beaked, probe for worms;

black ash marks out the tidal line —

ash of houses torched and livings lost,

ash of people, trees and birds.

Flying low above the waves

a squadron of white seagulls,

disregards the dress code.



Beach Dawn Service

The red-eyed sun comes veiled in smoke,

the sea is fringed with blackened ash,

the chastened waves murmur threnodies.

Beyond the break stand acolytes,

leaning on their long candles,

waiting to process;

gulls and oyster catchers fret restless on the beach;

a pelican fishes at the river mouth

parked discreetly as a hearse.

The breathless air awaits the hour

when the unveiled sun will rise and blaze

and, for the deflowered earth,

exact a reckoning.



New Years Eve

Today smoke hung in the air

scratching eyes and throat;

the evening sun set red and frayed,

bleeding from a hundred fires,

grieving for an earth stripped black and bare;

the retreating tide was edged with ash.

Today they called a fire ban throughout the state

for safety, in respect and solidarity.

Tonight in Sydney fireworks desecrate the bridge;

Respect and solidarity are burned to ash,

chucked on the bonfire of frivolity.



New Years Day

Smoke in the air,

bushfires south of Nowra,

no sun to be seen, no landmarks along the beach,

no bookends of Black Head, and Coolongatta,

no hinterland, no hills,

no oyster birds, no crows,

no walkers.

Only a flight of gulls crying, seeking purer air,

only breakers washing in and out,

only a jagged line of black ash along the shore,

like the script on Belshazzar’s wall,

trailing back to bushfires south of Nowra,

trailing forward to the future

for those who will to read.



A respite day

Today the sun rose silver,

the smoke now blown away,

the beach now bounded by Black Head and Coolangatta.

Long waves rise and tumble on the shore

and people walk freely.

Tomorrow, at Nowra the hot wind will blow,

the fire will cross the Shoalhaven,

ash, smoke and fear will stain the air.



Apocalypse, Gerroa style.

The sun rises blood-red,

its furnace wreathed in smoke;

four horsemen drum and thunder down the beach;

four oyster-catchers fly wailing over the sand;

a line of spearmen stride upright across the water.

A white gull, wings spread wide,

glides across the waves,

turns, and, settles lightly on the sun-flecked shallows.

In its beak it bears no olive branch.



Gerroa in mid January

Today the flames have struck at Bundanoon

and edged to Kangaroo Valley.

The nuns have gone from Jamberoo Abbey,

and piles of ash wash up upon the beach

like a bird dumped by a cat on the doorstep,

played with, then dumped again,

like random phrases whirling in a world too wild for words:

the wrack of the Deutchland,

ashes from Dresden,

smoke from chimneys further East;

coals from Newcastle.

Over the smoky airwaves,

fly scraps of airy reassurance:

a fire to end all fires,

peace in our time.

The ashes plead: Never Again.

The unsheathed sun threatens,

greed will deliver,

the fire next time.



Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street

Main image: A red sunset shrouded in smoke (Getty Images)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, poetry, bushfires



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Existing comments

You are present, Andy. Thank you.

Pam | 10 February 2020  

Appropriately poignant and compellingly vivid, Andrew!

John RD | 11 February 2020  

Andrew,you echo what many Australians saw and experienced over a long bushfire season. Even months after , whole communities of people with first hand experience of evacuations, fear, ,uncertainty and the never- ending smoke that still fills their lungs and sinus, are suffering. They revive the events, talk about their particular experience- houses , property lost, neighbours in the aftermath now physically and emotionally depleted, beloved mountains , trees and flora burnt, wildlife lost( the parrots are still not back in the backyard eating seeds and insects), stock they had to put down due to burns, the huge amount of work they have to do , from getting dust and ash from their houses, replacing fences, and just being so tired after what one person likened to "fighting in the trenches and not knowing from where the enemy was coming or when". They show gratitude for help and support received , but like all traumatized are still working their way through the fires and consequences. The last four lines of your poems Andrew give rise to the deep felt fears residing in all our hearts. True we can't do everything but we can each do some thing to try to negate the fact that"greed will deliver the fire next time" Thank you very much Fr. Andrew for responding to where many Australians are at at this moment in time, with your astute word pictures.

Celia | 11 February 2020  

Thank you Andrew. We are a grieving nation this summer and we must remember. As poets we are the witness and by saying the word 'greed' you call it out, and hopefully as we expose it with our pen it will loose its power.

Colleen Keating | 11 February 2020  

The sacrament of speech fixes the horror as bearable memories. Yet the human catastrophe is unnoticed: "Flying low above the waves a squadron of white seagulls, disregards the dress code."

Paul Smith | 11 February 2020  

Didn't know you are a poet too...it has made my day.

elly | 12 February 2020  

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