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Scenes from Tamborine Mountain

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Selected poems


Morphing into autumn

Now the snakes are slinking into hiding,

sensing frost to come,

coiled in ouroboros dreams of Spring;


Giant stinging trees conserve their toxin

for their enemies, the uninitiated ones

who blunder, ignorant of risk;


Richmond birdwing embryos,

emerged from chrysalids long since,

have primed their stained-glass opulence

of silken wings and flown hence;


diaphanous thin moonstone mist

laps the western plains at dawn,

so that distant ranges loom

as shadow archipelagos;


the artist's eyes of Hokusai would light up

at the sight of faded blues and amethysts,

the geomorphic folds of continent,

and reach for brush and inks to capture

beauty's evanescent face:


a landscape shimmering with myth,

masked in ambient mystique

that renders it both ancient

and eternally reborn.




Giant stinging trees

Most unapproachable of trees, their highnesses

and majesties, hostile to human travellers

who trespass on their territory, are in command

of glassy armouries: cilia on surfaces

of stems and leaves that target skin,

a company of archers whose unerring barbs

drive their victims half-insane with agony.


Beware the lofty ogres of the rainforest,

grim guardians whose dark fruit proves

benign to just a favoured few — green catbirds,

regent bowerbirds; skeletal vestiges of leaves

bear witness to the appetites of busy chrysomelids.


Insidious and instant shock

impact of these hermetic beings —

the neurotoxin sealed in silicon —

fascinates warmongers with its wizardry.

It's claimed the toxin of such trees

stays potent for a century, each hair a vial

of utmost pain, nature's torture without balm,

for if there is an anodyne, we've yet to learn its name.


Giant Stinging Tree: Dendrocnide excelsa.

Chrysomelids: leaf beetles.




Regent bowerbirds

The art of taxidermy is to render dead things lifelike.

These five male regent bowerbirds appear

convincingly alive, as if they'd just alighted

on the cover of The Queenslander (issue for July 13, 1933),

resplendent in sunflower gold and satin black,

one displayed with wings half-raised, as if anticipating flight.


Some avid bird-collector prized this item, I suppose,

as curio, a parlour centrepiece. In an age when ladies wore

small birds to ornament their hats — the gaudier the plumage

of the bird transposed, the more in vogue —

such vivid specimens adorned the home as talking-points

for guests, or formed a showpiece on reception desks.


Who'd ever think to venture to the rainforest, the wilderness,

to marvel at the bird's own artistry: observe his prowess

as a decorator to impress his lass; precision he deploys

in placing baubles — snail shells, pebbles, berries; wands

he paints with leaves emulsified, to form a blue-green set —

clearing space to shape a courtship bower on the forest floor,

where he'll perform to dazzle her amid this eclectic array,

so as to outdo rivals' fantasies and win the right to nest.


A dance, a dowry and a bower: what girl could resist the lure?

Agile, suave and golden-eyed, he'll sweep her off her feet.




Green catbirds

Male catbirds don't build bowers,

but they do bring offerings

of flowers, to romance a female

they desire as spouse. They like to dance.


Catbirds pair for life. Hens build

a spacious nest with twigs and vines,

cushioned with soft, rotted wood

overlaid with moss or leaves.


Nests are camouflaged aloft

in giant stinging trees, or in the crowns

of treeferns, like the nests

of regent birds, their friends.


Male catbirds, constant in their ways,

feed the chosen hen year round.

She waits for his arrival

bearing juicy gifts of fruit —


a native fig for preference

or sometimes an exotic treat:

a garnet grape she'll savour

for its nectar-scented flesh.


They'll dive and dip on days of heat

mirage, a double emerald flash,

bathing in the limpid water

cupped in joints of giant trees.


They take turns tending nestlings

when they hatch, and he does not neglect

assiduous patrols of territory

to safeguard boundaries.


Catbird, you are in my world:

it gladdens me to realise that —

but is there room for me

in your diminished habitat?





Shadows of the greentime

mime the trauma of a brutal storm

that decimated generations,

ancestries, chronologies;

a shudder haunts tree-memory,

echoing in human pores,

agitating vegetation,

rippling the canopy

with atavistic aftershocks

from thud and bite

of axe and saw,

the rending groan

of outraged gravity

when forest elders fall.





How might this wilderness have seemed,

early in the world and time; refulgent light

of nebulae that shimmered fitfully on seas

and glanced off spines and fronds of cycads,

zamia, primeval trees, as creatures of Earth's

burgeoning menagerie emerged from slime.


Later, wings displaced the air with sounds

like scythes and gasps and sighs,

as birds more elegant than ferns

were seen frequenting woodland, streams.


Here on pristine Tamborine, the rainforest

became the haunt of avian ventriloquists,

birds more often heard than seen,

whose raised tail plumes would simulate

the contours of an ancient lyre,

companion to the poet's voice

when Sappho lent words to desire

in lyrics of such eloquence

that hearts of listeners caught fire.




Richmond birdwing butterflies

My arrival coincides with that of butterflies,

detecting subtle signals in the ether

that denote their vine. Pliant loops

and tropes and tendrils interlacing trellises

lure them back to these life-giving colonies.


This is the nursery and the lullaby, gently undulating

beneath massive trees. The caterpillars hatch and feed,

outgrow their skins, wax plump and sleek, entering

their dormant phase within a lime-green time-capsule,

the chrysalis where they transmogrify.


Emerging with damp, crumpled wings whose veins

are pumped with haemolymph, they wait

until the jewel colours dry, when they will

assay the sky that arcs towards infinity,

glimpsed through eyelike apertures in canopies.


Inspired by a Landcare initiative, Tamborine Mountain.



Jena WoodhouseJena Woodhouse is the author/editor/translator of eight book publications in various genres, and has recently completed a collection of poems, Green Dance: Tamborine Mountain Poems, for Calanthe Press, a new poetry publisher based on Tamborine Mountain, in south-east Queensland's rainforest country.

Topic tags: Jena Woodhouse, poetry



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Existing comments

Jena, brilliant poems and such visual mind play of my favourite place on Earth. I have been going to Tamborine since I was 4 (almost 60 years now) and wrote my first poem when I was in Grade 4, about its "flame trees, red, and staghorns, green, all this you'll find on Tamborine. I always go there to renew, to cry, to heal, to soak in the spirit. One reason is that i have a photo of me sitting on a rock at Curtis Falls when I was 4 and thinking, that was the last time I was really happy (abuse stepped in to kill that little boy) but I have recovered some of those 'first joys' as Judith Wright rightly observed. Children have a natural ability to be one with nature - that's what I so deeply felt there when a child, and that's what I can somehow recover whenever I go back. That you for helping me relive some of those joys in the form of poetry.

Stephen de Weger | 16 October 2018  

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