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The musty sweetness of the Styx ghost

Styx Forest

Styx River bora ground
I descend steeply with knees grinding
down a spur of accrued footsteps towards the Styx,
walking beyond woe and lamentation, past fire
rivered through the trees, leaving charcoal spaces
where distant glimpses of the valley are placed
in my mouth. Five wild cattle. White cedar. Cockatoo.
There is forgetfulness to wade through;
life binding oaths lost to place and care
amongst the topographical blur of lines
sliding the river nearer. History is no comfort
beyond the ridges and deep where I drink greedily,
lose my voice for nine desperate years
because the only word left in the world is river—
speaking it does not give patience enough
to smooth granite or greywacke
in the long run of debris from the big fresh
that rummaged gullies for words and truths
and found the language of ghosts.
Be suspicious of a river murmuring
like the drowned when crossing as the living
because preceding you were those who dipped,
who danced, yet remained vulnerable, who left
nothing but a circle of grass amongst the trees.

My footsteps rustle fallen leaves
the sound repeats on rock
earth bank and rosewood
as I brush past a prickly tree fern.
It feels like I am being tracked,
by a ghost, to the left, over my shoulder,
its footsteps, its shirt against the foliage.
Could be my ghost, testing this place,
seeing if it is a nice spot to haunt
when the time comes, testing
its skill outside my body.
There is another ghost and it is smell.
When you get home from a bushwalk
the forest has infiltrated your clothing, skin,
backpack, there is a musty sweetness
when I open the cupboard door, a week later,
it wafts out and I wait a while
to unpick your scent of nature
from the fabric of my self.
Like the echoes we hear at home in the evening
sitting quietly in the warm lounge room.
You are reading the day's paper,
I've got my notebook open, it’s dark outside.
The television is off, all the windows are closed.
Everything is pleasantly hushed and then
you look up and say, what was that?
I say what was what? You say,
did you say something? I say no.
You look confused but I didn’t speak.
I wonder if you heard the ghost
of a different moment between us.
It is the way semi-arid rivers run
without being seen. They run in the night
or they run while your back is turned,
when you've gone to town
to pick up the week's supplies
or you wake, or return, or drive, or backtrack
and the river-bed has shifted,
rocks and silt have moved,
and the crossing is now impassable
until council comes out with the grader.

Chris ArmstrongChris Armstrong's poetry has been published on Cordite and in regional anthologies, and her first novel Blue was shortlisted for the 2005 Vogel Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. These above poems form part of a collection created as a result of an ASA Emerging Writers Mentorship awarded to her in January 2014. She also writes a wilderness walking blog.

Tasmania Styx image: Michael Mullins.

Topic tags: Chris Armstrong, Tasmania, Styx River, ghost, bushwalking, nature, wilderness



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