* Parts of this poem reference The Lady of the Swamp (1981) by Richard Shears. A list of citations with corresponding lines is provided at the end.


If my sense of place is formed along pathways

I form my place

my legs in the swamp

Motion underwater

Uncaptured                                                                                    5

If my sense of place is formed along orientations

Then my eyes in the land are skipping

chora topos hedra

hinge place doubling place


The day I disappear                                                                        10

I leave my spear at the door


Autumn 1917


People speak of standing in the face of loss

but loss creeps, ineluctably

as weeds creep up from the river.

There is no face                                                                        15
We do not stand in …


The river flats sweep wide

Wide as horizon of eyes cannot see

men who come from toppling trees.


Tribal fight                                                                                    20




The rime of the mariner is of the sea

What ghosts have followed us?

Informed as we are                                                                        25

silt was once of seas

drifting inland

Our channels silt up


– water, water everywhere

– Look: the far lying paddock                                                 30


– “Has it been raining all night?”

– No, only this morning

– “I’ve been looking at our affairs”

– We can’t manage them

– Look at this land we occupy                                                35


A man

could have managed us


listen  In the ti-tree a wallaby froze

its nose lifted slightly                                                            40

to a man with a gun, he inhaled

my wit and conversation.

He knocked the wallaby, sideways

hole in its side, bleeding entrails

caught on a branch, tearing out                                                45

as it plunged into the river


He said I was a woman

Who could certainly grace

Any man’s table

I laughed.                                                                                    50

What is grace? Now

“Don’t touch me”


Accept this man as artifice

To breathe out love

Yet not have love only                                                            55

the violent gesture of disconnection.


I shift my sword

to the other side of your sword

Tullaree we are bound for caveat.

I wade into the swamp                                                            60

For firewood and the walk into Buffalo


Silt 1799 

channels and riverbeds

filled or choked up with sediment

to flow or drift

loose legs in the swamp                                                             65

Age is also a gradual accumulation

to the time shall I occur

as a stratum in the soil

my insides

inside elongated                                                                        70


lost thousands/gained nothing

– Yet, we occupy

– swamp memory of a thousand

– spears on the ground

– You know, people vanish                                                            75


1830 Silt To cover up or over with silt


November 1919

The river flats the rich black soil

Tullaree: We were perfect for grazing

Clear the tussocks

Lay out the flesh for ploughing                                                 80


 My brother came home from Gallipoli

He can’t manage us


And we can’t manage

the sides of the drains

or the soil becoming watergates.                                                85



Thunder rolls on Tullaree

the wind tore in and howled us –

us in our nightgowns

the drenched crinoline

cast each curve of our breasts and skin                                    90

Our skin, we are women in our fifties

on our knees yelling, god crawl out

of your ladies college locker room


Only poets can sort us out in the deluge.

“Water, water, every where,

and all the boards did shrink” *                                                95


The inside walls are waterfalls

a dream sentient vision

eyes skip land skips

A snake floats by and

hens squawk in the living room.                                                100

A sheep shudders on the dining room table

and the bullocks they’ve become

quite a crowd on the verandah.


Write to mother:

among the things we need                                                            105

potatoes oatmeal

cheap tinned milk, tea and sugar and

I wouldn’t mind

a cigarette now and then.


After the rain                                                                                    110

We shall vanish beneath the sheets.

There are never any visitors, anyway




My brother knocked himself, sideways

He couldn’t manage it                                                            115

a bullet to the head

we plunged into the death of January.



ah, men you come from toppling trees

in fight for height

Well, you let the air in.                                                            120

Internecine war

faring disease

robust men in the dust

with rotting penises.


From here to infinity                                                                        125

we sit on wicker chairs

and watch the flood rising

Up the legs

to the neck

of our misery cattle                                                              130


Oblivious to decay?

We are not

We are deeply familiar

possessed obsessed

by Tullaree                                                                                    135

and the silt will be



Loss. First

Mother dies and mother dies

Letters stop and with them                                                            140

all possibility of our virtuality.

We did not choose to live alone

Rather, solitude like the water

overcame us.

Place is a habit overcoming us.                                                145


Loss. What goes second?

All I did for your body.

I watch you, sister, under the sheet

legs filling from the inside with water

but I walk the swamp                                                            150

my legs to osmosis unyielding.

My skin at perfect speed

has reached mutuality with water.


In old men’s shoes, pole in hand

I am motion underwater                                                            155



by history or men

who say this is decay

Rather than a return to matter.


My sister                                                                                    160

they bore your body over the swamp

upon the water your body hovered


Three hours in and three hours out

the bearers swore softly

A crake calls                                                                                     165

and suddenly I am cold.


This house seeps

and seven snakes sleep

in my bedroom.

The radio plays                                                                         170

the songs that do not play

on our Lipp, disused, grand piano.


Loss. What is left

to mark the utter absence

of your body?                                                                         175

Only swamp land

Gipps land/ land of complacent rain.

Your climate is the complacency of rain.


And my sister

since you left                                                                         180

the clicking of frogs

is innumerable



*Coleridge, S T 1798, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ in Allison et al. (eds) 1983, The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 3rd edn, W.W. Norton, New York, p. 570.

Shears, R 1981, The Lady of Swamp, Thomas Nelson, Melbourne.


30: p.59

31: p.59

32: p. 59

33: p. 60

52: p.48

71: p.60

77-79: p.61

86-89: pp.85-86

103: p.87

109: p. 95

116: p.108

130: p. 59

164:  p.1

165: p. 2

172: p.7


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