* 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
by Tullaree 135
and the silt will be
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
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
*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.
32: p. 59
33: p. 60
109: p. 95
130: p. 59
165: p. 2