I can’t sleep here, in this curve
of the East Baines River–
too much blood on the ground,
and my campfire throws a mottled light
over mulga, burnishing insects,
and filling this changeling night with forms.When it’s humid like this,
in the creek behind the van park, somewhere
a car radio plays Bowie:
…………for we’re like creatures of the wind,
………………………wild is the wind.
On these banks, boabs
hold stars between their fingers
like splintered bone–
their torsos are globes, carved
with images of snakes and the names
of those shot while dancing ceremony,
on a night just like this, a night split
by rifles– the first crack
erupts the egrets
from the river’s still surface.
A century is nothing for boabs.
These roots remember
the warm weight
of babies, pushed by their mothers
into blackness and the living smell of mud–
how they slipped
through water’s dark like creatures
of wind and wild is
becomes the sound of water hissing
through roots, snakes carved
in a boab’s skin,
like the snake that comes to me in dreams
speaking her language of coagulants,
Lightning eddies through the interior of clouds–
a dangerous lightning,
opening like wings
or branching nerves– and in its light,
all those drowned babies are gliding
above the river,
their slow heads turning
to hold me, in their savage windburned gaze.
Time to go.
I wake the dog, upend a billycan on the fire.
A few minutes to pack the ute, and we drive east
into landscape cloaked in Witchetty–
and the boabs follow,
burning their way out of form.
I carry them as sparks in my iris,
in the familiar sea-green lights of the dash,
as min-min racing beside the road.
One eye on the rear-view mirror,
East Baines River vanishes
into the reach of mountains.
The last boab
is a great, dark octopus
silhouetted against stars.
A bellbird drops from its branches as we pass,
arcing noiselessly into headlights,
its western wing,
its wild and shining eye.
Elegy for a Thylacine in the National Museum
The last known thylacine, a female named ‘Benjamin’,
died alone in her cage at Beaumaris Zoo, on September 7, 1936.
She had frozen to death– the zoo keeper having forgotten
to put her inside for the night.
Her body was thrown into a rubbish bin.
All the others are gone, erased–
their slanted gaits, their pelts banded fire
and venus blood.
They are erased–and nothing left of them
now but names: Ghost Tiger
They will not come again,
come eddying over grasslands,
star-stippled, will not
leap, rock to rock, or stop
in a clearing behind the houses,
rotate an ear in some gigantic night,
in all the sounds of those black hours–
quolls return to wild shadow,
galaxies carried on their backs.
At dawn, the alpenglow
will flood a country without thylacines–
…………over Cradle Mountain, a new sun
…………lifts over conifers like hackles.
How many days has she paced
this perimeter fence?
At dusk the zoo keeper moves her inside,
into a box, a place of straw
and concrete, light spills under a door.
She is a hooded falcon, sees only
this leaden interior. In the late watches
she presses her head against the wall,
listening for storms, for the ice winds
to founder in across the snowfields,
bringing the scent of pines.
She remembers needles
blackening into snowbearing clouds.
And her memory is a vein extending
over this whole landscape, a story repeated
so often it distorts to ripples, murmurs,
something running on its toes like a fox,
and what remains are only
………..cadavers hanging in a tree,
………..pelts nailed to a woolshed door.
In tussock weighted with weed,
she is hidden– her shape barred in barred light.
The zoo keeper’s eye passes over so easily.
Floodlights in the enclosures go out.
The buildings darken. Wire fences
are harps in the jaw of wind.
She emerges into the yard,
winterbright, and the night raining stars–
Lupus, Sirius, the constellations of her life.
In that cold living air,
her breath hangs
They found her frozen in grass,
…….. white on white–
………just something dead in a cage.
And later, locked in their houses at night,
with their skinning blades, with their fear,
their hunger to own everything,
they will say she was not the last.
………Someone found a tooth on the escarpment,
………a scrap of fur against the sound barrier
………of some new freeway.
And while they speak
the ash of thylacines will drift over cities and roads,
the wasteland of industrial farms,
and find no place to settle.
Judith Nangala Crispin is an artist and poet of Bpangerang descent. She has published two collections of poetry, The Myrrh-Bearers (Sydney: Puncher & Wattmann, 2015), and The Lumen Seed (New York: Daylight Books, 2017), with a third collection due in 2021. Judith is currently poetry editor of The Canberra Times and artist in residence with Musica Viva.
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