I love and hate a sunburnt country

Dorothea MacKellarI have been lucky enough to travel to the other side of the world and visit the ‘home country’ (as it was still being called when I was little). I’d always aspired to this cultural ‘homecoming’  in an unconscious way due to a steady childhood diet of English culture, books, stories, myths, music and television. Badges, foxes and the Queen imbued the world that was valued, but not the world that I inhabited. The world I lived in had bushfires, snakes and Christmas in summers so hot you could burst your skin if you got badly sunburnt. It was confusing.
So I went to England to see the Queen, her Tower, and the Thames. I went to Bath and Stonehenge too as well as Stratford on Avon. It was gorgeous and charming. Every day I was excited to see visit and touch another sacred idea of home. The more I saw, the more I wanted to consume. Tintagel, Cornwall, the Lakes District, Portsmouth, Sussex, Sherwood Forrest all the places and names and stories, I wanted to bring them all to life inside of me, and yet … I was homesick.

I didn’t understand the food, the humour, even the greetings. Oak trees were a revelation to me, but the colours all looked too bright and even soft. It was only in England that I began to truly understand what it is to be Australian, to yearn for a big sky. As is so often the case, a writer had been there before me, and put my feelings so well into their own words.

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

Those are the words of Dorothea Mackellar OBE, the opening stanza of her famous poem. Like me, she was a third generation Australian, grown up with stories of the “home countries” and indeed she wrote this poem while visiting England and feeling homesick (source).

I didn’t know this stanza at the time, but I have often reflected on it since. There are in fact six stunning stanzas to this beautiful poem, which it is not currently in vogue to love, as I unashamedly do. But I also hate it, as I sometimes hate the way our country is so very hard to live with. I’m watching the footage on the television of the State of Victoria burning, and I’m feeling terror flood my body. I can hear the popping of the oils in the gums and smell the heavy smoke rushing ahead of the roaring fire front. I feel for the people fleeing their houses, with pets and livestock if they have the time, treasured photos and documents, or just their lives if the wind makes an unexpected push. Next week it could be our neighbours, or Queensland. People wonder at our humour when the farmers of the west can say, “Not much here to burn since the four years of drought.”

I can’t laugh. Grief overtakes me. Floods may come soon after, or the rains may not come for years yet, as El Nino grows in strength here and sends La Nina to Argentina.

Sometimes I hear city people say “Why do they live there if they know it is a bushfire zone?” and it is a reasonable question for all those millions of Australians who’ve always lived in suburbs or the cities. But not for those who love those ‘far horizons’ that you get in the bush. If you’ve lived in the country, then the odds are that the country lives on in you. We’ve made these nests of humans along the coasts where cyclones and storms might be the seasonal threats and when they pass through the locals shrug and say “It is just part of life, part of living here.” They would never leave either. They love the ‘jewel-sea’. Why does this love hurt? It is love, we all chose to stay – far though we may roam.

Sunburnt and happy

Australians like to travel, we all have stories to flesh out and names to bring to life in the far distant lands. We are the long-haul hard-core travellers. It is long hours to even our nearest neighbours. Nearly all of us come back here, gratefully, to this place with the contradictions that form us and the skies we miss and the beaches for endless holidays. We boast of our sunburn and deadly animals, much as we work hard to avoid them all at any cost. Sometimes I think the bush ballads are too honest now for our desire to be sophisticated and urbane. I am torn between the unendurable summers and their suffering and the longing I have when I’m gone. I envy Dorothea the clarity of her vision, and the resilience of her spirit in facing a lifetime without air-conditioning!

I’m a long way from resolving my passionate confusion over this country and even my relationship with this poem. I will grieve for our brothers and sisters in Victoria who face such hardship this week, and support them when the times comes to rebuild as we all know and trust that we will do for each other here. Because one thing is always true in Australia, this is not a land tamed by humans, it is not domesticated. Slowly, every generation, it seeps into our souls ever further and we are trained to live with it, we are the ones who must learn her long and secret ways. We are stubborn, but she is eternal. I may well spend many years trying to hear that gum-soft whisperof her love. For now we shall leave the last words to Dorothea (listen to her recite the poem).

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land –
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand –
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.
Image source.

The moon follows you home

bloodmoonThe moon follows you home.

It is a dream and you know it is.

You walk with your beloved through a market and fall into a deep, warm pool of water.

Everything you’d been holding was dropped. All that money.

Everything you’d been wearing was washed away. All that jewellery.

Everything you thought dissolved. All those stories of right and wrong.

It is a dream and you know it is.

Someone pulls you out and they love you – even though you don’t recognise them.

It is your beloved. It is another you. The first and final you.

The moon followed you home.

You’re naked and proud, standing tall in shivering skin. Blazing your innocence in the crowded market place.

The you who waited while you were lost, who waited while you sank and then pulled you out, tenderly wraps your new body in a soft blanket.

It is a dream and you know it is.

But the moon had followed you home and you’re consecrated now.

Love always, you’ll never regret it.

The moon follows you home.

It is never just a dream.

The Gatsby Sutra

2015-04-03 3[Translation of lectures held over this last week by Zen master Gatsby.]

All life is ancient in origin, all origin is in life. The master of life remembers the origin, source.

Eat when hungry, nap in the breaks, love always.

Respect follows on from compassion. Each has a place. All beings have meaning. Be grateful.

You cannot fail at being you. Release your fear, memories of years past, judgement. Be here now.

Yours is the heart beating meaning into each.moment.

Generosity with tummy rubs brings transcendence within reach.

Take action when action is needed. Listen carefully to the songs that seep in from behind life’s blinds.

All life is a circle that spirals over time.

Drink fresh water and be kind to others.

Change my litter tray*

[* this turned out to be a command rather than the final sutra, but Master Gatsby requested that it remain in place.]

Inky Water

dolphins at night

Inky water gives no ripple as we enter,
no need to sink, it is all deep.
Here fears show their own faces
Breathe despite your worry you cannot drown.

This is you, stripped of illusions,
revealed in the shadow’s world.
This is your eternal womb, your own mystery.

Come, join me in the search.
Break the satin surface of this blood-hot reservoir.
There are no tourists here,
we are all seeking the fullness of union.

No light from the other side penetrate.
You must make friends with echoes,
be guided by reflections
Embrace private riddles, brambles and thorns.
Sway in generous currents of eternal grace and beauty.

This juicy place is the source.
We are molten and reformed to wake anew.

 

Image source.

Sometimes a stumble

Our brave face outward.
Fierce, focussed on horizons and plans of epic proportions,
ready to stride forward, forging success.

Oh but even you are human,
perhaps you stumble. Can you forgive
the foot, the stone, the day?

Pause in the eternal moment here,
between the trip and the echo,
where you explode and reform.
Are you ego, emotion or empathy?

Sometimes a stumble is the biggest challenge of all.

Poetry on Twitter is Tweetery

Tweetery

Twitter’s hard limit on characters is a temptation too delicious to ignore.
What a marvellous space to evoke a mood or relationship in.
I’m surprised it isn’t more of a popular pursuit to craft poetry inside Twitter.

Tweetery
To me (and of course to many others) it is our digital age’s haiku. A widely accessible and understood form that is shared, public and ephemeral. I think of it as Tweetry, “poetry in tweets”. I saw that it is called micropoetry. Really? No poet came up with that name, I can assure you. Twihaiku too, but too direct a link to haiku I think (and it sounds like something rude that is being used as code behind your back). No thanks. I like my perhaps daggy Tweetery, and I know I’m late to the party too, but that’s how I roll.
I’m the slow anything movement.

I dabble. I’m experimenting. It is a little pleasure. I know I’m not great at it, but sometimes, gee sometimes that single little tweet reminds me of my own love and puts a tiny little poetry back into my step and that can be enough.

Here is my January 2014 tweetery for your non-Twitter based pleasure (I’m @orbitaltorch).

Jan 5
Your night sky softly waits for a cool calm to return.
Bring the fire of your heart for a torch.

Jan 18
Tin roof cooling in the night, tick ticking against crickets singing, My heart calling too All calling Into the dark

Jan 21
Master sets a test.
I take it every day
pencil scratching, heart pounding.
Do I pass!?
He won’t say, just
“Start again, stop trying”.

Jan 26
Imagine there’s room in you for all hopes, all courage, all loves.
Imagine that potential is in you now.
That is your heart.

So there you are.
I’m still learning, always anyway, and about line breaks.
Do you like it? Let me know what you think.