Mount Agony Road & Depot Beach
…the forest is cleaner, clearer, brighter
sulphur bare trunks (sprouting epiphytic green)
revealed tracks to smugglers’ shacks and everywhere vivid
as weeds explode in the new light.
cryptic road signs blistered blue and emerald
…op Rest …vive… Sleep… 300…
then the burned clean-off sign —
a black rectangle reading the ruin all about.
Pan for Gold on a bare cinder above the wreck
fencing wire, a cooker, a car on the verge
paint burned off glass gone wheels
run into the clay, and another…
The shock of a house bombed,
roof sheets like trash on a windy day
‘gone in 10 minutes’, a photo of the grandkids,
wedding rings pooled in the dirt.
A stone crack’d
a jar on the ground
its lid still closed
inside remains Hope.
A dozen stumps where that leather shop
handcrafted forever lifted into the air and gone
(his son grew up here. day after they caught him looting,
stealing from his own, cops beat the shit out of him).
but for the police tape the house is fine —
stairs correct, windows, walls upright
the other side has sloughed off,
TV and sofa open to the sky and the prospect of rain.
The men lean on their cars watching the evening swell. They can’t help talking about it
“…fucked for days then coming on roaring and it was on for young and old and I said fuck man this is it really…”
The Riding School
Struts hinges and gates gone,
more wire, girders melted, roof blown down
when the water-bomber came through.
Horses in paddocks pensive, backs in white ash.
What happened here? — some elemental (n.)
purifying the land of shopkeepers and phone towers
and couples doing it tough making ends waiting on
casual jobs in coffee shops and Wednesdays payday.
Rosedale & Lilli Pilli
Divine the pattern who’s burnt
and who’s saved? It went up this side of the street, turned
all these but not this one — some pyro-calculus and
our Father’s thumb (ever) feathers the scales.
I remember at New Years the crack —
it was the past, gone like a continent calving
in the morning there’s cliffs and a broad reach of water
where yesterday we stood so careless.
Only Hope was left
within her unbreakable house,
she remained under the lip of the jar,
and did not fly away.
Works and Days, Hesiod
Image: Australian Cartoonist David Pope has …drawn some posters of NSW South Coast places, in the aftermath of the Australian bushfires. These will be available for sale as prints and posters to raise money for recovery. I will post a link on my site once they become available for purchase.
There’s more on the Bushfires in South East Australia that extended from late Winter 2019 through to 14 February 2020 when the last fire was officially contained.
The jar in this poem refers to Pandora’s jar (no, it wasn’t a box) in which she released Zeus’ revenge on humans for our role in acquiring fire from Prometheus.
Posted on earthweal’s open link number 10 (check it poets n readers)
And for no other reason here’s the wonderful Necks with their latest.
7 thoughts on “The Jar on the Ground (driving south February 2020)”
What a powerful read. You took me right there, to the destruction, the devastation, the charred landscape.I like the conversation among the men – you have captured the dialogue to perfection. I especially like the hope in a jar. We need hope wherever we can find it. This was a wonderful read, and lovely to find you at earthweal. Australia was much on our minds in the west while the fires were raging. I can only imagine the work that lies ahead now in the aftermath. You will be an expert voice, when earthweal challenges are Recovery and Rewilding.
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Thanks so much Sherry. So glad you enjoyed – and yes I tried (through tears) to be a witness. The forest is recovering – I drove through this area again last week and the forest is green with new shoots – so I hope that next few seasons are mild and the forest recovers. Peter
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Hi Peter – So glad you linked this at earthweal — so sad too — Finding words for something which took such huge swipes at one’s loved and lived reality must have been very difficult. How to take it in, where’s the inner register, the balance of horror and despair, and then that hope? It so reminds me of stories I heard of the relics and ruins after the Paradise fire in California a few years ago — human habitation and lives immolated. Your poem is both witness and choir. I’ve thought too about the conflagration of fires from climate change as a consequence of Prometheus’ gift — the speeding human civilization which has edged the world here is all a product of that first fire. And also wondered about Pandora, Zeus’ punishing bane for Prometheus’ boon, how every Olympian poured a gift into her and yet somehow all that soured the jar, became all the evils of humankind. The only spirit not loosed from Pandora’s jar is Hope: Is that then something humans cannot spoil through their gifts? What goddess or god does Hope originate from? Is it a gift of grace? Finding signs of that in your poem’s renewing shoots suggests so–the inquiry, at least–but what devastation comprises its midst. Is Hope too small, too frail, to assuage this? We’ve struggled at earthweal trying to balance despair and hope, but that seems to be an essential work. How could we otherwise keep writing? Anyway, thanks for sharing it and be well.
Thanks Brendan, yes, I too thought of the California fires and we had US and Canadian firefighters on the ground here during the crisis, something Australians are deeply grateful for. As far as this piece goes, our hope lies in both the forest renewing itself (though many animals, already pushed to the brink including the beloved koala, will not recover in SE Australia), people rebuilding their lives and that next season, a scant few months away, won’t be as bad. In the face of our government’s inaction on climate change, all we have is hope and each other…and poetry of course.
A brilliant piece, Peter…..powerful and sad….the fragmented, snapshot form works so well…and the details…”strut hinges and gates gone”..sprouting epyphitic green”…”pyro-calculus”…..all so sad, but if I know one thing about Australians, it is that they are a resilient bunch!
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This is elemental poetry. Wild. Savage. Blistered. A travelling horror show. I do love the way you spill yourself across paper.
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