Australia Day, 2011, near Mannum
Canoeing at Purnong the lagoon's a skin
of light stitched through with weeds, the husks at bow
and stern bend down, spring back with every stroke
easier than fight; while weightless in our
glass canoes we dip and pause and dip and
glide through paddled sky now wet with trees;
first morning, high unhurried sun, a palette
trimmed to oil a hundred greens and blues.
Red gums, water to the waist recede
regroup and glide away. From harder
times, a fencepost stands and measures -
what? Never counted water yet, a post as worn
and grooved as land, cropped then
nibbled down to dust, a smoker's skin and
trembling hand, as raddled as this mirror's met,
the paddock drowned where sheep forget.
Over there the Murray lolls, higher
than it’s been for years, a river filled out, hands
on hips, all its elbows full of flesh. Four years
of drought left only bones, but water on a holy course,
crept in through the picnic place. Now trees
meet sky, that hard blue bowl has cradled
clouds so fingerlings of Murray cod thread
wet and plenty, bread and water, calm: lagoon.
When water pushed through weeks ago, first
staining dirt then choppy rivulet, the
mosaic of freshwater mussel shells,
paving scaly beds once dry as feasts
were filled up, dormant cusps, then making
sauce; frogs regrouped to chanting all night
long, a randy pulse for Lazarus, all together
now slip back, legs agrip, forever pushing slack.
The north is flooded under mud, cars and babies
swept away; sandbagged to our east, small towns
face tears each night the news, now gone to soldiers,
every one. Purnong's one lucky country: heaven.
But Paul remembers twenty swans, there’s only one
back, honking slow, no tortoises or cormorants; we now
begin to listen, learn, recall the seeds, and note
the signs, the mustard of this stony ground.
Sydney Morning Herald, 28 January 2012