Twitching to burn


My grandparents lived in a tiny country town in southern Queensland. Nearly every year, we would pile into the station wagon and make the almost 2,000 kilometre drive from Gippsland in Victoria all the way up to visit them for Christmas. Sometimes we’d cut up through Orbost and then stick more or less to the coast road, up through Burmagui and beyond Sydney heading through Musswellbrook and Tenterfield. Sometimes after Cann River, we’d head via Cooma, Cowra and Coonabarabran. Then other times, we’d set off in the opposite direction, going first westwards towards Melbourne and then steering up through Sheparton, Narrandera and Goodiwindi. The drive would take us through all sorts of landscapes and towns with magical names. The inland routes would often carry us along stretches of road where the bush was sparse and dry and twitching to burn.

Our journey would generally take us about two or three days, and in the early years, when my mum would still come with us, Mum and Dad would take turns driving, while we three (and later on four) kids played and read and fought and slept in the back. Later, when Dad drove alone, I’d sit up awake, beside him, wanting to be sure he didn’t fall asleep till we stopped over in a motel in one of the magical-named places, and still later, when I proudly possessed my license, Dad and I would take turns at the wheel. At different points on our journey we would stop off somewhere, maybe to have a meal, or spend some time under shady trees in the park of some town, or to have a swim in the artesian hot spring baths at Moree.

On the way up, our heads were mostly full of thoughts of arrival and Granma and Pop and Uncles and cousins and Christmas and food and presents. On the way back, the air of departure hung over us, the stillness of separation. It was on the journeys home that my thoughts sometimes filled with nostalgia and the need to pin down the unpinnable, and the landscape seemed to echo how I felt. This poem I wrote travelling back down south in our old brown Kingswood when I was about 17 or 18.

Thirst of the Earth

Parched stillness, pressing down
Sucking dry this land.
Draining life,
stealing green,
greedy yet for more,
choking with the screaming dust
of the thirsting earth.
Gnarled trees rasp their sighs.
Once-full dams are dry.
The gaping cracks
in the once-green earth
Cry out
to the stark, cruel sky.
Where once was life
lies huddled death.
The earth
groans
with her desire,
begging to the ruthless dry.
The land quivers –
Far off, a sign of hope in the blue
of the naked sky.
A wispy whirl of white draws nearer,
swelling, growing
to a mountain of billowing grey.
A slow, low rumble gathers itself
to pound its greeting to the glad Earth-
Then, from the grey-black sky-mountain
pours forth the molten silver.
The land sings out its joy.
And the Earth drinks.

© Cate Kimberley and Word and Affect, 2012

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