Poetry: The Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle | clivejames.com
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The Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle


The people are eating dinner in that country north of Legge's Lake;
behind flywire and Venetians, in the dimmed cool, town people at Lunch.
Plying knives and forks with a peek-in sound, with a tuck-in sound,
They are thinking about relatives and inventory, they are talking about customers and visitors.
In the country of memorial iron, on the creek-facing hills there,
they are thinking about bean plants, and rings of tank water, of growing a pumpkin by Christmas;
rolling a cigarette, they say thoughtfully Yes, and their companion nods, considering.
Fresh sheets have been spread and tucked tight, childhood rooms have been seen to,

for this is the season when children return with their children
to the place of Bingham's Ghost, of the Old Timber Wharf, of the Big Flood That Time,
the country of the rationalized farms, of the day-and-night farms, and of the Pitt Street farms,
of the Shire Engineer and many other rumours, of the tractor crankcase furred with chaff,
the places of sitting down near ferns, the snake-fear places, the cattle-crossing-long-ago places.


It is the season of the Long Narrow City; it has crossed the Myall, it has entered the North Coast,
that big stunning snake; it is looped through the hills, burning all night there.
Hitching and flying on the downgrades, processionallly balancing on the climbs,
it echoes in O'Sullivan's Gap, in the tight coats of the flooded-gum trees;
the tops of palms exclaim at it unmoved, there near Wootton.
Glowing all night behind the hills, with a north-shifting glare, burning behind the hills;
through Coolongolook, through Wang Wauk, across the Wallamba,
the booming tarred pipe of the holiday slows and spurts again; Nabiac chokes in glassy wind,
the forests on Kiwarrak dwindle in cheap light; Tuncurry and Forster swell like cooking oil.
The waiting is buffed, in timber villages off the highway, the waiting is buffeted:
The fumes of fun hanging above ferns; crime flashes in strange windscreens, in the time of the Holiday.
Parasites weave quickly through the long gut that paddocks shine into;
powerful makes surging and pouncing: the police, collecting Revenue.
The heavy gut winds over the Manning, filling northward, digesting towns, feeding the towns;
they all become the narrow city, they join it;
girls walking close to murder discard, with excitement, their names.
Crossing Australia of the sports, the narrow city, bringing home the children.


It is good to come out after driving and walk on bare grass;
walking out, looking all around, relearning that country.
Looking out for snakes, and looking out for rabbits as well;
going into the shade of myrtles to try their cupped climate, swinging by one hand around them,
in that country of the Holiday...
stepping behind trees to the dam, as if you had a gun,
to that place of the Wood Duck,
to that place of the Wood Duck's Nest,
proving you can still do it; looking at the duck who hasn't seen you,
the mother duck who'd run Catch Me (broken wing) I'm Fatter (broken wing), having hissed to her children.


The birds saw us wandering along.
Rosellas swept up crying out we think we think; they settled farther along;
knapping seeds off the grass, under dead trees where their eggs were, walking around on their fingers,
flying on into the grass.
The heron lifted up his head and elbows; the magpie stepped aside a bit,
angling his chopsticks into pasture, turning things over in his head.
At the place of the Plough Handles, of the Apple Trees Bending Over, and of the Cattlecamp,
there the vealers are feeding; they are loosely at work, facing everywhere.
They are always out there, and the forest is always on the hills;
around the sun are turning the wedgetail eagle and her mate, that dour brushhook-faced family:
they settled on Deer's Hill away back when the sky was opened,
in the bull-oak trees way up there, the place of fur tufted in the grass, the place of bone-turds.


The Fathers and the Great-grandfathers, they are out in the paddocks all the time, they live out there,
at the place of the Rail Fence, of the Furrows Under Grass, at the place of the Slab Chimney.
We tell them that clearing is complete, an outdated attitude, all over;
we preach without a sacrifice, and are ignored; flowering bushes grow dull to our eyes.
We begin to go up on the ridge, talking together, looking at the kino-coloured ants,
at the yard-wide sore of their nest, that kibbled peak, and the workers heaving vast stalks up there,
the brisk compact workers; jointed soldiers pour out then, tense with acid;
several probe the mouth of a lost gin bottle;
Innuendo, we exclaim, literal minds! and go on up the ridge, announced by finches;
Passing the place of the Dingo Trap, and that farm hand it caught, and the place of the Cowbails,
we come to the road and watch heifers,
little unjoined Devons, their teats hidden in fur, and the cousin with his loose-slung stockwhip driving them.
We talk with him about rivers and the lakes; his polished horse is stepping nervously,
printing neat omegas in the gravel, flexing its skin to shake off flies;
his big sidestepping horse that has kept its stones; it recedes gradually, bearing him;
we murmur stone-horse and devilry to the grinners under grass.


Barbecue smoke is rising at Legge's Camp; it is steaming into the midday air,
all around the lake shore, at the Broadwater, it is going up among the paperbark trees,
a heat-shimmer of sauces, rising from tripods and flat steel, at that place of the cone shells,
at that place of the Seagrass, and the tiny segmented things swarming in it, and of the Pelican.
Dogs are running around disjointedly; water escapes from their mouths,
confused emotions from their eyes; humans snarl at them Gwanout and Hereboy, not varying their tone much;
the impoverished dog people, suddenly sitting down to nuzzle themselves; toddlers side with them:
toddlers, running away purposefully at random, among cars, into big drownie water (come back, Cheryl-Ann!).
They rise up as charioteers, leaning back on the tow-bar; all their attributes bulge at once:
swapping swalsh shoulder-wings for the white-sheeted shoes that bear them,
they are skidding over the flat glitter, stiff with grace, for once not travelling to arrive.
From the high dunes over there, the rough blue distance, at length they come back behind the boats,
and behind the boat's noise, cartwheeling, or sitting down, into the lake's warm chair;
they wade ashore and eat with the families, putting off that uprightness, that assertion,
eating with the families who love equipment, and the freedom from equipment,
with the fathers who love driving, and lighting a fire between stones.


Shapes of children were moving in the standing corn, in the child-labour districts;
coloured flashes of children, between the green and parching stalks, appearing and disappearing.
Some places, they are working, racking off each cob like a lever, tossing it on the heaps;
other places, they are children of child-age, there playing jungle:
in the tiger-striped shade, they are firing hoehandle machine-guns, taking cover behind fat pumpkins;
in other cases, it is Sunday and they are lovers.
They rise and walk together in the sibilance, finding single rows irksome, hating speech now,
or, full of speech, they swap files and follow defiles, disappearing and appearing;
near the rain-grey barns, and the children building cattleyards beside them;
the standing corn, gnawed by pouched and rodent mice; generations are moving among it,
the parrot-hacked, medicine-tasselled corn, ascending all the creek flats, the wire-fenced alluvials,
going up in patches through the hills, towards the Steep Country.


Forest and State Forests, all down off the steeper country; mosquitoes are always living in there:
they float about like dust motes and sink down, at the places of the Stinging Tree,
and of the Straghorn Fern; the males feed on plant-stem fluid, absorbing that watery ichor;
the females meter the air, feeling for the warm-blooded smell, needing blood for their eggs.
They find the dingo in his sleeping-place, they find his underbelly and his anus;
they find the possum's face, they drift up the ponderous pleats of the fig tree, way up into its rigging,
the high camp of the fruit bats; they feed on the membranes and ears of bats; tired wings cuff air at them;
their eggs burning inside them, they alight on the muzzles of cattle,
the half-wild bush cattle, there at the place of the Sleeper Dump, at the place of the Tallowwoods.
The males move about among growth tips; ingesting solutions, they crouch intently;
the females sing, needing blood to breed their young; their stinging is in the scrub country;
their tune comes to the name-bearing humans, who dance to it and irritably grin at it.


The warriors are cutting timber with brash chainsaws; they are trimming hardwood pit-props and loading them;
Is that an order? they hoot at the peremptory lorry driver, who laughs; he is also a warrior.
They are driving long-nosed tractors, slashing pasture in the dinnertime sun;
they are are fitting tappets and valves, the warriors, or giving finish to a surfboard.
Addressed on the beach by a pale man, they watch waves break and are reserved, refusing pleasantry;
they joke only with fellow warriors, chaffing about try-ons and the police, not slighting women.
Making Timber a word of power, Con-rod a word of power, Sense a word of power, the Regs. a word of power,
they know belt-fed from spring-fed; they speak of being stiff, and being history;
the warriors who have killed, and the warriors who eschewed killing,
the solemn, the drily spoken, the life peerage of endurance; drinking water from a tap,
they watch boys who think hard work a test, and boys who think it is not a test.


Now the ibis are flying in, hovering down on the wetlands,
on those swampy paddocks around Darawank, curving down in ragged dozens,
on the riverside flats along the Wang Wauk, on the Boolambayte pasture flats,
and away towards the sea, on the sand moors, at the place of the Jabiru Crane;
leaning out of their wings, they step down; they take out their implement at once,
out of its straw wrapping, and start work; they dab grasshopper and ground-cricket
with non-existence... spiking the ground and puncturing it... they swallow down the outcry of a frog;
they discover titbits kept for them under cowmanure lids, small slow things.
Prolonging the earth, they make little socket noises, their thoughtfulness jolting down and up suddently;
there at Bunyah, along Firefly Creek, and up through Germany,
the ibis are all at work again, thin-necked ageing men towards evening; they are solemnly all back
at Minimbah, and on the Manning, in the rye-and-clover irrigation fields;
city storemen and accounts clerks point them out to their wives,
remembering things about themselves, and about the ibis.


Abandoned fruit trees, moss-tufted, spotted with dim lichen paints; the fruit trees of the Grandmothers,
they stand along the creekbanks, in the old home paddocks, where the houses were,
they are reached through bramble-grown front gates, they creak at dawn behind burnt skillions,
at Belbora, at Bucca Wauka, away in at Burrell Creek, at Telararee of the gold-sluices.
The trees are split and rotten-elbowed; they bear the old-fashioned summer fruits,
the annual bygones: china pear, quince, persimmon;
the fruit has the taste of former lives, of sawdust and parlour song, the tang of Manners;
children bite it, recklessly,
at what will become for them the place of the Slab Wall, and of the Coal Oil Lamp,
the place of moss-grit and swallows' nests, the place of the Crockery.


Now the sun is an applegreen blindness through the swells, a white blast on the sea face, flaking and shoaling;
now it is burning off the mist; it is emptying the density of trees, it is spreading upriver,
hovering about the casuarina needles, there at Old Bar and Manning Point;
flooding the island farms, it abolishes the milker's munching breath
as they walk towards the cowyards; it stings a bucket here, a teatcup there.
Morning steps into the world by ever more southerly gates; shadows weaken their north skew
on Middle Brother, on Cape Hawke, on the dune scrub toward Seal Rocks;
steadily the heat is coming on, the butter-water time, the clothes-sticking time;
grass covers itself with straw; abandoned things are thronged with spirits;
everywhere wood is still with strain; birds hiding down the creek galleries, and in the cockspur canes;
the cicada is hanging up her sheets; she takes wing off her music-sheets.
Cars pass with a rational zoom, panning quickly towards Wingham,
through the thronged and glittering, the shale-topped ridges, and the cattlecamps,
towards Wingham for the cricket, the ball knocked hard in front of smoked-glass ranges, and for the drinking.
In the time of heat, the time of flies around the mouth, the time of the west verandah;
looking at that umbrage along the ranges, on the New England side;
clouds begin assembling vaguely, a hot soiled heaviness on the sky, away there towards Gloucester;
a swelling up of clouds, growing there above Mount George, and above Tipperary;
far away and hot with light; sometimes a storm takes root there, and fills the heavens rapidly;
darkening, boiling up and swaying on its stalks, pulling this way and that, blowing round by Krambach;
coming white on Bulby, it drenches down on the paddocks, and on the wire fences;
the paddocks are full of ghosts, and people in cornbag hoods approaching;
lights are lit in the house; the storm veers mightily on its stem, above the roof; the hills uphold it;
the stony hills guide its dissolution; gullies opening and crumbling down, wrenching tussocks and rolling them;
the storm carries a greenish-grey bag; perhaps it will find hail and send it down, starring cars, flattening tomatoes,
in the time of the Washaways, of the dead trunks braiding water, and of the Hailstone Yarns.


The stars of the holiday step out all over the sky.
People look up at them, out of their caravan doors and their campsites;
people look up from the farms, before going back; they gaze at their year's worth of stars.
The Cross hangs head-downward, out there over Markwell;
it turns upon the Still Place, the pivot of the Seasons, with one shoulder rising:
‘Now I'm beginning to rise, with my Pointers and my Load...'
hanging eastwards, it shines on the sawmills and the lakes, on the glasses of the Old People.
Looking at the Cross, the galaxy is over our left shoulder, slung up highest in the east;
there the Dog is following the Hunter; the Dog Star pulsing there above Forster; it shines down on the Bikies,
and on the boat-hire sheds, there at the place of the Oyster; the place of the Shark's Eggs and her Hide;
the Pleiades are pinned up high on the darkness, away back above the Manning;
they are shining on the Two Blackbutt Trees, on the rotted river wharves, and on the towns;
standing there, above the water and the Lucerne flats, at the place of the Families;
their light sprinkles down on Taree of the Lebanese shops, it mingles with the streetlights and their glare.
People recover the starlight, hitching north,
travelling north beyond the seasons, into that country of the Communes, and of the Banana:
the Flying Horse, the Rescued Girl, and the Bull, burning steadily above that country.
Now the New Moon is low down in the west, that remote direction of the cattlemen,
and of the Saleyards, the place of steep clouds, and of the Rodeo;
the New Moon who has poured out her rain, the moon of the Planting-times.
People go outside and look at the stars, and at the melon-rind moon,
the Scorpion going down into the mountains, over there towards Waukivory, sinking into the tree-line,
in the time of the Rockmelons, and of the Holiday...
the Cross is rising on his elbow, above the glow of the horizon;
carrying a small star in his pocket, he reclines there brilliantly,
above the Allum Mountain, and the lakes threaded on the Myall River, and above the Holiday.