Poetry: Tempe Dump | clivejames.com
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Tempe Dump

I always thought the showdown would be sudden,
Convulsive as a bushfire triple-jumping
A roadway where some idiot Green council
Had forbidden the felling of gum trees,
And so, with no firebreaks to check its course,
The fire rides on like the army of Attila
To look for houses where the English Garden
Is banned, and there is only the Australian garden,
With eucalypts that overhang the eaves
And shed bark to ensure the racing flames
Will send the place up like a napalm strike.

Instead, it’s Tempe Dump. When we were small
My gang went there exploring. Piston rings
Lay round in heaps, shiny among the junk
Which didn’t shine at all, just gave forth wisps
Of smoke. The dump was smouldering underneath
But had no end in view. This is the fire
Within me, though I harbour noble thoughts
Of forests under phosphorous attack
And in an hour left black, in fields of ash —
Not this long meltdown with its leaking heat,
Its drips of acid, pools of alkali:
This slow burn of what should be finished with
But waits for the clean sweep that never comes.

Note (from Collected Poems)

When I was young, the name of the Sydney suburb Tempe was so closely associated with industrial waste that I later thought Keats was joking when he used the name Tempe as short-hand for Arcadia. Later still, while I was living in England, Tempe dump disappeared among the new constructions for the railway approach to Sydney Airport. Sic transit gloria mundi.