The old hull’s spine shoots out of the mud-flat,
a black crooked finger pointing back to the house.
On the dead low the smell of the mangroves.
The river seeps through the window, the books
are opened out on the desk. When the first breeze
hits the curtain the cats scatter.
It could be dawn for all I know, concentration
wanders through Creon’s words to Antigone
Go to the dead and love them – okay so they live as
long as I do – what else can I make of it?
The bright feathers from a crimson rosella lie
in clumps on the floor with a pair of broken wings.
In the dark I try to write and remember the zoo
I played in as a child. There was a balding sedated lion
and a wedge-tailed eagle hunched on a dead
tree in a cage; they threw it rabbits
in 1953. The whooping cranes side-
stepped the concrete ponds and whooped all night.
The blue heron flaps across the river in my head,
poddy mullet hanging from its tight beak.
Ah, dead fish, the old black crow, the sick pelican.
I pad the room, out there mangroves are pumping up
the putrid air, life goes on. At the zoo they
still throw the animals dead meat, the big cats
are bred in labs where they lock the albino
freaks away. I pace the kitchen: where are the books,
who reads the poems? I take a drink, ribbonfish
swim across my pages, I shake my head but they swim on –
in low flocks, chromium ribbons, they fly under
the river herding up the poddy mullet,
rippling the surface, as the tawny frogmouth knows.
The books have gone, the spoonbills wade in
with whitebait skipping ahead of them,
channel-billed cuckoo come swooping after the crows,
flying low over the water, calling their mates,
dipping their hooked beaks into the moving chrome.
I sleep in broken snatches and dream nothing.
Mosquitoes suck at my cheeks and empty bottles
clutter the verandah, the books are in darkness
but the sandy whimbrels finger the pages, words
dissolve, waves of the dead arrive in dreams.
Out there the black finger points to the mouth
of the river, where the dead are heading, they
move over the window glass. The extinct fins move
the fingers of my grandfather, mending nets,
the dead friends sing from invisible books. The heron
picks the blood-shot eye from my father’s terrible
work in the kilns and darkness is complete.
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