The Joyous Lake
Poems by Helen Hagemann
I am not the wheatfield nor the virgin forest I never chose this place but I am of it now. - Adrienne Rich
A Holiday of Ordinary Things
Curious About Cormorants
Death of Yourn
Ducks on Water Hollow
Left Over Wine
Letâ€™s Belly Roll
Penguins in Frost
Soon you will take that step, winter
The Drone of a Single Bee
This Beautiful City
Wildflowers bring out the wildness in me
Some of these poems (although in a different form and style) have been previously published by the author in a chapbook titled Until the Last Symphony Rises. Curious about Cormorants, and Forgotten Valley were published in Evangelyne & other poems (APC, Melbourne 2009) This Beautiful City was published in the Southern Review (1999)
A Holiday of Ordinary Things We arrive in a small country town and church bells deeply resound from a gothic tower, a spire that perches a miniature cross. The town straddles a river where water lilies bloom and in the early evening the ducks scuttle their way to the banks, muttering for a rustling sound of plastic, a bag of toast or crumbs. You have to cast your pity aside, for the river is rich. We waggle a finger, only guppies for you, we say. There’s everything you want in this town beside your own itinerary: restaurants, hotels, take-away, coffee shops. You’ll unpack a busy city for a latte, a piece of cake. Shops, swimming pool, antique museums are divided like the produce markets across the railway lines. You must open your eyes when you enter. Young country women are round, their bodies sculpted with a new being inside. Young men are brash, vocal. You know it’s the drink as they circle the town like pacing boxers, ready for a fight. On the outskirts, a graveyard of white stone, a shallow dam, but God is here with his kindred spirits as bells refrain from the highest hill.
Easter when the blood of Jesus seeped away. And you know, you have more chance than that to live on a holiday of ordinary things, in a hall that bursts a slatted dawn of light. Every day, the evening trills nocturnal song. Frogs and crickets, a lily-flowered river where black shadows intersect with parrotsâ€™ wings, on two people withdrawing into themselves the dim and flicker of a spotlight searching the streets, the park, the river, under the bridge, for their greyhound and a whippet.
Blue-eyed Cormorant i November at Tuggerah Lake and there's nothing here except a jetty, boats pitching further out in the bay, two teenagers lost in time staring at a float. On a deck white with age, a cormorant hangs its sails like furbelows out to air, equidistant wings, smoky black, white edged, catching the thermal calm. A human sound, and the bird pivots a direction south âˆ’ its mind dividing itself in this four-way calculation. There is a slow impulse to fly as it shifts from foot-to-foot, the cormorant, sheathing wings in close, rises to the sounds of mooring rings pinging on the pilings. ii I think of Mawson travelling the ice. Those numerous birds he glimpsed in ethereal blue, the curious pageant of penguins, seals on magic gondoliers. Macquarie Island, southern side, sea elephants wallowed in bog-holes. Old males, excited, raised a roar above their trunk-like snout. Out from the Aurora across dark reefs, snake-like kelp below, he spied blue-eyed cormorants, the fluff of a day's rookery rising white against the bluish-tinge of ice.
iii Here in the poem there's neither weather nor ice, but a sea bird measuring time between lake and home. Of course, there is more to the sea than a lone cormorant. Herons are bigger than egrets, though both have the same long legs. Plovers are cute and might have plural lovers. Loons sound like looney-tunes, and an albatross is the BIG BOSS. Gentoo penguins gently plod along. Skua-gulls and giant petrels, Mawson wrote, maraud nests of non-predacious birds. Royal penguins whir their flippers before marching out near bright-coloured Maori hens in the tussock grass. Sometimes the page is a mise-en-scĂ¨ne.
Bush Tail Brushed-tail possum
See that thing hanging by its tail fingers eating Marri leaves brush-tailed against the clouds fur in premature grey. I’m really mad at him woke me from a labored sleep he’s pruned our tree decorated the walk scattered roses on the ground. It’s not the rattle or his busy feet but the insomnia he brings me. I know he’s running with a nervous heart but the littering has to stop in my roof-top home. What will he do next? crop the eucalypts scatter Marri nuts sleep in hollows all day? Wait! before we call the pest control he’s a she! carrying a baby in its pouch now out with a runny nose
clinging to her back. So cute! I sweep the path sleep all day.
Curious About Cormorants Tempted by the sea's lull to snorkel, I find their passage curious, the way these great divers descend to steal the frugal tips of waves. Our group jack-knifes from the hem of reef, paddles out. And something else sinks forward, a lone cormorant, roused from her fluid stare, follows the scuttle of sediment from swimmers' legs. Flippers sink into the eye of the blue, identical hunters at best, careful over rock and pool; probing for abalone, shrimp and crayfish. On channel marker, the cormorant spreads her gown. Such a wingspan: the sea describing her as meditator, crouching tiger, the Jing in the I-Ching, cyclic Tui of the joyous lake. And infused into her shape, where no oil begins, is the rich glaze on black feathers, dark as a rain-soaked night. Even more curious is that final glide to rock; a composure of wings drying out like laundry, and a conviction, it seems, to be that still beauty at sea, silent as effigy.
Death of Yourn Bobtail: Nyoongar Name - Yourn
I was just a girl when the blue tongue came on a slow path through the trees he shouldered high spruced his crown scales bristled in the spring he walked on pebbles scattered on the grass blue tongue moved around his powerful jaw cut the air his scaly armor raised I felt his steely eyes ancient steps blue lip dragging my limp banana minutes from its skin I heard the thundering charging metal, the chrome exhaust a screeching din, the devil’s sores the road flew stones I dived drowning into mud creature slower than the moon you didn’t hear the battle noise of this receding world you didn’t feel the hurry of the chase instead you flew on emu’s feet of lost dreamtime this road has no pity on footsteps in stone nor does it shelter a wild beast nearly tame 15
Ducks on Water Hollow No one can claim this space here amongst the lily pads. We are eighteen, some of higher rank; musk, wood ducks, wild ducks who never stop shifting. We eat curls of bread with fresh butter thrown into the river. Someone screams ahead, the last of the picnickers ceasing their wild rampage over a round ball of leather. The quiet grows. Already, we feel the cool coming in. Hear feet sloshing, dogs funneling noses into earth. When the light fades, we glide into black aisles, into a nightâ€™s rest on lily-pads, into our water hollow, that green hollow of soft earth filled with dark shadows. Sleep comes easily in this world of wild reality. Puddle, bush and mist and the weight of human has gone in our triumph. No one can claim this river unless they can place their heads upside down into mud. 16
Dugite Mother Pseudonaja Affinis I must hurry not just hasten rocks move I make a wide berth she smells me defenseless you can't force bravery in bush gardens of molested mice snake holes are venomous reasons to hasten my own season ends and begins when she defends 20 eggs a haystack of Dugites eat through spring she may attack poison muscle but I wait for her speed when it comes brown in travel mother's practice leaves defenseless I hasten
Eating Sundays like I’m eating nature
Sundays have little ways to be poor like the pleasure of lunch under peppermint trees the river is crystal after rain a dolphin flips the surface people watch him playing shark it’s a jazz band of colours when jibs unfurl and Old Gaffers sport rigs of yesteryear the wind plays games on the river sailboards crib the shallows hulls miss zigzagging colours— here, the river is on loan to boats needing a tool kit for the bilge foreshore kites are in wild jungle colours horses swim the river bodies stretch on jetties on the cracks of boards I undo another path play the river with my legs tease ripples into water puddle little silk bubbles in the hem of my dress moistening my burnt skin slipping toes from shoes rug from its mooring I walk softly on water’s edge like I’m eating nature
Forgotten Valley 1. In the village of St. Albans a shawl of road settles between mountain and river; where in 1789 Governor Phillip found new ways to name the Hawkesbury. Townfolk thought of England when they lugged sandstone for church and courthouse, thought of refuge, continuum, oars knocking rowlocks, supine on the bank, lines captive in dream and slipknot. Some prospered on what ibis and heron drew from fertile flats. Others yielded riches from fingernails of soil. Embarking from county Hertfordshire, they remembered high points of culture, shared cattle pens, close-knit allotments, roots of their "Common" history. 2. At Spencer, under wink of cloud, my brother leads us to breakfast. We behave like locals, pots of tea in the courtyard, croissants and jam, the Macdonald river staring back at us. It's a pretty time of year, streets edging wisteria, scent of frangipani. You recognise sounds around you, boat trailers ready to winch, Yamahas on full throttle, bikies' spurs scratching the surface. Their ground rumble sending cockatoos wailing treetops, vibrations that wake us forever.
On the river, firemen are zipped up in safety colours. We watch the skipper at the wheel, his smile as wide as Lunar Park when his roadhouse coffee comes. (It's a river joke to be wet on the inside first). On our side of the street, we listen to each other's news, my brother happy with ten acres, two dogs, two sheep. A boat mechanic we now call 'farmer'. 3. At the Settler’s Arms, built by convicts, we order ploughman’s lunches all around. Beer follows, announcing our place under a large Moreton Bay. It’s mountain country and my brother knows what dries a throat when thoughts gather of chopping wood, the miles ahead. We drive away, rejoicing with the throb of it all, the sylvan, the half pastoral, the cemetery, still in its graceful composure. On the journey home, red blossoms fall and Wiseman’s Ferry comes into view. We could be hours in the arms of this river, resting our happy tongues, the punt slowly shifting, inch by inch. 4. Leaving the Forgotten Valley (a highway bypass never spoiling the view), we enter the tilting mountainsides, the soft earth of leaves. We say, we won’t forget the tangled valley, this pasture – That Common, lunch at St. Albans, and rows of Calliopsis shading our wheels.
House Call Kookaburra – Dacelo novaeguineae
She comes like a soprano loading the sky with her throaty call today she’s fishing in the suburbs for prints in lizard sleep busy this week with spring tumbling chicks two in her hollow tree voracious eaters thumping wood she waits in the street for finger clicks someone calling an arm raising flesh– she has learnt the colour of shoes learnt to whittle brick how to study water thirsting from a deeper well from post to pecking meat warbling in clamp of tongue and juice she pivots wall gazes over roofs sough with heat spreads her territorial wings to fly away a little less hungry
Left Over Wine
It’s fragile and rehearsed in this mind cask home pleasures are like the sentiment of crisp, summer wine. It mouths ‘get help!’ so you dive unexpectedly into the freezing brook through wooded trees perfectly still. Only you’ve had more wine than usual and distortion wins. The grass is intense and there’s plenty of greenit’s like having a bottle you’ve saved all these years. Blackberries hedge the railway bridge mulberries give a whole new meaning to bottled jamthe purple avenger stays before tea. You say ‘no’ to this dream in your head it’s a letting down of home-field the school team you approach fewer each year. You let the grader scrape the voices in the glade swing the river rope you missed hold your breath longer under water.
You canâ€™t remember how many silkworms you kept or when the blackberries disappeared but the wine tastes sweeter than it used to. The old neighbourhood has disappeared in brick the weathercock is a stable dish and backyard pickets no longer talk. You turn over, wake in a different world.
Let’s Belly Roll Echidna – Tachyglossus Aculeatus
prickly to begin with and when approached you belly roll shoulder in a ball of silence it’s the same for me except I rocked years under the doona perhaps that’s our safety leaf when we’re close to despots you hatch a single egg a tongue licks your breast in childbirth I curled screaming with eyelids closed even worse breast feeding was messy painful, brief here we differ greatly only in looks my body hair is minimal you have too much belly fur I’m buried in paper leaves your snout probes soil my enemies live in tunnels you eat them for lunch could we swap?
human forms have ways of tearing forests to shreds itâ€™s like paring flesh from antsâ€™ nests and insect wings do you still live in a rock retreat? if I look hard I might find you buried in soft sand somewhere, afraid of me
Penguins in Frost
White glossed, unbearably chilled these penguins are piqued in glare nothing moves except shadows the music of the ice as it drips on fur and face. The north wind sings, unbuttons their coats. Their statuesque flippers defrost as water leaks from their stance. These pensive birds are used to the frost, snow, the sudden flood of blizzards. Look! flakes shimmy the buried one is no longer a totem pole and moves ahead from a stiff wall of ice.
Crickets In symphony string Frogs plucking violins and Birds wade in orchestral pond, a Mind song
some purple hides near the tail they go on making it from blue gradually you become aware of their bill in red, turquoise chest to tiny face, white undertail, brown and orange feet the only purple is a distant view of perfumed jacaranda when purple is floral and warm it settles on the sky over slatted roofs when you go down to the water’s edge Swamphens run in pairs, black tails flicking Morse code amongst the reeds an exquisite creature, runs a four-way spread of feet as a fretwork to its flighty footwork when purple socks hang to dry you go on seeing that swamp-bird fly not wade to the bank on the other side purple socks fly in the wind, and when dry, inside your shoes, that space between foot and cuff can’t be seen much like the purple on a black and Purple Swamphen
Soon you will take that step, winter
soon you will take that step, winter shortening the days from cumulus cloud to thick long coats hands inside pockets solving the riddle of a lost note in a little while, day will demand closure lamps will distort a full brandy glass there will be a charmed rolling of plump thighs into flannel, chilled feet into fluffy slippers frangipanis will fall and curl and sleep will not come while the air shivers with rain and lightning and thunder howls across the front lawn like the fear of broken glass
The Drone of a Single Bee
A single bee collects all morning, a sense for the endless storing of honey. She knows the way in, the way out. Her drone busier, softer than the swarm at home. Her legs brush against stamens, forsythia crammed with sweetness. Her saddle-bags are strapped and yellow against the light. She knows she cannot stay, already there too long; the hive a world humming away. She knows this winter there's an absence of rain, fewer blossoms. The honeycomb full of consequence and distance, a queen's desire, eggs ready to hatch. The cold wind might come whisk her away, white clover and pollen drying her tired, aching legs curled against their hunger.
this beautiful city in this beautiful city while the rain drowns your voice game crickets play their violins and scratch out their little songs but they're mean when it comes to truth the traffic hums as the city sleeps winding its macaroni framework around the bones of guardians long forgotten, gone black people once knew the legends of the narrowing bands of the river why it never floods or sleeps and we cover their legends in stone and wash them away like sand from our hands when summerâ€™s gone cicadas fill beacons of rain coming down but the rain doesnâ€™t flood the town or raise the river to wash the streets where do the guardians sleep in the busiest streets, in the busiest town? in this beautiful city the sky is perfumed in good-year cologne such luxury, while the traffic coils
21stC spoils and the black dust spoils the oils of my skin â€“but my voice is clean my voice is clean
Wildflowers bring out the wildness in me
I hold a lemon cottonhead in my hand, snip purple wisteria, the act itself shows the wildness in me. in this garden there are lemons out of reach, a hedgerow of pansies camellias, hydrangea, apsidals budding eco-system amongst the pines mulch spreads its incongruity of what is real what is better kept in bed we sit in a room where the past whispers dignity, silence, a womanâ€™s smile that floats with us like clouds above each year a molding of poems defining self, the cityscape, a loverâ€™s twist of infidelity. subtract the clutter of wayward feet coffee, tea and laughter and you have the best canvas, oil-scent of eucalyptus, razzle-dazzle spattered rain lost beetles on the path, gumnuts, tender shoots of wildflowers looking left and right
Copyright © 2011 Unless for the purpose of study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process without the written permission of the author. http://members.iinet.net.au/~helen.hagemann http://helenhagemann.blogspot.com Adelie Penguins incased in ice after a blizzard at Cape Denison: photo by Frank Hurley, National Library of Australia. Front cover and remaining photographs are the author’s work.
Acknowledgements This e-book could not have been produced without the publishing knowledge of Walter Ruhlmann of mgversion2>datura – an online French/English Journal @ http://mgversion2datura.hautetfort.com/ and ISSUU @ http://issuu.com/ I am very grateful for their web mastery.
Helen Hagemann's new e-book, The Joyous Lake, takes you down a nature trail to ponds, rivers and lakes and more.