Archive for January 5th, 2020

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Bushfire by (Stephen) Philip Salom

As if going into battle, the knapsack
full on my shoulders, its pipe and nozzle
slung up like a rifle.
We fought along the river, seeing shrubs
explode, riddled with fire,
eerie sounds of trees shrieking
like things alive, feral, flames like faces
spilling down into the ferns.
We staggered, sick with the hammering heat,
dousing endless flams that slammed at us
like nightmares, sullen ghosts
groping at our limbs. We plunged
into that day’s red thunder,
subsumed like suiciders who stare into
the rifle, gulp the flame. Individuals
meandering in something huge.
We choked in smoking semi-darkness,
shadows through the lead-coloured
air of limbo.

Now the aching blistering weight
of the knapsack pulling my shoulders.
Exhaustion worries the scorched end
of some unity: thought and action
fused into one. Sagging now,
heavier than the slopping drums
behind the tractors coming in.
We see the new men walking in
and seem to meet our earlier selves
but are more certain and more tired.
I, older than my youth, seeing these men
as if they were children.

From an unseen movement
of pores and sticks,
insects stitch the heat.
Dragon-flies hover above the dam,
their wings rustle and blur.
Empty chrysalis shine,
translucent, on reeds.
The brown water sinks.

I swear at the dogs
sneaking into the shade or slipping
beneath fences to hang
their tongues in the dam.

See now the dairy’s iron roof
ebbing and distorting in the haze,
as cows file along the race.
And I see through different heat
black stumps in lines, iron-rimmed
tractors, rusting now to pretend
this red identity of fire after
the flame. Or the bent girders, claws,
roof-iron punched into curves
by the puglist fire.

Blackened cattle, like flawed statues
for a day, crammed into fence corners
where they tore at life
as death mounted them and sang
from a wobbling, distorted mouth.

The noise of heat. Strange pressure on my eardrums,
sounds on so many unseen nerves.
Bush like a shaman’s spittle,
sand, powder and breath, crash
of an animal leaping in the bracken:
spirits in the gritty palm. Murmurings,
as if soil or rabbits’ fur sensed
stoma gossiping of saps’ events,
or snakes in the undergrowth,
or wedge-tails stirring the tree-tops
seized in a day’s talon.
Heat and sound, like a mind knowing
the bushes’ circle: wood, carcasses,
fragments in the mesh of ants,
eaten down to sand. Around,
around. Green buds
humming on the spindle of black trees.
Suddenly coming uopon the shape:
black, molten body of a kangaroo
sagging to the ground, its feet
caught in the fence’s top barb
that snatched in flight, fire shrieking all around,
flames that raced on flesh,
like a conduction — to the ground.


Date: 1980

By: (Stephen) Philip Salom (1950- )