Thursday, May 25, 2006

Poem du jour

I know this is a few weeks too late, but I only found it today, and I think it has a Beaconsfield resonance (it's actually a Wollongong poem), so I thought I'd share:


The sunlight of a cloudless winter day
Shines on in this faint brown, the eye can change
Tree, fern, and palm to soft or glinting green
And distant sea to blue: all these we know,
But the huge gash in the slope, split rock, churned clay,
Wrecked timber round the entrance of the mine,
The ominous drift of smoke, the women and dogs
Gathered there waiting--these we have not seen.

The women do not smile or smooth their hair,
Their whole life narrowed to the watch they keep;
One face looks towards the lens, but turned to stone
Seeing death. The shutter clicks, they only hear
The blast that tore the mountain from its sleep
(Warm after the dawn chill, and the lyrebirds singing).
The others will hope on till in their sight
The bodies are brought out, or time has gone
Past all the hours a man could take to stumble
Through old forgotten workings to the day.
Even then the dogs will still come back to wait
With puzzled eyes. In her mind's cell alone
Some voice has spoken the last word, and fear
And hope alike have nothing more to say.

They lose the sun in winter here too soon,
Early and cold the shadow will slip down
The steep range, and glide eastward to the shore.
I see them standing through the afternoon
Fixed in that waiting group, one turned away
Watching the light go from them out to sea,
Warm on the white boat still, gold on the islands,
But here the shade darkening, the night begun
When she must wake, with the wind under the door,
Fire out in the black stove, and still so long,
So long to live, the earth turned from the sun.

Put it away then, and forget her face
For it is years now since the wild vines spread
On the raw slope, and veiled the broken stones.
Whether or not green leaves of blessing grew
From her scars also, her last tears are shed
And she has found herself a narrow place
In the small graveyard crammed with that day's dead.
Yet in autumn when the long grass on her grave
At morning is bowed down with hanging dew
I have heard the mine, out of the mist above,
Howl, sharp and desolate, and have known then
It crouches still in its black labyrinth
And hungers for the flesh and bones of men.
And sometimes if you stare too long, even now,
Where that ridge rises up in dark-blue pride
Above pale farms, with all its folded forest
Clear in the sun-bright air, though miles away,
(O never trust the fair face of the world)
The great wound opens in the mountainside,
The early shadow falls upon the day.

Nan McDonald, from Selected Poems (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1969).

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