His thought #1: The world, is it finite? Pliny the Elder
on what he saw and heard, 37 "books" to
round that up, early C.E. as he
proceeded to be infinite. His Naturalis. His Historia.
First bestiary ever in Book 8. Land life
and sea life and through-the-air and underground life.
Same as now. Only ancient—the one thing
Pliny never imagined: he'd be ancient.
We watched the Cassowary go famously
scary beside an ordinary house in Queensland,
a Tasmanian Devil road-leap on cue, at dusk,
Carmen on the radio west of Hobart, the Lyric Opera
all the way from Chicago to that end of the Earth.
When you see a Platypus love his mud
as he does, what happens?
Or while the Echidna slips into grass as into a pocket.
And Kangaroos, Wallabies lying down to
their regal so what as brilliant birds span out overhead
You think this world doesn't know things? I asked the fires
from a distance. Did you think you can
do any damn thing you want?
Like asking a mad bad baby to fix cars or not eat
pablum or be a sweet polite cry in the night.
Not Exactly What Dante Thought
his “hopeless, pathless, lightless woods forgot.”
I mean by dawn pre-fire and flood,
gum trees in their striptease
down to bare yellowish skin took sunlight cold like you
starve a fever until I almost believed the planet
clear-eyed enough to make
the southern-half claim: autumn in May!
Season wildly misplaced,
its leaves gold or red when they
should be back to buds, a beginning, a rabble-rousing.
Spring, for Christ’s sake! I got so mixed up.
Poetry = a tree Dante hollowed out and stepped inside to wait.
Pliny's first measure. The Roman world
hoarded up, full
Of venomous and poisonfull honey
Of the glo-worms
Of the Smell of good ground
Of Wolves, Of Dogges, Of Swine
and their natures
Things soaked and way under
surely recounted no matter how I mis-imagine.
But you must un-imagine, sang the Archangel from trees,
Dolphins, Sperm and Killer Whales,
his many-foot fish, sea-nettle fishes, other
nastie and filthie creatures
caught, kept for real in the middle of his brain, 77 CE.
Hell of a guy with eyes and ears
in that boat at Pompei.
That Pliny, too bad about dying as
a mountain spewed fire, the Archangel crooned
old-school, like Sinatra.
History: a who-done-it, a lie, a prayer, a questionnaire.
1) Did fish dive deeper at Pompeii, its mountain imploding?
2) Does close looking change any first or final thing?
3) What does ache itself ache for?
(You, said the Elder first week, what makes you think you
can write about our animals?)
In fact, Pliny's boat, sinking sideways
with his weight, what he knew inside the load he wrought was
everything + all of it so far
as he was able, as long as he was able--
Desperate steaming harbor where
fumes went lethal. He breathed in all right. No, I don't
picture it quiet.
. But water should be soothing,
boats should make it okay
to the other side, even in rain
lit as lightning. All those shoulds,
like that great bushfire in Canberra years ago
should have taken out every huge Eucalyptus: did
and did not, so many charred lower trunks we saw, the gutted
should-be-but-aren't just stumps.
I looked up.
Leaves still sprang off new branches--
a trick, a WHAAAAAT!?—
To come back from the dead. A how-in-the-world?
is hope. Of a sort. Of a sort….
Really? How many lives are we given, how much
happenstance in us? What the hell time is it?
Ask the platypus. Ask that patchwork of creature
that can't keep its species straight.
The archangel shrugged, look at me! I'm part bird too!
My wings wing out like a goddamn
cockatoo’s, note my spiky
yellow crest up there—more sulfur-esque by the minute,
best yellow ever….
Cheeky hybrid wanna-be,
taking a glorious bird's name in vain,
all celestial-glow about it.
True, the Archangel's Voice -- Almost the Same
as the cockatoo’s shriek, flight-wise and leaf-sick,
a tree-to-tree that shatters.
Like its cousin's too,
red-tailed and black--
"the flying bolt-cutter"—John the Bird Whisperer
spotted it gnawing through a branch.
John who walked with us, showed us secret places of
feather and burrow, river and rock.
Or was that archangel's pitch and moan
the Australian Raven's unheavenly ca and ca,
its beaten child’s
caaaaaa trailing off to
little bone-piles of nothing--
Those (hopeless, lightless, pathless) nights the old
go their last, done-in, the final
sliver of knowing anything on earth is
erase erase. Just another death.
So tracks an archangel’s eye from great heights.
That terrible caaaa
downslurring from trees or streets narrowed by
every car's slow, distracted start.
Eating supper by the window we thought
a real child out there.
We thought to call someone.
Meanwhile the Name -- Koala -- Means
in what tongue, whose mouth and DNA,
through how many eons?
Poetry, ditto. Buried business of tongue, DNA back
to seas parting, continents shifting, how
long it's been and what's to come.
(Weren't the fires listening, just waiting at that point?)
Ko-al-a! Look it up, idiot, the Archangel roused me.
What do you
mortal hybrids say now? Google it--
you bone & flesher,
reckless bias-machine from
your too-little-time to know anything, brain dissolving
with getting older. What's age to me?--a hybrid
eons before Uluru got to be Uluru,
before scat began telling the likes of you things like
who is who out all night
scrounging food though in fact
that's private, that's none of your beeswax!
I nodded to the tiny mites feasting
in his gorgeous hair as he
walked away. Classic archangel braggadocio!
I did look it up: Koala, an Indigenous word for no water.
There they were, up in trees only eating leaves.
Koala scary dream #7: Fur on fire
Friends, Stop. This Happened, I Swear
before terrible fires impressed
their little Pentecostal tongues of flame
all over the internet map like
a holy card hallucinates,
before both the brave and the timid wore
gasmasks to bed.
Friends, this was pre-fire, pre-knitting of mittens
for dazed burnt Koalas,
before poets began watering the bees,
before the floods finally came,
before present turned past to reconfigure a future.
Medieval enough, going dark, this nowhere-else
all of them: Platypus, Koala, Emu on the run,
Echidna spiked as grass that lies back
in wind or rain, steady multiple Kangaroos,
Wallabies upright or lying
sideways as if at a company picnic downing
martinis in the grassy expanse.
We hiked to see the rock paintings. We sat
for a while a few yards
from some Roos in the shadow of
their afternoon. An old female
pressed forward on those little arms to rise,
to try to rise.
We—full speed ho-hum to them, so nothing at all
in the next patch of gum trees.
Solidarity, sister! She
was me and we
were us--bad joints need oil, cross species—
as she hitched herself up.
Recollect is to rescue,
to invite back the plain astonishments.
That's the dream, to get away, is it not? We'll sit, we'll
walk happily to find the rock wall they painted
a thousand years back, to go back….
Open your book, Pliny, still at it at it as if
that raised roar of earth at Pompeii never kept raging,
as if fires in Australia skipped the loved places.