I came second!

November 12, 2018 at 7:00 am | Posted in Australia, History, Nature, Philosophy, Poetry, Reflections, The Red Centre | 19 Comments
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I recently entered a poem in a writing competition. The competition was the Alice Sinclair Memorial Writing Award, run by the Lake Macquarie branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW) to which I belong. It was open to all writers throughout Australia.

I was very happy to be told I had gained second place in the Poetry section with my poem, “Tosca – Northern Territory”. It is about a special place in the Red Centre of Australia, where I have camped several times and gone rabbit shooting too. While there, I’d sit at the entry to a shallow cave on top of a rock outcrop, and feel the majesty and vastness of the land. This is where the poem originated, and where I always return when I see the red dust of Australia’s ancient Red Centre.

I received my award on Saturday at the FAW meeting. Here is part of what the judge’s report said:

The poem is “a tightly written, image-rich poem that brings the reader into the moment of perception with visual imagery while also creating a satisfying link to history and tradition”.

Here is my poem. Read it slowly, and see if you can feel the country, its immensity and its beauty.

 

Tosca – Northern Territory

 

Linda Visman

 

Rocky red hillside, broken and rough, lies beneath my feet;

grey-green weeds and shiny, baked mudstone around;

endless, pale blue summer skies above

this overhang in which I can lie but not stand;

 

its pebble-studded roof, blackened by countless Dreamtime fires,

slopes down a body-length inside to a floor

scattered with twigs, leaves and droppings

– wallaby or goanna – or drought-defying rabbits.

 

A perfect lookout this, for those now gone – and for me –

across a sweeping panorama of hard-packed red sand

broken by low-growing stands of grey mulga and gidgee,

spiky domes of spinifex, and shallow gullies

gouged by seasonal downpours.

 

Distant caw of devil-crows mournful on the breeze;

taste of sunburned dust on my tongue,

coarse and dry in my eyes and on my skin,

a red-orange pigment dusting everything with its brand,

burning into every pore and crevice of mind and body.

 

Near the top of this hill in a thirsty landscape,

down between and beneath the sheltering rocks,

lies life – a native well, seeping just enough water

to keep a small band of travellers from perishing of thirst,

 

Or to sustain the miners who extracted turquoise wealth

then left a football-field-sized white talc scar down on the flat.

A tin can, string attached, lies hidden behind a rock

– slake your thirst, then replace it for those to come.

 

The ground that appears devoid of life by day,

at night sparkles everywhere with its own stars

– thousands of spider eyes reflected in the moonlight;

and all around in the cool of evening after day’s dry heat

wafts the pungent smell of the gidgee tree.

 

In this country the spirits of the past remain,

not only in ancient, fossilised trilobites and ferns

trapped within the baked mudstone of long-dried seabeds,

nor the deep diamond-studded night-time vault

where earth and plants, man and animals were born.

 

The Dreaming lives on in every leaf and twig,

every crow and crested pigeon, every spider, ant and lizard;

in the gales and cooling breezes and every drop of rain,

in every rock and every speck of seeping red dust.

 

How fleeting am I in this eternal place, and how tiny in its immensity!

 

(c) Linda Visman, 2018

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