I am ready to evacuate if need be.
My wife emailed to say a fire is out of control
on Julimar Road, less than ten kilometres away.
She says she'll return with the car, but I say it's okay,
we'll monitor and speak through the gaps.
She insists she will return: listening to the chat
in the library at Toodyay, seeing smoke in the west,
checking the FESA site. I say I will take a look outside
and get back to her in minutes. She is waiting. I climb
the block gingerly with my torn calf muscle striking back,
and see the growing pall over Julimar. A great firebreak
and a bitumen road are between here and there, I reassure,
though I will keep a close eye on it. The breeze blows
from the east, but is ambivalent and could swing
about. There are no semantics in this. And Paul Auster
is right where William (the lumberman) Bronk was wrong:
the poem doesn't happen in words, but 'between seeing
the thing and making it into a word'. Location location location.
As evidence: if fire sweeps through, only the mangled
metal of this Hermes typewriter will remain,
a witness, philosophy in-situ vanquished, and an elegy
made from bits of a different seeing with different words,
remain. Figurative density will take hold, and landscape
will be less fragile, the font more robust. It won't rely
on paper: ash become an idea, a taste for some.
You stop seeing the red when it's on top of you.
But true burning feeds on ash and the idea
of fire: it perseveres and requires only oxygen
and memory. Wild oats caught in my socks
taunt my ankles. Fuel for fire. In all seriousness.
I am not hearing AC/DC's 'This House is on Fire
out of perversity. This morning a rush of colour
brought on a flashback, and I've not had one of those
for a decade. Strychnine-saturated, like the bush
where rangers claim to conserve native species
through poisoned baits. Rapid heartbeat, dry mouth,
outbreaks of laughter (grotesque, face of death),
colour codings of annihilation: spiritual and topographical.
Phantasm of acid trips--pink batts, supermen, green dragon
orange barrels, purple hearts, clearlights, ceramic squares,
goldflakes, microdots, lightning bolts: nomenclature
of William Blake and weird melancholy of habitat loss.
Lost and unfounded. A run on images. Voices in the room.
Excruciating paranoid cartoon violence. So, I check
outside again and the plume is still moving southwest
though the wind is tentative and temperature
up five degrees over the last thirty minutes. This is realtime,
unlike hypnogogia, hallucinations? Grounds for worship.
Foundational ontology. I should mention that I have flu
and that's why I stayed home in the first place. Harvest
is full-on though I have finished grass cutting here.
I wore myself out and my defences are down. Run down.
Antibodies hesitant if not docile. I make rhetoric
out of the flood of image-fragments: seems like good sense,
making the best, keeping a grip, cool in a volatile situation?
I'm abandoning my poem on the wheatbelt stone gecko
and the 'keeled tail' of a black-headed monitor
which is running amok through the roof, along walls,
scaling trees with maritime skill. The images lack
explanation and coalesce, are minimalist, but will
serve as a poor kind of last will and testament.
One sheet in my pocket, and it will be this.
The wind has dropped, though smoke--not impenetrable
but more substantial than 'thin--hangs over the block,
a tentative fallout. The birds are doing their silence
thing, or have shot through. We keep no birds in coops.
The air is almost acrid. Defend or abandon?
It's when the smell of burning reaches upwind
that you know it has bitten deep. Firebreaks: check.
Water: check, but if the pump goes that's an end to flow.
Fireblanket: check. Personal papers and evacuation pack: check.
No room for 'literature': just this poem, paperweight.
Ready to lend a helping hand: always, to best of ability.
Essential medications. Maybe the boy's most precious toy,
but he wouldn't expect it. Something of my wife's.
Insects thick on the flyscreens: suddenly Hitchcockian.
Smoke-mushrooms are haloes about wattles they haven't yet touched
where it counts. Prelude. Early life of devastation, its long
too long in its brief moment of, well, beauty. Back again after
staggering uphill--glimpses of lush green moss amidst stubble
and granite are bemusing and bizarrely cheering--and all is
military, warzone, combat. Helitacs, fixed-winged water bombers
coming over the hills. Dousing. Or maybe it's anti-militaristic?
No time to think about this. Three years ago, fire destroyed
forty homes just south of here. It was like this then, too.
Alert Level: 'a bushfire is burning near Julimar and Kane Roads';
'stay alert and monitor your surroundings'; why use quote marks?
This is barely copyright in the life and death of it. Plagiarism?
Blame burns with a heat unlike any other and burns long
after last embers have faded. And with days of heat and high
winds ahead, even a dead ember might find heart again, and leap
to the occasion. Elemental showdown. Proof. Precedent.
Test case. Habeas corpus--the body present. The burning
question: people build houses in the bush, then blame the bush.
My brother, life-long surfer, says: If I get taken by a shark
remember it was while doing something I love in its universe.
Remember me in this light. The fire has jumped Julimar Road.