Disembodied head above the surface
Sunken body motionless
Despite the nips of countless fish come to taste this large human sacrifice
Laid-out in their shrinking, sacred waters.
As the burning sun dipped behind Mt Allan
I felt the heat of the day
—of the whole unrelentingly drying and frying week—
draining from me
As the water’s coolth seeped in; in this, the deepest spot,
Beside the long, green wall of water-weed rising vertically
Providing cover for the shy Mary River turtles who seek solace here, and
Whose endangered nose-tips I’ve seen breathing at this fluid juncture between the rocky-bottom and the cool, clear water.
“No ripples” … I tell myself, mindfully…
A self-imposed discipline in this wild and sacred place
As Agile Wallabies approach; first one, and then two,
Cautious, alert; grey ears pricking at any sound from the forest.
My face level with theirs as they look toward me;
Large rear haunches up, as they lean their pretty faces down and drink,
Drink from the shallowing pool edge,
where more water-weeds are stranded daily by the falling water level,
and each circumference-shrinking sip
Long; slow; deep draughts to slake their thirst.
Finally, after patiently filling, they rose, looked around, licked their paws, and bounded off into the crisp-dry fallen leaves of the creek bed,
Leaving me immersed in air and water, and the liminal darkening time zone between;
Where water beetles dodged each other like a precision sports-car team
And long-legged water-boatmen dented the water,
Walking on inverted clouds and rainforest reflections,
Bending the fading light where their feet poked the un-pierced surface tension,
Creating dimpled, silvery, menisci in the space-time-light continuum at this air-water interface through which I quietly protruded.
Below, barely visible, tiny fish;
Nibbling my tickled skin and forming goose-bumps as if I were a giant cod and they were cleaner-wrasse…
And, as dusk descended, the cicadas shrilled one last, deafening, triumphant, cacophonous, chorus and then fell silent….
It was like the end of an Act…
…I held my breath….
…should I applaud?
…I honoured the silence….
And wow… what a silence…!
Is there anything more silent than the pause in the collective soundscape after a mass, dusk, cicada crescendo…?
As sounds returned, I heard surprised thought say
They didn’t see me…!
….Or, did they…?
They’d certainly taken their time, drunk their fill… as if I wasn’t there…
Because they sensed I was no threat?
Because I made no ripples?
Because they too, knew, soon there would be none,
And they sensed, as I did, that we
—every-living-thing assembled here—
would bow to honour the ritual of this sacred sharing…?
At home now, in Brisbane, one hundred and fifty kilometres south,
As the smoke from too many fires turns parched suburbia orange
I reflect on the too-dry forests, and the shrinking pools, and the tinder-box conditions
And my tears well-up…
Imagine if, as each tear welled, and swelled, and slipped away
Each free-falling, gentle, teardrop
And leave a ripple…
One ripple, then another, then ripple after ripple,
Enough to refill that sacred pool,
Enough to satisfy those dependent on its cool clear waters,
Enough to replenish that which has filled me more than once,
So that the cycle of love, mutuality and life could continue…
I will keep crying….
For I believe,
In my soul…
That my tears will make a difference….
Even as the fires keep coming.
Neil Davidson, December 2019
About this place: The image is of a swimming hole near a friend’s property at the edge of the rainforest adjacent to Conondale National Park along Booloumba Creek, Mary Valley, in Southeast Queensland during a previous good rainfall season. The wallabies (macropod marsupials, similar to small kangaroos) were standing on dry creek bed, approximately in the centre of this photograph; I was upstream to the left.
About this poem: this poem was started at dusk – 6.37pm – Saturday 7 December 2019, as Australia’s record 2019 – 2020 fires continued unabated, and bushfires burned ever closer to the drying rainforest – you could feel its vulnerability; it was completed in Brisbane, several days later.
About the fires: The 2019–20 Australian bushfire season (Black Summer), was a period of bushfires in many parts of Australia, which, due to its unusual intensity, size, duration, and uncontrollable dimension, is considered a megafire. As of 28 October 2020, the fires burnt an estimated 24.3–33.8 million hectares (60–84 million acres; 243,000–338,000 square kilometres; 94,000–131,000 square miles – approximately the area of Italy, or the Philippines!), destroyed over 5,900 buildings (including 2,779 homes) and killed at least 34 people. It was claimed that three billion terrestrial vertebrates – the vast majority being reptiles – were affected and some endangered species were believed to be driven to extinction. (Wikipedia)