Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The OleMan And The Boy

The OleMan And The Boy

A fable by Wayne David Knoll

- written at Yuendumu, Northern Territory 1995



Just an OleMan. And a Boy. Walking.

These two people. Walking around.

The OleMan has a black hat and a crooked stick.

The Boy has a colourful hat and an umbrella. They are living walking.

The OleMan, Grandfather, is knowing where they go. What wisdom. How to cook. Make fire. The Boy, quick, bright, finds food. Climbs for eggs. Fetches berries. Collects wood.

The OleMan helps the Boy and the Boy helps the OleMan.

At night: the boy: scared. The dark. It is cold. The frost. So cold. He gets close to the OleMan.

Daytime. The path is hard. Prickles get in. It is hot.The sun. The dust. The wind. So hot!

Their life is good, but hard.

Often OleMan is grumpy. He wants the boy to be more help.

The Boy goes slow. OleMan gets angry.

The Boy gets lazy. He dreams of sitting in the shade of the umbrella he always carries. The Boy remembers the cool waterhole they left behind.

The OleMan knows the cool waterhole that is a long way up in front. The Boy sits down in the shade. But the OleMan gets grumpy and threatens the boy with his stick.

The Boy gets up. Goes a little. Sits in the shade.

"Sit down" the Boy says.

The OleMan won't sit down. The Boy sits in his shade.

"Gettup!" the OldMan says. The OleMan knows they have to keep going.

The Boy only knows he has to stop. He dreams of shade. The Shade.

Oleman thinks that the Boy only want to play. The Boy thinks the OleMan makes him keep going just to be mean.

The Boy gets angry,"Old Stonehead" he says; "Why don't you just die!"

The OleMan gets angry with the Boy. "Senseless Weakhead!" he says.
"You'll die without me."

So they fight, but keep going. Walking together.

One day as they walk. They come past a camp of strangers who don't live walking. As the Boy looks in open doors and windows, his mouth gapes at the things they've got.

Video. Television. Radios. Computors. And he sees lots of Images on the screens. Colourful clothes! Fantastic beds. And dishes full of fruits and cooked food. Pictures! A Resort! With cool waterfalls. A pool where people splash and plunge. A bottle of chilled lemonade all frosty and dewy with sparkling bubbles.

The picture is all that the Boy ever dreamed in his dreams of shade. This picture is better than any waterhole he has ever seen. He sees the people get things. He wants to stop and find that place on the picture. He sees Money buys things in the store.

"Sit down." He says. He wants to stay there.

"Get going." the OleMan says. The OleMan goes.

And so The Boy goes, unhappily, looking back, even after the camp is out of sight.

One day, having walked a long way away, the Boy sits under a tree for the shade. He looks up to find money. A $100 note is stuck out of a twig on the twisty tree. He shows the money to the OleMan. The OleMan wants the money.

The Boy sees his chance. He snatches the $100 back off the OleMan and when the OleMan comes after him the Boy kicks him down and leaves him lying on the road. The OleMan might have a twisted ankle. The OleMan might have a broken foot. The Old Man might have a broken leg. The Boy doesn't care. He doesn't stop to find out.

He goes back. Asks the way. Finally gets to a Resort. Just like the picture he saw on the screen. Pays his $100 to the man at the door. And goes in to the shade of his dreams. He finds a soft bed. He has drinks so cold the glass is frosty and dewy with sparkling bubbles. For a day! Two days! Five days! He splashes in the waterfall. Plunges into the pool. Has his pick of cooked food and fruits layed out in basketfuls.

Then the man from the door comes to him and asks for money"More money?" The Boy holds out his empty hands to show he has no more money. Then the man from the door takes him out and leaves him there, " Sorry! No freeloaders!" He locks the door so that the Boy can't come back in. The Boy is most unhappy. He bangs on the door. "Go away". The man yells.

The Boy doesn't want to give up: he has dreamed of this shade and water for a long time. He looks for another way in. But there is a high fence all round the Resort. Barbed wire. The Boy hunts the fence for a hole. Nothing. At last he decides to climb
over the barbs. He goes up the wire mesh. He reaches the top wire . He doesn't know that wire is electric. He touches the wire and falls back, ripping his legs and arms.

The Boy lies as if dead on the ground. As he lies in darkness. He wonders if he is dead. He is sick. The road is shaky. The world is hazy. Through the slits of sore eyes there is light. He can see a mirage. Like hot air in the long far away a dark shape is moving. It is like a person far off coming closer to where he is. Is it a man with a long shadow in the sunrise? A man hobbling on a crooked stick? Limping. The man looms up and stands over the Boy.

It is the OleMan. The OleMan is reaching down. The old hand touches the Boy's hand. The old arm helps him up. And as the Boy can stand he looks deep into the OleMan's eyes. And in their eyes are the tears that say "Sorry". And then the OleMan holds the Boy as they take a first step. The Boy puts an arm out to help support the OleMan. They hold each other up as they move to go away together.

Helping each other.

Limping along the way they know have to go.

The Mudlark: Looking At A Country To Love

Looking At A Country To Love

I am looking at the country to love. The normal old sticks. The country that needs people, not tourists. Needs that old need - patriotism, the useful <> love of its people. For who comes here to love?

Take any road you like that leads into a forest not on the tourist maps. I am taking you down one. The Mudlark is a forestry road in the northern annex of the Wombat State Forest in the Western uplands of Central Victoria. Most of the northern annex of the Wombat Forest is catchment for the headwaters of the Loddon River. But this area, through which the Mudlark road traverses, is on the Coliban River side, to the east. Still, the topography of the Mudlark is typical of the northern Wombat.

Once this country was not governed by a petty substorey of scrub; but then in use as camp and hearth, where grand stories were told, where the need of the land and its denizens was noticed, and it, managed as a treed open range. It was tended then by the firebrand grazier, an aboriginal hunter, who trimmed it with careful avenues of flame to be a productive park and generational homeland. In the spirit of them, my countrymen and all hunters, I have brought my eyes and longings with my crossbow, in the hope of bagging a feral goat for a festive openfire spit in our local and family feast. As the natives speared sheep and cattle when their game was displaced by rapine and animal greed. For I live at home in this part of the world, travelling backroads in the backwoods of these inner Australian spaces.

Now Mudlark road crosses four valleys in the Kangaroo Creek catchment; the four are Chinaman's Creek, Mudlark Creek, Doctor's Creek and the Kangaroo Creek itself. The road winds around ridges where logging tracks bearing the same names as the creeks give access to the forest.

Then Swaby Lane goes off to the north towards Remeasure Track and south towards Happy Valley Track, where, as the tales of the old generations tell it, was a town with children running and daily people at their spadework lives. So, even then in our people’s time, when the nineteenth century gold seeking town of Happy Valley was in there, people loved this country as home, a homeland they needed to survive. As a homeland Happy Valley has now been completely wiped off the face of the map; off the land! Indeed, near wiped out of knowledge, but for tales of old farmers and woodcutters in the wooden houses on the volcanic soiltops of the old and new settlements at Trentham and Little Hampton above.

Mudlark road goes up and down over the poorer ridges and gullies. The surface of the road is shaly mudstones and sandstone, scattered with quartz; the same material as the rocky ridges. The road goes about five Ks like no crow track, a grounded being crazed with the logic of its own demented will.

These rivers, the creeks and streams, they are the true, the eternal paths. Kangaroo Creek flows northeast out of the Wombat through a streamside reserve below pastures and farms, down into the Malmsbury Reservoir. The Malmsbury is the lowest of three reservoirs in the Coliban System which provides raced-off water to the cities of Castlemaine and Bendigo as well as the Irrigation area of the Harcourt valley where apples are grown, and many of the towns to the north as well as nearby Kyneton.

In loving a locality, I need to say that this Kangaroo Creek is not to be confused with another Kangaroo Creek in the north Wombat which is tributary of the Loddon River, rising in Bullarto South to fill the Bullarto Reservoir, (a part of Daylesford’s water supply) flowing northwest through the Wombat and out into farmland at Wheatsheaf, passing in a curve west of Gooches Hill to merge as equals with the stream of the Loddon below Porcupine Ridge to the north of the town of Glenlyon. No. This Kangaroo Creek is cut off by water before its old junction with the upper Coliban River. It has become a backwash mooching into the manmade floodwaters of the Coliban, in the Kangaroo Arm of Malmsbury Reservoir.

So Mudlark road goes west from Spring Hill across the rising Kangaroo. If that sentence sounds like a description of an undrawn Australian flag it is because a motif unfurls out of such country, out of such naming. This heraldry is the very heart and soul of our land. Yes, I say such land as this is our epitome. Its image; unfurled, backward. Yet it is in ordinary life and land we find ourselves a culture.

The forest is regrowth. Step-cut stumps among wattles are typical understorey. Fallen logs are diced by a chainsaw surgery, cut off in mid-stem. Few logs are left by firewood cutters to shelter marsupials or ferals. Scrub and weedy trees make the country a waste. An Aboriginal hunter would despair of finding stalking paths, or adequate quarry, to be able to live here. Anyway, his spear’d break.

I saw a vixen with her four cubs. The area is thick with foxes. Gorse bitter-pea and other egg-and-bacon lowbush covers some patches. Orange slime-algae grows on the wood of a dead messmate stringybark. The same orange is on the bark of some narrowleaf peppermints. The grey trunks are topped with khaki leaves. The orange brightens the drab forest. The slimes in gloss colour and viscid light are rack-magazine-beautiful where all else is a prostituted sacredness and capital unloveliness.

Big regrowth messmates, candlebarks and peppermints line the road at the Spring Hill end. These trees are true, but endangered with the true conformation of a sawmills’ parallel bed. The tall trees seem to aspire to the sky, lifting my eyes and drawing at last the spirits up. On the ridge along from Chinamans Creek the trees have more individuality. Each one leans or twists, or branches out in such a way as to make it unique. The traveller in a vehicle as I then was gets the impression of randomness and variety even though only the same three species of eucalypts make up the forest. The car traveller cannot take it all in. Walking about is more touching.

Near a pair of rutted wheeltracks which meander off to the north a messmate coppice sapling is wrapped in a half metre of crumpled aluminium building insulation foil. Around the base of the only big old tree a straggle of poor blackberries covers old cans and rusted iron. Flatweed and European sorrel spreads among the old rubbish. The big tree is a gnarled messmate, hollowed with age, with all limbs bar one dead and wind-amputated. Humans are part of this. A feral cat fled across the road about there.

Regimes. On the corner of Mudlark road and Mudlark Track a sign says: Please do not disturb. FIRE EFFECTS RESEARCH AREA. ‘This is one of five areas in the Wombat State Forest set aside for the study of long-term effects of repeated burning. The research is being co-ordinated by the State Forests and Lands Service. Tree growth and defect, understorey plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, soil invertebrates, soil fertility and fire behaviour are all studied in these areas. This area is divided into five different fire regimes. One area will be left unburnt; two areas will be burnt as often as possible, one in spring and the other in autumn; and two areas will be burnt every ten years, one in spring and the other in autumn. Results will be used to improve management of these forests which provide wood, water, wildlife and enjoyment for all Victorians.’ ... Etc, etc, and, I add, Have a nice day!

My riposte is for regimes, bossing I would like to fire! Behind the sign the forest is unburnt. The ridge track goes down into dense timber in the fertile gullies. The creek gullies are now old sluicebath gulches eroded by the efforts of alluvial fossickers of last century. Human effort is a sword. Maybe the inhabitants of Happy Valley worked the streams threadbare. The old streambeds went with the gold. Ten metre wide gulches break down the gully slopes, with up to two-metre cliffbanks of gravely earth. Eroded soil from the sluicing has formed swampy creekflats kilometres downstream around Sugarloaf Hill.

Up the sluicegulch in Doctors Creek, old metre-deep races are webbed with deadfallen logs and meshed with bracken and wiregrass. The gulch has deepened and widened the gully to allow a wetter environment vegetation. Holes and shafts are overgrown. Prickly starwort and woodsorrel grow on old mullock heaps. The gulch itself is a microclimate full of wetter vegetation, Senecio, in summer yellow, whose daisies nearly match the beauty of the spice in its scented leaves. The air is composite with spice.

There is even a lone treefern in Doctors gully gulch. Well actually, it has two sporelings growing nearby, but they have no bole height. It is Rough Treefern: Cyathea Australis. The three metre fibrous black bole supports a canopy of fronds five metres in diameter. Dead fronds have fallen crisscross over the walled-garden of the mineshaft in which it grows. Dead fronds have bleached in many dry summers. The treefern is out of place, anomalous, treeferns are odd in the north Wombat. They may never have grown on the northern slopes of the Great Divide’s western uplands until men disturbed the gullies with forged-iron picks and spades. It is probable that the featherlight spore blew into the scarified gulch on high south winds. They are sort of anachronisms, like the name of the forest itself, ‘The Wombat’, when there is not a wombat to be seen in years of searching, with maybe a relic few, dusted like good soil in patches. But this was never the Wombat once, for this is part of the Old Bullarook forest, sectioned to bits as was the one-piece robe of Christ, drawn and quartered apart from Mount Macedon to Ballarat.

Hard waterfern and rough maidenhair grows under the gulch-banks. Above the gulch the bracken falters and the hill rounds up through silver wattles to a plantless mulch of gumleaves about the ridges. By the roadside near an old quarry, hardenbergia spills its poetry in happy wanderings down the dry sandstone rockface. The flowers of prickly coprosma currants have yellow filaments inside masses of fine white starettes. At night the stars here write scrolls of sky with great celebrity. Stuck in the wheelruts heading from the quarry, the red waves enamelled on the side of a Coke can bleach to pale. Gossamer-seeded clematis drapes its vines over a tangle of treeheads which bridge the quarry.

Across Mudlark road a single hazel-pomaderris plant grows in the roadfill near a culvert. The pomaderris is a species strayed from wetter rainforest gullies. It has straight rod stems five metres tall like the ones my father showed me how to use for fishing poles when I was a boy. By the east side of Mudlark Creek gulch is the wreck of HR Holden model number M081625. Like many a car of my so-called peers in youth. The body of the General Motors Holden relic is HR 229MR-13446M. The car was two-tone green. The aqua 585-8566; the racing green insert 040; and the cream roof 585-9562. The body bottoms upright in a steep-sided cutting. Every panel is buckled and the skeletal chassis is wheeless. Fantails feed in the messmate saplings that grow on the cutting and overhang the car. The roof is crumpled, as if a huge tree had fallen across the car. There is no such fallen tree nearby.

There is a basin in the crumpled roof where the fantails, thornbills and honeyeaters come to drink, or take a birdbath. The car is now a topographic feature with its own microclimate. The empty headlight sockets look like eyeholes in a skull. A line of moss grows in leafmulch collected and ratted along the dash. A rusting Carlton United Breweries Fosters brand tinny nestles in the empty engine oven. A Victoria Bitter stubby catches the sun in the roadside gutter. A big tussock of silvertop-wallaby grass flowers up from a wheelwell. A dented rusty exhaust pipe, the inner masonite of a sunvisor stripped of its vinyl, frazzled chrome trims, buckled air-intake grills, and greasy engine mounts are strewn about the car in amongst wild ivy-leaf violets. The beauty of each creation speaks the truth about its creator. So does, I believe, the author of everything within this country need to be acknowledged in its love.

The road passes down the flank of Doctors ridge to Kangaroo Creek. The creek was dry last summer, as normal. Only the creekflats were green. After the trees by Kangaroo Creek there is now no forest to the north. For a square kilometre the forest was felled and only select seed trees were left to stick up like slim giants in a land of the slaughtered and dismembered by State Government policy and planning. Both commonsense intelligence, - and the tree headwaste in the leaf, twig and branch - was ignited in the autumn for a textbook cool burn, (as if in memory of those firebrand farmers who once cared for the land). But this high-tech fire became most uncool. Techno is the watchword now and techno is the easy answer, the quick retreat, a virtual-watch of a textbook set of and in which we must all watch out. I saw the helicopters taking off from a local football oval with their swags of napalm. No humans put a watchful finger to a single match on the selected ground. Smoke went up like a nuclear mushroom. The fire was out of control again and again over days.

Now the square kilometre is bare except for blackened headlogs, stumps and ash. The head-logs are too black and carbonised to be chainsawed. The firewood is useless. The land is cooked. The overheated ash will produce a seedstrike of saplings to grow up permanently anorexic, to be immature trees in a marketable conformity, all in a fit growing at once, fighting up to the light in a factory school classroom of a forest, like the survival of an outdated theory of evolution among ivory towers.

As I made this pilgrimage I entered into a primitive outlook, seeing what it must have meant lived by folk who think of land in three dimensions; Aborigines, Overlanders, Settlers, Farmers. I surveyed our valleys as with my countrymen and women. More and more our civilised population think of their owned plots as yards, with a front and a back. Surveyors mark boundaries for these fences to be built. People dress their frontyards like our civic facades and our tourist beauty spots, with perfection! then throw the babreque to a neglect that’s hidden round the back. This backyard-frontyard mentality is now being applied to the broad land itself. The country itself is in three dimensions, but we remake it cut in two. One side frontage; the other blind backyard, and backward. Nearby here, famous Hanging Rock of the popular film fiction, is groomed like a theatre with a fee for entry. While Mudlark road is bushed, a vast unloved country backyard.

I go in grief to visit this place again only after giving it and myself time. Six months later the HR Holden is still there. The silver wattles began to bloom in August. But during the winter, permit logging took out the eastern border of the Wombat on the Spring Hill side. Grounded green gum leaves and skun spongy messmate bark covers up the packmud. The metal shine is still in the indents where the crawler track of logsniggers and dozers ploughed through.

The public land north of Mudlark road has been described by the Land Conservation Council of Victoria, like teaser-love, as ‘Uncommitted’. The Wombat is a Hardwood Production Park. Timber mostly goes for pallets, for pulp, or to frame up new houses on the northwestern fringe of Melbourne..

And it is people from that area who drive up here for a few open miles of so-called freedom. Mostly they go to a mowed picnic spot. But they might take a drive in the lawnless back country so close to home. If they do, they need to watch for wallabies like those on Mudlark Road. They feed on the verges where runoff from the vehicle packed surface irrigates the vegetation. We do need to get on a mud road for a lark. The challenge is better than any virtual drive taken; this is a game for the game. When bureaucrats have gone feral, as bylawyers breed out of the urban wastes, when paper shifters on word processors have gone green around the gills in the security of planning this, their rootlessness and alienation becomes ours. Power would have us go about in a kerbed and will-less malpatriotism, full of the deadly earnestness of their right-stuffed conceits and deceits, while the country goes to emptiness.

Before I grow horns I need to bag some bush tucker. I saw wild sheep along the way! Flocks of goats have been in the northern Wombat for seasons. I found goat scat. Farm animals get through the fences of hobby farms and the absentee investors in land, for the northern Wombat is hemmed in by the big backyards of subdivided pastureland. But this no place for the hunter now.

I went looking for goats but all I found is what I have depicted. I did not bag a thing, but, opposite the bare ‘forest’ kilometre, I also found a white woven-plastic Baristoc 'Quality Animal Feed’ bag thrown over a heap of roughly offgraded soil and gumroots. The bag bulged suspiciously. I upended it and shook out the contents. Ah, watch it! the first thing that rolled out was the severed head of a sheep. A two-month-shorn sheepskin with the beasts trotters still attached tumbled out after the head. For a moment I thrilled to think I had found relics of a truly native hunt of feral sheep, but then I realised that a shorn sheep was the old jumbuck, a tame farm animal and not a wild one.

Copywright 1991 © Wayne David Knoll

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

When The Pie Was Opened

"For though one may sing a song for sixpence, it is the very being of songs that they may be sung for nothing and are so sung when there are singers and no sixpences. The Lord is a singer; the work of creation is a song -the morning stars sang together. And in a song all things must sing. The very words must be musical, the mere syllables. For all is music that is bound. To be free, in the sense of 'being on the loose', is alone ugly -deprived of being- like a jellyfish coming undone, disintegrating."
Eric Gill ~f rom "In a Strange Land"



When The Pie Was Opened


Peter stood off from the patch of strawberries. It was a blue spring afternoon. He stretched. Arched his back, sore from bending to hoe. He propped against the hoe. He turned his back to the low sun. His face set away from the close hump of Mount Dandenong. Melbourne was west behind it. Peter gazed east to the freedom of the mountains.

He looked down. Across his acres of young chestnuts. He sought out the new shoots on the permaculture plantations with his hopeful eye. One day he would break his dependance on the city. He believed the trees would enable subsistence.

A shot! Like cannonfire! The hailguns at Sucklings, the wholesale nurserymen out the back, misfired over the valley. The volley went quiet. But his ears had tuned into the battle. Peter heard the distant boom of a scare gun from Carassi's berry paddocks. He looked across his own patch of strawberries. The two acre patch was his struggle to provide his family with some income for the next four months. Battling yes, but Peter was proud of his husbandry.

The plants had thrown up vigorous growth. The glossy black plastic mulch in which the plants grew shimmered as each gust tousled loose billows. The strawberry plants were covered by a profusion of white flowers with honeyed centres like promises of harvest. The leaves were triple-formed, like clover, and Peter hoped their season would be rich and satisfying. Even bonus, like the lacy scalloped crenations around the edge of the leaves. The luxuriant leaves sheltered sprays of young fruit at various stages of ripeness. Tiny wizened hardgreen things with seeds jammed across the skin. Marblesize white knobs. And juicy white berries with pink blooms on the most-sunned side.

Peter expected a bumper crop. The signs were all there. Soon the first fruits: fat, red 'Specials' would hang from each bush. There was a profound pleasure to be had just looking at the way the huge berries would fill out, leaving the golden seeds indented in lustrous dimples over the pregnant belly of the berry. The firstfruits were a treat. Fresh. Like a flash of sweet memory. Flavoursome and delicious. Aha! Grower's privilege! Peter had eaten the first few red already. And he had savoured the lustre of summering light as it glazed red around each rim of those berry seed dimples, as if each one was his whole patch.

Peter loved to garden. He knew he could coax nature to produce. The skill he enjoyed was tuning in to the life of things and reading the lines of the land so it joined in with what he hoped to grow.

Peter's hope, what he dreamed of, was abundant life. Cornucopia. He had seen a full colour picture entitled 'Cornucopia' on the cover of an old copy of 'Back To Eden' magazine. A curved goat's horn was turned on its side, spilling out an array of ripe fruit and grains: yellow corncobs, peaches, ears of wheat, apples, figs, blackspike barley, pears, rye heads, berries, walnuts, grapes, filberts, cumquats and cherries.

Peter thought he would make the land into an ample provision. He would work in harmony with the land to produce plenty. He wanted to tolerate all of life. He had planted fifty different sorts of fruit trees, nuts and berries on his land. He strove to make it an idyllic place so he could raise his children in natural abundance.

Peter kicked at the hoed-off weeds. Prince- of-Wales feather and wild radish. Good stuff for compost. He still hadn't worked out a way to make broadacre compost.

Anicia, five, and Theo, three, Peter's two oldest, played along between the rows of strawberries. They had piled up the weeds Peter had just hoed. Anicia stood on top of the heap singing out:
I'm the King of the Castle!
And you're the Dirdy Wraskul!"

But Theo was too busy making 'roads' in the fresh-hoed chocolate soil.

Peter went close to the children. He enjoyed being with them. Believing in their innocence. He wished he had been able to live as fantastically when he was a kid.

As he looked down Theo's 'roads' towards the other end of the strawberry patch Peter saw blackbirds flitting about between the rows. The birds kept down among the bushes. Peter's heart filled up then. He sang for the kids:

"Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye
Four & twenty blackbirds baked in a pie;
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing
Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king..."

Anicia sat listening. "Sing more, Daddy," she said.

"Not till you shoo the blackbirds off, Honey!"

But Peter was mindful of his yoke. Always yearning to be free. He resented all the little kings in suburban 'cwastles'.

"What blackbirds?" Anicia said.

"Look!" Peter said, pointing. "See them. Looking for ripe strawberries,
wanting them red ripe so they can peck, peck, and gobble them up."

"Will they?" Anicia said.

"Sure Nici! Now run down and shoo them away. Maybe they'll learn."

Anicia ran down singing out: "Be off blackbirds! Be off!"

Theo ran after her, mimicking the chant. The blackbirds scatted into the lucerne hedge. Peter watched them unconcerned.

He went back to hoeing. He was his own scarecrow. He was his own weedicide as well. Flatweed chop. Capeweed chop. Thistle chop. Dock...

Hoeing was hard work. But honest! Far more laborious than using a spray. But he wanted his integrity. He was growing the strawberries for organic sale. He was glad he did it by hand. The caring touch. And he could watch the patch.

Peter loved birds. Especially the wild birds. Maybe it was the idea of flight. Wings. But the damn introduced blackbirds did nuisance his hopes. He worked out there each morning from dawn on. He was a living scarecrow to habituate the birds to other feeding grounds. He thought it was working. Three weeks thus far. Seven days a week.

He knew the blackbirds had got a bit thick. They bred in the hedges and undergrowth, and in a place of rampant plants what would you expect? Peter had reafforested the farm since he'd taken over. The shrubs meant more blackbirds than ever when he'd hoped for more native birds. He was committed to planting. Blackbirds don't like deep native forests, but the woodlots and windbreaks were too thin.

Actually, blackbirds were plague.

Back when Peter's Dad had the farm, outright war was declared against blackbirds. Trees where blackbirds nested were checked each week and the nests ripped down. The children were encouraged in the pillage.

"Blackbirds! Bloomin' Pommie imports!" his father used to say, as he wrung the fledgling necks. "Poms takin' over th' countree!"

True. Like rabbits. Like blackberries. Blackbirds were brought in by the Acclimatization Societies to make this country like home.They soon became noxious pests. As boys, Peter and his brothers had often pulled down the rough cups of mud, drygrass and bark, and smashed the speckled aqua eggs. But now no-one violated the blackbirds from their breeding.

Peter had not done it since he was fifteen. The memory was a pain.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
He had been picking raspberries with a whole gang of pickers. During the morning Peter pulled a blackbird's nest from Shelley and Jan's row. He had broken the eggs. The smashed eggs had foetal babies in them. A whole lot of teenage pickers hoyed along to take a look. Three of the girls went off in disgust, as if to be sick. Shelley said that Peter was a murderer.

At mug'n'billy time Peter's Dad had explained his rules about blackbird control. Most pickers kept a distance from him. 'Clean-Hands' Horry, the old plonko farm help, had growled about "Bleedin' Hearts who doan 'ave a clue about th' 'Bloodin' what life's gotta 'ave ta keep strivin'."

None of the young pickers from town had an inkling of what he was talking about. They rabbit-twitched noses as if sniffing something beneath them. It left Peter feeling guilty for reasons he couldn't fathom. He left quick smart to bury the foetal birds out of sight. And mind, he hoped.

During that afternoon, two pickers, Otto and Stephen, found another blackbird's nest in their row. The boys pulled the nest down and three nudepink nestlings fell on the cultivation. They turned to a cruel game. Tossing the fat chicks high up into the air for the other to catch. Stephen called out "Fly Birdie! Fly!" and it became a chant to attract the girls.

"Fly Birdie! Fly before Peter gets you!" Otto said.

Peter felt like wringing their necks. He hated sadism. The taunt got under his skin.

"Don't!" he said. "It's cruel!"

That only made them go harder. Juggling two nestlings catch to catch at once. Otto tossed one at Peter as he pushed through the next row-wall of the six-foot-high raspberry canes. Peter fumbled, but caught the farflung bladder of bird in his left hand.

The nestling's fat stomach burst. Blood and gore spilt over his hand.

"No crueller than you. Look at what you do!" Otto said. "Only these ones have hatched."

The barb hooked in Peter. He wanted to clear himself of the cruelty. A disgust churned his belly. He wanted never to pull out blackbirds' nests again. It only allowed for cruelty.

He dropped the gasping pink blob and crushed all life out of it under his boot. He ran over and grabbed the other two throating pink blobs. They were mottled with blue thumbprints and pricked with red weepholes.

Peter was sobbing tears as he pulverized the hatch into the cultivation. He shuddered with scarce-controlled passion.

"You could've killed them instantly!" Peter's voice was breaking as his contempt struck out.

"What are ya?" Otto sneered. "Lily-livered sook!"

Peter shut up. He went down on his knees to gouge his hands into the soft cultivation. A grave opened under his doggedness. He buried all three pancakes of spilt flesh deep. He wrung the gore off his hands by washing them in soil.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Peter had heard so many easy fixes to the blackbird problem. He had a sad tolerance of other people's choices. Rick Luckmold who grew ten acres of strawberries had the fascist solution.

"No garden. No shrubs. No trees. No blackbirds" Luckmold said.

"No shade. No song. No windbreak. No flight" Peter said.

Jimmy Premussi, who Peter knew since primary school, told Peter to: "Put some wheat inta neat Phosdrin ta soak overnight. Then shake a few grains on toppa each fence post, like. All ya 'aff ta do is stan' back an' watch. One peck an dey drop dead."

Peter imagined kids dying of curiosity for a taste of wheat. Wild native parrots, finches, thrushes, honeyeaters and maggies would turn up their claws. He hated innocents being victims. But Jimmy's wife's brother Nicko, fresh out from Italy, had a peasant recipe which Peter half admired.

"I pot merli! Uccelletti!" Nicko said, patting his rifle.

How they could bear to pluck and gut such mites Peter hadn't an iota. At least it had an ecological flavour to it. The idea made him wonder what blackbird tasted like. Even Cara's cat wouldn't eat them.

Most bigger farmers used the gas-fired scare guns to startle the birds off. Every Silvan spring was pocked with gunfire like a war zone, as if there was a half-baked invasion of foreigners at war with equally foreign rebels. Peter imagined Napoleon in Russia and the 1812 Overture.

Strawberry fields forever! Peter had always been puzzled by that Beatles song. The booms of scareguns moved the birds about every quarterhour to the next quarter. Blase' birds respected no man's land.

He believed blackbirds did more good than harm. They polished off earwigs, leafhoppers, wireworms, cockshafers and grubs. And they took bugs all year, while the damage to strawberries was only for a month or two. And Peter loved the blackbird's late-winter warble. He could forgive them some depradations as he listened to their evening calls. He twigged to sing that other Beatles song.

"Blackbird singing at break of day
Spread your tiny wings and fly away
All my love."

He'd hate for that song to be silenced.

So he was religiously up from his bed each daybreak to scarecrow around the strawberry patch. Though weary, he had his integrity. Jimmy nicknamed him 'Birdfeather Friend'. Cara, Peter's wife, proudly told women friends that he was a 'growaholic'. But Peter was stoic.

He hoed on. The weeds wilted behind the labourer. Pimpernel chop. Chickweed chop. Sorrel chop. Damn soursob. Then Peter had finished the row. He'd reached the other end where Anicia and Theo were playing.

"Daddy! You said you'd sing more" Anicia said.

"The king was in his counting house, counting out his money
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey;
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes
When along came a blackbird and pecked off her nose."

"Now you go over to the house with Theo" Peter said. "Mummy'll want you to set the table for tea."

Another week went by Peter the living scarecrow. Hoeing, irrigating, and cutting runners away from the plants. Then heaps of strawberries were red. A flush freckled the rows. The big day loomed. The next day would be the first picking. Peter expected scarcity prices. Probably the highest he would get for the season. He needed the money to pay back-tax.

That night Cara wanted to watch the movie on TV. 'The Captains and The Kings'.

"Peter, don't go to bed early for once" Cara said. "Stay up with me and watch the movie.

"Oh I don't know" Peter said, thinking Cara wanting company meant a good lovemaking after.

"Don't be so conscientious. Enjoy yourself." Cara patted the couch beside where she was curled up.

Peter stayed up and watched TV.

It was a Yank show. Peter was bored by the billionaire always on the phone talking about money. His wife unsatisfied in the lap of luxury. Dinner parties with caviar and exotic fruits. Servants to do all the work in the mansion. The wayward son seduces the new cook. She is sacked when she shows pregnant.

Peter wished for something less glitzy. The glamour was lost on him. Why couldn't they tell stories of simple humanity? He wished he hadn't stayed up, but then he enjoyed the time with Cara.

He overslept. He woke angry with a start. He flashed out of bed dressing as went. Outside, dozens of blackbirds snickered out of the strawberries. Cackling derisions. Some birds snuck in among the leaves at the other end of the patch.

Peter ran amok, a bootless terror down the rows, waving his arms and yelling:
"We're taking over! Sing! We're taking over! Sing!
Peck-a little! Peck-a-little! Peck-Off Ya Bastards !"

White slashes gaped in all the red berries Peter could see. He flapped down along the hedge shaking his fist at the air. He'd gouge beak holes in them. Blackbirds gloated in at the garden end of the patch as soon as he was off.

Furious! Peter went pale with purpose. He thumbnailed the largest pecked strawberries off the stalks like they were necks. He hit both berried handfuls on the kitchen table in a ruinous break of wild billiards.

"Breakfast? Peck the lot!" Peter said. "Now it's my shot!"

Cara watched Peter's back as he turned his arm behind the washhouse door. The gun came out to attention in his left hand. His other hand rifled the top shelf for hollowpoints. The door hinge squeaked as the slugs grooved into the magazine.

Peter reverted along the hedges. He'd show them instinct! Crack! Feathers puffed out into the gentle air. Sweet harmony!

He was listening for blackbird song. Crack! A warm pillow flopped through the twigs. Gentle tolerance! Crack! A winged orangebeak squeaked into the litter. Soft light dreamed the morning alive. Crack! Down floated like vapour. Peter kept the silence. Crack! A body danced through the branches. He blended into the foliage. Crack! His limbs hugged the trees from which he stalked life.

Peter decided his property was a decisive charge. His gun meant control of vermin. He hated to maim, a marksman in his being. Let every shot be death! Crack! Missing only made quarry gunshy and that prolonged the heartache. Crack! The introduced pests made muffled bumps in the plantations. Peter didn't need to be naturalized.

He mouthed his toast as if he'd choke. Cara wrote a list for shopping.

"Why I ever put up with 'em I doan know. Fancy lettin' B'blackbirds control me life!"

"It was listening to your heart, Peter" Cara said.

"False heart! It'd never let ya make a livin'."

Peter worked the morning sowing beans. He took the gun with him. He shot six more blackbirds by lunch. He picked the ruined strawberries, stalks off, for jam. He'd brew it that night after dark. He wasn't going to let blackbirds send his work to waste. You had t' be tough to survive.

Peter snatched up the goodies the way he'd decided the world was. He took them to the scales. The gun on Peter's shoulder made Cara uneasy with him.

"Twelv'nahalf kilograms!" he announced. "A black lot a' jam!"

Cara went to the gaping swingdoor of the shed and squinted out for the children.

"Oh well! You let them ripen" she said.

Peter pushed by her, intent on getting the buckets of strawberries to the house. Cara shaded her eyes to see down the earth track beside the hedge of cherry-laurel.

"What have you got?" she called out.

Peter stopped and put both buckets on the gravel. He squinted to see Anicia and Theo coming out of the thicket carrying the old enamel milking bucket between them. The kids ran as Peter stepped to meet them.

"Wook Daddy!" Theo said. "Pick birdies!"

Theo tripped and fell. Anicia stumbled. The upset bucket spilt out a heap of blackbird corpses. Dozens. Bloody feathers, skewed wings, stiff claws and dull eyes greeted him.

Peter went down on his knees. He sobbed tears. Anicia tried to comfort him with a hug. Theo nestled his head against Peter's shoulder.

What a cornucopia! The travesty took Peter in a fit of loathing.

He bucked up to a stand, arm-wristing the kids back. He swung the rifle off his back and clicked the magazine loose. Slugs thumbed off the magazine-ram. Bullets plopped to the ground, sowing dying puffs in pocks of dust. He upended the rifle, gripped it by the barrel end. As he lunged towards the farm implements he clubbed it back to strike. It came down on the plough in an almighty blow. The stock splintered and flew. The barrel looped in unlikely planes. The lock sprung to a crumple of metal feathers. He heaved the twisted neck of iron into the hedge.

"The killing's done!" Peter said.

He sat down with the weeping kids. He handed the bird corpses back to the bucket. Peter touched Theo on the head. He gave Anicia his hankie.

"Come Anicia, Theo" Peter said. "Let's bury the birds. We'll dig holes for fig trees and put the birds deep. They'll make the trees grow better."

"Then we'll get figs as well" Anicia said.

"We have to break the blackbird eggs from now on" Peter said.

Cara looked at him. She touched his shoulder as she went towards the house with the strawberries.

Three figures shaped digging and planting silhouettes in the fading light.

Peter sat on the ground at the top of the paddock and looked at the sky. An orange glow haloed the clouds as the sun set behind Mount Dandenong. The mountaintop TV towers were aglow in golden light.

Melbourne bred the buyers for his strawberries. What did they know about living with nature? They were polluted with idiot box dreams.

Peter yearned for a radiance where freedom might hatch. The mountains east and opposite hung above low clouds in the sunset-glowing mirror-image of dawn.

Little Theo toddled off towards the house.

"Tell Mummy we'll be in in a minute" Peter said.

Anicia sat out with Peter. She funnelled the dust through her cupped hand to build little conical pyramids on the track. Peter ran his fingers through her hair.

"Sing the song of sixpence, Daddy."

And Peter sang.





1988 © Wayne David Knoll

Friday, March 2, 2007

The Gift Of Hands

[ A Little Pentecostal Horror Story ]

Valma nursed the dog. Its head was on her leg as she glanced back, up towards the kitchen window. Barney, her brother, expected her to be doing the dishes. She had sneaked out to give a hand to the dog Barney had damned. The terrier's face had gone bald, and its brown eyes braved into Valma's with a water of mercy. Its lids were bare and scabby like a reptile's. If she bathed the mange rashes gently, the dog wouldn't whine. Barney would never know she was easing its pain.

The pong of Dettol in the orange plastic dish bit up Valma's nose as she took pains to compress the Wettex sponge. She could dip and massage the liquor up without a splash. Barney would leave her the run of the woodyard and go off to his prayer meeting without dragging her along if he thought she'd gone up to the milk bar for a carton.

The old weighbridge shed where the terrier lay was half soaked through as drizzle blew in the torn ruin of wall on the west. Gathered water blew across in spills as corrugated iron flapped in each gust of wind. Valma knelt upwind of the dog to protect it from the wet with her body. The dog got no care except what Valma gave. Barney would have no vet to the dog, just as he condemned all doctors to Valma. He wanted them all to get healing by 'faith'.

Valma ground her teeth. She resented fifteen years' cooking and cleaning she'd done for their Dad and Barney since she failed at school. She took her release in little things she nurtured in secret. The appeal in the water of the dog's eye took her out to a place in her mind's eye, the special place in the reedbeds, beside the firedam where she went as a child, while her Dad and Barney were chainsawing wood on Boxtopper Hill.

***

Light reflected perfectly off the black brine of the firedam. Dead gumleaves steeped it black. Through the surface Valma could see that the pool drank another world which was a mirror of her world, but down, into a liquid of treetrunks that waved to leafbunches hanging from a sky in the depths. The happy world below overshadowing gumtrees caught Valma yearning to know that world. She saw the treetrunks as outstretched arms drawn towards a vanishing point in that bottomless world. Leafbunches rocked her in the vision. The waterskin scudded with wind-puffs. Songs of the pobblebonks lifted from the reeds and vibrated across the surface tension of the water in chorus with the song birds. Live things relaxed broadly to radiate, to float above the bottomless world.
***

Valma drank the vanishing pool like faith. And something in the eye of the dying dog put her in a place where the pain and love in her own eyes could rest. She hated the bully in Barney. He could shrug off suffering. He said the dog had to suffer, snarling himself. She had hated him like that as a child when he broke the reflections in the firedam by bombing it with stones.

The new-warmed water Valma compressed into the raw scabby groin of the dog caused it to flinch. A pink erection, unblemished and glossy, came out from the scabby sheath of its penis. Blushing pink herself, Valma was taken back to the night of receiving the 'gift' of laying on of hands. Barney had come home with 'the gift'. Said his hernia was healed. Said he had spoken tongues of the Baptism in the Holy Ghost. Then Barney had her go there last spring.

***

Four men and two women 'deacons' selected for the special prayer meeting leaned from a circle of green moulded-plastic chairs in the backroom of the Clarion Full-Gospel Chapel. A two-bar electric heater reddened the chill in the gap where a seventh chair would have completed the circle. The naked electric globe brazened the room with glare. Khaki paint peeled off the ceiling in biscuits. The brittle cream kalsomine on regency-scroll lining boards was relieved high up by one game-dice of a window, which gave glance to a townlot of stars. Valma sat on a child's seat, as she would have in Sunday School.

Brother Hodboldt, in his Estate Agent's department store suit, let his collar gape, as his tie hung loose, and the Hush Puppy suedes scuffed the chairlegs. Sister Orenshaw bulged out of her lurid pink trackydaks, saying her feet were cold even in the sheepskin moccasins. Giant Galey wore the black boats of his shoes like Noah in his ark. Brother Jim Tremain hadn't changed out of the green uniform of his petrol tanker with the BP logo on the breast pocket. Barney slumped in his Tasmanian Bluey coat, holding his Blundstone boots to attention. And "Sister" Valma kept her fawn street cardigan buttoned over her calf-length grey woollen, looking down at her sensible shoes.

" Blessed Lord, we are few. But you promise." Giant Galey raised his voice to God.

The split tongue on a lining board on the back wall reverberated in the power of his performance.

" Where two or three are gathered in Your Name...Your Holy Holy Name. Glory Glory Glory. That Thou wilt be in the midst. "

" Yes Lord ! Blessed Redeemer ! " Barney drawled.

" Hallelujah Jesus ! " Sister Orenshaw sung out.

" Jesus ! Blessed be Thy Name ! Oh Lord ! Come among us ! Visit us !
Come tonight with Thy Power ! Let loose Your Holy Ghost ! "

" Amen Lord. " Brother Tremain whispered.

" Oh Lord ! We beseech Thee. Your child, Your simple child, Valma, is here before You, here with her need... "I Command the evil eye to be removed from her, removed from this Your daughter, Oh Lord ! "

" We claim her, Jesus ! " Barney said.

" The hand of man has been upon her, Lord. The finger of Satan has touched her. The teachers got to her. Doctoring and science and weakness have meddled with her head, Lord."

" Yes Father ! Yes Lord ! " Barney and Tremain said.

" Let Thy hand shake her, Lord! In the Name of Jesus Christ ! " Giant Galey pistoned Valma's chair forward with his right arm until she sat in the centre of the circle. Five more hands were placed on her. Her head swam and her shoulders went loose with pressure.

" Bind these Demons in Your child, Lord. Bind the blind voices of men, and have them cast into the bottomless pit. WE CLAIM THY HEALING LORD ! "

" YES Jesus ! " The chorus babbled.

" Let Your daughter receive the Gift, Lord. Comfort her with the tongue of Your Holy Ghost. Speak now. Let the tongue free. In the Name of Jesus. Renounce the Evil. Your daughter, Oh Lord. "

" Oh Jesusss! Jeeeeesssssuuuuussss! By Your stripes she is healed. "

" Purge her with Fire, Lord. Lay Your Hand upon her. Touch her! "
Giant Galey placed his sweaty mitt across Valma's forehead. Crying out with a great "JEEEESSSUUUSSS !" he thrust her off the chair so that she sprawled on the floor, still in the grasp of the circle. Valma knelt compliantly, putty under the heavy arms of the elders.

" Light.. Oh Light ! I'm coming in ! " Valma moaned.

Valma could feel the force of conflicting wills to mould her, as the ten 'Holy' hands kneaded her head, back and shoulders. Hands of mixed touch roughed her sprawled body. She yielded to the compass of the circle, letting what would be, be. But listening to the flow. Her head boiled with steam. She let the urge to hit out pass. Her heart waited for The Holy Touch. But her heart was not touched.....

Valma hated the idea of unbelief as much as she hated the hellfire of the hands. She feared they didn't see her as right with God. She knew grace. She knew the song God played out in Jesus' pain. She saw that Forgiveness in the lovewater of the bottomless firedam. She knew God's trunk was a real body of spirit with one face of earth. She knew her flesh, her marrow, held in a love, gave her a touching substantiality, which they held in contempt, as if God wasn't in it. But somehow their fears planted a fear in her, and she imagined that some witchery might have grown a demon in her. The 'Clarions' assumed the right to fear the way she saw things. Their insistence held her in doubt.

Valma writhed under the weight of their tense prayer. Brother Hodboldt had his hand on her buttock. Brother Tremain fingered the curve of her left breast under the cover of her armpit. With each invocation for God to heal his "Daughter", Brother Hodboldt's hand drove further down into the cleave of her groin.

She felt out of grace under their hands. Unclean! Even while she wanted to be touched clean. She lifted her arms for God, throwing back her arms and thrusting her breasts forward, rising up as she knelt on clenched knees. She sung out an animal cry. A sense of ecstasy flooded her as she shivered to shrug off their hands.

" Oh Spirit is washing me ! " She called.

" Oh Lord Jesus Christ ! Let me come ! I come ! "

" Oh Yes ! To Glory ! "

Valma got up. She even danced the clammy parsnips of her legs. She jigged past the do-it-yourself priesthood of the circle. They watched her sidelong while keeping eyes closed in prayer. Their faces pointed in to God in the flooring boards at the centre of the plastic circle.

" Glory ! Jesus ! Hallelujah ! "

" Jesus ! I am the Bridesmaid with the lamp ! " Valma sang.

" Oh Master, the stars of Your Glory, the moon of Your Right Hand !
I am a traveller in Your firmament, Lord. Coming, coming out ! "

Valma danced through the hall. She breathed out, breathed deep as she swung out of the scrutiny of Clarions. She spun faster, through the front porch into a release. The slime of lust was on her like a bushfire cracking the skins off native seeds. She doubted if she could ever lose the horror and humiliation she felt about sex since the time when she was thirteen when Barney had groped her mummies and forced his finger up her front bottom. Sometimes he clumped onto her bed in the night and pressed her down under the sheet until his hardness burst. Once he rolled off and shouted "Whore !" at her.

Her baptism was to freedom, so Valma lit out across the backblocks on the goat-tethering side of town. She wanted to get out of the beam of narrow-focussed headlights so she could see the stars. She shadowed through the hill gardens towards the carless street of old bluestone churches. The constellation of the Southern Cross winked over the cruxes of the fir-tree tops. The starlight glistened on the backs of her hands. Veils of mist drifted through upright bars of budding birch trees. Flower tassels dangled from the walnut trees, dripping glistening droplets. The streetlight hummed in the air-moisture on the corner of Church Street.

Valma searched through the raised crosses and steeples to where the townhall tower pointed upward for the stars she called The Saucepan. All the roofpeaks of the town were bathed in moonlight.

Grace didn't make her less lonely. She moved down to Main Street. She stepped past the Post Office and shops. She turned the corner towards the tourist cafes. She passed the shut door of the chocolate shop. She window-shopped at the Good Samaritan store. She crossed the street. A spotlight on an awning verandah shone down to a plywood figure of a woman who carried the sandwichboard: 'Tonight's Films: Omega Club.'

Valma read Omega as a sign. The God she knew was real to her was the Alpha and Omega: the beginning and the end. There would be something inside for her, where she had never been before. Could God be here even ?

Valma went upstairs, bravely to heaven or hell. The shiny wood of the steps raised her to a hall where she came out under one wing of a twelve-foot tall, black-painted, steel sculpture of a brolga. Her dancing bird! Valma knew brolgas since she saw them as a girl, when a pair stayed three weeks on the Deep Spring creekflats. The steel bird turned its neck crooked, sheltering its head under one wing, while its legs were poised in dancing steps towards iron tables and chairs where people sat in couples and cliques over soupbowls and plates of lasagne.

Her long hair fell like mountain scree. Her woollen was out among boutique similarity. She knew no salon vogue. She cringed back from taking a seat. She turned up a ticket under the shadow of the brolga. She read a price: $4500. She sunk into herself a while then. Who could afford such? What people had such space? She stepped over to the gallery wall in a blindness of eyewater.

Framed paintings were in front of Valma, but even as her eyes focussed, all she could make out of the smears of blood-red and pulpy-blue spills was the memory of bruises. Strands of brushwork, that Valma saw as sinews, made her grasp the tendons of her houseworked hands. She shuddered, wanting some touch to redeem these ugly choices of people.

Spotlights dazzled her as they reflected off framed glass. Valma was curious to see out of the dazzle. A suite of frames bore the sign: 'Gracie Lynch: The Gift'. The artist's first name struck Valma. 'The Gift' would be some special grace for herself.

The first frame made Valma blush a moment. A woman was pictured naked, in reclining pose, beside a bed of flowering purple flag-irises, at the brink of a pond where a large wading bird (was it a brolga?) turned its gaze on the woman as if aware of a need. Valma relaxed from her blush when she saw how the nakedness of the woman was full of grace. Innocent. The woman was freed to be natural, even freed to a pure sexual desire.

In the second frame the brolga extended its flight feathers, like an outstretched hand, above the nude, who lay legs apart, while it offered her a flowerspike of the purple flag. Valma enjoyed the loveliness of the woman and her sex, seeing her like a flag flower, the buds of that one were breaking into open petals down the stem, a breakwave of deep colour.

Valma's eyes widened. Her quick glance at the single fallen breast feather in the third frame flashed as her attention was grabbed by the large central frame of the suite.

The nude had taken flight with the huge pinion feathers of the brolga's wings unfurled from her shoulderblades. Her hair was blown to a body of life and she was kissing a handsome naked man who was poised to join her steps. Her nipples were erect and purple. Above the man's dance-swung leg, the tip of his penis swelled into magenta against the taught muscles of his thigh. Valma gazed with candid sparkle at the burning pools of desire in the man's eyes. A sense of her naked self as being desirable came over her.

Valma began to laugh as a stream of heart came to her. The next frame showed a single flag iris stem fallen, its floral envelope of deep purple buds unfurled from the labial pollenbud. Valma felt spring in her ankles that she had never known as she saw what came next. The woman in the penultimate frame was still nude, her ripe belly bulging into a full pregnancy.

The last frame showed the man, who Valma saw as her Jesus, standing naked still, but holding up the naked woman who was lifted in an abandoned embrace, her legs encircling his waist. The wings of the brolga, like God, Valma thought, were spread above the couple in flight while the woman's arms were thrown around the man's neck.

But Valma laughed alone. She looked about the Omega Club finding no-one to share the elation in her. People were collected in closed bodies, and as the lights dimmed, a man with a polished caring manner and a reefer jacket with a red bowtie, ushered her to an empty table and asked for the ticket price. She gave him three of the seven dollars he asked for, that being all the milk money she had. He put a program in her hand and said she could watch two of the three films.

The projector clicked incessantly as a film called 'LIfe at The Top' was screened. It was a documentary about flat-dwellers in the Government high-rise in the city. Valma thought the only relief from the stark prison those poor inmates had was pigeons who flew from window-ledge to ledge to accept a peck of bread.

During interval Valma tried to share with a couple who sat at the table behind her.

" You are welcome to sit here. You can see better ! "

The women turned and whispered together. Valma felt excluded. They were a couple in some way that she didn't know about. After some minutes they did move to sit with her, but even then they did not speak.

" I'm Valma " she said.

" Kerry ! " said one with dyeblack hair crewcut on the sides.

" Angie ! " said the one with the pierced nostril, who immediately went into confab with Kerry.

" Sad for the people in the flats " Valma said.

" Why ? " Pierced Nostril asked .

" Oh I couldn't live boxed up like that ! " Valma said. " It's so up in the air and out of touch with things. "

But the only answer was a snort of that pierced nose.

The next film began: 'An Ordinary Woman'. The soundtrack kept blurring into gibberish, and Valma thought of Barney's tongues. She was glad she had country which was full of wild song. She would hate to lose her breadth of views. But a person could die without people. Valma only knew her dream Jesus as a man who understood.

Couples were ordering cappuccinos. The waiter flourished bottles of proud red wine to the party at doubled tables. Valma decided to leave. She couldn't say she was disappointed in the company. She took comfort in an acceptance of 'The Gift', for it rang the bells of her dreams. The next film was to be 'The Singer And The Dancer'. She was a singer too. She went out quietly. Once outside she ambled along, singing:

" Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days, all the days of my life. "

She found herself passing Hodboldt's package home. She stalled, struck by a garden of flag-irises. Purple. Next thing she was at the door and Brother Hodboldt had come to her knock in his pyjamas.

" Come out and pray with me, Brother. "

Hodboldt stepped into the backyard. Valma went ahead of him to be near the purple flags.

Hodboldt said his leg dragged. Valma reached out and touched the inside of his leg with her fingertips. Hodboldt stopped and looked intently at Valma. Suddenly he lost all restraint. He grasped her and took her in his embrace, lifting her skirt as he laid her on the dew. Valma paid regard to him with tender caresses as if he was her man Jesus.

A week later Valma told Hodboldt she loved the flag-irises. He gave her some tubers that had been left out in a polystyrene box. She planted them by the driveway. The late-started blooms flowered at Christmas on short thick stems, but Valma loved them as if the swelling buds were her own. Once, Barney backed his truck onto the garden, but Valma had stood him off by bashing his guard with the spadehead.

***
Barney had kept his cramps to himself since then, though wracked by suspicions and a desire to bully. With Barney out, Valma had the freedom to do the chores her way. The dog was his, and he was in a fury if Valma so much as patted it. After dishes Valma decided to cross Barney for pity. She lit the Tilley lantern and went out with warm towels to the dying dog.

Valma touched the dog with relief. She knew she was touched with the eyes of the dog's thanks. She held the creature lightly as Barney's jeep flew into the yard and slewed to jerk-stop.

Barney hollered at her being there. Door slam and heavy boot-thumps brought him into the lantern circle, bursting full.

" You ! Scarlet whore ! Damn'd if you'll put your charms on my dog ! "

" Barney ! But for mercy ! "

" Witchery more like! Blasphemy ! You mock. "

" No Barney ! "

" You faker ! You put spells on the dog. Harbouring demons! "

" Your dog is dying, Barney. Let it go easy ! "

" Dyin' ! Then I'll end its misery ! "

Barney gripped the dog by the skin of its neck and swung it across the chopping block. One hand seized fast, held the animal like one of his Sunday chooks, stretching its neck over the brink. The other hand crabbed around wildly to seize on the axe.

" No ! " Valma screamed. She put up her hand to stay his strike.

The dog writhed at her scream. The axe came down awry onto the solid bar of Barney's wrist. The calloused hand fell like a claw onto the chips. Barney's wrist spurted with triple hoses of blood.

The dog was clubbed aside. Litres of blood covered the animal and the wood.

" Almighty God ! Satanic witch ! " Barney rasped.

Words slurred as he ogled the hose of his wrist pouring out. His tongue swelled out of his mouth and lolled hoarse.

Valma reached out dumbly across the spill and lifted the severed hand. She held it off from the wrist as if she would apply it back on. Barney touched the meat together as if he could be rejoined.

Her eyes locked onto Barney's as he wilted to his knees. Her eyes spoke a flow of tears in which he began to swim. He collapsed as he acknowledged her eyes.

" I'm going to die, Valma. I've done my last strike ! "

Valma nodded, tongue-tied in her tears. Barney knelt by the clubbed dog as it wheezed a final breath and went silent. Valma knelt beside him. She touched his neck as he bled years, losing will. She ran her fingers through his hair as she had done when he was a boy. The light ran out with his tears.

Barney rolled forward till his head propped his flesh on all fours. Life went out of him as his blood congealed in pools.

And Valma arched herself up as the twig of contractions caught her belly. And then the flood of waters gushed out as the baby inside her readied for birth.


1988 © Wayne David Knoll

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Orange of Sunshine and Blood

[ with thanks to John Shaw Neilson for 'The Orange Tree']

Blue cranes, blue wrens, green days and cherries. I had been reading John Shaw Neilson, singer of the colours. His poems were full of the sort of things I saw around the farm. More than dull gum trees and twiggy straw. He had grown up on a block which I imagined was like mine. I had planted a thousand trees on the block. I had tried to get all sorts of fruiting plants to grow. His lines were observations of the same Victorian bush landscapes as mine. Where his quintessential eternity of fruition had become poems, I had dreamed of finding that special fruit.

When I first went up there I thought I'd be able to get any thing to grow. I dreamed of tropical fruit like date palms, avocadoes and mangoes. In the first winter even the passionfruit died. So I fixed on growing citrus as the ultimate attainable ambition. Limes froze. Oranges turned black. Grapefruit died. Only the lemons survived with dwarfed shoots and stiff cold-pruned leaves. They produced browned-off stunted flowers which turned into misbegotten lemons which dropped off while they were still green. The citrus were a dead loss. They were more bitter than bitterness for me. I kept trying. In wind screens. Under glass. On northern aspects. Those made my worst seven years. I failed. Had fallen in shame. Drawn in ironies. I had once given up becoming an environmental consultant to 'nurture the earth' myself. I had to go back to a primary school of weather. Bitter climes took the edge off what I thought was an all-weather dream.

I had seen the weather girl on TV on the first of June announce: "Today is the first day of winter". And I thought God no! Who does she think she is? The siren of the official season? Pretty little autumn gone? I didn't want to be reminded of winter. It annoyed me that the weather girl sat in her air-conditioned studio on plush suede couches and looked down in all friendliness at a camera, with artificial spotlights on her makeup, and told me it was winter! Oh! how I envied that monumental ersatz!

The only thing I resented more than a fact which belied my senses was a fact which belied my hopes. The last thing I needed was an early winter. June One was sunny. Every day of June had been sunny so far! It proved how wrong they were! That it was winter was an official lie! I was damned if I'd hear that lie. I knew winter was imminent and I didn't need to be goaded into believing it! I had seen too many of my trees blackened by frost. Winter kept killing dreams on which I had based my life!

I knew by then that nature made its own calendars. She had no politics and no pretty green theories. Autumn often kept on until the midyear solstice. The last years the autumn leaves on the miles of oaks in the Avenue of Honour planted in memory of war veterans in Hillanook had hung on yellow, red and brown right through until July. So what if the sunny days started white with frost? The rains and clouds of winter had not begun!

But I'd gotten down. I was sick of the bush. The native forest was drab and the world had lost all sense of brightness and colour in my eyes. The gumleaves hung like shabby pennants. Thick flaps of downward flags the shape of long teardrops. They put me in a sense of being in a never-falling shower of khaki drizzle, like we get up there for the winter half year. Drooping, drooping, the indifference of the bush had put a droop in me. I could hardly bear to look up from my work, because the bush was all the horizon I had to envision.

I had to get out of there that morning. I woke early, scraped the ice off the windscreen and left for a day in Melbourne. As I drove I recited my favourite Shaw Neilson poem: The Orange Tree.
"The young girl stood beside me. I
Saw not what her young eyes could see:
-A light, she said, not of the sky
Lives somewhere in the Orange Tree.

I had been working with my neighbour Hans, building his sandstone house, while living in a kit shed myself. We had just finished preparing and pouring the concrete slab in those cold blue days. We would even rock up to lay reinforcing mesh in the frost. The pressed iron hut we camped in was lonely. I had only got to see people and cheer myself up with a bit of local colour when I drove past the highschool kids waiting for the bus along the five gravel miles in to Hillanook for milk, 'The Age' newspaper or some nails.

-Is it I said, of east or west?
The heartbeat of a luminous boy
Who with his faltering flute confessed
Only the edges of his joy?

I believed so much in planting trees that I got thingo. Possessive. I became uptight about it. I started making rules about how they had to be planted, watered, sheltered. I knew I knew how best. I was a sixty acre tyrant on my home ground. Sally left me two years ago. I just about had a seizure of self-righteousness. She couldn't hack the hardships I said. But that day I was glad to get out of the gluey clay and off the ochrey building site myself. I longed to be somewhere where every footstep was free of glug. I could break my own rules with impunity! I was driving for a flight, so full of expectation that I found myself getting to be elated as I came off the range. I think that I dreamed of being in love again.

Was he, I said, borne of the blue
In a mad escapade of Spring
Ere he could make a fond adieu
To his love in the blossoming?

The sky ahead of me was cloudless. The sun rose up over the Pretty Sally ridges to the east. Blossoming! The day was warm and friendly. Murray Greys in green paddocks mooched happily into the cocksfoot grass. Packing on beef. Two magpies dived and banked in the clear air above the highway, dropping into the sugargums. What a day it was!

I was going at a hundred Ks on humming wheels. I was going to see crowds in the Victoria market, see lights and differences and colours. I wanted to sit in a warm cinema and be transported into the make believe of "The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen". I hoped to catch up with Julie, a tutor at the Uni. I'd always had a soft spot for her.

-Listen! the young girl said. There calls
No voice, no music beats on me:
But it is almost sound: it falls
This evening on the Orange Tree.

The lines were like a drug to me. They made me feel wonderful even though I didn't understand exactly what she was talking about. The ute whistled wind songs as she flew along. Down in the distance the city towers rose to view through a low mist, angular, but in a soft screen, like lyrical glass castles in a child's picture storybook.

I had been so keen to escape the city once. There, I had been in a sort of neurotic state where I saw everything around me, as if it was a battle of demoniac spirits against humanity. Quelling my need to be fruitful. I used to walk around, only seeing the evil, in a spectral world of polished slabs of granite, verticals of marble, cloisters of mirrorglass through which bought people looked down at the hoi polloi.

I had had a chance of being one of the city bought people. But that being seemed to exist on video to me. I felt like a ghost who only had existence when the acetate I was in had light beamed through it onto the big screen of daily commerce. Unreal. I saw myself in a bought life that starved my soul. I saw myself as a power-being who only caught up with themself when somebody caught me out picking my nose in the executive lift. I saw the city full of anorexic people like me whose skin was a prop which held me up to the world. The fruits of power are green! People jostle and hurry, like I did, to be a part of an existence that they took to be quite normal in spiritual darkness. The force of that daily vision had nearly overwhelmed me. I had left to go up country. I wanted more for myself.

-Does he, I said, so fear the Spring
Ere the white sap too far can climb?
See in the full gold evening
All happenings of the olden time?

The dawn had been alight with a thin rind of apricot around the horizon. Then, far in the distance, the blue banks of the Dandenongs raised receding arms of beckoning up veiled valleys towards where the orange sun rose. The world seemed so wide and open to me. I was free. Travelling. Going to arrive somewhere wonderful.

When the highway turned into a freeway I began to feel at one with the people commuting in to the city. Cars in front of me, behind me, beside me, were, for me, all part of the celebration of that day. I guessed Mr Toyota was going to a meeting. Chairman Opal was going to clinch a deal. Mrs Holden was going shopping. Everything seemed purposeful and good to me. The flyover bridged across the valley below, where I saw market gardeners out on the Maribyrnong river flats, tending good greens for the people. I crossed the viaduct over the river. Everything flowed together.

Is he so goaded by the green?
Does the compulsion of the dew
Make him unknowable but keen
Asking with beauty of the blue?

The wind rustled in the ute's roof-gutters. A jumbo jet flashed silvery against the sun as it took off for an overseas destination from Tullamarine airport. I was coming down from the cold mountains, rolling out into civilisation on to the Port Phillip Plain. Ready for a rich experience. I imagined nothing that could ruffle my day. The vehicle-wind brush-stroked the roadside foliage.

A man is sane as long as he feels free to act within the bounds of his own self-corrections. How long did I have to argue to convince myself that I was satisfactory? But was I still sane when the attraction of innocence made me vulnerable to whimsical obsessions? My obsession for real fruit scared me. That poem had gotten in to the very core of what my life hunger was.
-Listen! the young girl said. For all
Your hapless talk you fail to see
There is a light, a step, a call
This evening on the Orange Tree.

I saw myself as the man in the poem. What was the step that I was failing to take -to see through this haplessness? Hapless? This was morning, not evening. I was okay. Yearning yes. My life was routine. Hapless meant... not happening? What did hapless mean?

I looked at the way the light was falling on the autumn leaves in Strathmore. I was reminded of the house I grew up in. I could see my mother as she used to be when she was at her best, out in her garden. She'd look up through the russet orange and yellow leaves with a saw in her hand to where a treetop had been broken by a storm and quote St Paul lovingly: 'All things work together for good to those who love God'. And she cut the broken branch away.

Her view of the world was simple. Be open, honest, and always think the best of people. Mind you she loved a good prune in the garden. Hacking, it was. She used the space to plant something new.
-Is it, I said, a waste of love
Imperishably old in pain,
Moving as an affrighted dove
Under the sunlight or the rain?

Outside Julie's house the leaves on the overhanging elm all rattling with a shake of wind. Yellow leaves confettiing, billowing up on the eddies of traffic. No ones wedding. The knock I gave the door bought out a twentysomething woman in her Japanese house gown.

"Julie?" I said.

"Yeh?"

"Looking for Julie," I repeated

"Julie's in Sydney. She's gone for a year on a staff exchange plan."

"Howard Jammer?" I said.

"Wanda. She never mentioned no Howard no."

The leaves all shaking so much I found myself looking up from the defended threshhold into the swirl. This Wanda noticed the water in my eyes but said nothing. I felt too embarrassed to stay.

"Say hello then," I said from the gate.

Browsers Bookshop! I needed inspiration. The film didn't start till the evening. So I walked across Carlton toying with an old thread that hung loose from my sloppy-joe. I had wanted to get hold of a copy of Henry David Thoreau's 'Walden' to stimulate some optimism in my life. He made something of a row of beans. I could browse through the natural history books and read some poetry for a few hours.

Is it a fluttering heart that gave
Too willingly and was reviled?
Is it the stammering at a grave
The last word of a little child?

How could I be called hapless? I was a landowner. I was building a house! My life carried weight. I was making things happen. The bookshop was one of my favourite places in Melbourne. Two floors of an old terrace house with works of literature, history, ideas; books from all around the world which could transport me to other places. The shop was closed. A sign on the door read: 'Due to a death in the business...'

I rebounded away from the bookshop with all the force of my attraction. I had fallen into closed doors. I stopped on the kerb, wondering what I was doing. I scratched my head and looked about me in a daze. I found myself jaywalking across tramtracks, heading for a little park. I sat like the morning homeless on a bench seat in the sun. Escape to the Uni Library was only a block away.

The dictionary said. 'Hapless: luckless, unfortunate, unlucky.' Unfortunate indeed? 'For all your hapless talk you fail to see' Was that me? I turned out of there and walked back towards the ute. I would go down to the Yarra River bank. I wanted an eternal, reliable, destination. How could I see what I fail to see? Luckless talk! Books that I've read and blind? As I drove I had a great sense of darkness come over me. I felt a heaviness in my eyes. A weight was balling up and rising in my belly.

I drove southwards towards the city. I glanced over my left shoulder as I passed a mirror building to see the ute reflected obtusely in the glass. What if my whole way of seeing was warped? I turned east onto Victoria Street to take the city bypass. I moved into the rightmost of four lanes, following an old cream round-cabined Bedford truck.

My right index finger tapped on the steering wheel, like it was pointing out my need for light to give me definition, to put full stops into the chaos of my belly. I felt that my eyes were looking backwards into myself, and searching sideways for what I didn't know.

On the very back of the truck was a single row of waxed cardboard cartons containing oranges. The cartons were higgled apart on the buckled splintery wooden floor of the tray. I could see the oranges on the seventh carton where the top layer had been jostled from the pack. The roundness of the oranges was like a colourful landscape of valleys and hills against the backdrop of the raised carton flap. The truck hit the uneven road where a watermain gully-trap broke the surface. The tray bounced and one orange was jolted up to rest precariously on the loose jostle of fruit below. I fixed on that orange with an inexplicable fascination. Was that the very orange I had always dreamed of growing? I coloured better in seeing the deep orange skin. I memorised the full roundness of the fruit. I imagined it was the tastiest orange I had ever seen.

I became like a father to that fruit. Doting. I worried about the orange. Any bump could send it onto the road. The truck had no sides. I let myself become annoyed. No tailgate. The oranges had been stacked too carelessly. All my sense of wonder went out to make that orange precious. The truckie didn't seem to realize how fragile his load might be. My need for innocence was projected into that orange. I thought I might toot or pass and let the driver know. But the ninethirty morning traffic was still peakish. Trucks, cars, and taxis filled every lanespace. No one else but me had any thought for the orange.

While stopped at the lights I looked closer at my orange. For I thought of it as mine by then. I saw that the navel had close pores on the skin which made me think of Sally's chin. Funny how you telescope things you miss so much, like that content of grace and closeness you find where you study your wife's pores while nuzzling after making love and before a further kiss. When I nosed up close I could read the labels printed on the end of the cartons. 'NAVEL ORANGES MILDURA CITRUS CO-OP Nangiloc Depot.' While I was up close reading the labels I suddenly got a sense that the orange might fall. I eased back as we took off and I left space behind the truck in case I had to dodge to save the orange.

I met Sally in Mildura. I had gone there during the year I postponed study to make a bit of money for another year at Uni. Mildura was a revelation to me. A green foodbasket in the desert. The Chaffey Brothers founded an oasis of irrigation. The climate is Mediterranean. Winter there is sunny. It's the warmest place in Victoria. I remember groves and groves of dense-green orange trees so covered with bright oranges they made me think of lights on a Christmas Tree. Nearby vineyards of harvested sweet and purple grapes were aglow with dropping yellowed leaves.

Sally was suntanned after picking for months. She took to me right off. I remember us swimming in the Murray River, rubbing along each other like dolphins in the water. She was honey blonde and the brown in her eyes was speckled with sparkles like they had orange gems in them. She was winter sunshine for me.

One time we went walking out away from the oasis into the Raak Plains, mallee and desert scrub. We walked letting our longings out. Mildura seemed to have just the right balance of civilisation and wilderness. Fruit to eat and desert for our spirits to expand into.

The truck was like a little bit of Mildura travelling through Melbourne. The traffic was roaring off over St Vincents Hill. The Urvan behind me was revving forward like I was too slow. The car next to me was trying to nudge into the gap between me and the truck. I accelerated to close the gap. Traffic hedged me in the righthand lane. Then a taxi tried to cut in from the left. I looked in the rearview mirror as I sped up. I glanced ahead to see the truck bounce on a bump. The orange was in mid-air. I swerved as the orange hit the road.

A red Toyota planted its horn. Brakes squealed behind me. I was sure I had straddled the orange. I couldn't stop. A car veered away from me. I believed I had missed it. No cars crashed. I swerved into the turn lane and kept going through the lights with a turn arrow. I tried to see the orange in the rearview mirror. Nothing. I accelerated with the traffic.

Couldn't go on. I'd be a coward. I owed something back there. I slowed beside a giant Moreton-Bay Figtree, pulled left into a empty space. Twenty minutes still on the meter. My search for the orange found grace.

I walked back up Lansdowne street. I stepped out across the citybound lanes of Victoria street. I angled across the elmtree avenue of the road-island. I scanned across the pavements in front of me. Tram tracks and chip-packets, but no orange. Then I realized my mistake. In my daze I had taken the tramway for the eastbound lanes of Victoria Street.

Was I crazy? Why bother with one lost orange? I didn't need a free orange anymore than I needed to be made free. I had money for cases of oranges. But I was set on that one particular orange. I crossed tramtracks and the footpath to the bluestone kerb. I expected to see the orange lodged in the gutter, caught against a projecting bluestone. My wild orange had to have come through! The one that had broken free from the pack. There was nothing but fallen autumn leaves in the gutter by the right-turn lane.

I trod on the bluestones of the gutter, going uphill. Bobbing down to look under parked cars. Stepping between vehicles. There was an overdressed man sitting behind the wheel of a blue Mercedes. Watching me. I must have looked ridiculous. I thought about asking him if he had seen my orange. I dared not. Secretly I laughed to think of him wondering what I was up to. "I'm looking for an orange off the back of a truck." I imagined explaining it to him, and his suspicion of me. I looked out of his eyes and burst, laughing out loud at myself. I was in a kind of ecstasy to be liberated from care about what he thought. I was in a delight to be a character acting before a more pedestrian audience. But ha I was the pedestrian. I slapped my legs laughing. I was thrilled in my obsession.

I felt wonderful right then. I began to realize that I might not have to find the orange to have my wonder. I was mad enough to look for something that preciously insignificant! I searched eighty metres of gutter and parking spaces. I stood to look out on the road further toward the city.

Ten metres away the bitumen was wet in three splats. I saw half my orange squashed in two sections. I stared at the wetness a few seconds. I didn't want the orange to be mine then. I wanted to pretend that I had forgotten something and go back the way I came, maybe whistling 'Amazing Grace' as I hurried away on pretence of some business.

I found the ball of knots was back in my belly. Then I was sitting on the bluestone kerb crying my damn eyes out. Great howls of sobbing came out of me. The traffic wheeled fourtyred passed. I wanted to act like nothing had happened. But what had? One of the bits of orange lay between the traffic lanes. I could see it through the wet, bright orange. My tears made a screen through which I saw the human traffic all at sea. I wept for I don't know what. I felt inconsolable. I kept saying these words that came from nowhere: "Orange is halfway between sunshine and blood. Orange is ... sunshine and blood. Orange ...half... sunshine ... blood." My words were cries.

I had seen the beams of green light shine down through my tears and I heard yet another oncoming wave of traffic pass beside me. I stood like an old man and tottered away from the road towards the ute.

In my mind I saw my orange run over repeatedly by many tyres. There were pores in the close up skin. The orange grew from the orb of skin till it was whole and orange again. Then one bit I could eat and taste the value of was in the gutter. I picked the dirty orange third from the bluestones. Hardly able to grasp it. I was beside myself. Flayed orange wounds dripped. I split it open with my fumbling hands and plunged my teeth into the delicious flesh, sucking out the sweet tangy juice. A light not of the sky shone inside me.

I had broken off from the tree of my own threshold of dreams. I found a yielding within me. I didn't know what was best! It might have been me did the damage! I wanted to believe in what might be. The world wasn't just what was there. The Fitzroy Gardens, and the pathside bench I sat on, was only the substance which grew out of real stance. Stance and sub-stance. The present was falling passed me like it was in freefall. I felt connected outside any moment. Old timers were asking about what I saw happening now. It was me who fleshed out the spirit anew. The huge elm tree I sat under dropped leaves into a big pool of browning yellow under the tree. The sun shone until clouds moved under it. And shone again.

Hope found me there. I said 'Orange is sunshine and blood' aloud as if eternity depended on it. Melba with her clipped poodle on a leash walked by. I nodded to her as if I would soon know her, but she turned her head away. She didn't have to see me. The light in the swirl of autumn leaves sang about the shining it was going to do after I was dead. Lord Melbourne in his beige overcoat passed me with a copy of the Sun News Pictorial under his arm. The headline read: "Better Times in 33". I looked him in the eye but he looked woodenly ahead. I saw his boys coming at a great distance. They were agitating for their lost vitality in full sunshine. A gardener went by carrying a fibreglass pond-dragging net on its pole.

My eyes followed the gardener as he took the elm avenue into the depths of the park. I just knew he was someone of special ilk. I got up to follow him but the old brick building moved out of history to block me. What was it? Not a tiolet block? No. A shelter shed like we had in primary school? No. A kiosk? The garage width doors were bolted and padlocked. I moved around the block.

Green painted seats, with awning verandahs to cover them, were fixed to three sides of the rectangular building. On the fourth side two queues of strangely confident men shifted quietly towards some open hatches, like minute kiosk serveries, which divided the wall. The sun streamed onto my side as I realized it was a soup kitchen. The men were dressed in dirty blue old-fashioned suits above many layers of cardigans. They talked among themselves in a tone of agreeable acceptance. Most of them didn't see me as I went back towards the end of the queue.
One man nodded to me and I connected with his eyes. I knew immeadiatly that he had once eaten one like my orange.

"Jock Neilson!" he said. " And you'd be Howard Jammer, right!"
"The Orange Tree !" I said.

"For you Howard, just 'The Orange' will do." he said. " But come!"

He turned me aside from the queue.

"You see! The gardener's gone for breakfast fish." he said. "The company will need good followers. We lived a time, but time must continue to be lived."

"How come I'm here, Jock?" I asked.

"When few will weep, few can be happy," he said. "Joys long dead climb out upon a tear."

"But what is this?" I asked.

"They call it the sweetening of the year," Jock said. "The flesh resists spirit being born out of it. But flesh finds no sweetness until then."

He turned to speak to his queuemates and I saw the brotherhood of faith that these men had wrought out of time. Seeds of renewing mind sprouted. Sight unseen I saw. I saw through between the men and realized the second queue were men and women. These were marked with the scars of the lash of earlier times. They all appeared like a distant view between far trees.

Suddenly, as I knew these people, at last the sense of belonging I had always desired, a true family of mine , got thin and opaque in the sunlight. I turned to ask Jock what was going on. He was nearly not there. So thin.

"Eat your orange and seed it in the people" he said. "Your flesh is now."

They were all gone with him. The hatches on the building were closed. I could still smell the aroma of pea soup. I ran out with my arms ready to catch the poet himself. But I was the only one there. I became conscious that the traffic was still going. I turned and saw the gardener approaching. He had a big fish in the net. It was a different gardener. This unexpected man came over to me. His other hand was full of watercress.

"Brown Trout?" he asked, as if I knew the answer. I looked quizzical.

"Good one." I could hardly believe what was happening.

"We need to eat," he said. "Share with me."

The gardener lead me over to the electric barbeque. He sliced the fish into cutlets with a sheath knife through the scattered coins of the copper spots on its skin. The flesh was orange. He sizzled it in melted butter on the hotplate.

"They call it brown," he said, winking. "But we both know they understate things. Really absorbed reverie is an orange study."

He knifed fish cutlets covered in watercress onto my spread palms.

"Sunshine and blood?" I said as if he might have a clue.

"You never know your luck in a small town," he said. "Like embers watching ashes boasting of the fire, the heat needs rekindling."

We sat and ate the fish deliciously. He knew I'd been beside myself till then. I walked with him and he taught me how I could catch myself out. I limped in pain like my insides had new blood pumping out the bitter juices. I was so taken with the convergent times I lost track of where I was.
-Silence! the young girl said. Oh, why,
Why will you talk to weary me?
Plague me no longer now, for I
Am listening like the Orange Tree.

Blood sunshine was flowing visions through me. I could kindle people into the tree. Stoke the fire! I had to set myself off on a blaze of glory. Be fruitful myself on the burning bush! It was me that could be an orange.

When I realized the gardener was gone the sun had welled over and faded. I had been taken in as if under a pervading charm of real sentiment for deep emotions, become a part of a whole, absorbed. And I could feel my flesh burning up with being.


1990 © Wayne David Knoll

About Me

My photo
I am a 4th-to-6th generation Australian of Silesian (Prusso-Polish), Welsh, Schwabian-W├╝rttemberg German, yeoman English, Scots, & Cornish stock; all free settlers who emigrated between 1848-1893 as colonial pioneers. I am the 2nd of 7 brothers and a sister raised on the income off 23 acres. I therefore belong to an Australian Peasantry which historians claim doesn't exist. I began to have outbreaks of poetry in 1975 when training for a Diploma of Mission Theology in Melbourne. I've since done a BA in Literature and Professional Writing and Post-graduate Honours in Australian History. My poem chapbook 'Compost of Dreams' was published in 1994. I have built a house of trees and mud-bricks, worked forests, lived as a new-pioneer, fathered-n-raised two sons and a daughter, and am now a proud grandfather. I have worked as truck fresh-food farmer, a freelance foliage-provider, been a member of a travelling Christian Arts troupe, worked as duty officer and conflict resolutionist with homeless alcoholic men, been editor/publisher of a Journal of Literature for Christian Pilgrimage, a frontier researcher, done poetry in performance seminars in schools and public events.