Poetry

Jeogla Return; Birdsongs


Jeogla Return

1

 

Half a daylight moon

hung over New England

as I drove from Armidale to Jeogla—

just as I did forty years ago

for the first time

to take up an appointment

in a one-teacher school.

Names appeared on signposts

with a familiarity that surprised me—

Commissioners Waters, Gara River,

Hillgrove, Wollomombi—

until I reached the Kempsey turnoff

and Jeogla lay 9 km ahead.

2

The main building and water tank

of the school were gone.

The shelter shed had been converted

to a cabin and a caravan

was parked next to it.

Incinerator still there; also one toilet block.

The same footpath ran

from the squeaky yellow gate

now replaced by steel fencing posts.

The windbreak of pines cut down,

its burnt-out stumps standing.

Someone had planted saplings

and vines, built trellises and put up tool sheds.

The school yard had a new life.

3

Further back, towards Oaky River—

where was the house

that I once lived in ?

Where I boarded—slept, ate, wrote poetry

and listened to Willy-wagtails

singing in the pine tree outside my window

in the moonlight ?

An overgrown allotment greeted me—

its rusty fence and wire gate still standing.

A disused water tank lay

under the pine tree.

For a moment I saw my old car

parked beside a weatherboard wall

while water gurgled

into the tank from a downpour.

Only an outhouse

stood at the back of the yard

alongside a row of hawthorns—

before the empty chook-run

where bantams roosted in the trees at night.

On a slope, towards the dam,

a brown kelpie used to run at the end of a long chain.

No timber blocks or logs remained

from what had been a wood heap.

Once I found an axe on top of it

rusting in the rain.

Walking away through grass and dust—

stepping over blackberry canes,

taking photographs of the property

and surrounding paddocks,

I found a row of purple flowers

growing against the wire as if trying to escape.

Rosellas flying across the landscape

broke the silence but gave no joy or solace.

4

Next day in Armidale,

returning the hire car and talking

to the man behind the counter about the missing house,

he replied, “I knew that family—

me and my dad used to stay with them.

Well, blow me down—how about that !”

I asked what happened to the house.

He said, “the new owner bulldozed it.”

“Why ?”

“Because he wanted more space on the land.”

Walking back to the motor inn

across Central Park,

stunned by the coincidence

of what I’d just heard—

I barely understood my luck

in that brief conversation

or what the loss of the house meant.

I remembered the previous

afternoon, driving away, the half-moon

still hanging in the darkening sky like a broken host—

and thinking how, of all the cities in the ancient world,

Juno loved Carthage the most.

Birdsongs

Birdsongs over the roar of surf

too numerous to count—

before the sun’s rim breaks

the horizon and the moment lengthens

into a golden hour:

lorikeets, galahs, whipbirds,

rosellas, honeyeaters—

each contending for nectar and seeds

to satisfy a lifetime’s hunger

on a cliff top overlooking Hyams Beach.

Try to hear them separately

and what each song

is about—raucous, sweet,

shrill, a series of echoes following

the sound of a lash.

Easier to isolate the grains

of wet sand between your toes

than understand their songs—

here, on this cliff top, where you

keep returning to find peace.

Peter Skrzynecki

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