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from Death’s Jest-Book Intertext (1829 text): a de-dramatisation (out of Beddoes)

Scene I

Soul chromosome, soul sweetener
and flower’s lightning: the tempest
fills the gully, a travelator. Then east,
a town called Corrigin. There, we pass
Walden. A family business. Bridal
scores and rebellion’s ringleaders.
These histories of moonrises.
A melancholy Egyptian passed by
and remembered his childhood.
The town continued its business.
The needs of the town, so far
from the city. The sounds
of country music. Too much
solitude is crossed. Migrant
hostels bursting with hope,
enthusiasm, dejection. An army
camp now. What opening
in the town’s records, its account
of itself. Lord of my life!
Who maintains the archives?
The telling? Those shadows
of the pyramids, those jewels
and hackneyings of language.
Root, flower, fruit. It’s so dry
in the central wheatbelt.
And the Gun Club keeping
a fauna park for the orphaned
offspring of their victims.
Next to the camp where the town
clustered the Ballardong Nyungar
people. Who keeps account?
Yes, roots stretch even underneath
the grave. Lamp of magic science.
Souls’ deepest mines. Folded
thoughts. Tombless dead.
The weight is on the word,
the idea of ‘tomb’. Marker.
In the service of subjugation?
Passing Walden: curious,
but not checking it out.
Ghosts of nation kicking
about the wheatbelt.
Dog cemetery, Lookout.
Airfield Town. And yet,
it’s two hours’ drive from Corrigin
to Northam. It’s that time of the year
as well: Bachelor and Spinster Balls,
Ute Musters, maiden staking
a claim to the old towers of Hell.


Scene II

Wild, graceful flower.
Contradicting fruit.
Precious gift: harvest.
Wedding. Fortune. Discontent.
Insolence of dust devils.
Profane sleep.


Scene III

Quarrelling in the pub
over posters for a wheatbelt
festival. The boys pulled them down:
Aboriginal stories and songs.
That’s the real Australia
and the shining light of its clichés.
Its stereotypes. Which doesn’t
make them less real, less
painful all round, entered
into their fictitious conditions.
Into epitaphs and occasional,
case-specific, ethno-elegies.
Convictions. Impartial
secrets. I will write
to the newspapers.
King’s evidence.
Columbus sailed
the Avon River
and it was dry, dry
to the gunwales. Some
living folks. Sleep tonight.
In the light of fat mother moon
they delight in marking circles
in the crops. Harvest is half done.
Twelve millions tonnes predicted.
Thief’s hour. The state’s bad humours.
As Christmas approaches some folk
stroll the main street: who’s in?
Who’s out? Really, you know them?
Ruined churches that sparkle
with new fittings and bright congregations.
Ruined angels in the town’s cradle.
Footsteps on the pavement.
Recession is coming,
recession is coming.
Wanderers, town lags, enterprise.
The district goes itinerant.
Once again. Like old times.
I just listen and record the words.
Who casts the first stone? Our riper
and declining lives. Shedding our outer leaves.
I know which trees, undergrowth,
belonged here. Search out memories
in the stingy star-shine. The elect
in their chambers, apportioning funds.
The carve-up. The winter river
and its Noah-washing ways,
back then, back then: birds’ wings
and leaves floating downstream,
across the rapids. The whitewash.
Here stand they who framed it.
How are the citizens in their
labyrinthine homes? What
whispers breach the walls,
what spies are at the windows,
what forms suspicion’s
creeping words? In the little
hiding holes the germs
of cunning thought. Reptile
purpose, chrysalis on chrysalis.
The wheat waves like an ocean
in a cavern, the header harvesting
foam. Worse hayfever seasons.
The worst we remember.
The headers on in the broad-acres
looking like miniature suns.
Cloudy pages. Threat of storm.
Thunderous hinges. Hieroglyphic
human souls competing for the greatest
crops, the widest spread, dust
on the summer path. You
wouldn’t recognise the landscape.
Country. Nation. The quarter
of the globe. The tricks of translation.
The dipping ears as chaser
bins chase the quarry. Lopped
as dayless eyes, their flesh-concealed
souls laid out with a celebratory drink,
harvest odes — Romans
in unroman times. The melody
of their souls like wreath-flowers
along the roadside, roots
down into the heart,
where the roadmakers
can’t see. We say hello to John
as we pass by: regulating the flow
of traffic as they bitumenise the shoulders
of a ribbon road. The owl is day-silent
in its nest, inside the hollow wandoo.
King Ceres is carting the final load
of his harvest to the wheatbin.
Welcome among us.
It’s time to marry. I am guided
into a second gully, Jam Tree Gully,
where divinely beautiful pyrite-
riven soil spills eventful
as unexpected night
falling on us — a cloud covering the sun:
the land shone tense with shining.
They called it Sleepy Hollow
and horses made paths on the hill.
First thing, down with the electric fences,
away with the steer and ram skulls
on the gate, and a declaration to the valley
that we are alive, my wife,
and the gully will fill with prayer
and roots and change the colour
of the sky. The beasts pass by.
The colour of night
is the colour of our day,
and never again will I say,
abandon this ungrateful country,
its relics of wasp nests
its fracturings of granite
its sepulchral radiance
its shadows and requitals.
The lichen blazons.
The moss soothes.
The rough ground is a place
of growth and we joyfully
oversoul creation. No desolate souls,
no trackless expressions. Dust
clings and reshapes
with unrestrained passion.
The valley is full of eyes,
desiring eyes bargaining dreams.
Nature comes back.



[John Kinsella's recent books include Shades of the Sublime & Beautiful (Picador, 2008) and Disclosed Poetics: Beyond Landscape and Lyricism (Manchester University Press, 2007)]

Copyright © 2009 by John Kinsella, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.