Issue 2: John Kinsella

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.