(A song cy­cle in 5 parts)

The Monthly (Australia) - - CONTENTS - by Nam Le

IYou’d think the fell they mon­ged would be day’s cut, moun­tain ash & red gum, hard lum­ber sluiced down the river named Falls, over the falls named Dight, to the shal­lows or fail­ing that, fell as in hill as in that fell up the Slope from the Flat (foul, mi­as­matic no-man’s land) as in whence the good wood comes as in where you meet, make terms, name the wood so as to claim & then con­sider it. But no. Fell is hide. Is hold your breath the car­case-butcher’s skin­cart comes, is drain the blood to paste the lime to gape the pores & rip the hair out, fuller’s earth the pelt & pickle it in acid salt is all it’s ever been down here – blood in soil, blood and soil, beasts most fell and us be­sides, by, here at run-off’s end, th­ese am­ple of­fal fields (heads we feed to the pigs) for the boil­ing-down & bon­ing, the slic­ing & scour­ing, watch us flush the fell-poak, watch us watch the brown river go­ing so so gor­geous with ef­flu­ence. Can’t see it in your hands but. It’s there and then it’s not. Not the same river (nor the same then), the stone with stand­ing but on amended grounds and who, in any case (I hear you ask) (and fair enough), is “we”? God, how bored with clemency this land must have been – to dream up Euro­pean man & method, his last names riv­ing the first, the old names, telling of dead set in­dus­try, of long dam­age, all the dark work to be done in the sun. II Comes the Ori­en­tal with his blue teeth, be­cause of gold. Turn­ing white men white as they’ve ever been. Lar­rikin means you can spit on him. Lo­cal means we stick to­gether and they stick to­gether (scum on sap), side by side, ses­sile, squat in night­soil. Slope’s best so be­neath it we lived, sweat­ing $40 fleece-lined track­ies for $1.40 cop­ping cops & cap-questers ga­lore get­ting the knack – did I mind? my boy, what’s be­cause. Newly alived we were – be­leaved, up­looted, and this beau­ti­ful na­tion, this no-joke land of the flee it lift us up give us cow juice & clothes it make loom for us in the high-lies flats. (Did I mind!) III Syd­ney auc­tion. Sur­geon, coroner & spe­cial con­sta­ble for flood duty John Dight sits, sat­ur­nine, waits. Hap­pens to be rain’s on his mind, the it­er­a­tive na­ture of its spe­ci­a­tion and a mi­nore ad maius its di­vine on­tol­ogy (the land pre-grid­ded into pas­turable lots, says the auc­tion­eer (“A”)) vide that rain that del­i­quesced the mor­tar at many-roomed Durham Bowes, eased up the stone ground­sel with soft fin­ger­tips (fronting five miles of handy river, says A) and ten­der bore the ed­i­fice en­tire – post & beam, frame & fix­ture – and Han­nah & the chil­dren trapped in the loft! – down Hawkes­bury deep unto the drownèd val­ley – and who’s to say the Great Flood that drowned the world wasn’t ac­creted by this same gen­tle, noise­less rain, fall­ing from high, light skies – the kind of rain that makes you want to step out­side? Flood, yes, dis­tance too. And the blacks hos­tile (and no blacks at all, says A); the sta­ble­man at Stafford, spear de­pend­ing from gut to skim the ground (or else they’ve been treatied with, says A, and any­way the Melbourne blacks are fa­mously meek as cab­bages). Time to move, thinks Dight. To stop mov­ing. He lifts his hand, our man of many grants, am­i­cus com­mis­sariat, at £18.10 – the day’s high­est price – and pro­cures Por­tion 88.

Best not think about it. Value’s value. But think about it: that base me­chanic Bat­man makes a killing (coinage from across the Pa­cific viz the fu­ture – true court of value) scor­ing 600,000 acres for a grab-bag of trin­kets – scis­sors & flan­nel jack­ets (and even an­nulled, first claims, all know, cut deep­est) while I, a “free set­tler”, only four years hence, am out a hun­dred­fold for a twenty-thou­sandth part! Enough to make a man. But the river. The fu­ture, think about – 15 fall­ing feet of wa­ter to put to the wheel. The shal­low­est cross­ing to tax the stock, to toll the drays & days. Even, in time, who knows (I know!) a weir, a mill, a can­dle­works, and (play your cards right) packed all round the prox­imis­ing bend a full, hardy deck of wool­wash­ers & scour­ers, gut­clean­ers, fat­boil­ers, tan­ners, glue­mak­ers, fell­mon­gers. IV (Mouth’s my own but your tongue twisted all through. I don’t speak for no-one. If you were spir­its why steal our women can­not dis­obey day’s end’s sum­monses, maybe you knew this. The seal­ing places, the eel­ing places. Why kill our dogs were all you’d left us by then. Sick­ness is stay­ing in one place and we saw you move so we let you come so why come sly it’s true your god, dy­ing again ev­ery seven days, was strong – this we un­der­stand. We were like you. They broke our mouth into a thou­sand tongues too. We pitied you, fu­tile & pale, but you were not spir­its, but your spir­its kept ours dulled & dreamy and who knew they would stop our songs stop the ba­bies in our daugh­ters they were so strong. “You” is heaps eas­ier. Your slow, dim an­i­mals with de­stroy­ing feet. Your an­i­mal skins, sorry busi­ness all round, with all the an­i­mal soaked, sprained out of them. Fell is sly and sour too. You felled our land be­came ours the mo­ment you came. De­na­tured the mist river for (your) shame. Where there’s shade do you walk in the sun tells us when it’s time to move on but you came, stayed, the sick­ness took. Noth­ing now grows. Would that the Great Wa­ter had stayed shut up in the moun­tain – the look­ing glass a basin, the tom­a­hawk a bluff – noth­ing it­self with you. Would that we had lis­tened to the sto­ries you told about your­self. Would that you had not trans­ported your fault all this way – athwart bor­ders of blood & ice, the salt tide tracks, the vast sea coun­try, to pro­tect us.)

VRiver re­mains. City taken its name. Though the East is gone, the keep­ers of the names. In­spec­torate of Nui­sances. Head­wa­ters dammed, high catch­ment for white irony. Wel­come to coun­try, whis­pers the mir­ror. Thirst & spate telemetrised. Now is the Age of Treat­ment. District, Bor­ough, Town: stacked we are, & sprawled, set in our sto­ries but there’s scum yet hues our hands. We their is­sue you ours sited un­sta­ble on chem­i­cal & car­nal swill, ev­ery moth­erlov­ing part of the an­i­mal and so be it (& what) – show me pure terra, show me a blood­less plot, your im­mac­u­late con­sents (where we come, my boy, shit’s just mean­ing you not starv­ing!) All that maul & moil. Tongues & toil. Those ru­ined mead­ows, newly en­stranged (noth­ing na­tive re­mains – how we mocked your weird, weakly beasts & trees you brung how here they are, set­tled past tak­ing back and where are we and any­way what’s back). Wrong. In dream ques­tions force their own an­swers. Time is swim-through. Fu­ture liq­uid­ity. The vol­canic plain dreams of life, that loves it­self, and kills to grow, quick­ens to cor­rup­tion: soil turns to sump, breeds tent city dream­ing of rook­eries in the up­most stratas where sleep my mother & lit­tle brother still, where roost the favoured wogs & mus­lims, the mong-faced slants & africans, where once I saw a junkie come into the lift, slouched with story, car­ry­ing a head of let­tuce so green it burst my heart.

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