Burnt Words

‘Black Saturday’ was named for a series of 400 bushfires in Victoria Australia, around 7 February, 2009. 173 people died, 414 were injured, 2,100 homes destroyed, 7,562 people were displaced.

Wind was never useful in a poem,
but flame, now, yes flame was the core –
heart aflame, passion aflame, longing aflame;
love’s burning desire, night’s candle of soft light, moon’s flare,
the altar of Quan Yin with its flickering quiet, flowering stones,
pink shells lit by the glow of tapers.

We knew the world was altering.
We were told – look to the waters, the shoreline,
ice-storms, poles with their melting caps.
No-one mentioned firestorm, air-ignition.
No-one talked of trees raging with their bursting
heads of fire, sky a turmoil of blood-orange air.
That our forest would ignite
fuelled by its own eucalypt oil,
Mountain Ash dried keen enough for self-immolation.

We knew the fire-bombings of Dresden,
human forests burning in Nagasaki.
Yet still we weren’t prepared for the earth itself
to turn tenderless, heave up through its green growth
the unyielding heat of 1500 Hiroshima bombs.
Ember attacks hammered nails through metal and skin,
jet-engines roared in walls of fire to deafen the old,
flames sucked oxygen from the air, lungs left slack.

And poems? All that ‘burning in the line’,
those ‘flame on the tongue’ images, seem crude.
Too much ash has fallen;
too many boneless burials.
And poems can’t undo the burning.
That new language of terror,
all the frenzy of flame, has
burned away my tongue.

from Line of Drift