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Dig Tree

Christopher Oakey

 
The last day, sand-light coming in from the east,
they ate from the Thiaminase tree by the dried up river.

Crows came down from the sky and hopped
between them, from trees like skeletons

of salt. They had hands of white crystal, and the bunya for a tombstone.
They had their revolvers and so they shot a crow

to drink the blood, but the bird burst in their fingers.
They wept, and reached out

each to the other
for comfort,

begging him,
each to the other,

to bury him back in Melbourne
once they were rescued.

And the river mouth
glimpsed from afar
was ablaze with light.

They hesitated
to speak, instead

listened to hooves over stone.
Gentlemen streamed from the bank

and in the river the catamarans played
all across the evening.

The bed where they lie was black with stones
but the wattle has sprinkled on its yellow dust;

and the small filaments of the banksia, and the eucalyptus
has laid down its rattling bells.

They lie
on dried-out sheets of silt

to await the black bang of the pistol,
the inland sea, which will unfurl

which will launch them, poor children of the heavens,
and draw them down.

Salt-bush sprinkles the plains, grasses cure
on the hills.

From here to the coast the land is salt
sprinkled with dew.

The stale air

the grass

and the crows,
eat the uneatable seeds, laugh

at the undrinkable sea,
and play all through the evening.

There is a sea within the bunya, and
beyond the dust of the banksia.

And only here
the Thiaminase tree,

to build a boat inside
where the gut runs.

It is this we carried boats for, this
sea of white

that comes unwanted, as the crows come,
the inland sea burning within.

And the stars burn in long cold arcs,
the white band of the universe turning away
and turning away, a ribbon of cold fire
to light up the darkness, to set your compass to,
to stare at and to sail.

Even if here, even if only here
to make a mast and to set your sails,
neither north nor west nor homeward,
but up into a sea of unending fire,
where god is,
and all is forgiven, financed, and forgotten.

This was early on when the desert
swam with fish.

They watched them throwing boomerangs
and the children playing in the creek

all through the evening.

When they move on they curl
in hollows around campfire ashes;

The river gurgles in its bed, the camels groan
by the red tree, the eucalypt rings its bells.

Oh black asphodel, red
Mars, forgive us our
distances.

They are ablaze with light.

Gentlemen from the bank
in black jackets, the cloth

flapping and twisting in the wind
against crystal fingers.

They blaze, the sea
burns across the sky;

stars wheel endless
and inside

where the water lies exploding
are angels. They let down

their rattling bones.
The sun is

black above the sand, the sky is
scoured clean with salt.

All is forgiven, and the river
plays, all through

the evening.

~

Christopher Oakey is a poet and postgraduate researcher working in Sydney Australia. His poetry has been published in multiple venues, including Cordite Poetry Review, Contrapasso Magazine, and Southerly. His research involves philosophical influences on late modernist poetics.