The conservative forest

for Bruce Dawe

This is a family-values forest. The red-checked table cloth
is spread on grass where the canopy has been removed.
The sun shines as required, a hygienic space to celebrate
freedom, strong government, luminous freeways.

The elitists wanted this closed to ordinary people,
and left for soap-fearing ferals, anti-social bushwalkers.
But now it is accessible, with tables made of eucalypt,
trees making a contribution, in full employment.

Long gone is the anarchy of wilderness, the over-excited mind.
Discipline is learned from a neat row of firs, a line of swings
under the Big Axe. The kids, Andrew and Emma, draw houses
with chimney smoke on paper the wood-chips have provided.

But do not relax. Be wary of seductive tunes from the foliage,
of horns and pipes, dangerous nymphs with plausible stories.
They whisper of peace won without cost in blood.
They meddle with gender and leave the young confused.

See them in jester’s cloaks, their hair like snakes,
lodged in tree tops or introspective undergrowth,
cursing the honest toil of chainsaw and bulldozer,
the strong orange arms, the friendly giants.

At night you may hear gentle keening, the pioneers whose
prayers and sweat cleansed the scrub, made the ground
sweet for cattle and wheat, braved the savages and gypsies,
carved an asylum under stars for those who followed.

Today is a reunion, mum in her apron, children with toy guns,
dad will polish the four wheel drive. The park awaits our return,
invites us to enjoy the fruits of our labours. Sausages and wine,
the glow of the sacred barbecue. A fire to reflect our hunger.

© Philip Neilsen
Overland 188 – spring 2007, p. 79

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Philip Neilsen

Philip Neilsen’s sixth collection of poetry Wildlife of Berlin (UWAP) was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor prize in the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards 2019.

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