Exile: second place, Judith Wright Poetry Prize

In the beginning I carried fireflies for fuel,
used a walking stick borrowed from the first blue gum
and stuffed my pockets with scribbly bark;
it seemed important to write the journey ahead,
as proof it was no dream.  And I left – unnamed,
when all the land lay sleeping and in the rain
as it drew leeches across the forest floor
in a dance of thirsty life that drew my blood
in a line from south to mouth.
It took a thousand inhalations to strike the point
where the bandicoot and blue tongue
tended the watershed between this world and the next
as I sang a path between their small wonders and the rhythm
of digging up laws laid down like a story in the land.
Then I drew the stale water of my soul northwards.
As I went, it became thicker and bluer, full fresh and clear
and I slithered it off one page, picked up again on the next.
Maybe this is where I went wrong; became separated
from truth by binding thin sheaths of paperbark,
while my journey saw me flanked by corkwoods
straight as an invaders gun barrel. But I had begun
and I must shoulder these weapons and feel
the maidens hair beneath my feet, beneath
emerging Turpentine, Brush Box, Rosewood
vibrating with the singing of ten thousand cicadas.
There was nothing for it but to push through noise
and humidity, scratched from claws of sound and thrice
I jumped from mountain to mountain
over the fat body of a red-bellied black snake,
neck flared, mouth open, as it spoke the first language.
And at that moment, all the animals uttered their thoughts,
but I heard none and knew I was not part of this anymore.
And so on the third day, as the sun grew hotter than the moon,
I rested in a deep pool of narrative where the last giants
bathed their feet; and raised wet, shaggy heads above the forest,
rough beards of epiphyte and limbs daubed with lichen,
their lined and weathered skin running with rain.
I would have to steal between their feet singing
my song of exile and counting the reasons
man had been cast out of nature:
for the writing of journeys, for the conceit
of words that possums no longer speak, for greed
and gunbarrels and on the last morning in that place,
the scrubwren landed by me,  yet did not offer a farewell.
If we have stepped outside nature, who will sing us back in again?

Chris Armstrong

Chris Armstrong is a writer of poetry, fiction and nonfiction with a degree in journalism and a masters in Creative Writing from the University of Wollongong. Chris currently lives on the road and in the weather gathering silage for future poems.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Related articles & Essays