November 2009

John Kinsella


John Kinsella's most recent volume of poetry is Divine Comedy: Journeys Through a Regional Geography (Norton, 2008). His Disclosed Poetics: Beyond Landscape and Lyricism appeared in 2007 (Manchester University Press/Palgrave USA) and his Activist Poetics will appear with Liverpool University Press in 2010.

At the High Place    

At the high place the lookout has been festooned
with sprays of bougainvillea, those false flowers
of coloured paper, luring bees even when dead.

Each year, services for the past and the present offer
the town's inhabitants a place to look up and be
grateful someone else is doing the labour—

mendicant or carefree or just wealthy,
a soldering of hill and sky and vista, a healing
or a raising of the green against the dry.

But marking the semi-circle, decorating
and abandoning the vestiges of a wedding, impacts
our sense of balance, our retaining

the humdrum routines and matter-of-fact
actions of daily life in this picturesque place,
this weekend paradise for city folk who lack

faith in our existence once they race
back to their real lives. From the lookout,
many locals are blind to what they face,

it's true. But the smashed bottles shout
to anyone who has to clean it up, and prayers
for a happy eternal life ring hollow about

the valley. Sacred hill. Cement stairs.
Nearby, a birthing rock. Across the river
the Wagyl cuts tracks across the hills and frees

itself—choking now in fetid waters,
sheltering in a soak edged by thinning shadows,
imprisoned within stripped-bare tableaux.

There are keepers of country. Listen. Prayers
are not hidden to those who know the secrets.
They don't float away like ash from fires

made for the sake of burning and nothing else.
Fire has its name. Killing has its name. The hill
speaks, if you listen. Signposts that guide us

to the lookout are false prophets. Still,
below, the cemetery grows, more wattles bulldozed
to make living-room for the dead. The colourful

display of bougainvillea is grazed
by a bitter wind coming up from Antarctica,
and vows taken shatter over the incarcerated

spirit of the young girl who loved the warrior
locked in rock across the valley. But the town
encourages celebration of its beauty, and the shire

puts aside its prejudices and reservations
for the sake of the economy. Unbelievers
have never been wanted, and a wrong religion

is better than none at all, or one that called
rocks and rivers and inconvenient locations
places of worship. All else, welcome. Moiled

in festivities, the committee's fascination
for a march down the main street with redcoats
leading the way followed by triumphant

settlers in period costume brought the threat
of traditional owners turning out in ball and chain—
and only the fear of bad publicity brought a retreat.

Wedding footage is encouraged—the land's refrain
captured, panorama and the pencil lines of smoke
rising up out of chimney from past centuries, the stain

of ploughs and horse dung, the quaint jokes
of the old-timers who are almost too hard to understand—
not in wit, but speech. All framed to evoke

a timeless moment, an embodiment, a grand
but simple gesture of all that makes the spirit
of occasion adhere to the DVD, imprint the land.

Where did they pick this bougainvillea? Cut
with secateurs, the angled slice of an invasive
plant, a weed. Some call it alien, a dead cert

to spread. Those who damage or remove
the native species are most likely to accuse,
to declare a pest, to poison, to soothe

their headaches. The cyclone fencing they choose
to keep observers anchored to the lookout—secure
to take their photos, make offerings, ritualise

as chosen vessel—work well as an espalier
for the dry floral arrangement. The cold wind
makes music through the bougainvillea and wire,

unsurprisingly. It's a choir and a band,
it's a chant and an orchestra. It's the sound
of dirges and laments and is wreathed.

At the high place the lookout has been festooned
with sprays of bougainvillea, those false flowers
of coloured paper, luring bees even when dead.



Graphology 1230    

Lo and behold what comes down 'round your ears,
branch that splits at the seams, reams of peels
from a single bird with scarlet head, a spark
that captures your attention: it's not better off dead.
Each saga and demi epic we string out, each leaf
more alone in this decor of dirt and vegetation:
beetles that clasp jagged bark, nomads and nightfall
averring their parts: lo and behold such points of view,
lo and behold footprints in footprints, flight of the few.



John Kinsella: Poetry
Copyright ©2009 The Cortland Review Issue 45The Cortland Review