The Apology

For Lorca, Fiona, Yul, Layla, Jake, Freddie and so many more.

My grandmother saw the subs in Sydney Harbour
In 1942.
They were black, menacing, 
And undeniable.
They told the story plain and clear:
War was on the doorstep.

My father, nearly sent to Vietnam fields,
Saved by that tall, great man
With a voice like sweet thunder
Making my birth just that little more likely,
Relieved from that war they swore 
Was almost on our doorstep.

Mine has been a charmed life,
Safe from man-made quakes and thunder,
Bringing down walls and cutting off breath
And scarring bodies and minds and landscapes,
Killing both civilians and dreams.
These are saved for my television screen,
For I know war has never been on my doorstep.
But now I see the flames, and the dry,
Records broken without fanfare,
The blackened stubble of ancient forest
Rattling with the screams of fauna burned beyond nightmares.
The death count grows,
And river flows
Cease
For longer than they ever have before.

So I look into the eyes of my sweet friend’s child,
And I say:

“I’m sorry. 
They lied.

They said war never changes,
But it has. 
And it is here.
Only now we are not fighting men,
But man’s hubris.
We are not dropping bombs,
But raising degrees
And I cannot guarantee
That you will see
A life as full of green glory
And safety
And luxury
As I have been blessed to be living.

I’m sorry.
They lied.
Because even the blindest of us can see
This is not business as usual.
And yet here we are,
Standing in the middle of our very own D-Day
Wasting time as the clock ticks away,
Our greatest obligation
Ignored,
Refusing to acknowledge
That the war 
Is no longer on our doorstep.

It
Is 
Here.

I’m sorry.
We failed.
We didn’t beat down their doors
Threatening to eat them alive if they didn’t pay attention
Change the direction
And take the bitter pill to fix the sickness
Early enough
Or often enough
And now the burden is yours.”

Because she was born in smoke,
Two months old before she took a clean breath.
And I, three decades gone,
Only now with the fire in my belly
To match the rising temperatures.
But is it too little
Too late?

“But there are other considerations!”
Like what?
Party donations?
Tell that to her little, sweet face,
That won’t know entire species
Her mother drew pictures of
Out in Namadgi Forest.

Like what?
A coal-fuelled economy?
Not in this century,
Where even our buyers are looking to bail.

They’re criminals, all of them.
Warmongers, baying for blood,
When the time comes to send our children to battle
For oil
For false democracy
For whatever the septic tanks call for.

But a war that could be fought without a single life lost
No drop of blood spilt
That is already here?
No, that would be too much for the budget to bear.

But the war we waged on Earth is still here,
And we are not winning.
We are a heartbeat away from defeat,
With only ourselves to blame,
And only minutes until midnight.

And some of us could not be more sorry.

*****

This was going to be my submission for the Dubbo Eisteddfod 2020 in the Original Poetry section. But then Covid19 happened, so I’m putting it here instead.

Because even though we’re all stuck inside because of one disaster, we’re on the pinnacle of another, and we’re running out of time to stop it.

Downstream

The rains had come
Upstream
The twins expected thunder
But the river always
Refuses expectations
Instead
The air was still
Save the warbling of the magpies.
Cicadas, light and scorching heat,
Like the rains would never come.

Then we saw it
Slinking slowly
Like the story of the snake
The First of Us have been telling
For thousands of years.

The kids chased its head down the creek bank
As it slithered down the waterway
And I beamed in wonder
At this long withheld blessing.

I saw the twinkle of dew in Mum’s eye.

I took her hand,
And tried to forget all the days
The water had been too late for.

I whispered to her,
Maybe he had to go
Because he knew they wouldn’t listen
Unless he asked in person.

Her grip became a vice
But there was no sound
Despite the streams staining her cheeks.

So that’s how we stayed,
Hand clasped in hand,
As the kids pointed and laughed and raced
The rainbow serpent around the riverbend,
Downstream.

 

*****

This poem won first place in the Open Own Composition section at the 2019 Dubbo Eisteddfod. You can find the adjudicator’s notes on my Instagram.