Brook Emery has published three books of poetry: and dug my fingers in the sand, which won the Judith Wright Calanthe prize, Misplaced Heart, and Uncommon Light. All three were short-listed for the Kenneth Slessor Prize.
The black hill looks to float straight out to sea.
Cars incline. But the driver’s eyes are raised
to an unvarying wash of night.
For a moment, just an instant, his gaze
is arrested by a tree beneath a streetlight,
a lean, straggly, unkempt bottlebrush he thinks,
and strangely, beneath the light, it is the focus
of his thought. It’s almost two dimensional,
as though it were the section of a tree
pressed between two sheets of glass
for microscopic examination. It stands for nothing
but stands as something, its shapeless branches
and drooping leaves as nondescript
as any failure of a man, any thought
whose time has come and gone and gone again.
He’s nearly home. It’s about to rain,
the wind is getting up and he can sense
an approaching chill. He’ll be home before the storm.
He’s shut the door. Locked the outside
outside. The gathering dark, the gathering cold,
all the unhoused, creeping possibilities,
the distresses of the day, tomorrow’s fears,
wolves howling on the Steppe, hyenas
around the stricken cub, roaches, slaters, snakes,
the tubeworm deprived of light, no mouth,
no anus, dependent on bacteria
to process food, the nonexistent nameless dread
that nonetheless exists with rapists, goons,
gangs of untamed youth, the super-heated words
of presidents and priests, toddlers fastening bomber’s belts,
and stepping out in supermodel clothes, crewcut men
in sunglasses sweeping children off the streets
and banging on the door; the looming nursing home.
The heater’s turned to high. The television
splays its cathode light across the room,
a cup of tea is cooling on the armchair’s arm.
That stupid, ugly tree, he thinks,
the light between its leaves, its immobility,
then the way it twitches in the wind,
what is it that won’t let me be?
All morning it’s been difficult to settle, difficult to harness
energy or purpose for all the things
I have to do. Charged sky,
sudden light at the horizon, grey, then streaks of blue, then
grey again. An unsettled sea,
white water contending point to point,
waves like another and another avalanche, unceasing noise,
sand compacted to a crimp-edged,
man-high bank and I can see,
then can’t locate, a buoy like a white-capped head
sinking and floating in the rip,
wrenched from its deeper mooring,
now driven in, now swept back out, tethered there
by net and anchor that, for now,
have new purchase in the sand.
Conceivably, should I be silly enough to surf tomorrow
it could be me entangled, drowned:
mistake and misadventure; bad luck.
In Switzerland they’ve flicked the switch and particles
surge round and round a tunnel
in opposed directions preparing to collide
in an experiment to explain how the universe got mass
in the seconds of its birth,
why what we touch is solid.
We stalk the irreducible, the constant speed of light unfolding
though the eye can’t see and the hand
can’t touch such magnitude:
time may shrivel, outrun itself, sag under accumulated weight:
end in our beginning: red shift, white dwarf,
rotten apple on the ground.