Monday, January 11, 2016

For Yarloop and its People

Fire Elegy

This is an elegy for a town that has been
brutalised by fire. The town of Yarloop
where I lived thirty years ago and visited
barely six months ago was 'wiped
from the map' two days ago by a brutal
fire-front feeding on the brutal air of a brutalised
climate. The fire still rages out of control.
Is it irony that Yarloop was a milling town —
the tall hardwoods falling to its dizzying blade?
Is it irony that it was a railway town, its workshops
full of skill and pride and waiting out the Depression?
Is it irony a great Aboriginal poet grew up there?
Is it irony the irrigated paddocks burnt
to their veins and the water stopped coming
and the town was left desperate and vulnerable?
All those animals and birds caught by the flames,
spotting so far ahead they made new erosions
to join up with? Traffic diverted. Firefighters
worn and blistered and too overwhelmed
to join the dots. There's no time for metaphysics
or ecology or politics or hope. Just get the job done.
Maybe you have to have grown up there to know
how a greenie and a right-wing nationalist
can forget what the other bloke thinks
and dig in, stand in front of the flames.
It's no ritual of fire and earth and water and air.
There's no time for fucking around. No art. No poetry.
It's brutal. As brutal as poets and poetry.
More towns are threatened. Forests have been
vaporised and ashed. Evacuees retreat
from one town to another to evacuate
again. Two old men in Yarloop were
unable to escape and their remains
have been discovered in the pyre.
I am writing an elegy. Elegies
are brutal with loss. I weep
for the death of a layer of land
I know. I weep for all loss. And now
we wait for snow to come to a German town
where we have just arrived. Ensconcing,
settling, projecting to the burning place
we come from. The heat rays deflected back —
'Like spring here,' says a local. It should be frozen.
We wait for the snow to come to the medieval streets.
The town of Alzheimer's and the botanist
the fuchsia was named for, introduced to Ireland
and woven into hedges and a flower symbol
of West Cork. The flower late. Their bells ringing
fire fire. The burning. The brutal brutal burning.
And not eight days ago we couldn't travel
to Brontë country on the Yorkshire moors
because flooding had broken
the back of infrastructure. We
look for resilience, we long
for resilience, to know we could
and can do it too. It's brutal talking
about the weather. A pastime. An obsession.
This is an elegy. This is what I write
from where I am. I am no less there.
Last year and the year before
we were close to flames.
You never forget.
You want it to stop.
Even seeds opened by fire
know there'll be little to grow
towards, little to celebrate
on opening. And this is more
than human intuition, the river
Neckar running close to here
around an island, our isolation.

            John Kinsella

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