Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sweeney Dreams He's Having a Nightmare of Clearing

In his dream Sweeney sees himself de-feathered and crashed in the grey sand,
unable to pull himself out of sleep, locked into a nightmare of a bulldozer
running across the land like an electric razor, the entire bush falling
to its gigantic all-encompassing blade. Nothing stops it, not even
the largest jarrah and marri trees, nothing just nothing will thwart
its progress, not even boulders setting their shoulders against
the onslaught. Sweeney in his dream tries to stop the nightmare
in its tracks, and calls on those who have become his friends to help him:
Forgive me for my mis-sayings for my well-meant efforts that have failed.
Forgive me for not spreading my wings wide enough to protect you all.
And with that he rises from the sand and squawks so loud the driver
halts his deadly machine, and leaps down and jabs his finger
into Sweeney’s charred breast, like an image out of a painting
yet to be painted, and says, Now listen, buster, this is how I make
my living, and who are you to take food from my table?! And Sweeney,
feeling the sway of his argument and feeling himself fall back
into the nightmare, sees his own beak moving, hears his own words
tumble past the nub of his tongue in more than mimicry of a human voice:
But when it’s all gone, you’ll have no more work anyway and the world
will be dying. And the bulldozer driver replies, You may be right,
but what would you have me do? — this is my job, and I know no other.
And with this Sweeney wakes, from both dream and nightmare and sweating
and feeling for his feathers to find them black and red and white and intact,
and says: I will fly high and watch over them all, I will fly from grey sand
over gravel and ochre loam and granite and brown clay. And in doing so
he flies past Walwalinj which the colonisers call Mount Bakewell,
and watches the fires the farmers have lit to eat their stubble and chaff
from the last harvest running over their firebreaks into the shreds of bush
remaining from past clearings and past burnings-off, and he watches a digger
knocking down four magnificent York gums —  ancient solar systems
of life — to make a paddock even more vacant, more productive
in the short term, but dead to the future, and he cries and cries
but his tears put out neither the fires nor the work zeal of the clearer
doing a job as night falls, and the kangaroo’s head is renamed
the Southern Cross and the ends of the earth play
on the stereos of machinery and cars and houses
and personal devices. Sweeney
in his dream of a nightmare.

            John Kinsella

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