A FIRE CAME BY

Sample of poems and illustrations for the book ‘Fire Came By’ created by Don Ashby (Text) and Yolande Oakley (Art Works)

COVER

BURNT

Black

Black is the colour of love

When the fire comes by. 

Black is the colour of love.

Cloud, sea shines through

Scribbles of sticks

In a snow-globe of smoke.

Black is the colour of love

Burnt sticks reach

Curled leaves rattle

Still our place.

Black is the colour of love.

Zero

Kneeling on the threshold of our once house

I scooped up the warm charcoal

And breathed in the smoke wind.

The ash, that was all the days of our lives,

Blew, clung to the hair on my arm,

Eddied in the now exhausted vortices of the gusts

That the fire had birthed.

A handful of carbon

So black, so light, so dry,

So innocent of the purpose

From which it has been 

Contrived as chair, or floor board or picture frame.

I took a piece

And drew a circle on my front step

Under an overhang of twisted tin.

I refrained from the sad dots

And the mouth curve 

That would have made a face,

Left the zero.

Turned.

Climbed onto my bike.

Rode off through the hole

Into a tomorrow.

What Got Burnt

There was a set of 19th Century

Chinese palest teacups,

Beakers really, without handles, 

Saucers gold chased.

Birthday bought while courting.

They lived, still in their box,

In a cupboard for over thirty years.

To ‘good’ to use.

‘The Book of Day’s. Yearly almanacs

Written by a distant eighteenth century relative.

Too fragile to safely read in bed –

Correspondents from English rural rectors

About the curious habits of birds

And country yokels.

An Aquarian Tarot pack bought in 1967.

The infinity snake on the obverse.

Much handled as we parlayed with destiny

Dimly through the smoke haze in crowded rooms

Barefoot in the head

We tried to forge a different truth 

From the broken: dreams, forests, peoples, and peace

that were bequeathed to us.

A kitchen utensil caddy from a lost red-haired girl.

Bendigo pottery.

Sat beside my stove for over 40 years.

Evoking shared houses, hopes and enterprises.

There is a drip of gold

Somewhere in the landfill 

A ring that married but rarely worn.

Still family, we go on.

My rock pool refugees conjured out of dystopia

Transfigured from the Barbiverse

To cry ‘foul’ on world gone sour with money.

Their penciled testimony on 

the end papers of an Opshop bible

Curled away amongst swarming fly ash.

Swirling in the heat vortex of a thousand burning books.

The sideboard left behind by a housemate

Who skipped with my stereo, owing rent.

His name was John.

CRUNCH OF ASHES

Hunched

The ground is bare,

Washing downslope

To the water.

There are no birds

The leaf canopy is brown.

Bunches of hope

Sprout green amongst

The charred sticks.

A beetle lumbers

Black and shiny

On its cryptic purpose.

Broken, the silence cowers,

A speed boat roars up The Narrows

Making its humble exhaust a contribution 

To next season’s burning days.

A lattice of fishing rods,

Like burnt sticks,

Jut from the stern,

Stark against the outboard churn.

The pleasure of speed and 

Anticipation of the death of fish

Flash in the rainbow wake.

Carers

The furred and feathered, the scaled, the chitinous

Cower, click, flutter and slink between

The trees in green pyjamas

That remain,

Because they are not in our way

For the moment.

Not in our way yet.

Building for tomorrow,

Tearing down the eternal now

Eyes red with a smothered grief

And remembered smoke,

Of what is our care?

Temporary Camp

The knickers and sox

Enumerate the days

That have been lost.

The daily count –

One and one and two.

Black.

All my clothes are black

It saves time,

No longer an expression of cool,

No longer admiration for David McCallum.

Saving time

To build, to organize, to serve, to cook.

Grief in action.

Flapping in the wind

Dumb prayer flags

Pray to or for what?

Outside of my bed sit

Past the clothesline,

And the not very temporary camp:

There are the jostling

Cross hatched burnt sticks

Of the wounded forest.

Some stark.

Some fuzzed with green.

Diminished birdsong.

The tourists swarm.

Termites eating our decaying wilderness.

Careless with plastic

That feed the whales,

They give our children menial jobs.

Beyond the clothes line

The noise.

4 x 4’s, Mowers, leaf blowers, chainsaws, outboards

Cheating our children of their future.

So much extinction.

So little time.

It is always windy now

It dries the clothes

And dries the land.

It blows much away

That we do not know we have

Till it is here no more.

Joni Mitchel puts it better.

The only white bits on the hung clothes

Say – ‘Made in China’, ‘Made in Bangladesh’.

Too few say ‘Made in Australia’.

Sold out for a mess or pottage,

A pot of message,

A grinning buffoon with a lump of coal

And a cunning mendacious heart.

It gets hotter

The clothes dry more quickly

It gets hotter

The land dries more quickly

It gets hotter

And the wind blows the rags of flesh

From our desiccated bones

Out there past the knickers and the socks.

House

We,

My friend and I,

Have built a small house.

On our embattled planet.

Building in a time of war,

Like writing poetry

Is an act of defiance.

Shelter not defence.

Refuge, not rampart,

The multitude,

To many for faces.

Crowding our World,

Forever naked,

Planetary patience is exhausted  

For the seething multitudes

In their imperial robes

Catwalking

Denial, convenience, despoilation,

Selfish aspiration

And blinding acquisition.

Fooling each other,

Who is left to laugh

At the wobbling flesh?

The tipping point.

The turning.

Stuff, laws, love

Grinning political drool,

Words, images, visions,

Are sand before the rising wave.

So my house I built.

A place to go.

A place to do

The circularity of

Setting forth

And the return.

A place to bravely talk

With the darkness crowding

Windows and thin rattling doors.

A fragile shell.

To store the means for doing,

To shelter the things that are done.

Founded on a beach

Where the tide has turned.

There can still be talk of beauty.

Enclaves of small abundance

Still to be won.

Like The Dream of The Rood,

Gemmed, bloodied,

The frame

And the suffering.

Casting shadow.

Out of the dark into light.

Scintillating,

Hand wrought.

Hand reared.

The eaten garden-fruit

Off the well made plate.

Resting in sun splashed shade

Of a cascade of tree.

The branches –

Skyrafters.

The systolic heart,

The green lungs.

World breath.

Even after the fire came by

Burn-sharp leafless trees,

Make a mind map that has lost its words,

Singing cryptically in the wind

Songs that need no auditor,

But kenned from the deepest places.

The trees and new grasses round their knees

Through smoke, tumbling water catching light.

What we make,

With everything focused

On the intricacies of the done,

Saves the world.

TREES IN GREEN PAJAMAS

The pinch of star stuff

On which we ride,

Caught in the blowing hair

Of the stellar wind,

Bowls down the alley of Light

To what uncertain future?

Diurnal digital time

Ticks the slow solar clock,

Day by day away from

That sunless dawn when we dreaded

Momentary aftermaths in the lap of fire.

Everything, it seemed, was ash and

Trees were spikey with burning death.

The smoke is long gone.

In our place by the forest, by the sea

We lick each other’s persistent wounds.

Picking through the scatter

Of all that has transpired.

Those whose losses are too hard to bear,

That day, that was the last burning straw

That broke tomorrow

We walk beside, listening.

Grief, anger, fear, pride,

Looking to find grace,

Searching hope together

Where we can.

Pick up, Carry, Put down

Alive to the needful.

Everything is sacred

Or nothing is.

Look out of the eyes of the Other

To see where you stand –

The fish on the hook,

The steer in the abattoir yard

The crowded pens and cages of the factory farm.

You mourned the koalas and the roos

You missed the birds

And have found joy in their return.

Look out of their eyes.

Find your own grace.

Can we raise, can we reach out: our hands,

In a new dispensation,

Tempered

By the passing fire?

All our stuff that burned,

Or the terror of what might have been taken –

Can still make a fist of the heart

And yet, in despite,

We still tumble through cascades

Of what matters –

A place to be,

A table of food,

Children and dogs,

Familiar faces,

The bottomless surge of love.

Light shining

Through wine

Through the new green

Through the broken spaces of the forests

Poking seed and sapling to prosper.

The trees are wearing green pyjamas!

Sapphire on ebony, a wren twigs and goes,

Leaving a bird shaped absence.

Fern-flags in the dawn wind tremble.

Such deep smells of growing.

Breathe in!

Cut wood.

Carry water.