In the Pinnacles Desert

Charles Causley

South of Cervantes, Thirsty Point, wedges
Of capstone galling the track, drumming the gut
Of the four-wheel drive, we cross a sabre-cut
In the scrub. The Namban River, I read.
Flows only in winter, ending in a swamp
Near the coast. I raise my eyes. Beyond ridges
Of sand, fine Chinese white, a mess of shell-
Grit, frosted with salt, the sea unrolling
Bolts of long water, and its great bell tolling

Across the Pinnacles, goliath-high,
Facing every which-way. Overhead
A cloud flaps free; spatters pink sand with red.
Here, where the ice-cap melted and returned
Its tithe of water to the sea, the mad
Rocks lean against the wind. They calcify
As ogham stones inscribed by storm and sun;
Bones of the archaeopteryx; the towers
Of mad kings; stairways delicately spun.

Are Easter Island profiles; swollen pin-
Cushions; the improbable arm or hand
Of buried heroes bursting through the sand.
A kangaroo sprints from its scrape of clay.
The emu hunts for seeds. The anchored cray-
Boats swing like metronomes. I see the print
Of the wild-turkey’s claw in the dry spine
Of the river-bed first named for Frederick Smith,
Died near this place in 1839.

After shipwreck. Later renamed Namban.
The spice-sailors, cruising beyond the reef
Saw a ruined city, and this glittering sheaf
Of stones its monuments. A darkening sun
Slants on the palm, the blackboy tall as a man
Unloosing its gross head of sharpened hair.
Small leaves of rain drift from the sky’s tall tree
On the grounded seaman, the failed river named
For Frederick Smith, that will not reach the sea.