Winter Solstice

Martin Harrison

A vague mood, a sadness, a feeling as when recovering from illness,
a kind of ‘whatever it is which is going on at the time’ mode –

a defile bulldozered between trees where the power-lines go through on a ridge top,
their suspended wires as out of place as a street’s tramwires would be,

while, momentarily, the cut-out shape on the skyline (a trough shape on the crest
of the hill)
jags with deep, saturated blue, an intense L-shape of it, and then
the opposite shape occurs (the reversed
completing the hilltop cut),
visible power-lines threaded down the middle of it, from ridge to ridge;

and yes, I’m thinking who lives out here anyway, who needs these wires
to be put through across somewhere, nowhere, out of town . . .

and this thought instantaneous like a shadow reaching out from black depth
under rotting leaf-fall, fallen timber . . . no, it doesn’t matter to work it out:

we’re in the car (talking, silent) driving at the end of a winter’s day
through empty hill-country west of Sydney and there’s this specificity

of light and time (itself talking and silent) (murmuring and flashing)
bounced off the scoured dirt road, aimed at us in the leaf-shine

and in the chatter of endless white against black, black against white
on silvered fence-posts (rusted wire making dry-point sketch lines)

or turned towards us in the immense approach of a gulley side of bush,
with its runnels of dark green against mid-green and its broad dividers:

there, where a paddock stops beneath it and, again, where the skyline
is plumed with eucalypts which the light makes see-through like ferns.

So yes, we’re driving in this momentary enclosure – if that’s what it is –
which names a stillness in the air expanding upwards, outwards;

and now glimpses, too, of shadows among untended white filaments
where saplings have shot up along the road, randomly exposed

in a forgotten, unstudied patch of ground along the roadside.
It’s as if someone wanted to fix it up after clearing it – or a fire’s gone through –

and then forgot it, letting it sow itself back to haphazard, thin trees
in a barrier of staves like ripples in a white curtain, like a concertina’s box;

seen like this, because a flashpoint of daylight has struck right there –

seeped, watered, fallen might be just as possible as struck or pierced

at the exact time that we too could take it in, glancing as we drive by.
(It’s a revelation, this light passing, transient, intensely here then gone.)

Of course, no thought’s quite like this: so detailed, so hurriedly well-drawn.
Equally, no thing’s simple, jotted down, a crude visual instance of itself.

(Each frond evaporates in the sun’s crucible of melting, tidal light.)
(The junction is something stray wandering out of glass and motion.)

It’s how I come back to myself for a split-second in the car, shadows
blinding the windscreen as we drive down tree-tunnels of winter fire:

then a space opens out for a half-kept dairy farm, for sagging sheds
near blackberry patches, for spires of thistles tattering lumpy paddocks.

*

Taken in a glance, the power-lines are there forever on the ridge.
No one sees them again like this, startled, picked out at dusk:

And the loneliness? That mood? Not true to say it’s from the ridges
even if cold vacancy brews up over them from the sunset’s last-minute light

like a sensation half-identified, half-made into a word or thought.
Besides, is the feeling made more clear, pausing to think it out?

That cold light flickers. Everything about it has wildness, rawness from damp air,
hard to capture like a shift in tone, like a sheen no word has,

leaving you vacant, ecstatic, impatient with time. With its passing, with its fall.

We must get back home, that voice says. Or: just look at that sky!

Then something occurs beyond imagining, beyond capture:
a juncture standing out for a minute glittering in darkness

as if the moment’s a wing-beat (crimson rosellas swerving from a branch)
or wind creaking in a gulley’s trees (a ripple knocking anchored boats).

I’d say the fire-break gets bulldozered every year or so –
under a winter sky like earlier today, hard blue immersing the world.

At the back of this thought (we’re still driving) something so sudden, so random:
a mere sight of saplings grouped round a dry creek’s shallow curve.

Phrase after phrase things rise, half-form, fall, turn, restore themselves,
words billowing in overhangs of leaves, words blown from the earth’s bare dryness,

loneliness at the core of things becoming what we are,
loneliness not like the pebble in the road but the track itself

overgrown with the flash of day-stars, with half-memories, with things glittering,
with the moment’s provocations, unweeded, random like the Milky Way.

I’ve no idea why I suddenly think of it . . . some token of return and rescue . . .
I’d walked up to the gallery the painter Miró commissioned for his work

in Barcelona and they were showing installations by the American, Calder:
mobiles, sculpture, drawings, there in that day-lit, garden space.

The Berlin wall was down, Europe was filled with headlines from the past,
all the buried questions, all the borders, all the powers being recalled.

I was away for a few months, writing poems in a village in the hills,
caught in silent argument with what, if anything, a poem might be or hold together.

But there in the Fundaçio they were showing a remake of a work from ‘38,
the Calder black mercury fountain made for the Republic’s Exposition:

it would have been lost in time – all the energy to maintain, restore, rebuild, quite lost –
had someone not thought to reinstall it, tracing its flowing vortex back through those years of war.

For a second (just now) the spectrum’s shadow on the hillside is like liquid mercury:
its surface flicker’s almost mauve. Near it, misty slopes fill with dust-sheened lacquer:

on the ridge a fountain burns up in the craggy, sky-bright defile,
with the sun etching it, turning its light into a flare, a cascading storm.

It’s what catches my eye, half catches it (tricking it, blinding it)
as we’re heading home in these last sticks and shadows of light,

all dusk’s colours turning and gleaming, linking up, springing out,
while dark coverlets of shadow float among the roadside trees.