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COMING TO GRIPS

Still half asleep I roll over, feel the bed beside me:

reaching out
brings warmth
this wakeful night

A cow roars urgently in the valley. Somewhere a bull hiccups a reply. The clock on the dressing table shows 2:30 a.m. Next time I wake the sun has been shining for hours, the bed beside me empty. I rise, go into the kitchen. My husband grunts his disapproval. I refuse food. I claim to be a country girl. We have lived on this banana plantation for many years. Years of struggle, heart break, budgeting bank loans, of baby nappies hanging limply in the January heat. When rain breaks through it produces a stinging sweaty heat. In a more humorous moment I wrote:

tropical rain
brings lush green grass --
and mould on my shoes

Today I don't feel funny. The wide kitchen window brings the valley close. Across the valley Mt. Warning, Wollumbin to indigenous people, rises into a seething patch of low cloud. The tourist brochure claims the rays of the sun touch Wollumbin first, before any other part of Australia. Not this morning. The sight is magnificent. Banana plantations drop away, huge patchwork quilts on the lesser hills. I slip out the back door, through the fence, into the valley. Giant paspalum reaches to my shoulders. I push my way through the overgrown pathway.

sun high --
beneath the giant fig tree
patches of dew

I am a dreamer. Not lazy as my husband thinks. Time simply gets away from me. The whine of a motor penetrates my thinking. I have to run to get back before my husband comes in for lunch. Noon and the humidity is high. Cicadas are deafening.

the cicada's shrill
close -- the heat
seems more intense

Day time cicadas, night time frogs, mosquitoes and flying ants -- ants which leave their wings in the house. The buzz of activity endless. Country folk look up thoughtfully and say: 'it must be going to rain', when flying ants appear. The fact that it does rain seems to make it an even less intelligent observation each time it happens! But what do I know? A quick salad takes care of lunch.

crisp lettuce
refrigerated -- outside
leaves hang limp

A short rest then work until it is dark. A man of the land my husband would not be happy anywhere else. On the other hand I'm not so sure that we made the right move. Until, out of boredom I began to write things down. Problems tumble into place, human qualities of country folk glow with warmth. Our tropical plantation is mysterious and glamorous. We have one of the most magnificent views on earth right in our own front yard. As usual the afternoon has slipped away, evening too. I am daydreaming.

midnight --
the grandchild sleeps
I sit to write

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OUTBACK

Midday. The temperature 108 degrees. In every direction the countryside a Namatjira . . . red, yellow, desert, old as time.

plains extending
over & over
this forgotten land

Somewhere between Alice Springs and Darwin. Sand ridges sweep on and on. Monotony broken only by clumps of spinifex and occasional stark white gums.

creeping on --
heat from the sand striking
our 4-wheel drive

The road follows a dried river bed. Shimmering heat quivers over distant salt pans like pools of cool water. How easily we might be tricked!

gazing over
sand and more sand --
dreaming of the ocean

Off to one side, hills rise to a small plateau. Large boulders spill down its side. Dried pools show how much water they would contain in the wet season. Now dust lies feet deep, rising in red wind-whipped clouds. We follow the deep gully around to the far side. Here a billabong is left.

sand
rocks
then
a pardalote flying low

Wild ducks, egrets, plovers and jacanas, as well as many small animals live here. Larger animals come only for water.

buffalo tracks
deeper
near the water hole

Could man survive in this desert, we wonder? Quickly we set out once more, hoping . . .

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  GETTING OFF THE ROUND-ABOUT

Autumn. A hint of summer lingers in the shortening days, a reminder that nothing is ever really gone, even when we thick it has. At our age a relationship should be more mellowed and comfortable. No need for wild passion and the intense disagreements we still experience.

colourless sunset
the evening closes colder
on the mountain

The house becomes familiar . . . closing the bedroom door consolidates the grey within my mind. Closing my eyes the doubts flood back. Flinging myself face down on the bed begins a slow revolution of the room. His voice, his angry words, taunt me again and again.

under the eaves
a starling's twitter joins
the softness of rain

An outdoor light snaps on. A branch shadow-patches: curtains, walls, and ceiling. Another slow revolution, then:

wind
with each gust leaves
against the window

Memories tap at my consciousness. There was a time when we were impassioned by youth and excited by learning. We were hungry for every morsel of knowledge and recognition in each other . . . appetites insatiable.

a car door slams
heavy footsteps cross the yard
in the fading light

A thin sliver of bright yellow light from the other room enters under the door. If he enters will I pretend to be asleep? Will I forgive his heated words? Will I . . .

his body weight
on the bed moves closer
spreading warmth

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WINTER BEACH

I wake to the sounds of surf, for a moment not knowing where I am. Then I remember. 5 a.m. Cold light enters through the hoary window. The Pacific Ocean at full tide laps the frontage to the cottage. Fog clings to distant cliffs. Today will be

cold
grey seeping through
the walls

An old man bending against the weather searches for shelter under the jetty. I shiver, it reminds me to set a match to the prepared fire. Soon the flicker roars to a comfortable size.

crackling logs
the welcome
morning coffee

The sea is the reason I have come, the source of inspiration. Family left behind, I am

alone
the warm bedclothes
caressing

While many abhor the winter beach, I enjoy the solitude, the magnitude, the reassuring rhythm. Walking on an empty beach teaches me humility, perspective, as a small speck in the universe included in nature's plan.

along the beach
creatures await
the return tide

Further back near the dunes evidence of life everywhere, but no human intrudes.

abandoned ruins
summer's
sand castle
and
a broken spade

a gull screams
visitors dropping
from the sky

Like little old men they waddle ahead of me, squabbling over the crumbs I throw. Soon the evening fog begins to build. All day on the beach! Ahead the cottage's

old fence
leaning
into the wind

high tide
undermines
the gate posts

Ashes still warm, a log brings the fire loudly to life. Soup and hot buttered toast feed the body, but the soul has been feasting.

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POST CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION

Christmas is cancelled. No hot dinner. No presents. No joyful or triumphant feeling for either of us.

Days of 40 degree celsius heat. It may be cooler at the beach. He won't come. I go with my daughter, grandson, feel guilty all afternoon.

silent pelican
drifting with the channel
ignores us

The past six months weigh heavily on us, particularly him. Surgery, radiation therapy, burns and peeling skin. He unaccepting of my help. I withdraw into myself.

afternoon rest
on the big bed
we barely touch

I still need him, want him, he shuts me out, a little more each day. We become strangers, polite, careful not to offend.

i was sure
you did say you loved me . . . yet
unseen a tiny bird
makes such noise
in dry undergrowth

Another medical checkup. The doctor is pleased, says 'you could live to be an old man!'

come to bed
he urges -- mid afternoon
sun streaming

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