The Continent of Insects
Australia is really theirs:
for hundreds of millions of years
they have fought each other
and the brutal landscape
in primordial arms races
that developed specialised workers,
warriors with pincers and shielding
and sophisticated social structures.
Wars and alliances between them
still come and go, like their cities,
while elsewhere humans in parallel
are living out their noisy moment.
Our journey interrupted to watch,
all of us getting out slowly
and staying silent so as not to disturb
a numbat sitting on a log:
the world’s cutest anteater,
like a stripy squirrel,
so rare and shy that every sighting is an event.
The forest is still for one long moment
so we can grasp the memory tight
and then the numbat vanishes into the scrub,
leaving us wondering
when the next time would be.
I still have a scar on my neck
from being attacked by a magpie
while returning from school at nine years old
past a line of trees where they had their nests;
I fled down the road in terror
with the furious bird in pursuit.
Many years later when I went back,
a magpie approached and sung a beautiful song,
a peace offering to make up for Magpie Pass.
I had never blamed them for defending their eggs,
but the song and the peace were lovely.
Every sunset I watched and listened
to a spectacle that had been going on
long before humans ever reached Australia:
thousands of brightly-coloured parrots
on their way back home after a day foraging,
outlined against the pink and orange sky,
shrieking the language of the continent
and of a primordial era still there.
In Australia, we shared our house with possums
who lived in the space above the ceiling.
They had been there long before we moved in
and likely regarded us as their tenants.
We kept daylight hours that didn’t bother them
and paid the rent by planting fruit trees
that the possums raided every night.
Our orange cats had not signed the lease, though,
and defended their territory,
which led to noisy late-night battles
punctuated by thumps, howls and yowls
that I used to lie awake and listen to;
the two sides were about the same size,
with perfect night vision, claws and fangs.
The descendants of the first landlords
are still there today, fighting to cling on
to a corner of what was once all theirs.
You can find more of my published poems on my site.
These poems, published this month, are part of a new series based on my childhood in country Australia. “Brush-Tailed Landlords” was published in Ink, Sweat & Tears magazine, while all the others were published in The Galway Review.