Under the Southern Cross


Tonga, 800 AD

Take me with you, star duck,

when you fly away down south;

let me fix your broken wing.

I remember watching you

when I was young and dancing

to music so sweet

I couldn’t taste the food.

You seemed so close then

but now I wish you were closer;

my grey feathers are ready to fly.


Those blissfully cool summer evenings

on our back lawn in small-town Australia,

when the Milky Way was a bright sweep

and individual stars stood out clearly.

Adults, dogs and even kids were quiet;

the crickets were always making their noise

but after a while you didn’t notice it,

although you would have if they had stopped.

We looked for constellations and planets

and the first artificial satellites.

Skylab crashed near us not long after this;

we must have seen it up there in its last days.

Dad used to always say after a while:

Wouldn’t it be good to have a telescope?

Down there, where the world around me seemed so small,

watching the sky was a sort of dream

of connecting with the world outside.

Now I want to examine the tiniest things,

peering deep inside rather than outwards;

looking back, reversing the telescope.


When I was five years old or so,

I used to navigate the world

from a large drum that stored wheat

in the backyard of our house,

safe from the roasting sun

under the shadow cast by the fruit trees,

observing the life that swarmed all around,

a whirring universe of sound and colour:

ants and beetles of different kinds,

caterpillars linked together in long chains,

stinging nettles and rye grasses that cut your hands,

clumpy weeds sprouting tall antennae

I used to imagine were military tanks

fighting each other and beaming messages.

Every memory I recover

is another grain added to the bin

that raises me a little higher.


Dad planted more than twenty fruit trees

to feed his children and to trade:

apples covered with netting,

pears devoured by insects,

oranges the neighbour’s chooks roosted in,

lemons with spikes like cats’ claws,

peaches raided by possums,

nectarines pecked by birds,

plums made into jam,

apricots in glorious abundance,

mulberries staining everything and everyone.

Mum kept a small garden of cactus

to remind her of the salty, semi-desert region

she grew up in and maybe never really left.

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