Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Electric Rococo Recollections of Jam Tree Gully from Afar

John Kinsella

From the upper southeast window
the cross on the church is stark—
light-globes mark its outline, contrast
the twilit harbour. It wants more
out of symmetry than is on offer.

Tomorrow, the Guru is going over
to Jam Tree Gully to clear the gutters
of dead, dry leaves. They congest
without style, embellish with urge,
the pragmatism of making a growth
medium: in summer easterlies’ red dust
falls as the true rain of modernity
and tumbles into the leafy bed
already set in aluminum conduits.
If fire comes, a stray ember or spark
will make rocket fuel of this process.

No ember or spark has come
to ignite dry-leaf coffins;
No ember or spark has come
to make heat that can melt steel;
No ember or spark has come
to leave soft beds of grey ash;
No ember or spark has come
to the gutters, though it might;
No ember or spark has come
but you will clear leaves in case.

Deadzone is where dead trees
lose their shadows, fail to flower
shade. All that brocade of less-
than-light vanquished, all design
leveled out. As pat as a hot bed
of ash, the terror of boot-prints,
the flickers of flame that will
burn the dead again and again.

But don’t think fear has ground
art out of the picture: down the road
a house done up like Fred and Wilma
Flintstone’s: a pebbledash of pride,
a B-52s/Koons in-joke with raised
flowerpots for alien species,
raised beyond the grinding
teeth of kangaroos.

With double-glazed windows
sealed to the “beautiful view,”
breathing stale, trapped air
to escape the cascades of coal smoke,
I make memories of what hasn’t
happened far away at Jam Tree Gully.
Anxiety governs the use of proper nouns,
though I frequently listened to Rococo
composers, their dancing feet tacky
with Baroque foundations. François
Couperin tinkled galante in the background
(I first heard Mum play the harpsichord
when I was too young to picture
the rural as quaint). Playful
in the background. That “who
gives a damn while the peasants
starve” music. As if I could latch
on to the fertilisation image: an earth
hungry for the starving. Here, the famine
pits, and there, plasterwork repainted
brightly in colonial houses, those standouts.

From the upper southeast window
the cross on the church is stark—
light-globes mark its outline, contrast
the twilit harbour. It wants more
out of symmetry than is on offer.

It’s obvious to think of Fragonard’s The Swing
at times like these: those layers of garment.
A swing from a tree at Jam Tree Gully
would bring down the branch it hung
from: termites working strength illusory.
And even if it swung for a while,
you’d need to wear camouflage
lest shooters grew attracted
to the moving target.

Hear “Les lis naissans” . . .
Hear “Les Barricades Mysterieusis” . . .
Hear the clarity of electricity,
the warmth of synapses,
the global chatter: grey wagtail,
golden whistler, maybe
the tek tek in the cirques
of La Reunion . . .

As my baroque infrastructure
collapses into glimpses, the ironies
of being attacked by a neighbour
who is angry with the effete,
the exquisite channels of death—gullies—
formed by angry runoff sluicing the hillside,
the filigree of spray downhilling
from Shire “weed prevention,”
neighbours flourishing, those sweet
rococo rememberings, the cuts
of the harpsichord; ooze, pout, flourish,
flare, flutter, festoon, leisure, pleasure . . . warmth.
The blood-warmth of paradox,
listening through light of sun on hills,
decadence of feet up on the verandah,
fire in the belly of the world.

No ember or spark has come
to ignite dry-leaf coffins;
No ember or spark has come
to make heat that can melt steel;
No ember or spark has come
to leave soft beds of grey ash;
No ember or spark has come
to the gutters, though it might;
NO ember or spark has come
but you will clear leaves in case.

Consider the radioactive spill
at Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu:
“mud, water, ore and acid.”

Consider praising the mining giant, Rio Tino!
Roll it over again: “mud, water, ore and acid”
(got that from a mining journo’s report).
Mantra it: “mud, water, ore and acid.”

Consider the photo Mum sent yesterday
of the bloody and inflamed sunset
beside Walwalinj—replete
with burnt bush, houses, cars, animals.

Consider the photos she sent of magpies
stepping into a bowl of cold water
placed on the verandah, of the cold-blooded
flocking to the cool—bungurras drinking
bungurras dunking one foot at a time,
a rococo gesture in forty-six centigrade
(in the shade) heat.

Consider leaves in the gutter at Jam Tree Gully.
Consider the Guru wanting to cut away saplings
whose leaning sheds volatile eucalyptus leaves
into the repositories.

Consider the frequency of storms where I am now,
where I am with Tracy and Tim and locals
who smart at the weather, the Atlantic churning it up—
by its own premature senility.

Consider Wallace Stevens swinging anchorless, beheaded:
polite, insular, interior, almost comfortable.

Consider the coal smoke rolling out onto sea,
settling as film, stretching across water to Atomic France,
home of the Rococo and gorgeous reactors.

No ember or spark has come
to ignite dry-leaf coffins;
No ember or spark has come
to make heat that can melt steel;
No ember or spark has come
to leave soft beds of grey ash;
No ember or spark has come
to the gutters, though it might;
NO ember or spark has come
but you will clear leaves in case.

From the upper southeast window
the cross on the church is stark—
light-globes mark its outline, contrast
the twilit harbour. It wants more
out of symmetry than is on offer.