Paul Kane

Paul Kane has published five collections of poems, including A Slant of Light (Whitmore) and Work Life (Turtle Point), and is the author of Australian Poetry: Romanticism and Negativity (Cambridge). He serves as poetry editor of Antipodes, artistic director of the Mildura Writers Festival, and general editor of The Braziller Series of Australian Poets. He teaches as Vassar, and divides his time between New York and rural Victoria.
~Photograph by William Clift ~

The Fire Sermon

Here in the Drowned Lands
          the black dirt is the blackest
black I know—give it
          time and it’s oil, to blacken
             earth, air and water with fire.

 In winter, without
          snow cover or a crop, winds
insinuate fine
          granules under windows
             and doors. That’s our peck of dirt.

 Ironbark forests—
          a world away—are fire tough,
their carbon footprint
          black trunks, seared soil, and fresh green—
             the Aboriginal park.

 Last year we fled floods,
          this year a grass fire near Clunes—
one wind shift away.
          The Fire Sermon gets into
             your blood: the black days ahead.

But let’s not leave it
          at that. Winter played possum,
then ambled off—now
          we’re marching towards spring—Daylight
             Saving all the grace we need.

Worlds Apart

The bottom fell out
             and it was a long way down.
He surfaced once,
             saying he was back, but then
               we lost him, and now he’s gone.

You could say he killed
             himself with drinking, or drink
took him out at last,
             but his ex-wife’s suicide
               was murder on him, poor man.

Poor woman! And now,
             poor daughters to sift the ash.
I cannot shake it.
             Not a close friend, but friend still
               in a world growing friendless.

The circle closes,
             tightening like a rope loop,
or, rather, it breaks
             open, with each loss gaping,
                until it’s all detritus.

That’s the view inside,
             but when I walk out midday,
nothing is natural
             because it’s all what it is,
               soft air, clouds, wood thrush, the grass.

I could describe it,
             but to what purpose?  We all
live in the same world,
             though world’s apart, and never
               to meet—except life to life.