The Economics of Spring

Midnight is a parliament of frogs. The ground vibrates with their shrill
contentions, the various factions of their self-belief, and my breath smokes
the black air, inventing galaxies
that spread and atrophy
before I can breathe them back again. The night smells like any one
of a dozen childhood camps, in which the present has pitched her tent.

The trick is to fall asleep beside your sons at eight and sleep
them to sleep till ten and wake and stalk the sleeping house till twelve.
These are the hours the rest of your life
spins around and nothing is impossible
and nothing has to happen. And in the morning the news
that I have reached the shed reaches me as I reach the shed, and it all starts over.

By noon, the sun is in recession and the future is in cloud and the day is cold in its boots.
The wind comes off the road now bringing me news of every passing car.
So the fallen world goes.
One’s work in it, a purgation.
A steep and necessary climb under friendly fire. The price one pays
for loving too well the imperfect world is the imperfection of the world.

Trees, those ossified spirits, quicken in a rising wind. They circle me,
pleading their silent cases when I leave the shed to pee.
Winter loosens the world’s grip on itself;
it stands our slender inner lives
out in the weather. The black cat, who’s wandered into our care like a saint
into retirement, climbs two arthritic steps ahead of me and falls into the blue chair.

White-cheeked rosellas bright as drag queens in the morning rain;
the easterly air and the daffodils the children planted, pushing up out of winter,
and the wood-ducks on the river:
this is how it always went. In the beginning
was the world. And in the end. The words came in the middle. The world
gave them to us with no particular end in mind. And what shall one give in return?

I sit here writing poems like cheques, wondering
if they’ll bounce, when the phone rings, and I drop my best pen,
nib down, and it doesn’t.
As oracles go, that’s blunt. We’re speculators,
my friend the painter tells me; we back what’s in our heads;
we float our souls in a deregulated market, helpless as lovers, hopeless as drunks.

I sit in the ebb of winter writing fifty-dollar poems at a thousand-dollar desk:
the story of one’s life. My desk is made of railway sleepers
which I sit here, morning on morning,
trying to wake. This is no way to prosper,
but that’s not what it’s for. I’m doing what the ironbarks did
before they felled them; I’m doing what the fettlers did after that.

You do what you must. The work at hand. You stand; you fall; you give
beneath the profane rhythm that travels you daily, in which you are told,
but only obscurely why. As I walk
to my shed and hear the cows across the river,
I think I’d rather be going down to work as hard to do and as easy
to define as men once did down here. But I stop wanting that at the door.

Tim from downriver came to the river when the bottom fell out of the valley.
I didn’t want to keep doing, he told me, for twenty-seven cents a gallon
what had been hard enough for thirty years at fifty.
And now his neighbour’s spoiling the river
to carry a road to his new subdivision in what Tim had mistaken
for his view. Landscape—another deregulated market.

When I say to him, conversing, as neighbours do at dusk by a river,
Same thing happened to poetry long ago, he laughs at whatever he thinks I mean
and shows me the ruins
of the old bridge where the cattle used to traffic
between the now doomed paddocks of the middle distance and my shed.
The future’s going the same way the past went. Only sooner.

I was born empty, and each morning I wake empty again.
Who you are is where you’ve slept and whom you’ve slept there with.
This morning, then, I am three children
and the Osage Orange at the door;
I am the ice on the windshield and the summit of world leaders come to nothing
up the road. In flood by nine, I walk to the shed to empty myself making phrases.

It’s one kind of sin to stay indoors today, spring coiled in the morning’s bed,
parrots limning the ends of winter. It’s another kind to leave one’s work undone.
No way out, no way back,
I throw wide the barn door and compromise.
The outside walks on in; the inside out. My deaf and dilapidated muse sleeps on
in the reading chair, like one of the saved. White blossoms open on my fingertips.

from The Road South (River Road Press, 2008), Mark Tredinnick 2008, used by permission of the author and River Road Press

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