Distractions at Cave Rock

After the city we drive to a cabin in Lamington National Park.
The blue scarps, Antarctic beech, ironbark orchids opening to
waratah sunset. I remember a few years before feeling stranded
because they were burning with a fever and unable to walk. I
remember carrying them through the rainforest, past flame
kurrajongs back to the carpark. A disabled boy had wandered off
from his group. The teacher’s assistant found him crouched low
in the bush, playing with a stick in the dirt. There is something
alien and hard, something empty in this wilderness.

All day I feel paralysed, observing the hierarchy of birds.
Knife-sharp magpies skitch the pink galahs, who crane their necks
to crack open seed. Before them a flock of rainbow lorikeets.
A sequence of flights measures time, and time intersects with
travel. I am interchanging the past for the present tense, chapter
by chapter. I am testing words as they retract into something shiny
and dangling, and almost whole. Splitting the kernel of words
bursting with new taste, I call this life because it feeds me, or as
a friend says, what else can one do? When D and T drive into
town, I fall asleep and never want to wake. I must be exhausted by
worldly things or else immeasurably content, seduced by
waveforms of wing-scatterings and the broken, uneven light.

Next day, we go hiking, and try to climb inside the cave rock.
In midday heat, the entrance is a cleft, bewilderingly narrow,
too steep for a child. Coming downhill they trip, start to bleed,
wanting a band-aid, their cries echoing in the forest. We have
locked ourselves outside the cabin, they are sullen and sore.

Once inside the cabin it’s Technology with a capital ‘T’ to the
rescue. They play their Nintendo for a peaceful hour or two. I love
hearing the sound of their gentle voice calling the names of those
playful and obedient electronic pups.

There are pademelons in the tall grass bent over bark and berries.
I walk along the creek late afternoon, spotting the mottled figure
of a platypus in the sand flats. Moonlight floods the valley,
spilling over fields of rye. Soon a few stars appear in the sky. Pine,
citrus and manure stings the air. The nothingness fills me. I walk
over cold gravel back to the cabin and the fire, its dancing roses.

The pale and delicate petals

Dismounting her rhetorical horse, she accepts the realpolitik
His legacy flowing into her life, flooding the levee. Uprooted.
Have you heard the saxophone’s mellifluous beauty this morning?
I waited in the courtyard of palms with coffee and the jaded sparrows.
Mud and silt are the river’s policy, infiltrating whatever surrounds.
A bungalow stained with muck, rooms rank, unfit for habitation.
Too many servings of mud cake became diabetic to their palate.
That childhood I was astonished by the pale and delicate petals.
Spring was a fugue of jacaranda radically resecting the mind.
Their boundaries were determined by the need for precious resources.
She was a fugitive, a serial offender, acting out the party of her life.


Then, there were those moments lasting hours when your lips quaked, mouthing tiny carcasses, insects you swallowed, accidents, small trajectories of conversation

Your arms flapping in the hospital cot set by the window, louvres catching the pulse from the
Pacific’s afternoon breeze

It was quiet enough to hear the wave’s susurrus, rolling, thrashing, ushering in, sucking back,
rallying, rebounding, creeping, losing like a lavatory lover

Nights you watched sitcoms and I read novels, studied geography, or tried to write, the
flickering screen in the lounge, studio audience laughter, the fridge droning

How I perplexed you by the declaration that I was a writer, at fourteen, then chose to enrol in science

Or that morning in my sister’s bedroom sleepless before dawn but ready to park under the
skies’ hazy, moonless canopy, waiting for the ambulance, before the ward round to query discharge papers

Having to guard against phone calls and threats, in the final weeks, prevented from visiting you, harassed when I so much as sat near your bed and his denial of ailments, how you both refused respite, how the system failed you, and therefore, variously how it failed us, how the physician’s hands are tied, till the matter turns, how one becomes the projection of violent staring, such animation in the perfumed room, a candle left to burn its wick

How you refused to go back to hospital, and how I admired you for that defiance, like it was you saying no to God, to life. Dying, but very slowly, dementing oh too rapidly, tenderness,
obstinacy, and how, one day when visiting, I thought of grandma’s grey, wiry fuzz of hair, her striking facial bones, her vacant stare, her legs overlapped and snailed, talcum-caked in that four-poster bed

The heavy outline of your body supine, flaccid inside the curtained ward, microbial tripwires

I was always your understudy, failing at the luminosity of your patience, or to count, to
preserve each breath of your densely medicated snore

Speaking for you, over you, how he avowed that cleanliness is next to Godliness

Your plain shuddering when he shouted, the jaw like a blind, dithering arms swimming in
the billowing nightdress that had once filled like a sail. Now I see your hands wringing,
scrubbing, your work clothes drip-drying in sunlight, and I smell the delicate spices,
sorpotel, bread-and-butter pudding

All the impossible nothings it would take to stroke your forehead. Time switching time

wiping sweat from your brow … No one loved me the way you did, and what I would
suffer to take back the unloving words that slipped unintentionally from my mouth like
slow bullets that break the shape of hope, silently

Having lost the ability to dream, how I crushed you, once, into nineteen lines in a poem,
confined you to prose, and even then you never complained though your lip curled, and
your eyes slowly blinked, disconcerted, wounded, but prepared to absolve. My brother was

Writing killed you

What it means to thirst

At Bogabri, I stop for a cappuccino and pie
sitting in the wind, like a paralysed crow picking
empty sunlight, big wheels, a bottle screwed
super tight; my hands aren’t made for this country.

My face still smarts from morning’s shower,
mouth filled with the metallic taste of water.

Driving past fields of wild mustard, after rain,
the valley green; sweeping sunburnt plains
that Dorothy McKellar elegized is stolen country,
now designated for the Shenhua coal mine.

Soft, treacherous edges of road, one-lane stops,
road works, signs that reclaim farms, not mining.
Coat hanger crop sprayers tour the canola fields.
A sign reads fracking in the Namoi river, no thanks!

The art of a pause

The way you leave me on read, or how in the bar I miss
your reply to the question don’t you think I’ve changed?
What’s survivable? A snapchat dissolves in ten secs,
an average LED TV’s disposable after 60,000 hours.
Consider the cost ratio of quiet speech to silence.
Though it’s inevitable, there’s crudeness in repetition.
Don’t hold back on the words, please hold, and I’ll assist
you ASAP
. Gazing for too long at fire burns the voice.
I’ve nothing to say because I can’t hide my nakedness.
You speak cautiously, like walking on ice, lips thin,
you pluck fishing lines of meaning, the clichéd wine.
How can I explain, I’ve nothing to give, no living words.
We have only invented words, vivid and cryptic, like
stickers of flightless prehistoric birds with exotic names.
Why do we bury our fixation in distinct shadows?
quite likely performing pain, reeling on the precipice.
There’s a death drive in the resuscitative rhythm of lines
Always, more questions than answers, even unspoken.
I log into Facebook to stream the Bill Gates TEDX
I read a message from a colleague about permissions
for an interview; a friend’s ex. is considering filing
for bankruptcy, apparently homeless, faking at sleeping
with his wife. My confessions are indulgent, how to say,
I adore everything about you even your revenge mode.
Late autumn sun pressing into storm clouds outside
and your flair for brevity is somehow sad and carnal,
like the jingles of telephone banking: thank you for waiting,
we appreciate your patience and will be with you ASAP.

Michelle Cahill is an award-winning author of fiction, essays, collections of poetry and short stories, including Vishvarupa, which was shortlisted for the Victoria Premier’s Literary Award, Letter to Pessoa, which won a NSW Premier’s Literary Award 2017 and her powerful debut novel Daisy & Woolf (Hachette, 2022).