Venie Environmental Poetry Prize

Below the Summit by Kristen Lang

The pandani graze where they’ve scattered,
mid-step in buttongrass, necks wrapped
against the cold. Torsos a brief illusion.

We sit listening to their chatter.
Centuries-old migrations woven
through the slow-tumbled stone –

they are not, they tell us, the only ones
on the move. Ridgelines
jagged with sea shells, molten eddies

thrust into the light, rucked and crushed
and crumpled, dust swimming
in our arteries – we too

are this shift of ground, our bodies
laden. Seams of riverbed, says my lover,
filaments of grassland, collecting fish swerve,

claw prints. The fish, I say, in turn,
bearing the imprint of the city, why
are we surprised by that? Tucks

in the Earth’s currents, we are the drift
and join, chasms apart and our paths
still entwining.

Sunlight and salty waves, plastic waste, all
prickling in our cells. We have built
walls across the paths of trees. Cut

through the feet of mountains. The pandani
rustle their scarves, or their tongues,
call them anything, but listen: the breeze

on our skin as we pass. Hung,
through the sharps of their leaves,
with the stone lines of the crags. The self

for a moment vanishing, as near
to the Earth as we’ve been / as we’ve
always been. Lips open

to the sky. Time stitching our bones
into its travel.




*pandani: richea pandanifolia, an erect tree-like shrub, 2 to 12m high, with serrated strap-leaves that are green at the top of the plant and brown and curling lower down; sometimes referred to as a giant grass tree.

You can hear Kristen reading her poem here:

Photo of Kristen by Noah Thompson


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