Venie Environmental Poetry Prize

Journey, the South Coast by Mark Miller

1 This Estuary

This morning the mist
comes apart before me,
like fabric, like ashes –
revealing at low tide
the craters in sand
left by night-anglers
pumping for bait
sea-wrack and bottle-caps,
necklaces of purple sea-grapes,
bluebottles and ribboned weed
and like part of an old
bicycle tyre twisted
a bludgeoned eel,
its hooked mouth
hauled into a snarl –
this estuary,
opaque sheet of glass,
grey water under a greyer sky.

2 Hiking up Bugong Creek

Up Bugong Creek in summer. The air
in the ravine is heavy. You clamber
over mossed stones, fallen logs, leaf litter.
The water tumbles in breathless
children’s chatter over rocks and over branches.
After an hour you turn steeply from the creek,
climbing awkwardly through the lantana.
Steeper now, scrambling hand over hand
over rocks. Patches of sky like bright blue cutouts.
No track through the tangled brush. The skittering wren
flicks its tail like a blue flame before you. This way.
Another turn and over a scree of mottled boulders.
Sweat stings your eyes. The trees thin. Yellow light
scythes through. Standing upright, you look down
to the deep blue sequined water, the steep flank
of eucalypts on the other side, the glinting foil
of a homestead roof on the crest of the ridge.
Late afternoon. You take the fire trail
skirting the ravine. You feast on dried fruit
and drink from your canteen back at the car.

3 Ridge Fire

The fire seams the horizon
like a brown and yellow scar,
its sparks ignite the haze
the colour of a gas flame flaring,
it re-ignites the morning’s
smouldering cauldron,
setting off an incandescence of leaves,
an awful shrieking of fleeing birds.
Sounds echo like rifle shots
above an endless roaring train
and the reek of cindered heath,
as out of the combustible haze
and down the ridge
this incendiary marches,
incinerating the dull sun and the sky
into a thick black ash.
It sets off spot-fires,
torching farm lands,
and leaving in its wake
its ghostly art of charcoal trees,
charred and smouldering carcasses,
and homesteads furnaced to ash
on the valley’s floor.

4 Afternoon, Beneath a Sun-Tight Sky

a flurry of terns
unstitches the hem,
trails silver threads
from the estuary’s
fine lace-edge.
Tattooed in shade
of marram grasses,
a white-faced heron
stands in frozen silence.
Darting minnows,
a fistful of pebbles,
stipple the shallows.
Along the shore
shadows of the pines
are a thick black calligraphy.
a necklace of gulls
rattles the empty bowl of sky.


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