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John Kinsella

Stone Heroes


Which myths you latch onto, quickly    or which stone you might build from
while shoring up those defences    all of it about conflict

even the sign up on the gate    keep out you are not wanted
and this is about place real place    with its attitudes and claims
imposition of the body    reading it as DNA
(and who got the prize claiming that?)    right down to petite birdcall

sans place sans land sans scape sans here    and now that hesitation
to flag to cairn to resurrect    weight of worship imposing
or imposition foundations    for whom noticed by and when
a lapse or continental drift    bridge collapses echoes rebirths

to say I don't know is potent    regress of one's own downfall
as when the right protests their ‘right'    to suppress and inflict help
where less is more red-capped robin   roars its little nest space left
fundamental as a tree down    in your yard your paddock your

claim to replay rockhound childhoods    flying past on winged sandals
myth-mash retort of scorpions    on slab of bark here and now
in Faustian intertitles    so abecedarian
a messiah steps the hot rocks    so the water carrier
embraces drought AND his lone source:    ‘get what you can out of it!'
but don't enjoy the scents and tastes    of weeds occluding THEIR weeds

with such growth amidst stone heroes    a Hepworth garden forming
what imperceptible object    takes claims into tribunals
of burnt light's white-hot conviction    from a desired sinecure?
What force worthy outside senses    and the affliction of roads.

To make as barren olive trees    brambles and pasture: grazing
less salubrious for exiles    buy-in new colonials
shall only keep their feet planted    exclusionary wilding
reduced to measuring your plot    with balls of string, hankering.

A Short Narrative of Wild Bees and a Torn Calf Muscle

Back-tracking echidna scratchings, curious
as to its place of bunking down, I move close
to a wild beehive in the trunk of the largest
York gum on the block: it is near a crevice
of granite littered with dead wood, a good shelter
for an echidna. In a kind of slow motion up-close horror,
I am stung through my shirt on the shoulder again and again.
I lurch around the rocks, bees swarming in my hair,
grotesque, outlandish, heteromorphically
and preternaturally weird. But not comical. Distance
warps the picture. Humour's little injections of poison:
melittin and histamine. Some need epinephrine,
but I only hurt and swell, though rationale is lost
as well: turning heel, bees at my ankles, I scale
the hill and something tears inside my calf muscle.
I hobble, flailing, infuriating the bees further.
I stagger, shaking them off, slapstick, rising 
out of the great tree's opinionated shade
into sunlight. Then everything is flat, dead-
pan. Abandoned on the hillside. The narrative 
is Buster Keaton. Or the narrative is passage,
exploration, revelation and escape. I limp home. 
The stories I might tell. It grows more dramatic
by the second. The stuff of family myth.
But bees perish in their stinging,
and as I lick my wounds the storylines
break down, just fragments poking through
all those weeks of recovery to look forward to.
So much or too much denouement in the skit.

Walt Whitman and Timber Creek

We drove past the salt hindquarters of Wheatlands with friends
and admired the reclamation in passing: now Timber Creek
where my cousin Ken farms with his family. I was quite close to him
as a kid but we rarely cross paths now. As the crow flies
(and it does) we are probably 75 ks apart: Jam Tree Gully to Timber
Creek. Each particle of distance an intensity of separation.
There are still links but they're uncharged. Whitman at his Timber Creek
threaded other lifeforms into his tapestry - the pond a beginning
or an end to his creek. But out of the salt, three creeks begin, making
salt slices and chambers where old roots once gave infrastructure
to tubes and tunnels, fibre optic of the transition from fresh to saline
marches, those tints and filaments long beneath awaiting release.
What residues are left from boyhood, obsessed over by Whitman,
for me a bemusement at closeness that filters how we interpret
the handings-on, next generations (and next and next) of creatures
that overlap here and there - how we view their being
and our being, what makes role and presence. The essence of survival.
It's the drying that alters decorum - the sharp light off
crystalline structures in segments between trees, holding ground.
Not a use memory is often put to - in realtime you are there
and I am here, and similar dirt and stone and latitude are beneath
our feet. But at Jam Tree Gully we have some elevation, 
though feeding the same river, the same system, as those creeks.
Observation that is itemising isn't enough, true. But lists
have to be made and the data brought into play for the benefit of all -
mutual aid. The critic who says there's not much philosophical
depth to commentaries on atheism and agnosticism should examine
a square metre or even a square inch beneath their feet
and take note. Camping at Hathaways, the cold night wanting in, I
probably confided in Ken - I recall he talked of plains
native Americans in the mid-nineteenth century. A model for life.
The salt wastes were his wide sky spaces. He rode a horse.
We drank water from aluminium canteens from the army surplus store
and the taste is still with me, though it impairs memory.
From Timber Creek to Jam tree Gully, I will hear you if you recall
loudly, as unlikely as it needs be, the same moon over salt.


-from Firebreaks, W.W. Norton & Company, 2016, selected by TR Hummer 

PROMPT: Given Kinsella's love of nature, I think he would agree with Ferris Bueller's famous axiom, "Life moves pretty fast; if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." While Kinsella doesn't write here about going to Cubs games and posing as the sausage king of Chicago, these poems display his love of slowing down and paying attention to the world, be it in nature, in the city, in a hospital room, etc. Take YOUR TIME today. Go outside and pay close attention to the images and smells and sounds you take for granted and emulate Kinsella's "A Short Narrative of Wild Bees and Torn Calf Muscle." Limit the poem to 30 lines or fewer, somehow work in a celebrity, and, as always, have fun.

BIO: John Kinsella's most recent volumes of poetry are Firebreaks (WW Norton, 2016), Drowning in Wheat: Selected Poems 1980-2015 (Picador, 2016) and the three-volume edition of his Graphology Poems 1995-2015 (Five Islands Press, 2016). His many collections of poetry have won numerous awards, including 2013 Prime Minister's Award for Poetry for Jam Tree Gully (WW Norton, 2012). His volumes of stories include In the Shade of the Shady Tree (Ohio University Press, 2012), Crow's Breath (Transit Lounge, 2015) and Old Growth (Transit Lounge, 2017). His volumes of criticism include Activist Poetics: Anarchy in the Avon Valley (Liverpool University Press, 2010) and the just released Polysituatedness (Manchester University Press, 2017). He is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, and Professor of Literature and Environment at Curtin University. He is a committed environmentalist and a vegan anarchist pacifist. 

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