Emily Ballou mesmerised at Purgatorio: Australia Today with her poem on the fragility of our environment, bringing our gaze to a group of nesting swans beset by mottled tourists. Read her poem in full below.


Go through that rusty gate

Where all the waving flowers blow
And the last of the sunlight is a low gold glow
And blossom scatters across the pond
With the cast-off crumbs of the pilgrims.

They come on crutches (they come so slow)
Clutching their bus passes, their daily news
They hobble; they drop cider bottles
In the underpasses, glass shattering over the paths
And press those small black beacons to the whorls of their heads
Inhaling the last stub-ends of their fags.

We take busses and make too many phone calls, we who have no wings.

They come in multitudes over the motorway and pester her with bread.
And at the water’s edge soon gather all the floating
Drink cans, the drowned bread bags, the potato chip wrappers
The bird shit, the lotto tickets (the bin in the pond, the rubbish that blows
The pigeons with only two cancerous toes). It smells of Spring.

The swan she sits on a circle of twigs under a circle of budding trees
In a circle of pond, beyond the old green gates of the old park.
They call it Victoria and there she waits with infinite patience
For forty-one days and forty-one nights on a clutch of five eggs.

Hoping they will be blessed.

And on the pond, beneath her lies
Another bird, a guiding twin and Underworld.
Under the water are the trees, a circle of sky, a light breeze,
And the tulips breathe hot pink excesses
And the waving heads of all the flowers sing their laments from their beds
To her that sits and sits through any weather on the still black silk of the water.

Her body twinned by the pond and twinned twice by her cob and mate
They make codes of their wings; they speak clouded things
An alphabet that smudges water is a mute speech so clear to them.
They have lived in this marriage for years.

He brings the twigs in his beak and she stacks them, one by one, arranging too
The odd bits of trash, weaving the shredded blue plastic bag
Into her heaped round mound, ordering its blue wings under her body,
Preparing to wait a season. This is the wisdom
(And this is the bliss)
That comes from obeying the weather.

The adulterers come to see them, and those made lame by loss
The broken families, seeking solace, the addicts not yet recovered
Congregate with the alcoholics, and the very drunk mother
Wavering in heels, pushing her pram perilously close to the water.
And those of us too, just treading the usual uncertainties as the years speed by
Trying to hold water in our hands.

The swans bend their necks then wrap them round their chests
And tie themselves in knots and tuck their heads
And shelter leeward in the stacked alcove of their wings,
Half contortionist, half bird,
And push off with great black feet across the pond and, by June, are guiding us,
So as to better seize the paltry offerings from our fingers.

Here, where the lost boys meet, hooded, lowering themselves down
To give the bread and the grass by their palm to the mouths of the swans
And their five new downy cygnets. They squat, side by side at the edge
As the evening comes on, feeding their hope by hand,
Remembering their own mothers.

These are the woes that mirror the blessings.

If the swans could say, they might say: All you
Who come here without wings have such low
Expectations of living. But if you knew
How much can be built from a bit of strewn rubbish and chips
You would not hazard them so freely. Also,
Life is repetition without answer.

Write with the feather that beads the water
Everything you have ever loved
Will leave you, you will chase them off, you will start again
Busily rebuilding, twig by twig, the same nest next year.
But if only you could, go back to that again, start over
In patient, forgiving repetition and take back into your arms
Just one last time, all that has gone from you, your children
As they were when they sat between your folded wings
When they let themselves be carried across the water.
You are forgotten but you have not forgotten
When you raised and beat the full furious eight feet of your wingspan
To guard them from the dogs.

These are the woes and this is the grace.

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