In 2016 two entries have been highly commended by our judges: 'What happened then' by David Adès and 'Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge)' by Steve Armstrong.
What Happened Then - David Adès
What happened then was like an asteroid strike,
an extinction event, the darkened air,
a great gouging wound across the land.
Imagine two lovers at a train station suddenly
boarding different trains, each looking back to the station
as their train departed – easing from the crowded
platform before gathering speed – moist eyes
watching the station recede, barely comprehending
there would be no return, that the way forward
precluded the way back. Imagine there were no station
and no trains and yet the lovers departed. It was love
that receded. A layer of sediment fell and what was caught
in it became fossil and what was not caught was lost.
The fossils tell a story, but only a small part of it.
What happened after was an obsession with archaeology,
with digging up fossils, holding them this way and that
in the light, proffering explanations that fail to explain,
that never satisfy, that lead only to more questions.
Everyone present then tells a different story now.
So much diverges from the original moment, so much
is held in contention. Inside each story is a pain
that does not abate as the lovers try still to hold themselves
together, all the while flying away like galaxies
after the big bang, as far and as fast as they can.
Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge) - Steve ArmstrongTHIS MORNING a lap-steel
play of light on limestone. The gorge is vascular, bleeds ochre-pink through
gunmetal grey. Gaudi's free-forms shaped
by The Wet; labyrinthine
caves and crevices, pillars and folds. I'm thinking of Jandamarra now, his hiding
places here in the walls. Rifle shots ricochet;
battles fought, for this
is Bunuba country. High up, fine-boned figs and birdsong falls in slow-time
for the mirrored water. The wind quickens
in the silvered throat
of the gorge, is moved to celebrate and the river cannot resist, kicks up its Cuban
heels, no matter how fleeting the mood.
Water like the rocks—
where the Wandjina dwell—remembers all that's over-written; bodies in a bloodied
river, people chained by the neck and driven
on their dreaming paths;
locked behind bars in the belly of a sacred boab. This prison tree, stands within
shout of the longest trough for watering cattle.
I CAME AS THE CATTLEMEN
had come, riding over the land, failing to announce myself or ask leave to enter.
I came and I camped for a week at Windjana Gorge
National Park. Each
day on the bank of the river, busloads of tourists pass; their gorge according to
the guidebook or for some, it's a New Age Jerusalem.
At close of day, an artesian
welling; doubt I'll ever belong. Camp bedding, dry grass and red earth written
in silver. Above my head a blood-wood, a bare stencil
printed on the sky.
Night wind—a Chinese dragon—swoops, rattles the leaves of trees with its tail,
then it's gone. Stars—and no escaping an unblinking
moon; she holds my face
and won't let go. Gravity loosens its ties and when the moon beckons at her zenith,
I lose my nerve, pull the wool beanie over my eyes.
NOTES like tumbled stones,
sink through clear water. A morning solo, high in the half-lit cliffs. Suddenly, song
and darting flight, birds thrill at being earth and sky.
Bare feet, buried in the silt
of the riverbank—now all the selves I bring fall quiet. Play in the dirt, dance and
stand in the clouds of dust and slanting light.
I'm no longer possessed
by a mind that tells me what I do or don't deserve; it's an instrument loosely held,
with breath for brilliant cockatoos, the undulating
line they scribe. Laughter
flies off the walls, I'm caught in the motionless eye of a freshwater croc, rooted
to the ground. Tonight, my branches brush the stars.
1. Windjana Gorge the name settler cattlemen gave to the place traditional owners, the Bunuba, call Bandilngan.
2. Jandamarra, a Bunuba man, led a lengthy guerilla campaign against cattlemen and police in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. He was shot dead in 1897 at Tunnel Creek by Mingo Mick a black trooper.
3. Wandjina: Dreamtime Creation Spirits who are said to have retired to the rocks of the Kimberley.