Maxine Beneba Clarke



the redhead

         on the matchbox

is all charcoal lash




she wears a do it smile,

like eve’s

                   to adam






most arsonists, they say,

                     are men


some of them like to go back,

                                                            and watch:


                     scarlet flickering

in transfixed eyes



or else they dial,

                     to raise the alarm






bushfire burns faster

                                        travelling uphill,


than descending,

or on even keel



the spread doubles,

       with every ten-degree incline:



flame licks closer

to unburnt fuel






slender-fruit saltbush,

and angular pigface


frosted goosefoot

            and rounded noon-flower


spotted emu bush,

                                               silver mulga


knife-leaf wattle,

and then, the acacia







the wind creeps,


in the footsteps of the fire:

and blows burning leaf litter ahead


the speed of the scorch

makes havoc,

                     and haste



firefighters: broken,

                                                 and bracing








what have we done

oh, what have we done:


no backburning,

                    no listening,

no love


we planted bloody tinder

        for 200 years






is a rescued koala






the cities are black-sombre,

     they labour to breathe,


the people in power





(scarlet flickering,

in their so what gaze)


but where there’s smoke



                                         there’s fire

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