Watching Dulac’s La Coquille et le clergyman and thinking over my great-grandmother playing piano to accompany silent movies
I know this one wouldn’t have reached the picture houses
of Perth, Western Australia, in 1928 or any years soon after.
Late in the wordless anyway. And the British Board of Film Censors
issuing its verdict: “so cryptic as to be almost meaningless.
If there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable” might have
echoed in text out over the empire, as if the reels were flywheels,
its members keeping specimens in their kingdom, class and phylum.
In corsets. Even the Parisian surrealists shouting down
Germaine Dulac, calling her a cow! Harassers. Molesters.
Fantasists. Artaud with all his doubts still hanging out in the stalls,
hoping for serious applause, his screenplay on no billboards.
My great-grandmother interpreted as she played, or played
from a score in the flickering light. How would she have run
with this? Single mother, migrant, royalist, leftover Huguenot.
That lusty ethereal necromancer priest, the general stuffed
into his uniform, his wife as object pursued through the limits
of imagination, Genica Athanasiou’s breasts exposed to collimated
gleam, shell scallop brassiere torn away, dangling in the clergyman’s
murderous soft hands. Confession. Taking flight. Lost at sea.
Without time to censor, great-grandmother would have rolled
with the flow, piano keys matching the pace.
Parrot bush and the twisting of the story of fire
On the false edge created by firebreak and paddock
this lone stand, a pair; you’d never call it an “outpost”.
Budjan, fruits beloved by parrots among sharp leaves,
old with filaments of spent flowers holding on through
harsh summer, and seeds winged inside their casings,
withheld by seed separators, heat averse but wanting
fire which we don’t want, which would be catastrophe
to this stressed bush, to us, should it come too hot too fast,
which is the way of it now. We work hard to prevent.
Actions of outpost because outpost changed fire patterns.
Now Banksia sessilis because Dryandra has been beamed up
into new naming. A visitant taxonomy. An alien nomenclature.
And only this morning we watched a raft of singing honey-
eaters, and I collected seed from the parrot bush and hoped
wings would settle into sand over laterite, a false
setting – blanket ghost of outposting, not indemnified
by survey and claim. To be nourished again by parrot
bush and those internal settings of harsh edges. Spikes.
Alternative timing. Living when lost as long as soil remains
as it was, as long as outpost doesn’t become fortress.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 25, 2022 as "Two poems".
A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.