Poem

Maxine Beneba Clarke
Ancient Giants

                   we’ll say
the summer right before
was blue-green algae

bastard took the bony bream
     and silver perch

reckon it grew from heat
and farming run-off

cyanobacteria is what they said

                   and we’ll say
next jan we killed
     the murray darling
shit
     australia was the hottest place
on earth

river banks were
powder-keg with spinifex
     bushfires raged
and the mercury
it burned

                   we’ll tell the kids
there was this pollie
     they called him barnaby
he was gasping
swollen red around the gills
     sold the water out for votes
 a shameful handful

bloody stupider than jack
with them magic beans

                   we’ll shake our heads
we think it started up menindee
least that’s where the first stories
rolled in from

when darkness fell
the oxy dropped
     below the water
 
    stillness

and then
the bodies
     slowly rose

                   and they’ll be wide-eyed leaning
                   forward peeking through fingers
                   saying ‘come on pop just tell us
                   what happened next?’
         
                   we’ll whisper

dead fish
putrid-bloated
eyes skull-sunken
      fly-blown all along the retching banks

deflated
     decomposing
ancient giants    
 
there’s a picture somewhere here
we called them cod

Maxine Beneba Clarke
is The Saturday Paper’s poet laureate, and the author of The Hate Race and Foreign Soil. She is a winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry.