Poem

Maxine Beneba Clarke
Arson

temptress

 

the redhead

         on the matchbox

is all charcoal lash

 

 

 

she wears a do it smile,

like eve’s

                   to adam

 

 

 

alarm

 

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

 

 

 

incline

 

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

 

 

 

deceleration

 

slender-fruit saltbush,

and angular pigface

 

frosted goosefoot

            and rounded noon-flower

 

spotted emu bush,

                                               silver mulga

 

knife-leaf wattle,

and then, the acacia

 

 

 

 

oxygen

 

the wind creeps,

                           enchanted,

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

 

 

 

regret

 

ash-faced:

 

what have we done

oh, what have we done:

 

no backburning,

                    no listening,

no love

 

we planted bloody tinder

        for 200 years

 

 

 

hope

 

is a rescued koala

 

 

 

arson

 

the cities are black-sombre,

     they labour to breathe,

 

the people in power

 

                     deny

 

 

(scarlet flickering,

in their so what gaze)

 

but where there’s smoke

 

 

                                         there’s fire

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.

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