Friday, January 14, 2011

Flood, 1974

In 2008 Suzanne Bellamy and I were commissioned by Lella Cariddi to bring together art and poetry for a touring exhibition on the subject of drought. Drought is often followed by flood and the poem here was written in memory of the flood which I experienced on my parents' farm along the Murrumbidgee River at Wagga in September 1974. This year Wagga has seen floods yet again, as has Brisbane and many other towns across Australia - as well as in the Philippines and Brazil.

The image is from the canvas Suzanne produced in response to my poems while I in turn wrote new poems inspired by her art. We have been friends for many years and it was great to be able to work together on this project.

For all the people reeling from the flood, wherever you are

Flood, 1974
There’s a roar that a river makes as
it breaks its banks– a sound that grumbles

deep into the body, unearthly, I think,
but earthly is what it is. We watch the

sun rise over the front paddock,
our bodies absorbing the flood’s power,

a shuddering that is later taken up
by the muscles in a great release.

It is a day of contrasts: we children
sent to round up cattle, our unkitchened

mother bakes a loaf of bread, our father
is trapped in a tree for thirteen long hours

while we sleep, eat our mother’s
bread, talk of the sky, the land,

the height of the river. Late afternoon
he is delivered in a boat, rescued by men

bearing sandwiches. None of us knew
of his ordeal until it was over. In the days

that follow we gauge the level of the river,
walk again the reduced banks, watch

the swirl of snag-driven water,
thrilling to the sudden birdlife.

The poem is from the chapbook, Unsettling the Land by Suzanne Bellamy and Susan Hawthorne, Spinifex Press, 2008