Hear my cries, lover of mine…
dashing through the forest, bare footed, through flecks of sunshine. Where’s dad? Back there, with the man in the suit. Staring and pointing at clipboards, flicking through the chopped and screwed casualties of the forest’s gatekeepers. Tell me to run ahead, why? This isn’t a discussion that a child would enjoy. Look up, look left, look right, look down. Who would want to stand in the same place and talk? Run forward; dirty and cut and graze legs that cycle with such ferocity through the foliage that an unknowing observer would see thousands of years in the past and into the future, see hairless legs morph into roots erupting from the ground, see the path of feet illuminating the trails of fungi threads, see drips of sweat and blood splash onto the floor and come together like rivers to follow underground networks carrying carbon and nitrogen and water and phosphorous and hormones to the dying. Each forward step breathes life, each scratch of the pen…
sounds like disintegration,
traumatic ruins, atrophy,
bursting like water balloons…
that mum throws at you. Pick up two from the stash and hurl them at her. One explodes at her shoulders, the other misses and smacks against a tall eucalypt behind. She hunches over, grimacing. Walk over, carefully. Crouch down. Try to look up but her hands cover her face. Mum? Are you okay? Sorry, I won’t do it again. Please, can we stay? I love camping; I don’t want to ruin it. The hands across her face separate slowly. They open to a smile, a cheer and she flings you up in the air. Come on baby, she says, let’s pick up the balloons. Pick through and find every remnant of pink, blue, orange, green rubber scattered on the ground. Be mindful of brown spiders that rest languidly among the leaves, red ants marching, snakes. They are a myth. Mum looks up; follow her gaze and see dad talking animatedly on the phone beside the tent. Take her balloons and throw them in the garbage bag while she walks aggressively over and leaves you alone. The sun is setting and a chill skates through the campsite. The logs dad dragged to sit on surround the pyramid of sticks and dry leaves waiting patiently to be lit. The seat is smooth but below, the bark peels easily, hangs in pale pink strands like the strings of a banana. How did it end up like this?
Between the quiet fervour of crickets at dusk, mum and dad’s whispers wander into the campsite and mingle with the air like the warmth of the fire will when it starts to crackle for dinner. He talks about profit margins and returns on timber, average and marginal products, volumes and net present values. She talks about ecosystems, extinction, carbon sequestration. She says your name. Silence…
drowned in chainsaw screams,
tiny claws scratching on branches,
drowned in chainsaw screams,
snail sludge squelch,
drowned in chainsaw screams,
bark, wind-kissed, wind-whistling,
drowned in chainsaw screams,
bird-chatter, hatchling chirps…
echo from the dense canopy above. The sounds come travelling on the leaves that fall down, the airwaves that rustle between branches, reverberate off the marches of trunks that surround. Dad had to return to the city for a day. Mum sits beside. Finish the last few biscuits of supper; shortbread that dissolves in your mouth, pools at your gums. Let’s go, she says. Where? Walking. She wants to teach you something, some things. Follow her into the thick forest that encircles the campsite. She stops at the trunk of a giant and urges you over, crouching at a troop of fungi with swollen, red and white coloured heads.
Mum caresses one out of the ground and hands it to you; they are crumblier than they look and stick to your hands while you run your fingers along the top, lightly hold the stalk. They are soft, delicate and could be crushed easily and stick between the webbing of your fingers just like the shortbread did in your gums. Do you like it? Yes, it feels nice. Can I keep it? Yes, but keep me carefully.
Mum lays back, using her hands as a pillow. Do the same, let the fungi rest on your stomach, watch it heave up and down, up and down, synchronising with your breaths. The last rays of the sun poke weakly from above. This giant is gigantic. That’s the mother tree, she says. The mothers watch over the forest. What do they see with? That little mushroom on your stomach, she says and tickles you at your bellybutton. How? She points to thick roots that stretch in a plethora of directions from the trunk. Your mushroom has millions of threads that connect with those bigger roots. Then, they swap really important things that help them survive. What things? Don’t worry about the names. What next? The threads stretch and kiss every tiny piece of the soil underground. Underneath your tiny little foot, there could almost be enough threads to reach your grandfather’s house. But that’s two hours away! There would be enough threads in this forest for hundreds and thousands and millions of hours. They go to all the trees you can see and that you can’t. Try and say mycorrhizae. What? Mycorrhizae. Say it slowly. My-kaw-rise-eye. Ask your dad about it. A powerful wind whistles through and blows the mushroom off your stomach. Clean it carefully with a shirt sleeve. Why didn’t the log at the campsite get the opportunity to…
stir, unify, consolidate.
vibrate defence signals,
be strong for the future?
sometimes I cry too softly,
laugh too loudly…
when dad falls over. Mum rested at the campsite while we ate lunch by the lake. A couple of sandwiches with ham, salad and mustard. He is slightly buffoonish in his size: thick hands, a balding head, a gait that gives way to a large stomach. Finish the sandwiches and as you survey the lake, see a raft of ducks resting on the banks, some chatter atop the water. Wait till dad looks away, jump up and sprint toward the ducks, waving your arms in the air like a tube mascot outside car dealerships. Stop! Keep going, run faster and watch the ducks preparing to scramble away. Dad runs awkwardly after you. Turn away from him again and as you reach the birds, most of them fly away. A bigger one remains – the mother – and after you stop in shock, she hurtles towards you, screeching and aggressively flapping her wings. The suddenness is paralysing but you snap into action when dad shouts ‘run!’ Turn around and sprint away from mother duck, and to dad who comes toward you. Stop when the duck is satisfied with your fear and recedes. Dad, in his desperation to reach you, trips and falls forward, imprinting the anxiety of his face into the damp mud that borders the lake. Burst out into laughter at this pantomime but stifle your enthusiasm as you walk over to see if he’s okay. When you ask, he raises his head slowly and smiles at you in embarrassment. He removes his shirt and wipes the mud off before hugging you tightly and saying that mothers are dangerous when you threaten their children. What about fathers? We cannot compete.
He hugs you tightly and with your face pressed into his shirt, you muffle a question about mycorrhizae. He releases you and pauses. It’s my job, he says. Sometimes you can’t control it. What do you do?…
what does it matter,
when you cut me down?
when roots wither into waste?
when livestock shit on my remains?
don’t you remember…
that scary story your friends used to talk about when you were younger? It was about a child named Lu who could run through time only if they didn’t stop to touch or change anything. Lu enjoyed running alongside a swarm of ants that had been building an ant mound for centuries, which was so high that it blocked trees from the sunlight they needed. Lu loved watching the ants scurry along, transporting fine soil and pine needles and loved seeing the little offshoots of plants, whose seeds had been unknowingly carried with the building materials. One day, Lu noticed a crack forming along the mound. Lu ignored it for a few years, thinking that the ants and their mound had lasted for centuries and that they didn’t need outside intervention. But the crack grew bigger and bigger and Lu gulped at the thought that the mound might crumble without even trying to prevent it from doing so. A few months later, Lu brought handfuls of soil from the garden at home, stopped time, and carefully filled in the crack. After finishing, Lu tried to turn time back on but it didn’t work. Around Lu, the sun rose and the night set, the trees grew and shed leaves, animals gave birth and died, plants bloomed, stars expanded and burst. But Lu’s body was fixed facing the ant hill, which, along with the rest of the world’s flux, also transformed. From the crack that Lu had fixed, other cracks began to shoot off like the tributaries of a river. Slowly, they grew larger and the ground below began erupting, worms lay dead on the earth, dying fish squirmed at Lu’s feet, days became hotter and the flowers began to wither, invasive weeds grew wherever Lu looked. And as the cracks of the mound widened, the ants from inside started purging out and leaving, so that after almost a century of Lu’s immobility, the ants and the other animals had left, the trees were naked, the mound had dissolved and all that remained in the wasteland was Lu and weeds…
growing in force,
the sounds of time floating by.
my vestiges are vaunted by
bob dylan wannabees,
pseudo romanticists in mountain cabins,
you use timber for shelter, the books you read, to drive to grandpa’s house. If I don’t, someone else will. But why so many? It’s for lots of people, lots of things. Sometimes baby, actions need to be taken that we don’t agree with. You know, up there, he points to the giants. You know, even if one day you return and don’t see them, it doesn’t mean they are gone. You know that, he taps on your heart, that always stays. They have it just like you. When anything goes away, there’s always a tiny, invisible part of it that remains. No matter where it goes to, or how little you think is left of it. I know it; whenever I am at work, without you, I sometimes hear you laugh. Sometimes I get the smell of your mother’s hair. Coconut, he says and looks wistfully away. He looks back to you and forces a smile. Don’t worry baby, wherever you go, wherever you are, if you think hard enough, feel hard enough, those leaves might rustle your hair, the birds might lullaby in your ears, the mushrooms might snuggle beside you. They will always be there if you want them to, just like your mother and I. We…
don’t live in a bubble,
sometimes things happen,
notice, rebel, stand up…
as your back creaks from hunching over. Packing up is the worst part of camping. Try and start a conversation but mum and dad are taciturn. Try and poke dad, he grunts. Try and dance with mum, she snaps. Did I ruin it? Mum asks if you have everything. Yes. Can we go one last time to the lake? No, sorry, we need to get home. I have work tomorrow. Please. No. Listen to your mother. Walk slowly to the car as dirt gathers in your untied shoes. It is the middle of the day; you and your family’s haste is a strange experience for the forest. This is a time for languor, a submission to the heat, a time to bask in the rejuvenation of listlessness. It is not a time for the groan of cars, the kicking up of the dust, aggressive silences. Sit in the backseat and listen to the car splutter into life. Stare out the window and see the giants amalgamate into a blur, a moving impressionist reel of browns, greens, reds. Your eyes flicker and grow dreary from the frenzy. Get comfortable, rest your back in your seat and look a little higher. See clearly the canopy, which slowly gives way to sky as the cars reaches the forest’s limits. Put your hands inside your pockets to warm them from the air conditioner, which is too cold. What is that? A gooey texture sticks to your fingers and as you pull them out, see the fungi as black as ash, sprawled lifelessly in your hand. Would water…
perk your interest?
water blemished with sediment,
water flooding choking soil,
or is the whir outside too loud?
will its persistence hold you, trap you,
and let me,