—when pomegranate freezes at dusk, when eucalypts sink into gestalt:
soon after you arrive, you remember that everything’s heavier, pregnant with nostalgia for a
smoother past: cold afternoons and icy lawns; those grey, withdrawing trees
(hope burns through as autumn red)
(hope is sustained in sunsets)
up north it’s lighter, more relaxed; it’s not spilling over edges with Who I was going to be…, or This
is the moment when…
here, who knows what I might have become?
it’s hard to imagine how I could have become—in all this cool, low light
the sense is of whole, bustling families gathered in homes, or occasionally spilling from them
the sense is of absolute continuity—as if:
this family, this house, this garden are echoes of what has always been, regardless of location
(so that the land itself—what it mutters—recedes to the horizon)
—while our own webs, between mother, father, sister and friends, between schools, sports and
their satellites, fill all immediate space
(this sense, in space, of
dark fragments under hedges… a cubby, a track… until we move indoors with the light)
When I arrived it was hard to believe that my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. That first,
(an enormous glacial gorge, rising sharply to the limits of sight)
(stony fringes of villages on this ridge or that)
(the green upon green reiterations of it)
(mountains retreating like ocean swell into the distance)
Who’d have thought that life could occur amidst such steepness, such drama? Who could
imagine such a life? It seemed fantastical. It certainly started out that way; I felt myself exhale
and relax into a wider volume. Language, even thought, seemed of little value.
Why is a place so often defined by how I first see it? As if the first impression is literally the
impression, after which I am forever marked.
(now, a slowly-rising sense that I’ve written of these things previously, in almost the very same
At a dinner with some locals, he asked if I’d ever been to a place like this before. No, I don’t
think I have, I said. Though what I really wanted to say was, Yes, I have, many times, in my mind, in
reflections, in sketches, in the spaces around reflections and sketches…
Not to mention the fact there is no other world, that we all live in this one…
Though in a way such a question will never have an answer. What he really wanted to know was:
how does this place make me feel (or: what does it do to my body)?
It filled me entirely at first, all my thoughts and reactions were bound up in the dimensions of
the steep world beyond my balcony. But after a week or so I found that the world had
withdrawn, or perhaps flattened slightly. What I saw was no longer unspeakably stunning; it was
simply there, like the chair on my balcony, the pen on my desk.
A lot is to do with the people who live here: they work, they travel to other villages to see
friends; they like some neighbours, avoid others. Their lives thread the place with an urban
regularity; their meandering stories seem to unsettle that gigantic canvas of sky-mountain-forest,
to push it back a little.
Though ‘push’ isn’t the right word; it’s more to do with submersing the image in a shallow pool
At this juncture the temptation is to lapse back into that lament—for places once I’ve lost them,
for places I’ve visited but have not really seen, etc. It’s true, after all, that new places seem to
dissolve gradually from view the longer one stays in them. But the question is about what they
dissolve into. That fading away…
(right there, that phrase suggests they fade into… what?)
At another dinner, one of my companions spoke of the death of her mother. Now that it’s the
height of summer, she collected a small bunch of Pyrenean irises and left them on the grave.
Walking back to my apartment later that night, I found myself looking for their sprawling purple
petals, hoping the streetlight might catch the creamy strikes down their spines. That it was night
time and I could barely see beyond the road edge meant little: there was the conversation at
dinner, and the thought of irises on her mother’s grave.
There are various ways to conceive it, but one that seems better at the moment is the notion
that, in apparently ‘receding’ from the very frontier at which sight almost explodes into the rest
of my body, these places have actually been released. Free of my desperate nerves, they are
allowed to venture off—
Having recovered their freedom, places seem to progress by tilling and unsettling the earth like
ponderous, glacial ledges. Amidst all the surprises they upturn, I find myself looking closer.
There are crumbled rocks and mixtures of ochre and sandy powders and shreds of stems and
branches through the sticky loam—
I find myself walking in slowly-expanding circles, fixated on the emergence of things. At other
times, though, I’m not thinking about the ground or the distance at all. As more days pass I am
still less overcome by the size of the valley or by the way that, towards evening, lighting appears
to dangle momentarily over the highest peaks. These things occur more or less at the same time
(by ruined walls that must date back to the Romans)
(by a crumbling hermitage on the forehead of a ridge)
Things become marks for orientation rather than for spectacle.
I find that certain tracks have emerged, from my room to elsewhere, for particular routes and
directions. And consequently there’s more of a looseness between my thoughts and how I take
in what surrounds them. I move more freely, yes, but that’s because certain compositions—
(slope and ravine)
(cottage and a trail of trees to the river)
—have been dissolved, or at least have withdrawn slightly.
Beauty, its bold shock, evaporates and leaves me within the space it occupied—
(various channels, rivulets, nets, etc., rather than a single, irresistibly magnetic surface)
—take, for example, the house far above the highest meadow, almost hidden by sub-alpine
(then, thoughts on how I might reach it)
(or discarding the notion because)
This has happened at numerous times throughout my life,
the arrival somewhere, the living there,
never to actually see it.
Then, the silent contemplation of the horizon.
Then, wandering to the shops while looking out for birds.
This is what happens:
I travel on tracks every day through places that never hear of my approach;
I travel on tracks through places but I don’t call out to them;
I don’t know what to call them,
those vague domains, ever so slightly viscous, with skin thick as water’s.
They’re ever-present, these places, but try as I might
they slip away if I reach for them,
they wobble and disseminate into floods of colour
and shades of heat and coolness.
On reflection, I’ve realised that it’s only when talking
—loud, rambling talking—that the places return.
Amidst the exchange of story, of surprise, of sensation with another, with others,
This is to say, when I’m not alone.
This is to say, the particles exchanged between myself and others (any others, even others whose
particles I can’t decipher)
become tinged with region, then soaked in its demands and tempers.
Nothing needs to be said about anything in particular.
Only, something needs to be said.
I have hypothesised some reasons for this,
but they come from what’s granted by the regions themselves.
What occurs is what occurs
in these places.
Perhaps, in talking, I expel myself outwards into air, into zones,
and at those points where I exit myself
the world rushes in.
Here, the world’s an ever-present, all-surrounding thing,
and I only need say so in order to feel it.
There’s also the possibility that places compel us to speak,
that they have moving, articulated limbs that cluster around mouths and wait for syllables
and snatch them up when they emerge,
that they feed on these syllables, or take them back, like magpies, to nests.
In either case, talking would be the process of opening certain channels
into which regions can flow, or from which they can feed;
talking, then, would be how we come to know of a place bodily,
just as it is the act by which it comes to know us.
This feels closer to the point;
my silence is the silencing of what needs to be said.
At any rate, an openness, a porosity, a tendency to entropy
must be necessary;
closure stunts movement, shock, reproduction.
In silence we peer into a world of ballooned molecules floating about,
bumping into one another or steadily veering away,
but in talking in that place, there,
I am talking of and for that place, as it is talking of me.
That place is there—not here—because,
as it has happened before, it is happening now,
that I have no one to talk to, that I float through the world like pollen.
For the time being at least, that’s my lot.
Stuart Cooke‘s latest collection of poems is Opera (Five Islands Press, 2016). His translation of Gianni Siccardi’s The Blackbird was recently published by Vagabond Press. He lectures in creative writing and literary studies at Griffith University.