There is one road in and out –
mountain to sea and back again.
We take it while we still can,
trail the steady line of traffic
climbing towards a choked sky.
Streams only travel in one direction
or dry up in heatwaves such as this.
The temperatures are still rising.
Last night, as the children slept,
we watched light streak across the sky
illuminating our shack on the hill –
the back steps built close
to jagged shrubs and grass.
This morning we packed everything
and left, shoved pink flip-flops
and beach-balls into the boot,
headed north. We saw flames
above the trees. By nightfall
that road was blistered, nothing
but a scorched leaf-littered underpass,
a net for fiery embers and sparks.
Burning strips of eucalypt bark
leapt from one side of the black lake
to the other. We watch the news,
recognise place names, on digital maps,
not meant for tourists. We walked
those beaches where huge groups
gather, waiting for the ferocious fires
to burn themselves out, return again
to ash-dusted patches of land.
When life comes down to a headspace of air
beneath a jetty – the atmosphere toxic –
and above swirling tornadoes of fire,
the house burning down to the ground,
trees glowing scarlet in the haze, hissing,
spitting out sparks, and a fireball sun
beaming yellow, eucalypts exploding
under a Mercurian orange-streaked sky –
you cling to wood, cling to your grandchildren,
let the youngest lock fingers around your neck,
her blonde curls bobbing on the cold surface,
her eyes wide, lips a thin, pale line – wonder
where their mother is, if she’s praying, check
for five heads above water. Make your case.
Stephanie Conn is a poet and current PhD Researcher from Northern Ireland. Her first collection The Woman on the Other Side (Doire Press, 2016) was shortlisted for the Shine/Strong Award for Best First Collection. Her pamphlet Copeland’s Daughter (Smith/Doorstep, 2016) won the Poetry Business Poetry Competition. Her most recent collection Island was published by Doire Press in 2018. Stephanie is a multi-award winning poet, including the inaugural Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing. She is the recipient of a range of Arts Council awards and has read her work locally, nationally and internationally. Find out more at https://stephanieconn.org/. Follow @StephanieConn2
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