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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Special Australian Edition August 2023
The Valley, poems by Dimitra Harvey.
On a plate beside my pillow — the fig
I didn’t eat. Behind the house, black hills
are nosing into stars. Down the halls
and promenades of blue gums, owls
hunt gliders, ringtails — their round, doubled
syllables cool as pennies. I meddle
the fig open. Its insides are blush
and ribbed with seeds. I imagine its thick
dusk of juices flooding my mouth,
but I wait.
All afternoon, hot winds rifled
in the hills — thumbing through treetops
as if purses of tin coins. Now a koel
paces out the hours with a shrill pipe,
and light like finely milled sulphur drifts
in the valley. On the deck,
a butcher bird — her head and neck an executioner’s
hood — hammers a skink in her beak
against a nail-nub in the railing. She swallows,
bids a single liquid note.
After scudding rain, the grass gushing, I find them beached
on my porch — dozens of them — having wired their bodies up
out of the flood, only to find they’re stuck to the brushed
concrete, desiccating quickly. My distaste for them has evaporated
over several months — my wet-eared horror of their almost
occult power to ribbon into boots and glut, distended as clots. Often
finding one pulped behind my heel — less than a teaspoon
of bright gore indistinguishable from my own.
Seeing them like this — I pity them, their bodies fragile as threads
of raw silk. I know the urgency of hunger; of trying to survive
desire; of fleeing one danger only to find you’ve fled into another.
I’m thinking about leeches, and I’m thinking
about love — about the end of the world. How hunger is manufactured
and peddled. How rapacity forges more rapacity.
How a leech has two jaws, and fasts for months. How endings demand
more of us than pity, and more than love. The soil drains. I lift a leech
from the concrete — still alive — and leverage them back into the grass.
The dark back slipped through the surf and slapped down detonating
colossal plumes. A headwind was geysering over the spit, flinging
grit sharp as tin raspings in our faces. We shouldered it. Waited out
the minutes between each breach. The Tasman dark as neoprene, nothing
but white caps whisking the surface to the horizon until that huge
body burst open the swell again, lunging skyward, lobbing
a grooved, moony belly across the water, the way a child, in fits
of jumping, might finally toss themselves down across the bed. When
the oily rostrum breached a third time, the humpback spun a high arc above the water
in the unmistakable radian of joy. I know what they say — such acrobatics
are a display of dominance or courting behaviour, a way to stun prey, to get
a clear breath above rough seas. But even from our faraway lookout
on the Point — as small as we are, with lungs that can only cup a handful
of breath at once — we could detect it: the pleasure and abandon in the dance.
Not long before, we’d blasted They Might Be Giants in the car, bobbed
and swivelled in our seats as we slid along the coast road, the sky gathering
its storm in, rain out on the horizon like glistening bands of baleen.
© Dimitra Harvey
Dimitra Harvey was born in Sydney to a Greek mother and grew up on Wangal country. She is the author of A Fistful of Hail (Vagabond Press, 2018). Her writing has appeared in Meanjin, Southerly, Cordite, Mascara Literary Review, SBS Voices, and anthologies such as The Best Australian Poems 2017, and The Best of Australian Poems 2022. She’s been awarded the Australian Society of Authors Ray Koppe Young Writers Residency, third place in the Newcastle Poetry Prize, and Queensland Poetry’s Val Vallis award, as well as multiple long-listings.