Weather divinations, poems by Judith Beveridge.
When a bandicoot scrapes a timber fence with its claws
that is a sign of impending hail. If you walk through a bog
in bare feet and no leeches suck your blood then the sky
will be clear for five days and you can go swimming and hiking.
Fast for three days, lick your finger and if the wind blows
the spittle towards the left the dew will be heavy. If it blows
the spittle to the right then there will be blossom showers,
contrails, and buff-shouldered falcons riding belts of light
winds in the Calms of Capricorn. If a rare blue finch
comes to your window there will be a week of black ice
and sunsets the colour of the head wounds of murdered
seismologists. If a flock of crows sits on your roof
there will be a battle of cold and warm fronts and a volcanic
eruption causing crop failure, landslides, and acid rain.
When a crane sits on the back of a crocodile it means dust
devils will blow. If it sits on the back of a snapping turtle
gales will form causing fishing boats to anchor in narrow
channels where oiled sea-birds cry out and drown.
If a goat, a ferret, and a rat come to the door there’ll be flash
flooding in Africa, a blizzard in the Bahamas, and a beam of light
clearing the fog on Brockenspectre Mountain. If the goat comes
alone the day will be calm, but if it comes walking backwards
with a thorn in its hoof, or accompanied by a goldfinch there’ll
be a tornado and a mock sun. If a climate change denier comes
to your door then watch the sky for sheet lightning in towering
banks of cumulonimbus, and go to them with a simoon
on your breath, blood rain in your voice and speak of temperatures
not even the frigate bird sailing through a storm could predict with
its forked tail and puffed chest, nor a line of larks following smoke
from a chimney which is a clear sign of drought, nor the shadow
of a whistling kite falling over fields which is a sure sign of fire—
oh, go to them and grieve knowing they can’t read the signs.
Did an ambush of lions give rise to your growl,
the black mamba your nervous ferocity, the red-eyed
goshawk and blue wildebeest your lust for territory?
What buffoon cartoonist or male model cast
your jawline wider than your head? What crazed god
gave you the long-muzzled face of an Alaskan moose,
a wine-barrel body and a tail that spins slops of dung
through the air to mark territory and claim a mate?
Your jaws can break the backs of crocodiles
and trap the heads of rhinos—did a black-hearted
shaman hex you with an insatiable urge to kill
anything in your path? The blazing African sun
made your sweat glands exude a crimson sunblock.
Tsetse flies, midges, mosquitoes, and hawk wasps
accorded you gratitude for your miniature ears.
When you glide along a river’s shallow bottom
what dancer or ballerina suggested the small, graceful
leaps, the weight-defying buoyancy to help you
resemble a horse on a carousel? And when I consider
the word hippopotamuses, was it a poet watching you
from along the Nile as she idly devised anagrams
from the title of her latest poem: ‘Soup time, Sappho’
(hot sumo puppies, mahouts poppies, set up opium shop)
who came up with that order of syllables plosive enough,
the medial syllable weighty enough, that flow
of phonemes laughable enough to give your kind a name?
© Judith Beveridge
Judith Beveridge has published seven books of poetry. She was poetry editor of Meanjin for 10 years and also taught poetry writing for 16 years at post-graduate level at the University of Sydney. Her books have won major prizes including the 2019 Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry. She has also won the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal and the Christopher Brennan Award for excellence in literature. Her new volume Tintinnabulum will be published by Giramondo Publishing in 2024. She lives in Sydney Australia.