The last of summer

Heat arrives from over the Brindabellas

as though they’re the lip of a basin pouring sunset

down the Cotter Road; heat like old quarrels

that have flickered to life, chafe of crowds

rubbing each other up the wrong way;

earth-anger, quicklime kiln-ditches,

artillery from distant wars

putting the heat on oblivious cities, racing towards

ember-struck villages beyond negotiation,

making it hard to sleep. 

            Now that I’ve put my glasses on the bedside table,

all I can see, from the corner of my eye,

are two hands, fluttering like a pair of birds. 

I don’t know who this cheerful woman is

or what she’s telling my wife watching her on YouTube

still propped up under earphones.  The woman seems to be pointing

this way and that, her polished, bright red fingernails a match

for her animated smile and the borders

of fabrics she holds up, jiggling, making them do

a little dance before she lays them down again,

gestures like a shopkeeper inviting you

to examine a fine bolt.

            Heat like the big bang pressed between

the blank pages of genesis: one moment

there’s nothing; the next it’s all there, a scrawl

of lightning, a word packing heat, and suddenly

there are skies, seas, birds, a moon,

a helpmate wanded from a rib, 

a story that tells it all wrong

presses out hope in its mangle

because it says nothing of technique, art that compels

measurement, cutting-out, a pattern, pins and weights,

an art infatuated by the textile it holds,

celebrating its slipperiness, thickness, flimsiness

its awkward dimensions, its ornery creases and folds

stubborn abutments, puckered seams,

the needle’s free will and breakage

            all hailed in the design, held by the maker’s intent

as she celebrates the conjunction of two shapes

that would be hard to line up if it weren’t for a method

she learned from a friend, from her mother, or

as here from a stranger. That, too,

is where the old yarn has it wrong,

because what is created here is never created

alone: deep histories confided in the aisles

between ticking, duck and batting, no sooner learned

than conveyed, the binding that prevents life

from fraying, solidarity in the endeavour

established by a stranger’s advice

an admiring remark as the assistant

measures out a purchase.

            After an ad for buttons

the woman seems to be finishing up; a quilt

will soon be complete, turned for display

like mist beginning to drift across the ranges

to reveal early snow, a scatter of mussed threads

stitching the high firetrails together

 

and I finally fall asleep.

Australian Catholic University (2022): Hope: Poems from the 2022 ACU Prize for Poetry