Dear old land I’ve never known,
land of masses, land of bones,
I was a child preoccupied
with the shining backs of beetles
and the prickly scents on weeds
the last time I thought of you.
At that time I existed
in the hiss of Floridian tropics,
a curious girl good at swimming
or resting in the restless heat
or dreaming of listening
to the confessional simmer of insects.
Always nearby was my sister
with her summery tang and her
notorious mischief at play.
Each day, going free, we crossed sandy lots
burnt beige by raw sun and rimmed
with palmettos, those brash stars.
Sure, I followed my sister and her million
ideas, for who could resist that daredevil
on a banana-seat bike, that rash
inventor of mishaps? So we prowled
about for hours, feline, feeling hidden,
until the daily drenching rain
suddenly drenched us,
and we leapt like crickets
between strikes of thunder.
Or, alone—was I ever alone?—I was
always always never alone—I would peer
into a creek, strained sand with my hands
in search of shark’s teeth, getting bit
by mosquitoes and forgetting to breathe.
I streamed, I breezed, I leafed, I flew.
There was nothing else much to do.
In time, my eyes bleached pale blue.
Each piece of the world was a certainty,
each grain and itch, each wide endlessness
imprinted on the retina of me.
I’d imagine Australia. I’d think of its
mustardy breadth, its heart pressed down
into the desert and bright hieroglyphs
on the horizon. I planned to grow tall,
ride a plane, and stride into the outback
where I’d search for something ancient.
One year, my sister lengthened into grace,
her face became a different face, and then
she dropped away. So alone at last,
I opted to grow up. I glimpsed the world.
I began waiting to grow old. Eventually
only dreams took hold, dreams that prayed and shook
as all the years vanished, and with them took
what the world might have been
supposed to be.
But at times, sometimes
I’d hear my sister among the cicadas, speaking
strange languages or laughing gaily.
I’d listen to her until the night faded.
I listened to her until all the world faded.
Then reappeared due to the pressure of fact.
And I wondered if I would ever remember
how it had been to be
preoccupied with a beetle’s back,
how the whole world outside
my droning tropical dome,
the whole world had been old Australia,
remote and grand, yet far
more familiar to me then
than it ever will be again.