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Kinsella, John.credit--Tracy Ryan_BW copy

Cultivating a Testament: Bending Space

Always in the after
we take on responsibility
and devise ways to cope
with the stress and anxiety
which is a contradiction
of terms of arrival.

So many of you are sick
of bird lists but for others
they will always be epiphanic,
and for the birds they are
a fact of our registering
and respecting their presence
of which I am a tree-shaped shadow.

Listening to ‘Walk’ by
Pussy Galore I realise how
caught up I am in the raptor
and pigeons of skyscrapers,
but there is so much more
to distance than a window box.

Listening to the Jon Spencer
Blues Explosion they transition
between seasons — seems possible
and impossible and that’s the
senses of vegetable matter
rotting make new vegetation
rise from the bed of a garden.

Listening to Poison Ivy’s
psychobilly guitar sliding
with a snarl I know it’s not
the same snarl as the shooters’
snarls around here — the bloody
tapping that kills (every) time.

If electricity goes outside
static and lightning and the glint
of a solar cell we will taste the spark
and see sunset in above-ground wires
scintillate in rurality with tendrils
waving, seeking city and its closed spaces.
We don’t let ivy grow here but love her licks.

If I am a pantheist
I am bent in this space —
leaf and flower (few out
just now, but York gums
working up a demi-monde show), stone
and nodules of nitrogen
held to a bean-plant’s roots.

If I am a pantheist
I am folded out of this space —
a stray arrangement
of meteorites showering
as it rains, parody of drought,
and a comet just come into parity.
Starlink has no place in space.

If I am a pantheist
I bend space without grace —
but respect the grace of all places
I subsume into my sentences,
continuations of cultivation,
rows of edible plants,
plants of edible rows.

If I am a pantheist
I need no space to have space —
I will take from no other
and only expand inwards
shedding what little power
and even self-possession
I have: see, red-capped robin!

Always in the after
I acknowledge those who
are always, and listen
where I am able to listen,
the leaf-breeze blowing
through me. I take nothing,
I say, knowing particles lodge

and dislodge, rearranging
before and after, like
industrial music questioning
consequences of industry
defending the workers,
that rub of gold-leaf static.

The accumulation of wealth
takes up space for living
of the tree expressing its
genetic impetus towards
a ceiling, but it might
yield a mutation and break
free of out reading given half a chance.

The commodification of space
is the fashion-label of an inland
quarry, or the blasting of a mountain,
or the leak from deep radiation
building against ‘containment’,
and an eagle is more than a hunter.

The making of smoke
to fill the valley
is a control mechanism,
a showing the air we touch
is not ours even around us,
the smokers letting us know
burning their seasonal residues.

As light bends
as we see around
the corner of a tree
the bark-piercing
grubber, a magpie code-
breaker as all magpies

see around the limits
of the age so determined
with space a song-reach
a warning a call a consensus
or a tyranny; what’s a yellow-
plumed honeyeater if you watch
without seeing the way

air and light shift
to accommodate its exquisite
presence its claim and no claim
which is what you aspire to
but are stuck in an XY co-
ordinate’s dimensional thinking?

To love when not loved
doesn’t work within definitions —
the early flower yellow sparks
lopped-off because an end too soon
in pollination and seed
or is that just desire, wanting?
Not loving when loved is not a reversal.

Always in the after
an orientation towards
dysphoria, a longing
for the labyrinthine, places
you can’t step without gardens —
a metonym of deception

or a plethora of emanations,
a bounty of spirits even
with erasures — I learnt
from a generous friend,
an artist whose claims
were outside description.

Always in the after
I can’t even follow on —
a hurt stem, a torn root,
a strip of bark on a damaged tree-note
and all that’s left to transfer as melody, channel,
and yet, and yet the crown — outside
all usurping of wreaths of power —

is lustrous at a time
of decline a future of barrenness
that will celebrate space
whatever laments we put out there,
vascular and chloroplastic and architectures
of bone and skin and water, water

and the vastness crossed (the bridge)
to its making, its formation,
its gathering — life as it understands
life bound to rock-signs of orbit
and visitation, expansion and contraction,
the sense of drumbeat I’ve fallen in with.
As light bends a string. As space crumples a fret.


John Kinsella’s most recent volumes of poetry are Drowning in Wheat: Selected Poems 1980-2015, Brimstone: Villanelles (Arc, UK, 2020) and Insomnia which has just appeared in North America (Picador, 2019; WW Norton, 2020), His volumes of stories include In the Shade of the Shady Tree (Ohio University Press, 2012), Crow’s Breath (Transit Lounge, 2015) and Old Growth (Transit Lounge, 2017). His recent novels include Lucida Intervalla (Dalkey Archive, 2019) and Hollow Earth (Transit Lounge, 2019). His volumes of criticism include Activist Poetics: Anarchy in the Avon Valley (Liverpool University Press, 2010), Polysituatedness (Manchester University Press, 2017) and Temporariness (with Russell West-Pavlov, Narr, 2018). His new is memoir Displaced: a rural life (Transit Lounge, 2020).

He is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, and Professor of Literature and Environment at Curtin University, but most relevantly he is an anarchist vegan pacifist of over thirty-five years. He believes poetry is one of the most effective activist modes of expression and resistance we have. He often works in collaboration with other poets, writers, artists, musicians and activists.

John Kinsella wishes always to acknowledge the traditional and custodial owners of the lands he comes from and so often writes about – the Ballardong Noongar people, the Whadjuk Noongar people, and the Yamaji people.