from the editor's desk


#authorsforfireys: ‘the underwriting’ by Kit Kelen

This summer was the worst fire season Australia has ever seen: 18 million hectares burned, 34 people killed, thousands displaced, and a billion animals estimated killed. Whether directly or indirectly affected, this has been a time of trauma for many. Now we face the aftermath, and the long, slow recovery.

Please scroll down to read a note from our editor.

the underwriting

Kit Kelen

would sinners lift their eyes to it?

most of your houses won’t burn down

some are eaten
first sculpted by ants

some fall
and some are blown away

here’s age
and all the parts replaced—
call members of a house

a lounge of limbs
and lewd suggestions

light’s thrown down again

most of your houses won’t burn down
but here’s the street alight
say alcohol fuelled

all the violence of a home
won’t knock down most

were forest once
or mountain fast
have heft
are hewn

or hand me down
almost all change hands

let’s not forget flood
change climate
continental drift
volcano and the quaking too

most houses won’t
some do

there’s electricity gathered
all fuels
what odds?
set actuaries on

many are so inhabited
one creature feeds upon the falling

there’s someone’s welcome in the walls
over we go, scrape by

some are simply bitten
plague till the place is condemned

wrapped in leaves
or a haunting dark
made dust

a house may have been scrubbed to death
hoovered up and binned

here’s fruit
say lemon gone bush
least wings attend

some houses were never on the map
or plan a subdivision
flat granny

little paws pass by
the guardian tree
all garden round

still there
say Sunday rubbernecks
ask how long will it stand (?)

we’ve left it out in the weather
you memorise a shape—that’s it
rattles winded with the gate 

so secret to this having stood
and all these years to slam

the old ideas until
we’ve guessed home here

think of a roof to catch
was someone else’s ground
forgive me
but I can’t go back

in moonlight
how the fires remind us
most houses won’t burn down

you room it
to contain an echo
walls divide the voice

much metabolised
long in digestion
taken for a smile

come in out of
to the skin
cosy up by
cup of it

begins at a stretch
with a mouthful of nails
more hands and feet required

Christopher (Kit) Kelen is a poet, painter and recovering academic, resident in the Myall Lakes of NSW. Published widely since the seventies, he has a dozen full length collections in English as well as translated books of poetry in Chinese, Portuguese, French, Italian, Spanish, Indonesian, Swedish and Filipino. His latest volume of poetry is Poor Man’s Coat – Hardanger Poems, published by UWAP in 2018. In 2017, Kit was shortlisted twice for the Montreal Poetry Prize and won the Local Award in the Newcastle Poetry Prize. Emeritus Professor at the University of Macau, where he taught for many years, in 2017, Kit Kelen was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Malmö, in Sweden.

A Note on the Series

In the wake of this year’s unprecedented bushfire season, incredible solidarity and compassion emerged across communities in response to the tragedy. In the writing and publishing sector, we saw the #authorsforfireys campaign, a massive online auction led by industry professionals all across Australia, raising funds to support bushfire charities. Westerly contributed our own auction items to this, and raised $981. Coming out of that moment, and the #authorsforfireys campaign as a whole, we wanted to make a space in our publication to acknowledge the experience of the fires and engage with some of the discussions which have circled around them. Westerly put out a call for submissions, with a pledge to both pay authors for their contributions and donate the equivalent amount to government-approved charities still working on the recovery. 

Westerly is proud to present here one collection of writing from this campaign. A second feature of work related to the fires will appear in our next print issue. This series brings together bushfire writing of all kinds—from witness accounts to heartfelt immediate responses to considered critical thinking on the fires, including questions of climate change and the environmental future we face. They are works of fear, sadness and anger, but also of contemplation and hope.

We pay our respect to all the victims of the fires, and offer our condolences to their families.

Catherine Noske, editor

Image: David Brewster, 2009, under Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.

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