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Poem in April (Walking My Name Back Home)

Sugarloaf is a prominent feature of Hallett Cove Conservation Park in Australia
             I set off walking south on the shoulders
Of these high cliffs, through kissing gates and over stiles, when summer
   Was a crude suggestion yet among the broom and gorse.
                 The winter
       That did not want to end was hedging
The heath, and the geology beneath it was heroic—its syntax
        Tortured, its story lines long and unsettled by tides
                And asides, its attitudes violent,
Its voicing portentous—and reading it was as difficult, the going as slowing, as Beowulf
        In the ancient tongue. The promontory that shields

               The town from the sky was stricken
With bracken and blighted with daffodils, and it stood as gaunt and lichened
        And slant as a headstone in a churchyard. In my overcoat,
                  Which flapped and yawed
        In the heartbroken wind, I felt like an eight-year old girl
  Lost inside her mother's dress. Below me, though, the sea was loosing
                 Perfect sets against the Secret Seven shore—Foxhole,
                          Raven's Beak, Cleave Strand,
Hallett's Shoot, Smugglers' Run, Tremoutha Haven, Clambeak, The Northern Door,
          The Strangles—and the wind kept up its perpetual complaint.

             The birds—blue tits, wagtails, jackdaws in their jaunty
Rat-packs, choughs waking rough, magpies flying kites, a raven or two and everywhere
         The plangent gulls—were telling fast the same story the rocks tell
                  Slow, and in between the sea,
         Marbled exactly the same way the rock is strung with alabaster,
  Peddled and piped and played like an organ in a chapel—Bach, Wesley, Handel,
          Parry, and Harris's "Flourish For an Occasion"—and this day was
                        Occasion enough. The wind, a faithful elder
Of the parish, long ago decrypted the flinty geomorphology of the shoreline and punched holes
                  Through High Church flanges and installed windows there

            In the greater glory of the God. The farm buildings
And mills of the old dispensation, when I came among them, crouching in the lee,
         Cradled in the stench of silage and the baked bread odour
                    Of ploughed fields, were as different
         From the ground they stood on as a rock is from a stone, or land is
   From landscape. The shingle roofs of Trevigue, for instance, ran a warp as wild
                As the strangled strata of the scarp behind the strand
                         Beneath its feet. House torques
The same way home torques here, each dwelling the same telling as the stones. And I walked
                  My name down to its bones that day

        In the glamour of the sunshine and in the clamour of the shade,
But I have no idea if what I felt as I closed in on my beginning again was the ecstasy
      Of exhaustion, or arrival. My name lives here, but I do not. There's a song
                  Going on as long as the sea, and I am the words
          It's forgotten. Home is the ground the distance sometimes makes up
  On me. And crossing the bridge at the end of that homespun myth of an afternoon
        Of the world, I startled a kingfisher dipping the skinny brook and she
                          Dropped her book and flew down-
River, stark in her sly grog blue and white clogs, and her flight was a race the same shifting shape
                   As the tongue-twisting bed she'd been singing.

Mark Tredinnick is an Australian poet, essayist, and teacher. His many books include A Gathered Distance, Bluewren Cantos, and Fire Diary. He has taught poetry and expressive writing at the University of Sydney for over twenty-five years, and in 2020, was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for services to literature and education. He won the Montreal International Poetry Prize in 2011 for his poem “Walking Underwater.”

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