Richard Foerster

Kata Tjuta

Amadeus Basin, Northern Territory

The blood-light of recent rain
had stippled the path, obliterating
any human trace through the gorge.
Where I snaked along the base
into the center of those clustered domes,

flowers pulsed against the blush
and burn of the rockface. The dry earth
was hastily alive again with silver-tails,
shrubby mulgas, bristling hummocks
of spinifex, the unbrittled froth

of gnarled acacias. It seemed a stringent
landscape’s whittled perfection, not
a “ghastly blank” (as Europeans dubbed
that desert), but a deathless space
of uncompromising magnanimity.

Still it’s impossible to trek there now
and not think of civilization’s overtowering
extremes—a city’s massive windowed heights—
or to step even briefly out of geologic
time, knowing a quarter mile skyward

the world eroded and left those “many heads”
hobnobbing above the ferrous plain.
The first Aborigines to pass among them
possessed no notion or need of mortared polity;
the rocks spoke through embering dusks

in languages preutterant as wind
till stories spilled like runnels from the summits
down to lustering pools and told
how here creation dreamt itself into being.
Who wouldn’t want to see the gods in everything,

to stammer through that visual syntax
time and again like a liturgy for the living
and the dead, and read in the soil’s tiniest
quickenings, in the slow accretion or seismic
upheaval of our days a cartography of the soul—

and so hold onto every swift-perishing
grace? —That day I glimpsed a falcon
as it tore through the gorge. That fast,
then gone. In the wake of its scree,
I craned toward emptiness, into savaged blue,

waiting, while all around me the furrowed slopes
slid gently into flame. Minutes, more, I stood
as if eye to eye, consumed—so dazzling
was the world’s annihilating glance—till finally
I doubled back along the ruined trail,

where my earlier boot-prints now brimmed
with shadows. And so we shoulder what little
history we have, like an aged parent
through burning streets, with love’s small store
packed in a rucksack alongside our bearable

load of sorrows. Isn’t this all the myth we need
for the journey out into the inevitable,
unsheltering dark?—not so much to relive
the momentary arc above the heart’s red center,
the wounding absence of that raptor-split sky,

but to bless somehow the plod through
each day’s exile and return, the meandering
path, the thin scar we blindly finger
through the night, whereby we trace
at last our only healing.