Snap – Beth Spencer

(Saturday February 7th 2009)

On an equine forum
a conversation deals out
like a hand of cards

Where are the horses?
Has anyone seen X?
Where is the fire now?

Then someone lays this down:

All the houses
on the north side of Steels Creek Road
are gone

Just like that (a puff of smoke / a magic trick)?

Far away I lie safe
on a wooden floor, face to a fan
and close my eyes

I see a blue bedroom
on the west side of the house
and wonder who slept there last night

and did they still have the floral lino
and the long shiny hallway
and the separate boys’ and girls’ wardrobes?

Did they have to climb out the window
(as I discovered was possible one day
when I was five)?

Or did they run through the house
past the 50s room divider in the kitchen
past the old wood stove
out through the gumboot-room
(with its purple and yellow paint
left-over from the dairy)?

Did they run down the back steps?

(Did they have a cat that always got
kicked down those steps
by booted feet when it tried to get inside,
or did one finally make it
into the living room to curl on the couch?)

I can hear the cows bellowing
Who is milking them tonight?

— Did someone remember to let the galah
and the cockatoo out of the cage made
from an old water tank and chicken-wire?

— Did someone let the dogs off the chains
near the post where
the hessian rubbish-bag hangs?

Under my eyelids
I make a movie where all of them
get out early and
drive south down Steels Creek Road
with the trees burning above their heads,
like we did forty years ago

(Please don’t let them stay inside, please
don’t let them
seek shelter
in the pink bathroom)

— Not so far, you see, the safe end of the road,
only five minutes and they’d be in the
town and could sit silently, shocked and spent,
out at the oval by the river

(Did someone hold a baby on their lap,
who will always always
have an aversion
to the colour orange?)

I curl my arms out to make a space
to hold that family safe

while our house on the hill goes up.

 

(This poem was first published in Vagabondage, UWAP, 2014.)

 

Author’s note: This poem is about the Black Saturday bushfires that roared through Steeles Creek and other parts of Victoria’s east on the 7th February 2009. Specifically, it is about the house I grew up in as a child in the 1960s and which I found out burnt to the ground during these fires. Our house was on Steeles Creek Road and up the end where it became part of Yarra Glen. In memory of all those who lost their lives that day.