For Sidney Nolan
The love of man is a weed of the waste places,
One may think of it as the spinifex of dry souls.
I have not, it is true, made the trek to the difficult country
where it is said to grow; but signs come back,
reports come back, of continuing exploration
in that terrain. And certain of our young men,
who turned in despair from the bar, upsetting a glass,
and swore: “No more” (for the tin rooms stank of flyspray)
are sending word that the mastery of silence
alone is empire. What is God, they say,
but a man unwounded in his loneliness?
And the question (applauded, derided) falls like dust
on veranda and bar; and in pauses, when thinking ceases,
the footprints of the recently departed
march to the mind’s horizons, and endure.
And often enough as we turn again, and laugh,
cloud, hide away the tracks with an acid word,
there is one or more gone past the door to stand
(wondering, debating) in the iron street,
and toss a coin, and pass, to the township’s end,
where one-eyed ‘Mat, eternal dealer in camels,
grins in his dusty yard like a split fruit.
But one who has returned, his eyes blurred maps
of landscapes still unmapped, gives this account:
“The third day, cockatoos dropped dead in the air.
Then the crows turned back, the camels knelt down and
and a skin-coloured surf of sandhills jumped the horizon
and swamped me. I was bushed for forty years.
“And I came to a bloke all alone like a kurrajong tree.
And I said to him: ‘Mate – I don’t need to know your name –
Let me camp in your shade, let me sleep, till the sun goes