A Place on Earth


A young boy

is sitting by a fire

on the edge of the desert. There’s a car

through the scrub behind him

pulled off to the side of the long dirt road

and a tent close by with his father in it, sleeping

already. It is late evening, nine or ten,

and he’s long ago eaten: toast, baked

beans on a tin plate, burnt potatoes, tea.

1964 perhaps, or ‘63:

it doesn’t matter what year.

He is sitting by the fire, stoked

earlier so that now it’s burned back to the ancient

fire-gutted log he found and dragged there

before the sun set – burned back

so that, now the log is deep alight,

he can see a world in it: sees falling towers, forgotten

Alexandrias and Babylons,

the night markets of Wuzhou, Rangoon, Hong Kong,

sees Siegfried and the Götterdämmerung,

sees a huge, blood-orange sun

setting over the burnt, black

hills around him,

autos-da-fé, charred ruins, faces

staring from the flame

so beautiful they seem to scorch him,

sees the bombing and the burning of Dresden,

bodies in fiery graves, wild

midnight carnevales, sees

Moon-men and Sun-men in corroboree,

sees hearth-fires and bonfires and beacon-fires,

Etnas in their scoriac flows,

townspeople and villagers fleeing,

docks and homes and factories alight,

sees battered galleons, masts

collapsing, armadas blazing on the sea, radiant

sunrise breaking from the glowing embers

as if out of a phoenix nest.


rustles in the ti-tree, a

wallaby perhaps, night bird or

wild dog drawn by the fire,

and he looks up from his dreaming, sees the huge

darkness of the night and the vast

canopy of unknown, unnameable stars,

a night so infinite, this night,

it will never leave him.

Time and again he will look up

– for sixty or for seventy years, luck holding – and it

will always be there: before him

the fire, behind him

his father sleeping, that something

rustling in the undergrowth,

and about him the galaxies turning, the still

point of his being,

a place on earth,

gift beyond measure.