An accounting of ghosts.
At the fringe of sight, sensed there,
the silent people who belong here
drift up the ramps of plain
shaped by their sticks of fire.
A day comes when they do not,
these perhaps-glimpsed shades excepted.
The place of their being-here
dissolves to a thin milk of air.
Loners come with guns and snares
and a love for which they have no words.
They scrabble a living,
though that's not the point.
They leave a slumped scatter of iron,
a tumbled hearth, a murmur of grog and fire,
a long-vanished boot's enduring sole,
and a net of stories upon the land.
Those who raze the forests come,
and they leave, too, entangled money chains
driving them out,
and little damage done.
We are next, here with brush and pen,
with the curious gaze of science,
a hunger to assemble fact and the intricacy of process,
to learn; to marvel.
What stays with the ghosts?
Snow gum, cider gum, masked owl, devil,
tiger cat, wombat, the rare white goshawk,
and, in cold, cress-crossed marsh ponds,
head to the slow movement of water,
this precarious fingerling, the Clarence galaxias,
silver-bellied, skittish, as solitary, as mute
as the lost humans of Skullbone Plains.
Pete Hay is a Tasmanian essayist and poet, and a scholar of place, activism, and islands.