Central Highlands, Tasmania, January 2022
We wake by still water
to what sounds like a large pearl
dropped from a great height,
it breaks the surface tension
with a resonant nasal tock
more than a splash.
This lake is nine hundred and sixty-three metres
above sea level. It is a metre deep and sheltered
on three sides, in the distance at least,
by what has come to be known as Wilderness.
Up here, in the tent at night
by an effort of will, the world’s troubles
shrink from the mind’s large screen
to something smaller, that glows dimly
in the dark as I sleep: for the moment
it features a satellite image of Russian troops,
gathering on the border of Ukraine.
Snow seems to settle more heavily
where the razed Yelnya forest
has made way for lines of trucks, artillery, tanks.
The impression from space is monochrome.
At dawn the rising sun
sets the tent’s orange interior ablaze.
In the silence, the pearl keeps dropping
from the sky, with now and then
the added sound of flustered water.
Black swans are waking
in the distance with dented bugle calls.
Still, from time to time,
the pearl falls and tocks
and still the small screen flickers
at the back of the mind:
young men, boys, in great-coats, cold-faced
to the camera in freezing trenches.
I remind myself that this is not 1914.
I think of the rubble of Homs,
and wonder at the satisfaction victory brings.
It is not a falling pearl but a musk duck.
No-one but us — least of all the morning —
is startled by the oddity:
the black galleon of its profile,
the huge lobe beneath its bill,
the pure, surreal music of its one brief note, falling,
the spirals of waterdrops from wingbeats.
Nearly two and a half thousand years ago
Thucydides wrote: It is a common mistake
in going to war to begin at the wrong end,
to act first and wait for disaster to discuss the matter.
Mirror-like, on its ancient glacial plateau,
the lake is non-partisan in its view of civilisations.
Mayflies are hatching on its surface for their single day of life.