The drought has slurped the river
back down its emphysema throat.
The baked riverbed is parquetted
with the inlay of cracked loaf. The jetty
is a podium to the untenanted river
and juts into nothing. Red gum branches
lean out like arms on oars waiting
for the water to return.
The water receded over months
and left steppes of mud
running off the bank like stanzas.
The spine of a boat lies rotted
and flush with the flat mud.
Wood and mud are selfsame
in the mottled et cetera riverbed.
The boat-struts are dotted evenly
with an orange blotch from the rusted
and bent-over iron nails.
The map’s riverline has burnt into the page
like the track-scripts of black snakes
along the grained, composite mud.
What remnant marks are hydrograph
of paddle-steamed commerce
before the merchants took to the road with horses.
In the bookless sand the all-day talk
of men panning gold in their hush-hush allotments,
turning the metal plates in their hands,
separating the gravel and black sand
from the gold in their eyes.
The cod with their overhang jaws
flew on the back of this river,
splitting its saunter through open country
and the confluence of boughed water.
Each loosed branch a bone in the diminish.
In drought the lead falls out of the pencils;
hair and nails grey and brittle;
and the dogs burnt the pads off their feet.
The story of a river landlocked, frustrated,
curling in on itself; ebbing into nothing.
Quotemarks hang in the air like wings without a bird.
Morning tries to hang a clean shirt of mist
above the riverbed like the ghost of flowed water.
At night the mud snails forge tiny troughs
through the moon silt. The story of a river
sleeping in your ear, murmuring
and lapping the edges, and the surge
of the rain falling vertical like barcodes.