My Singing Garden

Winner - Marion Mayne Trophy - 2020 Toolangi CJ Dennis Written Poetry Competition Open Section

I have long been a devotee of the works of classic Australian poet CJ Dennis. Having visited "Arden" at Toolangi, where he spent the latter years of his life, I can see why its beauty inspired him to compose his last great collection "The Singing Garden". This poem contrasts the Victorian mountain forest with the dryness of Queensland in the drought, and is a tribute to the tireless work of Jan Williams and her late husband Vic, of "The Singing Garden Cafe and Tearooms", who for many years have cared for and preserved this beautiful part of Australia's heritage.

My Singing Garden
(c) Shelley Hansen 2020

I have seen the "Singing Garden" in the verdant hills at Arden
where the poet CJ Dennis spent a myriad of days
till, surrounded by the story of the seasons in their glory,
he was moved by inspiration to create poetic praise.

There the greenness fills the senses as the early cool condenses
and each dewy leaf bends gently in the filtered light of dawn.
All the forest birds assemble in a song that makes me tremble
as they join in endless harmony to usher in the morn.

From the rhododendrons' splendour to the raindrops, soft and tender,
I have shared the spell of silence in a deep cocoon of peace,
while the copper beech stands counting off the years, its girth amounting
to a summary of sunsets as the dusk brings sweet release.

Coming home, the contrast shakes me as reality awakes me
to my arid native landscape, so affected by the drought.
Here the smoke haze sets me coughing, and no rain is in the offing
to allay the smell of dust-filled air that drifts from further out.

I refrain from planting flowers, as the chronic lack of showers
has decreed that water-hungry plants could never hope to thrive,
but, surrounded by the crackle of the greying grass, they shackle
all their energy in wilting leaves to simply stay alive.

It would seem to be depressing when I contemplate distressing
scenes of dryness that combine with shades of bushfire's aftermath,
till I hear the birdsong ringing, and I know my garden's singing
just the same as I recall while walking Arden's forest path.

Early dawn begins by clocking up the kookaburras mocking
as they commentate from vantage points perched high above the world.
Then the magpies warble gently as they search the ground intently
for a scant and dewless breakfast worm that may have been unfurled.

On the hottest days I swelter, and the butcher birds take shelter
in the shade of my verandah when the sun is at its crest.
There they sing in perfect tandem songs they seem to choose at random –
rendered languid by the noontime as they take their hour of rest.

In the birdbath wings are splashing, with a dozen species clashing
as they jostle one another for a cooling dip and dive.
Taught by parent birds' example, fledglings tentatively sample
liquid life – replenished daily just to help them to survive.

When the western shadows lengthen, pink and grey galahs will strengthen
their resources in a bold display of acrobatic grace,
while their raucous calls remind me not to let my sadness blind me
to the elements of beauty that are present in this place.

When the moon is full, the plover roams the paddock to discover
just a few nocturnal insects that are active in the light,
while its eerie "clacking" echoes with the "clicking" of the geckos
that emerge from daytime camouflage to scamper through the night.

In this land of contradictions, there are thousands of depictions
of survival through the ravages of climate's fickle heart.
Tiny birds emerge undaunted when the thunderstorms have flaunted
all the strength that they can summon up to tear the earth apart.

Through the turning of the seasons I discover ample reasons
to applaud the bold resilience of birds I call my friends,
as succeeding generations lay their permanent foundations
with the instinct of eternity, whose wisdom never ends.

So when troubles make me weary, and the endless days grow dreary,
I will seek my "Singing Garden" just as Dennis used to do.
There, in quiet contemplation I will let my admiration
of the enigmatic songbirds furnish strength to see me through.

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