Legacy of a Fool
© Catherine Lee
Winner, 2016 Open Age Bush Poetry section, Ipswich Poetry Feast, Ipswich, Queensland.
A careless toss from passing car received by gusty breeze–
initial spiralling of smoke ascending through the trees;
the tinder sparks, ignites the tussock, fuels this tiny flame–
gives birth to brooding, sizzling fiend prepared to make its claim.
It smoulders furtive, sinister, a criminal in wait,
yet temporary captive while it festers at the gate–
till suddenly the crosswinds spread the embers randomly,
and misery’s unleashed as prisoner casts its shackles free.
It grows at startling rapid pace, insanely writhes and whirls–
a killer on the rampage now, it prances, feints and curls.
How swiftly monumental beast devours the dry terrain,
consuming vegetation as it sweeps across the plain!
It breaches fast and leaps the road, a demon unrestrained,
a wild and harsh leviathan that cannot be contained,
while creatures, choked and petrified, their stomachs full of ash,
attempt to flee the carnage as the fractured branches thrash.
In moments it engulfs with an opaque and forceful blaze,
and blackened dust is raining down through dense and filthy haze.
The mighty conflagration builds, defenceless forest burns–
inferno shows no mercy as it twists, balloons and turns.
The locals drench their houses, seize what treasures they can find
and toss them into boxes, dread of loss on every mind.
Without much hope they pray for an unlikely sudden change–
a south wind bringing rain – but still the monster rides the range.
A fiercely raging furnace from the fiery pit of hell,
creating squalls with crackling roaring din and heinous smell,
it howls with potent wrath and very swiftly takes control
while cruelly sucking energy from every living soul.
A sudden, loud explosion – further walls of flame advance,
which mesmerize and seem to taunt in chilling, deadly dance
as homes are torched and crumble in a boom of crashing beams,
demolishing along with these all former hopes and dreams.
Astounding impetus and strength, the damage very clear–
with life at risk, the people join an exodus of fear.
Here families are scattered; there a woman’s lying prone;
a red-faced child wails frantically to find himself alone.
A farmer screams his fury to the unforgiving skies;
succumbing to the yellow fumes, an ancient collie dies,
while mothers grab their kids and run and men concede defeat,
now powerless to quell persistent churning waves of heat…
The aftermath – skeletal profiles stark through murky light–
once lush and green, now charred, obscene, wiped out by kindled might.
The sickly stench of burnt existence permeates the air;
a pall of smoke sweeps hope aside and generates despair.
The fiend lies overcome at last, destruction in its wake;
collectively the hearts of all those present sink and break
in wretched disbelief at what such devastation reaps–
while over his beloved dog, an aging battler weeps.
Now miles away, the culprit lights another cigarette,
forever unaware of his immense, appalling debt
to countrymen he’ll never know, the many lives destroyed–
he tosses yet another glowing butt towards the void.
His tail lights in the empty outback darkness disappear;
the reckless youth is swallowed in the night, his conscience clear.
He sings along to music with enthusiastic breath–
and leaves his nameless legacy of chaos, pain, and death.
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