by Angela Rockel
Salient: [— L. saliens, –ent-, pr. pple. of salire leap] 1. Leaping, jumping … of animals … of water … 3. Salient point: in old medical use, the heart as it first appears in an embryo; hence, the first beginning of life or motion; the starting-point of anything (OED)
The waning moon rises later and later, nearer and nearer to dawn, ever thinner, until, lined up between earth and the sun, only its unlit face is turned our way. Then after a pause it reappears, a shining filament on the evening horizon.
High pressure systems flatten the ocean and push away rain – as the days continue to lengthen, we sit at the bottom of a deep, still well of clear, dry air. It feels exhilarating after the darkness of winter but this warmth, so early, also points toward the season to come. Already the sun begins to burn as the layer of ozone over Antarctica is destroyed with the return of light and the hole widens to take in these latitudes. In the northern hemisphere, fires rage and customary protections do not serve. The shade of an olive tree is no longer a guarantee or even an image of peace as the missiles come in.
But here, now, soft air moves and buds open. A grey shrike-thrush investigates nest sites under the eaves and reports to its mate – wejo jo jo wikijowiki! Narkies, waterhens with mad red eyes, fearless, chase off a feral cat, then gather beside the dam to make their mating and nesting arrangements. Night and day they shriek a chorus in tag-team crescendo – na keena keena keena kee – like a conference of crazed plumbers hacksawing pipes in concert.
Bees work the grevilleas for nectar and gather a sudden flush of willow pollen that ripens as catkins open and change from silver to gold in the course of a morning. A new holland honeyeater gathers nesting material – thin strips of honeysuckle and teatree bark for the cup and furry bud-tips from the banksias for lining. Frogs are calling.
I bear witness to this place, which shapes me as I attend to it. I wait for what the body brings – sensory events which register like speech-acts with ‘sudden salience on the surface of the psyche’ (Bachelard xi). These words of place become part of a mode of bodily thought that greets the creatures of sound and touch, scent and taste and sight. I notice what brings itself to my attention, what leaps forward and stays with me. I let sensations connect, walk myself into rhythm until a beat begins – a word and a word and a word from the world. Attention and event – warp and weft of the text-cloth as a phrase begins to form. A life’s work, to call out of the here-now-only stream which passes through me, part of a pattern of intelligences, speaking place and spoken by it.
My inheritance is a consciousness buckled by silences and frightened of the conjuring power of words. Like so many others, I was born into a family that was punchdrunk after a couple of hundred years of destruction, displacement, reinvention. Amnesia and fantasy, desire to pass, invisible, and desire to excel slugged it out in the production of identity. Hiding in the thickets of clannishness and religion, refusing to look back at the devastation behind, my forebears sought to protect themselves and those who followed.
My mother’s tired body and baffled mind brought me in, sombre on sombre, to a world of interdictions and erasures; all that could not be spoken pressed, blinding, at our backs. In her shadow I squeezed through the gates and the air I breathed was fear – of speaking or hearing or thinking the unknown-unthinkable. Reverie was discouraged as tending to madness – that is, to a propensity to make connections that might run away into story, which could – and surely would – clutch and take its creator out into a dazzled hell-realm. This is where I come from, light threatening.
To work with my legacy I call on peripheral vision, developed in darkness and sharpened by anxiety, to acknowledge and give form to intensities that have gathered over generations, bringing them into language. They take shape as images of precise particularity – creatures and weathers, their interconnections and patterns of growth and decay – and in doing so they become personal, lose the intolerable glare that till now surrounded them. As they step out of formless dread or longing into speech, they widen my sense of the nature and boundaries of psyche to become merely themselves – both subjective states and creatures that help me make sense of things. Looked at sidelong, soul and its inhabitants turn out to be not less than everything – I in the world, the world in me, with its mortal dangers from which no shelter can be had and its rich portion of pleasure and joy.
Fog gathers in the valley and lifts on brightness; light burns through from inside, dazzles from outside as it goes and comes – just itself, salient.
Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Trans. Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969.