They toll hours. I trace the peak and trough of raven-call
through brick veneer walls to the hospital – an hour away –
with every throaty rattle, to my Aunt, morphine
pump filtering sleep. She's comfortable, her nurses say.
Housebound with telephone, I'm waiting, listening
for whispering oxygen, for rattle-claws on tiles,
black birds stalking roofs of this cinder block suburb.
Several streets away, Xanthorrhoea crown
the square of dry grass in front of my Aunt's
vacant house. Unlike banksia populations
infected by dieback, struggling in nature strips,
on road verges, in yards haunted by abandoned
cats and warring neighbours, Xanthorrhoea thrive.
Summer, a palimpsest of sirens, squealing tyres:
hoons burning-out their cars. Peace in these long, hot days
as temporary as sunset or red sunrise.
Aged grass-trees leaves, dried, rustle for want of burning,
relive bonfires flicking embers, altars shedding
resin and ash, crematoriums birthing stars.
Ravens escort each day into these shabby streets,
comb bins for kitchen scraps, find fresh offerings
at backyard shrines. They cold-call at lounge room windows,
cruise the verges, check out stained mattresses, TVs,
rusting patio chairs straddling discards left out
for collection. It's the season for kerb crawling.
Bottlebrush blossom stains the footpaths red. Fenced-in
in her garden, my mother strikes cuttings and grieves,
putting out prayers, chicken bones, cheap mince, nurturing
the Australian ravens. Her two raucous callers
keeping their day's appointments up and down the street.
The hospital is an hour away – maybe two –
depending on rush hour, the freeway. My Aunt's room
is where oxygen flows through tubes into the shrinking
spaces in her lungs. Landlocked with telephone,
I hear the ravens calling their claim from the roof.
Singing in counterpoise, neighbour at her clothesline:
and the livin'
*DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin, 1935.