Afternoon at the Avalon, Katoomba

by Louise Wakeling

you look for balance indoors among music. 
outside, the town broods in the shell of itself, 
rain shutters the street.  a green slice of Paris 
winks back at wrought-iron and glass.
the flautist unleashes scattered notes,
words hang back-to-front on doors, 
light turns outside in.    all around, 
spinning worlds airborne in droplets, 
your new familiars, coral mandalas seeding 
into shallow seas of air 

across the globe, ancient orbs are spilling 
into valleys of least resistance.  Death Stars 
or Flowered Planets upend lives, they dock 
on human skin like spacecraft, solar coronas 
hovering above empty squares.    they push 
at the body’s gateways, hitch a ride on breath 
and open wounds.  you know how easily
they’d latch on, even in this sparsely populated room - 

anywhere on this planet, ice-bound or sweltering 
under blazing sun.  there’s no hiding 
from these not-dead-not-alive enigmas, 
perfectly evolved to hijack cellular machinery, 
a binding agreement your host receptors 
can’t refuse.    from there it’s just  
transcribe    translate    replicate:  
a new musicality of its own 

but for these brief hours, ferried on an up-draft 
of sound, spiralling out of yourself, 
you’ve shed all masks, you’re a meteor shower. 
Listen, fingers pluck the strings of a double-bass, 
tender and insistent, like it’s a harp, 
or your own beating heart 

This poem explores a search for personal balance during the global pandemic.  It evokes the enigmatic nature of the virus in the light of Kenneth Slessor’s line in the poem, “William Street”: “You find this ugly, I find it lovely”. The poem glances off Tomas Serrano’s artwork, “Corona Rises”, (Digital after pencil and ink), with  its striking image of the coronavirus as a blazing sun rising over the city (   Some of the cosmic imagery in the poem was inspired by the musical improvisations of Elsen Price and Keyna Wilkins, who performed their New Music in the Blue Mountains on Saturday 24/10/20, while others were prompted by images captured by electron microscopy.

Louise Wakeling is a poet and teacher who lives in the Blue Mountains.  Her first novel was Saturn Return (Allen and Unwin, 1990), and she is currently working on a second novel exploring family dysfunction in the 1950s-70s. Her third poetry collection, Paragliding in a war zone, was published by Puncher & Wattmann (2008), and her fourth, Off Limits,has been accepted for publication in 2020. Wakeling’s work has been published widely, including in Antipodes(2011), Contemporary Australian Poetry (2016), Caring for Country (2017) and Wild Voices: An anthology on wildlife issues (2019).

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