Dja Dja Wurrung Country
Out back, I am greeted by cool shades of green. I look for peace in these eco-friendly greens. Inside, I use a butter knife to coat toast with ample Vegemite and avocado. On TV, I sometimes see that blue-green hue of the Statue of Liberty: verdigris. On leaves, I rarely read of a poisonous compound that claimed unsuspecting lives: Scheele’s green. Some nights, I fight the dangerous temptation to buy that suspicious looking drink: absinthe. Each night, I lie down alone with ghosts and dream of finding my courage amidst emeralds. When St Pat's Day comes, I don the colour named after my Irish ancestors: Kelly green. When Australia Day comes, I walk through bush and look for peace in those eco-friendly greens.
Contextual Essay: This is a non-fiction poem about some of the psychological, cultural, and ecological complexities embodied by my favourite primary colour: green. The poem’s content was informed by my own life lived here in my birthplace—the regional city of Bendigo on Dja Dja Wurrung Country—as well as the ‘Green’ section of The Secret Lives of Colour (Kassia St Clair, John Murray, 2016). The opening and closing stanzas refer to the soothing quality of nature, green’s position on the ‘cool’ side of the colour wheel, the international organisation Greenpeace, and personal and societal struggles with the unlawful, destructive European colonisation of Australia. With regard to the third stanza, verdigris is a patina that accumulates on copper and bronze following exposure to the elements. It took 30 years for the Statue of Liberty’s colour to change from copper to verdigris. With regard to the fourth stanza, Scheele’s green (chemical name: copper arsenite) is a highly toxic, yellowish-green pigment discovered in 1775 by the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele. Scheele commercialised this pigment despite his knowledge of its toxicity, leading to widespread and harmful use in the manufacture of wallpapers, fabrics, paints, and confectionary across Britain and continental Europe. With regard to the sixth stanza, the linked yet dissimilar American films The Wizard of Oz (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939) and Return to Oz (Walt Disney Pictures, 1985) rated among my favourite movies as a child. When describing the colour emerald in The Secret Lives of Colour, St Clair (2016, p. 220) states that ‘The Emerald City…is a metaphor for the magical fulfilment of dreams.’ With regard to the seventh stanza, the Anglicised Irish surname ‘Kelly’ can be found amidst the branches of my family tree. When describing Kelly green in The Secret Lives of Colour, St Clair (2016, p. 308) states:
Kelly, a common Irish surname from which the colour takes its name, has a much disputed etymology. Some believe it originally indicated a warrior; others, a religious person.
The poem’s title and my choice of poetic form—the ghazal—were inspired by the ‘Fourteen Ghazals’ section of Andy Jackson’s collection Immune Systems (Transit Lounge Publishing, 2015). Jackson, who also lives on Dja Dja Wurrung Country, has used the ghazal form to write about places in India and Australia.
Michael Leach (@m_jleach) is a poet and academic at the Monash University School of Rural Health. Michael holds a PhD in Pharmacoepidemiology from the University of South Australia (UniSA). His poems reside in Burrow, Rabbit, Cordite, Meniscus, Plumwood Mountain, NatureVolve, the Medical Journal of Australia, and elsewhere. He won the UniSA Mental Health and Wellbeing Poetry Competition (2015) and received a commendation in the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine (2021). Michael’s poetry collections include Chronicity (Melbourne Poets Union, 2020) and Natural Philosophies (Recent Work Press, forthcoming). He lives on unceded Dja Dja Wurrung Country and acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land.