At the Fragrant Church

 
I went to the church today
Not, I admit, in order to pray –
Rather you might say,
To pry,
To spy.
 
Outside the church
In desert sun’s scorch
Littering the porch, lay
Gum droppings, eucalypt
Bark, twig, in mad disarray.
 
Silent the shrine,
White, quiet, fine,
And a smell rose up,
And spoke: ‘breathe deep,
Take pleasure, take, keep!’
 
Is it camphor?
In all candour
I cannot say, but can report
The heated gum odour
Lifted me wholly in transport.
 
The river gums here –
“My aspens dear” –
Grow, persist, survive,
Through rains, flood, mud
And when long droughts arrive –
 
And they speak to me
And say, ‘Wrinkled man, grey,
Gaze on our bark, ridged too
And stark, and keep good humour:
Breathe deep, deep, inhale our aroma.’
 
And so I do. And on church porch did today
Despite the heat, one hundred Fahrenheit,
To read what and when – I never dreamed if –
Services there’d be, on twenty-fifth. And confounded,
Found nought; no report. Really? Reel, sniff –
 
That sweet fragrance’ll
Endure by chancel,
By happy chance,
Though town’s broke and townsfolk
Leave with parting glance.
 
The church stands, white,
Quite quiet. And by it –
All around, littering the ground –
Pragmatic, aromatic, lies gumbark,
Fruit of time’s wound,
Immanent, permanent
And profound.

The coal resource exhausted, the town on death row, the mining townsfolk have drained away to seek their separate fortunes elsewhere. Too few faithful remain for a quorum or even a service on Christmas Day.

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