Toby Wiliguru Pambardu’s poem “First Truck,” “splutters,” and spins, and gushes, and presses forward, with the wild, persistent, percussive energy of the strange and magical beast of a “first truck” on the plain. Written in Yindjibarndi, the indigenous language of the people by the same name of the Pibara region of Australia, the poem creates a rumbling across the page that “clatters,” “rattles,” and “whirls” like the vehicle itself. The poem is translated by Shon Arieh-Lerer whose translation is not, in fact, the first of this poem. This one “attempts to capture Pambardu’s daring innovation, excitement, and poetic style.” Even without the ability to read the original, I can see that Arieh-Lerer has succeeded, and the poem (which takes up four pages in an issue of a mere 35) – and the translation – are thrilling, a highlight of the issue.
I also loved Benjamin Jackson’s “Bloodlines,” a long poem in four parts in which ancient history, personal/family history, and natural history merge and emerge from lines that move between casual matter-of-factness (“Dig a hole / put something in it / cover it up”) and elegance (“He woke to tankas and scriptures aflame”). The balance between narrative and lyric modes is handled with grace and authority, and the poem is never ordinary, even when it relies on ordinary diction. Jackson ponders the role and the nature of religion, the meaning of death, and captures our desire to remember and be remembered in verse that is admirably understated, yet emotionally compelling:
With myth and lore, buried countries
call – you me you me
you me you – and we hope
to be remembered.
Avery Slater also contributes a long poem, “Bullet Proof,” a five-part consideration of scientific “realities” from the realms of physics and biology. The first four are played out against particular moments in place and time. The last, “Instar,” has no historical context, which is fitting, as it is about the death of cells, a timeless occurrence that negates all that has come before it in some ways, perhaps even this poem itself. “Death has no mouth,” the poem concludes. Although, of course, now it does.