We are following a track that loops
around a lake impaled with trees,
a pinned-down habitat for platypuses
I would like to see, so try to walk
quietly until a shadow across the sun-
dried turf in front of me turns scarlet
curls and slides down a bank.
I stop, tell you what I’ve seen, smile
at the luck. You jump onto a log.
For the rest of the walk, we stomp
and you look for a eucalypt branch
you can thump like a third foot
to seem heavier and many-er.
Tourniquets, phone reception, anti
venom and helicopters are debated.
Sometimes I mention the platypuses.
I come from a place where wildlife
hides in timidity not anticipation, so
seldom feel like prey. Giant ferns
and no people remind me of home.
At the far edge of the ellipse, I recall
the lake is a fifty-year-old accident
flooded with rainfall and dammed
by tonnes of weather-crafted shingle.
Humans would not choose to leave
a hundred trees piercing the water’s
surface. The orchard of totem poles
seems tapu, unsettling as a gallery.
Past trunks, smooth and muscled
like horse flesh, I forget to march
find myself creeping, not watching
for monotremes but ghosts or artists,
feeling reverent and vaguely willing
my Achilles to be bitten in exchange
for an encounter with the creator.
It may seem odd to give Paula a ‘birthday snake’, but the one in this poem felt more like a gift than a threat, as it was my first sighting and had the thrill of a surprising line of poetry. The snake also reminded me that I wasn’t in New Zealand (sometimes I forget), which made me a bit homesick for the landscapes, seascapes and weather that Paula portrays so perfectly in her own poetry. Happy Birthday, Paula!