In 2004, I published the poem “Last Stand of the Wollemi Pine” in my collection Here is my street, this tree I planted. It’s a longer poem, and came out of my fascination with the discovery story of this Jurassic tree. There is much to read online about the unlikely story, but nothing beats James Woodford’s original book The Wollemi Pine. While I had seen one before in the Botanic Gardens in Sydney in 2005, I happened upon on in Canberra two weeks ago and was able to touch it. As promised by my poem, and the marketers, they are now widely available around the world, fast becoming nothing special at all.
Here is snap of me and the tree, and, for old time’s sake, the poem.
Last Stand of the Wollemi Pine
“The location of the pines is a secret.”
Wollemi canopy pierced —
from a deep laugh line
missed by the thousand
foaming razor swipes
of sprawl, aboriginal firestick
Plucky, classified, alive.
King Billy breaks the soil during the Battle of Hastings
to find dampness, light, other editions of himself
clustered in deep cover. The leader of a band
of evolutionary exiles, humming songs of elapsed design,
left behind to their own loneliness,
genetic memories of shading great beasts.
Billy is a last war veteran, the one who recites legends —
telling what they all fought for, fled from,
how it mattered
at the time so many about them fell.
We learn on the wind Norfolk pines grow in California.
The sandstone cliff-top wears away in the heat and salt breeze.
Direct light steals further down the adjacent gorge wall.
Each year it grows hotter. There is nowhere left, only progress.
We hunker. On good nights, we have the American dream.
We await extinction. We are a hermaphroditic clone.
The eucalypts will rib:
It was a blessing. They were not themselves, in the end.
They are, though, too young to account for us,
our nameless conifer company, modish sway, abundance.
Far above we eye the forest, its traffic — sassafras
and coachwood roots work and wedge their way in,
chasing alluvium and the runoff lick. Rock splits,
along sedimentary layers. Erosion is erasure.
First, their colour: wrong green.
And odd shape. Leaves like fern sprays.
Taller than trees here ought to be.
The sound changes, air at a standstill
as a cone is handled, bark palmed,
fingers dragged, bumping across
the rough of it. That was the first
(tender does it) touch.
Outclassing Banks, his mates reckon —
from that moment on, bloke in footy
shorts, professional bushwalker,
begot Wollemia noblis.
Thousands of tiny Wollemi pines
now grow in perfect rows inside
a subdivision of temperature-
premature babies in isolation units,
they may sense aberration —
they were not supposed to make it.
They would scream in protest,
demand death, if it were not so
beautiful here. Perhaps, they reason,
we are now in good hands,
and too young to know any better.
(c) Jonathan Bennett (excerpt from Here is my street, this tree I planted, ECW Press, 2004)