written word

A love, a loss

A personal story, set in Maasailand, Northern Tanzania. Performed at Perth Poetry Club, October 2012; published by Hypallage, 2013.

We met on the edge of a cliff

gazing into our own negative image

folding limbs and lips into caresses that we had always craved

floating on the words of our deepest desires uttered by another’s mouth

 

bridging worlds with hearts, weaving continents with cups of tea,

melding beads with blessings, black with white, Sabbath with savannah,

mother tongues, and mothers.

pulled by shared aspirations to climb mountains, swim oceans

and create another world.

 

Unsure just how we landed where we did in this unfolding of history

we rowed into unchartered territory with readiness.

and while the earth gave us laughter and texture; soul and pain

the trail that we had followed was washed away by rain

 

we met on the edge of a cliff

with one wing each

the ground was far below us

the sky

out of reach

 

warned about strange birds

far flung nests

we had chased the rainbow

blinded by her colourful promise

 

and as

the cliff’s edge crumbled

our destiny stumbled

we were enveloped by sky

our only hope was to fly

 

and we held eachother

each wing beating as hard as it could

flagellating with all of the rhythms we knew

but our wings beat out of sync

rivers of tears grew

and why – God only knows. We never really flew

 

no. we tumbled. we fell

through shivering winters

flowering springs

through hot summer rains

and old buried things

 

we broke our crowns

our hearts gashed open

our lips cut, dry

our voices hoarse with screams

until, in turn, we stopped.

 

there is always a branch to catch

if you are determined to get out alive

 

and now all I can do

is pick myself up

nurse my wounds

and weave my own second wing.

 

© Keren Gila Raiter


Autobiography of a plant killer

A few years ago I conducted some research about the threat of an exotic plant disease called ‘dieback’ (Phytophthora cinnamomi) to plants of significance to Noongar people on the south coast of Western Australia. Noongar (also spelled Nyungah) is the name for the Indigenous people and traditional custodians of southwestern Western Australia. I had the honour of going out into the bush with some of these people, and learning about their bush tucker and bush medicine. I also had the sadness of learning about the destruction caused by this introduced plant disease: beautiful under the microscope, ugly in consequence.

This clip was recorded in June 2012 at the Denmark Festival of Voice, Western Australia. The words follow:

Autobiography of a Plant Killer

 

They first found me rotting away in a cinnamon tree,

And I am a malaise of modern, mobile, society.

Virile, though sexless,

I am newcomer to these age old rocks.

And I am a detail by which technology killed the world.

 

I am small, almost microscopic, my translucent whiskers are shapely, charming, miniature versions of the coral reefs that lie stretched out beneath the oceans.

And like the reefs, I am huge too, my coralline whiskers have slithered, swum, and hitched from Sumatra all around the world, to the ancient woods of Tasmania, the famous proteas of southern Africa…

I slither

Imperceptib-ly,

Subterranean-ly,

Relentless-ly,

In the mud on the tyres of your four-wheel-drive-ly.

I stowed away in soil on ships and I now ravage the tall hardwoods of the Americas, and the great wildlands of southern Australia, where every peak in the landscape is a story from creation; and now the bush foods of the local ones are becoming less, and less, and less.

 

The old Noongar, she talks about the bush tucker.

She tells of the honey from the banksias, a good healing tonic.

Dead banksias now.

 

She calls me Drastic

They call me Insidious. Tragic. Deadly.

They call me Phytopathogenic Pseudofungus.

They call me Biological Bulldozer.

they call me Phytophthora cinnamomi.

They call me Worse Than Salinity.

 

I ignore signs. I ignore boundaries.

I ignore laws that say ‘no taking of native flora’; ‘no destruction in a national park’. I destroy the hillsides, I destroy the valleys. And those plants; I take half.

I take half and leave their skeletons, grey and dead.

They call me dieback. But I am a front. And I am in front.

And somehow it comes to be that my unconscious, mouldy evolution has outsmarted all the power and knowledge and gadgets of the human race, and all they can do is watch me do my work, try to grapple with my epidemiology, and hope to live longer than my victims and tell their story.

“Gotta speak good story”, they say.

I ain’t no good story.

I love the rotting of the living.

I scour the roots with which the windswept trees grip the ancient soil, as they turn red with silent, underground rage at their doom.

 

You see, I believe in simplifying the world. Just what clarity is there in a biodiversity that stretches from here to the moon? Why worry with those

Proteaceae

Epacridaceae

all them that are Myrtaceous

Fabeaceous

Papilionaceous

Xanthhoreaceaous

(words that your common physicist couldn’t even spell)

when you can so easily manage

sedge, after sedge, after sedge.

 

I creep underbark, through vessels built for water and food and all things good. I creep leaving lesions scarring up tall, strong trees that withstand wind and rain and the turning of centuries, but cannot resist my deathwish.

Parched, thirsty roots dying silently.

Cells without integrity once I’ve been through.

 

and so, even before full-scale industrialisation,

commercialisation,

post-modernisation,

I took advantage of exponentialization.

While young male patriots ran up and down the wild magnificent mountains, learning how not to fall over,

And pioneer farmers with high hopes cleared land for their woolly herds,

And roads were built,

And gravel was spilt,

I, without guilt,

flagged a ride on their shoes.

 

© Keren Gila Raiter 2012


Art and inspiration, Bungalbin

(Originally posted on Sustaining Ecology)
I was recently invited to contribute to the Wilderness Society’s exhibition of art inspired by the Great Western Woodlands, as part of an event held to celebrate the incredible but threatened Helena-Aurora Range, and gather support for its protection. To learn more about the event, the need for protection of Helena-Aurora Range, and ways of supporting its protection, click here.

The images and text that I exhibited and performed follow.

many-limbed

Many-limbed. Photograph © Keren Gila Raiter

Sunrise over Helena-Aurora. Photograph by Fiona Westcott (reproduced with permission)

Sunrise over Helena-Aurora. Photograph © Fiona Westcott (reproduced with permission)

Dianella revoluta – blueberry lilly. Photograph © Keren Gila Raiter

Moonrise almost as old as the moon fresh as the last burn

Moonrise

almost as old as the moon
fresh as the last burn

2. Verticordia chrysantha

Verticordia chrysantha

This is not the middle of nowhere
it’s the centre of everywhere
the sweet space between wet forests and dry deserts
where there’s more eucalypts than there’s elements in the periodic table;
more flowering plants than in the UK
where banded iron never goes out of fashion
with water in rocky cracks and rare views over subtle topography
what’s more, it’s my home

3. Bungalbin

Bungalbin

by the time we reached Bungalbin
we had forgotten what a hill looks like
and a range seemed impossible in this flat expansiveness
but the earth reaching skyward was unmistakable

We camped in Helena and Aurora’s wide embrace
long ironstone arms stretched out around us
striped with geology

4. Night creature

Night lacewing (Myrmeleontidae family)

the creatures of the night
remind me of the mystery
of life
of ecosystems
of the things that are hidden from our view
but that are nevertheless
essential parts of our existence

Abandoned mine

Abandoned mine

after the minerals have been traded
profits spent
workers retrenched, or retired
that water will still be a strange shade of green

6. red legged- arachnid

Red-legged

I walked a thousand kilometres
till my legs were red and hairy
I lost and found myself
in between these leaves and branches
and I won’t forget

It's us who decide 1 Slide2 Slide3 Slide4

All photographs and text © Keren Gila Raiter except where noted


Magic dust: handle with care

A take on the nuclear fuel cycle. Inspired and informed by, and in gratitude to the amazing crew of Footprints for Peace, the Ngalia, Wankatja and Wangatha people of central Western Australia, the deeply nourishing and inspiring work of activists (some of whom I’ve had the honour of meeting and walking with) that stretches across Australia, France, Italy, the US, New Zealand, and all around the globe, and Helen Caldicott’s book ‘Nuclear Power is not the answer to global warming (or anything else)’ – I reference this book heavily. For more info, hear Helen Caldicott talk on Youtube.

Hear this poem on soundcloud:

Raiter - 2 - Magic dust - handle with care-page-001

Raiter - 2 - Magic dust - handle with care-page-002Raiter - 2 - Magic dust - handle with care-page-003

Image


Woodland haiku

I am on a field trip out to the Great Western Woodlands, setting up transects to investigate the effects of tracks in otherwise undisturbed landscapes on predator activity and interactions. We normally camp in the bush, far away from electricity, reception, and heaters (other than the good old fire-pit variety) but yesterday rain turned the roads to mush and we sought shelter at a mine camp.

I’m just a fledgling haiku writer; here some are trying their wings.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

green

as far as the eagle can see

my spirit can soar

 Image

the fox that walked here

a month ago

still witnessed in the clay

 Image

flowers hide in spindly bushes

like smiles on miners

Image

dust settles on fresh tracks

swag blankets relax around

cold feet

Image

fire pit nestled between swags

still:

morning finds them frost-laden

 Image

between sunset and sundown

three tyres

flat horizons

 Image

against gravity

they tower

I try not to slide

Image

the smell of dust

enhanced

when it becomes mud

 Image

sun and stars watch over

even when obscured by clouds

 Image

And for anyone who is concerned by my disregard for the ‘conventional English’ approach to Haiku – the 5,7,5 syllable rule; i recommend that you read Maureen Sexton’s inspiring writeup on the topic, at www.wapoets.net.au/mari-warabiny-haiku-group/info-on-haiku/


Effect size

Image

In my day life, I conduct ecological research on the Great Western Woodlands. Daily I am baffled with the mysteries and complexity of our natural world and the fascinating ecosystems that abound around us (sometimes despite even our worst intentions).

Scientists try to figure out what we can actually know about the natural world, and sometimes this requires applying complex statistics to help us discern the patterns that are often hidden by chance and complexity. It amazes me that numbers, as abstract as they are, can tell as concrete stories as they do. Sometimes it’s useful to have concrete facts in this world, or as close to them as we’ll probably ever get.

Lately I’ve been working on designing an experiment to detect the effect of a road on the activity of feral and native predators – cats, foxes and dingoes.

I’m planning to use infra-red motion-sensor cameras to photograph these creatures as they walk in front of the cameras, but they are cryptic animals and one of my challenges is about getting enough data to be able to draw strong conclusions from my results – and more generally about having what’s called a statistically powerful investigation. What has made it even more tricky is that I can’t assume that the data is distributed in what’s called a ‘normal’ way, and the software I was using to try to figure it all out, GPower, had some very cryptic definitions for some of the symbols it was using.

On top of this, I had pretty much forgotten the statistics I learnt at uni and had to grabble with seemingly alien concepts such as different types of degrees of freedom, numbers of tails, variance, and how to calculate what’s called the ‘effect size’ amongst it all.

This was my therapy:

Effect size

Stochastic cats

stochasticc catssssss

permeating landscapes

violating even the meekest assumptions of normality

nine lives; two tails

seven degrees of freedom

variance unknown

cryptic hunters from another continent

devouring a half-dozen between dusk and dawn

leaving just soft padded prints in the sand

and sometimes you’re the

numerator

sometimes the denominator

restricted by dingoes, foxes, (and moonlight?)

while I, armed with GPower and infrared

decoded the alpha

but still

struggle to sense you, squish you into a statistical equation

your chance encounters

threaten a lot of nothing

and I am a naïve marsupial

but will you show me your effect size?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         


Venice flooded

a workshop exercise…

F4D6B4EF-A673-460F-A3C8-5A193DD94F09

venice drowning

ancient pillars ankle deep

only stilted clowns stay dry

—————————–

red stockings, tartan shorts

clown’s hat and painted shoes

do not save you from drowning

—————————–

we are flooded

ancient jokes high and dry

above city streets