Featuring music by Alison Isadora and poetry by Lola Elvy, Robyn Maree Pickens and Victor Billot.
Birds used to fly here
Birds used to fly here. I watch the trees outside, imagine wingbeats shaking the leaves of ancient cedars, kauri. The breath of the world. The breadth of it. Birds did not know latitude then. Their voices travelled centuries, uninhibited. Our oceans, deserts, forests had no mass or measurement. The kōkako could carry enough water in its throat to drown the sun. I cannot picture such a deluge. Now light pours in through the window, and the air’s hidden dust glows evanescent. Little rivers of gold drifting down to earth. I go to grasp the currents and they slip between my fingers, no more substance than sound. So much I cannot carry.
For a while of grey the forest barely clicated or belled. It had only one foot in skin, in plumage. No one, the podocarps, the leaf litter, could collect a sing, a song pierced from beak to leaf stomata. The silence stood us there, remnants to the damage, the plush carnage. We counted the want in our eye pits, our necks sliding, ears riven to hear glossed wings for a throat to erupt from branches, a bell of skyward wood notes flung, timbrating along a blue wattle. With this throat, the leaves of the trees breathed, podocarp to kokako.
Robyn Maree Pickens
Deep time swallows all.
Alien coast clutched in vines.
Fleshy fronds floating on night.
Life seething under metallic light.
Salted crusted blackened shore.
Swells imploding, mumbling roar.
There will come soft rains.
Upon the coast, upon the shore.
Deep time waits and swallows all.
(The line ‘There will come soft rains’ is from the poem of the same name by Sarah Teasdale)
Written for the 2023 National Flash Fiction Day celebration in Ōtepoti Dunedin; the poets composed work in response to Alison Isadora’s ‘Ancient Voices’. The excerpted original work by the composer can be found here.
Victor Billot is a Dunedin writer. His poetry collection The Sets was published in 2021 by Otago University Press. He has previously been involved in music collaborations with jazz artist Bill Martin, and has played with Dunedin music groups including Das Phaedrus and Alpha Plan.
Lola Elvy writes music, poetry and other forms of creative fiction and nonfiction, and is the founding editor of the online journal fingers comma toes, which hosts the youth competition for National Flash Fiction Day. Currently pursuing a degree in music and mathematics, Lola is passionate about language and the environment. She has taught workshops for literary festivals in Aotearoa New Zealand and tutors online youth courses in poetry, creative writing and essay writing. Her work has been featured in online and print anthologies, including Fast Fibres, Olentangy Review, The Larger Geometry: poems for peace (2018) and He Moana o Reo | Ocean of Languages (forthcoming 2024).
Robyn Maree Pickens is an art writer, poet, curator, and text-based practitioner. Among many awards, s/he was a finalist of the 2018 Sarah Broom Poetry Prize, winner of the takahē Monica Taylor Poetry Prize 2018 and finalist of the inaugural Leeds Brotherton Poetry Prize 2019; also, internationally, shortlisted for the Fish Poetry Prize (Ireland) 2020, and placed second in the Vallum Poetry Award (Canada) 2021. Most recently s/he was a finalist of the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award and winner of the IWW Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems. Her first book of poetry is tung (forthcoming 2023, Otago University Press).