Anne Casey

This is not a drill

Mom and daughter Robinson take off
their gas-masks as they enter the shop.
The air looks murky outside, everything
suspended in blue haze. Experts say Earth
has been hit by a meteorite (or so we think
so far). The impact was like an atomic bomb.
Vast areas engulfed in flames. Many people
have died. Or lost their homes. The military
have been deployed. Some say it is
the Apocalypse. There is no immediate
solution in sight. The nightmare continues.
This is a flashback scene. The Robinsons
are Lost in Space now. This is fiction.

The fire alarm goes off as I enter the shop.
Outside in the open-air mall a siren sounds
over and over. Over a loudspeaker a tinny
voice advises us that the fire alarm
has been activated. We are instructed
to stand by for further instructions.
After ten ear-splitting minutes,
no further instructions are issued. No-one
has stood by, much less slowed, in their hot
pursuit of bargains in the January sales.
The air quality app on my phone bleeps
a warning. It is hazardous to be outside,
breathing the suspended blue haze
that has swallowed most of Sydney.
We are not wearing gas-masks. My lungs are
burning. Experts say the wild bushfires
ravaging this country are like the impact
of an atomic bomb. Over a million hectares
engulfed in flames. Many people have died.
Or lost their homes. The military have been
deployed. My son says it is the Apocalypse.
Earth is trying to stop us Mum
before all the animals are gone.
There is no immediate solution in sight.
This is not a flashback scene. This is not fiction.

This is today and every other day
in Sydney since early November last year.
Watching and praying for friends
to our north, south and west fighting
to save their homes. Ordinary heroes
everywhere risking their lives. To our east,
the ocean carries smoke four hours’ flight
to New Zealand. Navy ships dock
at blaze-besieged beaches to rescue
stranded families from their Christmas
escapes. We are Lost in the Space now
between when this nightmare started
and its unforeseeable end.

5 January 2020, Sydney
(First published in The Irish Times on 11 January 2020.)

burnt offerings

swilling cinders
of eucalypt forests burning up
and down the coast
tinged with hints of fear
singed possum hairs lifting into
clear blue air
an earthquake in Italy shakes me awake
a mother crying somewhere
volcanic embers cycling into
smoke of broken promises
women’s choices smouldering
charred remains of exiles’ lives
democracy doused with lies
and set on fire
headless horsemen prancing in the coals
blackened souls stirring
soot from scorched relics
ashes to ashes

and my mother in a box too small
to hold her all
laid in a field with all the others
when she could have flown
with the four winds
so i could taste again
the sharp tang of her loss
married to the rest

lately everything tastes of ash

(First published in apt in July 2017)

Anne Casey is an award-winning Sydney-based Irish poet/writer and author of two collections published by Salmon Poetry – ‘out of emptied cups’ (2019) and ‘where the lost things go’ (2017). A journalist, magazine editor, legal author and media communications director for 30 years, her work is widely published internationally and ranks in leading national daily newspaper, The Irish Times’ Most Read. Anne has won/shortlisted for poetry prizes in Ireland, Northern Ireland, the UK, the USA, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia, and serves on numerous literary advisory boards.