Peter Minter: 'Everything is Speaking,' a new poem with author's note & biography

I go to sleep near the infants

breathing bodies, a small herd of nature

in layers of animation, the unknown

unfolding identical powers

delivered through a gateway of hearts

at body temperature. In a nest

of sleeping birds, you’re the bird

you’re the baby, I can hear you dreaming

fall forward into glistening swollen eyes

musty orange leaves, soft wet

twigs, the wings and shells of insects

fragments of bone in capillaries of moss

humus tangled into nets emerging

from the curve in the waterway

of night, wet roots and branches

pebbles in the pit of the tree’s black torso

more moss in leaf litter

emerging from bark, a currawong’s

yellow eye a single grain of gold

stars in the dark forest

a whisper escaloping space

with the radiance of the world

like a meteor blazing over the crest

silhouette trees eating fire as it falls

from the sky, consuming darkness

in a well of the absolute cold

I can smell in a long, drawn-in breath

smelling earth rock, a planet

of mammalian fur

                          a wind stirs

comes up full of energy

like a cold fire started in the centre of the planet

I see a star blank in and out

as a branch swings to-and-fro

and then gone again, the cosmos

blinded by low cloud, black squall & spume

thrown up into moonlight, rain

chaos spent, all the stars

blown into the bush

I see them flicker in the black leaves

and wet grasses. I get up

and watch rain thrash

under full moon light

a flower growing stronger in my memory

the closer death comes

to the window

                       as a young

man I stood in a colour field

the sky liberated

an avalanche of sweet pollen

in the wind, light pink apple

& plum flowers, chords

of sweat hanging in the air

gold spider webs and hot leaves

shimmering in the breeze

white clover and dandelion heads

riding a deep green pool

an aurora of tributaries in the blood

all over branch tips

to grow a rich mantle of breathing

walking, speaking, hearing

in a tunnel of wind

falling from the sun

                             even in sleep

beneath a dome of small white

moonlit clouds

the history of the human

dilates in a dream of darkness

a swan presented on a lake

of blue paper, figures of speech

curled up asleep on the hillside

under murmurous starlings

coveys of quails, the eggs of doves

pockets of eggs nesting

in the roots of tall yellow grasses

thick undergrowth & vapour

a woollen cortex

living in roots by the well

shining nerves in webs

strung out through the morning


       emerging from the shadow

of sleep, the children stir

as a black cockatoo glides creaking overhead

the bright yellow sun on the cheek

the sun, the sun in the tail

high over trees beating silently

feathers escaloping wind

then I hear another, then another 

more black cockatoos

I stand by the window, count fourteen

emerging from the night’s limpid air

the sun on their cheeks

in their tails, their creaking cry

sending stories out into the world

listening for a sign

that they have been heard

by the world, and so the kids

begin to squawk like the black cockatoos

their voices’ buoyancy

tender weights to swim

through the hardwoods, the ear

storing weight, the iris

storing colour, skin like a mirror

underwater, under air, a line of bubbles

along the spine in a line of teeth

the tongue planting letters

of blood every vertebrae

in a forest of sweet reversal

as leaves rise up in the larynx

to choke epistemology

like a solstice, just like words and sounds

are very condensed stories

every word here is a cosmos, the kids

running round like black cockatoos

in their pajamas


that day I turned the corner

of the house, light coiled suddenly

in gold steps drawn from the sun

through alder and hackberry branches

tree ferns and grass, stripes of lava

spread over the grass

and in the corner of the garden, at an edge

of the shade, a swirling cloud

of butterflies, fourteen black butterflies

just like the morning’s heralds

burst around the lawn

doodling black and orange and white

lines in the light against dark glossy

ferns in shadow. I stood and watched

their frail, articulate wings

daylight tensing up and down

with every emphasis. Each act of will

is responsible to life

and movement, the patterning

of air, light, sound, time

filaments of the cosmos made sentient

in a swirling body of butterflies

a tattoo of black wing ink

blooming through the air in the movement

of many wings, their filigree of depth

and duration said over and over

leaping from the skin

of all my ancestors

and everything they have said to me

                                                     as I

listened to the speaking form

of turning wings

I heard their voices too.

One big butterfly flew right out

took a couple of languid turns

around my head & blew away

as quick as the shadow of a black cockatoo

flying high into early evening,

calling we are still here

we are still here, we are still here.


[author’s note. “Everything is Speaking” was composed in mid-2016 as a companion piece, or perhaps more as a conversation, with Warren Cariou’s essay “Life-Telling: Indigenous Oral Autobiography and the Performance of Relation.” Together with Nēpia Mahuika’s “Telling ‘Us’ in the ‘Days Destined to You,’” our conversation was published in the summer 2016 issue of Biography, “Indigenous Conversations about Biography,” guest edited by Alice Te Punga Somerville, Daniel Heath Justice, and Noelani Arista. Director of the Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture at the University of Manitoba, where he also holds a Canada Research Chair, Warren is active as a critic of Indigenous literatures and oral traditions, and has also produced works of film, photography, memoir, fiction, and poetry that focus on Indigenous experiences in Canada. Like me, Warren shares Aboriginal Métis and European heritage. His essay focuses on the work of Lakota/Kiowa Apache storyteller Dovie Thomason, maintaining that Indigenous forms of life-telling are central, vital, and living modes of contemporary Indigenous expression. Written in Gundangara and Dharug country, “Everything is Speaking” reaches across the Pacific to Turtle Island, contributing to an Indigenous ontopoiesis in which filial, environmental, and spiritual being are present, vocal, and alive.]


Peter Minter is an Australian poet, poetry editor, and writer on poetry and poetics. His books include the award-winning Empty Texas and blue grass, and his poetry has been widely published and translated internationally, most recently in his book In the Serious Light of Nothing (Chinese University Press Hong Kong, 2013). He was a founding editor of Cordite poetry magazine, coedited the pioneering anthologies Calyx: 30 Contemporary Australian Poets and the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature, and has been the poetry editor for leading Australian journals Meanjin and Overland. He shares Aboriginal, Scottish, and English ancestry, and teaches Indigenous Studies, Australian Literature, and Creative Writing at the University of Sydney.