Krakatoa

David Rowbotham

“Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.”
Joshua

So the light stayed
And all the enemy-Amorite kings,
In the glare of Gibeon and Ajalon,
Were caught fleeing and caved and killed
And hung upon five trees.
But the biblical miracle of the bloody
Wanes where the Java cloud was born
That orbited the earth and cruelled the sun
In every kind of country
And the moon in every valley,
And caught, caved, killed and hung
Multitudes among another story.

The sea wailed like a banshee.
The seabed creaked, and silently
The fish died floating and the birds
As thick as locusts blanketed the sky
Screeching across the straits;
And the fireworks of the waters further puzzled
The witnesses aboard the boats
Who’d seen and heard nothing before like this.
The fog steamed and the funnelling fuse
Fathoms beneath those sails, sizzled,
Till the powder keg ignited. Krakatoa
Plunged and rose into the world.

And there were the tidal waves
And days of such utter darkness
That those who survived burnt lamps day and night
Inside their marooned islands
Around the debris of a mountain
Which perishing spawned its own return
On the surface of its collapse

With patient years of ash and cinder.
And now that the “Child of Krakatoa”
Blows and flings its freshly lighted rocks
Of pitchblend towards other wicks,
The banshee wails still and the seabed creaks

And the birds and fish are never certain
And the boats in the straits
Put out sails precariously safe
To a world manned by the memory of portent;
Revolving as Krakatoa revolves.
There’s no story of creation as ferocious,
And no place more primitively honoured
By all of its children than this close
Corner of the cauldron earth
Whose chemicals in miraculous report
Are men’s as creatures bubbling up and under
In the dark waters of their continuous selves.

Poem from Maydays
Published by Queensland University Press
St Lucia, Queensland, 1980.
ISBN 0 7022 1517 1
ISBN 0 7022 1518 x Paperback