After the Burning / Comes the Rain (Two Drabbles)

The sweet essence of milled sugarcane washes over me. I’ve wound the car window down as I drive beside the river, inhaling the echo of sugar that earlier waved from a patchwork paddock.
Exercising sun salutations in Winter’s stillness triggers the emergence of torchbearers.
Circling the crop molten flames drop.
Centrifugally forced, bush rats and the diamond skinned  pythons who feed on them sizzle together in death’s burning trash.
Crematorium smoke columns upward against the winters clear sunset. Green burns orange, black ash tapers.
The valley’s bedspread lies wrinkled. Cooling breezes stir… Soon night will shadow dance in the caldera.


Wollumbin the ‘cloud catcher’ provides no view today.
The boy-child, born within sight of this geological fixture, takes possession with a long-armed swing, the incline on legs of a teenage man.
The girl-child waits patiently for her mother.
It’s been more than twenty years since younger legs raised her from palm filtered gullies, into the open forest and through the ancient beeches where moist moss curtains shiver.
A white backdrop with needle-leafed grass trees in silhouette. Rocks slippery with falling water, The muddy sponge of composted leaf matter compressed by passing feet.
After Wollumbin’s cool embrace, we dry fireside.

Alexandra J Cornwell


After completing the 9km return Mount Warning summit walk with my teenage children on 26 September 2015.
*Wollumbin was named Mount Warning for the presence of offshore reefs by Captain James Cook as he sailed northwards up Australia’s eastern coastline. It is the volcanic core of an ancient shield volcano that has eroded over millennia to form today’s mountain-edged caldera. Sugarcane grows on the rich alluvial floor where it is often inundated by flooding from the  Tweed River.


No Name… and Particularly Unnamed


Road to nowhere
Where are you on the map?
Some side street,
Nothing important
The ignominy is to be, but not be named
The lesser evil is to make it official

Even when labelled and thus captured
(And this is no conspiracy!)
My computer recognises your status
Strange alliance

May it be witness protection
Or some other greater good
Where the ones with a conspiracy bent
May gravitate to relocate….
Nowhere in particular

Alexandra J Cornwell

12 September 2015


Stepping in red soil countryGlazed Waterfall
past Minyon’s weathered drop
clay-smoothed hands cup a bird’s bath portal
iron furrows over silent rail bridge timbers
blinks into promised sky where tumbling rush of pebbles
recycle the ground and veins pummel
a sound like no other, tumbling gems
whose scales flash within

A shovel-scraped hill gathered grindings
from creek’s serpentine edge
skeletal framed fences sagging with rust and time
slow snake of earth’s leavings
ochres ores and dragon’s muddy scales, leaf littering the skies

NudeAloft in hillside’s clearing
a man tethered by creative urges
communal and solitary drifts between working
wheel and elastic flesh
pounding above the valley’s meandering
resting a moment in the afternoon’s enquiring sun
on a sofa watched by a reclining nude between drying racks
glazed nipples and legs apart, her forever wink

Slipped in the molten shadows
a cleft where the moisture of Gaia’s mouth
patters from the corrugated sky
feeds the umbilical scar and scatters
amongst her discarded clothes, the drying prints of his handDrying

Wire and wood embed where coarse nails
gently combed her knotted tresses
cedar and teak made way for pawpaw
frangipani reaches knotted arms
supplicants to the seasons overhead
he toils stacking the goddess offerings
chargers for the master’s trestle table
blank platters serving coils, salvers

Twisted kettles sake cups and gourds
each waiting deliverance, to be touched
by the devil’s driving breath
a seasoned hell of his own making
each firing an experimental in exercising controlMelted Teapot

On the red-scarred terrace
transformed seasons beyond winter’s crackled dryness
summer’s airless heat makes anew
tempered earth glistening with molten glass
hues unreadily returnable once scavenged
from the grounded one’s plumage
borrowed and mixed
in the pharmacopeia of his mind

Anchored in patches between the relentless rainforest
the potter-gatherer hews shapes of wood and iron
nets of marine steel silvery shoals of spot welds planted in the hillside
miles from high tide anticipating the winged catch of flying fish
above the river reeds’ spear-bed

In gathering mode she walks carved terraces to the eyrie
past night’s erect lanterns
casting the unfamiliar shadows of sundials
on entering his sanctumNude Busts
fingers the arc of lighthouse’s wooden beams
encircles the landscape of caldera’s hills
she follows all the women who’ve gone before her
stumbling at the threshold

Arriving too late for Alice’s silent tea ceremony
cobweb empty platters after guests depart
where clay landscapes
repose in fractured reflection
against the corrugated iron wash house walls

Without him here her transaction must wait
for today he’s gone fishing in the skyBirdbath
for lightening’s elemental glaze
harvesting late winter’s morning flower
she places red petals on the birdbath
leaves a pencilled message in a journal of dusty ideas
then departs via the hillside path
into the dappled day, she’ll write again

Alexandra J Cornwell
16 August 2015 (edited for publication 12 September 2015)

After visiting various ceramics studios on the ‘North Coast Mud Trail’ as part of the Australian Ceramics Open Studios weekend on 15 & 16 August 2015. The photographs are from the grounds of Suvira McDonald’s studio at Goonengerry in the Byron Bay hinterland not far from Minyon Falls.


Alexandra J Cornwell – on location!

The Place Where The Dreamcatcher Hangs

DSC_7312 (2)

At the back gate where the frangipani struggles
against the predations of passing samplers
who want a piece for their garden
without asking, or caring that the cumulative
effect is the snipered dwarfism of gnarly limbs

where I dismount from bicycle to lift the latch
there is a sound, of tinkling glass
taken out of context in the windy day
mirrored fragments in a jellyfish’s trailing tentacles
against the blue of winter sky
where the last season’s leaves have dropped
and next summer’s have not yet sprouted

some devotee to the higher power of dream
has suspended the catcher of my attentions
a devotion to the recycled
my second-hand dreams for the flower
that is yet to unfurl its peachy pinks
like a myriad of sunsets or summer cocktails
resplendent with grenadine against horizon’s bow

then one can see – it has already worked!
my dreams fluttered there
caught in the moment of suggestion…
I lift the latch and wheel the bicycle in across the lawn
tinkling sounds of dreams snared thus behind me


I wrote this one last month and unfortunately the universe that inspired someone to decorate our backyard tree with a beautiful dream catcher has compelled someone else to move it on.

Even if it was something that my mother would not have put there, and knowing that she has previously offered it to my sister to take home with her,  she swears she didn’t touch it!

Oh well. It was nice while it was there and it did give me some inspiration every time I left the yard or garage. <AJC>


Update: My sister says that for the record she has never been told to take it home with her. The plot thickens! <AJC>

River On Fire (Haiku)

Brown river echoes

the war birds’ distant thunder,

shadows on water.


On Saturday afternoon my daughter and I traveled to Brisbane to see Riverfire – the major concluding event of the city’s annual festival. On the way to an early evening fireworks display I reflected on how the WWI Centenary celebrations have flavoured many public events this year.  For example, just two weeks earlier we’d seen am over-sized  khaki-and-slouch-hat decorated koala on Currumbin Beach as part of the SWELL Sculpture Festival.

DSC_7444 DSC_7722On the way to secure a riverfront position, we passed a display of modern tanks and armoured personnel carriers in the piazza, then a recreated World War I encampment complete with a command post tent and live nurses with their red woollen capes and impossibly white hats and aprons  (we’ve been watching the recently aired miniseries Anzac Girls on ABC1 and I suspect the mud of the Western Front was not so good for the laundry).  Nearby I lost my daughter to a close examination of how tight the girth-strap was on a fully kitted-up (static) Lighthorse standing patiently beneath a knotted cord fly veil, listening to his handler under the hat with the emu feather plumage.


There were also museum displays of artifacts, ration books and other memorabilia. The label on the 9-foot long Vickers Machine Gun ammunition belt explained the term: “to give them the whole 9 yards”. Ahh!
The evening drawcard was a half-hour long fireworks display from a number of barges set along the river between bridges that span the reaches of a mangrove-lined estuary.


As ever, the Brisbane River was brown under uncertain skies. We used to joke that the river traveled upside down. The grounds of arable soil from the salad bowl of the Lockyer Valley caffeinate the lethargic beast. Low pressure weather systems saturate the watershed and rouse the beast from the lazily curving course to the sea. I also suspect that the alluvial load that feeds the ecosystem of Moreton Bay makes the local mud crabs that much tastier.

There is a certain humidity that is the Spring evening’s foretaste of subtropical summer nights just around the corner.  I licked my lips and remembered the saltiness that came from the exertions of early mornings and late afternoons training with four other university students for the inter-college rowing. Starting in a wide-bodied ‘tub’ we were more than a little worried when we converted to the streamlined and egg-shell thin racing hull. We were blessed with an enthusiastic cox (now a senior environmental planning lawyer) who memorably encouraged us with the following:
“Girls, when the boat is perfectly set up and you are all rowing in time, it will be better than sex!
To which we responded: “Ian! What would you know about sex?!”
From the position of stroke I recalled the non-enviable achievement of ‘catching a crab’ when my oar became stuck below the surface of the water during one of our inter-college races. Rowing also developed hardened callouses on one’s hands, so it became memorable for all the wrong reasons!DSC_7821

My mind came back to the present scene – a vantage point along the river bank opposite the city centre towers and the intertwining liana vines of the riverside expressway.  Overlooking a sunset against storm clouds threatening from the south, my daughter and I stood amidst strangers who turned out to simply be friends we hadn’t yet met. Over two hours we chatted… A softly-spoken woman with a girl a year older than my own from Jakarta, a relatively new resident to our country. Another mother nursing a grizzling three or four year old blonde-haired girl, for whom the two hour wait until the seven o’clock launch was much too long. A man from Dunedin in the South Island of New Zealand with a massive zoom lens on his camera with whom I swapped places to take a better variety of shots. The aroma of hot popcorn jostling sensory input with the noise of a radio jock compering from somewhere along the riverfront blaring from nearby speakers between the assault of audio commercials. Keeping my security-searched backpack within viewing distance, my daughter walked alone through the crowds to buy an ice cream. I thought back to Expo ’88 when strangers who found themselves in long queues to look inside the various country pavilions got to talking and sharing a little of their own world with other random visitors.

Standing on either side, a community of people is built from sharing a time and space.


Instead of the F1-11 jets of my youth, Super Hornets unzipped the pink-tinged sky before the blast of moving sound swept over us.  Later helicopters buzzed in a choreographed dance above the downdraft whipped water. The Police Pipe Band played on gallantly aboard the grey hulled launch as kilts lifted against the helicopter’s deflected windprint, sporrans (thankfully!) anchoring their modesty.

DSC_7957 DSC_7950

My child, innocent of war but of an age to be developing a social conscience, clutched my arm and leaned close to tell me something over the soundtrack of modern music. I thought of mother’s in other places for whom the camouflaged bird in the sky is far more sinister than disoriented fruit bats that winged their way in confusion across a wet-bottomed corridor suddenly transformed from benign back street to multi-laned highway.  The flock of white birds seeking a quiet roost for the night were just as disturbed and the candy-lights of police cars on the approaches to the bridge halted traffic ahead of the impending fireworks.

Soon enough there was the sensory assault of unzipped jet engines, pyrotechnics, gunpowder smoke drifting in a thickening cloud and the strains of the perennial synchronized favorites in Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody,U2 and Pink Floyd.

DSC_8026 DSC_8069    DSC_8055

Ahh I am a child of the Brisbane of the 1980s, for I went to boarding school for five years not more than 800 metres as the crow flies from where I stood. Many an evening had been spent looking out the dormitory windows over the lights of a country town that was busy morphing into a metropolitan city with a new suburban skirt of brick and tile emerging between the vernacular high-set timber cottages.  Evenings with my eyes drawn to the spire of ringed lights atop the MLC Building indicating temperature changes now compete with the fuchsia pink up-lights that stain the solid sandstone facade of the Treasury Building that was somehow transformed into a casino along the way.


Brisbane, we have both grown older in the years that I’ve been away. Still I bring my child to wander on your sandstone edged banks. These days there is a large wheel that turns clock-like ticking off the hours, marking the ebb and flow of tides.


Beneath the clearing smoke as the crowd moves off to their night’s roosts to the sounds of The Choirboys’ “Run To Paradise” and revel in dreams of a peaceful world reflected in the city lights that still dance on your brown waters.<AJC>


Time For Tea

in donated items
a tiered cake plate
one of
three Wedgewood ghosts
cleared out for a handful of dollars
ownership of time simply transformed
from aloft
a small tierd petit fours plate hangs
empty of delights but full of movement
softly ticking off the hours until it is time for tea

DSC_6157 (2)

Sea Rogue’s Song

In quiet tides time snagged
roped to ocean’s floor
instead of raising the sea’s bounty
trawling white flesh bounty
sweet fleshed fish and prawns
you were taken before
grey skies and blue rays
distilling propellers’ hum
schooling empty windows
ghosting hollow nets
with ascending breath
underwater angels visit
shadows fifty metres below
the aquarium’s hulled home

Silhouette In Salt Air


Afternoon sinks behind notes of a single warbling magpie
memory collected in shadows along road’s ribbon
recall the times we waited for this spot to reveal
a vista of sea and rock and lighthouse
before descending from macadamia quilted hills to the coast

I have come home to country the long way ’round
the view behind the fence a snapshot from the edge
where once we watched hang-gliders launch
a heart’s echo touching Icarus
while we remained grounded behind wire and gate and post

the song collected notes marking day’s end
the voice a memory of a friend


Though I have traveled this stretch of highway several hundred times, only twice have I seen the rare and elusive coastal emu. More squat than his inland cousins with brown feathers, he sailed regally through the green sea of knee-high sugar cane.
I recall this windshield scene and the retired cane farmer says that although he has never seen them, they make a mess of the cane. Though his cheerfulness sparkles from sun-crinkled eyes, he speaks for a generation that battled. Like the rare emu he has arrived at his age, having raised a family amongst the flood-prone cane fields.



4-July-2014 11:25 AM
After visiting my late father’s friend Doug McSwan at Woodford Island, Maclean NSW on 3-July-2014.

It is special to see such an endangered species still in the wild. There was a newspaper report about 3 or 4 years ago of a sugar cane harvester rescuing a clutch of baby coastal emus in this area. Like other emus the female lays the eggs and then the male incubates and raises them. This drabble (100-word story) was inspired by calling in to see a good friend of my late father’s at Harwood Island (just south of Maclean NSW) and our discussion about the coastal emu.

I did not manage to photograph them but I did find Lynette’s blog that has some lovely photographs of the same rare coastal emus in the sugar cane paddocks in this area on


Would one carry luggage
When the porters smile
Disarmingly white-toothed
Because you are their next meal
The roof over wide-eyed children
A calling-in place for global roamers
The café where you drink milk frothed
That has not curdled in distended stomachs
Would one knowingly choose
The life of one over another as though
It were as simple as choosing a meal from a printed menu
When the world’s children never learn to read
And their parents are too tired from illiterate working
To read stories from writers who visit from far-off lands
So distant they would torture children
For merely surviving the boat trip
I choose to open the blue-ringed cages of Manus
and Naru and Christmas Island
where terrible atrocities on human minds
are being perpetrated in some vainglorious attempt
to punish the distant ‘Mr Bigs’
in the human cargo transport industry


A small piece of protest against the Australian Government’s Offshore Detention Policy for refugee asylum seekers who attempt to arrive by boat, particularly in response to the plight of children. Written 20-August-2014 1:16 AM. <AJC>