Evidence to the Bushfire Commission of Enquiry #8: all in the ark for awhile (link)

I posted this poem previously in response to a daily prompt (unpredictable).

Click the link for #8: all in the ark for awhile.


This poem is penultimate in the series. Yes, truly, only one more. Thanks for bearing with me and this difficult set.



Fashion Cleanser

every Monday it’s wet surfaces
on knees with washing cloth
and liquid cleanser

bathrooms and kitchen
wipe down chairs and vacuum
some days the refrigerator

we don’t often say much beyond

how are you

but once she said

this is no be forever Frenk
is for my children
is not what I do for all my life

I was maker of feshion clothes
feshion in Warsaw before ten year ago
I come here to live

in show my girls wear gold tiara and dress
you know
long dress with here cut so and so
walk little bit like this …..

in my heart still is designer
but here must work something for money

is not feshion but is work

I would one day like be artist again
artist yes

where you want me put you poem pages

© Frank Prem, 2003

meeting Nola

oh god

she said

oh Christ

the three steps
looked set to defeat her

bony fragility
her walking-aid an impediment
to balance
she leaned against the rail
and grasped
with both hands
and a shaking tremble

oh lord

he noticed the desperation
the death-grip on the railing
the bunching of stocking around each ankle

can I lend a hand

a slow pivot
to release one hand
and launch with a lunging clutch
onto his arm

the music starts
at one o’clock
oh Christ

a slow peregrination
up three steps
then along the uneven path
trembled grasp translated
into the vice-like clench
of the frail afraid

in the auditorium doorway
a long look of assessment
at avenues threaded through seating
and the location of friends
before glancing up

my name
is Nola

who are you

© Frank Prem, 2015

evidence to the commission of enquiry #7 next time

Back to: Surviving the Devil: A Song of Fire
Poem #35 from the ‘Surviving the Devil’ collection (unpublished)

we prepared meticulously for months
ahead of the hot season
cleared away any fuel and cut the grass

made sure there were no trees
too close to the house

we were ready

when the fire-rating came across
on the warning system
I knew it was going to be bad
but figured the rating had to be wrong
because back in the Ash Wednesday fires
which was a shocking set of fires
the rating only hit in the sixties
and on this day
it was hitting a hundred and sixty-five

we were ready
but my wife was so worried about it
that she rang everyone around us
all the young families
to tell them they should go

I think a few lives were saved because of that

we first saw a bit of smoke off in the distance
and then black embers started to drop

my wife went to put out a spot fire
but the soles on her shoes melted
when she jumped on the flames

we retreated to the house
but around then the power failed

I shot out to the shed
to start the pump
but the petrol was all gone


the wind changed and I got burned

we ran from the house
and it went up right behind us

we thought we were pretty right
to fight the fire that day
but every time I look down
at the bandages on my arms
and the distorted face I see in the mirror
I tell myself
we need to do it better
next time

© Frank Prem, 2010

To Poem #36: evidence to the commission of enquiry
#8 all in the ark for awhile

my place in nothing

and how could I not worship
when I turn my face
towards the sky

there are stars there
designed to over-fill my head
with an idea of what small is
and my place
within the scheme

and I know I am nothing

but who else is there
to gaze
wide open to the colours within black
and to the pinpoint indicators
of a place where mightiness once shone
to see the scheme

and I know I am everything

all of it is for me
and it is nothing

© Frank Prem,2011

evidence to the commission of enquiry #6 communication difficulties

Back to: Surviving the Devil: A Song of Fire
Poem #34 from the ‘Surviving the Devil’ collection (unpublished)

our fire station doesn’t have the internet on
the captain had to race back home
to get his laptop

it runs wireless
so we could keep checking out the web-site that way
for updates
and for the warnings

out in the fire
we had a moment when the mobile phone worked
and we tried to call in an ambulance
but nobody came
so we picked up this body
that was mostly cooked flesh and blisters and pain
put him on one of our ladders

and I drove the truck
as slow as I could
but with trees falling down around us
in a dance of sparks and mustard-yellow smoke
I could hardly see through
it was a rough enough ride
I guess

the ambulance finally arrived
after we got back to the station
but they were too late
or I’d taken too long
or he never had much chance anyway
with so much of his body burned

but there are times
even in a hopeless case like that
and times you wake
in the middle of the night
with the smell in your nose from remembering
when you wish
there was someone you could talk to

© Frank Prem, 2010

To Poem #35: evidence to the commission of enquiry
#7 next time

Whirley-gigging the coffee

I’ve always been a drinker of pretty scungy coffee. As a young man newly in the workforce, I first became accustomed to drinking powdery institution coffee that we jokingly called ‘the sweepings off the floor’. It was warm and it was wet and it was free, and I didn’t know much better at the time. To this day in my working life I will carry a polystyrene cup filled with ‘sweepings’ around with me without complaint.

My taste in coffee for consumption at home has always been marginally more sophisticated than that of the work situation. In the confines of my personal coffee palace, I graduated up the café chain to drinking a solution of granules, preferably of a dark colour. Classy, that!

And when out and about, café latte at the conclusion of lunch, perhaps a cappuccino or a flat white … de rigueur on all outings of a social nature.

But then, a bit over a decade so ago, things began to change. My new girlfriend at the time (now my wife, Leanne) had a touch of the fanatic about her pursuit of the finer things in life, and introduced me to the pleasures of the stove-top brew early in our relationship, and coffee began to assume a weighty depth that involved the senses – taste and aroma – to be sure, but over-ridingly took on the qualities of a deep ritual that held a spiritual undertone.

Beans by the kilo bag. Dark roasted for espresso. Eight teaspoons of beans into the grinder we rescued from my grandmother’s house after she died. The heaven-scented powder that resulted spooned into a stove-top coffee maker for steam to be forced through the powdered beans then reconstituted by a mesmeric bubbling hissing boiling process into the rich brown liquid that filled our kitchen with that unmistakable aroma.

Topped with boiled full-cream milk. Ah, joy!

This journey involved harnessing the mundane in support of the miraculous. Where, for example, could I find a replacement rubber seal for the hardened and now mangy one we’d had since time began, or a new sieve basket for a stove-top coffee machine? We replaced two machines before we found our answer on the internet.

For a fellow who started out happy to make do with powdered dregs, the journey towards coffee-snobbishness was a rapid one. In no time at all, supermarket-bought roast beans had attracted a dubious suspicion. How good were they? How long since they were roasted? Where did they come from? Were they really Arabica, or was the label fudging the truth? And, were they ethical?

Again, the internet acted as a great enabler. For a modest bid price, freshly roasted beans, from the chosen country of origin could be delivered to our door, with a modest ethical contribution added to each purchase price. Ahh, just taste the difference! How good were we?!

And how satisfying this ritual had become.

But, still, there was further to travel on this journey. We were interested in trying to become independent of processed food and excessive packaging as much as possible. We enjoy resurrecting and preserving old traditions and incorporating them into our daily lives, and there was another step back into the past involving coffee making that teased us both, on the periphery of being do-able … and that was the creation of coffee from a handful of green beans by roasting them ourselves, complete with a roasting diary and of course, the requisite blog and photos. Seriously tempting … but how?

My research turned up a marvellous little beginners guide to the world of coffee and home roasting titled Home Coffee Roasting – Romance and Revival by Kenneth Davids (St Martins Griffin, New York, 1996). It’s a wonderful introduction to the rich history and development of the coffee trade, regions, types and styles, and specifically instructs on the requirements and processes involved in roasting coffee at home.

Only halfway through the book and I was eagerly saddling up for this new journey. I wanted the romance that he described, where the old men and women in Italian villages sat out on their balconies twice a week to roast a couple of days worth of coffee at a time.  I wanted the civility of the coffee ceremony where respect was shown by the trouble taken to prepare the coffee with the guest in attendance, as witness. I wanted to become the master of a simple art that no-one in my circle of acquaintance had imagined, let alone performed.

Some of the equipment seemed a little preposterous. Whereas the pictures in the book were of various stove top and barrel style coffee bean roasters, what Davids recommended was a pop-corn maker with a crank handle. Something that I’d never encountered in Australia, let alone in common use. Nonetheless, a ‘Whirley’ stove-top pop-corn maker was soon ordered, all the way from America. (My whims know no geographic boundaries). Also, a candy thermometer, and a two kilogram starter batch of green beans from four distinct coffee regions of the world.

Total cost of this initial equipment (including the book that served as my bible) came to $A98.14. A bargain at the price, in my opinion.

Then, the first morning all the equipment was gathered in one place, the final stages of the adventure took place. As soon as the thermometer arrived, we drilled a hole in the top of the Whirley-gig for it to sit in and began the process. The basic steps we followed are as follows- the beans we used were 100gm of Ethiopian Gambella Sundried beans for the first batch:

  1. Stir (or more correctly, twirl) the beans steadily throughout (doesn’t have to be non-stop, but has to be constant to get an even roast).
  2. Watch for smoke to rise, listen for the beans to ‘crack’. This step took no more than two minutes to be reached.
  3. Start taking peeks at the beans every thirty seconds to a minute to check their colour. What we were aiming for initially was a colour that matched or was a little lighter than the beans we had previously bought from the supermarket  for our morning brew.
  4. Take the beans off the heat when the colour is a tiny bit lighter than what you want to achieve. This is because the beans will keep roasting for awhile from accumulated heat.
  5. Rapidly cool the beans by passing from colander to colander to let air get at them. This is best done outside as there is a husk still attached to the green beans that separates during the roast and this will blow away with a gentle breeze.
  6. Ten minutes after beginning, the roast was ready to come off the stove.

What we found we were left with was a deeply rich brown bean that was significantly oily on the surface. The colour was slightly darker than we were aiming for, but just looked gorgeous, conjuring archetypal images of a sun-drenched Africa. The beans lost about twenty-five percent of their weight during the roast, due to the green beans being loaded up with moisture. Much of the smoke that is produced during the roast is this moisture evaporating from the bean. The roasted beans are also significantly larger than the green beans, due to swelling.

The experts suggest that beans are at their best for drinking between four and perhaps twenty-four hours after the roasting. They slowly but relentlessly lose aspects of their flavour from that point on as oxygen starts to have a deteriorating effect on the beans.

There was no way, however, that we were going to wait for hours or days before trying out what we’d created. We were up for a grind immediately. What we found was a coffee rich in aroma, though not as overpowering as I’d been half-expecting. The taste was more bitter on the tongue than we were accustomed to but a nice strong brew to drink. There is a lingering tingle of coffee aftertaste in my mouth as I write, some hours after the cup was consumed.

We sampled the roast after twenty-four hours of ageing to compare, then after another two days, we roasted a second batch, aiming for a lighter coloured bean. Three days after that, we tried a different region of the world. We had begun an exciting new journey into the romantic revival of home coffee bean roasting, and that journey hasn’t stopped to this day, when a double batch was roasted, before lunch, out on the back veranda.

© Frank Prem, 2016

At Koko Black – a coffee poem (with chocolate!)


learning to kook

a whir of sound
like the wet rub
of stone against stone

a cranking attempt
to turn the motor over
that fails to proceed
all the way
to ignition

an undercurrent
swelling to overpower
both stone
and motor

but drawn back
from the point of outburst

of no return

there are three of them
in the branches
of a river red gum

with the remnants
of infancy
fully formed
but immature

a treblet of kookaburras
on the cusp
of laughter

© Frank Prem, 2008


evidence to the commission of enquiry #5 left Flowerdale

Back to: Surviving the Devil: A Song of Fire
Poem #33 from the ‘Surviving the Devil’ collection (unpublished)

I was going to stay and fight
it’s always been my plan
that if a fire came I’d be ready

I put sprinklers in the roof
had a ten thousand litre water tank
with a pump primed and right to go

I thought about what I would do
and all-in-all I have to say
I was satisfied

but I changed my mind that afternoon
when I saw what the fire was doing
to the trees
you see I noticed they were twisting around
just about being un-screwed
right out of the ground

I drove away with my lights on full
and my hand stuck down on the horn
as a way of warning

I was petrified


in Flowerdale
we gathered around the pub
and kept an eye on the school

there were spot fires here
and small blazes there
right though the afternoon

at some point they brought in an old man
who’d been burned

they carried him in on a plastic chair
and we laid him down on the floor
used wet towels
to try to take the heat away

while some did that
the rest fought on
and somehow we battled right through
that dark red night


in the morning it was a chainsaw job
to get back up the road
to my home

it was burned down of course
there was bugger-all survived the blaze

walking down the road in front of my block
I saw two bodies beside a burnt-out car
I’ve since found out they were a mother
and her son

another car had crashed into a tree
with another soul lost
and in that moment
it looked to me as if
God had just abandoned Flowerdale
to die

© Frank Prem, 2010

To Poem #34: evidence to the commission of enquiry
#6 communication difficulties