From a forthcoming book around the symbolism of fire

© 2010 Phillip McNamara. All rights reserved.


I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what will I, if it is already kindled?

Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth?” Luke 12. 49-51.

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, - My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Mat. 27. 46.


Pain engraves this unknowing:

All events and forms congealed like iron,

Endarkened by smoke and a fireball vapour

Of surging wind.

Quite far away like a wheel of incurious leisure.

I saw it with my own eyes.

The trees appeared restless,

And I won’t deny I heard a sound,

But anywhere or anytime was not

Something kindled by my preparations.

Am I honoured or dishonoured

By saying I don’t grasp why?

A year from now things may turn

But for now intonations of pain divides

The tide of blackness which runs up

The sides and long arms of the hills.

And not even the prophets know why.

So I clank about while empty

Twisted tanks rust like lost convoys

Under skeletal branches.

Though none were deciduous

Or delicate before the heat

They have tinkled and crunched

Like crisp distractions. But

Not even the children want to

Dance or kick barefoot here,

Rather with concentrated fingers

They search for melted cathedral domes

Of what they had never known was gold.

Find riches more precious than money.


Pain rubs and divides compassion:

The blackened limbs of my fight

Are no longer ablaze with rage

Yet like rotting vegetation

It channels somewhere.

Shadowy hours of afternoon still stretch

Forever but so differently broken where

Memories rekindle an ember to remember

How dead ash sifts.

Like dry fish it washes the iron work

Of leaves still clogging the skirt of stream

Refashioned in its collapsed wandering

Along the bottom of our block.

Lifted by wind it seeds my eyes

And I wonder whether each tissue

Of nature is regenerative or piling

To re-combust. I don’t know why

But it blots out the sun and reminds me

That a terrible beauty is born by fire;

One that like Easter is suffering stripped

Of the mask and another which chokes

And murmurs needless intensity.

Yet this morning I glimpsed not scar

But colour. What withered food could

Forget scorched despair and surrendering

To new air rise? I do not know its genus

But it was there. Destruction and perdition

Have pierced this soil into innumerable forms

And yet enduring through out, like a hole

Of a wheel, there turned a flower.

Forget the doubters I saw it with my own eyes.

About the author: Phillip McNamara is an artist and writer based in Western Australia. His art is represented in the Art Gallery of Western Australia and Edith Cowan University collection, as well as in private collections both in Australia and internationally. He practices Zen with the Zen Group of Western Australia (associated with the Diamond Sangha).

His publications include:

  • Cathy Blanchflower: Everyday Infinite, John Curtin Gallery, Curtin University, 2009;

  • Cliff Jones: Survey of prints and drawings 1968-1998, UNIPRINT, 2000. Time+Machine Tom Gibbons: Art Works+Words 1955-1998, OK Image Factory and Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, 1998.

  • George Duerden Retrospective, Art Gallery of Western Australia, 1993.

Haiku from his book To Bring all Circles Full (just ordinary life to treasure)