Breath

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4

I

Could it be a memory, or a lie
from childhood? I turn my eyes
from the centring glare of light
to the beige-coloured wall beside,
where slight holes have been dug
in the rendering, and pencil-lines
scribble my first logic.

But away from the wall, time prods
and worries; the endless moment
runs; the arm and sense that drew
easily these clues of seeing, tire.
Time passes into defection, utters
me onward into age’s mouth.

II

Days came. I would wake and eat
and watch pots steam on the wood stove,
then I trod the verandah, white
mornings staring through the vegetation.
Something was offered, always missed,
each day held its lonely suspension.
Old parts of me were watching.
But I would go out and shoot
small birds, and they simply dropped,
unconcerned, wings folded on death
with insufficient shock to stir
or vindicate my nothingness.

I would wander the flats, the fences
strung out like the lines of pure idea,
bulging haystacks, blackened by damp,
centres white with fermenting fire,
from one paddock lush with sap-green grass
to another just the same; to the cows,
eyes dropped, cud-warm.

Before dawn
I would fetch them for milking,
saw them in my torchlight, standing
like stone, their elegant necks stirring
deep music. Shapes that appeared
through the mist, massive-sided
like Gods, their strange breath of acetone.

The huge, easy step of animals
became the only truth, a depth
within the bones I saw protruding,
kin to my strange feeling: I,
old character beneath the skin of a child.

III

Another age would hint. Summer
when clay would crack and split
You could see the earth beneath.
Near the clay, men who leased our flats,
Italians, heavy-booted in the loam,
digging up round, smooth potatoes
beneath the soil. They filled
and sowed their bulging bags,
piles standing along the furrows
their tops rolled like trouser cuffs
as men flashed needles in the sun.

One old gap-mouthed man
who grinned and said ‘do you see
what I mean?’ at every phrase
do you see what I mean
up at my father or down at me.
Nodding, waving his hands in the morning.
Though fluent now, perplexed
for the gibberish of his past.

IV

Memory like coal that has buried the sun;
images, fat tiger snakes by the swamp,
ticks burrowing between their scales. A river
banded, slow in summer, festooned with bees.

Enter the bower, child, character within the skin,
wipe earth on your forehead. A child
will not forget. Light breaks from a brilliance,
comes down to earth, is ancient law

assuming flesh. And in flesh, the store.
Memory nagging back into events,
that ferrets a worry out
into the sun, a natural thing

perhaps. A dream finds my way back
to some old punishment or grief
or mysterious space before that.

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