The first ten steps from the house to the shed, I break
two or three promises the night has strung
like spiders’ webs across my path.
The morning is sprung with secrets
the night’s been spinning all night and now they’re trapping daylight
between the oak and the mendicant poplars and snapping
Before me on the broken trail to my desk. In the cowshed
the spider hangs on the cross of herself
above the first stall door,
where, these seven days, she’s been dying,
and I bank a fire and shoo the children when they follow me in
and I sit to work. Winter’s come, and down on the river the kangaroos
Know it. I winter here all day, the poplars, wasted saints, laying on their hands,
and nine hours on there’s a shoal of cloud in a cold sky
and a blue moon loose in it like a man overboard.
Why is it so hard to keep a fire burning
all day? You turn your back and it’s gone out
somewhere, and yet you sit here still, every thought broken,
your feet cold in your boots.
Two nights later the moon rises nicotine-stained and peaceable
into the fingers of the silver trees,
and the floodplain is a smokefilled basement.
Out of the blue sprawling mist the plover’s mad call:
why will a river not stay in the ground?
Out on the deck, I draw down deep on the evening and turn and walk
Its balm inside and search again briefly for the frequency of family life
and I find it in the bath, my girl
and our three children, sleek as seals,
and in that moment a truck passes on the road
and snaps the powerline from the eaves. The house shudders and we fall
back in time to candles and stories by heart and reading the news from memory.
The earth, it seems, has caught a fever, and where will she lie
to rest? When the men come
and plug us back in, I believe I hear her
groan. How will she begin
to forgive us, or is that what she’s been doing all along?
In the night the mist rolls away, and at dawn there’s a frost over everything.
You’d call it a blessing if you hadn’t been woken four times
by minor deities, pyjamaed like children
and frantic in the dark with oracles.
Why do our children not know how to sleep?
Do they fear we’ve left our waking late? At first light they dawn
and have you rise and lead them out into the story
The river has told the grass again, a parable the day has forgotten by nine.
And by ten, at your desk, you’ve forgotten it, too.
A man so easily distracted
by himself. But what are you here for
and what do they love, if not the way you leave each day to change the world’s
mind and return with the night, your feet cold, your face lined with secrets?
from The Road South (River Road Press, 2008), Mark Tredinnick 2008, used by permission of the author and River Road Press