Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rain Dog

Even so near the sea, the land is parched.
A few Friesians, widely spread, crop dun fields
to the bone; a thin brown mare stands alone,
reaching through the rusting wire for yields of
scraggy weeds, survivors of the last bush fire.

On the plain, the breeze rattles through the cane,
drawing on small accounts of last months rain,
promising to pay the bearers of lost hope
in strength through sweetness and throat rasping rum,
but only if the summer storms will come.

Each mile along the snaking bitumen,
reveals a monument of weathered board
and tin, its peeling paint now worn quite thin
by burning sun and long forgotten storms;
Crouched in each a grieving farmer mourns.

Such are my victims and benefactors,
as pedlar of aluminium siding,
in shiny suit and silken tie, riding
like Paul Revere, with silver tongued tidings
of improvements for unwary settlers.

Along the road a lonely dog, abandoned,
feeds a last hope into a loping run,
but falls back quivering as I race by,
growing small in the corner of my eye
it cowers on the verge in the burning sun.

The last ten dollars in my tank count down
to five: I must soon select a prospect
or return defeated to the town where
wife and progeny hopefully expect
the hunter to deliver more than self-respect.

As the fields give way to distant mountains,
a tumbled home stands revealed on sparse plains.
No sign of beasts or brown tobacco yields,
Just a stand of gum trees to one side and
a rusting water tank remains besides.

Parking out of sight, I walk through stony bush,
and mount three steps up from the hard-baked ground.
On the veranda my creaking footsteps crush
the fallen jacaranda blooms and sound
my arrival to those inside the dingy rooms.

The screen door hangs askew and fails to hide
the view into a small but unfurnished hall.
The place seems deserted, no car outside
or sign that anyone lives here at all,
but then a shadow falls upon the wall

A woman in a shapeless dress appears within,
and incuriously returns my faltering gaze.
I haven’t made a sale for days and begin
my spiel about the costs of neglecting
property and the problems of wood and tin.

‘Best come in,’ she says, opening the screen,
‘I can’t decide; you’ll have to ask him inside’.
I follow her down the fibro corridor,
obeying the indication of her hand,
to stand nervously inside the bedroom door.

Half drawn curtains cast a bilious light
across the lino onto the single bed
where the farmer lies, hand beneath his head,
shrouded in purple shadows tinged with green,
parchment face covered with a sickly sheen.

The figure under the sheet is shrivelled, small;
drug dilated pupils barely move at all
beneath hairless lids as I approach the bed.
Lips part but I cannot hear what is said,
as the farmer tries to raise his head.

The curtain moves: outside the window
a sudden breeze waves the banana leaves.
The woman has gone now and I dumbly stare
at a black Bible on a table there,
and a glass of water; all else is bare.

Grey clouds gathering cast a pall of gloom,
releasing a tentative tattoo on tin.
A heavy crash of thunder shakes the room
to the accompaniment of wind soughing
through the gums and the rolling thunder’s din.

Eyes meet in mutual futility;
I mumble some excuse and turn to flee.
His voice croaks out at last, through waves of pain.
‘It’s been so long since I’ve heard the rain,’
‘Yes,’ I say, ‘I won’t trouble you again’.

As I reach the car the downpour lashes
in slanting rage; again the thunder crashes.
Beneath my feet the swirling dust churns to mud.
I wrench the door and dive in helter-skelter;
the black dog too takes shelter from the flood.

Bonded by such an accidental state,
wet squirming dog and flailing man create
a decision to relieve their moral load.
I throw my half-eaten lunch into the road
and abandon dog and farmer to their fate.


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