Ancient river bed hacked and carved whittled deep
by winter run-off river as sudden as a dust storm
in the long summer red bed red dust caves haunting
level best upper storeys where sea breeze ratchets
off ocean and estuary black bream spiky and petrifying
in their pools cut-off omphaloi each and every one
an oracle of seams and joins worked by heat rising
and stretching to breaking point the ripple and crackle
of segregation; onto the sandy riverbed soft and cool
to feet when waded through like frothy low-level surf,
encapsulated by shadows crosshatching from red
river gums in nooks and crannies down down
from ledge, onto sand the flung sack came down on,
its pulsating and cavorting arc, aerodynamic mischief,
anomaly in flight to parabola and plunge to thud
and be absorbed into white sand reddening as hessian
soaks up last breaths and catfights and mews into grey
currawong and red-tailed black cockatoo distraction
and camouflage, seed-eaters and carnivores mixed
to a pitch of blur. And witnessed by teenagers mucking
about after school: sack wrenched straight from car
lurching on dirt track a lover’s leap moth-eaten or chewed
to disappointment, the sack hurled up and down down
with such force the face of perpetrator lost or encrypted,
the type and colour of car forgotten, number plate
unthought of; just the sack now twitching between pools
shallowing with heat and red motes and litotes in the air,
choking and irritating, down down onto the cool sand
(sandals kicked off), to cut open the stitched-up sack
with a pocket knife (be prepared), and reveal the mince
of kittens all trauma and extinction and two or three
with mouths carelessly wired together, half-open
half-closed so their noises would come out all wrong.
Tethered near the firing range
the pop and crack and blast
wear it down to passivity,
a second breaking-in. Trigger.
Seriously, that’s what they
called him. An excellent jumper
past his prime. A new role to play.
Gunhorse. Rifle scabbard
slung alongside saddle, weighted
level with horn, slung on latigo
straps, stock towards skull of Trigger,
angles for ease of drawing
the Winchester lever action,
to fire hell-for-leather
from the mount. To canter
over salt crust, deep omega
impressions. A one-rider war-
horse, the retort has it swish
flies with its tail under percussive
blue skies. Reports are a clutch
of centrefires, close grouped
hollowpoints. Exploding fox.
The saddle shifts slightly
with muzzle flash, musket
recoil. Gentle disposition.
Not easily spooked. Not gun-shy.
Who would have thought once?
Which day-walking fox who’d
made that once jumpy horse bolt
before its conversion, would
have guessed? Led by the nose,
Trigger nuzzles the red fox corpse,
blood on his lips, nostrils and teeth.
Eyes sheen and glaze with sunset:
the fox’s the hunter’s the horse’s.
Off the salt the reflections
are muted: dressage of saltbush,
shaky entry of fox den fox
not quite reached. If our rider
had dismounted to shoot, fox
would have made shelter.
The advantages of saddle-fire.
Of a gun-happy horse.
Peter Negotiates the House Paddock, 1965
The two-year-old standing tall
in the battered push-car signed Peter
is happy—he cannot smile falsely.
Held in place by bent deadwood
threatening to grow, and kinked
tetanus-wire of fences. The ‘dust bowl’
curves beyond with barely shelter for gwarder
or dugite, though in hollows just below
foxes and rabbits plan for the coming of crops
in related but contrary ways.
It is 1965 and the toddler is vivid
on baked ground. Just five years later
lines of saplings will nuzzle firebreaks
and shade sheep-runs. A paradigm change.
It was unmade as a place of shade
much earlier. Tartan overalls
cut from a tried and true pattern
passed between mothers and sisters,
and a long-sleeved white skivvy.
Dust is cold dust tamped down;
ground is rock hard—there are
no tyremarks from Peter’s
peculiarly angled wheels.
All vehicles on the farm
have done hard service.
Lines of bricks buried up to fetlocks
show whole garden-beds ready to be.
A seasonal hope. A hose crosses
the image like a wish, bisecting doubt
and consequence—total clearing followed
by carted water, trickle from a muddy dam,
maybe cool, fresh potable water from wells
before they run salt after the Meckering
quake, which they would have anyway
even if God hadn’t shaken it all up.
The toddler has been baptised; will be confirmed
in 1975. Kangaroos and emus will take refuge
in the sheep-runs then, their feet barely marking
hard ground. This is not a photo.
It’s a black and white rendering
of a discoloured world. But there’s
the light, the suffused light
around Peter wheeling through
a world remade for him.